Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Vacation

Remember how much you looked forward to Summer vacation as a kid? So many of my memories as a kid were from those three months of glorious freedom. I remember getting excited when I'd hear the ice cream truck from two blocks away, and sucking on popsicles with Chris, the boy next door. I recall climbing the big plum tree in our backyard in Oregon, and picking blackberries so that my friend Katrina's mom could bake them into a cobbler.

Summertime meant visiting my grandparents in Texas where my little sister and I spent our days swimming or making elaborate projects out of cardboard boxes, and our evenings catching fireflies and scratching chigger bites. My sister and I read so many books from the public library that the librarian must have feared they'd run out of ones we hadn't read.

Within a few years I was spending my months babysitting neighbor kids, reading Teen Beat magazine and falling in like with boys down the block. As an older teenager, summer was a never ending party: keggers and concerts out at the lake, and rafting trips down the Rogue River.

Those days. Those months. Those years. So many vivid memories. I miss summer.

And here I am, living in the summeriest place in the United States, where the thermometer hit 109 this week. So it's not that I actually miss summer. I just miss summer vacations.

For a working stiff like me in my particular job, I don't get a summer break. In fact, it's harder than ever to take any kind of break in the summer, because for me, taking a vacation means hunting down someone else not currently taking a summer vacation who would be willing to come in and do my job. For free. Someone who knows how to pronounce names like Bedrich Smetana and Christoph Willibald Gluck. So its been many many years since I've taken off more than a day or two at a time during the summer.

I was just reminiscing on all my great vacations this afternoon, and realized that since 1989 when I took off to Greece the day after graduating from college, that every trip I've taken to Europe was in September or October. Every trip to Mexico was in March or April. Every trip to Hawaii was in January or February. I haven't had a real summer vacation since I was 22.

My friend Caroline and her kids, currently on their summer vacation (lucky people!), visited earlier this week. While at the grocery store stocking up on chardonnay and cheese, we ran into A News Cafe's Editor-In-Chief while cooling off back in the dairy department, and I started complaining about how I never get a break, and how I was even having a hard time finding inspiration for my next column. And Doni, bless her heart, said, "Well Val, there's no reason you can't take a summer vacation from the Mistress of the Mix. Why don't you do that?"

And suddenly, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My face lit up (I'm sure it did…didn't it Doni?), and I thought of all the things I could do with my free time. I could read books. Lots of books! I could read all the book club books I never had time to finish. I could read that Stephen King book my dad got me for Christmas! I could make blackberry cobbler, and maybe go to a kegger concert, and raft down the river. So many things I could do!

And suddenly, as I held the door to the cooler open with a carton of half and half in my hand, I found that inspiration. And so, dear friends, as I embark on my first summer vacation in years - although not an actual vacation, just a short break from MOTM, I offer up one last little delight for you, because I couldn't help myself. And because there are so many great songs of summer, that you deserve a streaming Spotify playlist of summery tunes to enjoy while you (I hope) get your Summer Vacation. Feel free to share your favorite summer songs, and the songs that bring back your favorite summer memories.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anatomy Of A Bit Part

I just finished wrapping up my first role in a movie, and I'm happy to announce that I didn't flub any of my lines. Of course, I didn't have any actual lines. But I nodded when I needed to nod, furrowed my brow like the concerned, somewhat intimidated wife I was chosen to portray, and grabbed my movie-husband's hand to exit stage left as the script called for. It's hard to flub your lines when you don't have any, right? So I think I can say with complete confidence that I totally nailed my performance as Mrs. Brigman in the movie that's filming right now in Shasta County.

"Interpreters" is a feature length Sci-Fi Action/Thriller from Archetype Pictures. Since I've signed a non-disclosure agreement, I can't say too much about the film's plot, but it involves some pretty intimidating characters, and a town who's inhabitants are either quickly disappearing or turning up dead, and a handful of badass scrappers who are working hard to uncover what's really going on.
I play Camille Brigman, who's one of the quickly disappearing types (although I was also offered the part of one of those turn up dead types, and I politely declined when I found out that I would have to die on screen).

 If Director Michael Ryan is reading this right now, he's probably thinking that he doesn't recall giving Mrs. Brigman a first name when he wrote the script. And he didn't. I just came up with that on my own, just like I invented a first name for my movie-husband, Harold. I think the whole crew thinks I'm a little crazy anyhow, since I showed up at a pre-production barbecue last weekend introducing myself to everyone as "Mrs. Bratigan." They all thought I was just being a little weird and old school, not realizing that I was just flubbing the name of the character I was playing. You can see now why I'm totally cool not having any lines, right?

I'm no actor, not really. Which is kind of funny, seeing as how many times I've been on stage since 2004, when the Cascade Theatre opened, and somehow I landed the sweet role as Mistress of Ceremonies. So I'm familiar with the stage. But not acting, per se. But now that I think about it, I'm one of the only members of my immediate family who hasn't done any acting. My daughter has been involved in countless productions, both on stage and behind the scenes, and now she's working on the "Interpreters" film crew handling props and set dressing, which is sort of how I ended up landing the bit part, and how my garage ended up filled with props. In high school, my little sister had a starring role in a couple of educational films like "It Could Never Happen To Me" about the dangers of teenagers driving under the influence. My dad also had a supporting role in one of the cautionary tales from the same institutional film company playing a football coach, and my older half sister was in numerous stage productions before heading to Hollywood where she was a producer on a daytime television show.

 But I've always secretly wanted to act - even unsuccessfully auditioned for a community theater production of "A Christmas Carol" when I was ten years old. Maybe it was the fact that they never called me back after my amazing renditions of  "The Wayfaring Stranger" and "Oh Shanandoah," but I never tried out for anything ever again. In the 4th grade when I was cast as a Native American in our Thanksgiving class play, I was 'too sick' to go to school that morning, but I was miraculously cured right after the play was over. That was probably my best acting performance, ever.

When my friends Ann Marie Lockamy and her husband Tyler Penn told me they were finally filming the independent movie they've been putting together for an eternity, and that they were doing it right here in Shasta County, I was super excited (and immediately asked if there were any opportunities to get involved with it) not because I thought I'd get a chance to be in it, but because:
  1. There is a growing pool of people in Redding with interest and experience in the film industry, and this is exactly the kind of industry that could be a game changer if it was to take a bigger, better foothold in the area, and 
  2.  My daughter is one of those people, who is currently studying film in college, and I saw this as a great opportunity for her to get involved and see what it's really like on a film set.  
So….wanna know what it's like on a film set? A real film set? One with a budget, where everyone's getting paid, a film that's actually listed on the Internet Movie Data Base? One with actors both local and from far away, actors who've actually been in stuff you've probably seen (like the TV shows Criminal Minds, The Young & The Restless, and films such as Ride Along 2 and Castaway), and ones who've never been in nuthin', like me (unless you count the Shasta County Historical Society's documentary of "The Wright Time").
Caleb (holding the slate), Stefan Hajek & Chris Kriesa filming at Red Rock
First of all, there are contracts. And permits. And non-disclosure agreements. And scripts and call sheets and questions about dietary restrictions. That's because there's food! It wasn't fancy food, but there was cheese, vegetables, bagels and gatorade, and plenty of other stuff to keep people hydrated and fed over the course of a normal shooting day, which is 12 hours, minimum. And no leaving. In fact just moments ago my husband ran out the door with a heavy sweatshirt for my daughter, who begged us to bring her something warmer for their outdoor shoot tonight at the Rodeway Inn. Other locations in town used so far this week have included Old City Hall (maybe you were an extra in their town hall meeting scene on Monday?), Red Rock Bar & Grill in Palo Cedro, and the driveway of a really nice house outside of Palo Cedro Tuesday. That was Camille and Howard Brigman's house.

For my brief performance as Mrs. Brigman, I showed up late in the afternoon with a suitcase on wheels full of "upper middle class casual" clothing, jewelry and additional shoes. The makeup was thick, the hair was just right. I met my on-screen husband, George Ireton (you may have seen him onstage in the Riverfront Playhouse's production of M.A.S.H.), and then met Stefan Hajek, a Seattle actor who was preparing to intimidating the crap out of the Brigmans. Chris Kriesa

The set on Tuesday.
The three of us gathered in the driveway, in front of the house, and after a brief chat with the director, blocked our scene. Then we rehearsed. Then, when camera, lights and sound were all ready, Caleb held the slate in front of the camera, called out all that cool movie jargon before clacking the clappers, and suddenly it was on like Donkey Kong. We were acting.

I stood behind George, nodding and doing my best to look intimidated and slightly offended as he and Stefan did all the talking and acting. The talking and acting went on for an entire two minutes before George grabbed my hand and we exited the frame, as they say in the biz. Each time I tried to hold my hands in the exact same way so I didn't screw up the continuity, and after a few takes I thought maybe I should switch it up, so I tried putting my hand on George's back a few times instead. I'm sure these will all be very important details in the final cut, right?

Then we did it again. And again. And again. And once more for good measure after someone thought a shadow from one of the behind the scenes technicians might have creeped into the frame. An airplane flew over, so we stopped mid-scene. Kevin the sound guy, holding a boom with a furry cover over the end he called a dead cat, heard a far off dog barking, so we stopped and did it again. Then a motorcycle roared at least a half mile away, and we did it over again. The last hitch was the laughter of a couple of kids playing in a nearby backyard.

And if you think that's the end of it, it wasn't. Those were just the wide shots. Next were close ups, followed by some drone footage overhead, and finally, just when I was getting the hang of it, we were done. I was richly paid for my hour and a half of brow furrowing and wide eyed surprised looks, and then I hung out for awhile chatting with the crew and watching the next scene being filmed.

Another scene from Interpreters.
I know, I'm biased, but I'm really impressed with so much of what I'm seeing. Not just with Interpreters, but in other filming projects that have been taking place in the area recently. Redding is starting to attract independent, professional filmmakers who are serious about their craft. People like Matthew & Joy Thayer of Speropictures are creating some amazing short films in Redding, and passing the craft on to others through workshops and classes, as is the Shasta County Arts Council. Rene Perez, who's filmed several monster-packed thrillers in the area. And then there's the festivals, like Sundial and Firereel, that are not only honoring local film, but encouraging more of it to be made.

I don't know that you'll find me auditioning for any more acting parts in the near future, but I'm really interested to see if Shasta County can land bigger roles in the film industry. It could be a game changer. And we need to start shouting from the rooftops that there are films being made here, and that there are trained professionals who can help get them made.

I don't know if I've ever said this out loud, but my dream job has always been to be the person who chooses the soundtrack for films. But since nobody's beating down my door yet, I'll just leave you today with this streaming Spotify playlist of songs about The Movies. Click the play arrow to listen!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Show of hands. Who's had a crappy week?

Seems like almost everyone I've encountered this week has had to deal with some incredible level of defeating, life-sucking crap, kind of like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, only the adult version.

As for me, it all started when I annoyed my boss. Now I'm well aware that if you asked any boss I've had to describe me with one word, they would all ask if pain in the ass could be hyphenated. So let's do that. In one word, I've been a pain-in-the-ass to him. And I hate that. I don't really want to go into it because, well, that could be a big mistake. But let me assure you that in the past week or so, mistake after mistake after mistake has already been pointed out to me. I might have excuses for some of them, but I already know he really doesn't want to hear it, I get that. So I've just been taking it all, kind of like Kevin Bacon took the fraternity paddle in Animal House.

Then my C-Pap machine quit working. This is a little machine with a face mask that pushes air at people like me who are cursed with sleep apnea. Basically I quit breathing while I'm asleep. During the sleep study I participated in when I was diagnosed with this disorder five years ago, they told me I quit breathing more than 400 times during my sleep study, so they say. I can't vouch for what I did or didn't do while I was sleeping, but that's what they say. And when I'm not stopping breathing, I'm snoring. The snoring means I wake up with a sore throat (or I wake myself up snoring), which isn't good for someone who spends all day speaking into a microphone. And because I wake myself up snoring a lot, I feel like I'm not getting good, decent sleep, and I end up feeling sleep deprived. The not breathing part is also problematic because I'm depriving my brain of oxygen. This all means I wake up grumpy, with a headache, and because of the sore throat I'm not sure if I'm coming down with a virus, or if it's just that annoying sleep apnea. It's just so......ugh.
So sexy, right?
And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Val, just get another C-Pap." Easier said than done, my friend. Eight months ago I went to my doctor because I was told I needed a new prescription to get new supplies for my machine. Went I went in, she told me that she was changing her practice, and unless I wanted hormone therapy (I most definitely don't) that I should start shopping around for a new general practitioner. She faxed the prescription to the provider, who continued to call and bug me every month asking how many hours a night was I using my C-Pap machine, but they never sent me the supplies. I complained and complained and complained, and still no supplies. Finally, a box of supplies arrived, and that very same day, my machine quit working. Just stopped. The provider told me now I needed a new prescription for the machine (really?!) because the prescription I had gotten last year was only for the supplies (REALLY?!). So I went to the same old office to see a new doctor (I was told I'd be charged  a new patient fee) who wrote me a new prescription, and now I'm still waiting for a new C-Pap machine. Hope it doesn't take as long as it took the supplies to arrive, because what if I stop breathing....and don't start again?

Grumpy Cat

So I'm feeling like a failure, I'm as grumpy as a wet kitty, have a sore throat and a headache, and then it starts raining. And raining. And raining and raining and raining (and then after a brief moment of no rain it starts raining again). And that's not so bad. I lived in a rainforest for 13 years. I know how to handle rain. But what I can't handle so well is how to deal with all the problems that come along when the sump pump quits working.

Of all the people on my street, I'm the lucky one. Lucky to live in a historic, cool old home with character. Lucky to live just six blocks from work. Lucky to live at the bottom of the hill so I don't have to walk up a hill. Oh wait. I live at the bottom of the hill. And water runs downhill. The house to the left of mine has a dirt basement that becomes a mud basement during times like these. The little rental unit to the right of mine has a concrete basement with a second bedroom that can't be used as a bedroom because it floods during times like these, so they call it a storage room, and warn tenants to keep everything on shelves. I'm the lucky one because some genius who used to own my home installed 3 sump pumps in the basement. And during times like these I can barely hear them humming away below me over the soft sound of my C-Pap machine puffing air at my face.

The actual sump pump. Not working.
Until, of course, the sump pump quit working. And then I didn't hear it at all. But I didn't notice it until my stepson came upstairs one morning and said, "Hey Val, I'm not sure if one of the dogs peed downstairs, but I stepped in a big squishy wet spot on the carpet in front of the washer and dryer."
Oh, if only it was dog pee. Because that's just a one-time event. A broken sump pump means sopping up the water in one room and dragging out the dehumidifier while sopping up the water in another, and dragging out the shop-vac, and then diagnosing the equipment malfunction. Once we figured that the problem was indeed the sump pump (and not the extension cord nor the power strip it was plugged into), the next problem was buying a new $204 sump pump 5 minutes before OSH closed. Oh, if only that was the end my problem. Because of course I couldn't get the hose fitting off of the old sump pump, so we spent two long nights replacing, wringing out and drying towels and sucking up water out of the sump hole every couple of hours, which added a little bit more sleep deprivation on top of all the other sleep related issues I have been suffering from. Finally, after 3 more trips to the hardware store to buy a pair of channel locks (which still didn't get the fitting off), and another sump pump with a different type of fitting and a new garden hose (plus a female to female hose fitting to hook it up to the sewer pipe), I am finally hearing the sweet sweet sound of rainwater being sucked out of the hole in the basement beneath me, and carried away to somewhere else. And now I know why my sewer bill is so high, even during the winter. Especially during the winter. Because I'm paying to get rid of all that run-off that is running down the hill and under my house.
Something stinks.
So yeah, my life stinks. I've had a week that tops most people's weeks, right? But then one of my girlfriends tells me how she came home one day and found blood all over her house and the telltale heavy odor of skunk. One of these creatures had come in through the dog door, much to the chagrin of the dog, who got into a scuffle with the skunk, who was now nowhere to be found. Fortunately it was skunk blood, not dog blood, all over the carpet. She cleaned the house from top to bottom. Had to clean the carpets. Had to clean everything in her closet. Had to clean the dog. You can imagine the headache. But the smell didn't dissipate. In fact it got worse. A few days later she found these weird little maggoty worms in her bathroom, crawling out of the fixtures (gag!!!) followed by an invasion of flies inside her house. And finally, an excruciating amount of time later, the dead, decaying skunk was finally discovered by the guys she hired to crawl under the house. My friend. I feel for her. She knows my pain, but hers is worse.
This guy could be working in the mud, or cleaning up crap. You decide.
And then my husband - who's in Brookings, working hard labor six days a week to close up that giant sinkhole on Highway 101 - comes home after a 10 hour work day where he's outdoors, in the rain, in hurricane force winds, with mud up to the tops of his rain boots, to discover that the sewer has backed up in his trailer. Not the kind of sewer that I've been dealing with. The kind of sewer that smells like a skunk might be decaying under your house. So he used up all of his towels to mop it up, and then the power went out. And then the next morning when my still tired and now sleep deprived husband has to get up and go back out into the rain again to work, and his truck won't start.

When he started telling me how bad his day had been, I decided that maybe I didn't need to launch into a story about how bad my week was. Because while the shit may have hit the fan in my world, it wasn't actual crap. Maybe I don't have quite as bad as I've been making it out to be. I decided that maybe I should start feeling a little more sorry for other people. And I kind of do… my Republican friends will verify that I've been sympathizing with them this election season over the fact that total insanity has taken over their political party. And then to bring on a little levity I show them the funny video about Donald Trump's penis and...well, I'm starting to feel a little bit better already.

I'm also feeling a teensy bit better because I haven't heard from my boss in days now, my new sump pump is up and working like a champ, and my friend Lynn heard about my C-Pap situation and brought me one that she's not currently using. Then Doni surprised me at work with some of her future award-winning and incredibly delicious flourless, sugarless chocolatey goodness. Then Matt brought me his copy of The Road (in both book & DVD formats) to help me indulge in my post-apocalytic obsession.

Tell ya what. Things are already looking up! Music always makes me feel better, so if you're an adult who's been having a particularly super crappy week full of problems, I hope today's streaming Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Week Spotify playlist will make you feel a little bet better too. (If you're not an adult, or easily offended, be warned that today's playlist, just like this column and the Dongald video, there's a little bit of profanity included.) Although hey, you've gotten this far. Maybe the stories I've shared are resonating with you. If you've got a story about how crappy your week was, or if you have a brilliant way of getting through and past weeks like these when it seems like the days are just slapping you in the face one after the other, let me know in the comments section below.