A film is playing: The leading man has been caught and exposed as an adulterer by his spouse. End of movie and lights up, where a teenaged, 70s era, Paul Giamatti is seen watching the film at the cinema. Then, this is exposed to be the real end of the movie.
Lights up and I am sitting in the theater with my son and his childhood buddy and we are sitting next to our friends, Mr and Mrs. Paul and Rita Giamatti.
Rita Giamatti stands up and stretches and says to me, "Let's go out to the lobby, we need to talk."
"What about?" I ask.
"Let's just say I got a phone call recently and I want to check your phone."
That's all she said, but I knew what she meant, as I'd been having an affair with her husband. I played it cool, hustling the children to get their toys and shuffling out to the lobby dropping legos along the way and asking the boys to run back and retrieve them.
Turns out Paul and Rita had left the cinema and were waiting for us across the street. The kids and I dodged cars and met them on the other side. If it weren't for Paul's sad head hanging down and Rita's slightly strident look, you'd think nothing was the least bit wrong.
I handed my cell phone to Rita and we proceeded toward a restaurant. Along the way I was met by my friend and dinner partner, Joe Hurley. We fell behind the Giamatti's and kids and I filled him in on the news.
"So, Rita is going through my phone right now presumably looking for a number or text of some sort."
"Apparently she suspects Paul is having an affair."
"...with you," he fills in.
"Maybe" I say.
"And are you?"
"Well, I was. It was a while ago. Pretty much over for a while now. So I'm not sure what she's looking for on that phone."
We arrive at the restaurant and take our seats. The kids are embroiled in their toy games, and Rita hands me back my phone. She has a look that tells me that my phone and I are off the hook. She leans forward and speaks around Joe's distinctly uncomfortable positioning.
"It's been a hard time. We've mostly been separated these past few months."
"I didn't know that" I responded.
"A couple of months and still trying to figure out what to do next. It's unnerving,"she heaved.
"Wow, I'm so sorry. I did not know you guys had separated. "
* * * * *
Pacific Coast Highway. A blue sky day and I'm alone standing near some shops somewhere south of Malibou. A lean figure of a man is walking toward me, it's Eric Clapton.
I say, "What are you guitar player types doing in town. You're the second one I've seen".
He says, "We're all playing at that big concert down at the Crossroads."
"Ah, that makes sense, I just saw Jeff Beck go by, now it all adds up. "
Eric gives it a pause and then says, "You should come."
"I would, but Im heading over to see a friend," I say unconvincingly.
Eric turns around toward me, "You really should come hang out, hang out with me for the day."
"Really,.. hang out?"
"Really," he echos. "You look like you could use some kicks."
"I could, I could use some kicks", I say flatly.
"Well done then" he says giving me a big hug.
Meanwhile, the ocean has suddenly sent a slow and benevolent tsunami wave over all of Pacific Coast Highway. We are not in any danger but the ocean water has engulfed everyone around. I realize my shoes are off and I worry they'll be carried out to sea, so too my suitcase.
I holler over to Eric, who's swimming next to Richard Thompson. "You'd better grab your guitars, everything's getting pulled out to sea". And then I swim back toward my suitcase.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Could brain injury have sparked soldier's rampage in Afghanistan?
"The U.S. Army staff sergeant who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians in a dead-of-night spasm of shooting, ....is reported to have suffered a traumatic brain injury during a deployment to Iraq in 2010.
Research on traumatic brain injury has established a clear link between brain trauma and irritable, aggressive behavior that can be explosive, often without apparent warning or provocation. Sometimes, brain injury magnifies a victim's longstanding tendency toward irritability, depression or hostility. Some brain traumas bring personality changes in their wake, causing even laid-back types to become irascible and impatient." (LA Times 3/13/12)
It is worth noting that brain injury, especially in the front of the head/prefrontal cortex does cause a person to lose their sense of inhibition. Modern medicine now has the ability to save lives when people sustain a traumatic brain injury, but we need to put as much time and money and assistance into the other side of the recovery, and not expect TBI folks to go about their lives like they did before.
Paul Williams, in his office in Encinitas. Two months after his brain injury and still in outpatient rehab
My experience with my husbands injury was such that they sent him home after two months of care, one month of ICU, then another month of In-Hospital-Rehab. Then one day the doctor announced to me, "good news, we will be sending your husband home with you tomorrow".
I didn't know what to say. I was stunned. Just the day before, Paul had screamed at a nurse and stayed up all night wandering the halls and then he failed his "making brownies and cooking strategies" test. A week before he had jumped out of bed, had a blood pressure drop, keeled over backwards and was wheeled out to the emergency room again. His face was still black and blue from his head slamming on the linoleum floor.
I didn't know the first thing about taking care of a person recovering from a brain injury. The thought of the responsiblity was too much. Looking at the doctor my turned pale. I could barely take care of myself, what were the doctors thinking...no I knew what they were thinking "we can't justify to his health insurance company why he has to be here longer".
I asked the doctor for more time. He gave me 2 days and then we brought him home. I'd also asked for Paul to see a neurologist to see what he was capable of on his own,... at this time no one had asked to take his drivers liscense away or even suspend it. And Paul thought he was ready to get right back into his routine. For a while, I had to be clever about hiding car keys.
The car thing stunned me. How could the government not require a driving test from someone who'd had 5 centimeters of their brain removed. Everyone assumed he was good to go.
A friend of a friend was an eye doctor for our health provider. At a party I shared with him I was really concerned about what kind of blind spots Paul might have and whether we could find a way to suspend his liscense at least until we knew if he was a cogent thinker again. This doctor friend checked Paul's eyes and said, "he's got a big blind spot on his right side but that just means he'll have to turn his head around to see what's over there. Otherwise, he's good to go!"
That was it. Everyone agreed, he was good to go. Other than a brain surgery buzz cut hair-do he looked like himself. He looked okay. Except, I could see the difference. Like: he wouldn't quite look you in the eye when he talked to you/he was sort of in another hazy-world. After the sun went down he would talk incoherently-this is called sundowning. And, he was a terrible driver-sometimes thinking an off ramp was just an extension of the right lane.
Some of these symptoms changed or went away in the six months post injury. I was told the first six months was when most of the recovery would occur, and that was mostly true. Because Paul had such a high IQ before the injury he faired better than most. His brain surgeon had even joked that with luck and with Paul's 180 IQ he could 'afford to lose a few brain cells and still be a genius'. And that 'folks with high IQ's often fair better after a brain injury'.
The nurses told me "whatever personality traits he had before, he will still have, but they may be played out more dramatically, more emphasized". This advice turned out to be mostly true.
So in Paul's case he was quick to anger, was very impatient and liked to lecture. That looked like this: yelling at the security check person at the airport (pre 911) and getting his luggage examined, pushing a hefty security guard at a Los Lobos concert and getting collared and thrown out, talking non-stop with breathless run-on sentences during sharing time at a Buddhist meditation retreat, yelling at a meditation "expert" and calling the guy an asshole (the guy was full of himself and i rather liked this one), or wearing his bicycle helmet to the national booksellers convention with the words Ask Me About My B.I. written on it (this was a good one, B.I. meaning Brain Injury), yelling at the top of his lungs at a Belgian train station "I hate fucking Belgian Trains!" because it didn't follow the schedule precisely.
On the note of the Belgian train...we sat near an Austrian couple who noticed Paul was snappy and impatient with the conductor. I noticed their discomfort. Embarrassed and thinking we'd just entered Ugly American territory, I explained to them he'd recently had a major brain injury and this is what a miracle-recovery case looked like. The man's reply was, "he should still behave himself."
I had no idea how to handle Paul in these situations. (I wasn't from a family with rage issues). And I wasn't an occupational therapist, but I was thrown into the role of being just that. Where was the book, How To Handle Your Brain Injured Beloved Spouse in 5 Easy Steps.
I think of all the advancements made in battle-zone medicine. It's a heart breaking job for families with brain injured soldiers (and it's all gonna fall on the families) coming home from war zones. Spouses and sons and daughters rejoining families and then hospitals and then rehab and then looking normal but really, not being the same. Not being the same at all.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Some short weeks after I met Paul Williams, the local weekly paper here in San Diego did a story on me and my music. It was a very ambitious time for me. I had just begun a new song-cycle and the songs came with arrangements- I could hear in my head. So, I had wood shedding sessions,
with any music friend or musician that could bare with me, and was willing to try out musical ideas I'd hum out to them.
In this photo, standing behind me, with her bass and bow is my dear friend Sharyn Fischer. She didn't really want to play arco/bow style, but she tried her best to bring forth the sounds that were swimming around my brain.
The book in my hand had the 40 minute wild ride of free verse that became U.F.O Suite. I don't know what the banana was about.
The photographer was a guy that was sent out by the San Diego Reader, his name was Randy Hoffman. Turned out Randy was a great conversationalist. So we took pictures and talked and Sharyn fiddled on the bass. Also turned out Randy was a musician, and he owned a pair of timpani drums (those tune-able drums you hear in the orchestra), they were sitting in his garage 2 blocks away.
Just a week or so earlier I'd met another musician, a cellist named Renata Bratt. Somehow I was able to con her into playing a show with me, which was all of one song. At a local music awards show in town. She and a few other string players came out to a one time practice with me and were given charts of parts I'd hummed out to our mutual friend Chris Vitas.
At any rate, Renata was intimidating. (I've seen her do that to a few people since then. A certain gift that keeps the riff-raff at arms length). But I talked her into playing music with me and Sharyn and made her play little ensemble parts that were well beneath her ability.
Then I met Randy, and something started to click. How often do you find a guy with timpani in his garage? And wood blocks and a vibraphone! The three of us got together in his garage and I made recordings of our sessions. This was the beginnings of what was to become the Garage Orchestra.
Paul was a huge supporter of what I was moving toward musically. He called me a musical primitive, and compared what I was doing to Brian Wilson, who he said heard the musical arrangements in his head. It was literally a haunting, this music, I was full of ideas and arrangements and love that needed expression.
I started calling Paul my Vision Carrier. He understood, despite whatever was musically popular at the time, despite what record executives thought, that ones work of art, needed to be brought to term and published, made available, no matter what. And that gave me hope.
Paul was writing The 100 Best Singles of Rock and Roll at the time, and he'd call me from Sonoma and read me the latest chapters. His essay on I Get Around/Don't Worry Baby completely blew my mind, he wrote what I felt when I heard those tunes. How was it someone else felt the same thing as me? All the chapters were inspired, even when it was a single I didn't really dig (like Ring My Bell) and that inspired me to keep following my musical vision
His words still do give me hope. Now, I am these many years later, in the throes of a new cycle of songs and arrangements that haunt my mind and beg to be born....this year somehow, with Paul's old words of hope to guide me and press me on, these recordings will be born.
Stay tuned because I will need your help soon, when I launch a campaign to raise the funds to make this next album, the seventh. And I have a feeling seven is a very lucky number....