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I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Must Love Dogs.

"Do you ALWAYS have to write about being an alcoholic?"

The long answer: "but-i-feel-so-empowered-since-i-now-have-daily-freedom-from-the-insanity-of-my-mind-and-the-bodily-cravings-it-is-such-a-relief-to-understand-i-am-not-a-bad-person-but-a-sick-person-sometimes-i-just-want-to-shout-it-from-the-rooftops-and-sometimes-i-just-want-to-squawk-from-the-darkness-of-my-cave-but-i-must-go-forth-and-BLOG!"

The short answer: "Uh, no?"

My poor husband.

My poor, beleaguered husband. Poor, poor, poor K. Seriously, I need to make a t-shirt. It would sell like hotcakes. (Do hotcakes sell in L.A., because seriously, no-one here eats carbs.) What the hell did he get roped into when we jumped into that puddle of marital bliss one sunny, spring afternoon back in May of 1995? For a while there, there were no romantic misty mornings or sensual afternoon showers to meander through, clutching hands, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Our marriage had become a full-blown tornado. A Category F5. The force of nature that tore through our life leveled it all: honesty, hope and trust. Pellets of ice shredded all Honesty like shingles off a roof sent flying through the air. Feeble whispers of Hope were drowned by howling winds that seemed to rise up from direct from hell. And Trust was flattened, like a structure demolished, useless until built back up from scratch.

But somehow, someway, Love survived.

[kidneytransplantaddictionoverdoserehabrelapseseparationrecovery—maybe if i write it really small and smushed together K. won't notice this part.]

You try getting through that unscathed.

So when my husband asks, I listen. There's nothing I won't do for him. Except give him a kidney. So I began to scratch my head, in an exaggerated fashion, much like a animation character who has way more hair than me (damn you, immunosuppressives!) and pondered.

What should I write about? What would make him smile?

Quickly I observed that there are a number of topics that are invariably off-limits:

The Killers
My first boyfriend
Brandon Flowers
The Medical System in America

I also observed that there are certain topics I am not interested in writing about:

The LA Scots (more drama than a Telemundo novela.)
Bag piping (a girl needs a break.)
How much Kevin complains about how hot Los Angeles is in the summer (Winnipeg is waiting.).

And then it came to me. Quick as a flash of light. Or the wag of a tail.


Who doesn't like dogs? I'm sure, actually, I KNOW some of you are out there, and quite frankly, I don't trust you. But all that matters for this blog is how much K. and I LOOOVE dogs.

Especially our own.

My first dog was Ralph. Ralph was a beagle. I was 16 and I fell in love. There is nothing like your first dog. It's a little like your first orgasm—nothing prepares you for it. I was absolutely smitten. From his smushed-up scowl to the white tip of his thick, bushy tail that spun erect whenever I walked through the door. His whiskers would part like wings every time his wee leather lips pursed with sweet suspicion to belt out his trademark, "WOOOOOO!" I used to stare for hours at his "I heart  my BEAGLE" leash because "beagle" had suddenly become the CUTEST WORD IN THE WORLD.

Ralph was a puppy when I bought him. Never again. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Even as a pup his personality was formed and ready. He was the ornery old man who'd sit on his porch and yell at the children who'd scamper across his front lawn. But Ralph was secretly a love muffin. He was all bark and no bite. (Except for that one time. Poor K.) He was fine with the world and everything in it, especially if he got to GO FOR A WALK. He'd walk for hours on end, especially with Bedstefar, my Danish grandfather, who never owned a Danish hound of his own, but quietly logged many hours with Ralph over their (Bedstemor and Bedstefar's) many visits to Toronto. What a sight that was. My 2 favorite guys in the world—my Bedstefar and my beagle, Ralph, trotting down the salted, wintry sidewalks of Toronto together. Testify!

Until K.

K. and I shared Ralph for 8 years. He moved in with us in 1994. And he traveled Route 66 with us all the way to The City of Angels.

This is Kevin's best memory of Ralph:

It was a spring evening in Toronto. 1992. We were in love. I believe it was the first time, or one of the first times Kevin had met my mother. And it was the first time he met Ralph.

After my father's death, my mother, brother and I moved from an apartment in downtown Toronto, to a house on the east side of High Park. How I raised Ralph then is downright hazardous compared to the responsible dog owner I am now. I used to just open our front door and let Ralph run around the neighbourhood for a couple of hours. Take that, Neighbourhood Watch! (spelled with  "u".) I never got him neutered. Terrible. Who knows how many greyhounds with beagle faces are running around the West End of Toronto now? I know. Live and learn. So Ralph was used to running up the sidewalks of Geoffrey St.. It was our family ritual—the running of the beagle—whenever one of us was making our way down the street from the streetcar stop on Roncesvalles, another would bring Ralph outside and wait. Amazing to think we survived without cell phones. We would just guess when someone might arrive home. "Mum said she'd be home by 6pm. I'll peek outside and see if she's on her way."

And then all hound would break loose.

That spring evening, Mum stood on the top of the porch. At one end of a taut leash, her hand protectively clamped, at the other end, an extremely eager beagle, rigid with combustible energy, ears up, cocked like radar cups, nose pointed outward—and his lipstick if you really want to know the truth. (Not neutered, remember?) I threw up a big wave and an even bigger "RAAALLLPH!". It was a slow-motion movie sequence. Time would stand still when I saw my bud. My Mum would drop the leash as she bent to whisper, "Where's Henriette?" This old hound would bound down the patio steps and instinctively turn right and then tear up the well-preserved Canadian sidewalk towards me. But who was this? Kevin stopped short.  His face lit up, with something that can only be described as puppy love (Get it?). Ralph bounded towards us with his big beagle grin, lots of tongue, yelping with delight. He was relentless in his exuberance, joy bursting from every danderous pore of his wiggling body. It was The Greeting That Had No End. Kevin took in my wonderful dog from head to paw as Ralph jumped up on me and then K. gasped with tentative delight,

"You have a BEAGLE?"

But why was he running on an angle? I could already read K.'s mind and we weren't even engaged.

"Ralph's spine was infected when he was 3. He was paralyzed, couldn't walk for 10 days. A little Prednisone, and miraculously, he could. But ever since then he runs on a bit of an angle. He starts at POINT A, but ends up at POINT C. A little unorthodox, but he gets there."

My beagle Ralph walked a crooked line. Yup. My kind of dog. 

"I've always wanted a BEAGLE!"

[Honestly, folks, I think that sealed the deal.] 

I told you. There's nothing like your first time.

If Ralph was the sitcom curmudgeon, then Bessie was his heart o' gold wife.

We adopted Bessie after living in Los Angeles for about 8 months. Bessie was an old basset hound K. discovered in the back of the Pasadena Humane Society. IN THE BACK. This was not good news for Bessie. But what was good news was that we fell in love instantly and took her home. Bessie was 10. She had been found wandering around a parking lot. And she had been adopted and then RETURNED because she had a tiny lump on her back the size of a peanut that, in the end, never grew any bigger. Their loss. Bessie was pure love. Bessie had no baggage. None. Not even a handbag. For a rescue animal this is rare. We called her our ballerina girl—bulimic and beautiful. She was our L.A. girl, appropriate as we lived on Hollywood Blvd. at the time—the Laurel Canyon end. Bessie was thin, social, too social. In fact, Bessie's only flaw was that she'd get distracted pooping. This was challenging when walking her along the famed Boulevard. If someone called out, and they often did, "OH! She's ADORABLE!", Bessie had to stop. She knew she was beautiful. She'd stop pooping, look up, wag, wag some more, even as we cursed her latest fan for interrupting the precious ebb and flow of her BM. It was worse than bribing a toddler with M and M's to use the potty. (Not that I know anything about that. Poetic license.) She also threw up every morning, hence the bulimia. Just a wee "Blargh"—every morning. Nothing major. Compact. Contained. A polite little retch to clean out her system.

[Sooo L.A.]

Kevin fell hard for our sweet Bessie Lou.

"I've always wanted a BASSET HOUND!"

[Wait. I thought you always wanted a beagle?"]

This is Kevin's best memory of Bessie:

As perfect as she was, she had one major flaw. A titch of anxiety. But it only came out beyond the sheltered walls of our North Hollywood duplex. When at home, and paired up with Ralph the Grouch, the two personalities seemed to balance each other out. One Curmudgeon + One Pollyanna = 2 Happy Hounds.

Traveling triggered another personality altogether.

Doggie co-dependency makes traveling, uh, challenging to say the least. One time we threw caution to the wind, or was it intelligence?, or maybe it really was caution?, because I would never do it again. We flew Ralph and Bessie with us to Winnipeg, Canada. Because as much as we loved seeing K.'s family, we couldn't bear leaving our own family behind. So we bought the doggie crates on Craig's List. We discovered that transferring through Denver or Minneapolis would be impossible because the outside temperatures dropped too low for dogs to transfer planes. So Vancouver it was—Canada's Miami Beach. And we stocked up on those doggie tranquilizers. Ralph took to the tranquilizer obediently, swallowing his pill, manifesting it like a pro, his bloodshot eyes and heavy head happily chilling upon the collection of pillows we'd stuffed inside his crate. Bessie, on the other hand, became a beast. Our sweet stuffed animal come to life was plunged into the throws of panic once the tranquilizer hit her bloodstream. Even back then I was confused. ("But Bessie! It's drugs!") Our demure princess howled and bayed and cried whereas King Ralph, The Howling Hound of Hollywood, shut right down and enjoyed the riiide, man.

And it only got worse upon return from Winnipeg to Vancouver.

We stood wrangled inside long, snaking lines with frustrated travelers, pure anarchy contained only by the ingrained Canadian desire to be polite at all times and those ubiquitous velvet (poly-blend?) ropes confining us to the teeniest square of linoleum at this pseudo-border. We were all tired, hungry and frustrated after long flight delays due to de-icing. Stupid Canada! Does it have to snow every January? It was New Year's Day. Christmas was the nostalgic past and the only thing in the future were maxed out credit cards and the strong possibility that we would miss our flight home. Those darn Canadians. So fair and reasonable. No racial profiling here! We would have to wind through those ropes like everyone else. There was no deal I could negotiate with 4 suitcases, 3 airport trolleys, 2 doggie crates, and 1 wildly embarrassed husband.

If there's one thing to know about my husband, it is that he does not like attention. Is this incongruous with him playing THE LOUDEST INSTRUMENT ON EARTH? Yes. Is it a contradiction of sorts that he loves to sing in front of thousands of people? Correct. Is it somewhat odd that he runs a business where he has to deal with people very day? Absolutely. But attention on HIM? Not so much. Why was Kevin embarrassed you might ask? Well, our darling basset hound was having the same reaction to her tranquilizer—that is to say, none. In fact, it did the opposite and cracked her out—catapulting her into a tweaking frenzy—winding her up so tightly that when the howls of agony began to emit from her perfectly sculpted snout, a flurry of frantic heads rippled through the line-up like "The Wave", each one looking in a different direction for the murder that had just taken place on Canadian soil. No. No-one had been killed, but my pacifist, my very own St. Francis of Assisi, was flipping out and wanted to kill. his. dog. Kevin was sweating. Bessie was sweating. Kevin was shaking. Bessie was shaking. Ralph was safe and stoned. And I was just plain ol' annoyed. ("I mean Bessie, if you're not even going to enjoy the drug, share the wealth.") As her howls of agony got louder, the tittering around us grew in tandem, until it was full-blown event. Our dog was howling! Everyone was howling! They were all baying and laughing and for a moment everyone's frustrations with Customs were lifted away with the snowflakes that were keeping us grounded.

And then we missed the plane.

We took a break from dogs for a year and a half after Bessie and Ralph died.

We had Bessie for just over 4 years.

Ralph lived for 17 years and 27 days.

And then we discovered "Daphneyland". A rescue for basset hounds in Acton, California.

To arrive at Daphneyland is an Experience. Because basset hounds are such a loyal, kind and gentle breed (with notable exceptions like Bonnie, the Killer Basset. Another blog.), cute clusters of houndiness can hang without (much) incident. We arrived at the ranch for the first time in 2004 and parked at the bottom of the hill near the residence. Atop the hill was the kennel, and around the kennel, a chain-link fence enclosing about an acre of desert land. This is the "common area"— where they "Release the Hounds!" As we pulled up, the Pavlovian sound of our wheels grinding into the hard, dusty sand triggered approximately 50-70 basset hounds to come flying, and I do mean flying, down the side of that hill to greet us. Mega-watt ears flapping, tails pinwheeling with delight and oh, those slobbery snouts loudly trumpeting that welcoming sound only a dog-lover can stand.

"AHHH-ROOOOOO!" Times 50.

And from my husband's lips a sentence that killed my Princess Leia fantasy dead in the dirt.

"OH! THIS is my fantasy!"

[Well, then.]

Soon after we met Daisy. The Dais. The biggest basset hound in the world. She was fat. Really fat. Like, where-do-I-get-one-of-those-doggie-treadmills-that-I've-seen-on-the-News-at-6-to-help-her-lose-weight, fat? I was terrified we couldn't give her a good quality of life, terrified she'd never be able to enjoy herself, terrified she'd never be happy. But Kevin was only terrified that I wouldn't say "Yes".

I said "Yes".

Our 10 year-old Daisy was never svelte like our Bessie Lou, but she was Comedy. When we moved from North Hollywood to Shadow Hills, we moved into a rented house on 5 acres of land. Daisy learned to hike with me. She was never the sprinter, more the endurance waddler, but she always strut through the finish line. She was generous, thoughtful, bringing us petrified gophers and rats on a semi-regular basis—busting through the front door with purpose, flinging down her trophies with a sassy wink and a prideful wag. And she had a dark spot. She had a past. Sometimes she would need to walk away from all the love we smothered her with and have a little "me" time. But my greatest fear was never realized.

She was happy.

This is Kevin's best memory of Daisy:

2 nights before she died, the 3 of us were bundled up by our pillowed headboard, blissfully zoned out on mindless telegenic waves and the endorphin rush that comes from softly stroking dog fur for hours on end. Suddenly, she began to eject herself from the comfort zone of our arms. Perhaps eject is an overstatement. She had never done this before and it became clear it was hard for her to navigate our fluffy bed. An overweight basset with back issues is usually not in any great hurry to leave the comfort of a pre-existing archaeological dig of pillows and sheets. Once excavated, and human Slave is intact, they STAY. But Daisy was insistent on moving. She waddled around, wiggling her body awkwardly, trying to build momentum. "What are you doing, sweet Dais?", we wondered. Finally, she settled down against a freshly excavated barricade of comforters. She fine tuned her new spot with a detailed snout. And then she stopped. She was sitting completely opposite from us, just looking. Not staring, looking. She looked first at the one, then the other of us. Daisy was nothing if not fair, balanced in her love for us, loving us equally, but uniquely. That night, we held a conversation without words. We both felt it, any true blue dog lover can sniff out those moments, even if we don't know at the time what they mean.

Now I know she was saying goodbye. A good and proper goodbye, worthy of the Good and Proper Dais.

This time, we waited only 6 months to return to Daphneyland. We were hooked on hounds, addicted to rescuing senior dogs.

When we met the smallest basset of them all, who turned out to have the biggest heart.

Here's the tribute I wrote for Maggie May when she died very suddenly just 7 months ago.


As soon as I spotted Maggie's little black back come tearing out of her cage, I thought, "OMG! THERE'S MY DOG!" She was little—40 lbs.—smaller than any hound we'd ever owned. She was arguably the prettiest. And she was most definitely the sweetest.

Kevin, once again, could not get enough of our current basset. And it was so much easier to eat her up with a spoon because she was "Compact Basset"—coming in a conveniently smaller-size for extra snuggling! But it took her a long time to get comfortable, and it was difficult to watch. Everything scared her. If you dropped a pot, a spoon, a feather. As we found her voice, a nervous high pitched wail, we began to tease her mercilessly, "I'm Maggie. I'm afraid of Air." A sweet, plaintive, "Noooooo..." was her reply for everything. But thankfully, her anxiety dissipated even as ours grew. During the most challenging time of our marriage, through illness and addiction, unemployment and separation, she blossomed, her heart spilling over with love when we came up short. Maggie flourished when we needed her most, indeed, finally finding her gloriously nipple-studded belly in rehab with me.  She was always happy, always twirling and completely ROBBED at The Arcadia Basset Hound Picnic placing an unspeakable 2nd!!!

But she didn't care. As long as she could keep wagging.

Kevin's best memory of Maggie:

Picture it. Shadow Hills, 2010. The bedroom of one fatigued husband and his bedridden wife. The wife lies under a mountain of blankets. She is hiding from Life and The Cold. She is always cold. The husband lies in the opposite direction, facing the foot of the bed, watching TV. He lies in his tighty whities on his stomach, sweating, gasping for air. He is always hot. Maggie, their adorable, slightly wall-eyed basset, lies parallel to her master. She digs him. She wants to please him. They are both lying with their legs sprawled behind them like pressed ducks. The wife laughs. The husband begins to softly bark, edging his nose skyward. Maggie begins to squeak, uncomfortable, uncertain. The wife laughs again. The husband begins to bay like a coyote. Maggie squeals now, straddling that line between complete bewilderment and the joy of crazy. The husband starts to yap, continuous barks of encouragement, now directing them toward his confused little canine. Maggie has had enough. She retaliates—her tiny barks of protest comedic from such a wee little frame. Her barks grow louder and louder until they shift into growl and then finally shift into an anthemic xylophone trill of epic proportions.


Her trill was hilarious, a surefire party trick that would ignite the room with delighted "Oooh's" and "Aaah's".

And it was the sound that sustained me during those dark dialysis days and nights. When I could hardly stand another minute of my existence, Maggie would do the howling for me.

"His name is Wahlter White?"

Wahlter waited for us. We met Wahlter at Daphneyland in January of 2013 when we were taking pictures of the hounds for Petfinder.  We still had Maggie May. We weren't looking for another dog. But Wahlter was looking for us.

Wahlter waited 13 months for us.

"And then there's Wahlter..."

[Which we like to sing to the tune of Pharrell's  "Because I'm Happyyyyyy..."]

We've had Wahlter for 5 months now. I don't now why I was so nervous to have male dog energy again. After 17 years of Ralph, I just figured there was no going back to The Penis. But it was a gamble that payed off in spades.

When we brought Wahlter home, I hadn't heard K. giggle like that in 6 years.


Wahlter is nervous in his own way. He's the only hound we briefly considered medicating. The first time we came home after leaving him, there were slobbery, goobery sheaths of saliva covering every window pane of our cabin. And we live in a cabin with french doors—read panes of glass, many, many panes of glass. Books were knocked over, K.'s hard drives were toppled and every surface had been mounted in the desperate attempt to FIND MY OWNERS. We would return home to complete destruction and the polar opposite—euphoric celebration. The panting, the spinning, the sheer depth of his gratitude that we were home was touching, troubling. Would he adjust? Thankfully, with a little lavender oil, a little classical music and a little more time, it seems he has grasped the idea that we do return home—always—and that his fears of abandonment are pure fiction.

Wahlter is delighted by all things. He can be merrily trotting beside me as I take the garbage out and then, "SQUIRREL!"—or in his case, "GECKO!"—and ZOOM!, he's off, tearing across our sandy yard and diving into a one-inch squared crevasse, completely perplexed as to why he can't jam his whole being inside. He is equally delighted to simply sit and stare at me in the morning as I putter around the kitchen. Brewing coffee, washing dishes, taking my meds. He ignores the black cloud above my head that takes its sweet time dissipating into the light of day. He just watches me wake up, unflappable. I am charming to my dog as both my inhuman morning self and my electric night owl self who can't stop "Hoo-hoo-hoo-ing!" until the wee hours of the night. He loves it all.

And we love all of him.

And he is of profound comfort when he curls up with me at night. My protector, who knows nothing of my Diseased past. His tail wags like a malfunctioning metronome on triple speed at the mere sight of his partner-in-bromance, K., while simultaneously "Grrring"—just a slight warning growl—channeling my Ralph, who used to growl with bulging, suspicious eyes if anyone came too close to me when I was lying down.

Ralph protecting me from Future Diseases. Wahlter now protecting me from Diseases Past.

Somehow it has all come full circle.

Kevin's best memory of Wahlter:


So now that we have a picture of their personalities, this is how I imagine the conversation might have gone down at The Rainbow Bridge when Maggie joined Ralph, Bessie, and Daisy that cold January night here on Earth.

A wee, tri-colored basset hound finishes crossing a beautiful bridge alight with a technicolor glow. She stops to pee.

MAGGIE: Noooooo. Where am I?

Enter RALPH, age 17, (think: Robert De Niro meets Robin Williams), BESSIE, age 14, (think: Paris Hilton meets Drew Barrymore) and DAISY, age 14, (think: Elaine Stritch meets Melissa McCarthy). They surround MAGGIE, age 14, (think: Kristen Wiig meets Kristen Bell). Butt sniffing and tail wagging ensue for several minutes. RALPH lets one rip.

MAGGIE: Noooooo. Who are you guys?

RALPH: I'm Ralph. The dog that started it all. You may have also heard of me as GayBeg104, The Gay Beagle, Ralphum, Boobus, Bud, Budson, just to name a few.

DAISY: Ralph. We get it.

BESSIE: I'm Bessie. I'm beautiful.

DAISY: I'm The Dais. Welcome. It's cool up here. No-one cares that you're big, or that you pee on the floor, or even if you eat your own poop. So knock yourself out. 

MAGGIE: Noooooo. But I miss Them. They never cared if I did any of those things.

RALPH: How are they doing?

MAGGIE: It was very sad for them for a while, but they always loved me. So much. Too much.

RALPH: Too much? How is that possible? I couldn't get enough.

DAISY:  Ralph was never neutered.

RALPH: True, true. I just mean, they were awesome.

BESSIE: They told me I was beautiful. All the time.

DAISY: Me, too.

RALPH: Me, too.

MAGGIE: Me, too.

There is a prolonged silence.

MAGGIE: Do you miss them now?

RALPH: Well, we see them all the time. You get to kinda watch over them. But you don't miss them. You'll see.                          

DAISY: And this place is the shit. All the food you can eat. You can chase whatever you want. Sniff anything. And you never, ever feel alone. Just loved.

MAGGIE: That sounds nice.

BESSIE: I'm beautiful.


DAISY: And we'll get to see them again.

MAGGIE: But how do you know?

DAISY: We just do. You'll see.

MAGGIE: Can I hang with you guys?

RALPH, DAISY, and BESSIE: Of course! We're family!

MAGGIE: Family!


As the dinner bell sounds, my 4 beloved dogs go running off into the sunset, tails wagging, ears flapping and hearts bursting with joy.

So yes, my cherished canines, our Love survived.

And no, I don't always have to write about alcoholism.

But I always have to write about what's important to me, and nothing was more important to me than you guys.

I hope this made you smile.

[For K.]

[And Ralph, Bessie, Daisy and Maggie]
Must Love Dogs.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Star Trek Diaries: Day 4: "Flight" or Fight?

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

By the 4th day in Vegas, I thought about drinking.

This is not good news for an alcoholic.

The movie "Flight" stars the sensational Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic pilot under scrutiny after steering his crashing plane to a semi-safe landing. Only 6 souls on the flight perish, but Whitaker is dogged by the media and sued by the victims' families after his blood work reveals he was high and drunk while miraculously landing the plane. He cannot stop drinking, even as the trial, indeed, especially as the trial approaches, and his life, as a direct result of acute alcoholism, begins to crash faster than the aircraft he piloted. Clean off heroin, his new GF leaves him, his ex-wife has had it up to Here and his son rejects him once and for all.  Whitaker is hidden away for 10 days, along with any access to alcohol, in the safe harbor of a friend until his trial begins. The night before his trial, he is literally kept under lock and key in a hotel room, the mini bar cleared out, a security guard posted outside his door— an intensive effort to keep him sober until the morning's deposition.

It is late. An eerie wind of foreboding blows through his hotel suite. An ominous, repetitive knocking begins. It is the door to the neighboring hotel room bang, bang, banging against his. As he investigates the noise, he realizes the door is unlocked, and we realize he now has access to a room and mini-bar that has not been emptied. We can smell what will transpire well before our beleaguered captain even sets foot in the room. Whitaker takes his time approaching the mini bar to investigate, hesitant, hopeful, wondering if it will be full of alcohol when he swings the door wide. The vacuum-sealed fridge opens with a sigh. From the inside, amongst the glittering miniaturized bottles of gin, vodka, and Jack, we peer out at his face. It is a poker face hiding a tornado of obsessive thoughts raging to touch down." I can have just one. I'll just have a Jack and go right to bed. I have a full stomach—it won't hit me that hard." We are holding our breaths, even as he steps away, leaving the fridge door open wide. The bottles wait, wet and willing. Patient. We feel the frigid air escaping, the icy-cold drinks turning room temperature, 1, 2, 5 seconds pass. 10 seconds pass. Then, WHAM. A flash of fingers. His hand hurls around a vodka bottle with the fury of self-will run riot. We feel somehow, he never had a choice.

Whitaker drinks, and drinks, and drinks and is awoken bloodied, passed out on the floor of his bathroom in his underwear by frantic colleagues desperately trying to thwack him back into ship-shape for the deposition. I swear I could hear the audience's thought bubbles bursting with disbelief, disgust, confusion, judgement up and down the movie theatre aisles. "Jesus. Why couldn't he stop? Why couldn't he have just one? Why couldn't he wait until after the trial, for Pete's sake?"

Because he is an alcoholic.

I had a minibar in my room.

I had a moment where a sequence of events transpired in my head not unlike a movie montage.

I noticed "The Rio" did not provide a regular coffee maker for my morning Joe, rather the new-fangled Keurig machine (like-the-one-we-no-longer-use-at-home-because-goddamn-the-way-I-chug-coffee-now-makes-those-single-cup-servings-add-up!). I began searching around my hotel room for those coffee pods. I squatted in front of the mini-bar and glanced at the tag hanging off the knob that warned me NOT TO LIFT ANYTHING I DID NOT WANT OR I WOULD BE CHARGED. Jeez. Chill. Distracted by the stern warning, I turned the key still dangling from the lock and swung the door wide. There they were. My shiny, little friends so beautifully categorized. Organized alcohol! OCD and booze! Was it getting warm in here? Gin, vodka, and Jack—just like in the movies! They glittered glorious rich colors of amber and gold against the immaculate white of the fridge. The bottles gleamed like prizes I should be entitled to claim. Syrupy, golden liquid that I knew would coat my throat with comfort and joy; first the burn, then the hot rush that would hit my now pristine veins like an injection of fire. And the relief that would follow; the fuzzy, friendly feeling that all was right in the world.

I didn't want it any of it.

I slammed the door and thought,

"Hmmm. Weird."

I thought about asking the hotel staff to come up to my room and clear out the fridge, but here's the truth. My comfort now comes from within. My internal peace is something I no longer manufacture from the external—my looks, my career, my surroundings. We do not have alcohol in the house. Am I more comfortable living in a sober home? Yes, I am only 13 months sober. Do I like hanging out with people who are drinking—soaking up their sauced state of mind and soul? Not so much. But did I ever have my Whip Whitaker moment and think about raiding that minibar in the middle of the night? No. Because I am a fucking pro at hiding, lying, manipulating, and now that The Big Man's in the picture, I just can't hide anything from him. I may be able to hide my actions from you, but I can no longer hide it from myself. Eventually, it bubbles up to the surface and manifests, deadly like Ebola, oozing out of me a bloodied puss of resentment, remorse and regret.

And eventually, I will die.

A spiritual death is so much more painful than any physical one. I know. At one time, I was dying from both.

In Vegas, you can drink anywhere. Short of behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, it is expected, encouraged, and most people heartily embrace this unwritten law by carrying a drink around with them wherever they go. They nurse it all day, everyday, like a starving newborn to a willing teat; sporting the drink proudly like an extra appendage they can't believe they've lived without this long. I used to do this. And in fact there was a moment, a flicker of misguided, manipulated nostalgia when I stood up from my convention table and stretched, hungry and tired, and thought, "OH. How great would a glass of white wine feel?" But, it was just a flicker, a fleeting image of chugging a cold glass of Chardonnay that pirouetted through my brain and out the back door before I felt the slightest bit dizzy.

It is not an option anymore. Nor do I want it to be.

As I left the Star Trek Convention Saturday night to go up to my room, I had to cut through the casino. It was 7:30 pm, the moment in a Vegas evening when the energy shifts from Neutral into Drive. The clinking jangle of the slot machines seemed louder, more frenzied, like screaming mechanical children demanding my attention. "WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!" As I wove through the aisles of technicolor turbulence, the go-go dancers gyrated atop roulette tables to a vibrating beat so deep and thick, the plastic chips hopped in their teetering stacks of hope. She was grinding us all into welcomed submission; driving our hands deeper into our pockets, opening our wallets, even as our minds closed to everything but inhaling the stench of sin in the air.

My sin wafted off a moving tray of frothy, fruity drinks, artificially colored, genuinely delicious. But, no. That wasn't my gig. I spotted a clear drink with ice and a slice of lime. My heart twitched with a quick thud of recognition. That one would have been mine. My Vegas was all vodka, all the time. And I thought, what would happen if I just reached over and swiped the drink from the tray, startling the sexy waitress barely clad in tassels and mesh? What would happen if I grabbed and gulped? What kind of Henriette would emerge after nearly 3 years without a drink? I would have flirted and fibbed and fought my way back to Los Angeles—struggling not to crash land the way Whitaker fought to land that plane of innocents—immediately light years away from myself.

It's a trip I didn't want to take that night.

I looked around the convention hall the next day and noticed that very few Trekkies drank. Perhaps it was coincidental. Or perhaps in all their nerdy wackiness; their reverence for a world that only exists in the fourth dimension of film and television, they had discovered something I had been running from down here on Earth.

There is something else Out There. Something bigger than just Us. And that knowledge fills them with hope and peace.

It is when Whitaker finally surrenders, announcing in a desperate, split-second gasp of acceptance, "I am an alcoholic." that relief rushes out of him. What quivers through Washington's body is not just a textured, layered performance. It is tactile. We feel the acceptance of Whitaker's powerlessness and rejoice he is on the road to being free.

"Flight" or Fight? Neither.

It's when I surrender that my daily battle is won.

My new minibar.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide is Selfish. (Mork and Me)

Isn't Suicide selfish?

The Cynical Sally in me is judging.

Judging all of you as I scroll through my Facebook News Feed and read post after post, dodge witty hashtag after lengthy link, about Robin Williams, the Academy Award winning actor who recently committed suicide by strangling himself.

But no-one is really grieving. Is it grief that's being sent out into not a deafeningly-silent, black hole of deep cyber space, but onto a public forum so unprivate it boasts over 1 billion members (Facebook)? Aren't these open letters and podcasts just masquerading as grief; an opportunity to jump on the social media band-wagon and have an opinion about Williams' suicide that might get you a little attention? A few more hits on your blog? A few more Facebook likes? None of us knew him, indeed none of the posturing and opinions comes from anyone who really knew what Williams was thinking and feeling. Even his wife.

No-one knew what Robin Williams was thinking and feeling except Robin Williams.

I am no different. Let's clear that up right away. I am jumping on the bandwagon, too, because Robin Williams was a celebrity and I feel like I know celebrities. They permeate my existence, by osmosis I come to recognize them often sight unseen. The timbre of their voices, their signature facial expressions, their style of dress. I also feel entitled to my opinion because I have 4 kidneys and a big mouth. I feel like I have something to SAY about this. And finally, I feel entitled because no-one is talking about the fact that Robin Williams was an alcoholic and a drug addict. This is not a criticism or a judgement. It is a fact. I feel entitled to state this because I am one, too.

I understand Depression is a disease with a capital "D". I know people who suffer from it and know relationships devastated by mental illness. I was medicated for Depression when my 1st kidney transplant rejected in 2008. But often, Depression is part and parcel of alcoholics struggling to stay sober and no-one is talking about that. The disease of alcoholism is often reduced to "demons" we just need to clear out of our closet. Alcoholism by definition (in the AMA) is a mental illness. Men more eloquent than myself have described alcoholism as an "obsession of the mind and a craving of the body" and when we are deprived of that medicine (drugs and alcohol) and do not seek the solution (spiritual in nature) it drives Men (and Women) to the brink of insanity.

I know because it drove me there.

I have heard it asked, "How do you know when someone is alcoholic?" and the reply, simple and plain, "The light in their eyes has gone out."

The light in my eyes went out in August of 2011. 4 months earlier, my husband had saved my life by donating his kidney to me. I had everything to live for. I was no longer a member of the living dead, barely existing on dialysis. I was healthy, had a loving husband, friends, could return to my career if I so chose, but all I cared about was popping pills and guzzling booze. I lived, obsessively, compulsively for more, more, more even as I cared less, less, less about myself and my existence. My noxious, self-pitying cry was often, "I am a waste of space. I have no purpose. I'd be better off dead." Until the day came when I tried to silence that endlessly screeching, scratched-up record by swallowing 130 benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin) and ended up in Cedars-Sinai for an Overdose for the 2nd time in my life.

I was lucky. I was hospitalized, rehabbed for 60 days and on October 17th, 2011, began the dance of 12 steps. I was slow to learn the dance, to remain teachable and I relapsed after 6 months. I lied for 8 months about being sober and then I really relapsed. I stole, I lied, I manipulated, I did the things like Williams is quoted as saying, "I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust, hard to recover from." There are still things I have done to this day that only one other person knows about. But you can also be "dry"; not drink or use and feel completely insane. I wanted drugs so badly one day, I looked online at website after website on how to purchase drugs illegally. I was stone cold sober, completely, 100% out of my mind, searching hour after hour for a way to escape myself. This is not normal. This is a sickness, a Disease that wants you to stay Selfish and Self-Centered—like a talk radio station that Williams could perform more masterly than me, "Good Morning, Henriette! It's Henriette radio—All Henriette. All. The. Time!" This blared away in my head while the conversation my husband was having with a client in the next room served as a soundtrack for a normal life I couldn't seem to access.

Then one day, July 19th, 2013, I finally surrendered, and it's in my surrendering that all my greatest battles have been won.

I finally have 1 year of sobriety.

This Disease of Alcoholism waits for you, it wants to go to war with with you, because it knows It will win. This Disease is patient. It will wait for you forever. All it needs is a brief period of vulnerability, a weakness, a sliver of opportunity, like a hairline crack under the door and it will scurry inside; contorting itself to slither back into your soul. And then wait. And wait. Wait until day feels like the cave of night and night feels like the cave has collapsed around you. You've been kidnapped; held hostage; you can't breathe—bound, gagged and tortured by your own brain—drugs or no drugs—and you can't stand the pain a second longer. It feels like you will never be free.

And the light goes out.

I can see in the final photos of Williams that the light had gone out in his eyes.   

I saw the light go out in my Daddy's eyes when I was about 7. He was 36 and had suffered as a full-blown alcoholic from the age of 30 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. He would pick us up from school, bestowing snacks of bananas and chocolate milk upon us, even as he chugged beer while chauffeuring us home. His teeth fell out at the dining room table. He was hospitalized 3 times for symptoms relating to alcoholism—bleeding ulcers, complete dentures—one time for 3 months—before he finally died at age 38. He had "everything" to live for, much like Williams did. He was a successful doctor, had a beautiful wife and 2 healthy children, a family who loved him, he loved his adopted home of Canada, but in the end, his Disease won out. He drank himself to death, unable to stop. A slow-motion Suicide, marinating in self-obsession and a voice drowned by alcohol.

Why is it so hard to ask for help?

We need to foster conversation about Depression as disease, as badly as we need to foster conversation about Alcoholism and Drug Addiction as disease. In the same way you can't "pull yourself up by your boot straps" or "shake it off" with Depression, there is no willpower involved with "Alcoholism". In surrendering to it, by accepting it, I have become empowered. By asking for help. Every single day. From therapists, from AA, from God. One day at a time. I can't do it alone.

Nor do I want to anymore.

Why would we all be on this planet together if we were meant to do it alone? And that's the trap of mental illness. Our Disease convinces us that we are alone. That we wander separate from you Earthlings, that no-one else has suffered this way, that no-one else will understand. It wants us to be miserable, to suffer and then die. Mork came down from Ork and struggled to fit in here on Earth. Perhaps Williams never quite shed the skin of the quirky alien character that put his career on the map. In being a double kidney transplanted, alcoholic drug addict, I felt like an alien. Until I found other aliens like me, a tribe, a clan that speaks my language.

["Nanu, nanu."]

I wish Williams had found his tribe.

The tragedy of suicide is that they feel so alone, when so many of us speak the same language.

I absolutely loved Robin Williams.

If I knew Williams was going to be on a late night talk show, I would tune in to watch, despite my loathing for the formulaic, pre-planned banter arranged before the studio audience arrives. It was always worth tolerating Leno's transparently-planted leading questions to watch Williams' talent ignite. His riffing, always electric, was borne from a thunderous physicality that shot lightning bolts of humor from his mouth at warp speed. There was no need to place a chair for Williams, yo-yo-ing up and down from his seat, his body unable to keep up with the volcanic brilliance erupting from his mouth. I would laugh until I snorted, until my mood elevated, my heart alight. 

I was a sucker for "Mrs. Doubtfire", enthralled by "The Fisher King" and delighted by "The Genie" in "Aladdin". But for me, I loved Williams in "The Birdcage". Armand Goldman was everything—funny, poignant, complete.

Is it odd that the night before the reports of Williams' death came streaming down our Iphones like a sheet of rain, or perhaps more appropriately, a flood of tears, my husband found "The Birdcage" on Netflix. We curled in bed, a happy, hairy cluster of 3—K., our basset hound, Wahlter, and I and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Even as Williams prepared to die.

I don't believe in accidents anymore.

Everything in life is a choice. I take it one day at a time. Some days are dark, but most days I walk a new path where the only baggage I carry is labelled, "Faith", 'Hope" and  "Love".

Suicide isn't the only choice. It just feels like it is. And that's inexplicably, horrendously unfair.

I wish he had been able to turn the light back on.

Was Williams a dry Alcoholic, was he bipolar, was he misdiagnosed?

I don't know and so I stand corrected. We are all grieving, because there is no way to make sense of the senseless.

So, yes, suicide must be selfish. What else can it be? This is just my opinion. Because if it's not a selfish choice, then is it the Inevitable? That would mean that some people are just predestined to suffer from mental illness, to endure horrific, desperate, unthinkable thoughts and then die?

I can't live with that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Star Trek Diaries: Day 3: Alien Nation

Captain's LOG: Friday, August 1st, 2014

I didn't get to play an alien, but I have always felt like one.

So it strikes me as appropriate that I booked a role on a TV show about space, aliens and the search for otherworldly life. Yet, I played an Irish girl (I am a 1st generation Canadian of Danish and Latvian decent). She did not exist on the spaceship; was not one of the uniformed tribe venturing fearlessly into deep space. She was not one of the alien tribes such as Klingon or Romulan or Ferengi or some other such clan with strange, scabby markings on their faces and voice boxes set to menacing rasp. She wasn't even real. My character, Maggie O'Halloran existed only inside a holodeck.

An alien situation even to the aliens.

You can see my confusion. How would I play something that wasn't real? The only frame of reference I had for a holodeck was that of a 3-D technicolored image (like a rainbow or unicorn) found on my credit card, formed by the interference of light patterns. But that's a hologram, placed on our I.D.s to prevent fraud. Maggie was created to generate love. But she could disappear, and did, as quickly as she appeared.

So was I playing an alien or was I not? Was Maggie real or not? If the feelings she created were real, then didn't she have to be?

Can you feel my confusion?

It's hard to feel a part of high school, to get down with the chess club and the cheerleaders when you've been diagnosed with CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) at age 13. At least, it was for me. It made me feel unique in a place where I wasn't quite ready to stand out. I didn't know how to be me yet. I didn't know who I was, or even who I thought I was. I didn't know if I wanted to slouch against the banged up lockers—metal doors slightly rusted from the odious air of teenage angst that ages the young before their time—and watch the cute boys pass by, quietly skulking, stalking a social life that I wasn't sure I had the energy for. Or did I want to throw myself into a gaggle of screeching socialites, the Victors and Vixens of the Student Council Elections—[really a popularity contest that rewarded the victorious students with an office; a private space where they could make out and have lunch in hallowed privacy away from the throngs of teens in head-gear and under washed, acid-washed jeans, eating homemade lunch alone in the loathsome caf.]—and try on a personality for size I was sure wouldn't fit.

I was Dazed (by disease) and Confused (just 'cause).

Soon enough, High School ended and like SuperGirl I flew up, up and away from "The Time that Dare Not Speak it's Name." I had my own battles to face. CKD was my Kryptonite, forcing my crash-landing mere months after I graduated. But I had a superhero living in my own home. She wore no cape, but was able to give of her organs in a single bound. Let's just call her SuperMum. And by January of 1988, I was a teenage manifestation of science fiction, mooning around town around with a smattering of acne, a severe case of puppy love and 3 kidneys—2 that barely worked, and one they sewed into my belly to save my life.

As grateful as I was to no longer be acutely sick, transplantation was an isolating experience. I knew one other person who'd had a kidney transplant, and through my 19-year old eyes, she seemed ancient. Walking around with your mother's kidney inside you, with a face bloated from steroids at age 19, guarantees you alien status. Suddenly, I had a Platinum, lifetime membership to a club I never wanted to be a member of—without even applying. Pre-approved!

In 1988, a kidney transplant was still a big deal. One of my prescribed immunosuppressives, Cyclosporine, was not even approved for use in organ transplantation until 1983. Transplantation wasn't discussed in the lowered hush of a whisper reserved for patients stricken with "cancer", but it was still bizarre enough to be a conversation stopper/starter, depending on how I wanted to manipulate its direction that day. Yes, somehow, the miracle of transplantation was still revered enough by pre-social media network television to remain untouchable fodder for sitcom material.

Until it became a running joke that I was never quite in on.

Exploiting the Bizarro science fiction aspect of kidney donation is an easy card for Hollywood writers to play—too tired or too stoned at 2 am (in The Writers' Room on the Lot) to infuse any intelligence into their jokes. Instead of celebrating the improbable, they snicker at the miraculous simplicity of organ donation and transplantation. "I'll just a buy kidney on E-bay!" "I'm selling a kidney to pay the I.R.S!" So much, too much suffering is behind the loss of a cadaver's life in order to save someone trapped in a living hell on dialysis. Unless you're one of the lucky ones, like myself, and receive a living donor. I try, but my patience wears thin. Infuriated, these dreaded, cringe-inducing jokes impelled me to whip up a furious, frothy letter of disdain to "Entertainment Weekly" magazine one time, begging them to keep their jokes about organs focused on the apparent largeness of one Tommy Lee's. "Yo, overpaid writers, lay off the weed and spend a week writing your jokes in a dialysis unit."

["Look! Her blood's being filtered through a spaghetti-like mass of plastic tubes!" "Nooo, that's not Spaghetti Marinara, it's her entire bloodstream!"]

Sigh. Hilarious.

Another reason to feel alienated. Laughter directed at the very thing that keeps me alive.

And suddenly, I am orbited even further away from you Earthlings.

On Friday, Day 3 of the Star Trek Convention, I got a lot of, "You look so GOOD. You are so BEAUTIFUL." The Trekkies are generous, I'll say that. These compliments, while obviously flattering, have never meant that much to me. Don't get me wrong, the aging process isn't my favorite process, unlike say, a root canal, which I would much rather do then discover another patch of cellulite on my thigh. But what do we know when we make a snap judgment based on someone's outsides—their bodies, their homes, their choices? We see what we think they are, what we wish we had. In the past, I could pour myself into a sexy number and you'd see what you wanted to see. If I looked good on the outside, then everything had to be sparkly clean and copacetic on the inside. Right? I could fool anyone. Bet you didn't know there was a raging drug addict and alcoholic underneath that little black dress! Yes, when you are dying inside from the Relentless, [—exhaustion/headache/edema/insomnia—] the last thing you care about is a misguided compliment from someone whose eyes have just glossed over from lack of interest in your medical venting, as they struggle through an awkward pause because they just-don't-know-what-to-say, and finally sputter,

"Well, you look GREAT!"

I don't think anything in my life made me feel more alone than that—the disconnect between my reality and yours. I'd feel stranded on a planet where Earthlings could visit and participate in head-shaking, cheek-clucking conversation with me, then return home to live a long life of Hippie-esque happiness, healthy and free, exempt from the isolation that chronic illness brings. Illness invaded my soul like a virus, leaving it diseased, dying. When you didn't understand, you left me alone on a sandy, cold surface where no-one else existed. Throw in a little alcoholism, and I was lost in space, my gravitational pull yanked away long ago.

When beauty fades, it's a little insulting. When your health fades, it's liable.

 There was a theme Friday at the Star Trek Convention. It wasn't "Come as your favorite Cyborg" or "Ferengi Face-Mask Friday." It felt like Show and Tell Day at school—school being The Star Trek Convention. You show me your transplant, and I'll tell you about mine.

There was the older fan, a gray-bearded man who dialyzed at night up in his hotel room, steering his mechanical scooter from underneath a ratty, sports baseball cap, refusing to be constrained by the those bloodied, plastic tubes. He held pure Trek joy in his heart, and a twinkle in his eye for the comely Cyborgs who sashayed about, yet I will not soon forget the dulled melancholy in his eyes as he told me he is not a candidate for a kidney transplant.

There was a plain woman, so lovely in all the ways that made her plain—her soft-spoken manner, her non-descript clothes, her forgettable face. When I told her my husband had given me his kidney, she teared up, instantly, authentically, her face bursting like a twirling disco ball into fractures of dancing, reflective light; unforgettable in her reaction of pure amazement and joy.

And then there was A. He was a series regular on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", working one of the vendors' tables just down the row from me. As he made his way down the aisle towards me, we made eye contact. He was short, not "Napoleon Complex" sized—shorter. Was his growth stunted, like mine? Something was in the air. I could feel it, like whatever "gadar" is for the ill.  He stuck out his hand as I towered over him in my surprisingly-comfortable, mustard-colored heels. The essential pleasantries were exchanged. "Why have I not seen you at one of these conventions before?" I gave him the 90 second-synopsis. "I paused the acting career to have my 2nd kidney transplant and now I am writing a book about the experience."

His face fell, in that telling way that signaled he was about to say Something Significant. He was about to rock my world.

"I had a kidney transplant. In 1987."

He'd had the same kidney, from a cadaver, for nearly 27 years.

I was speechless.

Of course we dove into our respective histories with a relish matched only by pie-eating contestants gobbling towards the big finish. Tell me EVERYTHING! We swapped details with the fervor with which hormonally-jacked teens swap spit. The medication lists, the history, the hell. How was this possible? How had he lived this long with a cadaver? He was my hero. Literally. I had never felt so understood, so quickly and so completely.

[Except in the rooms where we do a dance of 12 steps. But that's another blog.]

And then I caught something in his eye. A flicker of fear as he admitted,

"I've never known anyone who went through this twice."

Suddenly, I didn't mind being a part of this Platinum club; this lifetime membership that I'd never asked for. Because I could see he was worried. I could see he was scared. And I could reach out my hand and keep another alien like me from losing their gravitational pull and flying off into deep space.

I had no idea where this Vegasian journey would take me, heels twirling on the terra firma of the convention hall-carpet all day long. Maybe it took meeting another alien in a room of wannabees to get a glimpse of the reason why.

On Friday, I did look good. I looked great, because I felt sparkly clean and copacetic on the inside, in a way I never have before. "You want MY 8 x 10 photo?" You want a sample of MY handwriting? You want a photo of us TOGETHER?" People used to think that if you took their picture, you were stealing a part of their soul. But all day long as I joyously gave of my time and attention, I remembered that I finally have a soul worth stealing. 

Maybe Maggie will always feel like an alien, but Henriette doesn't anymore.

Because I am finally living that life of Hippie-esque hapiness, healthy and free.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Star Trek Diaries: Day 2

Captain's LOG: Thursday, July 31st, 2014

7:45 am. Las Vegas, Nevada.

"Are you kidding me with this?"

I am never up this early. And I had never been up this early in Vegas, unless I'd been up all night, which usually happened at least once on a Vegas run. To rise anytime before 9 am, is for me, just short of a supernatural phenomenon. Only bizarre occurrences can rouse this certified night owl, and usually only when they are happening to me. (My kidney transplant was scheduled for a 5:30 am check-in, and even that was negotiable.) I could drone on and on about the suppression of my immune system, and how this 2nd kidney transplant has been rougher, harder on my body—which it has—but the truth is, I have always loved the night. I come alive in the vampirical dark. The shadows inspire me, the silence fertilizes my soul. I bloom under the inky blanket of night. (OK, you get the picture.) I see no point in rising at the crack of dawn. Everything is too fucking bright, too loud—the morning news, the freeways, the glare of The Sun pierces through my secrets, slicing them open with a judgmental fillet; what lies beneath exposed by Her lasering rays of light. It is so organic to my nature to avoid all things morning, that my GF/Roommate/"Next Gen." drinking buddy, J., quoted my mother back to me at my wedding.

"Henriette's really not human in the morning."


When I pulled all-nighters in Vegas I was always soaring on some cocktail of rock star-infused adrenaline, mixed with a few shots of The Siberian Sauce, icy cold, thank-you-very-much, and a dash, or two, or three (or more) of Butalbital. The pool-deck perversions I would engage in by day, were paced, but a minor commitment to debauchery. A few drinks, a little flirting with the bartender, maybe an amateurish pull on a slot machine as I slipped upstairs to apply more sunscreen. I couldn't wait for the sun to go down—the sunset as harbinger to a night of justified Dionysian chaos. No-one looks too closely into the Vegas shadows. Because that's where we're all hiding. We are all conspiring together, skulking around the reality that reality's been exterminated by the neon glow that emanates from the Babylonian shrines towering along The Strip. Nothing survives under those lights so midway bright; death by florescent. And nothing wants to. We are blinded to our actions and all consequences. When I drink, I don't get drunk. When I get high, it's legal. When I gamble, it's justified. When I flirt, it's appropriate. When I buy, it's free. When I overeat, there are no calories. And when I lie, it's the truth.

But what's up with this SUN?

I pulled the curtains open in my room at "The Rio"—one hotel I had never stayed at, and never need to again. Although the room was clean, comfortable, there was nothing glamorous about it. But in truth what is glamorous about a hotel room, no matter how Four-Seasons fancy? It's the person inside the room that becomes The Master of Ceremonies, decorating the Vegas experience with his/her own unique flare. And it is what's inside the person inside the room that decides how long it lasts.

What happens in Vegas, stays inside us.

I had never been up this early in Vegas. But, I had a reason to be up. To work. To work a convention as a temporarily "retired" actress who was what, past her prime, reviving her career? Why was I here?

My co-star, Garrett, had convinced me through a flirty flurry of tweets to make the trip, to invest financially in photos, a vendor's table, gas, food, et al. I was suspect. I understood he was an established "star" in this Star Trek Galaxy around which I was merely orbiting. I was but a shooting star who streaked fleetingly across Star Trek: Voyager's milky way alongside other minor stars and dwarf planets. Blink and you'd miss me. I had no illusions. I would eclipse no-one.

I dragged myself to the bathroom, slathering myself with cosmetic war paint, readying myself to go into battle. But what was I fighting? The Trekkies? The Biz? The Past? Makeup so foreign to me now as I "ego-ly" embrace the fine lines and slightly sagging skin that defines my sober visage and often go forth barefaced. Uncover Girl-ed. There's a freedom in walking around without make-up, without the baggage of eyeliner and ego. But today was not that day. I needed a little protection. A thin veneer of goop and gloss between me and the Trekkies. Would I sit there all day, embarrassed and alone? Would I be swarmed? I was terrified. I needed a little lip plumping, something to nervously chew on were I stranded at my vendor's table alone with a stack of photos and a Sharpie in every color of the rainbow.

I found my table in a large "Rio" convention room, aptly titled The Amazon Room. Table 88. Two chairs. Black linen tablecloth, such as you would see at a wake or a wedding with the theme colors black and terror. My heart was pounding in that straight up, hard core, cliched, Snoopy-on-his-doghouse-roof-typing, "It was a Dark and Stormy Night" kinda way. I was dying. A line had already formed outside the hall. And then the announcement. "It is 9:00 o'clock. We are now letting the public in." An odd roar went up inside the hall. A mixture between dread and fiscal anticipation. I adjusted my stacks of photos one last time, and tried to internally adjust my attitude from run-for-the-hills alarm to a wondrous spirit of adventure!

The bells sounded. The doors opened. And we were off. And my Ensign Harry Kim a.k.a. Garrett Wang came flying around the corner to give me a big welcome hug. I was in.

And they came. My first 2 fans. Lovely, lovely people who wandered over from the middle of the aisle straight up to me and my merchandize. I jumped to my feet, suddenly knowing exactly what to do. I stuck out my recently sanitized hand and pumped theirs up and down. "Hi. I'm Henriette!", I cried. They were delighted, simply delighted that I had come out to the convention. I was "Maggie!" from "Fair Haven!" In a moment as cozy as storybook hour in a public library we exchanged our tales of woe. Their son was autistic, but functioning now, working, running a group home. And what was I doing now? Working on a book about saving marriage from illness. And then the moment came. Surreal. The husband lifted the top "Official Star Trek: Voyager Photo" from my stack and asked if I would sign it for them. "I would be happy to." I smiled, slickly whipping out a gold Sharpie and decapping it like it was a surgical instrument. This was a precision moment. My first autograph ever. I scribbled my unpracticed "John Hencock" and handed it over to the couple. Smiling. Grateful.

But who was I? I was no star. What did this MEAN?

Thursday was my busiest day of the convention. This is not to say I was swarmed, but a steady stream of Star Trek fans approached my table to talk, to titter, to ask for my autograph. (Did I mention this was surreal?) There was Dorin, who, walking by in full Trek regalia, shouted with elated recognition, "Oh! You're Maggie!" There was the distinguished black gentleman, not unlike Morgan Freeman, who had not yet fully converted his son over from Star Wars into the Trek universe, hilarious in his honesty. "To tell you the truth," he drawled, "I just didn't understand the POINT of those Ireland episodes. I mean, if I'm watching a show about space, I want to see the actors in space." Point taken. But he bought my autograph anyway. And there was this poignant pause after a young boy, Christian, with a half-henna-ed, half eyebrow-penciled tattoo on his face, (emulating a Romulan, I believe.) looked up at me after our little chat and quietly mumbled, "Thank you for talking to me."

There were lovely little ego trips that kept me flying around the convention hall all day long. I'm not gonna lie. It's not the worst thing in the world for this red-headed ode to science fiction (This barely sober woman with 4 kidneys. It bears repeating.) to have her age charted out around 30. "Well, you can't be a day over 30, which means you did "Spirit Folk" and "Fair Haven" when you were about 18 or 19 (or 31. But who's counting?) Clearly, this bestower of compliments needed his eyes checked, but this 40+ bestowee will take happily hers with a side of buttered perspective and enjoy.

[Yes, please!]

But it was the moments like I had with Christian that gave me pause. Despite my best spiritual self, I had had expectations. Of course I had. The series' regulars at the tables around me were outselling me 5 to one. But that didn't matter to me. I had known this was a gamble. This had been an uncharted galaxy to explore. And I was after all, in Las Vegas. But gambling isn't something I like to do anymore. And so, the hand I played all day was the astonishing realization that I could give something to someone simply by being present and listening. I was on a winning streak. I shared, they cared, but it was in my conscious silence—silence I worked like an weight machine at the gym, flexing and holding— that I found my strength. And won big.

Christian needed my silence, and I needed to hear it, too.

["Thank you for talking to me."]

In silence I have found serenity, even at a Star Trek Convention hall with 2000 vendors in the hell of Las Vegas.

I lay in my queen-sized bed that night, feeling just like that—a queen. I was exhausted. After the energy it took to keep my motor-mouth running all day long, to sit and stand, to sit and stand, and to swirl my crazy Latvian name across a pile of 8 x 10 glossies, I had puttered out. I lay on my bed, nibbling on my gift shop sandwich, too tired to venture out, too cheap to order room service. My feet were up, swollen not just from my immunosuppressives, but from my anomalous posing and pivoting in heels all day long. I flipped on the TV. We no longer have cable, and I was reminded why. But, a program was beginning on CNN entitled, "The Sixties". And, serendipitously, the year they were to profile was 1968. The year I was born.

The narrator began, "It was like theatre. In 1968, it was just one thing after another."  I was born into chaos, but it doesn't mean I have to stay there.

Even in Vegas.

[and actually, the morning ain't half bad.]

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Star Trek Diaries: Day 1

Captain's LOG: Wednesday July 30th, 2014

"I can't believe I'm doing this."

This tape played repeatedly in my head as I tore up the I 15 N towards Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon. This tape was loud, but it was no match for my Ipod ("GYM JAM") playlist of pop smashes cranking out at top volume. I mean, C'MON, put me behind the wheel on an empty stretch of freeway, tearing away from Los Angeles with the wind in my hair, and my caffeine-fueled character defects blaze hotter than the desert sun. Cranking music is a character defect I will take with me to my grave. And yes, in the end, my ears may resent me for it, but hopefully one day, I'll be hobbling around with 7 kidneys and a hand cupped around one deaf ear, because like my soul mates in "This is Spinal Tap", I only know how to play music one way.

11. Always crank the knob to 11.

The throbbing bass did what it always does to me. Adrenaline flooded my veins. I squirmed against the leather seat, engorged biceps clutching the steering wheel in a grip of panic, holding myself up against the river of sweat collecting beneath me despite the fumes of freon swirling inside the car. I wailed along with Fitz and the Tantrums,

"Ooh, crazy's what they think about me.
Ain't gonna stop 'cause they tell me so
Cause 99 miles per hour, baby
Is how fast that I like to go"

My foot pressed down, down, down on the accelerator as I zoomed towards Sin City.

This red-headed ode to science fiction—a barely sober woman with 4 kidneys—was driving to Las Vegas alone. To work a Star Trek Convention. To meet Klingons and Captains and Trekkies, Oh My!

My objective: To boldly go where no Hen has gone before.

About 14 years ago, I booked a couple of episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager". I played an Irish lass, a love interest for the Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang). Garrett and I, as actors romantically cast opposite each other are apt to do; indeed almost required to do, enjoyed a mild flirtation, but alas, I was married, and even in deep space these things are off limits. I enjoyed the arc of my character, a sweet girl who existed only inside a holodeck, troubled by the amnesiac experience of being turned into a cow right before her and Harry were to lock lips in the dark shadows of the Irish cobble stone streets. Maggie O' Halloran believed spirits had invaded her soul, and were further planning to invade the village! There was a town meeting in the pub! Anarchy in the quiet streets of Ireland!—or on the back lot of Universal Studios—depending on the degree of your suspension of disbelief.

I wrapped the week of shooting and didn't think anymore about it until it aired. My agent casually commented that if you become a regular on a Star Trek show, you can make a lot of money meeting the fans at conventions. But alas, Maggie was not fleshed out any further (Can a holodeck be fleshed out?), Star Trek: Voyager was cancelled and I never thought anything more about Ms. Maggie O' Halloran. To me, a legitimate existence inside the "Star Trek" universe was reserved for the actors poured into tight-fitting uniforms or glue-gunned into alien submission with plastic prosthetics and furry skins. There seemed to be no place for my petite and panicked Irish girl in the Star Trek universe, despite the wacked-out wig crookedly weaved atop of my head, resembling a bird's nest ready to fall from a faltering tree branch, giving me my own uniquely alienesque quality, circa 1912.

The night my episode aired, my ego landed in our North Hollywood living room and perched on my shoulder, not unlike an eagle, pecking at my insecurities. Much like Maggie's disastrous bird's nest of hair, it weighed heavy on my Star Trek experience. As I watched myself through the spaces of rigid, face-covering fingers, all I could think was, "GAD! I look so OLD!" (Ah, youth!) and, unfortunately, could not enjoy my first big acting gig since landing in the City of Angels. As the final credits rolled, we rose from the couch and stretched. Hugs, and high fives from Hubby. But, ah, our deep space experience was not over.

A noise from across the room startled us. It came from behind the wee bar of booze we displayed atop of one of our utilitarian Ikea bookshelves. I glanced in the direction of the noise. I frowned. Something was missing. The understocked bar remained unchanged. In my pre-alky days—stunningly, surprisingly long days and months where my alcoholism lay dormant, un-triggered—we stocked very little alcohol. We had perhaps one bottle of rum, one bottle of vodka and as a nostalgic nod to my days in theatre school, a bottle of apricot brandy. (How appropriate that my roommate, J., and I used to play a Star Trek: Next Generation drinking game. The rules: Every time Picard (Patrick Stewart) pulls down his tunic—take a shot. Every time Number 2, (Jonathan Frakes), says "Number 1"—take a shot. As I recall, I experienced a dark amnesia that night, not unlike my future Voyager character—minus the cow. Ah. Never underestimate the sweet stuff.) I squinted trying to figure out, literally, what was wrong with this picture. Then K. gasped.

"The picture of your Dad fell! He was here! He was watching!"

My Dad had passed away over 20-something years earlier, so he was most definitely not watching. But, my suddenly spiritual husband decided, no declared, that as the final credits rolled, Daddy had decided to make himself known to me, to support me, to love me from whatever universe he now existed. From deep within whatever black hole he crawled into when he died from alcoholism, he had chosen this moment to transport himself back and make himself known by falling off the wall.

I don't know that I believed in ghosts at the time. And I most certainly did not believe in God. But did I want to believe that Daddy had been there? Did I want to believe that we are not alone?

Of course.

As I neared the Nevada border, the pump of pure Pop pulsated through my veins, surging, urging me down the final stretch to The Strip where Neon Tigers roam, I passed a sign—"Halloran Springs Rd."

I'm big on signs now.

I ask for them now, look for them, seek them with an open heart.

In the paradox of my existence, I have become grateful for being alcoholic. I had to nearly die, in order to learn how to live. And in learning how to live, I find I am never alone. And sometimes, I get those extra special signs.

But what did it MEAN to pass "Halloran Springs Rd."? To pass a green and white metal moniker of my character's last name? Playing Maggie O' Halloran was the only reason I was driving to Las Vegas. Was I really going to meet fans, sign autographs, pose for pictures? What really lay ahead for me when the sandy horizon turned neon bright? Would I be swarmed with Trekkies, so radiant and real in their societal-branded nerdiness? Or would I sit alone, huddled against myself, fighting to stay sober in a town that brought out the very worst in me, all in the pursuit of relief from myself?

I passed a patch of desert littered with Joshua Trees. I remembered this stretch from past drives with K.—one in particular when we drove through the night. From 1 am to 6 am, we chased the sunrise, the way a gambler chases that next hit. "Hit Me. Hit Me. Hit Me." The sunrise assaulted. Brushstrokes of pink and orange painted the morning sky, backlighting the cacti, shaping them into hairy fingers crookedly pointing in all directions. They seemed so perfectly arranged in balanced clusters, as if God himself had rolled out a dealer's fistful, sprinkling them down from the sky, decorating the stark desert floor with a textured touch. I shivered. It was beautiful.

When I checked into my room at The Rio, I sat on the edge of my bed and looked out at The Strip. I sighed. There it was. The feeling that has plagued me all my life.

Irritable, restless, discontent.

I could no longer do what I used to do in Las Vegas. Nor did I want to.

I had my sign.

I went to a meeting. 

I walked into a meeting clubhouse a la Tiki bar-a la Gilligan's Island-a la Easter Island, tucked away inside a strip mall. I glanced at a blackboard full of chalky scribbles and scrawls and gave up.

"Hey. Is there a meeting at 7 pm?"

2 faces lit up and pointed towards the back of the bar.

"Yup! Back there with all us crazies!"

I laughed. I mean, I laughed. I was home.

And I was not alone.

During the final prayer, it was impossible for me not to smile. The woman beside me clutched her dog in her arms, a purse-sized accessory to her sobriety. Her teacup-sized pup was dyed that trendy candy-floss pink, and although he had remained politely silent throughout the meeting, was now divinely inspired to get a little spiritual. As a group we prayed, holding hands in that circle that always fills me with a searing connection like a sizzle of electricity, lighting me from within. And in the gaps between, the little hound would cry. Sweet little whimpers of delight. And we all laughed. We couldn't help it. Every line, every gap, every time.

I was in Las Vegas. Was I in over my head? Or comfortably deep in my soul?

Or perhaps I was floating somewhere in the middle, in the gray, like the cold cement that snakes through the neon chaos of this town.

But either way, I was not alone.

(Picture of pink dog printed with her permission.)