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?
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.)