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.
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.]