Last night I went to The West Wing season kick off party for the cast and crew.
It was at a bowling alley in Studio City and Warner Bros. had rented the entire place for the party. Cathy invited me to go with herself and Reese. Just because I know Cathy well, I know that she had my departure from Los Angeles in mind for extending the invitation to me, and that it would be a nice dose of Hollywood before I left. And, it was, in many ways.
First, I hadn't been bowling in over twenty years. The last time I bowled was when I was a kid, and we were on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado with another family that had three daughters. Melissa was my sister's age, Wendy was my age, and Katrina was around six years old. Melissa was mischievous, and got into an argument with a couple of local boys, not about anything in particular, just typical kid stuff, and threatened to pour a can of soda on the kid's head. The boy dared her, and Melissa promptly emptied that can of Coke right on top of his head. My sister, Wendy, and Melissa were prepared for this act, but I wasn't. They were already outside the bowling alley and I was frozen like a deer in headlights, half from shock, and half because I'd been overcome by paralyzing laughter. That is, the kind of laughter where nothing comes out of your mouth, but you dare don't move because you're certain to pee your pants. Shock laughter, is the best term that I can come up with.
And then I saw the two boys running toward me in a rage.
I was guilty by association, and had become their closest target. My legs started to move, but I was still weakened by laughter and couldn't run very fast. I called out to Melissa, Wendy, and Joan for help, but all I could see of them were the dust wakes they'd left in the moonlight. The boys however, had not lost their sights on me. As much as I tried to run, the fear of pee running down my bare legs overshadowed the threat of the two boys, and they caught up to me like two cheetahs closing in on their prey. I turned to face my attackers, for I was not going to go down without a fight.
And that's when a spray of Coke hit me in the face, and then another hit my legs. I picked up dirt and threw it at them, which only seemed to succeed in blowing back on me and sticking to my sweat and soda streaked skin. Now, I wasn't laughing, and that freed up my legs to sprint like a gazelle. The last thing I felt was a few drops of soda hitting my face as I ran when the boy threw the entire can at me but overshot me by a few feet.
It was a battle that I hadn't started, but ended up taking the punishment. I walked back toward our cabin alone in the thick humid night, smacking mosquitoes attracted by the sugar. Eventually, I caught up with the others, and they asked me why I hadn't run away with them. I asked why they hadn't come back to help me fight them off, and griped at them to next time give me some notice before they start a war with other kids. The sight of me, caked with streaks of dirt and soda told the rest of the story. I was humiliated as they laughed at me, but played like the whole event didn't phase me. It was a hot sticky night, and all I wanted was a shower.
Luckily, The West Wing bowling experience didn't turn out that way. Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe didn't chase me out the door to give me a soda baptism. Instead, I ate, I bowled, I talked to a lot of people and had one swell time. It had been a long time since I'd just enjoyed myself like that. And bowling sure has changed. The place is dimly lit and music blares as multi-colored disco lights dance around the floor and walls. The pins are lit under a florescent light and glow bright purple at the end of the alley. Instead of fifty-year-old hardened battle axes with lacquered hairstyles working the counters, the place is staffed with svelte beautiful women and hipster guys. The bowling shoes though, are still ugly.
It was fun to see Cathy in her element and watch her talk about her pregnancy with her coworkers. And, it was fun to see Hollywood having fun. Not pretentious fun, but good old family fun. Family was invited, and there were many kids running around the place which was great. I was of course, Cathy and Reese's family.
It turns out that Reese is quite the bowler. He bowled three strikes that night and won out of our group. Second was a woman who wasn't even going to bowl because she has Multiple Sclerosis. However, she gave it a try. It took her awhile to walk up to the line, but she had a mean bowling arm. Something neither she nor her husband knew. I had no idea she was handicapped until she told me. I thought that maybe she had an injured leg. But no, it was her difficulty to walk. Yet, she was there bowling and having a great time, handicap be damned. Not only that, but coming in second out of six. People are just amazing beings.
Another observation I had when I was there was how accustomed I'd become to famous people. I used to be so impressed by that, and now I'm not. I think for many reasons. Mainly, because of my battle with depression. Going through that has risen me up in status in my own eyes. Not because I went through it, but because I refused to let it win and faced the music to beat it. I learned that I thought I was worth fighting for, something I'd never taken on so drastically in the past. Sure, I never was one to take crap off people, but so many times I shoved my dreams aside to impress others.
So, there they all were, sans Rob Lowe who is still sulking about being the only cast member to not be nominated for an Emmy and his decision to leave the show, and Martin Sheen who was out of town. I felt no need to cozy up to the cast to have a good time at the party. I didn't care who did what or who knew who. I was more interested in them as people. Besides, the cast came to us to see Cathy. I would forget sometimes that these people are seen around the world via television as bigger than life and as ideals. Yet to me, after eight years in this town and going through the hardest time of my life and coming out of it, I can honestly say that I see them like I do anyone else.
It was a perfect way to say goodbye to Hollywood. A friendly and gentle way. I even got a beach towel as a party favor, another symbol of Los Angeles and a perfect souvenir. I really do feel as if I'm going about this departure in the right way, exploring every corner of doubt until I am completely certain that it is the right decision. In a way, seeing how I handle the lures of this town that brought me here.
So far, so good.