It has been said that Tennessee is an old man stretched out under the sun and the moon and the stars, who dips his toes in the Mississippi River and rests his head on the Smoky Mountains with a thousand tales to tell and all the time to tell them. Being a part-time existentialist, full-time daydreamer, and occasional magic-bean buyer, I adhere to that description. This Tennessee will always be home to me. Knoxville has a special place in my heart, because it was there I feel I came to be who I am.
When an amazing opportunity with my job was presented to me a couple of years ago, it meant leaving for Ft. Myers, Fla. I never want to lose connection with my true home, so I want to share some of my new experiences with all I left in Knoxville, and Old Man Tennessee, who has shared so much with me.
Things are going well down here in the uni-seasonal subtropic City of Palms. I am truly fascinated sometimes simply lending an ear to the long-winded tales of the myriad of wrinkled strangers who once wore younger men’s clothes. I met a man who was a photographer for the Chicago Sun Times. He had written a book, called Life and Death Through the Lens. It was an autobiography of his work and himself. He signed a copy for me. He was alone. His little old dog, and the pursuit of an unsolved murder that he’d been trying to solve since the 1970s, seemed to be the logs on his fire. Beneath that he was heartbroken... long, long, story... but the same story so many have to tell of love and loss.
Then there’s a very old gay man named Rex, who makes jewelry, and stops by to tell me about new invention ideas he has. His favorite song is “Peggy Sue.” I have been keeping a collection of “Rexisms” such as, “When opportunity knocks, let the maid get it” and, “I am one of those lucky people, I could be unhappy anywhere.”
Then there’s George, who comes by usually once a week to pay his phone bill. I have to remind him that he already paid it, but I always try to change the subject quickly away from his fading memory and back to his Jeep that he likes to show me and tell me about.
Then there’s Kenneth, who was, according to him, struck by lightning… twice. He went to Heaven and was sent back to help others find their Angels and the path to Heaven. He told me about the trees in Heaven and how they were so “pristine.” I am fascinated by him, and also feel very sad because he is quite alone, and is very close to seeing those pristine trees again.
I think about writing a story with all these characters, as I have been semi-starved for outlets of expression. The energy I used to pour into plays, I now put into my job. It is a little like being on stage, being up in front of a group of salesmen and trying to actually affect them. I had a meeting once in the dead of night and at the end, I gave each person a white balloon with their name on it and had them follow me outside. Everyone let their balloons go and we just watched them float up into the the black night. I told them it meant whatever they wanted it to mean, but not to forget it. So they either see me as Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society or Michael Scott from The Office.
I am grateful to be an ambassador of my world, my life, my family, to this corner of the big picture. Some say when going to a new place you can re-invent yourself, be whomever you choose. I quite enjoy being myself, and it is experiences such as this that clarify who that is.
Seems like yesterday the Actors Co-Op company members and I were working on plays together, all close friends. It was special. Somewhere only we know.
Buddy Lucas resided in Knoxville from August ‘96 to September ‘06, and was a member of the Actors Co-op his last four years here, playing roles ranging from Henry Harry (Brilliant Traces) to Argan (The Imaginary Invalid). He moved to Ft. Myers in October 2006.
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