Clearly visible – two ten year old boys

Friday morning – March 16th

Stomach still playing up.  But a simple breakfast in the hotel lobby doesn’t do any harm – apart from the fact that the milk comes in quarter-pint individual cartons.  I use very little of mine and ask the staff what will happen to the rest.
‘Oh, you can just dispose of it, sir.’
‘But…isn’t that a bit wasteful?’ I suggest.
‘Let me take it, sir, and I’ll bear the burden of disposing of it.’
‘Oh.  Okay,’ I reply, handing him the almost full carton.  ‘But maybe someone else could use it?’
‘Let me take it, sir.’

A morning to myself, lying low in my very clean but characterless hotel room, and then Maria and Cara collect me at lunchtime to head to Wholefoods Market to get a healthy lunch.  My local branch of this store in Clapham Junction back home is the size of a broom cupboard compared to the vast emporium we visit. (Everything’s smaller in Clapham…)

We then drive to the attractive modern campus of Guilford College – founded by Quakers in 1837. We are in a 120 seat theatre space there, which has a white stage and white walls ready for their next student production. My crates, when put in position, look like an installation at Tate Modern (or the Museum of Modern Art, as I’m in the States ).

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Two very helpful students run light and sound for me under the supervision of Brian, who is the theatre technician among other things.  But they are in the process of installing new sound equipment there – and we just can’t seem to get my sound effects, which I have brought over on a Mac-mini, to play properly – either one half of some of the stereo cues is missing, or else the musical cues are all scrambled.

Brian spends a good deal of time valiantly trying to sort it but with no luck. Does US/UK equipment incompatibility have something to do with this, he wonders? (Does Trump have something to do with this, I wonder?)

In the end, with the clock ticking,    I decide to go with the set up whereby the music is not scrambled but a few voices are missing – as well as the ringing of a period telephone.   If I’m clever, the audience won’t realise I’m filling in the missing voices live – but I think they might get wind of my impression of a 1916 ringing telephone.

A hasty bowl of pasta in the college canteen – and Doctor Theatre seems to be working his magic, as we actors say.  I have forgotten all about my earlier upset stomach.

And soon it’s showtime.

I have a lot to think about what with the crates being at a strange angle to the seating banks and the extra lines I’ll be speaking (don’t I have enough already?).  But it goes well.  Not flying like Tuesday night in Akron, but well. And the audience of 100 seem to be engrossed.  And at the end, just like in Akron, they all stand.

We have quite a panel alongside me for the Q and A, including members of Quaker House, the organization who are our sponsors at this venue, as well as two young COs who have been helped greatly by Maria and her colleagues through the GI Rights hotline at the Center on Conscience and War.

One of the COs tells his story -how he was in the military working on avionics (electronic systems etc) for drone missions – and that doubts about the work were beginning to surface within him. Then one day, after a drone mission which dropped a bomb on a mosque, his unit played back the footage to see whether it had been successful.
‘And what I saw amongst the rubble was two 10-year old boys lying there.  That’s what did it for me.’  (His brother, by the way, is 9 years old, and was at this performance with him.)  Then began the long and difficult process of extricating himself from  the military – taking the best part of 18 months.

What I am realising just in this first week, is how ‘live’ the issue of conscientious objection is in the US.  Young men in the military having a change of heart and discovering it’s not so easy to get out.  Older men who wouldn’t participate in the Vietnam War and who are now withholding tax because of their abhorrence of current defence spending levels.

The whole issue feels far more live than in the UK.

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Seen among the trees; late night at Guilford College

Back to the hotel, where I sleep well until early morning – when my mind starts buzzing again about all I’ve been hearing and seeing.

Today Maria will drive me the 7 hours back to Bill’s house in Maryland – where we will then switch the crates over into his car – like in a heist movie – while I have a quick pit stop and get fresh clothes and underwear.  Then Bill will drive me the 6 hours to upstate New York, to Old Chatham.

Maria – 7 hours
Bill – 6 hours
= Michael 13 hours !!

Not a lot to say about my “drivin’ Saturday” other than that it isn’t quite as arduous as I’d feared, and we get take-out pizza en route at Marco’s (some of the best outside NYC, Bill tells me – and yes, it’s pretty darn delicious).

Bill also points out landmarks and bridges and the fact that for one long stretch we are on the New Jersey Turnpike – a name that rings a bell, but I can’t quite place it.  I look at all the cars streaming by on 5 lanes on our side and on 5 lanes in the opposite direction – and wonder how many there must be?

As we get closer to Old Chatham and it gets darker, there is snow on the ground at the side of the highway which is getting ever thicker.  At 10.20pm we arrive in a magical white landscape filled with trees and not many houses – but one of which belongs to our hosts, Joseph and Phoenix, a delightful couple of Quaker.  A cup of ‘erbal tea, then to bed.

Where a tune pops into my head, unbidden.  And that’s when I realise where I know about the New Jersey Turnpike from.  Of course – Simon and Garfunkel’s song…

Which is what I was doing just a few hours ago…

‘Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike…
They’ve all come to look forrrr…America…’

Just like me.

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