This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Elegance In Life And Death: Becoming An Organ Donor

The other day, I left for work later than I would have liked. It was early evening and already darker than dark could be. Given the time, I took my "running late route," criss-crossing the city from the freeway to city streets. Traffic had been moving fine and then unexpectedly slowed to a dead crawl. "Great," I thought. Construction, probably... or an accident-- some moron running a red light. I waited through five traffic lights at the busy intersection, glancing at the clock radio and wondering how much longer??!!

By traffic light cycle #3, I saw that spectators had already gathered onto the sidewalks outside the Walgreens. Definitely, an accident. By the time I crossed the intersection, I'd seen it-- the bright blue SUV that was completely flipped over on its side. I couldn't figure out how that happened, couldn't see any other vehicles. As I drove by, a cluster of people were talking to emergency personnel. Off in the distance, I heard more on the way. I shook my head. Days before Thanksgiving...such a shame. Damnit-- who cares if I'm late.

A few minutes later, on the same street, I saw an ambulance ahead of me. Its lights were off, its siren silent, and for a flicker of a moment, I saw a young woman in the back. She was in her late twenties [maybe thirties], dark hair. Her eyes were closed, her skin was glowing, and she looked eerily peaceful. Flash... the ambulance turned left, the moment was gone, but the image of the woman stuck. I couldn't get her out of my head. What did she do that morning? Where was she going? Where is her family? What was her last image?

"Tomorrow is promised to no one, " I read somewhere recently. Often, we take it for granted. What doesn't get done today can be tackled tomorrow. We can give our friend a call later. We can see the world after we retire. What if tomorrow doesn't come for us? What if we never retire? Flash forward-- What if the world just stops? Sure, there are lots of 'what ifs', but I've learned to accept the mystery. I may not know how much time I have, but whatever it is, it won't be time enough for the things I want to do, the people I'd like to meet, and the places I'd like to see.

Days after seeing the young woman in the ambulance, I had the mundane task of renewing my drivers license. Everything was routine until Question #3. I paused at the checkbox: Give Life! Become an organ and tissue donor.

You see, I've never been an organ or tissue donor. When I was in high school, my dad lost the majority of one of his kidneys to cancer. I was terrified that there would be a day when I'd be asked to surrender a kidney to him. I knew I'd want to say NO! but he's my dad, and there lies the complication. I lived in fear that I'd have to make that choice someday. So, the idea of someone harvesting my organs and my eye tissue in some sterile environment upon my death just weirds me out. My brain can accept the idea of cremation easier than the idea of donating my organs. Why? I don't know. It's one of those things. "You're dead. Why do you care?," people will say. Well, yeah, I'll be dead, but it's the idea of it.

I deliberated, I had an entire conversation about it in my head. And still, there was my pen, hovering above the checkbox on Question #3: Give Life!

Click, click, click... the conflicting thoughts were knocking about in my head like billiard balls. Give Life! After an eternity, my pen made contact with the paper. I checked the box. I've never checked the box and part of me couldn't believe that I had. What was the tipping point, you may wonder? I thought of that young woman in the ambulance and I thought of myself. To save my life, medical personnel might need to cut me open, carve me up, perform surgery-- do whatever it takes to save me. I may even need an organ someday. Who knows? The little pink dot that will appear on my new drivers license says that if I were beyond saving, I can save someone else. I checked the box in black ink: I'm now an organ and tissue donor.

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle
Photo credit: 'elegant death' by Rodrigo Adonis

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Beware The Fan: A Brief History, A Fateful Encounter

As long as there has been a Hollywood, there have been fans. Some are harmless, sure. They're just starry-eyed regular folks whose hearts palpitate whenever they see someone of celebrity status. They might get to talk to that person [i.e. "I love your work," "I'm your biggest fan ever!,"], shake that person's hand or ask for an autograph, but whatever that moment entails, the fan will remember for years to come and the celebrity, will more than likely forget entirely.

Then, there are the crazies. Who can forget John Hinkley, Jr.'s attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster by trying to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981? There are stalkers that fantasize about marrying their favorite celebrity--like 53-year-old Mark McLeod who was convinced that Miley Cyrus was destined to be his bride. Then there are those like Emily Leatherman who apparently dedicated her life to seeking out John Cusack until an unfortunate restraining order and subsequent arrest. [In October 2008, she accepted a plea deal consisting of mandatory psychiatric counseling and 5 years probation.] The "crazed #1 fan" spilled over into fiction in classic fashion with Stephen King's creation of Annie Wilkes in Misery.

Today there are more celebrities than ever before and more ways to track them-- unfortunate if you happen to be a celebrity. Recently, a posse of celebrity trackers dubbed "The Bling Ring" have been booked on a rash of celebrity burglaries committed in the Hollywood Hills. They used satellite imagery to view the best entrance into stars' homes and used gossip sites and internet resources to track stars' whereabouts. According to CNN, "authorities believe an obsession with celebrity culture could be the motivation for these crimes. "

This is nothing new. People have been obsessed with celebrities and movie stars for quite awhile now. It's just that technology has made it easier for crazed fans whereas the media blitz of the internet has made it more difficult for stars to escape from the spotlight-- unless you're Johnny Depp and rich enough to own your own island in a remote part of the world.

A couple of nights ago, I watched the film noir Laura, directed by Otto Preminger. Laura is a whodunit, murder mystery about a New York career girl named, you guessed it-- Laura, played by actress Gene Tierney. I enjoyed the film, it's not my favorite noir-- but it's worth a whirl. What spawned this post was not the film itself, but my navigation of the special features on the disc which included a biography of Gene Tierney.

For all that she attained in her lifetime, she suffered more than her share of woe. When, the U.S. entered WWII, Gene's then husband, Oleg Cassini, joined the Coast Guard. Shortly thereafter, Gene discovered she was pregnant. During this time, Gene, like many stars during wartime, did her part by serving soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. One fateful night at the Canteen, she contracted German Measles (also known as rubella.) Alarmed, doctors assured her that her baby would be fine. That said, a few months later, she gave birth to a baby girl, Daria Cassini in 1943. Due to exposure to German measles in early pregnancy, Daria was both deaf and severely retarded. Doctors said that she would never be able to speak and would never progress intellectually beyond that of a small child. Gene Tierney was devastated.

About a year later, Gene was approached by a fan at a party. A former marine, the woman told Gene that they'd met before--at the Hollywood Canteen. The woman had so wanted to meet Gene that evening that she left her quarters where she'd been quarantined for having German Measles. Gene was shocked, but didn't tell the woman what had happened to her daughter. Daria was institutionalized and although, Gene had another daughter, her life and the life of her daughter Daria, had been forever altered by a fan she'd never forget.

More about actress Gene Tierney

If you're feeling sick this holiday season, STAY HOME!

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle
Photo credit: "Annie Wilkes" theOctopus/flickr, "Gene Tierney" Greenman 2008/flickr