I am, and have always been since I first became acquainted with his body of work, a huge fan of comedian/actor/writer/producer/director Albert Brooks. I find myself thoroughly entranced with his uncanny ability to relate the nuts and bolts of human existence with candid humor and poignancy in a manner to which all of us mortals can, to at least some degree, relate in terms of our own life experiences. By far, of all of his movies, the one in which I delight the most is the 1991 film Defending Your Life, in which 30-something mid-level business executive Daniel (played by Brooks) dies after his recently purchased Mercedes is hit in a head-on crash by a Los Angeles city bus.
When Daniel awakens, he discovers that he has arrived at Judgment City, a perspective on the Afterlife in which he will be seated for several consecutive sessions in a courtroom, with a defense attorney, a prosecutor, and two judges, all of whom will view nine days out of various stages in his life on a large screen, in order to determine whether or not he has successfully overcome fear. If so, he will “move on” to become of service to the Universe; if not, he will be forced to return to Earth, start over, and do it all again. Lena Foster, the prosecutor, pulls out some of the most embarrassing moments of his life, from age one until closer to the time of his death, and Bob Diamond, the defense attorney, attempts to counteract these with other, more seemingly courageous, scenes. In the midst of this ordeal, Daniel meets and consequently falls in love with Julia, an attractive fellow defendant, whose chances of “moving on” appear much more likely than his, based on the viewed scenes in her courtroom of her considerably more fearless life.
For any of you who have not seen the film, I will not pull a “spoiler alert” and reveal the ending, but each time I view it anew, the final scene always brings me to tears, as the message is firmly but gently imparted that it is never too late to have a fresh start, even in the Afterlife. Fortunately for those of us still living, even in advanced (and still advancing) decades of life, the Universe is constantly providing us with new opportunities, contacts, and tools to turn our lives around for the better, overcome our past mistakes, and make positive contributions to our larger society of fellow human beings. The phrase “Nine Days” has had particular significance recently in my own life, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels between the challenges I am currently facing and those that Daniel faced in the film.
As I related in the last of my earlier articles describing my childhood recollections of living in Boonville with my family during the mid-50s (which was printed in the 12/12/12 edition), I am currently in a transitional phase geographically (and, as it turns out, in many other ways, as well). Having relocated from the Central Valley to Clearlake in mid-August of last year, I decided to take advantage of the proximity to Boonville and attend the Mendocino County Fair, which I did on Saturday, September 15th. This was my second trip to Boonville since moving, the first being Sunday, August 26th, the day before my 62nd birthday, when I indulged in brunch at the Buckhorn before having the honor of meeting Rene Auberjonois, who was out and about downtown for a stroll and some shopping.
I had as enjoyable a time at the Fair three weeks after that as I did during any other previous visit dating all the way back to my childhood when I lived in the Anderson Valley. Unlike my childhood, however, against my better judgment, I decided to imbibe some local brews and wines, which eventually led to some time spent at the Saloon across the street from the Fairgrounds. This was within six months of a DUI conviction in my previous county of residence, for which I am still required to carry out the terms of a 3-year probation, one of which is driving with a blood alcohol content of no more than .01%. Again, against my better judgment, I left the Saloon fairly early in the evening and drove back to Ukiah, en route to my motel, where I was pulled over on South State Street in response to a 911 call and arrested, subsequently being convicted of a 2nd offense on December 4th, the same day that I interviewed for an instructional assistant position at the elementary school (my congratulations and best wishes, by the way, to Logo and Madelin).
I had shared all of this with Bruce, whom I met for the first time at the AVA booth at the Fair, but requested that he not share it with anyone, feeling assured that knowledge of it would seriously jeopardize my chances of being hired for the position. Ever the gentleman, he complied with my request; it’s taken me until now to be comfortable enough to share the news myself. I’ve always heard that confession is good for the soul, and just like “coming out” (I’m bisexual, as a matter of fact), I believe that it is necessary to be honest about who you are, regardless of the consequences.
As it happened, I found a wonderful living situation in Ukiah later that same week, so, with my license now suspended for a year, it would have been impossible for me to commute to Boonville for work, anyway. Earlier this morning (Monday, January 7th), I was released from my nine-day jail sentence, which actually turned out to be only 4½ days (I guess the nights count as the other half of the sentence). It turned out to be far more benign than my worst fears (I substituted the work release program for jail time with my previous sentence), and gave me ample time to reflect on my life’s path—which I’ve determined, with the help of Lucky Deuce, AA, and friends, will be alcohol free.