Retirement is now just around the corner. July 27th. Thirteen days. And yup, there is a lot left to do.
This is the time of year that the Struthers Library Theatre works on getting our program book ready for the upcoming season. Writing, editing, designing and layout all come first – then working with the printer, the time deadlines and the proofing.
This is also the time of year when we reach out to our supporters to raise sponsorship money for the Celebrity Series season.
But this year is different. Yes, all these things still have to be accomplished, but there is a change taking place. Wendy McCain, my successor, began her new job on Monday. We are overlapping for three weeks as she learns her way around the building, the budget, the shows, the contracts, the vendors, the liabilities, the rentals, the rules, the protocols and the fun. And, in the middle of the three weeks, today, we are traveling to Austin, Texas to the League of Historic American Theatres annual conference. Yes, there is a lot to do.
And then there is my desk. Oh my.
My desk has never really been good. A few times a year I remain at work for an evening just to clean it off. I sort and file and throw away, and get myself back to some semblance of organization. It hasn’t happened this year.
I told myself, well, it’s only April, I’m not leaving until July. Then May sort of slipped by. Then, oops, what happened to June? Now, Holy Holidaze, it’s July. . . and Wendy is coming. And I’m buried. I’m pretty sure that Monday night is the next window for desk excavation.
It’s almost a sacrilege that I have allowed it to stack up. This was Thomas Struthers’ desk. I have considered the almost eleven years I’ve spent sitting at his desk as a sacred trust. He gave us our wonderful theatre, and the person occupying the desk chair is charged with keeping everything going – in the right direction. I don’t think I’ve let him down philosophically, but if old Tom was a neatnik, he’s probably rolling over in his grave.
The partners’ wooden desk is large and heavy although I’m unsure of the wood species. The center of the desktop is leather surrounded by a four inch wood border of smooth patina. The reason I suspect there’s a possibility that Tom was also casual about his workspace is the burn marks on the wood surround. It took me a while, but I finally figured them out – they’re cigar burns.
Cigar smoking was a common pursuit for men in the 1800’s and sharing smoke time and conversation with a friend was routine. It was probably pure pleasure when he was ensconced in his own office, his haven. For me, the black marks are a connection to old Tom. Here is proof that he wasn’t perfect, as he most likely laid his cigars on the edge of HIS desk, a behavior that Mrs. Struthers would never have tolerated in their home. It has made him human for me – a real guy.
As the years have slipped by, I’ve become more and more fond of Mr. Struthers, whose personal story has always fascinated me. I don’t know when I began to call him Tom, but a few years into our relationship it seemed like an okay thing to do. He hasn’t said he minds. But I do wonder what he would think of the birds.
There are peacocks everywhere in my office. It’s the official logo of the theatre, a not- unusual theme for theaters everywhere back in Victorian times that continued on through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco design periods. Everyone asks, why peacocks? It’s simple. Peacocks by nature are dramatic. Because they wear very showy costumes, they were adopted by the theater world early on.
In addition to the peacock wallpaper border sweeping around my office walls, a beautiful photographic close-up of a peacock feather “eye” is framed behind the desk. Some of the peacock items have spilled off the desk onto the surrounding tables – peacock picture frames, a gift box, a glass platter, a brass dish, paperweights, glass feathers, real feathers, a copper head, a stained glass panel, cups, glasses, pins and more – much more – all peacocks. All thoughtful gifts that have somehow added up. I think old Tom would agree that the peacock aviary has to go home with me. I’m sure Wendy will acquire her own birds. But before I bring in the moving boxes, I have to do something about the paper stacks threatening to sink Tom’s big desk.
There are simply too many piles of too many categories for my mind to sort neatly. I’ve printed subject titles – about 40 – which I’m going to lay out on the conference table and sort for filing. Actually I’m hopeful that the circular file will receive the lion’s share of the detritus.
I’m sure old Tom would understand the stacks of meetings of the many related organizations, the budgets, contracts and insurance. But I think he would struggle when faced with menus for rock bands that include vegan requirements, Red Bull and onion Pringles. He would be very surprised from his perspective of 135 years to browse through management policies that include sexual harassment, conflict of interest and whistle blowing. And no one who worked with children in 1880 needed a clearance from the state police or FBI. Of course, I think his greatest eye openers would be the computerized schedules, the X-cel spreadsheets and the advertising proofs, all produced on the printer in the next room.
If I manage to get all those stacks sorted, filed or tossed, I can hand over old Tom’s desk to Wendy. Naturally I’ll have to remove all the hairspray, lipsticks, painkillers and cough drops from within the drawers . . . along with the extra pair of sneakers, the protein bars, the stash of greeting cards and my toothbrush. Old Tom probably had his cigar stash in the top drawer. I keep a spare mascara.
In addition to the bittersweet goodbye to a job I have loved, it’s going to be hard to leave this desk. It has tied me to the history of the theatre. It has made me aware, on a daily basis, that what we do here is keep that history alive, honoring old Tom’s trust that we would do so, as he wrote it in the original deed. I think the last thing I’ll do is give the desktop a coat of Butcher’s wax just for Tom’s sake.
A little TLC always goes a long way with an old friend.