November 21, 2018

Family at Christmas – early 1990s. My parents stage left standing

Dateline: Seattle, Washington-

I started to write my usual musings last night, but fell asleep after just a couple of words, so I’m returning to the task this afternoon. Not a lot of excitement either yesterday or today. Hanging out at the senior living residence with my father, some visits to my mother at her care home. Dad is in decent shape for his 86 years. Mom remains in late stage dementia from what I presume to be a genetic variant of Pick’s disease. She was pretty unresponsive yesterday, but was more awake this morning and smiled a few times and definitely enjoyed her M&M cookies and coffee.

Seattle has been cool and gray, low lying fog in the mornings, a mix of intermittent sunshine and drizzle in the afternoons. In other words, typical weather for the time of year. The big freeze that was promised has yet to arrive so I’m fine with just my polar fleece that I break out for my visits to the Pacific Northwest. One does want to dress like the natives…

I took some time yesterday to look about the city. Hasn’t changed a lot since my last visit in the spring. The enormous rebuilding south of Lake Union courtesy of Amazon continues at a prodigious speed and I have so far stayed out of that part of town as I have no idea how they’ve redone the streets. It’s not like I have a particular reason to go there.

It’s been thirty years since I last lived in Seattle. When I moved away in 1988, I always assumed I would be back once the career was established, but life, as it often does, has other plans and I’m not sure that I will ever return to live. I can’t afford it. The amount of money I could sell my historic Forest Park home for might buy me a garage on the local real estate market.

I’ve been thinking of my best friend from my medical school years a lot the last few days. My usual pattern in life is to usually have a straight male best friend who gets me and in whom I can confide. (Some of you reading this may recognize yourselves in that role…) From 1985 through 1988, that part of my life was filled by Jan Zabel.

Jan and Teresa Mosteller – I have no idea what they’re studying so intently

I had spent my first year of medical school in Pullman, Washington (about as far from Seattle as you can get and still be in the state) and moved back to Seattle when that year was over. There were a couple of months between the end of the first and the beginning of the second year and I spent some time finding an apartment, getting settled for the next few years and, after having taken a year off, getting reinvolved with theater. There was a company in town, Evergreen Theater Conservatory (founded from the remains of a previous company MusiComedy that had gone belly up) which was starting up production in an old warehouse space on Capitol Hill. They took me on as ASM/props for their first show, Brigadoon. I was working auditions when Jan came in to sing. I don’t remember what song he sang but he had this full, rich lyric tenor that made you stop what you were doing and listen to it.

He was, of course, cast, and we got to know each other over the rehearsal period and five weeks of the run. We liked each other a lot, found that we had much in common, and quickly started to spend a lot of time together. Over the next three years, we were involved in various theater productions, became an axis of the musical theater community in Seattle of the mid 80s and planned all the usual great plans of 20 somethings. He found a girlfriend and there were parties and shows and movie nights and all the other things that young adults busy themselves with.

Steve, Sue Mitchell, Jan and Barry Roitblat

When I moved away to California and then met Steve, things changed. For one, Steve was very suspicious of our emotional relationship and the two of them had a huge fight (much to my discomfiture) but it was probably a necessary thing. They made up a few months later and we all stayed friends but the intimacy between me and Jan was no longer there, having been quite rightly transferred to Steve. Jan broke up with the original girlfriend, found a new one, eventually married her and the two of them together founded an educational program in children’s music.

During my California years, Steve and I would come up to Seattle a few times a year and we would all get together and catch up with each other. Then all hell broke loose at UC Davis and I ended up in exile in Alabama followed shortly thereafter by Steve’s illness. This one two curtailed my ability to travel and I was unable to get to Seattle for several years.

During that time, Jan’s life fell apart. His marriage ended and he spiraled into depression and poverty. We would talk on the phone occasionally, I dumping my sorrows about coping with Steve and his illness, he with the latest on his collapsing life. After Steve died and I was finally able to travel again, I made it to Seattle and Jan and I had lunch. I had not seen him for four or five years at this point and the stress in his life had so changed him physically I don’t know that I would have recognized him out of context. The one thing that had not changed was his gorgeous voice. We talked. He was renting a room from a woman whom he had become friendly with and, as she was Greek, they were talking about starting up an import business.

Six weeks later, after I had returned to Birmingham, I got a call from my cousin Jenny. Jan was dead. His landlady’s son, thinking that Jan was somehow trying to scam his mother, had shot him in the house, carried him out to the car in broad daylight and stuffed him in the trunk and driven off. The neighbors had of course seen this and called the police who soon stopped the car. Jan was still alive in the trunk but died later in the hospital of his wounds. To this day, his loss so hard upon the loss of Steve, stirs up emotional stuff. And I can’t hear some standards sung (especially As Time Goes By which was his usual piano bar number) without immediately hearing his voice.

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