Writing with my best friend -Black and White

This is the coda to an earlier blog entitled Writing with my best friend – Royalties? Er….No.

After disengaging from the process thinking that we’d never be able to recoup on the book, another writer in our family, Jen, encouraged me, saying that according to her writer friends, publishing the book again in black and white shouldn’t be too hard. So back into Createspace I went, and began what I hoped would be a simple process.

Continue reading

IMG_5252

Gordon Did That

I’m sitting this morning watching the welcome mists of rain obscuring the reach of the downtown skyline and thinking about Monday night’s Celebration of Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Gordon’s tribute was staged on David Zinn’s set of Amelie, on the production’s dark night. Twinkle lights framed the proscenium, and the scenery upstage was lit with soft purples and blues, presumably repurposed from Jane Cox and Mark Barton’s lighting design by Tom Ontiveros. A ginormous projection screen hung over the stage. A 9′ grand piano, DSR,  pointed its formidable bow up left. A lecturn graced the DSL corner of the stage.

As the audience entered the theatre, Gordon’s beaming face, halo-framed by his white hair, arms akimbo over his head, fingers laced behind his neck, lay saucily on a bed of programs. His warm, intelligent eyes focus on the camera (and hence on all of us), his wry awareness of the photo set up as ego trip invited us to relax and celebrate his accomplishments with him. Splayed behind his head were programs for Angels in America, The Wedding at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, its opening production in 2004, just two of so many accomplishments. A photo posed like this of anyone other than Gordon might have seemed inflated. Throughout the evening, we were treated to a series of shots of Gordon looking directly out at us across the span of more than fifty years. We had time with each image to look deeply into Gordon’s eyes at every phase of his life. The sense of seeing Gordon and in a funny way being seen by Gordon for the last time was elegantly accomplished with the curation of these images from Gordon’s Los Angeles Theatre family album.

I hadn’t thought I’d be able to attend the event – in fact, I barely knew it was happening. Somehow, my connection has dimmed over the past decade. Had I not decided to take a hike on New Year’s Eve, I wouldn’t have known about it at all.  Besides, things are hopping at “the factory,” as I like to call my job; in the first week of the spring semester,  we’re casting eight shows- four more already in rehearsal. I didn’t think I’d be able to get there, and convinced myself that Gordon would understand given the nature of the conflict.

But then I had a dream on Saturday night that I was there when Gordon was felled, like the Sequoia tunnel tree last week by the monsoonal northern California rsequoiaains. In the dream, for some inexplicable reason, I was dangling by my finger tips from a ledge about 15 feet over the ground -in the Annex, (where we all know that the ceiling height doesn’t exceed 7′) when Gordon passed beneath me. I said something that caused him to fall to the ground, beseeching eyes looking up at me for assistance, and I, unable to release my fingers without plunging to death, failed him. It was a horrible dream, but enough to make me rearrange my schedule to be there on Monday. Gordon did that.

Gordon did that.

That was the powerful theme on Monday. Speakers, performers, singers, family members, both by blood and by practice, testified through song and poetry and performance about Gordon’s profound reach and impact on all of our lives. Playwright and performer Charlayne Woodard told about spotting Gordon’s white halo out amidst a student performance of  her first show, Pretty Fire, for a student matinee of 70 seven-year-olds and cringing that he was seeing the show in that context. Andrea Marcovicci sang a haunting song from Ghetto, with a projected image of herself thirty years prior on stage singing the same song. Echoes of our growing up with Gordon. Groener shared Gordon’s generosity in opening three rehearsal rooms in the Annex to the young Anteaus company, effectively underwriting the formation of a successful company of actors. Gordon did that.

Luis Alfaro performed a poem crafted for the CTG 35th anniversary. Luis Valdez, currently in rehearsals next door at the Annex for a revival of his 1978 hit, Zoot Suit,  recalled his early Teatro Campesino work and Gordon’s faith in its relevance to the Los Angeles audience, his invocation to write a play about the 1972 Zoot Suit riots.

When the character of El Pachuco, memorably played by Edward James Olmos, swaggered onto the Taper stage, Chicano theatre became American theatre,” explained writer/director Luis Valdez.

CTG website Article

Gordon did that.

Throughout the evening, the live testimonials were punctuated with video testimonials filmed at a New York theatre; Jack O’Brien, Robert Egan, Terrance McNally, Tony Kushner, Kathleen Chalfant and others sharing stories about collaborations with Gordon, failures and successes, but always funny, heartbreaking, quirky, goading, human, encouraging, powerful – reminding us what Gordon’s legacy to us was. Ringing through the evening was Gordon’s passion for the work, his belief in the capacity of each of us to bring our best and unique selves into the room, the artistic endeavor, the play, the theatre, the city – wherever he called upon us to go.

Several years ago, USC School of Dramatic Arts Dean Madeline Puzo brought Gordon to USC, or as we jokingly referred to ourselves, CTG South, as an uber-dramaturge to our second year MFA students in Dramatic Writing. These productions, some of my favorite in our season, are workshop productions of plays written by the students in their second of three years of the program. The production budgets are purposefully lean, to focus our attention on the development of the words rather than the technical framework for the plays. Gordon was sitting in the theatre during one of the dress rehearsals. I was there in my capacity as production manager, and felt self-conscious having Gordon in the room – found myself wanting to make sure no time was wasted. I had gotten up to intervene in a scene change to see if there might not be a more efficient way to do it, and when I came back to my seat, Gordon leaned over and said something to the effect of “It’s so great to watch you working with the students, Els.”

I don’t think any praise could have been more welcome than Gordon’s recognition of my new place of practice. That he was taking note of how I had grown up from the ASM who worked on Unfinished Stories back in 1993. Gordon did that. He had that galvanizing nurturing effect on all of us.

My favorite speaker Monday night was Mark Taper Forum Production Manager, Jonathan Lee, who spoke as a representative of the CTG Staff. Jonathan brought a prop – a thirty-year-old T-shirt from back in the day, under TD Bobby Routolo, the back of which was emblazoned with “Where the Hell is Gus!” in huge letters. Gus, as Jonathan explained, was the driver who they would commonly be waiting for during load in days. On the front breast of the T-shirt were letters so tiny that the audience had to trust Jonathan when he told us they were a quote from Gordon.

How could this have happened?

Jonathan’s reading of this quote elicited a loud laugh of recognition from many in the audience. He described how Gordon looked at you intently when he said that, and we all knew it was code for “You fucked up.” But more importantly, it was Gordon really wanting to know how it had happened, and even more crucially, wanting you to really want to know how it had happened. I remembered it keenly and personally from the reopening of the Kirk Douglas Theatre when Jonathan and I were on the roof of the theatre trying to figure out how to time the Culver City sign’s most beautiful and complete cycle exactly with the reveal of the marquee.

Gordon did that. He made us all hungry to know the better way to have done things, the better way to do things in the future. Jonathan’s speech moved me to tears – probably because he spoke of the behind-the-scenes collaborations, but also about the compassionate rigor that Gordon taught us all to bring to our practice.

The evening was capped with moving speeches from Gordon’s blood family members, his daughter Rachel speaking about how she shared her father with us, and how her father shared artistic opportunities with her as she grew up. Finally, Gordon’s widow, Judy thanked us all for coming and shared that though Gordon felt forgotten at the end, this evening had proven that he had not been forgotten.

Far from it, Judy. Gordon and his legacy live on in all of us who were in that theatre, as well as thousands who were not. When we were leaving the Ahmanson on Monday, I ran into Jim Freydberg, the producer of The Vagina Monologues, someone whom I had been thinking of earlier in the week in spite of not having seen him regularly since the show closed in late fall of 2001. I’d been thinking about Jim’s practice of having the stage manager phone him after each performance to report how the show had gone. I appreciated the intimacy of that trust bestowed on me to critically watch each show, taking note of how each moment was executed, how the audience had responded, and spend the time to recount it to him. When Jim walked up as we were about to leave the building, I told him I’d been thinking of him. Dramatically, he recoiled, saying “That can’t be good!” I laughed, then thanked him for that relationship that he’d formed with me during the show via that practice of nightly phone calls, and for his trust. Jim, in his typically modest way, eyes twinkling, said,

You know, Gordon did that.

img_7529

img_7500

Hiking into the New Year

This morning at the crack of dawn, I woke and pulled on my pants and boots, grabbed some breakfast setting off to meet two old stage manager friends (okay, old as in I’ve known you a long time, not actually old. Geez, people are so sensitive) to go on a hike.

I love hiking, though you’d never know it from practice – I think today’s hike is the first one I’ve taken since the summer when we stayed up in Tahoe, and hiked from the parking lot to the beach one day. Living in California and in Los Angeles where there are an abundance of hiking trails doesn’t seem to have been sufficient to get me outside, but a simple question posed by a fellow stage manager on facebook actually got me out the door.

Anyone wanna go on a hike?

You’d think three stage managers could organize a hike through deft email execution-an email or two, right? Our arrangements were hilarious, taking about a week and 16 emails, and an actual live phone call to realize. As I pulled up outside Susie’s house at 7:40AM, I replayed the email exchanges in my head, laughing that the three choices of hikes did not include the very real possibility of rain, and as I stepped out of the car, greeted by Susie on the stone steps to her house, I proposed hike #4 to IHOP. Fortunately, she didn’t go for it.

We swung by to pick up Michele and off we went to our hiking destination, which I think was Eaton Canyon, though I can’t swear to it because I’m not apparently from this region, having lived in LA only thirty-three years. There was a heavy mist on the windshield, but I didn’t pay much attention because it was great to see good friends and colleagues from so many years and there was a lot to catch up on.

Professionally, we’ve all worked together on so many shows that I can’t really remember which ones they were, but I always credit Michele with training me to be a truly autonomous ASM. She was the PSM on one of the CTG Celebratory shows – perhaps the 20th Anniversary, when as ASM, one of my jobs was to cue Gordon Davidson onstage riding an elephant. It was early in my career, one of my first ASM assignments at the Taper, pre-renovation, where the elephant (and all scenery for that matter) had to come in through bedroom-sized doors SL. I was intimidated and also admired Michele for her years of experience as one of the top SMs at the Taper. Deferring to her, I asked her what she wanted me to do next.

Run the deck!

And so I did, learning that I was there because she trusted me to know what to do next, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there.

I’ve been admiring Susie’s penchant for strenuous hiking for several years now. I’ve wondered how she’s able to put in the miles she does with her work schedule. Kind of amazing. I was glad to be there this morning. We started down the fire road into beautiful Eaton Canyon. At least I assume it is beautiful, because the conditions were quite misty and we couldn’t see too far down the road, kind of the perfect metaphor on this eve of a New Year fraught with political uncertainty.

img_7499

Stage Manager Selfie: L. to R. Susie, Els, Michele

This was the selfie I took of the three of us, looking fresh as we started off, me sporting my GumCha, a Christmas present from my Dad and his wife; this scarf is typical of those woven by rural farming families in West Bengal, India for more than 2,000 years. The 4o year old GumCha4Health project was started by local health and development professionals to

…create a self-sufficient, self-sustaining, community-based financial model for providing long-term support for healthcare and health education programs (including contraception and HIV prevention) for poor rural farm laborers, subsistence farmers, their families and their communities.

It’s pretty and bright, and apparently gets softer every time you wash it. I’ve worn mine almost every day since Christmas and it’s in the wash for the first time as I write this.

So, what do veteran stage managers talk about on the trail for 2 hours? Taping out floors and how sore it makes us when we’re done? Yes, a little of that, but much more about our lives outside the rehearsal room. The three of us share life synchronicity which they might not appreciate my sharing with you, but which gave us plenty of good conversation over the next 5.6 miles. The first 2.8 were mostly up the hill, where we were passed by bicyclists, runners, dog walkers, and other folks out and about to ring in the New Year with a good cardio workout.

We stopped periodically to huff and puff, and per Susie’s usual routine, we greeted every single person at least once, and some of them twice, the cyclists, as they lapped us up the hill and back down. This paid off at the top, when we were able to ask someone to shoot the picture of the three of us by the Henninger Flats sign.The second 2.8 miles were down hill, in the pouring rain. I was grateful to have my GumCha with me to wipe off my glasses. The lovely tree portraits below were taken by Susie.

By the time we got back to the car, we were able to wring water out of our clothes. We raced home to take showers or hot baths, and for a good nap before tonight’s festivities.

What will the New Year and the road ahead bring? Hard to say, hard to see even, but in spite of the rain and mist, we will still get there with persistence, civility, and good hiking shoes.

Happy New Year!

Writing with my best friend – Royalties? Er….No.

The honeymoon’s over. After launching the book, creating the book’s FB page and asking everyone to review the book, we received the first royalties statement and practically had kittens. Seventy-three books had been sold, but no royalties were actually accrued.  Zero, zip, nada. I logged into our createspace account and then contacted them to talk with a human being, something I should have done earlier in the process. These were the disheartening reasons why there were no royalties accrued:

  1. Our book is 206 pages long, printed in full color on white paper. To the novice in self-publishing, what this means is that the three pictures in the book which are color are in full color. It also means that the rest of the book is produced using color printing, including all the black and white images and all the text. This makes for a very expensive book.
  2. Pricing –  I selected the minimum cost for the book, meaning that while it still is too expensive (see 1 above), we still get no royalties, because each book sold breaks even (after shipping and the percentage taken by Amazon.

So, what can we do about this?

  1. We could raise the price of the book, at the risk of not selling it.
  2. Had we printed the book in black and white on white paper, the manufacturing cost would have been something like $3.50 per book, versus the $15.27 it costs now. This would have resulted in much better returns for the author. Again, this knowledge would have been very useful earlier in the process.
  3. And, the worst news – we can’t simply reprint the book in black and white because  it has a ISBN number associated with it, and those people buying the book will expect it to be full color on white paper. (with its three color photos)
  4. To do that, we’d have to create a new project, get a different ISBN number and start over. This, at the moment, defeats me.

At a time when we should’ve been elated about publishing the book in time for Christmas, this news was not cheering. Ironically, the book seems to be selling pretty well, and to be frank, we didn’t publish it to make a fortune.

Having said that, read the great reviews on Amazon, but if you buy the book at the Createspace store, directly, you will be sending a little money to the author. Royalties accrue on every book sold there. So, we encourage you instead to buy the book at the Createspace store instead of on Amazon.com.

Publishing is complex and tough to make sense of as a newcomer. My advice, always read the fine print.

In the meantime, special thanks to those of you who have taken the time to write reviews on Amazon! It means the world to us! Merry Christmas to all.

 

img_7420

Writing with my best friend – 90th Birthday/Book Launch

In September we began the march toward publishing Jimmie’s book; I was obsessed with publishing by Jimmie’s 90th birthday. I explored several different self-publication routes, and discovered that several other publishers might help us, but not until mid-February. Click. Sorry. We have a goal, people!

And so, as we sent off the book to Createspace.com, it was a nail biter as to whether we’d make the December 1 date. I took Jimmie out for his birthday dinner on December 1st at a local Italian restaurant and during dinner looked on my phone to see if the book was for sale yet on Amazon.com. Sure enough, sometime between the salad course and the entrée, right on December 1st, the book went live. It was a pretty special moment for both of us. For Jimmie, who’d been working on this book for twenty plus  years. For me, who had embarked upon the autodidact’s path, learn editing, indexing, etc., and for us, as the shared pleasure of creating the physical object that was now winging its way toward us in a box of 25 copies. Now for the celebration.

Planning a landmark birthday for a 90-year-old is stressful.  The stakes are high. I asked Jimmie whether he thought he’d have made it to his 90th birthday when he was younger. He told me he’d always thought he would die young, which kind of broke my heart and I was glad I hadn’t known that before. For Jimmie, eighty was a landmark birthday, that, and outliving Richard Nixon. When Tricky Dicky passed, I remember getting panicky, and telling Jimmie he needed to set a new goal and quick. We are currently in negotiations to set another one – 110 sounds pretty good to me.

Party planning for the 90th is one of the more stressful things I’ve had to do socially since Jimmie and I planned our wedding thirty plus years ago. I know I owe apologies to those who felt left out off the invitation list.

The venue held fifty people, and our budget held fewer than that. I turned to my colleague Marissa for consulting. She steered us toward City Fare Catering, which was a great decision. I highly recommend them, as Fabio was able to stay within our budget and provide delicious food in a beautiful setting. Flowers were by Della Robbia.

img_5666

L to R: Some of City Fare’s wonderful staff: Marcel, Fabio, Danica and Danny

I learned a ton about event planning in the process as well. With the right vendors, you can do it!

At 6:15 or so, the guests started to arrive, trickling into the room with anticipation, the usual nerves.

Who will I know here? Will there be anyone to talk to?

Watching old friends greeting old friends, and old friends meeting new friends was such a treat. The tapestry of one’s long life in the theatre so rich and so many of the folks in the room both Jimmie and I have worked with on many separate projects. Many have been friends for 30-50 years. Collectively, there were some heavy hitters in the room, notably Hal Holbrook, who’s foreword kicks off the book; Charlotte Rae and Alan Mandell, with whom Jimmie had acted in Endgame last May at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. We had some family there, our nieces Elizabeth and Martha.  It was a very special night.

After dinner, Jimmie read two excerpts from the book to the appreciative group; I tried to video tape them but my phone abruptly informed me it was full. Fortunately throughout the evening, one of our guests, Stella, was taking pictures and video taped the reading.

Afterwards, several people encouraged us to record  Jimmie reading the book, which we plan to do soon. Aha! The next goal! And then, it was time for cake. The most beautiful cake I’ve had the privilege of eating. Graced with the cover of A View from the Wings, a cover designed by Bob Stern, one of my dearest friends from college, the cake emerged from the kitchen for Jimmie to extinguish it’s representative candles.

img_5648

Cake Art by Bob Stern, Cake by Cake and Art, Photo by Stella Fiori

As the party guests trickled back out into the chilly December night, we retired to our condo with niece Martha, and our intrepid photographer, Stella, where we sat and dissected the evening while Stella “gave her auntie a foot rub.” Life is pretty special sometimes, especially a life in the theatre.

A View from the Wings is available on Amazon.com and is, for the moment, the #1 New Release in Theatre Biographies. We welcome your purchase of the book, as well as your reviews on Amazon! 

img_7384

Writing with my best friend -Book in Hand

Today we received the proof of Jimmie’s book, A View from the Wings, A Theatre Memoir, and I don’t think I’ve seen my husband smile as broadly or as happily as he did at the moment when he opened the package and held up the book for me to take this picture. This after suffering my request to video tape the unveiling, as he struggled, his arthritic hands clawing at the tight brown card board. You won’t see that one, so don’t worry, but we have it for the archives.

It’s been an exciting week, starting last Monday, when we took Hal Holbrook and his assistant Joyce Cohen to dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, to thank him for writing the foreword to the book. Jimmie and I arrived a few minutes before them, and scoped out the joint, pretty quiet on a Monday night, and chose what I will call the blue room, a small room just past the wine cellar, where the plush royal blue wing back chairs beckoned me –

Come on in here! You won’t be disturbed here.

And we weren’t. When Hal and Joyce arrived, we were seated at a table near the entrance. Hal, wearing his 92 years with humble dignity and the mantle of an actor who has also lived his life in service to the theatre, and specifically to Mark Twain, came across the room and greeted Jimmie with great warmth. We convened for four wonderful hours of shared theatre stories until I had to cite my 8:00AM class the next morning.

Tuesday afternoon, our granddaughter, Skylar arrived with Whitney, our son’s lovely fianceé and their little dog, Cupid. They came for the week, to be with us for Thanksgiving. Chris came down also on Tuesday, but journeyed down on the team bus and was fettered to his hockey team at the hotel in Tustin all weekend. So, Whitney, Skylar, Cupid, Jimmie and I’ve had an active week of bonding. Skylar, eleven months, is struggling to learn to walk, and Jimmie, eighty-nine years old, is struggling to relearn how to walk with “Das Fucking Boot”. This week our apartment was stuffed with the appliances of babies and elders, two strollers, a walker, a cane and two humidifiers. We pulled the coffee table away from the sofa so that Skylar wouldn’t hit her head when gravity prevailed, but seeing that there is a safe walkway, I’m inclined to leave it out there after they leave to allow more space for Jimmie to negotiate the furniture.

On Thanksgiving morning, Whitney, Skylar and I awoke at 5:30AM, and drove off into the darkness by 6:30 to attend the 7:00AM hockey game at the Westminster rink. It was nice that the player’s benches were up against the spectators’ stands; it was lovely to watch Skylar watch Chris watch the players play.

After the game, we drove back to the apartment and got ourselves ready to go to dinner at the LA Athletic Club. We had a wonderful dinner at the buffet and then we took the worst family photo ever taken. Right after we finished the photo, one of the servers came by and said, “You should take your picture right in front of that landscape painting!” I said, “We did! Great minds…” Hadn’t seen the photo yet. This photo will be utilized in lighting lectures all over the country by academicians to illustrate truly bad top lighting.img_7348

On Saturday, we went to Griffith Park, trying to avoid the threatening black rainclouds overhead. We bought tickets to the carousel, and just as Whitney and Skylar were ready to board, the carousel operator cancelled the ride citing a loose belt. Not anything one need worry about on Thanksgiving week. It’s been an amazing visit. And now with book in hand, we move toward Jimmie’s 90th birthday having accomplished what we set out to do. Feels good.

 

I do that-what you just did.

An artistic, theatrical experience spoke loudly to me this week and in reflecting on it as I vacuumed the apartment this morning (Writers to your vacuums!), here’s where I arrived.

We are presenting Middletown by Will Eno this weekend at the Scene Dock Theatre. It features our MFA Y2 Actors, directed by Andrei Belgrader. The play is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with a shiv. The Stage Manager of Wilder’s gentle encomium to small town life is Eno’s more-than-slightly deranged patrol officer, who tells us everything will be all right while he puts a chokehold on the Simon Stimson equivalent, an alcoholic would-be murderer, if he only had the self-esteem. Instead, Eno’s mechanic volunteers at the hospital, before dumpster-diving behind the hospital for discarded drugs.

31063074206_caf7c36f25_h

Photo Credit Craig Schwartz

As I sat through techs and dress rehearsals this week, I became obsessed with the vulnerable relationship between two main characters, John Dodge, a natural philosopher sans direct life path, and Mary Swanson, a recently-arrived housewife, desperately lonely, her husband always away for work. In one scene, they happen to meet in a park and end up sharing Mary’s lunch.

30731854210_afbfab630b_n.jpgTheir instantaneous intimacy lands with the heft of human gravity echoed throughout the play:

Mary: Night is hard, you know? It gets so quiet. I never know what I’m supposed to be listening to. (brief pause) But it does give me time to catch up on my needless worry.

John: I do that – what you just did.

Mary: What?

John: Use humor to distance myself from the pain.

    Will Eno, Middletown

Boom. How deftly Eno unveils our strategies.

Jimmie frequently invokes his favorite biblical character these days- Job. Job comes trippingly (oops, shouldn’t say that) to the tongue in light of our itinerary this month:

  1. Swollen foot diagnosed as broken foot.
  2. A walking cast which we fondly call Das Boot, or on most days, Das Fucking Boot (DFB).
  3. Instability which results in wifely paranoia about leaving Jimmie at home to go to work.
  4. Bloody nose = ER
  5. ER = Overnight Stay

Around the time of the hospitalization, I received a text message from Jimmie’s niece, Jen, who offered to come down and help us.

How soon can you get here?

The answer was the next day. This probably wasn’t the response she requested, but it was the one she got and responded to. As you may have read in my last post, this visit helped and healed both of us, infected as we were with the giddy laughter and creative inventions of Jen’s four-year-old daughter.

In the meantime, I have been researching and seeking assistance from numerous people to plan for a moment when assistance is actually needed. Jimmie, in his support of easing any stress on me, met with the representative from one such company. We sat at the dining table with her; she was direct and kind, understanding of what we might eventually need.

I should say here that Jimmie has absolutely zero interest in having extra unrelated people around our home. It’s always been his way. Back in the valley house, when I got it in my bonnet to remodel every square inch of the house, then went off to work leaving the house filled with strangers, I’d return and Jimmie would look woefully at me, the nascent improvements covered with a thin sheen of dust, his nerves worn raw. The results were marvelous, but the process was painful.

I didn’t expect much better results this time, but I appreciated how game he was. We planned a visit from the care giver on Thursday, Nov. 17th- four hours to start, in the afternoon. He worried about how this would go. I had gotten him a sandwich to have for lunch, and had planned to ask the home health care aid to do some grocery shopping for me, but then decided to not burden her with that task the first day, stopping instead on my way back from the gym.

I arranged for her to get a key at the guard’s desk downstairs so that she could let herself in, so that Jimmie wouldn’t have to get up to get the door. I asked them to call upstairs when she arrived. I went off to work.

She called me at ten to one, having circled the block twice already, looking for parking. I told her where to park.

Unbeknownst to me, when the guards called upstairs to Jimmie that she was there, he got up and went over and opened the door, leaving it resting in a cracked position, before returning to the couch. The door was propped open three minutes or less, the time it took her to walk to the elevator in the lobby, rise to our floor, and walk down the hall.

Jimmie said she arrived while he was eating his lunch, and he offered her half of his sandwich which she accepted.

He told me he spent a lot of time in the bedroom that day, taking naps, and when he got up, he went out to the patio with the newspaper. I’m sure just to get away.

At 4:45, she left and he relaxed. He really hadn’t enjoyed the afternoon in any shape or form, and told me that it wasn’t going to work out. When I came home, I saw that the blanket on the arm of the chaise puddled on the sofa, and thought it was nice that she’d made herself at home, but a little strange that she hadn’t tidied up the blanket.

The next morning, at 7:00AM, I went to the door to get my keys, I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door where it usually is. I turned to ask Jimmie if he’d moved his wallet to the bedroom yesterday when she was there.  He hadn’t.

I immediately went  to check if his wallet was in his pants pocket in the closet. It wasn’t. I tore through the dry cleaning bag to see if it was there in one of the pairs of pants there. It wasn’t. Jimmie hasn’t been leaving the house much because of the walking cast, so it didn’t make sense that it would have been in his pants pocket anyway, but that was of course my first understanding of what had happened.

I called the agency and told them that his wallet was missing. They promised to reach out to the employee at once.

I texted the care giver since I had her number:

This is Els, Jimmie’s wife. This morning I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door. Before I take action, I’d like you to call me please and let me know if you’ve moved it somewhere for safety.

Then, I went to the gym because it is those workouts that allow me to maintain my equilibrium in the event of events like these.

Back from the gym, I began the odious process of canceling the cards in the wallet, and finding out where we had to go to file a police report. I have a pretty high threshold for irritation, but I felt my heart constricting, my eyes filling, the bile rising in my gut, all of which I hid from Jimmie. Being on hold with Bank of America for about 10 minutes made me angrier than I’ve been in a long time.

A while later, after speaking with the supervisor at the agency and learning that this employee was “up the hill at another client’s home where the cell phone reception is poor,” and listening for five minutes about how laudatory all her clients are about her performance, I finally got us organized and at 9:45, Jimmie and I got in the car to drive to the central LA Police Station to make a report. I had told the head nurse at the agency,

Now rather than providing me with a service, hiring your agency has created a huge hassle for me and my husband, hours of appointments to replace lost cards and a complete lack of trust in humanity. Not a good outcome.

Shortly before we left for the police station, I received a text from the care giver. It read:

Good morning Elsie sorry I’m just responding I don’t get signal until after 10 o’clock but no I don’t know what this you’re referring to because when I arrived yesterday the door was already open he said he was looking for his wallet I asked him if he would like me to assist he responded no he would just wait until after I’m gone and I’m assuming he just didn’t want me to be running around in the house being my first time so he had his sandwich I had my sandwich with him at the table then in the living room he turned on the TV he said on the chair slept for a little bit then he went to the balcony with his magazine while I still watch television and then I was on my way out the door 10 minutes to 5 because I have therapy but I definitely advise you because it’s very important having all your information and having to go and get it again definitely importance

Yeah I wouldn’t have known about a dish by the door because I don’t even think about looking behind a door he stated he didn’t want me to assist him I figured he probably would find it later but I just put it in my notes that he did misplaced his wallet.

When I read this unpunctuated and grammatically horrific text message, I couldn’t believe the chutzpah of this person. Jimmie is a meticulous soul. He has a place for everything and everything in its place. On those infrequent occasions when has misplaced a set of keys or a wallet, he gets frenzied and won’t settle at all until they are found. What she describes in her text message, cradled between”Elsie” and the instruction to get the information replaced so infuriated me that my blood pressure rose to unhealthy heights. This was how I drove to the police station.

At 6th and Maple, this police station resembles a fortress in the middle of skid row. It is a windowless blond brick structure with attempted a cheerful terrazzo mural ofcentral-community-lapd life in the big city, surrounded by police cars. Perfect.

I could do a better job of describing this mural if I had found a parking space in front of the station, but instead, had to illegally park and scurry Jimmie inside the station, where at the vending machine, a large woman in a bright yellow hat raged nonsensically at an unresponsive officer as he plunked in his change and extracted his late morning snack. I reluctantly left Jimmie sitting in his walker in the lobby while I ran back to the car to find parking. I found a structure nearby, parked at the top, and walked down the steep driveway to the sidewalk, where a homeless man outside his tent and a small enclave of homeless people greeted me enthusiastically as I passed.

The officer who took Jimmie’s statement, a young Latina officer, was polite and with the neatest handwriting I’ve seen this side of a tech table. In between painstakingly printing the details of our report, she answered the phone and gave out numbers and information to those who called. The entire desk was covered in contact sheets under glass, with numbers of city services.  I realized that I had been one of those callers just an hour before, and now had 75% of her attention, which was enough to get the job done.

At 11:30, we walked out of the station with a report in our hands, and I ran back up the steep driveway to get my car. The homeless population by the garage had swelled, large enough and rowdy enough so that I crossed by them in the street, feeling bad for my avoidance, but anxious to get Jimmie home so I could get to work.

I was still pretty steamed. Before I left for work, Jimmie asked me to please calm down. By 2:30 or so, I had regained my composure. The collegiality of my faculty peers in our lunch meeting and meeting the prospective production students rebuilt my faith in humanity, and gave me a way of refocussing on why we do what we do in the theatre and theatre education.

Besides, it’s a way of avoiding my needless worry.

 

img_7219

Animal Migration

We have a large collection of wooden animals in our apartment, each of them about the size of a four-year-old’s clenched fist. They are arrayed all about, three on top of the piano, one in the bathroom next to the sink, two more on the dining room table. There they sit, patiently, watching as we rush around with our days. They get dusted about every two weeks, and returned not exactly to their original spots because that is a feature of having a person who cleans. She keeps us on our toes.

I have a small fascination with…er…water buffalos which manifested in 1993 during a fact-finding trip to Vietnam with my father. I think I returned with two small soapstone water buffalos, and a larimg_7218ger papier mâché one; then my dad and his wife gave me with about three more. Never express fondness for things to your loved ones. Before long, you will have received a herd of water buffalos, or an endless array of hummingbird videos, for example, and when you look in the bathroom mirror one morning, you’ve got a hummingbird tattooed on your shoulder. Be careful what you wish for, friends.

No, don’t worry, I won’t be adorning the other shoulder with a water buffalo…

Other members of the wooden animal menagerie came from the shelf in my grandfather’s study, where they sat and gazed out at the Pennsylvania countryside. They consisted of a small elephant, a seal, a small stone Buddha, a giraffe, and a boar. img_7217In addition to my grandfather’s collection of animals, there were some human figures, too, a teak carved eskimo, and several flute-playing boys on the backs of the water buffalos. In addition, there was a small beanbag lizard which was Chris’ favorite talisman when he was about 7. I think we got it at SeaWorld or the Los Angeles Zoo. After that, he carried it everywhere.

This weekend, our great niece Jen, and her daughter S visited us. They came to help us keep our heads above water against the tide of maladies Jimmie has faced recently. They arrived on Wednesday, and as soon as they walked in the door, S began talking to Jimmie about her friends. She is such a sweet girl, and several years ago when we were at a family member’s memorial, she took a fancy to Jimmie. When she walked in, it was as though they picked up right where they had left off. Shortly after they arrived, I showed S where there was a small wooden truck to play with and she immediately started scavenging for toys to put in the truck.

Uh oh, I thought. We don’t really have any toys here. But never underestimate the creative genius of a four year old like S. That’s when she discovered the animals. After the three of us walked to Whole Foods to do some shopping, S and Jimmie sat in the living room and chatted while Jen made dinner, and I went and collapsed into a deep power nap in the bedroom.

When I emerged, at about 6:00, (so much for the fifteen-minute power nap),  Jimmie was sitting in his usual spot on the couch, and three of the wooden animals were lying on the left arm of the sofa, all on their sides. On S’s right chair arm another three animals rested on their sides. As I came over to talk to them, both Jimmie and S looked up at me with great seriousness, raising their index fingers to their lips and shushed me. I sat down and watched the most charming interchange between them, while they patted the wooden carved animals ceremoniously, whispering softly in trancelike tandem tones,

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

I instantly recognized the parental re-emergence of the who-can-keep-quietest-game. I sat down to watch the two of them play. Any talking that “slipped out by accident” caused a cascade of giggles from S, and broad smiles from Jimmie and me. My loud snuffling snoring made her fall out, which in turn set us all laughing. Jen, peeling asparagus in the kitchen, looked curiously out into the living room. It was such a joyful moment. I felt my tensions melting away.

Over the weekend, the animals migrated through the apartment, piling up on the floor in the guest bedroom, taking turns riding in the colorful Guatemalan toy truck. Finally, at the end of their visit, they all assembled on the coffee table for a family photo. img_7225

 

img_7213

Writing with my best Friend-Foreword and Indexing

When we embarked on the publication of Jimmie’s book, we began by sending the manuscript out to several publishers, and at the same time, we thought about who might be able to write the foreword to the book, as well as some blurbs for the back of the book.

I’m not ashamed to admit that we aimed high.

Hal HolbrookI wrote a brief note to actor Hal Holbrook, asking permission to mail him a copy of the manuscript, with the express hope that he would consider writing the foreword to the book. After all, Hal was a member of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company with Jimmie at the same time, for about two years, back in the 60s. We had had a beautiful dinner and trip down memory lane with Hal about a year ago, which I had posted about before. We are huge fans of Hal’s. In fact, a few nights ago, when we turned on the TV, All the President’s Men was playing, and being in the hellish election cycle that we’re in, we watched it. I’m so glad we did, because Hal’s shadowy, performance as Deep Throat in the parking garage was well worth the time spent. In addition, Jason Robards gives a killer performance as Ben Bradlee, the reluctant Washington Post editor. Anyway, with my heart in my mouth, I packed the manuscript and the return SASE into its envelope, printed out Hal’s address, drove to the post office and sent it off.

Life continued and I was subsumed by the work of producing the fall plays at USC. We didn’t hear for a while, but then I received a call from Hal’s assistant, Joyce. She apologized for the time that had elapsed since they received the manuscript, but of course, Hal had been touring his Mark Twain one-man show. He is amazing, at 90, to still be touring and performing all over the country. In addition to Jimmie’s relationship with Hal, I had had the privilege of touring for six weeks back in 1995 with Hal on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Joyce’s call was an apologetic refusal for Hal to write the foreword, but she reported that he’d offered to write a blurb for the back cover of the book. While this was disappointing, we certainly understood, and were delighted to have him participate in any way. After we received the news, Jimmie and I discussed a few other possibilities for foreword writers, but decided to press on without one.

Life scurried forward, three productions unfurling like the battered American flag described in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind,  and as we were teching George F. Walker’s Escape from Happiness ,  my phone again lit up with a text message from Joyce.

Can you please call me when you get a chance?

I stepped outside the Scene Dock theatre into the gloam to give Joyce a call. She was calling from Michigan, where Hal was performing Mark Twain, Tonight. Her voice was sheepish and again she apologized for the delay in communication. She explained that they’d left town without the manuscript but had had it sent overnight and that Hal had begun to read it and was really enjoying it. This made me so happy, and I knew it would please Jimmie, too.

Then she dropped the bombshell.

Hal thinks he would like to write the foreword after all.

Her words hung in the limnal space between the iphone and my ear as I processed what she was saying. My heart started pounding in my chest.

Really? That would be amazing!

What followed was a brief discussion about how much time he would need (two weeks) and whether we could delay the finalization of the manuscript to accommodate the inclusion of the foreword. (Duh!)  I promised to check with the CreateSpace folks to see what the timeline would do if we waited until Nov. 3 to send in the final copy, and said I’d call her in the morning.

The next morning, from the doctor’s office waiting room (we spend a lot of time in doctors’ office waiting rooms these days), I discovered that I could set up an almost instantaneous chat with a representative from CreateSpace and I stepped outside to take the call from the unfamiliar phone number. After providing the project’s ID number and title, the rep was able to look at the folder and counseled me on how to approach the successful inclusion of the foreword on November 3 and still meet our December 1 deadline. When I told her who was going to write the foreword, she said,

You mean the actor Hal Holbrook? Oh yes, you should definitely wait to include that!

Overjoyed, I dialed Joyce to give her the good news and she promised she would send me the foreword as soon as Hal had finished it.

Imagine my surprise and delight on October 25 to open my email and find an email from Joyce with the subject line: Foreword. It went on to say that Hal had finished the book and stayed up half the night writing the foreword. More than a week early! I was so excited to read it, and printed out a copy to take home for Jimmie to read as soon as I walked through the apartment door that night.

Suffice it to say that Hal’s foreword is a loving, enthusiastic endorsement not only of the book, but of Jimmie’s longevity in the business. A subject close to Hal’s heart because it is his story as well, albeit with a much greater degree of celebrity attached. When I showed it to Jimmie that night, after reading the first paragraph, Jimmie took a sharp intake of breath and burst into tears, turning to look at me with the most gratitude I think I’ve ever seen. It was worth waiting for. Of course when I opened the email I had been at work, and had to quell the desire to call home and read it to Jimmie immediately. I knew I wanted to see him experience the foreword first hand. Also, Jimmie’s hearing aids had crapped out that morning, and I’d had to take them to the audiologist’s office, so knew a call home would not be satisfying for either of us.

So that was this week’s high point. The more difficult job was the checking of the index, and retyping it as a word document, another item that the CreateSpace rep had told me would be needed. In a book such as Jimmie’s with over three pages of names in his index, this was no small task.

Then a sort of funny thing happened. As I checked the index, I realized I hadn’t indexed myself in the book, and when Jimmie’s ex-wives both had page numbers next to their names, I started to get jealous. Really, Els? So just for the fun of it, and really, for my Dad, who I figured would turn to the index to see if I’d been mentioned, I indexed myself. One reference with my full name, and about 30 as Els. Seeing them all written out in the index I felt like a queen, but not really in a good sense, more like an ego-maniacal idiot, as I went through and edited them all out, a bruising lesson in checking your ego before you make the stupid decision to index yourself in your husband’s book.

Last night we received the digital proof of the book and I slapped the cushion of the couch next to me inviting Jimmie to come see his book! We scrolled through and discovered a rather major error in a title chapter, which we will be able to correct, in addition to adding the heartfelt foreword of our dear friend Hal.

 

 

 

img_5542

Writing with my best friend -Line Editing

As I’ve mentioned in several other posts in this series, I have been helping my husband publish his memoir, which he began writing almost twenty years ago as a spry seventy-year-old, sitting on the bench in Beeman Park in Studio City, watching our four-year-old son, Chris tear up the joint. Ah, those were the days, where, a successful television actor meant working four to six times a year, which left a lot of time for park bench sitting and introspection.   I just went looking for a photo to include of the park from those days and googled Beeman Park. I think the place has had a definite face lift from the early 90s when we were habitués of it’s sandy slide and swing area. Ah the good old days. This was about the only image that looked the same.beemanpark

Jimmie has always been a great dad – still is, but he’s slowing down and our son, now twenty-seven and a father himself, needs less from us in the way of park bench sitting. It’s one of life’s little ironies that just when you’d really like to spend a lot of time sitting on the bench with your kids they go and grow up and get busy in their blossoming careers. Doesn’t quite seem fair. But I digress.

So we submitted the manuscript to the Createspace folks a few weeks ago, and as promised, there was radio silence while they did their line editing. This past Monday, my day off, we heard via email, saying the project needed our attention. As promised, they had attached  an editorial letter along with the copiously marked manuscript, lighter by about 1000 commas, and with all the titles of the plays like Girl on the Via Flaminia spelled correctly. All this time I had thought Circle-In-The-Square was the name of the theatre in the village in the 1960s. But no, just Circle In The Square is sufficient. You may have already noticed that my writing is markedly, (insufferably) better with numbers under 100 spelled out and much less use of the dreaded passive voice.

On the home front, it’s been a busy month, more doctors’ visits; so many, in fact, that after our third of this week, Jimmie said,

I have three days off from doctors’ appointments!

We’ll see about that. Maybe I can arrange something for you tomorrow? (Evil laugh as I twirl my moustache)

Last Saturday, we noted that Jimmie’s left foot was so swollen that he couldn’t get his shoe on. A trip to the podiatrist on Monday revealed he needs special shoes. Diabetic shoes – isn’t that charming?

Where did you get those lovely shoes?

Oh, these? They’re just my Diabetic shoes.

The Xray they took showed that he had also somehow broken a major bone in his left foot. He is now sporting a walking boot for the next 6 weeks. And we don’t have a clue how it happened.

In spite of that, we had a wonderful trip down to Anaheim last Friday night, where we watched our son coaching the defensive line of Tahoe Hockey Academy team, as they trounced Poway Unified 7-2.

Two things never occurred to me when we were hockey parents for thirteen years. Never thought that we’d be hockey parents of a hockey coach or that hockey coaches even had parents. You know what I mean – parents that came to games to root them on. Absurd, I realize, but I don’t ever remember looking around the stands and seeing old people like we are now there rooting for the hockey coaches. It also never occurred to me that we would be hockey parents again, eight years after we thought we were done. It’s kind of great to be back in the stands again, this times with our wallets intact.

This Tahoe Hockey Academy team looked amazing – tough, fast, working together, no overt egos out there hogging the pucks. They had clear systems that they were sticking by, and they were relentless on the opposing goal. Shot after shot after shot! I loved watching Chris call out to the boys on the ice to get them to come off. He and the other coaches worked so well together as they edited the lines. (See what I did there?) Deked and dangled that paragraph. (Non-hockey fans may have to look that one up…) Here’s a link. 

The other thing I noticed was that these parents were extremely well-behaved. No screaming obscenities at the refs like the good old days. Things have changed in the youth hockey world since Chris came up.

After the game, we went to Ruby’s Diner and, surrounded by teens on homecoming weekend, we ordered greasy food and an oreo-cookie fantasy shake (Els)  and laughed about the game and how weird it was to not be watching Chris on the ice. I don’t remember when I have seen him so happy, though. It was gratifying as a parent to see it all come together in one happy son. When we drove him back to the hotel to drop him off, we spied the team bus in the parking lot – pretty spiffy.img_5546

Also spiffy is the fact that this book is really happening. We received news today that a dear friend and major actor that he may be writing the foreword for the book. We are coming in to the home stretch on this project and hurtling toward our goal. Stay tuned for more updates!