Goodbye 2014, hello 2015!

Best BuyI spent New Year’s Eve day just about the way I spend every New Year’s Eve day. I started off at Best Buy, buying a new Blu-ray/DVD player. I think the one I just tossed today was about 2.3 years old. I laughed at the guy in the blue shirt when he asked me if I wanted the extended warranty. “Aren’t these disposable?”

As I was leaving the store, I realized another appliance that I could handle while there. I bought a new 10-sheet shredder, for the upcoming tax prep season. These are almost disposable, too, it seems, though I’m hoping fewer hand written checks will diminish my use of it. I had to throw my last one out sometime in August when I went on a late summer desk purge and the teeth of the shredder locked in a snarl that I couldn’t rectify. I’d snarl too if I had a steady diet of worthless political contribution checks.

I know that this will make me sound like a bad Democrat. But today I’m thinking that there are better ways to spend my hard earned money than to send checks to the Democratic National Party to elect Hilary or anyone else. I’m of the opinion now that it’s all a wash -it doesn’t really seem to matter any more who’s in office because the other side makes progress impossible. So, this year I’m going to send my meager philanthropic contributions to struggling theatres in the Los Angeles area. It felt really good to write those little checks, and plus, they are deductible to the full extent of the law, unlike the meaningless political contributions are.

I came across a new word (to me) in my New-Year’s-Eve-appropriate reading book, “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It was “Technophilanthropist,” defined as “a young, idealistic, iPad jet-setter who cares about the world – the whole world- in a whole new way.”

I think my New Year’s identity will be “theatropist”. So I’m not young, but tend to be idealistic, and I do own an iPad, which I read religiously at night, promising a future of horrible cancers due to my sleep deprivation. I kind of like the sound of theatropist. That, or “dramopist.” Which is what I am occasionally when I leave a really bad play.

I bought a Home/Office Budget ledger. It looks like something my grandfather might have used to keep track of his expenditures. I know, you are thinking, this is absolutely the wrong way to go – shouldn’t you be upgrading your Quicken? I’ll do that too, but sometimes, manual entry of money spent gets you to think about whether you need something? That’s my thinking, anyway. (See paragraphs 1 and 2 above….)

Paid our 2nd property tax installment. Ahhhhhh. Feels good.

This year I did the passive, reactive Christmas card thing, where I just responded to the cards that came in. I know, it’s lazy, but this year I learned that I really only need to send about 30 cards, not the 100 that I’ve done in other years that appear to go off into the abyss with no response back. So it was a good exercise, right?  And, I went off to Vroman’s yesterday and bought next year’s Christmas cards which I will shove into the closet and forget about, probably prompting me to buy more next November. I put one box on my desk to remind me that I bought them. I cleaned off my desk at home, restocking thank you cards and stationery for the New Year. I’m too entrenched in my vacation to think about my desk at work, except to berate myself for not cleaning it before leaving on my vacation.

Cleaned the apartment, new sheets on the beds, etc. Well, I didn’t do it, but I know you will think less of me if I tell you I paid someone else to do it, so let’s just let it be our little secret.

I plugged in the new Blu-ray player, which operates flawlessly. You don’t need to use your fingernail to wrench the disc drawer open. Wow! I almost had to throw away a SAG screener copy of “The Theory of Everything” that refused to come out of the old DVD player, but thought that would be imprudent. I imagine my neighbor’s delight and my husband’s subsequent imprisonment when she found the abandoned DVD player in the trash room, plugged it in and the drawer popped open with the illicit DVD in it. So I had a go at the drawer of the DVD player with my tweezer prongs, causing it to grind open so I could extract the prize. My husband will thank me later for this, while my neighbor curses me and drops the DVD player on the floor of the garbage room.

IMG_4242

I removed the extra holiday drop leaf from the dining room table and put a non-Christmas tablecloth on the table. It has snowflakes, but it is blue. I do get tired of the red and green. This symbolizes the end of large parties – wait, did I have any? I threw away the most durable Christmas table decoration I’ve ever had, made of fir tree tips and frosted cones. I must thank my colleague, Marissa, for providing me with such a long lasting table decoration.

I made a shopping list for the lamb stew I’m going to make for New Year’s Day dinner. This recipe I received from a colleague due to a chain email requesting recipes that I succumbed to in the last moments in my office when I should have been cleaning my desk surface. But hey, now I have lamb stew to make. Thanks, Laura!IMG_4288

New Year’s resolutions are a bit fuzzy still, but I have about nine more hours to come up with some. Here are a few:
1. Don’t procrastinate. (I have this on every year’s list, but then, so do you, right?)

  1. Learn how to drive on Santa Monica Blvd. so that I don’t damage my axle. This means hugging the left lane when east bound. (No need to thank me for this tip. You’d have figured it out on your own.)
  2. Hug my husband at least three times a day, maybe more. Hey, hug him until he asks me to stop.
  3. Write every day.
  4. Write more letters.

IMG_4307And since I have a few hours before the ball falls, or the fireworks go off over Grand Park here in L.A., I just want to take a moment to thank you for making 2014 such a smash hit, and to take a moment to thank you in advance for being kind and committed in 2015. Which is different from being kind of committed. Take note of that, you theatropists out there. Here’s to a theatrical and dramatic 2015!

Road Trip!

I have always loved road trips. As kids we spent a lot of time fighting over the “back back” of our wood-paneled station wagon on the five-hour drives from our home in Greensburg, PA to my Mom’s parents’ home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Those of you with station wagons in the 60s may remember that  the “back back” was a narrow, coffin-shaped slot between the stacked up suitcases and the side of the car, where a lucky sibling could stretch out his or her legs and sleep through the numbing hours along the Pennsylvania turnpike. That is, during the hours when we weren’t playing the Cow Game, or the Animal, Vegetable or Mineral Game. Alternate configurations included a backward facing bench seat with seat belts that accommodated two to three children making obnoxious faces at the drivers behind us. We played rocks, papers, scissors to determine who would be in the back back on those 4-5 hour trips to Wilkes-Barre and back. Or bribery worked as well.

Old Mother Hubbard
Old Mother Hubbard Shoe Tying Toy

Road trips as a kid are frustrating segments of your life where you can’t get a lot done, like stretching your legs, or running maniacally in circles,  but I did learn to tie my shoes on the Old Mother Hubbard Shoe Toy somewhere between Altoona and Hazelton, PA. My brothers begrudgingly helped me. They had more patience back then.   Later, I mastered reading by the  headlamps of the cars behind us, holding “My Antonia” up in the 6″ band of faint light, pretending not to hear my mother’s warnings about straining my eyes. Of course, one of the three of us always had to go to the bathroom, and the carefully rationed stops contributed as much to my bladder strength as the later  E.S.T training sessions.

Adult road trips are much more fun; I don’t ever remember a friend not allowing us to stop to use the bathroom, or to take pictures of the cows on the side of the road, or as when I was in Sicily once for a job, to sing at the tops of our lungs to schmaltzy Italian pop songs. Yes, road trips are great fun.

Mission project
Not what Chris’ Mission Project looked like except in my fantasy.

Road trips with my husband have been wonderful. We have driven to San Francisco,  and many times, to Los Osos, where his niece Martha lives. We took Chris on a road trip in the fourth grade, to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, where we attempted to expose him to enough research material to complete his fourth grade Mission project. However, I think the most impactful thing from that trip was the overnight stay at the Madonna Inn in the Old Mill Room. At the time, Chris was way more interested in his GI Joe action figures, which he promptly put in the water wheel on the wall of the room, forgetting anything about the mission project once and for all.

Madonna Inn – The Old Mill Room

There were, of course,  many hockey road trips, to San Diego, to Valencia, to Las Vegas. There were literally dozens of them that transpired over the ten years that Chris played hockey; I tried not to be the potty czar to varying degrees of success.

1985 Bonneville
This is not my grandma’s Bonneville, but an image I got off the internet.

But some of my favorite road trips have been those bookending our lives as parents of a young sports aficionado. Early in our marriage, after the death of my maternal grandmother, and my inheritance of her navy blue 1985 Bonneville, Jimmie and I drove across the country from Wilkes-Barre to Los Angeles.. We were moving from New York to live in Los Angeles, where Jimmie had been cast in the TV series “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.” With us on this cross-country adventure, was our preternaturally smart German Shepherd, Jasper.

Jasper was a small part of the reason that I fell in love with Jimmie in the first place. At the McCarter Theatre, in fall of 1983, I was hired as a dresser for the play, “Play Memory” by Johanna Glass, starring Donald Moffatt, Jo Henderson, and Valerie Mahaffey; among others, James Greene was in the cast. One day Jimmie received a bouquet of balloons from a female admirer. I walked them to his fourth floor dressing room, and there he sat, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle, in ink, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, Jasper lying calmly at his feet. When Jimmie was on stage, Jasper sat quietly in the aisle of auditorium, head resting patiently on his outstretched paws. The two of them were both so distinguished, I developed a crush of enormous size. Later, I found out that Jimmie walked Jasper without a leash, in Manhattan, from his apartment on the upper west side to Central Park. Jasper would stop at the corner with the light and look expectantly up at Jimmie, who waited until the light changed and exhaled, “Go!” Jasper would dash across the street and sit on the other side until Jimmie had crossed. He was an amazing dog. So, our road trip from Wilkes-Barre to Los Angeles was going to be an adventure with a dog in tow. We took turns driving, and stopped frequently for water and chances to stretch our legs along the way. We stayed in some literal flea-bag motels including one in Elko, Nevada.

One of the games that Jimmie taught me on this trip was the game where one person thinks of a word with five letters. He had learned the game years before from his actor buddy, Tom Carlin. The game starts when one of us says, “Ok, I have a word.” The other person, then, guesses the word such as, Jimmie’s word,  ‘banal.’ (Don’t go looking for hidden meaning in my use of this word, I don’t want to use good words to teach you the game.)

I would say ‘apple.’ He would say, “zero.” That’s because there are no letters in my word that match the position of the letters in his word. Had I said, “Canal,” he would have said “Four.”Our young minds, mine twenty-six at the time, and his fifty-nine, worked quickly and methodically through the puzzles. We growled at each other with fierce affection when Jimmie used words like “abyss.”  We played it for hours;  it was a great way to pass the time as we crossed the country. Not as exciting as getting stopped for my first speeding ticket just outside the Grand Canyon, mind you, but it was a great distraction. I think Jasper played along silently in the back seat. Or, come to think of it, maybe he just kept score.

During the hockey years, I had tried to play the word game, but Jimmie’s hearing loss and Chris’s disinterest made it impossible to play in the car, so we abandoned the game.

We just finished our most recent road trip, a three-day adventure to Los Osos, where we joined family members to celebrate Christmas on the Central Coast. The recent rains had left the gently terraced slopes of the central coast a green color reminiscent of the old country. I tried to get Jimmie to document the color with my iPhone while I drove home, but the camera didn’t capture the saturated color of the tilted fields bathed in the clear early afternoon sun.

We spent three lovely and eventful days with close family. Jimmie is the paterfamilias now. Gathered at Martha’s house were nieces and nephews, great nieces and a great great niece and nephew. Our son Chris and his girlfriend, Whitney met us for all three days and we stayed in the Bay Side Inn, a B & B about three minutes from Martha’s house. My Dad and his wife, Sally drove down from San Francisco for one day of the festivities.

Martha’s Very productive Christmas Kitchen Photo by Liam Nolan

Martha has a huge kitchen-heavy house, with plenty of space for people to sneak away if they get overwhelmed from too much family time. She and her husband, Phil, had modified the small upstairs kitchen and living room years ago to create a TV room and a living room with a pool table in the middle of it. Nothing is missing for a great entertainment space except for  Phil, who’s untimely death in early September cast a pall over the fall for all of us. Having the family together for these few days was comforting for Martha and Bianca, their daughter,  but also for each of us, who has felt Phil’s absence profoundly.

That's a lotta crab
Picking Crab at Christmas – That’s a lotta crab! Photo by Liam Nolan

Chris and Whitney had brought down twelve Dungeness crabs with them, which he cleaned with a hose in the front yard; a happy group then picked the meat out of for about an hour until there was a huge platter of crab on the counter. We had it for dinner on Christmas along with a spectacular pork crown roast, and squash terrines topped with sliced truffles. We had crab cakes for Boxing Day dinner. Everyone contributed to the preparation or clean up after the meals. There were many games of pool, and hours of enjoyment from watching the next generation play with their Christmas toys, or the young parents play with their next generation.

Driving home today,out of the blue, I said, “I have a word.” And without missing a beat, Jimmie said a five letter word. And so, some ten years later, we resumed the game. It was much easier for him to play with his new hearing aids in place, but both of our older brains have more trouble with the word matching. I was spelling the words out loud, visualizing the letters of his guess next to my word. I sounded like a kindergartener in a spelling bee. Mortifying. Furthermore, I couldn’t remember what words I had already guessed. Jimmie told me today that he tried to use the word “xerox” back in the day with Tom Carlin. But Tom wouldn’t accept it as a word, even though Jimmie used it in a very acceptable sentence (for the time). “Miss Simpson, would you please Xerox that report for me? ” Oh well.  I think it’s time that we  get going with that brain exercise program. We had some good words, though. My best was cacti and his was ounce. I’d say we have a few more good road trips left in us yet.

Myrna, Put The Kettle On

William and MyrnaWe live in a high rise Condominium in downtown Los Angeles.  Walking through the wide white marble lobbies feels like you are in another, more glamorous time. From our unit on the 11th floor, we have a privileged view of the ever-changing Los Angeles Skyline, which features three major construction projects that we can see from our windows. I recently told you about the decorating service which has left our lobby looking like a Christmas window at Macy’s – oh, wait a minute, the Macy’s Plaza Macy’s doesn’t have any windows- but they are rectifying that as we speak with a massive renovation of the Bloc, or old Macy’s Plaza.

Back in the early days of our courtship, Jimmie introduced me to the Thin Man movies, starring ever-so-elegant Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles, who solved crimes in between strolls along Manhattan streets, their dog, Asta, in tow. When we have a party, Jimmie or I say without fail, “Serve the nuts. I mean, serve the guests the nuts.”

The Thin Man was on TV the other night and we sat together on the couch, watching the familiar scenes unfold. The Christmas morning scene where Nora wears her new mink coat, and Nick  plays with his new BB gun, shooting out the ornaments on the tree until finally one goes through a window. Saucily, Nora responds, “Well, I hope you are satisfied.”

You could say we have modeled our lives on the Charleses, but only in the past 6 years since we moved downtown, have we begun to attain the heady urbanity of our cinematic heroes.

However,  notices  appearing in our elevator threaten how we identify ourselves. First there was the gas leak notice, which necessitated shutting off the gas and losing our heat. The heat part doesn’t impact you when you live in a clime that is in the high 70s just days before Christmas. The hot water is more impactful.

Then the notice  about replacing a gas pipe that ran the length of the building, 1st floor to 15th. The Gas Company, who was standing on call to restore the service, would do so once this work was finished.  I began to make excuses to go down to the lobby so I could see the notices in the elevators, and report back to Nick about when the services would be restored.

Living without hot water isn’t glamorous at all.  I don’t know how Nick and Nora  would have dealt with this situation, but our current conditions look less like the Thin Man and more like the Howells on Gilligan’s Island.The Howells

Our morning ablutions consist of a first sacred kettle of boiling water mixed with cold water in the kitchen sink. Towel, check. Shampoo, check. Husband,…. – “Hey, honey, time for your shampoo!” Check. Then from the shampoo, off he goes to the bathroom sink, where another kettle of water fills a large ceramic salad bowl for shaving, and a third slurry for the sponge bath.  Rinse and repeat as I then step in.

But hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Helena and Rick and MomToday, we had  lunch with our friends, Helena and Rick, Helena’s mom and their two daughters in our apartment. Helena was most recently the head of the hair department on the TV show, “Parks and Recreation,” and we were reunited after about 13 years; she and I had worked together in the Canon Theatre doing “The Vagina Monologues”  for thirteen months in 2001 and 2002. We had created a basement cocoon for all those famous and wonderful Vaginas who came to perform in two week cycles over the course of that year. Helena did hair and makeup, and her easy banter relaxed the casts, many of whom had left stage careers for TV or film. I was the stage manager, and our friend Ando made the basement of the Canon Theatre a place everyone wanted to congregate, with fresh flowers and fluffy slippers for each cast member. Jim Freydberg, the producer, made that possible,  and Jenny Sullivan, the director who put the women into the show.  Our company manager, Friar, kept our spirits up as well. It was a great year, full of happy memories. When Jimmie was cast  on Parks and Recreation, I was happy  to reconnect with Helena. Their daughters were with them today, Eliana, whose baby shower we had hosted at our house in Van Nuys 13 years ago supported by many of the celebrities who loved Helena’s nurturing support of them.

Before they arrived, I ran to the grocery store and bought paper plates. My mother would be spiraling in her grave over this faux pas of hostessing, but you know, the damn kettle business was getting tiresome.  And  a girl’s gotta do….

Mom made do, back in 1981, when she decided after her divorce, to go to The Columbia School of Journalism to become a journalist. For that year she was in the program, she lived in a room in a very old woman’s upper west side apartment. She had one room, with a dark mahogany canopy bed and a private bathroom- pretty swank,  but she shared the kitchen, whose patterned oilcloth table cloth didn’t hide the roaches that scurried around when you turned the kitchen light on. This was inconceivable for my elegant mother, Shirley. It was during a visit to her New York space that I learned that “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”

I will suck it up, and put up with this kettle business until it is repaired. And I will rely on Myrna’s wit to help me through.

 

 

 

James Greene on His Association with Robert Downey Sr.

Andersonville trialI met the filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., (A Prince) in 1959. We were in the Broadway production of the Civil War drama “The Andersonville Trial,” which featured George C. Scott and Albert Dekker as opposing attorneys and Herbert Berghof as the ex-commandant of the infamous Civil War prison camp. I played one of several witnesses at the trial, an ex-prisoner of the confederate camp. The cast of about 15 included to non-speaking roles, two guards in uniform carrying muskets standing by the entrance to the trial room over at stage left. The young tall gangly one was Robert, whose vision even then was not so much to act but to write and direct movies, films that would bring to cinematic life his jumbled, oddball, comedic observations of life.

Watching “The Andersonville Trial” night after night during its six-month run he conceived his own Civil War story: a Yankee soldier is shot and wounded and when he wakes he finds himself wandering in present-day Manhattan.  He stops passersby asking directions to get off this strange island and back to his base camp. Bob told me he borrowed someone’s camera and stole some film. He sneaked his Andersonville Trial costume and the musket out of the theater and the next day with a couple of pals following him with camera and mic he set out to accost perfect strangers with his personal dilemma and and seek their advice. He was making his first movie.

Most of the people he interviewed didn’t give him the time of day, of course, quickly moving away from this nut with the funny looking gun. But surprisingly there were others who were intrigued by his predicament and even offered their advice. Nuns he approached were quick to express their concern for his plight and offer him their sympathies.

Ball's BluffIn his wanderings around the various boroughs he came upon Grant’s Tomb and stared at it in shock and consternation. “They got Ulysses” he seems to be saying. And in the Bronx he does a giddy jig in front of Yankee Stadium, believing he’s found his company headquarters.

I got a phone call from Bob the night before he shot that scene: Moose Skowron“I’m going to walk onto the field during the game tomorrow and have a scene with Moose Skowron at first base.” “Oh my God, Bob, whatever you do don’t take the musket with you. You’ll get shot!”

Happy to say, he heeded my advice. But he got his shot and Moose Skowron lives on in “Balls Bluff.”

Babo 73
Taylor Mead as The President of the United Status and James Greene as Chester Kittylitter from “Babo ’73”

Shortly after completing his Civil War fantasy, he started work on another short film, a political satire called, for some obscure reason, “Babo  ’73.” He phoned to tell me he had lined up the eccentric Greenwich Village actor/writer Taylor Mead to play the lead part -the President of the United Status – and asked me to play his left wing advisor, Chester Kittylitter. By this time I had seen and enjoyed a cut of his first film so I happily agreed to join on. I figured if nothing else, it would be a barrel of laughs and of course it was. It was a romp.

Robert continued making short films and later-but not that much later – he got the backing to make his first feature film. By this time he was married and had a son named Robert Downey Jr.

This film – a clever satire of the black – white dichotomy in America as seen through the prism of Madison Avenue advertising world – was called “Putney Swope.” It opened at a first run the movie theater on Third Avenue and, much to everyone’s surprise, including Bob’s, was an immediate hit. Bob phoned me shortly after the movie opened. “Jimmie, I can’t believe it. They’re lining up for blocks to see my movie!” He sounded both thrilled and bewildered at this sudden change in his life, this new appreciation of what he was doing, not only by the film industry but by movie fans as well.Putney Swope Poster

The success of “Putney Swope” led to more financial backing for Bob and spurred him to write and eventually film his second feature, a comedy called “Pound.”

“Pound,” which was shot all around town, but primarily in the west side of Greenwich Village, opens with a shot of a variety of stray dogs being rounded up by the authorities and take into a cold, prison-like facility which fills them with dread and stirs them to make their escape.

Bob shot actual dogs being led through the entrance to the pound, but once inside (Voilà!) they were real people, actors who could physically reflect the disparate qualities of the various breeds – a bald Chihuahua, a sexy female poodle, a shepherd with a German accent, a tall and lean greyhound, and so on.

Bob even had a role for his son, now about four years old and cute as a button. Robert Downey Je. made his film debut playing an adorable puppy. His one line in the film is a question posed to the Chihuahua (a very bald Larry Wolf )- “Do you have hair on your balls?” Robert Downey Jr. Pound Puppy

Bob, probably realizing he shouldn’t stay within the confines of an ugly dog pound for the entire movie, added a sub-plot featuring a sexually frustrated young white man who roamed the city murdering amorous young white couples and then taunting the police by phoning them pretending to be black. He became known in the media (and in Bob’s screenplay) as The Honky Killer.

Bob cast me in the part and for one summer back in the early 60s I raced around Manhattan with both the rifle and revolver popping off young amorous couples – young amorous white couples, that is.

Soon after my scenes were shot, the film was completed and edited (Bob told me the editing, not the shooting was the fun part of filmmaking for him) and opened over on third avenue movie house where it had a moderately successful run.

Greaser's Palace PosterAfter that Bob went West to shoot his epic western “Greaser’s Palace,” and I went to Spain to shoot my Western, a Frank Perry film called “Doc” starring Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway. Our careers had suddenly diverged, and Bob and I not only did not work together again; we didn’t even see each other for many, many years.

Then, about two weeks ago, I opened the Calendar section of the LA Times and there was a picture of Robert Downey Sr. and Robert Downey Jr.  with an accompanying article about an upcoming retrospective showing of Robert Downey Sr’s films.

On Saturday night of that week they would be showing both “Pound” and “Greaser’s Palace.”  I hadn’t seen either movie in over 40 years. My wife, Els, had never seen them.

I called her at work with my exciting news, and she immediately set about getting us tickets for the two films: “Pound” for obvious reasons, and “Greaser’s Palace” because a very dear friend of ours, Allan Arbus, who died this year, had a featured role in that film.

Above all it was a chance to meet up again with my old pal and colleague, the inimitable Robert Downey Sr.

In the crush of fans and acolytes that wasn’t easy, but it came to be thanks to the efforts of my beautiful dear wife, Legs Collins.

I Wear The Legs In This Family

 

http://instagram.com/p/wVG6iPx0px/

It occurred to me this week after a few events out with my husband, a life-long actor of outstanding repute and with a CV for days, that because of my long life with him, I have had many interesting and life-enhancing experiences. I have lunched with television comedy writers on a wisteria-enclosed porch in Williamstown; I have dined in New York with the former co-star of the same TV show. There have been many special moments.

And I have provided a few of the same events for him, where work has immersed me into heady collaborations with some famous people, both those with very big egos, the VBEs and those who are not, but are just VFPs, very famous people. We can eschew chummy companionship with VBEs because they don’t need us anyway, and breathe a more rarified air than we do.

The problem is, that when one sees a VFP, you can’t know if he or she will be a VBE. I am shy about approaching celebrities to tell them how much I enjoyed their work on such and such. First because I don’t think they care, and lately, because those such and suches are harder to extrude from my brain in a way that makes a dignified approach plausible or timely.

The one exception was the night that I was standing on the corner of Hope and 9th St., waiting to cross from the park. I think it was the night of the SAG Awards. A black shiny SUV pulled up to the red light, and the passenger window was down. Tom Hanks was in the front seat; I knew from  having stage managed a few events with him, that he was a really nice guy. I caught his eye and he smiled. I had just seen him do a reading of “Twelfth Night, Or What you Will” at the Geffen Playhouse, a fund-raiser for The Shakespeare Center, and so, I said to him, “I just saw you do that reading of Twelfth Night at the Geffen last week. You were wonderful.”  He beamed, because it was a completely unexpected reference. His shiny SUV pulled away, leaving me satisfied with the encounter. But I digress.

As my husband has aged, he’s lost mobility from pain in his knees. Whether from the many thousands of miles he logged as a marathoner, or arthritis, his walking has become very labored and painful. He recently graduated from a cane to a walker, so we don’t worry about how long he will have to stand. It’s been a great improvement, if the need for such a contraption can be seen in positive terms at all.

Last Friday,  we attended a screening of two films by Robert Downey, Sr. at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax. Jimmie had called me earlier in the week to ask me to look into tickets for the screening of “Greaser’s Palace” and “Pound.” Jimmie has talked about “Pound” for years, and I knew that he played “The Honky Killer” in the film. I had previously looked online to see about renting or buying the film, and had never been able to find it on DVD, so I was as pleased as he about the screenings, and secured two tickets for that night.

We arrived at the theatre at about 6:00PM; the theatre doors were to open at 6:30 and the film started at 7:00PM. There were already a number of people lined up when we arrived. We got into the line, and Jimmie had a seat on his walker.

We were surrounded by young, very hip looking people. Two hipsters with cameras soon emerged from the theatre and interviewed two young men at the front of the line, who were now eating pizza. “How long have you been waiting in line to see this film?” They responded as they continued to munch their pizza on camera. I tried to look blasé, but really wanted to say, “PSSST… Hey, back here! This is James Greene, who plays ‘the Honky Killer’ in “Pound.” But I didn’t. Jimmie is roughly the same age as the filmmaker, Robert Downey, Sr.; it surprised me a bit that they didn’t have the least bit of curiosity about him.

Older people are invisible to young people. Something about achieving the age of 80 plus, or even 50 plus, suddenly negates all your achievements as an artist. Your audience diminishes as you age, and unless someone guides the younger audience to awareness of your work, so does your relevance. In addition to losing your mobility, you also lose your street cred, in spite of the fact that you are sharp mentally, and your skills haven’t diminished just because the vessel that holds them has.  This is very frustrating and saddening.

In the past few years, I have become the legs in the family, not an entirely comfortable position for me. When we went into the theatre, it became clear because of the way the chairs in the aisles, that Jimmie’s walker was not going to be able to pass. I took his arm and guided him slowly to our seats in the back of the theatre. The theatre was extremely  dim, with  light at the front;  a DJ spun a record with music from “Pound” for the audience. There were a few directors’ chairs set up for a brief interview with Robert Downey Jr. and Sr. before the movie.

A tall, well dressed and sophisticated looking man entered the front of the theatre from a space off to the house right side. Jimmie perked up and had it not been for his damned legs, he would have sprinted to the front of the theatre. “That’s Bob, I think,” he said to me. “I’d really like to see him tonight.” And just as he said that, the man turned and made his way up the house right aisle to the lobby. I sprung into action.

“I’ll let him know that you are here,” I said.

Jimmie beamed gratefully. I leapt to my feet, nervous,  as I readied myself  to accost the evening’s celebrity honoree. I found him in the lobby outside the men’s room, at the front of the line, ceded this place no doubt by the young acolytes who respectfully waited behind him.

“Excuse me, Mr. Downey?” I stood at his feet, tilting my head back to take in his 6’5” frame, and feeling very small indeed. I was smack dab in that moment of not knowing if I had approached a VBE.

He swiveled his gaze down at me, implacable, no smile on his face. I braved on.

“I’m married to Jimmie Greene, the honky killer in Pound?” I paused, feeling slightly nauseous as he continued to gaze down at me. Silence. I was starting to break a sweat.

“He’s here tonight, and would love to see you, but has some mobility issues that will prevent his coming to the front.”

And then, just the hint of a smile, and “James Greene. I would love to see him.”

“Great!” I said, scuttling away from him and the front of the men’s room line and hurrying back to our seats.

This is what I mean by wearing the legs in the family. Often, Jimmie has the fervent desire to see and talk with someone but not the mobility and it falls to me, to my legs and my screwed up courage, to leave behind my ego and approach someone whom I would never approach in a hundred years were it not for my husband.

We watched the panel  of Bob Downey and several of his colleagues, director Paul Thomas Anderson, and actors Lawrence Wolf, Don Calfa and Pablo Ferro, who played The Indian in “Greaser’s Palace” talk about some funny stories related to the making of these two films.

Then we watched “Greaser’s Palace,” which starred among others, our dear recently-departed friend, Allan Arbus, as the Jesus figure. It is an amazing film, especially in the newly restored version, which was vibrant in it’s colors. Never having seen a Robert Downey film, I was pleasantly surprised at the soulful weirdness of the film.

Intermission came, and the entire audience (save us legless ones) moved to the reception area while we waited for the reason we had come. “Pound.”

I will cede this territory to Jimmie’s recall in a future guest post because it will be more relevant. But I will just say that after “Pound” ended, and we made our way up to speak to Robert Downey, after he and Jimmie had talked, Robert Downey looked at me and said “Thank you for making sure we got to talk tonight.” Which made it all worthwhile.

Other festivities  this week took us to the wrap party for Parks and Recreation, at a nightclub in Hollywood called “The Colony.” Again, were it not for my husband, I would not be spending time in nightclubs.

We snagged a great table right near the door, so were able to see as people arrived for the party. Before long, some of the other councilmen from the show, Jon Glaser and Kevin Symons gravitated to our table and were happy to speak with Jimmie.  I worked up my courage again and shot this photo of the three of them. After shooting it, Jon Glaser handed me his cell phone to shoot one for him.

IMG_3394
Three of Pawnee’s Councilmen; Kevin Symons (Councilman Dexhart), James Greene (Councilman Milton), Jon Glaser(Councilman Jamm)

 

See, normal people, people. Not VBEs. And I was there because I wear the legs in this family.

 

A Crime Against Christmas

There has been a crime against Christmas and it took place in my lobby under cover of darkness, or, even more likely, in the stark light of day.

Last week, when the installation of the Christmas decorations happened, I was bemused to see that  they included two lovely deer at the base of the tree.
This was a new, bucolic and heart-warming addition to the usual array which typically included a pretty tacky tree with large packages wrapped underneath. I felt transported to the Connecticut countryside; if I squinted my eyes real right, I could imagine the grouping on a white hillock just outside my breakfast nook.

IMG_3328An art history major and long time appreciator of art-at-arms’-length in galleries and of the sanctity of theatrical sets and props, I resisted my deepest desire to reach out and touch the little dearies to see if they were inflatables or carved in wood, which their texture indicated.

I took copious photographs of the two parental cervidae and noted that the juvenile was cruelly separated from his/her parents by the width of our cool white marbled lobby. IMG_3329He rested atop his white nest of cotton batting looking longingly across the room at his parents who grazed beneath the white flocked tree.

I insisted, much to the delight of our main security guard, Officer Danny, who keeps us safe from marauding deer-snatchers during the days, that the family be reunified. And so, one of the custodians and I executed a family reunification effort, he placing the baby at the feet of its parents, I cooing my approval from the side and snapping another photo.

IMG_3338When I had first seen the display in the lobby, I had sent a photo to our son Chris via a text  message, with the caption, “a little holiday cheer” or some such inanity. His response, a typically wry one which would likely have made David Sedaris even laugh, was “take a picture of Dad riding one.”

I replied, “To what end?” Followed by a nasty epithet which I shudder to repeat but will anyway – “You Instagram Whore!”

Whatever possessed him to request that his distinguished and 88-year-old actor father mount one of these cervine critters was pure folly. Besides, it was still not established whether these were inflatables or wooden. Either way, it would endanger both parties, the deer and my adorable husband. So I did the next best thing which was to ask him to climb into the display and stand next to the deer. Which he did. Evidence will show that the reunification project happened after this photo was taken. I know my gentle readers will forgive this lapse in chronology. Furthermore, that I posted the photo on Instagram, just so I could beat Chris. IMG_3331

This morning, I went to the mail slot in the lobby to mail a recent payment to my eye doctor and as I turned from the slot and started toward the rear exit of the building, I ground to a halt, in horror. The deer were gone! In their place, nothing but the cool shiny marble of the lobby floor.

“Where are the deer!!!!” I cried out across the lobby to Officer Danny. Another homeowner, who stood next to the guard desk turned and with a dismayed expression on her face said, “Yeah, there were deer there! Where did they go?”

With a sheepish shrug, Danny said quietly, “Some people had issues with the deer.” Both the OHO (other Home Owner) and I looked to him and said, “What issues?”

Officer Danny, ever the soul of discretion, would not be caught dead gossiping with anyone about anyone else’s business. I  really couldn’t imagine exactly what issues you could have about the lovely little deer in the lobby. At that moment.  But with some more thought, here are some of my best guesses.

Perhaps someone’s dog tried to eat them? Urinate on them? Hump them? Though the size of the dogs in our building range from tiny to tinier, I can’t imagine that even being physically possible. Whatever happened, the incident caused the owner too much pain and embarrassment and the offending deer were asked to leave.

Perhaps the same thing happened with someone’s children? Well, only the first two options of above.

Perhaps someone objected to the use of inflatables as unsustainable and tacky? Damn it, now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t touch them to find out what they were made of.

Perhaps someone objected to the use of wood for such a ridiculous display? Surely, there are more acceptable uses for wood than these? I can see him sputtering mad, leaning over the console desk to demand their removal from the lobby. And Danny trying to keep a straight face and succeeding.

Perhaps the vendor who supplied the deer told our building’s manager that they would each cost $200.00 a week to rent. “Okay, we’ll throw in the baby for an extra $75. Total is $475 a week….times 5 weeks equals just $2,375. Imagine how much cheerier this display is with these little creatures.” I can see the vendor with her clipboard, her calculator, coming up with a “reasonable rental figure” for the now incredulous building manager. As a production manager, faced with renting Seagulls for our upcoming production of The Seagull, I can understand a figure like that stopping the discussion. Dead in it’s little hooved tracks.

Or maybe, just maybe, under the guise of night, with the magical season upon us, the little family just got up out of their cozy corner and wandered out the back door of the building, and down the street, the bright streetlights shining off their wooden/inflatable backs. Leaving us all to wonder where they could have gone.

IMG_3380

Luna Gale

Luna Gale – 

Once in a while I have the privilege of attending a theatrical performance that moves me profoundly on many levels and reminds me why theatre is so vital to our lives.

Yesterday I attended Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman at the Kirk Douglas Theater. I had been warned both by word-of-mouth and by written reviews of the play that it was undeniably good; that the subject was difficult but powerful.

Not your normal holiday fare in any sense, the play opens in an emergency room of a hospital where two young people, one in a post meth coma, the other tweaking out of her mind and force feeding skittles into the mouth of her comatose mate. It seems like there is no one in the hospital; the window is shuttered and these two, and us with them,  are trapped in some hellish anteroom. Their behaviors are unsettling, and when the social worker emerges from the shuttered room, we learned that their baby, being treated offstage in a space they can no longer gain access to, has been taken into protective services.
As an audience, we are as hooked as these young parents are.

As the adoptive parent of a child taken into protective custody prenatally when his mother was arrested for drug use, I was mesmerized.

I’m not going to detail all the resulting scenes of the play, because the play unfolds delicately, subtly, powerfully, and to do so would spoil it for you. Ultimately, my assumptions about the social welfare system and its inner workings were shaken, and  the play reminded  me that however perfect we think we are, we are all humanly flawed. That the calm, efficient demeanor of those who help within the social welfare system could be as complex as the more visibly chaotic clients’ lives.

What moved me so much was not that, though I found that fascinating about the play. It was the power of a theatrical performance to lay it all out in front of us for our observation and betterment. It was a visceral reminder that our lives are not so much haphazard, but result from our  journeys taken, not all of which are positive or evident to the outside world.

Rembrandt
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, by Rembrandt van Rijn.  For some reason I was reminded of this painting in the deft plotting and direction of Luna Gale

Rebecca Gilman plots “Luna Gale” with surgical precision – – aided by the steady hand of director Robert Falls, who shaped the story’s arc of acting moments to unfold truthfully, strategically, and with unrelenting surprises along the route.

Mary Beth Fisher’s performance as Caroline, the social worker, who wends her way through the emotional and behavioral IED-strewn family history of baby Luna Gale, gives sanctity to playing the current beat and not ever divulging what lies ahead. She is unflappably human in the way that live theatre can render. Her journey is our journey; however dissimilar the path she has taken, her resolution is ours.

I don’t really know how to say exactly what I experienced yesterday at the Kirk Douglas. Talking about the play afterwards with my husband over dinner at the nearby Café Vida, I found myself crying.

He and I have some experience in the world of the play.  Twenty-three years ago, we adopted our son, Chris, through the Department of Children Services in Los Angeles. The process came flooding back to me while I was watching the play. The process of terminating parental rights, and the moral morass that the thought of that action created returned with a  physical gut-wrenching moment.

However, our adoption experience was very different from that in the play. So it wasn’t just the pain of the play’s specifics  that affected me, but the play’s ability to open an observation window, like the one on stage into the visitation nursery, through which we could feel the effect of the resource shortages on these specific humans. We’ve all read about the shortages and failures of the system in the paper. But yesterday, every one of us in that theatre felt it in a tangible, personal and emotional way. And that’s what made me cry.

The play reached off of the page and through the well-orchestrated production elements assembled by Robert Falls and his team of gifted designers, reached right into my heart and pulled it hard.

And that’s the value of theater. That’s why I go so often to the theater.  I need to be pulled and made to think beyond the safety of my world. I left the theater, wanting to take every person I knew to that play.

I actually considered over dinner and for the rest of the day, what would it take for me to become a social worker? I know the more cynical among you are thinking – oh, Els got her emotional Yaya’s off at the theater and then she’ll go back and continue in her daily life. Blah blah blah. What does it matter if she takes no action from this powerful event?

But I’m reminded that every day as I teach and work with students making theater, that this is what we are striving to do. This is the power of our art. This is the power of our daily work and struggles against budgets and resources and time. We all are struggling to make a play that has the impact of Luna Gale. and there is nothing wrong or dishonorable about that. Thank you,Rebecca Gilman, for reminding us all of our life’s work.

Singing Like Crazy in the Rain

Funny things happen when it rains in California. I get positively giddy  with the prospect of a few droplets gracing our Los Angeles streets and sidewalks. Today’s rain was torrential by almost anyone’s standards, especially ours.

The campus was filled with miserable, sodden looking pedestrians, umbrellas and hoods up, plowing through puddles. Many of the umbrellas, dusty from lack of use, had broken spindles. Who wants to replace an umbrella when you have a 1 in about 350 chance of needing it? Save the money – buy a frappucino. The rain pelted our little doomed wooden framed building today, drumming away with the soothing cadence of…well, rain. So unfamiliar and yet so comforting.

bella-set-of-3-linkable-25-quart-slow-cookers-d-20141016114805683~361515_611
Mine are only two and aren’t this sassy red, but aren’t they fascinating? And what exactly was it that appealed to me?

Yesterday, at lunch with my colleagues, I remarked that I didn’t want to have to go out to get lunch the next day because it was supposed to really rain. I said I would make chili. Apparently no one believed me, but I did make chili, veggie chili, and brought it to work in one of my two new linkable crock pots.

I don’t know what possessed me to buy linkable crock pots. I got so tickled by the idea that there could be a situation that would require not just one crockpot, but multiples, all linked in a merry row, that last Saturday, when I found myself at Macy’s taking half-hearted advantage of Black Friday (yes, I know it was Saturday), I picked a set up.  In my mind, I envisioned the chili cook-off, hosted by Fionn Murphy for the work-study students at the Bing Theatre with 6 of the little buggers all lined up and plugged into one extension cord. The crockpots, I mean, not the students.  In my mind, each crockpot had a label saying what kind of chili was in it and who made it affixed to the front just above the little dial. It was a swell fantasy.

I had walked to Macy’s because it’s only about two blocks from my place, but once I bought the dastardly duo, the distance was daunting; I bravely carried on, periodically shifting my other bag and silently, grimly, willing the plastic handle that the saleswoman had slapped onto the box to hold for just another 100 feet. When I collapsed on the couch ready for a nap, my husband couldn’t believe I had carried it all the way. I couldn’t either.

That’s how crazy we get in California with just the prospect of rain in our minds. That was days ago. Today, the rain was relentless. The dormant construction site next to my building has a fence wrapped with the type of green windscreen that cloaks tennis courts and keeps the wind from ruining your game, or showing passersby that your tennis game isn’t up to snuff. A modesty panel,Dress Blowing if you will. Today, that green cloth was flying like a proud flag, parallel to the ground, whipped up by the gusts accompanying the rain. Nothing modest about it.

At 5:00, I went to the parking garage and picked up my car, driving down to park behind my building where I loaded my bag and my now-empty-chili-crockpot, backed out of the driveway, and edged slowly toward Vermont. There were two young women who seemed to have a death wish, both of them clutching their iphones, and standing right in the middle of the driveway. I braked, and sat mesmerized by their complete obliviousness to my car. One of them looked up, saw me, then wandered back into the driveway and stopped, looking down at her screen and texting. The other moved off the driveway onto the sidewalk, then began waving frantically at my car. She looked kind of familiar, so I slowed the car and started to roll down my window. But as I stopped, I realized she wasn’t familiar but by then she was reaching for the handle to the back door. I thought she needed directions, so eager did she look, so I rolled down the window. Her bright, expectant eyes lit up as she searched my face and then, looking down at the screen of her phone and back up, she said, “Christine?”

Realizing that I had been taken for an Uber driver, I looked up at her and deadpanned, “No, not Christine. I don’t know you.” Then I rolled my window up and drove away. This is crazy behavior and all due to the rain. She wanted me to be Christine but I just couldn’t do it for her.

Piso Mojado
Exhibit A, the murder weapon of the ravaging rodent.

I got a good chuckle out of that and when my phone rang almost immediately I was able to share the story with Chris. The two of us enjoy the silly things that happen in daily life. They delight us. You may remember my earlier post about the rats who got into his car and ate about $4800. worth of the interior wiring. Rats! Today, Chris recounted again how a third episode of rodents ravaging my old car had ended with the untimely death of the marauding rodent being smashed with a sign at the Honda Dealership. See Exhibit A. When Chris had told me about this yesterday, I had screamed into my phone, the text peppered with exclamation points. STOP THE INHUMANITY!!!!!!! That part wasn’t funny. What was funny, was the fact that now, our son was having to drive around San Francisco with the windows up (because of the rain) and suffering through the stench of a decaying rodent.

“Why don’t you get a pine scented hanger to put in the car?” I inquired sweetly. “It serves you right that you should have to smell that poor rat’s carcass rotting in your car.”

See, this is what I mean about the rain. It brings out the crazy in me. I hope I survive. I hear it’s supposed to rain again tomorrow.