Gospel at Colonus – Poolside Family Reunion

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My go-to pic for all pool party invites.

We hosted a glorious reunion of our Colonus Family yesterday. The colleagues whom I met only about two months ago have become family. That can be one of the powerful aftereffects of a theatrical venture. In certain productions, the chemistry of a company becomes larger than the vessel that holds it, and spills over, flooding your lives with the epsom-salted-soothing water of a warm bath. Or in this case, of a warm pool, as the twenty-plus guests gathered to celebrate the upcoming remount of the show in the Rec room at our condo in downtown LA. There were conspicuous absences, of course, as several cast members live back east or across the country and were not able to attend. Others, still, had work, or family engagements, or reunions planned after the flurry of the show this summer and were otherwise engaged.

Yesterday was a tough and emotional day for Jimmie and me, as one of Jimmie’s nephews passed away suddenly after a brief but impactful series of medical episodes. In the scrum of the party organization in the morning, I glanced at FB, seeing a picture of Jamie on his brother Doke’s FB page, and the dreaded words, rest in peace. Though he had lived with AIDS for over 30 years, managing his health well, his departure was a blow. His twin, Martha, herself recently widowed, had sat with Jamie every day for the past five days, in ICU, as the medical team worked nobly to stave off the inevitable. Nothing prepares you for the loss of a family member.

Death crept elsewhere around our Colonus family reunion yesterday. Jackie Gouche´ arrived, on her lips a story of the sudden passing that morning of her next door neighbor, a 56-year-old man. I am ever alert to the potential for loss. You can call me Maude Lynn;  I guarantee I will use that as my nom de plume in the future.  My hyper awareness of loss is genetic, as well as due to the large age gap between myself and my husband. The picture I select for our invites each time we host a pool party is of a woman who closely resembles my dearly departed stepmother. Her kind, limpid blue eyes, combined with the silly plastic spangled swim cap reminds me of dear Joan, and her strong impact on me as a teen and later, as a young mother. Each loss stings as a reminder of losses to come. This hopeless extra sensory perception to loss causes me sometimes to go overboard planning parties where I can more easily embrace our family and the non-blood-related families we build around us via the theatre.

I feel an urgency to make the most of each day; so, on a day when our apartment looked like a war zone due to the bathroom remodel in progress, I gathered up the necessary tools to make the Condo’s lovely rec room adequate to host a party and pushed my cart down to the 2nd floor pool level.

By 1:00pm, I was ready, plastic red and white checked table-cloth rolled out over the rec room’s tables, all the available chairs pushed up next to the long 15′ table area, buffets set up near by, and a station of cold drinks ready by the door to the outside, where 95 degree temps eagerly mashed their sweaty fingers up against glass protecting the cool, air-conditioned room. It was sunny and the grill was heating. I swooned a bit from the combination of grill and natural heat as I flipped the first burgers.

The inevitable fear of party failure loomed. Tough questions rolled through my brain:

What if no one comes? What if no one eats? What if no one has a good time? What if there is nothing to talk about? Did I make enough food? Will anyone swim? Will the lack of parking deter them from coming?

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L to R: Ricky Nelson, Els, Jackie Gouche, Andi Chapman, William Allen Young. This photo almost didn’t happen but we convinced each other it was a good idea.

One thing I should have been certain of is that there would be plenty of talk and laughter and frivolity.
At more than one point in the afternoon, the decibel level in the room exceeded the legal limit for condo rec rooms, but thankfully, the doors were closed up against the heat, and we just reveled in the sonorous ricochet of laughter.

As at all family reunions, topics of health came up. We bemoaned this family’s shared acute asthma, comparing treatments and the high cost of inhalers, and hopeful appraisal that we could still take up scuba diving in spite of the affliction. We talked about the value of the epsom salt soak, either lavender-scented, or plain.  We took turns reveling in the achievements of our children, the raucous chatter and laughter silenced for a few minutes to listen to the extraordinary vocals of Jackie’s son, featured on Tyrese’s latest and last album, Black Rose. We laughed about the Hollywood phenomenon of being in a TV Series; how a mundane drive across town could suddenly be punctuated by seeing your own face on the side of an adjacent bus, or on a nearby billboard. Surreal. Enjoy it while you can!

Did you get a selfie?

I have a selfie stick.

You do not!

I do, just not with me.

We shared Face Time with Muff, who had recently moved to Florida; we visited briefly, me sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling, as Angie held the phone up to my face and I struggled to see Muff through the sunny reflection of Angie’s phone. Then Angie swept her away to visit with some of the others.

It felt good to laugh, to listen, to relish the memories of the brief time that we have known each other as a group. People came and left during the afternoon as their schedules allowed. IMG_4849We had a brief visit from the Colonus Pater Familias, Wren T. Brown, his beautiful wife, Anne Hailey Brown, and their son Brandon, who had performed in the last weekend of the show as one of the Henchmen. It is because of Wren and Gayle Hooks that we exist as a family now. This two month-long hiatus, broken up by our Colonus Poolside bash allowed us to remember what bonded us. Ricky regaled us with a story about being recognized recently by several large groups of women.

Do I know you from church?

No! We saw you in the play!

How did you recognize me?

We recognized you from your hair!

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I watched affectionately, as my hostessing duties took me away from the table, and Dominique invited Jimmie closer in to the table to talk. And, at the end of the afternoon, when I realized there was another party booked in the room, I felt terrible to have to tell people it was time for us to wrap it up.

Everyone scurried to make plates of food for people to take away and to help with the clean up. Nina’s yummy baked beans! I quickly snagged some of Lantrez’ beautiful enchiladas, and I am glad I did! I missed Deante’s mac and cheese, which, I was told, was very cheesy! Oh well, next time.

With classes starting, and the beginning of the fall semester, along with the remount of Colonus for three brief weeks, I am not sure how to get another party pulled together. That’s okay. We will see each other soon!

Next weekend, Jimmie and I will see our blood family, for Jamie’s memorial. In this business of life and death, it’s about making opportunities to be together, about embracing and laughing and eating.  COLONUS ART

This is the last week for early bird tickets. Tickets $25-35 are on sale only through August 21st. Get yours now! http://www.ebonyrep.org/

What’s An Actor?

Councilman Milton2Recently, my husband’s great niece’s daughter, who is 3, saw him on a rerun of a Parks and Recreation episode, where he plays the cranky Councilman Milton, a misogynistic, racist, and largely decrepit city employee who sleeps more than he participates in the show’s council meetings. When his character is awake, he’s spouting ludicrous non-sequiturs, things that for anyone who knows him, are anathema to his perennial sweet and witty disposition. In other words, it’s a fun character that he really enjoyed playing, and, because he’s such a good actor, he was convincing in the role. When her mother pointed him out, their exchange went something like this:

There’s Uncle Jimmie!

What’s he doing there?

He’s an actor.

What’s an actor?

Boy, that’s a tough one to explain to a 3 year old. We had just spent a week with Saoirse, where Jimmie had read her “Where the Wild Things Are,” and had given her Uber rides around the rental house on his sporty walker. In fact, I recently came across a video from her 1st year where she was visiting and Jimmie was trying on some hats on her. She saw her reflection in the kitchen garbage can and smiled at the recognition of just how good she looked in that hat. Well, maybe it was gas, but it seemed more determined than that.

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James Greene as Uncle Moodri

Sometimes it is a good reminder to be asked the most basic questions of what is special about the world we live in and our options for work in that world. I guess we should be grateful that her first exposure to Uncle Jimmie wasn’t in his role as Uncle Moodri, in the TV Series “Alien Nation.” There might have been a lot more questions at that point!

How does one begin to explain to a 3-year-old why a grown man would dress up and play a role that is as repulsive as Councilman Milton? I can only imagine the other questions voiced or unvoiced by Saoirse in that moment of recognition:

How does he get to be in the TV?

Why is he so mean?

Why doesn’t anyone like him?

How to answer these questions?

How long has he been doing this?

Are there other places we can see Uncle Jimmie?

But probably the most frightening question for a parent is the inevitable one:

How do I get to do that?

What does it take to become an actor?

Here I’ve provided a helpful link for those of you who are thinking about becoming an actor or who have children asking the questions. Careers – Actor

As someone who teaches a technical theatre class in a private university, a class which is predominantly populated by actors, I see hundreds of actors come through in a four year period, all of whom had that moment of questioning and discovery that Saoirse had yesterday. Now, she may not ask the (for some parents) scary questions that result in hearty attendance at our THTR 130 class, but she may, too. Is her Mom ready to answer them? I bet she is.  Time will tell if Saoirse follows in Uncle Jimmie’s footsteps. We will try not to influence her too much in such an important decision.

First Days – Bathroom Remodel

Demo began last week on the guest bath renovation project.

IMG_4769Our wonderful contractor arrived by 8:30 on Wednesday, the appointed day, and by the time I left for work, the two plates of glass that had clattered for years to represent a shower door had been escorted out the front door of the apartment. By the time I got home Wednesday, the bathroom was gutted. No more coffin bathtub, no more medicine cabinet.

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I feel terrible that my big brother, Don, just visited us a few weeks ago, his first visit to our downtown LA home. We will encourage him to return once this process is over.

Remodeling is an act of reclamation, an opportunity to make the world (or in this case, just a 10′ x 10′ part of it) a little better. It’s about choosing beautiful materials and nestling them up next to each other so that they complement each other in a harmonious whole. It is about that aha moment when you are digging through a closet and you rediscover a beautiful water-color that you had archived in recent years but which now sings the song of the room you are re-doing.  It is about the efficacy of the online ordering process at Home Despot, which means you don’t have to go to the store at all. It is the voilà at the end which makes you feel tremendously accomplished.

The other part I love of about remodeling is when things go wrong. I am pretty sure my contractor doesn’t read my blog so I’m safe in talking about this, but for me, in life, as in the theatre, as in remodeling, the challenges are what make us stronger/better/experienced.

What went wrong this week on the remodel? Plenty. I had used the handy ordering tool at Home Despot, ordered the tub, the fixtures for the tub, and the vanity. What more do I need? Well, my agreeable contractor Melvin  informed me, the stem valve for the behind the wall part of the tub, as well as the drain mechanism.

That doesn’t automatically come with the tub?

When I ordered the parts, I knew the size of the tub, and not being a plumber, didn’t know that those other parts weren’t just off the shelf parts at Home Despot. The fixtures were so reasonable – $129.00 for heavy-duty chrome shower head, shower controls and tub faucet. That was until I had to spend $258.00 for the valve to be express-shipped. Crap. And the drain, similarly had to be sent express so as not to stall the project. The drain stem arrived on Friday, allowing the work that needed to be done to get finished before the weekend. The medicine cabinet, towel bars and robe hooks arrived on Friday and are sitting quietly awaiting their turns to enter the space.

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The space is looking pretty horrific now. You know that time during the load-in in the theatre when there are tools piled around the backstage area, after the carpenters have finished for the day? That’s the way our guest bathroom looks now. Come to think of it, it is probably the familiarity of chaos that I also love about remodeling. IMG_4787

I remember my first remodeling project – again, a bathroom in our first house in North Hollywood. It was a one bedroom home, and Jimmie was back east filming his TV show, “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.” We were not parents yet, and I decided I would tackle the remodel project with a friend from the theatre where I was working prior to Jimmie’s return home. Late at night as I was about to go to bed, I could choose to A) creep out into the back yard to squat in the sandy soil like a feral cat, or B) get into my clothes and drive to Denny’s at the corner of Burbank and Vineland to use the bathroom there. I did both over the week or so that the toilet was out of commission. Nope, not my proudest moment, and trust me, it is much more convenient to remodel one of two bathrooms than one of one.

What else went wrong? The tile company called to say that two of the four types of tiles I had ordered were on back order until the end of August.  I called and discovered that the floor tiles were all right, just the subway tiles were not available. A quick trip to the tile store the next morning gave me the opportunity to pick almost identical tiles to the ones I had chosen before. They are 1/2 inch narrower, but almost the same color as the original ones.

Today, the tile arrived. Yesterday, the tub and vanity arrived. There is now so much in the bathroom that you can’t even get into the room. They installed the tub today, and tomorrow will begin tiling. Lighting fixture arrived today. It’s a stretch to believe this is going to turn out all right. Sort of like every creative endeavor.

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Boxes of tile sitting on top of the box holding the Vanity. Word is we’ll be done by this weekend. I’m skeptical now.

 

 

It must be Summer – Remodeling Project

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The indulgent smile of one well schooled in the long arc of his wife’s expensive hobby – remodeling.

Those who know me well know that there are few things that make me happier than the occasional expenditure of time, energy and resources in the pursuit of a re-beautified space. Renovating has always been a creative outlet, and one which provides me great serenity (in the end). There are a lot of ways to relax on your summer vacation. Some people go to Nevada and gamble. Yes, I recently went to Nevada and gambled away $40.00 in the ‘reverse ATM’ as our son calls it. But I didn’t enjoy it, nor do I make a habit of it.

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Yes, perhaps I was spending too much time at work from the looks of this photo.
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Even Martha Stewart accessories and new towels didn’t make the bathroom look better.

My vice is far more expensive. It begins with a simmering dissatisfaction, percolates through online research and virtual selection of materials way beyond my means, and ultimately concludes with a beautiful new and more or less affordable room. I have spent months creating a board on Pinterest about our 2nd bathroom, which now sports 1′ white 80s ceramic tiles, a dingy wooden cabinet with a cigarette-scarred 80’s swirled plastic sink surround, massive mirrors and a medicine cabinet that refuses to close. It swings open to reveal rusty shelves and random shaving accoutrements, and taped inside, a goofy picture of the three of us backstage at the Canon Theatre during the run of The Vagina Monologues, from late 2001. Centered over the huge mirror more suited to a dance studio than a guest bathroom for the over-50 set, is a wounded four lamp fixture, one of the lamps permanently dark due to someone’s (sheepish looking writer) overzealous winding of the light bulb. It’s shade is a beacon in the world, bleating, “Failure!” every time I use the bathroom. You can be sure that a smaller mirror features large in our renovation plans, as well as a smaller light fixture which will be centered over the new modest mirror.

The second biggest impediment to my serial remodeling fever is lack of time. Life and work get in the way. That, and the fact that with this project, we will ostensibly have finished all the necessary work in the apartment. So I was a bit nostalgic, when we went to the Cosmos Flooring store today to select the tile for our last remodeling project. We had plans to meet Melvin, our contractor there, and the store opened at 10:00AM. We arrived at 9:50 and the door was open, so we went inside, greeted enthusiastically by a white toy poodle and a mahogany colored pug, both of whom threatened to trip Jimmie. We went in and while we waited for Melvin, Tim, one of the sales people, helped us to look around.

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This wood-like porcelain tile is a beachy grayish blue shot through with veins of gold.

My Pinterest board had a lot of white tile, carera tile, rustic cabinets and polished chrome fixtures. The issue with this second bathroom is that the floor butts up against the cork tiles of the entryway. I was interested in whites, grays, and blues in color, but was very aware that the gold of the cork would be challenging to match.

The first tile I saw was the one we ultimately went with. (I’m telling you, I think I have a gift). The things they do with tile these days! This is a porcelain tile, which is designed to look and almost feel like wood planking. It is fantastic. I looked a little silly removing my sandals and “walking” up the board. There was another similar sample on the floor and I padded appreciatively over that.  TMarthaStewartVanityhe blue matches the Martha Stewart “Sharkey Gray” vanity that I chose at Home Depot. Don’t judge me. She did her time.

The wooden baseboards in the current bathroom design were swollen when the last denizen of our apartment moved out and some of her friends yanked out the washing machine, hitting the overhead sprinkler and flooding the floor with 8-24 gallons per minute, leaving the baseboards misshapen in spite of subsequent paint. So we will use the 4″ by 40″ tiles above to create a tile baseboard to replace the existing one.

Next, Tim guided us to a board with  8″x 2.5″” subway tiles in glossy white, and similar tiles in ash blue, a band of which we will use in the tub/shower enclosure. I think it was about this time that I took that photo of Jimmie, sitting patiently, watching me mull over the proper grout color and spacing. By now, Melvin had joined us, and we were ready to write up the order with Tim. Best to sit down in moments like this; it is predictably shocking when you hear the numbers. IMG_4749 IMG_4748

So, we start next Wednesday with demolition phase. Don’t plan on visiting us next weekend; you would be sorely disappointed with the accommodations.

One of the main reasons for the remodel besides the previously mentioned condition of the bathroom, is the fact that the original tub is the least comfortable tub ever constructed. Sitting in the tub is a little like sitting in a coffin. It is 5′ long and is almost square where the sides meet the bottom of the tub. In the last 7 years I have taken about 10 baths total. I know that that is laudable given the current drought conditions in California, and in fact, as we began serious discussions about the renovation, we talked about whether it was environmentally greedy to include a tub. I remember saying to Jimmie,

But what about the grand babies? We have to have a tub for them.

This was, by the way, way before there was an actual grand baby in our thoughts, or even in our son’s thoughts. So, good thing that we were decided to include a deep soaking tub for me (and the grand babies).

To be continued…