My Old Tribe – The Humans

I just finished reading an ebook on my Kindle, which Jimmie had recommended, which both delighted and depressed me. I finished it in two days; the novel, called “They May Not Mean To, But They Do” by Cathleen Shine, describes a wife and her relationship with her husband of many years as he dies, her resulting widowhood, as well as her relationships with her children and their children. It isn’t a happy read, except that Shine’s wit and humanity provides for some truly funny passages; the book is quite moving and perhaps, too close to home. I think Jimmie regretted the recommendation as he got further along in the book. I did not regret it at all.

IMG_6531We left the Cape yesterday, stopping by Schoolhouse Ice Cream for a final hurrah, Death by Chocolate and Pistachio for Jimmie, Death by Chocolate and Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup for me. After reading Shine’s book, Death by Chocolate seemed like a pretty reasonable and civilized way to go.

At Logan Airport, we were met at the door to the Jet Blue terminal by a friendly attendant with a wheelchair. I’ve not seen them trolling the front of the airport for clients, before, but I was still grateful for his presence there; he took us directly to our gate where we were only 3 hours early for our flight at 6:40PM. We sat and read the paper, took naps, waited for the plane to board. Being old has its perks – you are always the first ones to board, and you get fussed over a little. I remember being excited years ago to have a child under 5 and getting the privilege of boarding early. Everyone should be so lucky to have the generational spectrum that I have had to have boarded early for 5 years, then boarded like a peon for 15 and now boarding again with the elderly for 20 plus years. It’s been pretty sweet.

At JFK airport, another kind attendant stayed with us from departure from the plane through baggage claim all the way to the taxi line. Since we’d taken almost an hour to complete that journey, I grew attached to him, tipping him generously. It is  nice to have a helpful person along when you are hauling two large suitcases, a cane, a heavy bag on your shoulder, and a walker. JFK has just reorganized its taxi pick up location, so you have to return to the 2nd level, take the skyway over to the opposite side, and then elevator down to the street. Had we been alone with just the walker etc., it would have taken us another 2 hours to get out of the airport. I was really happy to have Vincent along.

As our cab rolled up to the Algonquin, the cheery bellhops greeted us with a warm “Welcome back!” Though it was 9:30pm, our room wasn’t quite ready and so the manager treated us to dinner in the lobby and we got to our room around 10:30pm. Lovely upgrade to a King Size Room. I suspect they saw us coming in with the walker and all the suitcases and decided we should be given a room with a walk in shower rather than a tub, and that’s what held us up. We’ll never know, I guess, but these things are the perks for living a long life.

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Our walk to Broadway. You can see the Broadhurst Theatre in the background, where Jimmie did his first Broadway show, in 1951, Romeo and Juliet, starring Olivia De Havilland.

On Sunday, we had tickets to see The Humans, the Tony-Award winner for Best Play this year, starring two Tony Award winners, Jane Houdyshell and Reed Birney. The Humans is playing at least for now at the Helen Hayes Theatre. We had bought our tickets online several weeks before the auspicious Tony awards were won. I’ve lived in California too long, because I assumed that the theatre would be ADA compliant, with an elevator to the mezzanine. More folly mine, because when we arrived I noted the three steps up into the lobby, then another flight and a half to the mezzanine; I realized  I had made a rookie error in not booking orchestra seats.IMG_6542 Jimmie was a trouper, climbing the steps extremely slowly (I dropped the walker off with an usher downstairs in order to assist him). When we got to the top, another usher helped Jimmie down to the third row of the mezzanine where we sat in our center row C seats. They were excellent seats unless, of course, you were 89 and hard of hearing. Then they were pretty much the worst seats in the house.
Jimmie donned the listening device, and about three minutes into the play, I looked over and he had removed them and was staring blankly ahead. I dove diligently into my purse to retrieve his hearing aids and helped him back into them, but he was still unable to follow the dialogue. The play also has the dramatic action of lights going out throughout, so the stage was plunged into increasing gloam, which for the HIP (Hearing Impaired Person) is the equivalent of Death by Chocolate, but not in the good way that Death by Chocolate ice cream can be.

Things that make it hard to hear in the theatre (Directors please take note):

  • Low light levels. Don’t ever take a hearing impaired person to Peter Schaffer’s Black Comedy. They will definitely not find it funny.
  • Facial hair on actors. Hearing impaired people sometimes aren’t even aware of how adept they are at lip reading. Until they go see a Chekhov play with men in full facial hair.
  • Lots of creative staging with actors facing upstage for crucial dramatic moments.
  • Hearing impaired people don’t get the jokes in a play. Jimmie says it’s because actors drop their voices when they execute the punch line. They throw it away. People who can hear can catch it.  I noted that Jane Houdyshell had excellent delivery of her punch lines in The Humans. Jimmie still couldn’t catch them. This makes the HIP feel stupid for not catching the joke. It also makes for much less enjoyable theatre experience.

So our theatre outing was pretty much disastrous. And I loved the play. A redeeming feature was that my friend William J. Barnes is the PSM, so I was able to go backstage to see him and met almost all the actors on their way out of the theatre.

IMG_6546Jimmie and I then walked from the Helen Hayes Theatre to Joe Allen’s, a short walk for me, but a very long walk for Jimmie. At Joe Allen’s, we met our dear friend Jackie Gardner, and Jimmie’s stepson, Frank, for a quiet dinner at a corner table in Joe Allen’s. IMG_6548I will forever associate Joe Allen’s with my triumphant moment after a short run of Hughie, starring Al Pacino and Paul Benedict at the Mark Taper Forum for which I was the stage manager, I went to NY and walked into Joe Allen’s. Mr. Pacino was ensconced with friends at a table in the back of the restaurant.

Els! (He calls out across the crowded restaurant.)

Al! Great to see you! (Sound of dozens of heads craning toward the mysterious Els.)

The waiter was just a bit more attentive to my needs that night.

We had a lovely dinner with Jackie and Frank, then caught a cab back to the Algonquin, where my familial tribe of seniors had assembled for their own dinner at the Round Table. My Dad, 85, his wife, Sally, 90, my Dad’s sister Renie, a sparkling 80, her husband, Paul, and Sally’s son Richard, were all finishing their appetizers when we walked in. We joined them, and I it was truly wonderful to see everyone. But how did my tribe suddenly get so old?

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Hundreds of disastrous photos like this have been taken by the waiters at the Algonquin Dining Room

At about 9:30, Jimmie looked over at me and made the “save me” sign with his eyes. We rose from the table and returned to our room. Time to rest up for Monday’s adventures.

 

 

The Assignment in Chatham

As I walked to the beach, my self-imposed assignment tugged at my sleeve, like an insistent toddler the moment one takes a call. My creative muse gave a shudder as I stepped over a dead field mouse at the end of the tree-covered pathway leading from Aunt Deborah’s Lane to Forest Street.

It was my second walk in three days down to the tiny city beach where the road meets the sand. The first walk earlier in the week was with two dear high school and college friends; stepping onto the beach was an event, Holly reminded us as our feet plunged into the white hot sand of the beach, that we had not experienced together since….

HOLLY

“Do you remember the last time the three of us were at the beach together?”

ELS

“Of course! The day we skipped school and went to the beach! What beach was it?”

NORA/HOLLY

“Hampton Beach!” (Both of them responded immediately, the exact location fuzzy in my brain.)

ELS

“I think we rented a bus? Who organized the bus?”

NORA/HOLLY

“You did, Els!” (Really? Oh dear, this is getting embarrassing.)

HOLLY

“Who signed for the buses? I’m sure we would have had to have had an adult vouch for us.”

I imagined the two coaches filled with 100 hormonally charged and rowdy 17-year-olds, skin slick with baby oil routinely slathered onto ourselves, excited in our rebellion and proud of our organization of a “stealthy” escape from the confines of our boarding school, St. Paul’s, to Hampton Beach, an 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Concord, New Hampshire. Attempted Beach break out successful!

This week’s beach break out was smaller, but no less well organized. A series of emails had coordinated Holly’s and Nora’s trip to the cape efficiently, arriving with bags containing beer, wine and pie to fill our vacation larder. IMG_6494 2

Chris and Whitney working on the patio.

Chris and Whitney were working on Chris’ resume on the patio when Holly and Nora pulled into the driveway, beeping their horn so loudly, that Chris commented,

What are they your sorority sisters or something?

After a lunch of chicken salad, we gathered our beach gear and began the short trek to the neighboring beach.thumb_IMG_5368_1024

Our beach reunion this week was small but mighty. The three strong women who have come into maturity over the last 38 years were not so when we parted at SPS graduation, our virginal white dresses blowing in the Turkey Pond breeze over the meticulous green lawn by the  Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. We reunited at Princeton University in the fall, after 3 months of summer. Holly then took a gap year off between sophomore and junior years at Princeton, returning to join the class of 1983,a fact which she reminded us of this week. She’d spent the year in Sun Valley, Idaho, waitressing, tutoring French, and working for a small theatre company.

The three of us really didn’t reunite much at Princeton. There were 12 of us from the SPS class of 1978 who migrated to New Jersey, having found another ivy-encrusted idyll to inhabit. Idyll is too strong a word for my experience: I found Princeton socially stifling. I found a social circle of artistic souls, but at Princeton I didn’t develop the close bonds with faculty I had at SPS. I had had bi-weekly visits with my theatrical mentor, Bob Edgar at SPS, on Tuesday mornings prior to mandatory chapel, for what we called our “Tutorial.” There, in the bachelor tidiness of a faculty master’s lodging in Center Upper, the tutorial members, Will Schwalbe, Ed Tuck and I, drank coffee with “Edgar”, listened to classical music, learned how to discuss world events while giggling over Fred Rodgers’ recordings.

Some folks are fancy on the inside,

Others are fancy on the outside.

Everybody’s fancy, everybody’s fine,

Your body’s fancy, and so is mine!

At 7:50 AM, we’d walk together to chapel on the brick pathway from Upper, the snow tamped down by the LL Bean-booted feet of so many before us, often between hip-high snowdrifts. While at Princeton, I never developed such close faculty mentorship as I had had with Edgar, but nevertheless found my theatrical tribe in the bowels of Theatre Intime, an octagonal brown-gray stone building in the center of campus, where we mounted dozens of serious plays, like The Devil’s Disciple, The Children’s Hour, The Mound Builders, and as well as the less serious Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.

Holly found her niche at the Triangle Club, Princeton’s musical theatre group, which celebrates their 125th anniversary this year, a reunion Holly says she may attend; she appeared in Godspell while a member in Triangle. Ironically, neither she nor I have set foot on the campus since we graduated in 1982/83. We discussed how we eschew large social gatherings; for me, sober for 31 years, I’m allergic to large gatherings of people where alcohol is the bonding element. Now I’m so curious as to what caused her to take the gap year while at Princeton.

Nora continued to row crew all four years at Princeton, finding her home there. We had rowed together at SPS, but it had never occurred to me to try out for the crew at Princeton. I think I was destined to spend my free moments in darkened theatres. We laughed about the fact that Holly and I were both so involved in the theatre at Princeton, but had never crossed paths because I had selected the “serious” theatre and Holly, the “social.” When it comes down to it, it appears that I’d selected the “off-Broadway” venue, and Holly, the “Broadway.” Triangle performs student-written material, directed and choreographed by professionals. It is frequently satiric, and usually polished; their strong alumni support allows them to take the shows on tour every February.

Back to the assignment, tug, tug, tug, as the winsome roadside daisies wiggle.thumb_IMG_5361_1024

At the start of our reunion, I gave us the assignment to write about the day, offering to publish their essays on my blog. As though there needed to be a structure, literary proof of our encounter. I thought it would be fun to see how we each experienced the day; Holly is a beautiful writer, as is Nora, who denies her writerly acumen vehemently. In truth, Nora is the glue that bonds all of us in our class at SPS. An email from Nora can and recently did cause the spontaneous reunion of fifteen Paulies who live in L.A., after 38 years of isolationism. She thrives on maintaining the connections of her classmates, and goes to New York to meet annually with some of the class’ stars: Lisa Hughes, the editor of The New Yorker, among other dazzling women from SPS who reside there. Nora’s roots went deep at SPS, as the daughter of one of our teachers at SPS, Mr. Tracy; the other day, in the blustery sun and wind of Forest Street Beach, I espied his passion, and fervor on my friend’s face as we discussed our families.

ELS

I wasn’t really very happy at Princeton.

NORA/HOLLY

Why?

ELS

After SPS, and how comfortable I felt there, when I got to the larger university, I didn’t really feel like I fit in. I wasn’t a “preppy”, and didn’t feel comfortable with that group or many other groups.

HOLLY

I remember hearing that you weren’t having a good time there. I often thought about looking you up and having lunch or something.

ELS

I wish we had done that.

How lovely it would have been to re-connect with Holly and Nora more fully at Princeton. Maturity provides perspective and appreciation of value: I suppose I was still in the formative phase of making friends while at Princeton. I consider myself fortunate to have come away with a handful of very good friends from that time. But I am regretful about how much richer things might have been if I’d stayed more closely tethered to these two soul sisters.

Both Holly and Nora have led such interesting lives. For her graduate studies, Holly studied in Ireland, writing her thesis on Beckett and Yeats. Nora has raised two children with her husband Tim, Holly three with her husband John. We all have stable marriages, aging parents, all of the accoutrements of lives well lived. We have children roughly the same age; Monday we compared and contrasted their paths.

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Chris holds Skylar at the beach.

We had the benefit of having our son, Chris, handy for demonstration, along with his beautiful fiancée Whitney, and their 6-month-old daughter, Skylar. They joined us at the beach after Skylar’s nap. Holly slipped off into the dunes to talk with her daughter, Mia, by phone as planned. It was completely comfortable, like we had never left each others’ sides for 34 years.

Sorority Sisters? Soul Sisters? Yes, you could say that. I am proud to count these two women as sisters of any stripe! Stay tuned for their assignments soon!

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Gathering research for the Beach Reunion assignment, Chatham, MA

Traveling to Chatham

The pilgrimage to Chatham is now routine. Virgin American non-stop flight from LAX to Boston, arriving for dinner with Jimmie’s nephew Liam and his partner, Elliott and their gorgeous husky, Rex. A restorative, jovial and buoyant evening with them in their Somerville Victorian, and then we’re off in the early morning for our drive to the Cape, beating most of Saturday’s Cape Crush.

Our Friday 5:30AM departure went like clockwork. I have this memory of family trips as a child. We didn’t fly. About once a month we piled into the family station wagon and drove five and a half hours from Greensburg, PA, to my mom’s parents’ home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. These departures were a sweaty ordeal: Dad, groaning and swearing, teeth-gritted, as he piled the suitcases into the “back back” of the wagon. As a parent now, I can only imagine what getting all three of us kids together entailed. Mornings like these were not my parents’ most shining moments. Mom was pretty intense, despite the chain-smoking, and Dad was fairly tightly wound as well. God preserve the child who half an hour into the trip piped up with “I have to go to the bathroom, Dad.”

I can get pretty pushy, bossy, type-A, OCD, stage manager-ish -choose your term – around trip organization. It begins with creating an OCD Itinerary listing what we will do every waking minute of the trip. The landing on Normandy couldn’t have been more detailed. Of course, I don’t know what we’ll be doing every waking minute, so I just make it up. More often then not, what’s on the page becomes the plan. Sort of like a tech schedule. You may be surprised to know that it took the longest time for me to incorporate my work skills into my home organization. I remember once when I was driving Chris to the sitter’s house before heading to work at the Pasadena Playhouse that I realized, “I can make a schedule of child care using my SM skills.” Bingo! I realize that sounds cretinous, but there you have. After that, juggling childcare, hockey, work and house life became pretty easy. It’s why I know Hillary will make a good president. Anyway, in making the Itinerary this time, I showed extreme restraint in just writing down “7 days in Chatham.” Who says you can’t teach an old dog?

After the itinerary, my bossiness bleeds into packing and even organizing other trip members. Worried that our son and his fiancée and baby and dog were flying from California to Boston then driving directly to the Cape, I texted him, suggesting they might want to stop overnight with Liam and Elliott before continuing on to the Cape. Immediately I received a terse:

Don’t tell us what to do, Mom.

This text had the instantaneous numbing effect of stopping all communication for several days. Along with the awesome skills listed above comes a fairly well developed sensitivity to criticism. It is one of our charms. When I finally got up the nerve to call him, he laughed and said he had been joking. Liar.

My husband has always said he made the best decision of his life to marry a stage manager. I’m rather pleased to have been the one he selected. Lord knows, with his experience in the theatre, he had a broad range to select from. Granted, back in the 50s-70s they were all men, and he was married at the time so wasn’t looking for a stage manager wife then.

I start bugging him about three days before a trip to make sure that we will be packed. He lays out his clothes on the bed the night before, and I fold them up. Kind of endearing and Nora-ish, in a Doll’s House sort of way. Why? Because I didn’t trust that he could go on tour for 6 weeks by himself and manage to pack his suitcase? Anyway, this has become our ritual. Earlier last night, I was admiring a robotic clothing folder ad on Facebook; for a mere $850.00 it folds clothes after you pin them up on some clips on the front of the machine. I was jonesing pretty badly for that RCF last night, but folded everything relatively well, then jammed it into the bags, guaranteeing an afternoon of ironing in my future.

Last time we made the trip, we were halfway to the airport in our Uber® SUV when I remembered I had forgotten all of our medications. I’m pretty sure that 1 week of our medications could cure disease in the Congo. The Uber® driver was accommodating- turned right around and headed back to the apartment. There were set up, and right on the kitchen counter where I’d left them. Because we had left an ungodly amount of time to get to the airport, we weren’t even late. In fact, I was feeling pretty smug about my planning skills until about an hour later when I checked my Uber® app and saw that the 1.5 trips to LAX had cost us a whopping $159.00. Lesson learned. Today, we took a cab, medicines in hand.

Traveling as you age arguably may become easier. You request a wheelchair at the airport and after that it’s smooth sailing. Jimmie even remained seated as he went through the checkpoint, after declaring his knee brace, hearing aids, corneal implants and bionic elbow. I padded into the machine in my bare feet and was promptly patted down by two very serious young TSA screeners – my left armpit was of particular interest for some reason.

As planned, our trip to Liam and Elliott’s was easy, as we glided into their driveway, and climbed the stairs to their beautiful home. Liam had finished school that day; a gift from an exuberant kindergarten child graced the countertop in their kitchen.IMG_5271

Dinner was take out Thai, and the talk turned, as it inevitably does with our hosts, to books and movies and life in general. It was a terrific conversation, one which I didn’t want to see end, but which ultimately did so we could get up the next morning for our drive to the Cape. That night afforded us a real treat, with a full thunder and lighting display directly outside the bedroom window. It doesn’t take much to please rain starved Californians.

We arrived in time to have lunch with our sister Kate, then had an afternoon lounging around. We’re on vacation! We’re on vacation!

Writing with my Best Friend – Day 2

The tragedy of the massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando had unfolded before I awoke on Sunday. My CNN app had already scrolled three or four unfathomable messages across my phone when I picked it up at 7:00AM. The fact that there is so much hatred in the world is hard to reconcile with the quality of my family’s life. After sweating out some anxiety at the gym, and doing some work on the couch with the TV muted, I became aware of Jimmie’s activity at the dining room table. He sat, poring over the manuscript and making notes for the writing he will do.

One of the things I have always admired about Jimmie is that he has kept a diary for years. It’s a simple system, a green metallic file card box with 3″ x 5″ index cards. Every day, or every few days, he would pull out the box, and write a sentence or two about his appointments, who he talked with on the phone, for business and personal life. Over the past few days, we discussed what seemed to be a five year gap between the National tour playing Juror #8 in Twelve Angry Men, and his work as Councilman Milton on Parks and Recreation. Tonight at dinner, Jimmie bemoaned the fact that he had given up his diary several years back, and so had no resource to go to. Fortunately, I went looking for the last years of the diary and found 2006, 2009 and 2010 in a drawer. This was about 15″ of cards. Several years ago when we downsized to our current apartment, I made him slough off about 20 years of the cards. Now I feel horrible about that. I think at the time we agreed that he would get rid of those cards up through the end of his memoir. Good compromise.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep some sort of record of what you are doing in your life. A would-be writer needs to find a consistent means of documenting the stuff that happens on a day to day basis. Blogging is great, but you need to get down what you are thinking about things, and specifics surrounding the important events in your life. You need to be able to capture those quirky associations that you make that may be a kernel for a paragraph or two. Reading through a “year in the life” to Jimmie tonight was fun. I’ll spare you most of the details. But the impressive thing is that he recorded every movie, play, dinner out, visitor, dinner in, hockey game (including scores; 2006 was not a good year for the Wolves….) He spent his second summer in a row in Whitefish, Montana, with our friends Betsi and Luke, performing in Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Alpine Theatre Project. He had about an audition a month and booked a couple of TV gigs that year. He broke his wrist – the writing for the beginning of the year was completely illegible, with every other day populated by “Physical Therapy” until you could see his handwriting return to normalcy. He and our seventeen-year-old son had a nightmarish trip to Aston, PA for a hockey tournament, where planes were missed, additional hotel nights were needed. I had gone to Yosemite at the same time for a family reunion, and then joined them in Pennsylvania. I didn’t remember that I had joined them there. We might not have remembered that without the magic green box.

We have so many important and pivotal events in our lives, and days roll by with such speed and flurry that we neglect to record them; happy are those who do, and can reconstitute the parched memories with a few specific words.

Watched the Red Sox game with Jason W.

Brother Jack arrives for four days. Had dinner with Els and Chris and Jack at Le Petit Bistro.

Our visit with Jack is instantly evoked. Our trip to the Huntington Library, and watching him take in the Japanese garden as he sketched from a bench.

Even though Jimmie and Jason were friends for over 60 years, every time he wrote an entry, he wrote Jason’s full name out. During the baseball season, they spent 2-3 days a week watching the games together, or having lunch. We might not have remembered the frequency of their friendship.

So now I’m looking for my own “green-metal-file-box-equivalent.” I’d love to hear from other writers about how you record your ideas and inspirations!

 

Writing with My Best Friend- Day 1

Years ago, my seasoned and yet surprisingly humble actor-husband wrote a book. A theatrical memoir, it spans his 50+ years in the hay day of NY theatre, covering his experiences from his first Broadway show, in 1951, as a young Capulet servant in Romeo and Juliet, starring Olivia DeHavilland, through the burgeoning off Broadway years of Circle in the Square, through his last outing on Broadway in 1991 as Béjart in La Bête,  a play by David Hirson, set in the 17th Century France, written in rhymed couplets. He also wrote about his LA stage work and television and film work as well.

He began writing the memoir about the time we adopted our son, Chris, age of two, hoping that one day Chris could read all about his life and know more about his father. I’m not sure he anticipated publishing the book, but as it developed,  we realized that the book would be interesting to theatre folks as well as civilians.

Jimmie, in spite of being an actor, is essentially an introvert, but a natural story teller, too. After 50+ years of being smack dab in the middle of the American Theatre, he has some good ones to tell. In New York, early in our marriage, Jimmie had a dear friend, Sylvan, stock broker by day, cantor in his local temple on Saturdays, and occasionally a voice teacher. Jimmie went to his singing lessons bringing along our German Shepherd, Jasper; they meandered through Central Park to Sylvan’s apartment on West 55th St., overlooking the now City Center Theatre. Sylvan was Jimmie’s number one fan; he loved to hear his stories and frequently urged Jimmie to record his experiences as a book. The resulting memoir, entitled “A View From The Wings,”  is dedicated “In Loving Memory to Sylvan Epstein.”

Aside from sharing a photocopied, spiral bound version of the book with close friends and family after it was finished, over the past 16 years or so, we haven’t taken steps to publish the book. But recently we’ve discussed writing additional material to cover the intervening years.

Jimmie was diligent with the writing when he began the memoir, and found segments of the day where he sat at the dining room table and wrote, long hand, in a series of spiral notebooks. He often took his writing to the park, where he spent time on the bench, glancing up to watch Chris playing.  He enjoyed the process, and he would share the freshly minted passages with me at the end of the day; I marveled at his facility, his natural voice on paper. Everyone who has read the book has enjoyed it, describing not being able to put it down, reveling in his “View from the Wings.”

As Jimmie approaches 90, our desire to publish the book has increased.With a long 15 year gap between the events depicted in the book and now, I have become the nagging wife/editor/technology coordinator encouraging Jimmie to continue with his story to present day before publishing. I want to know how he reflects on his life – has his practice changed? Grown? Weakened? How has he persevered over the now 70+ years of his acting career?  While he hasn’t been as busy as he was in his 60s and 70s, he has still been fortunate to work on stage and in television sitcoms as an octagenarian. That’s pretty impressive.  There are about three remaining segments still to be written.

20 years after he put the book down as finished, the physical writing has slowed due to arthritis. Jimmie is willing to write these chapters, but lacks the digital stamina. So I thought I’d help. Recently I downloaded Dragon® software to my computer, and planned that Jimmie would dictate the new passages directly into the computer.  The day I downloaded it, I configured it for my voice as Jimmie napped, then taught the software how to recognize his voice. Then I made my first mistake. Showing him the software, I realized that it didn’t punctuate the words as they scrolled out onto the page. Fundamentally lazy,  I encouraged Jimmie to insert the punctuation by saying comma and period where it was needed.

Instant and stultifying overload. Jimmie’s face crumbled and I realized that the process of dictating text, so second-nature to me and anyone else using it for texting, was incredibly unfamiliar to him.

So a few more weeks passed, and my friend David called. We had shared the earlier draft of the book with him, and since then, he has been supportively nudging me to get the book self-published. He offered to have us share the book with a friend of his who “places” manuscripts. I explained that we were grappling with how to get the last three chapters written. He suggested that I sit with Jimmie and interview him, getting him to talk into the recording feature on my phone. This, I thought, combined with the Dragon® software in my computer, would get us going. So today we sat down for the first time with our outline in hand and the computer open to a fresh, snowy page, the Dragon® microphone leering from the upright corner of the screen.

We determined 11:00AM on a Saturday morning was a civilized time to start and I prepared for my best Maury Povich interview with my husband. I did a test, hitting the record buttons on the computer and phone at the same time, then spoke slowly and clearly. By the time Jimmie sat down, I thought

What could go wrong?

We began by discussing a possible new framing device for the book.  He looked about as nervous as he had on our wedding morning, which I said to him. He was quickly re-reading segments of the spiral bound book and trying to figure out how to insert discrete new paragraphs into the existing text. I explained what we were doing would require a radical editing of the book and we should just get the new ideas down first. We began the interview, and like some recording technician working on reel to reel tape, I started to get panicky when Jimmie took long pauses to think about his answer.

Relax, Els, it’s all digital. We’re not wasting tape.

Dragon® is relatively accurate, but we had some funny moments like when we were discussing Jimmie’s first day on the set of Parks and Recreation, and I asked him how Amy Pohler was to work with. He must have mumbled his answer, “warm and welcoming” and the Dragon® software wrote “Repairing drywall.” I clapped my hand over my mouth and Jimmie made me show him what was making me laugh. Amy Pohler might have appreciated that moment, too.

Then Dragon® just randomly began robotically droning back everything we had written so far, errors and all. Jimmie said,

Who’s that talking?

That’s what you were saying. Sort of.

Dragon® ate two pages of error-filled dictation just for the hell of it. I looked down, noted that everything was blue, then it was gone, leaving the eerie isolated word, “Mom” on the page. Fortunately, I had the phone recording all the time, and putting a finger up in the air to tell Jimmie to hold, I started a new document to record, then later went back and transcribed from the machine, the old fashioned way.

We talked for about an hour, then I transcribed what we had discussed. Jimmie said it was very helpful. We got nothing down on paper that will ultimately be useful for the book, but found a language of working together on writing, a normally solo occupation, and found the segue starting point for the new chapters in the process.

Not bad for the first day of writing with my best friend!

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Summer 1991 – When Jimmie became an actor/writer for Chris

 

I have been missing Chatham

 

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After a two year hiatus, we are resuming our annual trek to Cape Cod, to the beautiful town of Chatham, where we have rented a home to spend a week reading, going to the beach, eating fried clams, and visiting with our friends and family who either live there or have journeyed there to visit with us.

We made the decision after the trip in 2013 that we wouldn’t  go the next year to the Cape. It was a combination of things that brought us to this decision, but we were both comfortable with having made it and nevertheless sad with the finality of it.

The rhythms of that year were disrupted by our decision. The Thanksgiving weekend, when I usually began the rental process, writing to the realtor to secure a lovely little house we had had for the past three years, came and went without the frisson of anticipation of being flat out on the beach with the languorous sun lapping at my legs.

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Then in April, when usually it was time to send the second half of the deposit, and book the plane tickets, the rental car and alert our family and friends, there was instead, just the familiar cascade of shows at work, but no summer vacation on the horizon. That time went by without the flurry of  details coming together with a satisfying sense of organizing a pleasurable and familiar trek.

During the intervening two years, as our usual dates would approach, I would get blue about missing seeing our sister Kate, and missing our annual whale watching trip from Provincetown. Ice cream at the Schoolhouse ice cream Shop, with it’s quirky decorations.  Sweaty long bike rides along the bike path which ran just off the road behind our house. Walking down to the beach and getting caught in the rain on the way back.

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Creamy Clam Chowdah from the Chatham Squire restaurant, and breakfast at the Hanger B restaurant overlooking the one runway of the Chatham airport, usually more trafficked by geese than by airplanes. AAA Baseball games in the late summer sun with the sound of children playing in the playground behind the bleachers, oblivious to the game. Years ago, when most of my family visited at the same time, we went to the go cart track and raced with the kids. thumb_IMG_2236_1024

But thanks to our dear friend Susan’s visit, and the few days off I took while she was here, we began to think about a return to Chatham this summer. We’ll just go for a week this time. Happily it coincides with a visit by our son and daughter in law and our grand baby. We just couldn’t refuse the opportunity to make another trip to the home of our Boston Red Sox.

This year we will be there for a shorter time; later planning resulted in a different  and smaller rental house. There probably won’t be time for a whale watching trip, but hopefully enough time to linger a bit with friends and family. We’ll celebrate Father’s Day with the newest father in the group, our son.

ChrisandSkylarHockeyshot There will be time to drag my freshly painted toes in the sand-the polish I picked last week was labeled “feel the bern.” There will be the pleasure of introducing our newest tribe member to the summer Cape experience. What could be better than a teething baby with sand in her diaper. Ahhh. Life is so good.