First House

Dedicated to Fionn and Leia on the occasion of their House warming

Our first house was a gray “Cape Cod” style house, 1100 sq. feet., on Riverton Avenue, just north of Burbank Blvd., you know the neighborhood, a block or so from the garish Circus Liquor store featured in films as where the desperate girl makes the phone call from the corner street payphone, clown leering over her head in the menacing endless night.

CircusThis stretch of Burbank was littered with car repair shops, handy we thought, as we were in the phase of our lives where we had car-me-downs from my Dad and then the beater car we bought from a used-car salesman named Duke, who sported a bandage on his nose, likely the product of a bar fight the night before we pulled into his lot to buy. Man, he saw us coming. We later found out that the car which had stickers on the back spelling out “black ‘n blue” had no motor mount, which explained why it made horrible noises on the freeway. We were probably lucky to live to see our first house.

Our realtor was Teri Ralston, an actress I had met while stage managing the Sondheim II APLA Benefit at the Variety Arts Theatre. I can still hear her belting out Rose’s Turn from Gypsy, and thinking of that performance, the hair inevitably rises on my neck. She sang the hell out of that song. Teri, in addition to acting in plays and TV, was at that time, supporting herself by finding people homes.

We loved the process of looking. It is, after all, the most optimistic of searches. Seeking the place which will keep you safe and cozy together, where you will perhaps raise children if so inclined, entertain friends, build your lives together in. I think we probably started looking at nicer homes in nicer neighborhoods, but faced with a certain economic reality, ended up in this desolate car-hospital-neighborhood. I think we looked at about five homes that first day before finding our first home.

Our little house was a gray bungalow, with wooden siding, a sturdy little square porch on the front, and a driveway that abutted another small house with a concrete block wall topped with cyclone fencing. We didn’t know it then, but that’s where Chris’ best friends, Ashley and Sean lived. We didn’t know it because we didn’t have a child then. It was just the two of us building our dream by acquiring our own little stake in it.

On the other side of the house was parked a large semi truck. We didn’t know it then, but that truck ended up being our breakfast view from the dining room table for the next ten years or so. We never met the owner, who was a little scary, but suspected that his bullet shot up into the air one New Year’s eve was the one that came down through our dining room window, becoming a harbinger of our relocation to our second home.

The back yard was a ridiculously large expanse of poured concrete, interspersed with two little corrals that looked like they once might have held a pony or two, but now held some mangy looking cacti. There was a two car garage out there, and a little garden shed. There was a large brick fireplace that graced the patio running along the back of the house, covered with a roof, with doors to the master bedroom and the guest bedroom for easy access.

Well, mangy as it was, we were in love. Arrangements were made, we entered escrow, still a mysterious process, but at that time, close to twenty five years ago, there was still an unfathomable amount of paperwork to sign before taking ownership, and we moved into our house exhilarated to begin our lives together there. Snug as two bugs in a…a rug was about all the furniture we had. We’d come out from New York almost a year and a half before, having spent the first nine months living at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood, and the next year at a furnished rental in the far West Valley, we had no furniture of our own.

We went to the Macy’s close out warehouse in Panorama City where we chose a navy blue sofa with a fold out bed for our guests who would be coming. We had a card table and a few directors’ chairs in our dining room, and that was about it. We acquired side tables from the Unfinished furniture store in North Hollywood, and I stained them (badly) in the garage in the back forty.

But when that couch was delivered, we were so happy. Shortly afterwards, my grandmother passed away, and we received a large amount of furniture from her home, much of which we still own in our third home. Eventually our furniture arrived from our apartment in New York, but it didn’t go far in filling the house. We were in the collecting phase of our lives at that time, and we enjoyed scouring antique stores for a bureau, a dining room table. Oh, and Ikea. We should have invested in Ikea stock at that time. We  practically lived there.

First homes are magical. They are your chance to break away stylistically from your parents’ tastes, to make your own mark in the decorating realm, which if you read the above paragraph, means you decorate in the style of your grandparents instead.

The happiest moment I think was the day we acquired our first washing machine and dryer, and didn’t have to lug our clothing to the Laundromat anymore, but sat on a sofa in the side porch and watched the clothes spin in the dryer while drinking a glass of ice tea.

The back yard was just the first of dozens of projects – as homeowners there is always something to do to improve. We ripped out the concrete and installed a carpet of beautiful green grass, bordered by curved beds of trees. The sprinkler system was activated from the back porch, where I could stand in my robe and watch the water flow. That was back when we had water in California. The current owners of that house have probably paved the lawn over again.

My happiest moments were kneeling in the dirt and planting annuals around the curved beds, roses in the section over by the garage. Taking all those steps to make our first house our first home.

So, on the occasion of your first housewarming, Leia and Fionn, we raise a glass to you and your new home, name TBD. Congratulations! We wish you much happiness and good health there.

 

Paulbearers

Last night at about 1:50AM I awoke, nausea rising as I rose from the bed and padded toward the bathroom. Truth be told, I had set my alarm for 4:45am to go to my spin class, followed by my annual sojourn to jury duty. The fact that I was now heaving into the john at 2am seemed like a cruel interruption to an already abbreviated night. And probably the appropriate response to the quick orange chicken I had rolled out for dinner last night.

After brushing my teeth, I went back to bed and lay awake in bed; my mind had stumbled on a grisly pun that burrowed into my brain like a pop music ear worm; my latest is Meghan Trainor’s, Me Too frequently played during the jumps at my YAS spin class.

If I were you, I’d want to be me too.

What does that mean, anyway? Not really what I wanted in my head as I tried to get back to sleep. And psychologically quite the opposite of the man I found myself thinking about.

“Paulbearers.”  At the end of last week, we’d gotten an email requesting assistance at the funeral of our dear Paul Backer to be pallbearers, with a number to contact. I attended the memorial on Friday, had not planned on attending the mass or grave site service, and besides, I’d be too short in both upper physical strength and the height needed to carry a man of Paul’s stature.

But at the scene shop, I heard a funny story, if that’s possible when speaking of pallbearers. A co-worker had answered the call to do the ultimate heavy lifting in life.

My co-worker, Michael, needed a new black suit for the occasion. His old one no longer fit him, and it was 20 years old. So he went to buy a new suit on Friday. It ended up being a little too big around the waist for him. The salesman said, “Can I have that taken in for you, sir?” He said, “No, I’m fine. I have a nice dress belt.” And off he went, slightly baggy suit in hand.

At the funeral, he joined 7 other pallbearers to carry the coffin of our giant friend. The ground in the cemetery was rough, the flat stones a bit sunken in the soggy grass. Mike and the others made their way carefully toward the grave site, all eyes on them; there were a considerable number of former students, friends and family there for the service.

After putting the casket down at the grave site, they all stood back as he was lowered into the ground. Michael and the others had done the undesired job well.

As soon as Michael got home, he reported that his dress belt suddenly broke in two places, his new pants falling to puddle around his ankles. Had that happened while he was holding the coffin, it would have been a scene out of an Evelyn Waugh movie. One that Paul surely would have appreciated.

Michael laughed, as he told me his story, looking heavenward and shaking his right fist, he thanked and swore at our friend, Paul for saving him the dishonor.

I suspect there will be a number of visitations from Paul in the coming months. Not necessarily paranormal, but mental and spiritual. He was so present in our lives at school and his wit and breadth of knowledge will no doubt continue to surprise us. Hopefully his visits won’t take the shape of midnight sickness and a hangover of grisly puns, but things will be ascribed to Paul just because he is much with us, in spite of his current body’s resting place.

For example, I will always think about Dr. Backer when I hear the following terms:

  1. Backer’s audition, now pronounced “bocker’s audition” because we now know the correct pronunciation.
  2. Paulbearers – those who volunteer to do the heavy lifting
  3. Paulacial – what Paul’s office will feel to its new denizen without Paul’s obsessive collection of books.
  4. Paulitical – what I’ll be thinking of as I watch Election 2016 coverage
  5. Paulitheatrics – a festival of devised work celebrating Paul Backer
  6. Paulitico – a blog devoted to promoting the performances of students and alumni of Paul’s

You get the idea. Gone but certainly not forgotten.

Day Hike in the Valley of Death

There is arguably nothing worse in the medical preparation world than getting ready for a colonoscopy. Despite the demure names for the preparatory products: “GoLitely” and “Fleet” making it sound like the ensuing results will be like skipping fast through a meadow, anyone who’s crossed this rubicon knows that skipping through a meadow is just a metaphor for ….well, you know if you’ve done the hike. The last time my husband had his colonoscopy, I had also been assigned to have mine and somehow I thought it would be efficient/comforting/collegial/loving/experiential to do it together. Bad idea. But enough about the prep.

Yesterday morning, at 5:15, we did the “fleeting” part – not fleeting enough- and what I thought was how marital vows should really be a lot more specific. The “In sickness and in health” part is just not clear enough. Our vows had been two sonnets by John Donne we recited while gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes. Well actually, Jimmie had looked a little terrified, though he did manage to look fondly at me. I thought about our son’s and fiancee’s upcoming nuptuals, and I thought, “I’ll give them a little advice about this in the next months,” but then banished the thought.They’re going through potty training right now. They have a pretty good idea of the commitment involved.

Smash cut to the endoscopy center’s waiting room. I had about three hours to sit with my friend Dread nudging me in the ribs as I tried to focus on the crossword puzzles. In spite of the fact that it was Thursday, I finished both the LA Times and the NY Times puzzles. On a normal Thursday, I wouldn’t have stood a chance against Rich Norris , Joyce Nichols Lewis and Will Shortz, but the puzzle and the people watching allowed me to survive the three hour wait and quell my nerves at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned that this new doctor is in Korea Town, and is, not surprisingly, Korean. His clientele is 99.8% Korean, if the three visits to the office are any indication. When you enter, there are two banks of seats in front of a wide marble counter, behind which sit an extremely friendly nurse/reception distaff. Behind them are arrayed the slim folders of thousands of patients, in ordered regularity. There’s no sign in sheet, you know the ones that most doctors have, with the peel-off tabs that when you sign make you feel like someone’s Medicare meal ticket? A small bowl of cellophane wrapped peppermint candies like the ones in the holiday wreath on the back of my childhood kitchen door rest in a glass bowl at the far end of the counter.

Couples, all over 60 are arrayed around the room, generally men with worried looking wives. Two 24” computer monitors adorn the corners of the room, set on low side tables, angled to the center of the room, each draped with two pairs of headphones. Periodically, the main admitting nurse comes over and instructs one of the couples to look at a video; there must be two dozen videos on the computers. They all have the same structure – a large title card with some possible gastric disease spelled out, in Korean, of course. The opening shot is of the good doctor behind his desk speaking in his direct way to you about whatever it is that might ail you. But what follows is horrible, and yet I can’t turn away. Now we are taking the incredible journey into someone’s colon, where destructive conditions await – one video shows a monstrous polyp bulging, leering almost at the camera. But soon this horror abates as we return to the doctor’s office. Each video lasts about 3 minutes. I am impressed with the efficiency of this tool.

I find myself thinking that this must also be a gross breach of the HIPAA rules. After all, I know now what most every man in the room likely has, even without reading Korean. And what will they do for us, who don’t speak Korean? The doctor, whom we’ve met twice, speaks perfect English, so I guess he’ll have to explain it all to us himself.The size of his non-Korean clientele is so small, it wouldn’t have been worth making another 24 videos in English with English title plates. I take comfort in knowing that whatever the results may be, we’ll receive them first hand.

The other people in the waiting room are so interesting. There’s a flighty 45-year-old woman wearing an elaborate sequined Mackie-like camisole peeking out from beneath a chiffon t-shirt. Both are a beautiful dove gray color, and her black tight pants hug slim ankles clad in 5” spiked heels, that current fashion in black strappy sandals with the solid back running up the Achilles tendon? You’ve seen them. This woman is urgently hurried, her large Louis Vuitton bag over her wrist, running about the office,  hair flashing around her head as she looks anxiously to the left and right. She wears drama like a perfume. Even at 8:00 in the morning. You can tell that her wake is littered with traumatized people. Something has clearly gone wrong. I feel bad for her and yet she’s so interesting that I can’t help being fascinated in the same macabre way that draws my gaze to the corner monitors.

And then, I note, all the men who come in alone have a proclivity for having missed the back loop of their pants with their belts. Is this a bachelor issue? I mean 3 out of 5 of them. I was noticing because, like Jimmie, who’s lost weight and whose wife has not caught up sartorially with the tailor, frequently has bunches of fabric around his waist. So it goes with men in the waiting room of the gastroenterologist. And the lone ones who come in without their wives are clearly the worst off, having no one to sit with in the waiting room- no one to view the screen and share the headsets with.

As Jimmie finally emerges from his procedure, the nurse hands me a xeroxed sheet about polyp prevention and cancer. I note immediately that she’s highlighted 2/3 of the paper’s heading. The word cancer is not highlighted. In times such as these, symbols take on huge significance, so I know before going in to talk with the doctor that there’s no cancer. As we sit and wait, I’m sure that Jimmie hasn’t read these signs, but the lack of privacy in the room prevents me from sharing my relief.

Sure enough, the doctor confirms that I had read the signs correctly. He seems a little surprised. The test has refuted what he’d seen in the earlier CT scan. There was only a small polyp, nothing like the leering eye in the waiting room, one which he was able to snip out during the procedure. I wouldn’t say he looks disappointed, but when he said loudly and firmly, “Good News!” there was no smile on his face. It must be difficult to be the bearer of bad news all the time. Most people having invasive tests such as these must not receive “Good News” all that often. As we gather ourselves to leave, he slips out of the room into another exam room to speak to some other patients.

My step was lighter through the day. After working at home on the couch, I walked to Whole Foods, called Chris to make sure he’d received my good news text earlier in the day. I bought some yellow sunflowers to celebrate, and returning home, I knelt at Jimmie’s feet to present them to him, gratitude and relief watering my eyes. Jimmie’s relief welled up too. We hugged, awkwardly because I was kneeling on the floor and then had trouble getting up.

In truth, we don’t have an answer for Jimmie’s weight loss. But the day before, we’d visited his GP, who changed his diabetes meds. I had consulted Dr. Google only about 10 days before all these invasive and unpleasant tests and suspected this might be the culprit. It was satisfying to see the doctor’s Aha moment as he realized it might be pharma-related. Now, in light of the test results, it seems it must indeed be.

Back to the book. No more distractions.

Really nothing’s changed. And yet everything has.  Jimmie’s still 89 with weakening mobility and the runs. But we’d both trekked deep into the valley of death, had stopped to touch the bark on the trees, to feel the reality of the journey and the destination. We’d stopped to sit side by side on the bench at the edge of the path. And we’d made it back out for another day.

The Time To Start Measuring Up is Now

Events in the past three weeks have been shocking and have smacked me upside the head. On the macro level, more young black men were gunned down in the streets, more cops assassinated. Every time I turned on the TV it seems like ISIS or some wannabe fringe extremist has killed another 125 people.  I’ve become de-sensitized to random acts of terrorism, both international and national. And it’s not because I don’t care about my fellow human beings. It’s just not possible to be in a constant state of shock or rage or worry or grief. Especially if you’re a “there-must-be-a-pony-here-somewhere” type of person like I am. Unfortunately, events like these have hardened me enough that I don’t have to curl up in a corner 24-7. Because if there were no auto-protective features, that’s where we’d all be, right?

But on Monday,  when I received a call from Virginia, our guiding Senior Business Officer about the recent and sudden death of one of my faculty colleagues, Paul Backer, I cried out. “What?” So shocking was the loss of someone so integral to our work place, and ostensibly so healthy, that the news reached out of the phone and punched me in the gut. “I wanted you to know before you heard it from someone else,” she said.

Paul Backer, tall, with boyish good looks, a large head filled with facts about the theatre, and the broadest spectrum of interests, was a fixture of the School of Dramatic Arts at USC since 1984 when he began teaching there. He attended all the productions, both those that were curricular, as well as all the Independent Student Productions. As the production manager, I am the last person to sign off on the ISP contracts, and Paul was the faculty advisor for 99.9% of them. He was a sterling director, directing the first show of each fall semester in the McClintock Theatre. This was a tight rehearsal period, four weeks to tech, one which required exquisite preparation. The plays were challenging contemporary, open-ended types of plays, and Paul somehow found the time to sit with the play, conceptualize his approach, get the research done, and send off no less than 30 pages of analysis with research images, with metaphors for what he wanted to achieve in his/our production.

thumb_IMG_5149 3_1024His production last fall, Love and Information, was a huge learning experience for our production and design students. A few weeks ago, I received his first ideas about how  he wanted to stage Julie Jensen’s Mockingbird, with the casual tag line, “details to follow. Pb.” That made me smile, typically understated.

To get an idea of how ecumenically Paul approached his productions you only have to read a little about the subject of his dissertation, to quote SDA’s website: 

“Shakespeare, Alchemy and Dao: The Inner Alchemical Theatre. It was an interdisciplinary and cross cultural analysis of Shakespeare and the Renaissance esoteric traditions as seen through the lens of classical Chinese Daoism, particularly the philosophy and practice of “Inner Alchemy” or neidan.

USC School of Dramatic Arts

Paul slipped off this mortal coil in his sleep, at 59 years of youth, sometime before Monday when I heard about it from Virginia. And as I processed the news, even before the official email came telling his SDA family about our tragic loss, the ripple effect among Paul’s “children,” his former and current students, was immediate, tsunamic.  I saw Paul’s last post on FB honored an alum, who passed away July 2nd. Paul attended his memorial just last Tuesday, spending an hour  after the memorial in the parking lot chatting with one of his former students. She called me to commiserate that afternoon. She shared that she had asked Paul about what to say to a parent who demands “when are you going to give up this theatre stuff and get a real job?” They’d talked about how hard it must be for a parent to bury their child, and how attending services like these felt terrible in the same way.

Paul was there for his students. He was there for his colleagues, picking up the role of interim chair of Critical Studies when his supervisor had to step away to deal with her own tragedy.

Paul’s death has got me thinking a lot about legacy. As we watched Paul’s legacy unfurl through the devastated testimonies from former students, I thought that Paul probably never ever thought about what his legacy would be. He just built it one relationship at a time. He showed up. He witnessed the work. He demonstrated how he cared, one conversation, one hug at a time. And then he was gone. One of my colleagues said in a recent emotional email,

The time to start measuring up is now.

My tribute to Paul on FB garnered 270 views. That’s a whole lot for me, like by a multiple of ten. We are Paul’s family, vast and interesting and varied, just like his mind, his theatre practice, and his life.

I am and I know the rest of the SDA/SOT community are in a stunned state of grief about the loss of Paul Backer. There is a significant hole in the fabric of the universe. Paul was always there, always supportive, always creative and collaborative. He attended all the shows, was witness to people’s important life events. He gave all of himself to us. Thank you for your calls today to talk about Paul Backer and to cry a little about our loss. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the posts from students and alumni about the impact Paul had on your lives. It really helps to try to understand this loss. I took this photo last September during tech of Love and Information. I wish I’d waited until he turned around.

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Rest in peace, dear Paul.

Writing with My Best Friend -Distractions

As Jimmie and I continue on the path to getting his book published in time for his 90th birthday – imagine a birthday party/publishing event on or around December 1, 2016 (evite to follow!), I’ve begun to actively source the process of self-publishing, finding many helpful blogs along the way. I’ve downloaded checklists of steps needed to self-publish by people who have books on best seller lists. The checklists are predictably overwhelming – one had one of ten or so items which was “Come up with 100 ways to market your book” which swelled the simple one page checklist to soul-crushing magnitude. And yet, we soldier on.

Last weekend, I began formatting the book with a template I downloaded from Lulu.com, and it suddenly became fun to see the book taking shape through the easy 6×9 style template. As I taught myself how to use the various style formatting for chapter headings and the body of the text, I flourished, reveling in creating chapter headings which didn’t yet exist, except as indicated in the manuscript by asterisks between sections. My favorite was “Chapter 11: I’ll never work again”, which happened to coincide with a period of Jimmie’s life where it appeared that work was drying up. The glorious part of this process is that Jimmie has had such a rich and successful life as an actor, spanning close to 70 years. Performing in over 26 shows on Broadway and close to 50 off-Broadway, he’s worked with the Lionesses and Lions of the American Theatre, and film and TV.

When Jimmie wrote the bulk of his memoir, it was in the mid 1990s, shortly after we had adopted our son; he was in his mid to late 60s at the time. The catalyst was Chris; as I mentioned before, the impetus to leave Chris with a record of his father’s life, but Jimmie found the process of writing rejuvenating. Writing is therapeutic, right? He eagerly embraced the work of recalling and ordering the events of his life, and countless filled pages of yellow-lined notebook spooled from his pen. It was a happy and productive time and when he finished it, he shared it eagerly with his closest friends. The number of friends who read the previously spiral-bound copy of the manuscript likely killed the sales impact of the book; I recognize the need to come up with 99 other ways of marketing the book. But that aside, Jimmie’s return to finishing the book by including events from the last 10-15 years, has been a different and more challenging process.

For one thing, Jimmie is 89. The physical impact of arthritis in his fingers has made the process of recording his writing arduous and discouraging. Other influences like the frequency for men his age to make trips to “see a man about a pair of ski-bindings,” as my father recently quipped, takes time out of his day, and creates both mental and physical interruptions to the writing. We have faced a recent and radical weight loss for him, that we began to take note of in May.

We’ve begun the formal investigation into these health issues. As one ages, the trips to the doctors increase in logarithmic proportion to those made earlier in one’s life. The impact of these trips on one’s spirit and body is profound. Getting into the car, walking down the long medical building hallways, getting undressed then redressed after the exams – all of these things take a chunk out of your soul and leave you enervated. Writing is probably certainly not the first thing on Jimmie’s mind.

IMG_6643 2We’ve been tallying our weights. Ironically, I’m in the 8th or 9th week of a diet. I desperately try to lose weight that Jimmie is urgently working to gain. Our daily log looks like one of our scrabble score sheets. It’s hard to see who’s winning.

The recent tests intensify my focus on editing Jimmie’s memoir into shape to be published by fall. I spent this weekend editing the manuscript and urging him to begin re-reading it saying to him, “You tend to use a lot of paired adjectives to describe people. I’d encourage you to limit yourself to one whenever possible, and to dig deep for the most accurate, least flattering descriptor you can use. In addition, you should  eliminate the passive voice as much as possible in the manuscript.”

Jimmie looked balefully up at me from his Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle as though I had taken his bowl of ice cream away.

“I am being specific because this book is amazing and I want it to be as great as I know it can be. You’re hearing the negative in my comments, but  I really care about getting this done by your birthday.” What I don’t say is that the tests have spurred my focus on the book and the opportunity to work closely with Jimmie on something that might take both of our minds off his changing health. It goes unsaid, but is tangible.

Health issues that people face in their 80s can be debilitating. Where my focus on the book has become laser-like, Jimmie’s focus is on battling gastric distress, the increased frequency of labored bathroom visits, the pain in his knees and feet. When I come home from work and ask if he’s worked on the book, he feels ashamed at not having done more, but explains that he’s gotten tired from writing. It is hard to not judge because I have no frame of reference for his discomfort.

That’s the thing that’s  unnerving about aging: the fact that you really can’t relate to it until it happens to you. It struck home at the Cape, when, walking on the beach with our nephew Liam, as we approached the beach breakwaters, rather than scampering over them as I might have done even just three years ago, I found myself assessing the best approach so that I didn’t strain myself climbing over, or lose my balance. Aging is a bit like that – slowing down to accommodate things that didn’t phase you at 25 and which have now become hurdles at 56.

A 56-year-old writer with facility on a computer equates to the 25-year-old scampering over the breakwater. I want to assist Jimmie over the breakwaters of completing this book at his own pace, so that he is secure and relaxed and enjoys the process. So that the journey is as important as the destination.

IMG_6644We will get as far as we can on this book project in the time we have. The distractions are part of the journey. They are part of our story. Like the family movies I sent this week to be digitized,  there will be good memories and maybe some not so good memories in that box, as there are in life. But we will be grateful to have all of them. The most important thing is to be present and conscious of making memories while we can.

 

Pokemon Go to the Theatre!

Anything that gets teens up off the couch and away from the TV and static video games gets my vote. The recent articles and TV news stories about the launch of Pokemon Go® have recounted both the pros and cons of the experiences of countless downloaders of the game. Some of them include:
Pros: Means of meeting others, getting exercise, participating in flash mobs of Go hunters

Cons: Almost walking into traffic, awkward intrusions into public spaces, such as police stations, etc., causing disruptions to work environments; gruesome discoveries, such as the teen who discovered a dead body in a river in Wyoming; and armed robbers using the app to lure victims to isolated locations to steal their cell phones from them.

One twitter wit encouraged the app to hide some Pokemon characters at the polls in November. In fact, in the first week of the launch, there have been more than 6 million tweets about the game.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from one of the Production Managers in the Production Manager’s Forum about a swarm of players intruding on his theatre’s lobby during a show. I sent the email on to our Associate Dean of Communications, Delphine, to ask her if it was something we should be concerned about in our four theatre spaces at USC School of Dramatic Arts.

A few hours later, from my office at the Scene Dock Theatre, at lunch time, I heard the familiar voices of my colleagues Ramon, Isaac and Helga. Since few people visit me in the summer, I greeted them and discovered that they were playing GO, looking for creatures that might be lurking in our theatres. They had found one in the vicinity of the Bing Theatre, and were hoping to get a photo for the SDA Instagram account.

The Production Manager in me (and this is evident even above in the marked weighting of cons to pros) is thinking of the game as disruptive technology. Disruptive to the fundamental act of an audience sharing the cocooned experience of seeing a play. But the younger members of our organization are thinking of it as a branding bonanza. And clearly they are the ones we should be listening, and corporate America is paying attention to.

Nevertheless, my mind goes to the additional announcement that our stage managers should be prepared to deliver in the event of a Live Pokemon Go Event during a rehearsal or performance.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain calm while the Pokemon interlopers are captured. The performance will resume in…..

Here I’m stumped. How long does it take to capture the Pokemon creature? If there’s a mob of players, do we have to wait to resume until all of them have played it out? How long could that take, especially if there is a digital tourist like me fumbling with my  iPhone in their midst? Is there anyway to lure players to the box office just at 6:30 to increase our ticket sales? Hmm.

In the name of research, I may soon be downloading the app and taking a walk during lunch.

My Talented Aunt Irene

This past week, we had the pleasure of spending four days in New York City, the first time since 2009 when we were there to attend my niece Kendra’s wedding. I organized this trip so we could see my Dad and his wife, Sally, whom we also hadn’t seen in way to long a time. We all ended up staying at the Algonquin Hotel on W. 44th St., smack dab in the middle of the theatre district.  What I didn’t know was that my Dad’s sister, Irene, and her husband, Paul Neal, would also be in New York for some meetings with her new agent.

My Aunt Irene is a truly gifted artist. She has been making art for a long time, close to 50 years now, and her painting style mirrors her personal refulgence.

Renie is my dad’s younger sister. They are 5 years apart in age. They adore each other and have such a great time when they get together which is frequently. They love to laugh, a trait they and I inherited from their mother. Here are a few images from over the years.

When they get together, their laughter is contagious. This trip was no different. One evening, I teased my Dad that I couldn’t believe there was a table in the Algonquin dining room making more noise than ours. I blurted out that he has a stentorian voice which he misheard as centurion, which set us all off. Both words actually apply. My dad is a voracious reader, and a commentary writer. His areas of interest and opining are population, family planning, immigration and a number of other subjects that I studiously avoid because our views are so diametrically opposed. But he is not shy about expressing them and loudly. In retrospect, it is surprising that we avoided talking about the Presidential race for four days. Dad is also one of the most generous men I’ve ever known, and it’s become a point of pride when I can get the table’s check before he does, which happened exactly once the entire week. (I need to practice more.)

Jimmie and I have our own modest collection of Irene Neal’s paintings and jewelry created over the years. On our wedding day in 1984, she and Paul arrived at Paulsson’s Restaurant for our reception bearing a 4′ x 5′ oil painting that she had freshly inscribed to us. It still hangs in our living room. Other periods of her work featured colorful acrylic paintings on wooden bases that are enormous, and totemic in feeling. They are a blast of color and energy just like Renie is. She belongs to a group of painters called the New New Painters, who had a show in Prague in 2002, curated by Kenworth W. Moffett, who passed away just a few days before Renie came to New York. Out of that show came a colorful catalogue of their work, which I have a copy of at home, inscribed in Renie’s loopy writing.

Renie and Paul are environmentalists; out of that love came her creation of beautiful pins and earrings made from discarded plastics. In the 1980s, she utilized the 6 pack plastic rings used to hold beer or soda together, once destined to choke fish but now have a second life as beautiful earrings and brooches. Her most recent jewelry material are the Nespresso pods which she has shaped into delicate, glittery flowers that are quite dressy looking. I was thrilled to be given one by her on the last night there.

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Anna Abruzzo and Irene Neal

Renie and her husband Paul came to New York to meet with Anna Abruzzo, who is interested in repping Renie’s work.

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L. to R.: Dad, Paul Neal, Irene Neal, Sally Epstein, Richard Epstein

We visited Anna at Studio Tag, where she showed us around the architectural showroom showing us all of Renie’s most recent ink stain paintings  gracing the walls of several Studio Tag offices. Before I arrived, they had taken this photo of our group in front of one of Renie’s paintings, and Anna, whose energy mimicks Renie’s, had already named my dad “The Boisterous Man.” I liked her immediately.

After showing us the showroom, Anna took us all up to the roof of the building, where there was a delightful meadow in the middle of Manhattan.


The thing I love most about my Aunt Irene is her natural joy and irrepressible enthusiasm about everything. Right after we got home yesterday, she texted me this picture. I can’t tell if the mounted policeman is giving her directions or lecturing her, but I’m sure that after the encounter, he left smiling because it’s impossible not to when you meet a force of nature like Irene. IMG_6624She always has a smile on her face; she is one of our family’s biggest boosters. What am I saying? You already know her because she is the most frequent commenter on my blog. She gives me a target to aim for when I get to be 80.

Our trip to New York and time with Boisterous Man and his sister Irene is not one I will soon forget.