Service Due Soon A1

My car’s check engine light comes on every time I insert my key into the ignition these days; the car chimes, blocking the usual information window with the message above, sending my brain calendaring app into overdrive. When will I be able to get the damn car out to the valley? All I need is an oil change and a tire rotation and they are open early in the mornings. But mornings are tough and pretty unpredictable these days. A good day finds me at the gym at 5:30 or 6:15. A bad day, as defined by one that follows an interrupted night, finds me dragging and lagging. The last thing I would want to do on one of those days would be to wait at the Honda Dealer in North Hollywood, though with their lounge’s recent face lift, is a pretty spiffy spot.

Wouldn’t it be great if our bodies had check engine lights or whatever the anatomic version of that would be? Hmmm. Site-specific flashers across your chest that it’s time for your mammogram, reminiscent of the San Francisco North Beach Condor Club where stripper Carol Doda performed all through the 70s and 80s.

North Beach, San Francisco, CA July 1973
North East corner of Broadway and Columbus. Carol Doda’s Condor Club, Big Al’s, Roaring 20s and Hungry I strip clubs. Ektachrome transparency taken with a Yashica TL Electro 35 mm SLR.  Wikipedia – Michael Holley, photographer

Is the garish neon sign with the flashing nipples still there? Or a victim of the neo-technocracy that has rendered San Francisco quite a different spot? But I digress.

As our cars/bodies get older, they require frequent, much more expensive trips to mechanics/doctors. The diagnostic tools that determine what’s gone wrong in the older models are more invasive. There’s no clearly printed digital code indicating what the underlying issue is. Sometimes you have to drain the oil pan and replace the oil. Sometimes you have a larger system failure that requires significant intervention. I’ve gotten expert at keeping the issues separate when reporting to the mechanics in the past week or so.

Don’t bury the lead.

That’s what my journalist mom would have said. I used to feel bad when the doctors looked to me rather than Jimmie for his medical information. I don’t anymore. I recognize that time is important. I can deliver the Cliff Notes of the current medical crisis in a crisp three sentences. He can fill in the details and answer their specific questions. shoppingI have learned to take notes when the mechanic, er, I mean Doctor tells us what’s wrong. Along with the extensive weight/sugar/output auto-logs we are keeping, I have developed a causal narrative that I think is more or less accurate. The latest information each doctor delivers informs and sculpts that narrative. I hope that if my “engine light” ever comes on in a significant way, that I have someone with me who can quickly give the shorthand of my story to my doctor. It’s hard to listen and process the information they give you when you feel like doo doo.

A wise person wrote or said that in medical issues, it’s wise not to get ahead of yourself. Don’t buy the next phase of medical gear until it’s needed. Don’t make decisions until they ask to be made. The same could be said about care for your car. Don’t change the oil more frequently than 3,000-5,000 miles just because you think it will be good for your car. You wouldn’t replace a headlamp in your car while it was still working, right?

The medical profession protects us somewhat by requiring referrals before doing more tests. The insurance companies protect us from doing unnecessary investigations  by requiring second opinions for really expensive treatments. The lounges in the doctors’ offices are almost as nice as the Honda Dealer’s in North Hollywood.

On another note, I want to say thank you to all of the friends who have been reading my blog and sending us their support and love via phone calls, emails and hallway confabs.  I can’t tell you how much it means to both of us.  Don’t worry. We’ll soon be out of the service bay and back on the road. Having your attention and love along has made the wait much easier.



Writing with my Best Friend – The Cover and Recovery

One of the most enjoyable phases of putting Jimmie’s book together has been abusing my long friendship with my college pal, Bob Stern, now a graphic designer in New York City. We had the pleasure of seeing Bob and his partner Mitchell when we were in New York this summer, and there, in the dining room of the Yale Club, the years melted away and we reconnected after a mere whisper of time since graduating from college. 34 years gone in a flash!

While we were in college, I used to visit Bob in the printmaking shop, and watched him as he designed, then laid the heavy block letters in the press,then printed out posters for our theatre shows and theatre department. The printmaking shop was housed in the same building where we had all our theatre classes; Bob and I also shared a love of theatre. We spent two summers running a theatre on the campus, traveled with about 10 of our college friends to Edinburgh, Scotland after graduating, under the guidance of our teacher and mentor, Carol MacVey. There we all re-mounted 5 productions before disbanding across the continent to broaden ourselves. I spent thirteen months living in Venice, Italy, several of them over the last summer while Bob visited, doing graduate studies from Yale, and  we cavorted among the canals with our misfit American and Australian expat friends. I wrote a series of posts, Letters from Venice,  three years ago about that time. It is easy to fall into silliness when I am with Bob.

When I got up the gumption to publish Jimmie’s book, I asked Bob if he’d consider designing the cover, and he graciously said yes. We had initial conversations about what it would entail. No slouch when I knew him in college, Bob now has an important job in New York, and is the father to a teen. Our initial book cover conversation was a Skype call at almost midnight his time. I had sent him the book a few days before, which he had read. After adjusting the lights so that we could see each other on our respective screens, we talked about the title, A View From The Wings, and how to convey the double meaning of the word wings, discussed in a previous post.

Bob came away from the Skype session with more than one interesting idea about the design of the book’s cover. He had an idea about using Jimmie’s silhouette as a window/curtain split through which one could also see him performing on stage. Trippy, right? I have a little trouble even now describing the concept, and at midnight, after strenuous days for both of us, Bob’s description wasn’t really sinking in. But I have enormous faith in his artistry, and after almost an hour of conversation, we ended the call.

Several weeks later, Bob apologized for his computer’s “crapping out.” We would have to wait to see the sketches of his idea, but in the mean time, could I find a simple full figure photo of Jimmie that we might use as the silhouette?

I don’t know about you, but my computer photo organization is in shambles. I have the photos in  my Iphotos folder, and in my photos folder, in a large box under my bureau, and in about 5 or 6 assorted old style family picture albums. I have another hard drive where I saved all the photos and I think obliterated all the dates associated with them in the process of saving them. I probably will need to spend about a month and hire a professional to figure out how to access and organize them. I suspect my inability to see and retrieve them all has more to do with the remaining size of my memory. How apt.

I mean my computer’s memory.

thumb_s6300111_1024I went back and looked at all the photos of Jimmie I have in all my photo programs, and came across this photo of him backstage during the national tour of 12 Angry Men, wearing his natty white linen suit, in whichever city it was that I joined him in. I wasn’t sure that this photo would work for what Bob wanted, but it turned out it was exactly what he was looking for.

So weeks went by, and we had the man plumbing issues to contend with and then the teeth. We spent a few days in various ERs; I have great appreciation for the nursing staff and doctors who attend ERs. They are unfailingly kind and considerate. I have also observed that 56-year-olds don’t get in to be seen as quickly as 89-year-olds. So it was Wednesday morning at about 1:00AM, after the Tuesday tooth extraction, when out of the mists of my slumber, I heard someone calling. I don’t remember what I was dreaming about -actually think I was not dreaming, but suddenly awoke to see Jimmie standing next to the bed, and his pillow looked like something out of the horse-head-in-the-bed scene from The Godfather.

And off we went, this time to the County Medical/USC Hospital. Their ER made Good Samaritan’s ER look like a kindergarten. The size of the waiting room at County General was really imposing, but once again, we went to the head of the line. (Yes, yes, I distinctly hear my privilege.) In we went, and for the next few hours we waited as they tried about three different techniques for staunching the bleeding from Jimmie’s gums.

We spend a lot of time these days seeking medical care, but it’s time we get to spend together, and for that, however unfortunate the circumstances, I am grateful. We took turns sitting on the bed and the plastic chair in the ER bay#3 and took turns napping. It was during those hellish ER limbo hours between 4:30AM and Jimmie’s 9:00AM discharge that Bob’s email arrived with ten sketches of the book cover. 10! We looked at Bob’s creative ideas, any one of which would have worked just fine. I can’t tell you how much their arrival buoyed our spirits.

We are in re-cover-y. Thanks to Bob and the kindness of local ERs.




Writing with My Best Friend-Publishing From a Solid Foundation

With our self-inflicted publishing/90th Birthday party too close on the horizon (81 Days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and a rapid descent of seconds, according to the count down website I found), it has become necessary to press ahead (groan) with a self-publishing option. First, a word about the kindness of strangers regarding the manuscript I had sent out.

Yes, they were rejections, but such lovely rejections. I embraced dearly departed Caroline See’s advice and wrote thank you emails to the publisher at one publishing house who had responded that they didn’t publish memoirs or biographies, and yet took the time to read the book, responding with some editorial comments. Wow. Didn’t expect that kind of compassionate contribution to the process. It really buoyed my faith in humanity.

She also recommended with our impending deadline, that we look into self-publishing, and recommended CreateSpace, an Amazon off-shoot company that provides editing and publishing services from soup to nuts. Having been through the template-learning process with, the re-formatting to the new template was pretty painless, and yesterday, we had a conversation with an editor to choose the publishing features we’ll use.

It was extremely helpful and instructive to learn how the process will go moving forward. We are on an aggressive timeline so will need to make decisions about photos and editing to be ready 8 weeks before Dec. 1st. So we will be rocking it from now until the first week in October.

There are discussions we are still having about the arc of the book, how to keep the narrative uncluttered, and ways to make the title of the book A View From The Wings tie to another image Jimmie had come across in the mid 90s by a professor from Harvard.  Last night at the end of a long week at work, I tried to listen and hear the importance of this imagery to him and understand how to make the connection tighter. We had a basic disagreement about how to do it, and anyone who knows us knows that disagreements are pretty far outside the boundaries of our experience. I think we’ve had one flat out fight back in the early 80s, consisting of irritation, not even harsh words. Our friend ,John Rubinstein, jokes that we are the most irritating people:

You two probably never fight because you are both so nice. (said with a slight exaggerated sibilancy on the word nice)

Jimmie and I have always agreed on things political, though this presidential election cycle has taxed our relationship a bit, Jimmie staunchly insisting on candidates other than the “I’m with her” candidate. It’s happened before when he voted for Ralph Nader. In fact it’s not the least bit unusual for him to be much further left than me. It’s something I’ve actually always loved about him. He keeps me politically honest.

We agree about the theatre. Usually our reviews of shows (of which we have seen hundreds together over the course of our married lives) are usually pretty aligned. Our taste in television rarely sparks discomfort. We look at each other when there’s too much blood, we reach for the mute button when there’s anything like torture on, or food porn, and we look at each other. So we’ve spent a lot of time looking at each other over recent years. Carl’s Junior commercials result in absolute facial fascination. And let me be clear, I’ve got no problem at all doing that; Jimmie  seems quite contented to gaze at me as necessary.

But an aesthetic difference about imagery was tougher for me to accept, and I found myself feeling worn down and a bit saddened last night, that as we headed into the publishing process that (gasp) we were at odds. I chalked it up to being overly tired and we kissed and made up before going to bed because, well, you know the adage…

This morning’s light brought the “big pour” of concrete in the building site across the street from us, and while I spun at the DTLA YAS class, my pal Ellen and I watched the relentless cement trucks lining up on Hope Street to empty their contents into the big hole. The cement cranes arched over each other like the graceful necks of dinosaurs grazing on the savanna, and when I returned from my class, I ran to the balcony to watch as their necks dipped and pecked, filling the spaces between the rebar grid. To the northwest corner of the pour, I could see men smoothing the pavement at ground level.

I am such a construction geek. I come to it legitimately. It’s a blood relationship to concrete, my grandfather having owned the largest concrete company in Northeastern PA. This morning, when I was walking home, I passed two construction workers, both Dads, with their four children under 8 in tow, walking eagerly down to where they could show them the activity across the street. It is magical to see the beginning of the process, to the end, so clearly demonstrated north west of us, with the now lighted spire of the tallest building on the west coast. I (of course) attended that big pour as well, which was probably four times the size of our little pour going on in the neighborhood.

So what does all this have to do with self-publishing a book? I am well aware that our process of publishing this book has as much to do with the foundation of our marriage, our trust and respect of each other, the history of our dipping and pecking in the savannas together. As much if not more than the content or caliber of the actual book. I know that our foundation is solid, well-cured and will withstand whatever small editorial disagreements we have. We are both energized by the process, looking through pictures to include in the book, and examining the structure of the book.  It is an accelerated process by virtue of the construction deadlines I’ve imposed on it. But I promise there won’t be any pictures of concrete pours in the final product!img_6943



Unpacking “Unpacking”

I’ve been hearing a phrase on the radio recently and today in the paper which refers to looking more closely at the details of a project. It’s used by interviewers to casually prod the interviewee to share the nitty gritty of their artistic process.

“Let’s unpack this experience of making this film…”

And from today’s LA Times article “A Shakespeare for our times”

It’s break time in rehearsals at the Music Center Annex in downtown L.A., and director Phylicia Rashad and actors Lillias White and Keith David exude familial warmth and ebullience as they unpack the musicality of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”…

Gary Goldstein, LA TIMES


Maybe it’s just me, but when I read that in an article or hear it on the radio, I just get annoyed. Usually it’s invoked with regard to an artistic project (but that could just be the things I listen to or read about – it may be in use much more broadly). Packing and unpacking represent the most boring phase of any vacation or trip. My least favorite thing to do when I travel is pack and unpack. Furthermore, when I’ve read the definition for this conceptual unpacking, thank you, but I don’t need or want things to be broken down into smaller, more manageable bits. I’m quite happy having  the whole big messy interview come at me and let me unpack it myself. Trust me when I tell you that I will take the socks and the pants and the unmentionables out of the story that I’m listening to or reading and I will put them in the appropriate drawer, filed them away until I need them to enhance a different outfit.

Let’s just be direct with our questions without wrapping them up in a Gucci bag or even a mere duffel. I really hope, but think if I’m looking at this word’s recent bump in use, that it’s probably way too late – it’s not like I’m in the vanguard of epistemological surveillance – that we can curb this frequent use of the word.

There, rant over. Unpacked and put away.






More Elk Confidants

The first two weeks of school are always insanely busy, but even more so this year for me. Mr. Big Head has been a great companion this week. He’s become the reason for many visits from many of my stage managers. But not just stage managers came to dote on him. Other artists of the design stripe came and saw and rendered.  Zach Blumner came one afternoon and I invited him to draw Mr. BH and within about 10 hours, I had received the drawing below. That’s the kind of idolatry we are dealing with here.

Faculty came and paid homage.

Then there were the stage managers who couldn’t take their eyes off of him.

I honestly don’t know how I got a salt lick of work done this week with all the fawning that was going on.  I think it’s probably time for you to come visit me and have your portrait taken with Mr. Big Head.