Today we received the proof of Jimmie’s book, A View from the Wings, A Theatre Memoir, and I don’t think I’ve seen my husband smile as broadly or as happily as he did at the moment when he opened the package and held up the book for me to take this picture. This after suffering my request to video tape the unveiling, as he struggled, his arthritic hands clawing at the tight brown card board. You won’t see that one, so don’t worry, but we have it for the archives.
It’s been an exciting week, starting last Monday, when we took Hal Holbrook and his assistant Joyce Cohen to dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, to thank him for writing the foreword to the book. Jimmie and I arrived a few minutes before them, and scoped out the joint, pretty quiet on a Monday night, and chose what I will call the blue room, a small room just past the wine cellar, where the plush royal blue wing back chairs beckoned me –
Come on in here! You won’t be disturbed here.
And we weren’t. When Hal and Joyce arrived, we were seated at a table near the entrance. Hal, wearing his 92 years with humble dignity and the mantle of an actor who has also lived his life in service to the theatre, and specifically to Mark Twain, came across the room and greeted Jimmie with great warmth. We convened for four wonderful hours of shared theatre stories until I had to cite my 8:00AM class the next morning.
Tuesday afternoon, our granddaughter, Skylar arrived with Whitney, our son’s lovely fianceé and their little dog, Cupid. They came for the week, to be with us for Thanksgiving. Chris came down also on Tuesday, but journeyed down on the team bus and was fettered to his hockey team at the hotel in Tustin all weekend. So, Whitney, Skylar, Cupid, Jimmie and I’ve had an active week of bonding. Skylar, eleven months, is struggling to learn to walk, and Jimmie, eighty-nine years old, is struggling to relearn how to walk with “Das Fucking Boot”. This week our apartment was stuffed with the appliances of babies and elders, two strollers, a walker, a cane and two humidifiers. We pulled the coffee table away from the sofa so that Skylar wouldn’t hit her head when gravity prevailed, but seeing that there is a safe walkway, I’m inclined to leave it out there after they leave to allow more space for Jimmie to negotiate the furniture.
On Thanksgiving morning, Whitney, Skylar and I awoke at 5:30AM, and drove off into the darkness by 6:30 to attend the 7:00AM hockey game at the Westminster rink. It was nice that the player’s benches were up against the spectators’ stands; it was lovely to watch Skylar watch Chris watch the players play.
After the game, we drove back to the apartment and got ourselves ready to go to dinner at the LA Athletic Club. We had a wonderful dinner at the buffet and then we took the worst family photo ever taken. Right after we finished the photo, one of the servers came by and said, “You should take your picture right in front of that landscape painting!” I said, “We did! Great minds…” Hadn’t seen the photo yet. This photo will be utilized in lighting lectures all over the country by academicians to illustrate truly bad top lighting.
On Saturday, we went to Griffith Park, trying to avoid the threatening black rainclouds overhead. We bought tickets to the carousel, and just as Whitney and Skylar were ready to board, the carousel operator cancelled the ride citing a loose belt. Not anything one need worry about on Thanksgiving week. It’s been an amazing visit. And now with book in hand, we move toward Jimmie’s 90th birthday having accomplished what we set out to do. Feels good.
An artistic, theatrical experience spoke loudly to me this week and in reflecting on it as I vacuumed the apartment this morning (Writers to your vacuums!), here’s where I arrived.
We are presenting Middletown by Will Eno this weekend at the Scene Dock Theatre. It features our MFA Y2 Actors, directed by Andrei Belgrader. The play is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with a shiv. The Stage Manager of Wilder’s gentle encomium to small town life is Eno’s more-than-slightly deranged patrol officer, who tells us everything will be all right while he puts a chokehold on the Simon Stimson equivalent, an alcoholic would-be murderer, if he only had the self-esteem. Instead, Eno’s mechanic volunteers at the hospital, before dumpster-diving behind the hospital for discarded drugs.
As I sat through techs and dress rehearsals this week, I became obsessed with the vulnerable relationship between two main characters, John Dodge, a natural philosopher sans direct life path, and Mary Swanson, a recently-arrived housewife, desperately lonely, her husband always away for work. In one scene, they happen to meet in a park and end up sharing Mary’s lunch.
Their instantaneous intimacy lands with the heft of human gravity echoed throughout the play:
Mary: Night is hard, you know? It gets so quiet. I never know what I’m supposed to be listening to. (brief pause) But it does give me time to catch up on my needless worry.
John: I do that – what you just did.
John: Use humor to distance myself from the pain.
Will Eno, Middletown
Boom. How deftly Eno unveils our strategies.
Jimmie frequently invokes his favorite biblical character these days- Job. Job comes trippingly (oops, shouldn’t say that) to the tongue in light of our itinerary this month:
Swollen foot diagnosed as broken foot.
A walking cast which we fondly call Das Boot, or on most days, Das Fucking Boot (DFB).
Instability which results in wifely paranoia about leaving Jimmie at home to go to work.
Bloody nose = ER
ER = Overnight Stay
Around the time of the hospitalization, I received a text message from Jimmie’s niece, Jen, who offered to come down and help us.
How soon can you get here?
The answer was the next day. This probably wasn’t the response she requested, but it was the one she got and responded to. As you may have read in my last post, this visit helped and healed both of us, infected as we were with the giddy laughter and creative inventions of Jen’s four-year-old daughter.
In the meantime, I have been researching and seeking assistance from numerous people to plan for a moment when assistance is actually needed. Jimmie, in his support of easing any stress on me, met with the representative from one such company. We sat at the dining table with her; she was direct and kind, understanding of what we might eventually need.
I should say here that Jimmie has absolutely zero interest in having extra unrelated people around our home. It’s always been his way. Back in the valley house, when I got it in my bonnet to remodel every square inch of the house, then went off to work leaving the house filled with strangers, I’d return and Jimmie would look woefully at me, the nascent improvements covered with a thin sheen of dust, his nerves worn raw. The results were marvelous, but the process was painful.
I didn’t expect much better results this time, but I appreciated how game he was. We planned a visit from the care giver on Thursday, Nov. 17th- four hours to start, in the afternoon. He worried about how this would go. I had gotten him a sandwich to have for lunch, and had planned to ask the home health care aid to do some grocery shopping for me, but then decided to not burden her with that task the first day, stopping instead on my way back from the gym.
I arranged for her to get a key at the guard’s desk downstairs so that she could let herself in, so that Jimmie wouldn’t have to get up to get the door. I asked them to call upstairs when she arrived. I went off to work.
She called me at ten to one, having circled the block twice already, looking for parking. I told her where to park.
Unbeknownst to me, when the guards called upstairs to Jimmie that she was there, he got up and went over and opened the door, leaving it resting in a cracked position, before returning to the couch. The door was propped open three minutes or less, the time it took her to walk to the elevator in the lobby, rise to our floor, and walk down the hall.
Jimmie said she arrived while he was eating his lunch, and he offered her half of his sandwich which she accepted.
He told me he spent a lot of time in the bedroom that day, taking naps, and when he got up, he went out to the patio with the newspaper. I’m sure just to get away.
At 4:45, she left and he relaxed. He really hadn’t enjoyed the afternoon in any shape or form, and told me that it wasn’t going to work out. When I came home, I saw that the blanket on the arm of the chaise puddled on the sofa, and thought it was nice that she’d made herself at home, but a little strange that she hadn’t tidied up the blanket.
The next morning, at 7:00AM, I went to the door to get my keys, I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door where it usually is. I turned to ask Jimmie if he’d moved his wallet to the bedroom yesterday when she was there. He hadn’t.
I immediately went to check if his wallet was in his pants pocket in the closet. It wasn’t. I tore through the dry cleaning bag to see if it was there in one of the pairs of pants there. It wasn’t. Jimmie hasn’t been leaving the house much because of the walking cast, so it didn’t make sense that it would have been in his pants pocket anyway, but that was of course my first understanding of what had happened.
I called the agency and told them that his wallet was missing. They promised to reach out to the employee at once.
I texted the care giver since I had her number:
This is Els, Jimmie’s wife. This morning I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door. Before I take action, I’d like you to call me please and let me know if you’ve moved it somewhere for safety.
Then, I went to the gym because it is those workouts that allow me to maintain my equilibrium in the event of events like these.
Back from the gym, I began the odious process of canceling the cards in the wallet, and finding out where we had to go to file a police report. I have a pretty high threshold for irritation, but I felt my heart constricting, my eyes filling, the bile rising in my gut, all of which I hid from Jimmie. Being on hold with Bank of America for about 10 minutes made me angrier than I’ve been in a long time.
A while later, after speaking with the supervisor at the agency and learning that this employee was “up the hill at another client’s home where the cell phone reception is poor,” and listening for five minutes about how laudatory all her clients are about her performance, I finally got us organized and at 9:45, Jimmie and I got in the car to drive to the central LA Police Station to make a report. I had told the head nurse at the agency,
Now rather than providing me with a service, hiring your agency has created a huge hassle for me and my husband, hours of appointments to replace lost cards and a complete lack of trust in humanity. Not a good outcome.
Shortly before we left for the police station, I received a text from the care giver. It read:
Good morning Elsie sorry I’m just responding I don’t get signal until after 10 o’clock but no I don’t know what this you’re referring to because when I arrived yesterday the door was already open he said he was looking for his wallet I asked him if he would like me to assist he responded no he would just wait until after I’m gone and I’m assuming he just didn’t want me to be running around in the house being my first time so he had his sandwich I had my sandwich with him at the table then in the living room he turned on the TV he said on the chair slept for a little bit then he went to the balcony with his magazine while I still watch television and then I was on my way out the door 10 minutes to 5 because I have therapy but I definitely advise you because it’s very important having all your information and having to go and get it again definitely importance
Yeah I wouldn’t have known about a dish by the door because I don’t even think about looking behind a door he stated he didn’t want me to assist him I figured he probably would find it later but I just put it in my notes that he did misplaced his wallet.
When I read this unpunctuated and grammatically horrific text message, I couldn’t believe the chutzpah of this person. Jimmie is a meticulous soul. He has a place for everything and everything in its place. On those infrequent occasions when has misplaced a set of keys or a wallet, he gets frenzied and won’t settle at all until they are found. What she describes in her text message, cradled between”Elsie” and the instruction to get the information replaced so infuriated me that my blood pressure rose to unhealthy heights. This was how I drove to the police station.
At 6th and Maple, this police station resembles a fortress in the middle of skid row. It is a windowless blond brick structure with attempted a cheerful terrazzo mural of life in the big city, surrounded by police cars. Perfect.
I could do a better job of describing this mural if I had found a parking space in front of the station, but instead, had to illegally park and scurry Jimmie inside the station, where at the vending machine, a large woman in a bright yellow hat raged nonsensically at an unresponsive officer as he plunked in his change and extracted his late morning snack. I reluctantly left Jimmie sitting in his walker in the lobby while I ran back to the car to find parking. I found a structure nearby, parked at the top, and walked down the steep driveway to the sidewalk, where a homeless man outside his tent and a small enclave of homeless people greeted me enthusiastically as I passed.
The officer who took Jimmie’s statement, a young Latina officer, was polite and with the neatest handwriting I’ve seen this side of a tech table. In between painstakingly printing the details of our report, she answered the phone and gave out numbers and information to those who called. The entire desk was covered in contact sheets under glass, with numbers of city services. I realized that I had been one of those callers just an hour before, and now had 75% of her attention, which was enough to get the job done.
At 11:30, we walked out of the station with a report in our hands, and I ran back up the steep driveway to get my car. The homeless population by the garage had swelled, large enough and rowdy enough so that I crossed by them in the street, feeling bad for my avoidance, but anxious to get Jimmie home so I could get to work.
I was still pretty steamed. Before I left for work, Jimmie asked me to please calm down. By 2:30 or so, I had regained my composure. The collegiality of my faculty peers in our lunch meeting and meeting the prospective production students rebuilt my faith in humanity, and gave me a way of refocussing on why we do what we do in the theatre and theatre education.
Besides, it’s a way of avoiding my needless worry.