The Turkey Enterprise – A Collaborative Exercise

You know, I used to be a whole lot better at logistics than I seem to have been in the past few weeks. A week ago, I made a car rental reservation for my trip to the family cabin – my brother’s family cabin, in North Fork, just west of the western entrance to Yosemite. I was very excited to reserve a midsized SUV, which sported a picture of a Ford EcoSport. I was unable to ascertain from the website whether the car had 4 Wheel Drive, which I knew I needed because of the major weather belt which was tightening around the entire region. So I googled Ford EcoSport, and discovered to my pleasure, that indeed it did have 4 Wheel Drive. Ah, I sighed. “That’s accomplished.” I’d even felt pretty smug about reserving the car at the on-campus car rental office, located in the parking and housing office just at the end of campus. So convenient!

And then I went on about the rest of the week, which foamed with activities, such as publishing spring design assignments, meeting with colleagues, and planning my classes. Saturday I shopped, gathering the plumpest, most luscious looking 22 lb. turkey at the store, and had a conversation with the butcher because I’d thought I’d be bringing up a frozen bird in a cooler to the cabin. There wasn’t one big enough, so this 22 lb. monster was fresh, and I had considerable trepidation about carrying it in the car thawed. The butcher assured me, as did another fellow shopper, that my turkey would make it salmonella-free to my family. My office mate, Hannah, kindly brought me one of the prop coolers from the props storage, so that Tom and I could make the trip to North Fork.

Tuesday morning began with our wrap up THTR 130 class about collaboration, all the faculty collaborators there. We did exercise designed by Tina, the Costume Design Faculty member. The room was divided up and seven groups came up with seven scenes, which they discussed scenario, characters, setting, lighting and costuming the two characters from what the group was wearing, and final dramatic moment of the scene. The room was quite intense as they worked on their scenarios, huddled over the sheet, writing down their ideas, which were coming enthusiastically, ending after about twenty minutes by naming the scenes. At the end they took turns pitching their shows, freshmen actors, all of them, eager to perform in front of their classmates (in a technical production kind of way). The five faculty members sat in seats in the center, to listen to their pitches.

Here were two of my favorites:

A Quiet Ruckus – 14-year old Russell plays baseball near the barn, finds the dead body of Wrangler. Cue opening song – Finally a Friend!/Lights come up – there are movers and gobos…/3 mice and a raccoon scurry in. /Setting – unit set – Winter inside the barn of Russell’s family farm in the south– pretty realistic setting. /Winter – chilly fog intensifies as the 14 year old boy continues to lose his mind. Sound – 30’s style hoe-down music. Wrangler (the dead man) has a Johnny Cash voice. Basic sound effects – “Danny Elfman-esque” score– wintery soundscapes/Very lighting heavy show – heavy side lighting. Sirens flashing on the duo.

The Not-So-Nice-Pumpkin-Spice– Intern brings boss wrong coffee/Characters are Dean, the mean boss and Samm, the under-qualified intern/Setting – present day in NYC 23rd floor – big sleek black desk, two large windows, big black leather chair, white shag rug. 2 mac books/Low budget student film /Costumes from within group /Lighting – colors of the scenes – black and grays. Using fluorescents from above. Gloomy outside. Not too much warm light/Sound – elevator music in the background (cue played on one student’s Iphone to very appreciative laughter from all)/Shouts and honks from outside/Final scene – sounds are getting louder/Boss throws coffee onto the intern who drips in pumpkin spice as the lights fade to black.

You get the picture. It was a great exercise and we all left the classroom buoyed.

Later that afternoon, I extracted myself from a meeting at 4:15, rolling my red cooler with the big white handle, across campus to McCarthy Quad where the car rental office was. The empty cooler groaned its way across the varied brick and concrete sidewalks, tracing the tracks of thousands of fuller, though hardly less celebratory coolers from game days gone by. The plastic wheels rattling against the pavement was driving me nuts, and people were looking at me as I passed by as though I’d only missed the USC/UCLA rout by three days. I steamed into the office, with my little friend behind me to discover a sign. Uh oh.

The Car Rental Center employee did not come to work today. Please call 213-XXX-XXXX to follow up on your reservation.

There was a young Chinese student in the office on her phone and as I looked blankly at the empty desk, she kindly wagged her finger at the sign, then walked outside to join her friend.

I fumbled my phone out of my pocket and dialed the number, navigating the menu to reach a live person who chirped, “We have someone coming to pick you up.” So I wandered outside and encouraged the other young women to walk with me, again, behind my tethered turkey trolley to the corner of Figueroa and McCarthy Way, where within about ten minutes, an unmarked white van pulled up and a young man named Jamal recited our two cell phone numbers and assured he was with the company. We hopped in.

It was now about 5:00PM, and we arrived at the rental car place near DTLA. I retrieved my cooler from the back of the van. I checked in after the two young USC students got their car squared away. The store was very busy, with a festive air – off for Thanksgiving! I chatted briefly with a man about the drive to Yosemite, which was currently listed as 6 plus hours, and I knew that I’d be racing against the snow.

Finally a clean cut young man with hand held computer walked out to show me my car. The first car we look at was a large heavy looking grey Dodge 2019 Journey. I asked him, “Does it have 4WD?” He didn’t know, nor did the other man in the lot who we went over to talk to. While we were about 20 feet away from the car, another man came over and started to get into that car as my sales rep was showing me a much smaller mini SUV.
“This one is the same size as the other one.”
“But it’s patently not,” I said beginning to see how this was going and beginning to tear up a little that the turkey that weighs as much as my granddaughter was now in danger of not getting to North Fork, or anyone’s fork at this rate.

Eying a large black Chevy Tahoe, I said, “I’ll take that one. That looks like it has 4 Wheel Drive.”

Rep: I’m sorry, but that is reserved for someone for tomorrow.

Me: But what about the Ford EcoSport I reserved for today? Atypically petulant now Scuffing the bottom of my faux-fur-tufted snow boots on the asphalt of the lot for effect. What effect, I’m not sure because it seemed to be having none on the two stressed-out employees.

Rep: We’re in Los Angeles. We rarely have a need for cars with 4 Wheel Drive. And the website says “or similar.”

Me: (I must have missed that fine print.) And yet, here we are, in need of one. Not proud of my attitude, and turning immediately penitent. Softly: Can we please ask about the Tahoe?

The Rep and I walked back into the store where the manager was busy checking out another customer. He informed my customer service agent(loudly so I could also hear and looking back and forth between me and him) that “All the reservations for our customers have been confirmed with them.” (“That’s the way we do it at this fine establishment, lady!” implicit.)

Churlishly, now, I leaned over the counter to my rep: “Tell me, what good is it to be a “Plus” customer?”

Rep: Trying desperately to please a customer who can only be pleased in a way not available to him. “I can still rent you the Nissan Sport that’s outside.”
Me: “But we’ve already established that it wouldn’t be safe to drive it in the snow, right?”
He shrugged.

I felt the hot tears of disappointment resulting from poor customer service beginning to spurt, and I turned from the counter, weakly, over my shoulder, “Never mind. I’ll figure it out.”

Then I toted my turkey cooler out to the sidewalk and plopped myself down right in the middle of the sidewalk in view of the side window of the car rental manager to try to find another rental company on my phone. I was breathing hard, not thinking clearly, angry, upset that I wouldn’t get to see my granddaughter who’d earlier squealed “Nana!” on the phone in her most exuberant voice.

I called Midway, which it turned out was directly across the street from where I was perched on the cooler.

“Hold, please.” The very friendly man came back a moment later. “We have a Ford Mustang.”

“Is that a 4WD?” I asked, imbecilically.

“No, it’s a sports car.”

I stabbed at the Uber app on my phone, and waited three minutes for Hugo to arrive in his Silver Toyota to take me home. I figured going to home base was the smartest thing right now.

Once in my apartment, the sobs erupted, I’m embarrassed to say perhaps worse crying even than when I lost my husband a year ago. Heaving and hiccoughing, I couldn’t think even where to begin. As a planner of the Type A variety, I was absolutely stymied by suddenly not having any plan at all along with the responsibility of the 22 lb. turkey for my entire family snowed in up at the cabin. I envisioned my 4-year-old granddaughter gnawing on the forearm of her baby sister while the adults sat around eating the last of the cheese balls and looking forlorn.

So I texted my son.

Oops. I guess the secret is out. Anyway, soon my phone rang, while I was in the middle of maniacally dialing the rental company again. It was Chris. He said the magic words.

Think further along the line.

Honestly, sometimes he is Yoda-like. Right! If they don’t have 4 WD in Los Angeles, they might have one in Fresno. Then the collaborative exercise began. Through my tears, I opened my laptop, booking a hotel room in Fresno, because by now it was 7:00PM, and there was no way I was going to get to North Fork by the end of Tuesday as originally planned. Chris remembered that his wife’s father was flying into Fresno on Wednesday morning and driving out. In an SUV. We quickly arranged for me to accompany him to North Fork. He graciously said he’d love the company, though if he’d seen me at that moment, I’m not so sure he would have felt that way. So I ate some food, and packed my cart with Tom in the Trolley.

Tom the Turkey in his cooler with all the gear to go in my non-existant rental car….
Tom tucked into his turkey trolley.

The drive to Fresno was about 4.5 hours, and I listened to podcasts, munched on potato chips and stopped once at one of those roadside food courts with the central bathrooms bereft of toilet paper, to pick up another sack of ice to ice down Tom and the other perishable food. I arrived at the very nice Holiday Inn Express in Fresno at midnight on the nose, and after checking Tom, checked in, just as the rain began to come down with increasing ferocity. I fell into the downy white bed and slept hard.

This morning, Dan will pick me up and we’ll go on to put Tom on our forks in North Fork. Picture Norman Rockwell-esque scene, lots of heavy side lighting, steam rising from the golden turkey, the tinkle of children laughing and the fire crackling in the stove. Fade to black.

Jimmy Tomorrow

Today marks a year since the death of my partner-in-life, our son’s father, accomplished actor, life-long Red Sox fan, and so many more qualifying roles he played during his 92 years on the planet. I’ve been warned by many loving friends of the unexpected tsunami of grief we who lost Jimmie may experience today. But throughout the relatively calm day, I’ve been reminded of the power of time as balm, the healing power of our life’s work and the loving remembrances of friends and family whose lives he also profoundly touched.

When I woke this morning, as every morning, I locked eyes with “Jimmy” in the distinctive black and white photo taken during The Iceman Cometh back in Washington, DC. at the Kennedy Center. It is a searing portrait by Joan Marcus, of Jimmie Greene as Jimmy Tomorrow, Eugene O’Neill’s Boer War veteran and denizen of Harry Hope’s Bar he played not just in 1985, but also back in 1967. Pipe dreams and all, Jimmy in the photo has a Rembrandt quality, his face emerging from the surrounding darkness; the photo is slightly water-damaged but still sits in the white matte frame it came in back in 1985.

The morose sorrow of Jimmy Tomorrow is palpable, the angle of the photographer’s lens, just below his eye line, allowing his eyes to follow me around the room. How does that work anyway? Of course when I looked it up, “how to make eyes follow you in a photo” – it’s straight forward – make the eyes or anything face straight out. The other 600,000 links were how-tos for wannabe social influencers. Of course.

Anyway, Jimmy Tomorrow is present, focused, stern and intently loving. I can’t tell you the number of times this year that he’s listened to me as I told him the terrible and wonderful things that have befallen me over this first year flying solo. He’s watched as I stripped our marital bed every two weeks to change the sheets, he’s watched as I sorted socks and underwear on the bedspread, back turned to the portrait, often regaling him with the benign details of trips to the gym, dates with friends, challenges at work and emotional setbacks. I’ve tried not to blame him in these “Jim Sessions.” He watched my back as I packed my suitcases for this summer’s European adventure, and again when I returned to unpack and sort them into laundry and dry cleaning, all the while as I gabbed about who and what I’d seen abroad. Was he glad I was home?

Sometimes before I turn the light off at night, I’ll try to achieve a Vulcan Mind Meld with Jimmy Tomorrow; the other night so successfully that when I turned out the light, I retained the negative image, face silhouette, frame and all in my mind’s eye for a good five minutes. During those intense stares, he almost seems to move, and his gaze responds to whatever cue I’m throwing his way. I know this is classic projection. I know I am alone and he is gone, but somehow it has been comforting to imagine his presence still in the room as he’s very much still in my mind and life.

Its been a busy year, with its share of exciting events and devastating ones. I’ve progressed through the phases of seemingly intractable grief to the promise of more mindfulness in my teaching and in my life. Whatever comes with Jimmy Tomorrow, here are just a handful of photos that remind me of Jimmie Past.

Adding Laughter Back In

I yearn for the laughter of my previous life. Seven months ago, after watching my friend Susie’s show at the Geffen, we met for dinner between the two shows. In the theatre, these interstitial social moments are the ones you tend to remember, not the slog of the eight-show week, but the human interactions that the intimate theatre process allows. Nearly every project I’ve worked on in my life includes these memories. This time, Susie and I retired to CPK in Westwood to eat. Two rawly recent widows, finding our new way in the world. Somehow the conversation came around to David Sedaris – seeing him live has been on my bucket list for years. I knew he was coming to UC Irvine on Nov. 6th, and I offered to get tickets for us both to go.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to go – I might be on a show,” Susie said.

“I know, but I’ll get the tickets and if you can’t go, I’ll find someone else to go with me.”

Little did either of us know that Susie would be unable to go for entirely different reasons. Later that summer, she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. The last time I sat with her at her hospice bedside, I said, “Well, I guess you won’t be up to going to UC Irvine next week to see David Sedaris.” This probably sounds like an incredibly callous thing to say and in fact, had I known she’d be gone by the following week, I probably wouldn’t have said it; but if you knew Susie, you’d know that that kind of sarcasm was right up her alley. “Sorry, don’t think I can make it.” We laughed easily, the way two old friends do, and the way in retrospect, I now know Susie did with all her old friends.

It’s vital to make plans in your life to keep your family ties and friendships alive. Stage management is an incredibly grueling path. The marquee is always emblazoned with “The Show Must Go On.” And yes, the show will go on, and you need to find ways to jump out to experience your life. This is probably not what you might hear in your training program, but make the plans, buy the tickets, build the future into your current work. When the job comes up that won’t allow you to go see David Sedaris on a Wednesday night, talk with your producer and say, “I’m not available on Nov. 6th. That’s the only day. Do you think we can work around that one date?” Not surprisingly, they will find a way. Your assistant can cover the rehearsal, you may be able to have them hire someone to cover your calling the show. If not, perhaps you don’t take that job. The most important thing is that you communicate your needs. This is part of the negotiation part that stage managers, especially women, shy away from. And God help me, brace me for the onslaught of requests.

So, last night, I went to see David Sedaris perform at the Barclay Center in Irvine, CA. Leaving USC to drive down there with my friend and colleague, Melinda, at 6:00PM was insanity. The freeways were jammed, headlights blazing across the median strip, through the newly adjusted standard time darkness, which lowers the curtains now around 5:00PM. What I know almost a year after losing my foundation with the death of my husband is that my life is still as busy, but I now appreciate more the process of being present. Melinda and I chatted the entire way down, then stopped for some salads at a Chinese fast food place near the venue, risking missing the start of the show. Fortunately, or unfortunately, “traffic is a thing” in Southern California. The show started about ten minutes after its published start time, and with the humorous and disarming grace I’ve always loved about David Sedaris, he emerged from the wings in the most amazing “costume” that we only got a brief glimpse of on his way to the podium. Was that a kilt? Arriving at the podium, he confessed that we were starting late because he’d been doing his laundry down in the basement. “It’s been a long tour,” he drolly intoned, instantly relaxing the audience and providing just what we’d come for, a deep, belly laugh of recognition of one aspect of our shared human condition – when will my event-filled life allow me to do my laundry?

The evening proceeded to deliver more of what I’d come for, deep guttural laughs, incredulous scoffs, gales of the easy kind of tears that swept through the hall from the twenty-somethings who sat to my right to the sea of NPR-loving-graying-wordsmith-appreciating sixty-somethings who made up the audience. Anyone who loves words and their sly misuse can appreciate someone like David Sedaris. He read several of his CBS Morning commentaries, including one which dissected the N-word and reeled through the alphabet, helping us to laugh about our political correctness by shredding it; the face of having the L-word be Love, and the C-word commitment.

His humor relies on the knowledge that we will head full tilt to what we assume he’s going to say, then roar with laughter as he pulls the rug out from underneath us, landing us on our butts. A lot of his material was about his childhood vacation home, in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. His writing is so dry as to almost ignite the pages he methodically pulled and unclipped from a manila folder on the lecturn. His delivery is so divorced from his own wit that sometimes you need to go back a sentence to catch up. There were several times I was puzzled for a good minute before I understood what he’d said.

At any rate, I could go on for days about David Sedaris. Suffice it to say, find the laughter in your life and routine, your own food for your imagination, that which nourishes your soul and consciously, actively build it into your life.

Sometime late in the program, he said something about friends which I can’t even remember specifically what it was, but it full-throttle invoked Susie for me, and I shut my eyes, (forgive me Melinda) imagining her beside me in the dark of the Barclay Center, sharing a moment of respite from the work and the world. Sharing a laugh with a friend.

Nanas on Scooters – What’s next?

Since Nanas are the ones driving Facebook, it wasn’t such a stretch to get to Nanas driving Scooters. It seemed appropriate for me to utilize the tools available to me to get to LATC yesterday, where our MFA Y2s are beginning to tech their fall productions, The Brothers Size, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and The Minotaur by Anna Ziegler. About a year ago, I’d bought myself a bicycle helmet, with the strong intention of getting a bike to go with it. I figured I would reduce my carbon impact on Los Angeles. After I shared my plan with several friends and watched each of their faces contort into a grimace of concern and incredulity, cooler heads prevailed, so I’m taking the Dash or Metro to and from work, thanks to the reinstatement of a USC discount for using public transport. This new practice has afforded me about an hour of time to read, answer emails, and listen to music. The helmet has sat on the bottom shelf of my foyer table gazing sadly up at me with disappointment.

When my friend Caro was visiting, I thought we’d go out and try the scooters, more because I wanted company in my first outing, but alas, time did not allow for us to try. Knowing I had this all day rehearsal at LATC yesterday, I’ve been checking out the scooters as I walked home from the bus. Now I am going to get myself in trouble, because the scooter I chose to ride was not the one my nibling is the spokesperson for in SF. (Sorry EV – they look so tall!). I chose the Bird because it looked geared for smaller Nanas and I’ll work my way up to the citrus fruits later. Friday night, I downloaded the app to my phone, happy to discover that part of the process was pretty standard for someone with experience with Uber.

Yesterday morning, I shuffled everything from my purse to a backpack, grabbed my very excited little purple helmet from the shelf and headed outside, where the app told me a Bird was waiting for me in front of my building. Sure enough, there she was, and I stood over her, looking at the handles and trying to figure out how to turn it on. Pretty easy, and she chirped a few times, before I scooted her away from the restaurant where she was parked, and headed out onto Ninth Street. Scooting past the Grand Hope Park, I could almost imagine Jimmie in a Munch-scream-like pose sitting on the bench watching me pass, but couldn’t raise my hand to wave because it would have been too perilous. I’m such a damn goody-two shoes, so had watched the little instructions of how to ride twice, and I was damned if I was going to ride on the sidewalk which was not allowed. Because it was Saturday, there was a lot less traffic, but I learned first hand that the scooter ride is not smooth – there are about a dozen sewer covers on each block, and as I turned left onto Main St., the traffic crawled to a halt because they were paving the street. Bad choice, so I did ride up on the sidewalk until I could get to an east/west street to dart over to Broadway. This involved negotiating the still clumpy asphalt around the sidewalk crossings and eventually I was back on my way up Broadway, then a right on 6th, and I still walked about a block to the LATC building. Bird insists that you take a family photo of all the other little scooters parked on the sidewalk before she chirps a brief goodbye to you. This, an attempt to make sure you’re not leaving her lying face down in the path of another Nana to trip over. (Have you noticed how many Nanas there are in DTLA?)

At ten PM, as I left LATC after the day’s spacing rehearsals, I found a Bird right in front of the theatre, but she wouldn’t play with me, so I walked a little further south, finding another, which chirped happily at me and off I went.

I got home, and in my excitement, called Chris (at 10:30).

Mom, are you okay?

I became a scooter rider today! Love you, bye!

What’s next for Nana? Stay tuned. Anything’s possible!

R.I.P. Susie

We lost a great human being this week, Susie Walsh, stage manager, friend, my reluctant widow pal. There have been so many heartfelt posts about what made Susie special. I’m late to the tablet. People have noted her great sense of humor, her biting but loving wit, her talents as a stage manager to anticipate and solve problems as they arose. The length and quality of her practice as a stage manager, the depth and breadth of her friendships and impact has wowed me. Susie was very private and would probably have hated the attention she’s getting, except not really, because it is so heartfelt, and irreverent, just like Susie was. Loving, subversive, disarmingly direct sometimes, she said what she meant and rarely sugar coated it unless needed to stay within professional boundaries.

I’ve known Susie for twenty-five years, but hold her dearest in my heart for her role as PSM for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Spring of 2016. It was my hub’s last show. Having worked so many times with Susie over the years on shows, and seeing her shows, I took enormous comfort in knowing that she’d be monitoring the halls outside of the three 89+ year old actors dressing rooms. Just making sure they were behaving. Which they were, I think, for the most part.

Jimmie in his cap
Susie having a laugh at the closing night party with Jimmie and Charlotte Rae.

She let me come to a rehearsal one time upstairs so I could see how Jimmie was navigating the work as his best 89-year-old self. I’d visit Jimmie on his two show days; In the bathroom across from his dressing room, Susie would be putting on her togs for a run or bike to the beach. A runner and a complete jock, Sueis loved sports and people who loved sports and some of us who just pretended to love sports to witness her love of them and us. I went to watch a football game at her house earlier last year and feigned interest, grazing instead on the snacks, and enjoying the company of her college friends who really were invested in the game as I would never be.

Susie and I shared a secret affection for our “old men.” She and I were about eight years apart in age, and both our partners were about 30 years older than us, give or take a few years, and after all, what’s a few years when you already have 30+ years difference? Though she and Ken never married, she was loyal to him like a spouse. We shared a pretty unique set of concerns for our old men. Our stage manager, old man Venn Diagram really was fairly rare. We added a widow circle on Dec. 1, 2018.

Sure, other couples of similar ages have illness arise that they have to deal with and it is no less impactful than what we did, but ours was expected. We knew what we signed up for. It was dreaded and yet routine, and when we had lunch together after seeing her show at the Geffen about a year ago, we spent twenty minutes or so chatting about their bad knees, their home care workers. It was our dark bond, one that we shared easily like a special shared language.

When Jimmie passed away, Ken was in his home receiving carefully organized care that Susie had put together. She texted me some photos of her battle station at Ken’s.

Hey, who do I know who would appreciate my organization?

She was right, I did appreciate seeing it because the quality of her instructions was so personal, so tangible. Seeing them brought back my own diligence, and the urgency of caring for someone you love so much in decline. That was Nov. 24th, and Ken was gone by Dec. 1st, Jimmie’s birthday. We made plans in January, to go see David Sedaris on Nov. 6th this coming week at UC Irvine. It seemed so far off, and I knew we’d both need a laugh as we approached the anniversary of our shared loss. This was the perfect reflection of Susie’s sense of humor.

Susie was the fittest over-fifty person I knew, running races, inspiring us more sedentary types to exercise more. The photo above is from New Year’s eve in 2016. That morning, we took a hike in the rain and mist. At the end, I was tired, and sore for days, a fact I shared with Michele and Susie via our ongoing shared text message. We made plans for a few more hikes, each of us taking the role of organizer of the day. My go to spot was the Huntington Gardens, Michele organized a Christmas light walk in Pasadena. In each of these walks, we shared the easy comaraderie of long time colleagues and friends – the stories unfolded, with the trails. In March, 2019, it was Susie’s turn to call the walk and we’d agreed to do a hike in a spot I didn’t know about. Susie knew all the trails – we’d done several in Griffith Park and I’d seen more of Los Angeles than I dreamed existed. We followed her trustingly, sometimes discovering that the distance was more than we’d planned for, but always feeling accomplished at the end. This time, however, in the car on the way over, Susie said, casually, “I’ve got to tell you a story – I had to go to urgent care last night.” We leaned forward to listen expecting a typically light story about food poisoning, or something like that. We arrived at the spot, got out of the car and started across the parking lot. Susie was lagging a little, then she stopped and said, “Hey would it be okay if we didn’t walk? I’m having a lot of pain.” And so instead, we went to breakfast. And began to hear the ominous start of what became the beginning of her cancer odyssey. The way was unclear, and as the future unfolded, Susie met each bend in the very uneven road with her usual fierce integrity and grit and eventually resignation and grace.

In the recent weeks, when I was able to visit her, either in the hospital or the one time I was able to get away to visit her bedside, we rarely talked about death, though he was obviously in the room, shadowing the conversation, evident in the clear oxygen tubing that snaked around Susie’s ears and under her nostrils; the propulsive wheezing of the tank that spooked Maddox, her cat from sitting on the bed with her. In her living room, the room had been torqued 90 degrees from the way it liked to be, the alien hospital bed facing the door, the coffee table and couches hugging the walls, pushed aside as if to make room for the last dance of life. The photos of family, and young Ken faced her bed, her sister Katie sitting in the chair, back to the front door, her comrade in arms, as so many of Susie’s many brothers and family had done since late summer, when Susie began her chemo. I was hopelessly inept at saying what needed to be said in what turns out was the last time I saw my friend. I’m kicking myself about that and all the loss of recent weeks makes me want to rail against the gods or something. But for what?

Friday, my colleague brought me a little pink rose bush, and said how sorry he was for my loss. Thursday, the day we all lost Susie, my coach had given me an exercise to do called Roses and Thorns. As I lay in bed last night, just before I turned out the lights I documented the Good Things (Roses) vs. the Bad Things (Thorns) I marveled at the literalness of the day. Aside from literal roses, I thought about the happy reunion of Ken and Susie, Susie and her recently departed Mom, and the very happy actors, Jimmie Greene and Charlotte Rae, who now can begin rehearsals afresh with Susie monitoring the hallways of heaven.

Meet Susie, who now lives on my balcony overlooking downtown LA.