I’m exhausted from an eventful week. The week ended with a series of Zoom and in person meetings. Two zooms: staff meeting, communications meeting. Two physical meetings: lunch at the faculty club with some colleagues, a cultural values community discussion, a Stage Management Cohort Meeting then home to a quick bite before analyzing the results of faculty and student surveys on our recently executed Disaster Relief Teaching Pilot. We’re all in the uncomfortable state of trying to anticipate disaster. How would we respond if suddenly events conspired to not allow access to our teaching spaces. In light of COVID-19 it seems quaint that what we were originally trying to anticipate was our response to a major earthquake.
The antidote? Embracing life. Earlier this week, I had a festive dinner with my dear friend, Veronica. We go waaaayyyy back. Not sure how that’s possible given our young ages, but our gnarled roots are intertwined as far back as Princeton, New Jersey in 1980. I met Veronica when she was working at the McCarter Theatre, in their communications office. I was an Art History/Theatre student at the University. When I was a junior, living in the Princeton Inn College as a somewhat sotty RA, our mutual friend Susan, Veronica and I ended up running a theatre together in the basement of PIC. The only show I remember we produced wasThe Cradle Will Rock, which Veronica directed. She always seemed far ahead of me in terms of political awareness and sophistication. She still is. And so is Susan, by the way. In the early 90s, pregnant with her third child, she and her husband moved to Los Angeles, where in the first three months, they experienced an earthquake, a major fire in Malibu and the birth of Maggie. Here are some photos of a visit we took while our friend Susan was in town.
In 1983, upon returning from a year abroad in Italy, I was hired by Susan, then the assistant production manager at the McCarter Theatre, to be a dresser on a play directed by the late great Harold Prince. Veronica was still working at McCarter. Our play, Play Memory, rehearsed in Princeton and performed there, then toured to Philadelphia. While there, as the newly promoted Wardrobe Supervisor, I started to fall for an actor in the cast. I remember talking on the pay phone in the basement of the Annenberg Theatre in a giddy whisper to Susan about him and how enamored I was before scurrying back to finish ironing the mens’ shirts in the show. When we both returned to the McCarter later that fall, me as running crew in props and Jimmie as Scrooge in Christmas Carol, both Susan and Veronica foster parented our budding romance. I owe my long and happy marriage to both of them. At dinner the other night only thirty-seven years later, Veronica and I picked up the conversation as friends do, bemoaning the state of politics on primary election night, at the Industriel Urban Farm in DTLA. We were sitting next to a bathtub over which were hung an array of honey bear bottles on strings.
I think all of us feel a little like honey bears on strings these days, as we contemplate a disaster of a different kind than anticipated; I peruse the LA County Department of Health’s website often and obsess about the inexorable slog of the COVID-19 to our front doors. There’s been a run on TP and hand sanitizer. I went on line to order some sanitizing wipes to stock our front of house operations and discovered some entrepreneurial patriots had hoarded them and were now selling them for $22 a canister.
So after a long week of The Academy, I’m happy to be home nestled in my apartment. I listen to the clackety clack of my fingers on my computer. Just yesterday, after discovering I’d lost the charger to my computer, I estimated that it was only about 14% away from turning into a sleek silver brickbat. Right on the eve of my needing it to teach virtually. I became so distracted that I awoke early, and stormed the campus bookstore Friday morning by 8:00AM to buy the cable, thus neatly resolving the problem. Planning ahead. That’s what these times require.
Upstairs I can hear what sounds like either a very large bull mastiff or a very small child gently padding across the living room. This is a fairly new phenomenon, hearing quiet sounds through the ceiling. I live in a solidly built 1983 downtown LA building. When we moved into the building in 2008, our deed came with CC&Rs, something foreign to us as single-dwelling owners; with a condo you also become co-owner of communal spaces, so God knows there are rules. One rule is the strict and limited use of hard flooring anywhere except the kitchen, front hallway, or bathrooms.
There used to be a voice teacher living above our condo. His name was Gary but he moved out a while ago. We would occasionally hear his piano faintly through the sliding doors onto the patio. It was pleasant because he was skilled and thoughtful about when he played; for some reason, I couldn’t actually hear the student singers, just the piano playing show tunes. I like show tunes. We frequently play them on Pandora at work as we craft theatre.
Then something changed, and when Gary was no longer the person above us there also changed their flooring. Occasionally I would hear the sound of a marble rolling slowly from one side of the room to the other. These new and diabolical marble-rolling-tenants had a dedicated housekeeping schedule involving vacuuming every Sunday morning. This didn’t bother me either, because if nothing else, it afforded me an auditory reminder that:
- Someone had regularity in their lives
- Our neighbor was tidy
- Oh yeah, I haven’t vacuumed since I moved in
Yesterday I snapped a picture of the building’s titular Skyline, as the fog proceeded to roll in.
I texted it to Chris, my son, who’s response was a quick: “That’s the coronavirus moving in.” Ba dum chhh.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that this is serious. Deadly serious. I worry about my friends and colleagues in Washington state. I worry about our apparently fearless and feckless leader in Washington, D.C. and the consequences of his inattention to the seriousness of this time. It is especially challenging for those of us who are so Type A that it informs everything we do and think about. I looked around at the faces of our stage management cohort yesterday (23 of them) and saw the worry and fear and in some of the older students the jaded acceptance that what we do in the theatre is ephemeral on a good day and greatly at risk in days like these. I think a lot and strategize about how we could press on with a show if we could no longer congregate. It’s the fixer in me. It’s a job requirement for stage managers and production managers. Being the fixer, the problem solver.
And yet, there may not be an easy solution. Not to be a harbinger of doom. But sometimes we’re just honey bears hovering over the tub. It’s out of our control. We can only move forward and do what we do with passion and integrity and be present together as long as we can be together.
The world sends signals all the time. A few days ago, I walked out of the Starbucks on campus and passed this lone, lonely banana abandoned on the bike rack. Instead of saying, “Oh, yum! A perfectly good banana!” I started to look around to see if it was some sort of social experiment. I imagined a camera trained on the bike rack and a scientist in a white coat tallying how many people stopped to look, to consider taking it, picked it up, put it back down, took a photo of it.
In the anthem that I insist on singing as I move into my sixties, I joined the gym at USC for the first time last week, and attended two spin classes which were sweatastic. At the second one, I spun behind a young man who looked sort of familiar but it was early in the day and I didn’t have my glasses on. At the end of the class, we realized who each other was. After I came out of the locker room, Morgan was still standing in the lobby, his attention busy on his phone.
Morgan, we need to take a photo for Uncle Bob!
Uncle Bob being my most inspiring theatrical influence to date – the one who lit the flame for me. So, the world is sending signs that we are connected, we are alive, we can sweat it out, wipe down those bikes and get back on. So here, Uncle Bob, is proof that life goes on. Honey bears and all.