Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part IV

Saturday morning, Chris’s friend and boss, Michael and his wife Stephanie asked us to breakfast with Chris at their house. We gratefully accepted, appreciating all that Michael has done to support Chris’ growth as a hockey coach. We were also grateful to have some alone time with Chris – the week had gotten increasingly busier, as more and more friends and family came into town, and our face time with Chris and Whitney was diminishing daily.

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After breakfast, Chris went and picked up Skylar and brought her to us to watch while they dressed and went to take some wedding photos.  We managed to amuse each other for a few hours when Nana got goofy with the dog guitar. Then Skylar napped for a few minutes. Those were my main instructions from Chris.

It was during this shared siesta that I slipped out from under S’s head, and into my dress and then woke Jimmie and told him he had to get dressed, too. Then we packed up the Ford Expedition AKA “The Tank”  for the wedding trip up the mountain.

  • Jimmie’s Scooter and Oxygen with its charger
  • Skylar’s bag
  • 12 Flower arrangements (in two very soggy cardboard boxes)
  • Skylar’s car seat

With Skylar on my hip, and Jimmie holding onto my arm, we made our way out of the condo and into the Tank. Air conditioning blasting, we climbed the hill to the tram. Once there, we found many helpful hands to carry the flowers to the tram. Up the mountain we went, full of anticipation and excitement. Chris’ hockey videographers and the two wedding photographers, Amy and Heidi,  rode up in the tram with us.

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Nana Els had dressed Skylar in a white shirt, red sneakers and pink socks. This was not her wedding outfit. Oops.

The ceremony was beautiful. Jimmie watched from the balcony above. We processed, Chris and I, dropping me off in the front row, as he continued to the front. Next came Justin and Sammy, taking their places to the right and left of the officiate, David Coburn. Next came the adorable flower girls. In an emotional coda, one of the flower girls was the daughter of Jimmie’s niece, Jen, who had at age ten, been the flower girl at our wedding. The two girls got to the end of the aisle and then remembered their task, flinging the petals with abandon. It was charming. Next came Kai, bearer of the two rings, which he gave to Sammy and Justin after a discreet cue from Sammy.

And finally, Whitney and her dad descended the stairs, both smiling and looking so relaxed and happy.

The ceremony was beautiful – very emotional. David guided Chris and Whitney through the vows and aside from a premature kiss (again, charming), all went perfectly. They were hitched! Then the party began. It was joyous and all the various branches of the family and friends intermingled and got to know each other better. The food was yummy and toasts were given by the parents of the bride and groom, and Justin and Sammy. They were all so different and so moving in their own ways. I couldn’t stop grinning all night. It was that kind of evening.

So that’s what we’ve been doing for the week.

Sunday we basked in the afterglow of the wedding with two breakfasts: the 8:00AM Collins family breakfast,

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The Mod Squad shot – you can almost hear my brother Larry’s disgust with another picture…

and then a second seating at 11:15 with Chris and Whitney and Skylar, and additional family and friends. That evening, after most people had left to go home, many of Jimmie’s relatives remained to bring us dinner at our condo, after which, we sat on the beach and watched the spectacular sunset. It was a lovely conclusion to the week’s events.

We’re back in LA now, after only an 8 1/2 hour drive on Monday. As we were cresting the hill into Santa Clarita via the 14 Freeway, Siri asked me if we wanted to save a few minutes, then took us twenty-five very twisty miles across the spine of the Angeles Crest Highway to Glendale before wending our way down to downtown. I think she thought we wouldn’t want to leave the wilderness yet. She was right. I’m sorry to leave the Wedding Trail.

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part III

I’ve lost my touch – I’m several days behind in my news from the Wedding Trail. Sometimes when you are on the trail, you can get distracted by the views, the moments. Recording them suddenly falls to the side.

We had been counseled by Jimmie’s cardiologist that the altitude at the wedding venue was not going to be possible for him. Jimmie and I were devastated. Until I got the simplest text from Whitney on the day of the rehearsal.

Hey I keep forgetting to tell you heavenly does have oxygen and two paramedics on call for events.

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Jimmie and I looked at each other and I ventured,

Why don’t we go to the rehearsal and then see how it goes. If you have trouble up there, we can turn right around and come back down. We’ll take the oxygen?

He gamely agreed. While Jimmie looked pretty terrified the whole time we were up there, we kept checking the gauge and he was fine at the top of the hill, which was beautiful. It was time to celebrate.

IMG_8221Friday night’s rehearsal dinner came off beautifully. Bill Belair, the chef at Sonney’s BBQ Shack & Grill in South Lake Tahoe prepared a sumptuous feast of BBQ chicken, pork ribs and sliced briscuit, collard greens, baked beans (the best I’ve ever had!), coleslaw and cornbread for 100. And this is what he looked like mid-way through our party. Not even breaking a sweat. His staff were amazing. Easiest party for 100 I’ve ever had to plan. Though there was one uninvited guest – more on that later.

I love throwing parties – always have. I think it’s because my mom did it with such flare. I enjoyed watching the preparation, the intensity of her practice – her sole goal to have people have a good time and to enjoy the food and company. Jimmie and I have had a lot of parties in our various homes. There was my fortieth birthday, which fell that year on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, and when I went to pick up the Honey-baked Ham I’d ordered for the forty guests, the franchise was closed. I went home and made three trays of lasagna to complement the ten cooked fresh dungeness crabs my brother Larry had sent down on ice to celebrate with. It turned out to be one of the better parties.  At any rate, successes and flops aside, this one will probably top them off – never had we had so many family members from so many different branches of our family come together to celebrate such a happy occasion.

Friends and family gathered to celebrate and unwind after a hard day of driving and recreating. The twelve round tables draped with white cloths and teepees of utensils wrapped in cloth napkins awaited our flower arrangements when we arrived.IMG_8230

A turbo heating unit sat surrounded by two foot tall stumps of trees that provided a perfect play area for the party’s children, who numbered about twelve, all under the age of five.These are Skylar’s peeps, and they came ready to party.  When I sat down to schmooze with the kids, Canyon stood next to me, wearing BBQ sauce like war paint, indolently rolling his half eaten rib along the top of the stump. The others watched him with reverence.

There was more than enough food – guests were invited to take home left overs. I know ours got eaten the next day at lunch and we were very happy to have them.

Oh! About that uninvited guest. Late in the party, after the shuttle had begun returning people to the hotel, I looked over just beyond the buffet table to see a large group of people gathered by the fence, Iphones hoisted high and low, intently capturing something there.

Oh, I thought, isn’t that lovely? There’s probably a fox in the grass.

I wandered over and through the slats of the now-very-flimsy-looking fence, there was a small black bear next to a bush, nose aloft, sucking in the intense barbecue flavored air. He or she didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the audience of paparazzi gathered there. Isn’t it nice to have a bear crash your party who doesn’t really crash your party!

The big day finally arrived. Saturday morning, we awoke to the same gorgeous blue watery view; the two people on the beach behind our condo sat drinking in the sunshine that had left me looking a tad lobsterish. In spite of having applied sunscreen fairly regularly, the morning of the wedding, I was quite red around the neck and shoulders. Nothing better than a well-BBQed MOG, I always say.

 

 

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part II

The families and friends are gathering by the lake for the upcoming nuptuals like a flock of intrepid Canadian geese, mimicking the flock of a dozen or so near our back steps. Only much less pesky. First to arrive after Jimmie and me on Monday were the bridal party, Justin and Sammy. Justin and Chris were best friends throughout their teen years; their adventures together over the years could fill another series of notes. Continue reading

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part I

We are in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, ensconced in a condo the back steps of which are lavishly licked by the cool clear lake’s waters. We arrived on Monday afternoon, after an intense two days of driving from Los Angeles through some of the most beautiful parts of California, the Eastern Sierras. I was reminded that we must live in the most beautiful state in the country.

The occasion is the wedding of our son Chris, to his beautiful fiancéé, Whitney. They met about three years ago in San Francisco; the star witness to the fact that they both knew it was right is their eighteen-month-old daughter, Skylar, whom they pass deftly between them according to their needs and her desires. Visiting with her over the past few days since our arrival has been thrilling. IMG_8127

Weddings are such joyous events. I remember ours, thirty-three years ago, a simple ceremony preceded by the heady confusion of all one’s relatives in the world converging on one place – in our case, New York City. Jimmie and I planned our own wedding. At the time, we lived on W. 70th Street on the Upper West Side. There were no websites to help you organize the tasks. I used my favorite organizational tool – lists – paper and pen and the generous contributions from so many friends and family.

Our wedding invitation was a clever confection, elegantly designed by our friend Barbara Grzeslo. Printed on clear vellum, it folded in a complex but fun way that when opened, revealed the details of our wedding day.

Our wedding plan was pretty simple: find the church, find the restaurant where we wanted to celebrate, order the cake. Send the invitations. Alter my grandmother’s wedding dress, order the tux. Done. No sweat. Or that’s the way I remember it now from the safe distance of over thirty years.

The night before our wedding, my maternal grandparents threw the rehearsal dinner at our mutually shared University Club in the city, suitable due to the fact that I had followed his lead there and many of my friends now at the wedding had, too. After a raucous rehearsal at the church, where Susan, who played the flute, played the song she would play the next day, standing on the steps in her bare feet. Jimmie, who looked like he was being led to slaughter, and continued to do so through the rehearsal and I practiced our vows, two poems by Yeats and the regular vows. The adage about a terrible final dress, fantastic opening prevailed.

The church, Grace & St. Paul’s Church,Grace & St. Paul's Church was a small Christian-friendly church exactly one block north of our apartment on 71st St. Even though it was only one block from our apartment, we rented a black stretch limo to ferry us all to the church and the reception. To save money, we said we’d get home from the reception ourselves, which resulted in the easiest hailing of a taxi ever – bridal gown train draped over my arm.

The first trip in the limo, my mother, myself, and our dear friend, Susan Smith, maid of honor, ended in confusion and consternation when we pulled up behind the construction dumpster parked directly in front of the church (in the photo above, imagine it directly to the right of that smaller red door). There being no other solution, we gamely hopped out of the limo and somewhat abashedly managed the last half block to the church doors.

The ceremony came off with a hitch.

Our dear NY friends had ideas about entertainment, no doubt spurred by the reception venue, the cabaret space above Pallson’s restaurant where Forbidden Broadway had been playing for years. Led by Marco Martinez-Gallarcé, our adhoc musical director, they compiled a short wedding show regaling our family and friends with songs about our love, our pets and a particularly silly riff on “Tonight” from “West Side Story”, where they replaced Maria with Elsbeth.  I’ll give you a second to think about how that played out… Sincerest apologies to Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.

It was silly, delightful, and entertaining. Jimmie and I had secretly been rehearsing a song from the musical “Baby,”  with Marco for several weeks. I think he told each of us that we would be surprising the other and we believed him. At the appropriate moment, we turned to each other and delivered the songs verses, singing the chorus together. I’m not sure how we kept it together.

Our venue’s small size prevented us from having dancing, so simplicity was pre-ordained. Marco planned and threw a post reception party at the nearby brownstone where he lived, and we were able to let our hair down and visit with our friends. It was perhaps the most exhausting day of our lives. I remember sitting on the curb of the brownstone, waiting for a cab, leaning my head on Jimmie’s shoulder, both of us holding Tiffany’s boxes on our laps at the end of that long and happy day. You’ll have to wait for those pictures because they are 4×6″ prints sitting in a box under my bureau at home…

My one regret was that we eschewed formal photos. Our dear friend Sylvan Epstein was our wedding photographer. He took some great candid photos and we have those to remember the day, but we had no place to hold our guests while we took the photos and didn’t want to wait to greet them so we just didn’t take them.

Now that I’ve blathered on about my wedding, in the next installment, I’ll share the excitement of Chris and Whitney’s pre-wedding events. IMG_8146

 

Gordon Did That

I’m sitting this morning watching the welcome mists of rain obscuring the reach of the downtown skyline and thinking about Monday night’s Celebration of Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Gordon’s tribute was staged on David Zinn’s set of Amelie, on the production’s dark night. Twinkle lights framed the proscenium, and the scenery upstage was lit with soft purples and blues, presumably repurposed from Jane Cox and Mark Barton’s lighting design by Tom Ontiveros. A ginormous projection screen hung over the stage. A 9′ grand piano, DSR,  pointed its formidable bow up left. A lecturn graced the DSL corner of the stage.

As the audience entered the theatre, Gordon’s beaming face, halo-framed by his white hair, arms akimbo over his head, fingers laced behind his neck, lay saucily on a bed of programs. His warm, intelligent eyes focus on the camera (and hence on all of us), his wry awareness of the photo set up as ego trip invited us to relax and celebrate his accomplishments with him. Splayed behind his head were programs for Angels in America, The Wedding at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, its opening production in 2004, just two of so many accomplishments. A photo posed like this of anyone other than Gordon might have seemed inflated. Throughout the evening, we were treated to a series of shots of Gordon looking directly out at us across the span of more than fifty years. We had time with each image to look deeply into Gordon’s eyes at every phase of his life. The sense of seeing Gordon and in a funny way being seen by Gordon for the last time was elegantly accomplished with the curation of these images from Gordon’s Los Angeles Theatre family album.

I hadn’t thought I’d be able to attend the event – in fact, I barely knew it was happening. Somehow, my connection has dimmed over the past decade. Had I not decided to take a hike on New Year’s Eve, I wouldn’t have known about it at all.  Besides, things are hopping at “the factory,” as I like to call my job; in the first week of the spring semester,  we’re casting eight shows- four more already in rehearsal. I didn’t think I’d be able to get there, and convinced myself that Gordon would understand given the nature of the conflict.

But then I had a dream on Saturday night that I was there when Gordon was felled, like the Sequoia tunnel tree last week by the monsoonal northern California rsequoiaains. In the dream, for some inexplicable reason, I was dangling by my finger tips from a ledge about 15 feet over the ground -in the Annex, (where we all know that the ceiling height doesn’t exceed 7′) when Gordon passed beneath me. I said something that caused him to fall to the ground, beseeching eyes looking up at me for assistance, and I, unable to release my fingers without plunging to death, failed him. It was a horrible dream, but enough to make me rearrange my schedule to be there on Monday. Gordon did that.

Gordon did that.

That was the powerful theme on Monday. Speakers, performers, singers, family members, both by blood and by practice, testified through song and poetry and performance about Gordon’s profound reach and impact on all of our lives. Playwright and performer Charlayne Woodard told about spotting Gordon’s white halo out amidst a student performance of  her first show, Pretty Fire, for a student matinee of 70 seven-year-olds and cringing that he was seeing the show in that context. Andrea Marcovicci sang a haunting song from Ghetto, with a projected image of herself thirty years prior on stage singing the same song. Echoes of our growing up with Gordon. Groener shared Gordon’s generosity in opening three rehearsal rooms in the Annex to the young Anteaus company, effectively underwriting the formation of a successful company of actors. Gordon did that.

Luis Alfaro performed a poem crafted for the CTG 35th anniversary. Luis Valdez, currently in rehearsals next door at the Annex for a revival of his 1978 hit, Zoot Suit,  recalled his early Teatro Campesino work and Gordon’s faith in its relevance to the Los Angeles audience, his invocation to write a play about the 1972 Zoot Suit riots.

When the character of El Pachuco, memorably played by Edward James Olmos, swaggered onto the Taper stage, Chicano theatre became American theatre,” explained writer/director Luis Valdez.

CTG website Article

Gordon did that.

Throughout the evening, the live testimonials were punctuated with video testimonials filmed at a New York theatre; Jack O’Brien, Robert Egan, Terrance McNally, Tony Kushner, Kathleen Chalfant and others sharing stories about collaborations with Gordon, failures and successes, but always funny, heartbreaking, quirky, goading, human, encouraging, powerful – reminding us what Gordon’s legacy to us was. Ringing through the evening was Gordon’s passion for the work, his belief in the capacity of each of us to bring our best and unique selves into the room, the artistic endeavor, the play, the theatre, the city – wherever he called upon us to go.

Several years ago, USC School of Dramatic Arts Dean Madeline Puzo brought Gordon to USC, or as we jokingly referred to ourselves, CTG South, as an uber-dramaturge to our second year MFA students in Dramatic Writing. These productions, some of my favorite in our season, are workshop productions of plays written by the students in their second of three years of the program. The production budgets are purposefully lean, to focus our attention on the development of the words rather than the technical framework for the plays. Gordon was sitting in the theatre during one of the dress rehearsals. I was there in my capacity as production manager, and felt self-conscious having Gordon in the room – found myself wanting to make sure no time was wasted. I had gotten up to intervene in a scene change to see if there might not be a more efficient way to do it, and when I came back to my seat, Gordon leaned over and said something to the effect of “It’s so great to watch you working with the students, Els.”

I don’t think any praise could have been more welcome than Gordon’s recognition of my new place of practice. That he was taking note of how I had grown up from the ASM who worked on Unfinished Stories back in 1993. Gordon did that. He had that galvanizing nurturing effect on all of us.

My favorite speaker Monday night was Mark Taper Forum Production Manager, Jonathan Lee, who spoke as a representative of the CTG Staff. Jonathan brought a prop – a thirty-year-old T-shirt from back in the day, under TD Bobby Routolo, the back of which was emblazoned with “Where the Hell is Gus!” in huge letters. Gus, as Jonathan explained, was the driver who they would commonly be waiting for during load in days. On the front breast of the T-shirt were letters so tiny that the audience had to trust Jonathan when he told us they were a quote from Gordon.

How could this have happened?

Jonathan’s reading of this quote elicited a loud laugh of recognition from many in the audience. He described how Gordon looked at you intently when he said that, and we all knew it was code for “You fucked up.” But more importantly, it was Gordon really wanting to know how it had happened, and even more crucially, wanting you to really want to know how it had happened. I remembered it keenly and personally from the reopening of the Kirk Douglas Theatre when Jonathan and I were on the roof of the theatre trying to figure out how to time the Culver City sign’s most beautiful and complete cycle exactly with the reveal of the marquee.

Gordon did that. He made us all hungry to know the better way to have done things, the better way to do things in the future. Jonathan’s speech moved me to tears – probably because he spoke of the behind-the-scenes collaborations, but also about the compassionate rigor that Gordon taught us all to bring to our practice.

The evening was capped with moving speeches from Gordon’s blood family members, his daughter Rachel speaking about how she shared her father with us, and how her father shared artistic opportunities with her as she grew up. Finally, Gordon’s widow, Judy thanked us all for coming and shared that though Gordon felt forgotten at the end, this evening had proven that he had not been forgotten.

Far from it, Judy. Gordon and his legacy live on in all of us who were in that theatre, as well as thousands who were not. When we were leaving the Ahmanson on Monday, I ran into Jim Freydberg, the producer of The Vagina Monologues, someone whom I had been thinking of earlier in the week in spite of not having seen him regularly since the show closed in late fall of 2001. I’d been thinking about Jim’s practice of having the stage manager phone him after each performance to report how the show had gone. I appreciated the intimacy of that trust bestowed on me to critically watch each show, taking note of how each moment was executed, how the audience had responded, and spend the time to recount it to him. When Jim walked up as we were about to leave the building, I told him I’d been thinking of him. Dramatically, he recoiled, saying “That can’t be good!” I laughed, then thanked him for that relationship that he’d formed with me during the show via that practice of nightly phone calls, and for his trust. Jim, in his typically modest way, eyes twinkling, said,

You know, Gordon did that.

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Hiking into the New Year

This morning at the crack of dawn, I woke and pulled on my pants and boots, grabbed some breakfast setting off to meet two old stage manager friends (okay, old as in I’ve known you a long time, not actually old. Geez, people are so sensitive) to go on a hike.

I love hiking, though you’d never know it from practice – I think today’s hike is the first one I’ve taken since the summer when we stayed up in Tahoe, and hiked from the parking lot to the beach one day. Living in California and in Los Angeles where there are an abundance of hiking trails doesn’t seem to have been sufficient to get me outside, but a simple question posed by a fellow stage manager on facebook actually got me out the door.

Anyone wanna go on a hike?

You’d think three stage managers could organize a hike through deft email execution-an email or two, right? Our arrangements were hilarious, taking about a week and 16 emails, and an actual live phone call to realize. As I pulled up outside Susie’s house at 7:40AM, I replayed the email exchanges in my head, laughing that the three choices of hikes did not include the very real possibility of rain, and as I stepped out of the car, greeted by Susie on the stone steps to her house, I proposed hike #4 to IHOP. Fortunately, she didn’t go for it.

We swung by to pick up Michele and off we went to our hiking destination, which I think was Eaton Canyon, though I can’t swear to it because I’m not apparently from this region, having lived in LA only thirty-three years. There was a heavy mist on the windshield, but I didn’t pay much attention because it was great to see good friends and colleagues from so many years and there was a lot to catch up on.

Professionally, we’ve all worked together on so many shows that I can’t really remember which ones they were, but I always credit Michele with training me to be a truly autonomous ASM. She was the PSM on one of the CTG Celebratory shows – perhaps the 20th Anniversary, when as ASM, one of my jobs was to cue Gordon Davidson onstage riding an elephant. It was early in my career, one of my first ASM assignments at the Taper, pre-renovation, where the elephant (and all scenery for that matter) had to come in through bedroom-sized doors SL. I was intimidated and also admired Michele for her years of experience as one of the top SMs at the Taper. Deferring to her, I asked her what she wanted me to do next.

Run the deck!

And so I did, learning that I was there because she trusted me to know what to do next, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there.

I’ve been admiring Susie’s penchant for strenuous hiking for several years now. I’ve wondered how she’s able to put in the miles she does with her work schedule. Kind of amazing. I was glad to be there this morning. We started down the fire road into beautiful Eaton Canyon. At least I assume it is beautiful, because the conditions were quite misty and we couldn’t see too far down the road, kind of the perfect metaphor on this eve of a New Year fraught with political uncertainty.

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Stage Manager Selfie: L. to R. Susie, Els, Michele

This was the selfie I took of the three of us, looking fresh as we started off, me sporting my GumCha, a Christmas present from my Dad and his wife; this scarf is typical of those woven by rural farming families in West Bengal, India for more than 2,000 years. The 4o year old GumCha4Health project was started by local health and development professionals to

…create a self-sufficient, self-sustaining, community-based financial model for providing long-term support for healthcare and health education programs (including contraception and HIV prevention) for poor rural farm laborers, subsistence farmers, their families and their communities.

It’s pretty and bright, and apparently gets softer every time you wash it. I’ve worn mine almost every day since Christmas and it’s in the wash for the first time as I write this.

So, what do veteran stage managers talk about on the trail for 2 hours? Taping out floors and how sore it makes us when we’re done? Yes, a little of that, but much more about our lives outside the rehearsal room. The three of us share life synchronicity which they might not appreciate my sharing with you, but which gave us plenty of good conversation over the next 5.6 miles. The first 2.8 were mostly up the hill, where we were passed by bicyclists, runners, dog walkers, and other folks out and about to ring in the New Year with a good cardio workout.

We stopped periodically to huff and puff, and per Susie’s usual routine, we greeted every single person at least once, and some of them twice, the cyclists, as they lapped us up the hill and back down. This paid off at the top, when we were able to ask someone to shoot the picture of the three of us by the Henninger Flats sign.The second 2.8 miles were down hill, in the pouring rain. I was grateful to have my GumCha with me to wipe off my glasses. The lovely tree portraits below were taken by Susie.

By the time we got back to the car, we were able to wring water out of our clothes. We raced home to take showers or hot baths, and for a good nap before tonight’s festivities.

What will the New Year and the road ahead bring? Hard to say, hard to see even, but in spite of the rain and mist, we will still get there with persistence, civility, and good hiking shoes.

Happy New Year!

Animal Migration

We have a large collection of wooden animals in our apartment, each of them about the size of a four-year-old’s clenched fist. They are arrayed all about, three on top of the piano, one in the bathroom next to the sink, two more on the dining room table. There they sit, patiently, watching as we rush around with our days. They get dusted about every two weeks, and returned not exactly to their original spots because that is a feature of having a person who cleans. She keeps us on our toes.

I have a small fascination with…er…water buffalos which manifested in 1993 during a fact-finding trip to Vietnam with my father. I think I returned with two small soapstone water buffalos, and a larimg_7218ger papier mâché one; then my dad and his wife gave me with about three more. Never express fondness for things to your loved ones. Before long, you will have received a herd of water buffalos, or an endless array of hummingbird videos, for example, and when you look in the bathroom mirror one morning, you’ve got a hummingbird tattooed on your shoulder. Be careful what you wish for, friends.

No, don’t worry, I won’t be adorning the other shoulder with a water buffalo…

Other members of the wooden animal menagerie came from the shelf in my grandfather’s study, where they sat and gazed out at the Pennsylvania countryside. They consisted of a small elephant, a seal, a small stone Buddha, a giraffe, and a boar. img_7217In addition to my grandfather’s collection of animals, there were some human figures, too, a teak carved eskimo, and several flute-playing boys on the backs of the water buffalos. In addition, there was a small beanbag lizard which was Chris’ favorite talisman when he was about 7. I think we got it at SeaWorld or the Los Angeles Zoo. After that, he carried it everywhere.

This weekend, our great niece Jen, and her daughter S visited us. They came to help us keep our heads above water against the tide of maladies Jimmie has faced recently. They arrived on Wednesday, and as soon as they walked in the door, S began talking to Jimmie about her friends. She is such a sweet girl, and several years ago when we were at a family member’s memorial, she took a fancy to Jimmie. When she walked in, it was as though they picked up right where they had left off. Shortly after they arrived, I showed S where there was a small wooden truck to play with and she immediately started scavenging for toys to put in the truck.

Uh oh, I thought. We don’t really have any toys here. But never underestimate the creative genius of a four year old like S. That’s when she discovered the animals. After the three of us walked to Whole Foods to do some shopping, S and Jimmie sat in the living room and chatted while Jen made dinner, and I went and collapsed into a deep power nap in the bedroom.

When I emerged, at about 6:00, (so much for the fifteen-minute power nap),  Jimmie was sitting in his usual spot on the couch, and three of the wooden animals were lying on the left arm of the sofa, all on their sides. On S’s right chair arm another three animals rested on their sides. As I came over to talk to them, both Jimmie and S looked up at me with great seriousness, raising their index fingers to their lips and shushed me. I sat down and watched the most charming interchange between them, while they patted the wooden carved animals ceremoniously, whispering softly in trancelike tandem tones,

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

I instantly recognized the parental re-emergence of the who-can-keep-quietest-game. I sat down to watch the two of them play. Any talking that “slipped out by accident” caused a cascade of giggles from S, and broad smiles from Jimmie and me. My loud snuffling snoring made her fall out, which in turn set us all laughing. Jen, peeling asparagus in the kitchen, looked curiously out into the living room. It was such a joyful moment. I felt my tensions melting away.

Over the weekend, the animals migrated through the apartment, piling up on the floor in the guest bedroom, taking turns riding in the colorful Guatemalan toy truck. Finally, at the end of their visit, they all assembled on the coffee table for a family photo. img_7225

 

Writing with my best Friend-Foreword and Indexing

When we embarked on the publication of Jimmie’s book, we began by sending the manuscript out to several publishers, and at the same time, we thought about who might be able to write the foreword to the book, as well as some blurbs for the back of the book.

I’m not ashamed to admit that we aimed high.

Hal HolbrookI wrote a brief note to actor Hal Holbrook, asking permission to mail him a copy of the manuscript, with the express hope that he would consider writing the foreword to the book. After all, Hal was a member of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company with Jimmie at the same time, for about two years, back in the 60s. We had had a beautiful dinner and trip down memory lane with Hal about a year ago, which I had posted about before. We are huge fans of Hal’s. In fact, a few nights ago, when we turned on the TV, All the President’s Men was playing, and being in the hellish election cycle that we’re in, we watched it. I’m so glad we did, because Hal’s shadowy, performance as Deep Throat in the parking garage was well worth the time spent. In addition, Jason Robards gives a killer performance as Ben Bradlee, the reluctant Washington Post editor. Anyway, with my heart in my mouth, I packed the manuscript and the return SASE into its envelope, printed out Hal’s address, drove to the post office and sent it off.

Life continued and I was subsumed by the work of producing the fall plays at USC. We didn’t hear for a while, but then I received a call from Hal’s assistant, Joyce. She apologized for the time that had elapsed since they received the manuscript, but of course, Hal had been touring his Mark Twain one-man show. He is amazing, at 90, to still be touring and performing all over the country. In addition to Jimmie’s relationship with Hal, I had had the privilege of touring for six weeks back in 1995 with Hal on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Joyce’s call was an apologetic refusal for Hal to write the foreword, but she reported that he’d offered to write a blurb for the back cover of the book. While this was disappointing, we certainly understood, and were delighted to have him participate in any way. After we received the news, Jimmie and I discussed a few other possibilities for foreword writers, but decided to press on without one.

Life scurried forward, three productions unfurling like the battered American flag described in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind,  and as we were teching George F. Walker’s Escape from Happiness ,  my phone again lit up with a text message from Joyce.

Can you please call me when you get a chance?

I stepped outside the Scene Dock theatre into the gloam to give Joyce a call. She was calling from Michigan, where Hal was performing Mark Twain, Tonight. Her voice was sheepish and again she apologized for the delay in communication. She explained that they’d left town without the manuscript but had had it sent overnight and that Hal had begun to read it and was really enjoying it. This made me so happy, and I knew it would please Jimmie, too.

Then she dropped the bombshell.

Hal thinks he would like to write the foreword after all.

Her words hung in the limnal space between the iphone and my ear as I processed what she was saying. My heart started pounding in my chest.

Really? That would be amazing!

What followed was a brief discussion about how much time he would need (two weeks) and whether we could delay the finalization of the manuscript to accommodate the inclusion of the foreword. (Duh!)  I promised to check with the CreateSpace folks to see what the timeline would do if we waited until Nov. 3 to send in the final copy, and said I’d call her in the morning.

The next morning, from the doctor’s office waiting room (we spend a lot of time in doctors’ office waiting rooms these days), I discovered that I could set up an almost instantaneous chat with a representative from CreateSpace and I stepped outside to take the call from the unfamiliar phone number. After providing the project’s ID number and title, the rep was able to look at the folder and counseled me on how to approach the successful inclusion of the foreword on November 3 and still meet our December 1 deadline. When I told her who was going to write the foreword, she said,

You mean the actor Hal Holbrook? Oh yes, you should definitely wait to include that!

Overjoyed, I dialed Joyce to give her the good news and she promised she would send me the foreword as soon as Hal had finished it.

Imagine my surprise and delight on October 25 to open my email and find an email from Joyce with the subject line: Foreword. It went on to say that Hal had finished the book and stayed up half the night writing the foreword. More than a week early! I was so excited to read it, and printed out a copy to take home for Jimmie to read as soon as I walked through the apartment door that night.

Suffice it to say that Hal’s foreword is a loving, enthusiastic endorsement not only of the book, but of Jimmie’s longevity in the business. A subject close to Hal’s heart because it is his story as well, albeit with a much greater degree of celebrity attached. When I showed it to Jimmie that night, after reading the first paragraph, Jimmie took a sharp intake of breath and burst into tears, turning to look at me with the most gratitude I think I’ve ever seen. It was worth waiting for. Of course when I opened the email I had been at work, and had to quell the desire to call home and read it to Jimmie immediately. I knew I wanted to see him experience the foreword first hand. Also, Jimmie’s hearing aids had crapped out that morning, and I’d had to take them to the audiologist’s office, so knew a call home would not be satisfying for either of us.

So that was this week’s high point. The more difficult job was the checking of the index, and retyping it as a word document, another item that the CreateSpace rep had told me would be needed. In a book such as Jimmie’s with over three pages of names in his index, this was no small task.

Then a sort of funny thing happened. As I checked the index, I realized I hadn’t indexed myself in the book, and when Jimmie’s ex-wives both had page numbers next to their names, I started to get jealous. Really, Els? So just for the fun of it, and really, for my Dad, who I figured would turn to the index to see if I’d been mentioned, I indexed myself. One reference with my full name, and about 30 as Els. Seeing them all written out in the index I felt like a queen, but not really in a good sense, more like an ego-maniacal idiot, as I went through and edited them all out, a bruising lesson in checking your ego before you make the stupid decision to index yourself in your husband’s book.

Last night we received the digital proof of the book and I slapped the cushion of the couch next to me inviting Jimmie to come see his book! We scrolled through and discovered a rather major error in a title chapter, which we will be able to correct, in addition to adding the heartfelt foreword of our dear friend Hal.

 

 

 

Monogrammed Pillowcases for a sleepover

Recently one of my close childhood friends contacted me to let me know that she and her husband were coming to LA with their son on a weekend college tour. They were stopping for just a day and night in town, before flying to Palo Alto, where their daughter attends Stanford. We arranged to have breakfast this morning, a rare Saturday morning without a 10 out of 12 for me, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills where they were staying.

My usual circuit does not include passing through or anywhere near the Peninsula Hotel, though I had stayed at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong in 1993, courtesy of my father, on my way home from a two week fact-finding trip to Vietnam with a group of his family planning colleagues. It was an amazing trip, and the luxury of the Peninsula Hotel stay after two weeks traveling around Vietnam was incredibly welcome.

Pixley and I had selected 10:30AM for our rendez-vous, which allowed me to sleep in and go to the gym before we met. She and her family had to leave the hotel by 12 to get to the airport in time for their flight. As I sloughed off my wet gym clothes, showered, and redressed, dashing out the door with a quickly blown kiss in my husband’s direction,  I hadn’t reviewed the directions on my phone; so, as I approached the hotel, the Maps app stubbornly guided me once, then twice, then three times not to the Peninsula, but to the Chase Bank building on the southeast corner of Wilshire and S. Santa Monica Blvd.

When I eventually pulled into the driveway of the hotel, there was a large ladder in the driveway, topped with a nervous looking gardener holding a 10″ crystal globe tree ornament in his hand, and an apologetic event planner on the driveway below, who hurriedly moved the orange cones out of the way of my  dusty Honda Civic Hybrid.

Pixley greeted me at the foyer, and we moved through the front lobby, where tables were set with service for tea, and sunshine streamed through the large wall of windows.peninsula-2

I’ll show you our room before we go to breakfast.

We swept out a side door onto a gracefully curving path. The door was just to the left, and soon we were in a very modern room,clean brown striated walls, the crisp white rumpled bed visible to the left. Pixley pointed down at some pillows on the chair.

Can you believe this?

I looked down and saw that one pillow each was monogrammed with hers and her husband’s initials on an angle in one corner – ES, KS, and in the adjoining office space, where there was a twin bed set up, NS, on her son’s pillow. When I see this kind of opulence, it impresses me, but also makes my stomach churn. We giggled nervously about the ridiculousness of this excess, and turned to leave, just as her husband and son returned from a morning trip to the USC campus.

We are a long long way from Greensburg, PA, where, as girls, Pixley and I belonged to a girl scout troop, rode a yellow school bus daily from the dingy downtown YMCA a half hour out to the Valley School, in Ligonier, PA. There, we played field hockey, and acted in plays together, watched Marx Brothers movies on the day before Thanksgiving holiday recess, and presumably studied hard enough to be accepted at boarding schools.  We attended dancing school, though Pixley was an accomplished ballerina, and I just a clumsy pre-teen learning how to foxtrot. On frequent weekends, we shared sleepovers at my house or hers, where her brother’s Elvis obsession revealed itself in his bedroom, plastered with posters. I remember the welcome embrace of Pixley and the other girls in my sixth grade class when my parents announced they were getting a divorce and I ran into the bathroom at recess in tears.

In between our childhoods since 8th grade graduation, Pixley had attended a different prep school, then off to college, and then on to New York, where she performed in several shows on Broadway. She now teaches on the faculty of the Boston Ballet School.We had been out of touch for probably 15 years before we recently reconnected. peninsulabarAnd now we were sitting on the rooftop of the Peninsula hotel, ordering cholesterol-free frittatas, and trying to reassemble the missing chapters. At 56, the beginning of the book is a bit blurred for me. Like my experience when I put down a book for a long time, I sat reaching into the dark recesses of my memory as she updated me on some elementary school friends, telling me a little about their lives now – does commercial real-estate in Manhattan, keeps fit, etc, younger wife. We had both lost our moms, mine 19 years ago to lung cancer, hers 5 years ago. I can see Pixley’s mom so much in her face. A single mom when I knew Pixley as a child,  raising two kids and doing so well at it.  I’m sure that she, looking across the sun dappled patio, saw much of Shirley in my face as well. We talked about our eventual retirements, she longing for more travel and recreation time, more sun, and I asked her where she would like to travel. The far east – Bali, Thailand, Japan. She asked me where I would want to travel to, and all I could come up with was Tahoe, where my son and his fiancee and our granddaughter live.

If you could take them and Jimmie and go, where would you like to go?

This one stumped me; circumstances being as they are, with the need and desire to work, along with the current health concerns, I was seemingly unable to reply, but I said I’d like to return to Italy one day, and I’ve always been sorry Jimmie and I didn’t get to Ireland.

Her son soon joined us, and they discussed whether to eat now, or later. Deciding to eat then, we ordered our food, chatting a little about Nick’s morning visit to USC and the other schools he was looking at. Ken arrived soon after, and I could see he was distracted by the travel schedule; my insertion into their time at the Peninsula was, while not unwelcome, an inconvenience. His questions seemed almost like the continuation of a conversation with Pixley about what she liked about California. I told him we had lived in Los Angeles for thirty years.

What are your favorite parts of the city?

My brain froze, as I scanned my city’s highlights, and I found myself more critically examining my fervent embrace of Los Angeles since our arrival in 1986. During all that time, I’ve engaged in a full and rich working life in the theatre; through it all, I’ve loved the dynamism of the town’s working theatre professionals and the fruits of our many collaborations. I love the restaurants. I don’t really have time to get to see the museums, but know that there are world class museums here that one day, given the time, I will wander in and explore. But sitting there 20 feet from the cerulean blue of the Pensinsula pool,peninsulapool.jpeg I was being asked what specifically held me in Los Angeles. The implication in both his and Pixley’s questions:

If money were no object, where would you live? What do you look for in a full life?

Of course he hadn’t asked me that, just what were my favorite parts of the city.  But the question slammed me with a force I was completely unprepared for.

I mumbled something about the beautiful gardens at the Huntington in Pasadena, and saw the skepticism in Ken’s eyes.

How about Malibu or Santa Barbara? Do you ever get there?

I realized I was not going to be the best person to give them the answers about a quite different Los Angeles they might be searching for, and lamely, I said

I don’t get out to those places very often with my work…. I like downtown?

Shortly after, he rose from table with apologies that he needed to pack, and Pixley and Nick and I finished up our breakfast, saving the last five minutes to talk about how wonderful it was to get together. And it truly was. I hope that we have more time to see each other in the future, to write the new chapters of our lives as friends. Hopefully she’ll come back because we both know that the Peninsula has her pillowcase ready for her. Or she can always plan a sleepover at my house.

 

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.