Park Pals

Jimmie has spent his fair share of time in parks. Years ago, when our son was between the ages of about two to ten, Jimmie took him to various parks around the San Fernando Valley. When we lived in North Hollywood, they headed east to parks in Burbank, and occasionally to the North Hollywood Park. When he was seven, our move to Van Nuys moved us closer to a park in Studio City, where parents who didn’t work 9 to 5 gathered with their kids. They were friendly adults with diverse interests with whom we wiled away the hours on the bench: musicians, stay-at-home Moms and Dads, unemployed actors and stage managers with call times after dinner. Okay, so I was the only stage manager.  Our camaraderie was mandated by our kids’ fickle friendships. The summer days drifted by, punctuated by frequent trips to the ice cream truck and the parks’ recreation office.  We came and went according to the napping or eating needs of our children.

I remember more than once miss-timing those needs and carrying our squirming squalling four-year-old son under my arm back to the car, while waving jovially over my shoulder to the other parents. The benches were hard concrete, but it didn’t deter us; Jimmie took two daily two-hour sessions at the park. Sometimes when Chris was older, they’d ride to the park on their bicycles – Jimmie, seventy, Chris, seven.

Jimmie used his time in the park productively, working on writing his memoir, or tossing around a baseball with Chris, sometimes visiting with our friend Jason, who’d walk over from his house on nearby Teesdale Avenue. Park denizens in the 1990s had few distractions. No one took endless Instagram pictures of their children, or checked email, texted, or tweeted. Cell phones weren’t really a thing yet. We spent a lot of time reading books and magazines on the bench, doing the crossword puzzle while glancing up periodically to make sure no one had died.

And then, almost as abruptly as our park adventures had begun, Chris outgrew the park, and we no longer went.

Fast forward twenty-four years. Chris now goes on outdoor adventures with his wife and baby, camping and hiking in Northern California. And we are city dwellers, amidst an ever-increasing forest of high rises in downtown Los Angeles.

But there’s still a park next door, with a playground lousy with climbing apparatuses and slides, nestled on a cushiony surface that allows young children to fall and jump without damaging their ankles, or skinning their knees.

More relevant to us now, though, are the many benches scattered around the park. Jimmie has his favorite he likes to head to when he goes to the park. His visits are, as in the old days, daily, but only once a day, in the afternoon. He rides his scooter over to his bench, near the south end of the park, positioned at a busy corner good for both people-watching and viewing the changing northern facing skyline. On the rare and very happy occasion where I can join him for a park visit, he narrates about the regulars habitués of the park. To our left, the seventy-year-old Korean couple who come to the park every afternoon; he precedes her, always carrying his newspaper. They enter the park from the south west. He’s better dressed than she, who wears the same park outfit most days. For the longest time she wore black slacks and an oversized orange checked flannel top. Recently she has changed into a beige top. He sports a natty powder-blue track suit, the jacket zipped up. He likes the shade and she prefers the sun, so they sit on separate benches. They don’t talk to each other much while they’re in the park. He’s a voracious reader; when finished with the paper, he frequently pulls out a Kindle and reads that. She goes through a series of exercises, meanwhile adjusting her slacks at the waist, rolling her shoulders forward and back. Usually after about a half hour, she’ll stand up and leave the park, leaving her husband on his bench without a backward glance.  Jimmie and the man have never spoken to each other beyond the one time when Jimmie said “hello” on his way to his bench. Their benches sit opposite faces of a small lawn measuring about 20′ square, Jimmie’s on the south side, and his on the west.

I always marvel when I visit Jimmie there at how sacred the regulars’ spots are. No one ever sits on Jimmie’s bench, and rarely have I seen anyone other than the Korean couple on theirs.

When I got home for dinner today, Jimmie said eagerly,

Something interesting happened at the park today.

He’d entered the park as usual, from the north west, gliding on his scooter under the mosaic clock tower and scooting south parallel to FIDM. Halfway to his bench, he stopped short, chagrined to see a stranger had commandeered his bench. Quickly, he reconnoitered, pointing his scooter due east toward one of the benches under the shade of a bougainvillea-cloaked pergola. He parked, got off the scooter, and sat on the bench looking back across at his own regular bench, keeping his eyes on the man on his bench and willing him to get tired and leave. But the man, in his forties, casually dressed, looked settled in and content there, sitting and taking in the park. Across the grass, sat the Korean man; his wife had apparently already left.

Suddenly, Jimmie noticed the Korean gentleman purposefully walking over toward Jimmie’s usual bench. He began to talk animatedly to the man sitting there, occasionally looking over his left shoulder at Jimmie indicating to the man that he was talking about Jimmie.

Jimmie could tell from the distance that he was asking the man to move to the adjacent bench. The man didn’t argue at all, but looked a little surprised to have been asked. The Korean man then turned to Jimmie and raising his arm triumphantly, he vigorously beckoned Jimmie back over to his bench. Jimmie stood, getting on his scooter again. Seeing that Jimmie was coming, the Korean man turned and walked back to his own bench. Jimmie smiled as he drove to his bench,

Thanks! You got my bench back!

As Jimmie told me the story at dinner tonight, he giggled, delighted by the unexpected kindness of the man. We laughed about the narration that he and his wife must have about us, and what he must have said to make the man change places to the other bench. And what might have happened had the interloper not been as charitable himself. I was happy that Jimmie’s made a new friend at the park. I told him he needs to take the man a present tomorrow. Perhaps he could share his New York Times with him.

Last week, we took our granddaughter to the park when they were visiting, and while there, observed the comings and goings of other young children and their parents.

But some my favorite interactions are happening in the sixty-and-over-set on the south side of South Park.

 

 

Hot Days and Cool Comforts

For those of you who live in Southern California, or anywhere on the west coast, actually, these past few days have been stultifyingly hot and uncomfortably reminiscent of my youth in Pennsylvania- so humid that when you walk outside you feel like someone just wrapped a hot towel over your entire body. I stepped outside of one of the SDA buildings the other day to go explore the new University Village campus at USC, and felt instantly beleaguered.

So, here’s my recipe for relief. I think it may be from my stepmother Joan’s kitchen, but honestly I don’t remember; I just know it’s delicious and very satisfying in these August
“Trump’s-on-holiday-and-we-hope-the-White-House-AC-techs-aren’t-Russian-agents” days. So here’s the recipe I promised my friend Allyzon from YAS DTLA.

GAZPACHO

1 peeled European cucumber

1/2 yellow bell pepper (peeled)

1/2 red bell pepper (peeled)

1/2 bunch of radishes (tops off)

3 large tomatoes (peeled and squeezed)

8 oz. can of tomato juice (V-8 preferred)

1 to 2 cloves garlic (I used 3)

Coarsley chop all ingredients, then puree in blender. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, tabasco sauce and cilantro chopped coarsely.

Add lemon juice of necessary (it’s always necessary)

Chill and serve in chilled bowls.

I’d been fantasizing about the gazpacho for about two weeks, not pulling down the wooden recipe box from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet until yesterday when my darling husband had a tooth extracted. This is a horrible episode for anyone, but a trigger event for an actor. We are now on a self-imposed social exile for the next however-many-weeks until cosmetic dentistry is possible. And I completely get it. I thanked him last night as we sat down to sip our soup, for sacrificing a tooth so that I could have my gazpacho. That’s the kind of guy he is – completely selfless and eternally dedicated to pleasing me. You should all be so lucky to be married to such a person. 
IMG_8486

The other major event yesterday was the opening of the Trader Joe’s in the University Village at USC. The Trader Joe’s opened at 8AM, and I was there by 10:05AM, Jimmie still chomping on the gauze post-extraction in the parking structure below the store. Judging from the enthusiastic responses to our new acquisition at USC, Trader Joe’s will be the next best thing to… well…Trader Joe’s. I am overly zealous in my embrace of the company. I’ve been talking about it for weeks – heck, for years, since we learned of its promise in the planning of the University Village project.  I’d received a postcard earlier in the week announcing the opening and promising me a free shopping bag and entry in a sweepstakes for $50. worth of groceries. I thrust it into the hand of the cashier as I checked out my basket yesterday.

Do you want a free shopping bag?

Do I?!!!! Yes, please!

Two days earlier, I’d visited the Mini-Target next door, first peering into the TJ’s window like a divorcée at Henri Bendel’s. The shelves were fully stocked, and the staff was moving through putting the finishing touches on the displays, their Hawaiian shirts crisp, Trojan-themed colors bright. On Monday morning, when I got there, there were surprisingly few patrons in the store, and the shelves were amply stocked. I know that this condition is unlikely last.

Jimmie has a good sense of humor about his episode this week. He reminded me about the early 1970s when he had auditioned for John Boorman’s film, Deliverance and was asked if any of his teeth were removable. Wistfully, he said

I might’ve gotten that part now….

 

 

 

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.

IMG_8237

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.

IMG_8239

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,

IMG_8273

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.

IMG_8189

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.

img_7529

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.

img_7499

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.