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. 
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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….

 

 

 

The Dangers of Living with an Actor

I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m married to an actor. What I may have not mentioned is I’m married to a really good actor. This is an actor who’s plied his trade for the past sixty-five years, accumulating over twenty Broadway credits and twenty-nine off-Broadway,  has worked all over the country in regional theaters from The Mark Taper Forum in our home town, to the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, the Globe Theatre in San Diego, to Yale Rep. IMG_6046He’s gotten around, most recently, performing as Nagg in Center Theatre Group’s production of Endgame at the Kirk Douglas, in May 2016. He was one of three performers who were ninety years old when the play opened.

 

 

 

 

But perhaps his most convincing performance has been in the role of aging actor. Years ago, he played the 100-year-old man on the final “Centennial” episode of Las Vegas. The episode aired in 2005, so Jimmie was a spritely seventy-eight. He came home from his day on the set and told me that the mayor of Las Vegas had remarked to him after they shot their scene:

Hey, this acting business is tiring.

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What Jimmie looked like in 2005

For the episode of Las Vegas, they applied extensive prosthetics to achieve the 100-year-old character. I remember looking at him in his makeup and thinking

I’m going to stick around – you look damn good for 100!

But in fact, at the age of ninety, Jimmie looks decades better than he might (if the makeup artist was accurate) at 100. Now that’s talent.

I’d bet that you can’t tell which of the photos below is from 2015 and which is from 2016?

So this is how I know he’s a really good actor. Forget the convincing performances on stage and screen. He does an incredible stand-to-stasis moment when he gets up from the couch. He pulls himself up, then stands still for a moment, teeters precariously just long enough to engender a skosh of empathy from the audience (me) before he moves toward his walker. Once there, he trots away toward the bathroom. I’m pretty convinced that he doesn’t do it that way when I’m not there to witness it. But he eschewed the Nest Cam, so I won’t know for sure.

Other incredibly convincing acting techniques include the amount of time he takes to get into bed. The way he pulls his legs up and really slowly eases his toes under the sheets as though they might damage his legs – wow – it’s breath-taking.

I laugh sometimes when I see student actors struggling to convey age. They bend at the waist, use a cane; makes me want to cry out –

It’s all about the knees!

Jimmie’s use of hero props like his walker, hearing aids, and his enthusiastic insistence on the daily bottle of Ensure are foils against my incredulity about his aging.

He’s mastered his scooter for whizzing around the neighborhood, so you might lose sight of the fact that the same journey six months ago without the scooter would have taken five to six times the amount of time it takes now.

What gives him away as an actor, though, is when he lets his performance slip – shows his sharp recall of facts from the past, or launches into a brief but youthful invective against the current political situation in Washington. Or when we play Scrabble and he takes me with words like sycophant or xylophone.

The other night we had dinner with Hal Holbrook and the two of them were gossiping like teens. Talk about recall of events! Hal remembered a specific moment in a rehearsal at Lincoln Center during his put in for After the Fall. And Jimmie similarly about rehearsing a scene during The Changeling with Lanna Saunders where Elia Kazan struck him across the face to demonstrate to her how she should slap him. Twice. You can’t make this stuff up. Come on guys! You’ve gotta do better than that to convince us you’re getting older!

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L to R. James Greene, Els Collins, Rich Costabile, Randy Wilcox, Joyce Cohen, Hal Holbrook

When Jimmie and I first began dating, one of the things we liked to do was run after each other around Central Park. Actually, I usually ran after him. As an ex-marathoner, he kept me well in his rear-view mirror. That was okay with me – I liked the scenery with him in front of me. Now, I can just about believe that he was an ex-marathoner. His backstory is convincing when he plays the lack of knees in that stand-to-stasis moment.

But right now, while he pores over the New York Times, his new Nike eyewear in place, he looks only a tad bit older than when we tied the knot almost thirty-three years ago. I won’t let him know that his acting technique is failing him. He’s very proud to be an actor. It will be our little secret, okay? Unless you want to lobby to have him added to this list where he definitely belongs.

Summer Daze in DTLA

We’ve officially reached the shank of the summer. After the Fourth of July, just before the All-Star Game. Heat advisories in the Valley thankfully don’t seem to pertain in the downtown park where Jimmie takes his respite from the cable news talking heads before the afternoon baseball game begins, before I come home from work.

At work, the ordering of the next seasons’ plays is almost done, final strands coming together in a complex artistic and literary calculus. Design and stage management assignments formulating, the students now aware that we have bypassed our self-proclaimed deadline. Faculty are now aware that the students anxiously await the news.  A last minute delay in one title keeps us all waiting for the shared excitement that is the next season’s announcement. I anticipate the rush of questions.

When will we know our assignments, Els?

Patience is required in these summer days. Patience and presence of mind and heart.

Today on my way back from the YAS DTLA gym, Hector’s rigorous and entertaining “Fiesta Friday” workout, I passed a woman walking a black plastic milk crate on a string. From behind, she looked like any dog walker in the early morning pre-work hours. She carried herself with a regal, straight-backed air of confidence, her gait unhurried. The crate glided easily along the pavement just behind her right flank. It wasn’t too full and followed her at the companionable pace of a small dachshund. She wore black leggings and a tunic fringed with what looked like a fashionable purple sweater tied around her waist. Her hair, shoulder-length was tidy looking. Abruptly she turned, and began walking back toward me shattering the illusion. As I drew closer, I could see her dirt-smudged, tanned face, her hair in ratty unintentional dreadlocks, her eyes filled with the nervous preoccupation of one who likely hears many voices. Her black plastic crate suddenly looked less like company and more like the onus of homelessness that it was.

I suddenly felt so lucky.

I continued my walk home, passing the young sycamore tree, rescued earlier in the week by a maintenance worker at the restaurant next door. The Conservation Corps folks planted the sapling about six months ago at my request. A ranting homeless man had recently kicked away the wooden splints that held it erect. The tree, bowed from the weight of its leafy branches, bobbed over the curb into the oncoming bus traffic. When I walked by, the restaurant worker was retying the rubber stays around the trunk. I held the tree in place, two strangers collaborating on the rescue of a young life. The tree secured, I asked him what his name was, and introduced myself. This morning, he sprayed the sidewalk with soapy water and I greeted him like an old comrade in arms.

At home, in gratitude, I watered all the plants on the patio, all the orchids on hiatus from blooming, the neon-green shoots sprung from the wildflower seeds I planted in the planter late last week. The seeds, in brown packets with our names emblazoned on them had marked the seating at our son’s recent wedding. Elsbeth’s seeds are doing quite well. If they fail, you can be sure James’ seeds will be planted next.

I sat down to contemplate my good fortune. IMG_8419The early morning sunlight streamed into the living room, highlighting the carved mahogany legs of a table. A precocious orchid I had ignored,  its stem lurching out to capture the sun, is now inside, granted access for its one louche bloom. I promise myself I will pay closer attention to the other orchids to guide them straighter in their fruition. These are the things we promise ourselves in the lazy lucky days of July.IMG_8421

Today we get our car back from the body shop, newly painted hopefully with no evidence of its recent trauma on the 101. I will return the white Jeep Cherokee I’ve been driving for the past week or so, a bigger and thirstier car than I would ever choose.

We had been able to make a hellish drive to Redlands last Friday to see dear friends there in the Jeep Cherokee, a comfortable, slightly higher ride than usual. Foolishly, we drove there on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, leaving LA at 3:00, and arriving just after our 5:30 reservation. Our reunion was sweet, and after catching up on the last 10 years at dinner at Caprice Cafe, we walked them to the nearby Redlands Bowl where they were attending a trombone concert. Together, we posed for a snapshot near the patinated statue of William McKinley before heading home.

Audrey, our friend depicted above, is now a successful writer of children’s non-fiction. We discussed Jimmie’s recent book, A View from the Wings, a signed copy of which he delivered to her when we sat down in the restaurant, and Audrey recommended a book about writing: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.  I immediately went home and devoured it over the next two days. She has a lot to say that is extremely encouraging for the novice writer. It’s again ironic that reading books about writing is really just another procrastination from writing, but in spite of that, I felt re-energized about the process of telling my story and am grateful to Audrey for the infusion of creative energy.

Tuesday night, the Fourth of July, Jimmie and I drove to the campus to watch the Coliseum’s fireworks from the roof of Parking Structure A. My colleague, Duncan had told me about his excellent viewing spot for years, but until this year, I had eschewed it. This year, we were in the mood to see some explosions. It was a scene. When we first arrived, Duncan and his wife sat on a utility cart facing the south wall of the Parking Structure, a stool perched on the back of the cart for higher viewing. Sheepishly, I pulled up next to them in my Jeep Cherokee and we positioned ourselves parallel to them. For the next hour and a half, through the windshield, we watched as the skyline filled with ebullient fireworks, both those sanctioned and entrepreneurial in nature. By the time we left at about 9:30PM, there were at least twenty cars, and the parking roof was chock full of families enjoying the now smoky aftermath of the display. When we got home, the new Intercontinental Hotel displayed her patriotic colors.

So that’s what we’re doing in the summer days in DTLA. You could say that we are all pulling our crate, literally and metaphorically, and I am well aware of the precious cargo in mine.

 

 

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!

I do that-what you just did.

An artistic, theatrical experience spoke loudly to me this week and in reflecting on it as I vacuumed the apartment this morning (Writers to your vacuums!), here’s where I arrived.

We are presenting Middletown by Will Eno this weekend at the Scene Dock Theatre. It features our MFA Y2 Actors, directed by Andrei Belgrader. The play is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with a shiv. The Stage Manager of Wilder’s gentle encomium to small town life is Eno’s more-than-slightly deranged patrol officer, who tells us everything will be all right while he puts a chokehold on the Simon Stimson equivalent, an alcoholic would-be murderer, if he only had the self-esteem. Instead, Eno’s mechanic volunteers at the hospital, before dumpster-diving behind the hospital for discarded drugs.

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Photo Credit Craig Schwartz

As I sat through techs and dress rehearsals this week, I became obsessed with the vulnerable relationship between two main characters, John Dodge, a natural philosopher sans direct life path, and Mary Swanson, a recently-arrived housewife, desperately lonely, her husband always away for work. In one scene, they happen to meet in a park and end up sharing Mary’s lunch.

30731854210_afbfab630b_n.jpgTheir instantaneous intimacy lands with the heft of human gravity echoed throughout the play:

Mary: Night is hard, you know? It gets so quiet. I never know what I’m supposed to be listening to. (brief pause) But it does give me time to catch up on my needless worry.

John: I do that – what you just did.

Mary: What?

John: Use humor to distance myself from the pain.

    Will Eno, Middletown

Boom. How deftly Eno unveils our strategies.

Jimmie frequently invokes his favorite biblical character these days- Job. Job comes trippingly (oops, shouldn’t say that) to the tongue in light of our itinerary this month:

  1. Swollen foot diagnosed as broken foot.
  2. A walking cast which we fondly call Das Boot, or on most days, Das Fucking Boot (DFB).
  3. Instability which results in wifely paranoia about leaving Jimmie at home to go to work.
  4. Bloody nose = ER
  5. ER = Overnight Stay

Around the time of the hospitalization, I received a text message from Jimmie’s niece, Jen, who offered to come down and help us.

How soon can you get here?

The answer was the next day. This probably wasn’t the response she requested, but it was the one she got and responded to. As you may have read in my last post, this visit helped and healed both of us, infected as we were with the giddy laughter and creative inventions of Jen’s four-year-old daughter.

In the meantime, I have been researching and seeking assistance from numerous people to plan for a moment when assistance is actually needed. Jimmie, in his support of easing any stress on me, met with the representative from one such company. We sat at the dining table with her; she was direct and kind, understanding of what we might eventually need.

I should say here that Jimmie has absolutely zero interest in having extra unrelated people around our home. It’s always been his way. Back in the valley house, when I got it in my bonnet to remodel every square inch of the house, then went off to work leaving the house filled with strangers, I’d return and Jimmie would look woefully at me, the nascent improvements covered with a thin sheen of dust, his nerves worn raw. The results were marvelous, but the process was painful.

I didn’t expect much better results this time, but I appreciated how game he was. We planned a visit from the care giver on Thursday, Nov. 17th- four hours to start, in the afternoon. He worried about how this would go. I had gotten him a sandwich to have for lunch, and had planned to ask the home health care aid to do some grocery shopping for me, but then decided to not burden her with that task the first day, stopping instead on my way back from the gym.

I arranged for her to get a key at the guard’s desk downstairs so that she could let herself in, so that Jimmie wouldn’t have to get up to get the door. I asked them to call upstairs when she arrived. I went off to work.

She called me at ten to one, having circled the block twice already, looking for parking. I told her where to park.

Unbeknownst to me, when the guards called upstairs to Jimmie that she was there, he got up and went over and opened the door, leaving it resting in a cracked position, before returning to the couch. The door was propped open three minutes or less, the time it took her to walk to the elevator in the lobby, rise to our floor, and walk down the hall.

Jimmie said she arrived while he was eating his lunch, and he offered her half of his sandwich which she accepted.

He told me he spent a lot of time in the bedroom that day, taking naps, and when he got up, he went out to the patio with the newspaper. I’m sure just to get away.

At 4:45, she left and he relaxed. He really hadn’t enjoyed the afternoon in any shape or form, and told me that it wasn’t going to work out. When I came home, I saw that the blanket on the arm of the chaise puddled on the sofa, and thought it was nice that she’d made herself at home, but a little strange that she hadn’t tidied up the blanket.

The next morning, at 7:00AM, I went to the door to get my keys, I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door where it usually is. I turned to ask Jimmie if he’d moved his wallet to the bedroom yesterday when she was there.  He hadn’t.

I immediately went  to check if his wallet was in his pants pocket in the closet. It wasn’t. I tore through the dry cleaning bag to see if it was there in one of the pairs of pants there. It wasn’t. Jimmie hasn’t been leaving the house much because of the walking cast, so it didn’t make sense that it would have been in his pants pocket anyway, but that was of course my first understanding of what had happened.

I called the agency and told them that his wallet was missing. They promised to reach out to the employee at once.

I texted the care giver since I had her number:

This is Els, Jimmie’s wife. This morning I realized that Jimmie’s wallet was not in the dish by the door. Before I take action, I’d like you to call me please and let me know if you’ve moved it somewhere for safety.

Then, I went to the gym because it is those workouts that allow me to maintain my equilibrium in the event of events like these.

Back from the gym, I began the odious process of canceling the cards in the wallet, and finding out where we had to go to file a police report. I have a pretty high threshold for irritation, but I felt my heart constricting, my eyes filling, the bile rising in my gut, all of which I hid from Jimmie. Being on hold with Bank of America for about 10 minutes made me angrier than I’ve been in a long time.

A while later, after speaking with the supervisor at the agency and learning that this employee was “up the hill at another client’s home where the cell phone reception is poor,” and listening for five minutes about how laudatory all her clients are about her performance, I finally got us organized and at 9:45, Jimmie and I got in the car to drive to the central LA Police Station to make a report. I had told the head nurse at the agency,

Now rather than providing me with a service, hiring your agency has created a huge hassle for me and my husband, hours of appointments to replace lost cards and a complete lack of trust in humanity. Not a good outcome.

Shortly before we left for the police station, I received a text from the care giver. It read:

Good morning Elsie sorry I’m just responding I don’t get signal until after 10 o’clock but no I don’t know what this you’re referring to because when I arrived yesterday the door was already open he said he was looking for his wallet I asked him if he would like me to assist he responded no he would just wait until after I’m gone and I’m assuming he just didn’t want me to be running around in the house being my first time so he had his sandwich I had my sandwich with him at the table then in the living room he turned on the TV he said on the chair slept for a little bit then he went to the balcony with his magazine while I still watch television and then I was on my way out the door 10 minutes to 5 because I have therapy but I definitely advise you because it’s very important having all your information and having to go and get it again definitely importance

Yeah I wouldn’t have known about a dish by the door because I don’t even think about looking behind a door he stated he didn’t want me to assist him I figured he probably would find it later but I just put it in my notes that he did misplaced his wallet.

When I read this unpunctuated and grammatically horrific text message, I couldn’t believe the chutzpah of this person. Jimmie is a meticulous soul. He has a place for everything and everything in its place. On those infrequent occasions when has misplaced a set of keys or a wallet, he gets frenzied and won’t settle at all until they are found. What she describes in her text message, cradled between”Elsie” and the instruction to get the information replaced so infuriated me that my blood pressure rose to unhealthy heights. This was how I drove to the police station.

At 6th and Maple, this police station resembles a fortress in the middle of skid row. It is a windowless blond brick structure with attempted a cheerful terrazzo mural ofcentral-community-lapd life in the big city, surrounded by police cars. Perfect.

I could do a better job of describing this mural if I had found a parking space in front of the station, but instead, had to illegally park and scurry Jimmie inside the station, where at the vending machine, a large woman in a bright yellow hat raged nonsensically at an unresponsive officer as he plunked in his change and extracted his late morning snack. I reluctantly left Jimmie sitting in his walker in the lobby while I ran back to the car to find parking. I found a structure nearby, parked at the top, and walked down the steep driveway to the sidewalk, where a homeless man outside his tent and a small enclave of homeless people greeted me enthusiastically as I passed.

The officer who took Jimmie’s statement, a young Latina officer, was polite and with the neatest handwriting I’ve seen this side of a tech table. In between painstakingly printing the details of our report, she answered the phone and gave out numbers and information to those who called. The entire desk was covered in contact sheets under glass, with numbers of city services.  I realized that I had been one of those callers just an hour before, and now had 75% of her attention, which was enough to get the job done.

At 11:30, we walked out of the station with a report in our hands, and I ran back up the steep driveway to get my car. The homeless population by the garage had swelled, large enough and rowdy enough so that I crossed by them in the street, feeling bad for my avoidance, but anxious to get Jimmie home so I could get to work.

I was still pretty steamed. Before I left for work, Jimmie asked me to please calm down. By 2:30 or so, I had regained my composure. The collegiality of my faculty peers in our lunch meeting and meeting the prospective production students rebuilt my faith in humanity, and gave me a way of refocussing on why we do what we do in the theatre and theatre education.

Besides, it’s a way of avoiding my needless worry.

 

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.

 

 

 

My Fitbit Flex 2 Told Me to Sleep In

In the beginning of 2016 I set a fitness challenge for myself to work out 56 days in a row in honor of my “35th” birthday. Didn’t fool you there, did I? Well, I met that challenge, and in the past few months, I have been, without a challenge, but with some effort, working out an average of 5-6 times a week.

Exercise is so critical to maintaining a healthy attitude about work and life. I am pretty sure that without the exercise I would be a quivering mass of nerves and not handling the stresses of the full production season, plus the life challenges we are facing, plus the publishing of my husband’s book.

So as a celebratory gesture, I bought myself a lilac colored Fitbit Flex 2. I had to wait almost two weeks for it to arrive, but as I discovered, Fitbit was anxious to inform me via email all information about when I would receive the product in the mail, tracking number included. I tracked it obsessively as it made it’s way from Indianapolis, through La Grange, IL, Kansas City, KS, Amarillo, TX, Continental Divide, Essex, San Bernardino, and Chino, finally arriving on my doorstep on October 1st, as promised.

After charging the tracker and downloading the app, I read about all the things my new toy would track. The number of steps I took, of course. When I completed the first 10,000 steps it shivered on my wrist and lit up in celebration of my athleticism. The first day I wore it around my ankle, like some deviant lilac colored ankle monitor. Switching the tracker between the two bracelets required me to move the clip from the small bracelet to the large bracelet. I only broke two nails in the process. Went back to the box to discover that there was not a second clip, so I ordered that and can now track its progress to my doorstep.

My Fitbit actually advised that I sleep in this morning, breaking my nearly two months long record of attendance at the gym. I had been at a dress rehearsal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the night before until 11:00PM.When I set my goals, I didn’t figure I needed to set a workout goal but I did intend to get more sleep; when the alarm went off this morning, I rolled over and obediently slapped it silent for another two hours just to make my Fitbit happy. Something tells me that I may not have read the manual correctly…

 

 

 

Service Due Soon A1

My car’s check engine light comes on every time I insert my key into the ignition these days; the car chimes, blocking the usual information window with the message above, sending my brain calendaring app into overdrive. When will I be able to get the damn car out to the valley? All I need is an oil change and a tire rotation and they are open early in the mornings. But mornings are tough and pretty unpredictable these days. A good day finds me at the gym at 5:30 or 6:15. A bad day, as defined by one that follows an interrupted night, finds me dragging and lagging. The last thing I would want to do on one of those days would be to wait at the Honda Dealer in North Hollywood, though with their lounge’s recent face lift, is a pretty spiffy spot.

Wouldn’t it be great if our bodies had check engine lights or whatever the anatomic version of that would be? Hmmm. Site-specific flashers across your chest that it’s time for your mammogram, reminiscent of the San Francisco North Beach Condor Club where stripper Carol Doda performed all through the 70s and 80s.

North Beach, San Francisco, CA July 1973

North East corner of Broadway and Columbus. Carol Doda’s Condor Club, Big Al’s, Roaring 20s and Hungry I strip clubs. Ektachrome transparency taken with a Yashica TL Electro 35 mm SLR.  Wikipedia – Michael Holley, photographer

Is the garish neon sign with the flashing nipples still there? Or a victim of the neo-technocracy that has rendered San Francisco quite a different spot? But I digress.

As our cars/bodies get older, they require frequent, much more expensive trips to mechanics/doctors. The diagnostic tools that determine what’s gone wrong in the older models are more invasive. There’s no clearly printed digital code indicating what the underlying issue is. Sometimes you have to drain the oil pan and replace the oil. Sometimes you have a larger system failure that requires significant intervention. I’ve gotten expert at keeping the issues separate when reporting to the mechanics in the past week or so.

Don’t bury the lead.

That’s what my journalist mom would have said. I used to feel bad when the doctors looked to me rather than Jimmie for his medical information. I don’t anymore. I recognize that time is important. I can deliver the Cliff Notes of the current medical crisis in a crisp three sentences. He can fill in the details and answer their specific questions. shoppingI have learned to take notes when the mechanic, er, I mean Doctor tells us what’s wrong. Along with the extensive weight/sugar/output auto-logs we are keeping, I have developed a causal narrative that I think is more or less accurate. The latest information each doctor delivers informs and sculpts that narrative. I hope that if my “engine light” ever comes on in a significant way, that I have someone with me who can quickly give the shorthand of my story to my doctor. It’s hard to listen and process the information they give you when you feel like doo doo.

A wise person wrote or said that in medical issues, it’s wise not to get ahead of yourself. Don’t buy the next phase of medical gear until it’s needed. Don’t make decisions until they ask to be made. The same could be said about care for your car. Don’t change the oil more frequently than 3,000-5,000 miles just because you think it will be good for your car. You wouldn’t replace a headlamp in your car while it was still working, right?

The medical profession protects us somewhat by requiring referrals before doing more tests. The insurance companies protect us from doing unnecessary investigations  by requiring second opinions for really expensive treatments. The lounges in the doctors’ offices are almost as nice as the Honda Dealer’s in North Hollywood.

On another note, I want to say thank you to all of the friends who have been reading my blog and sending us their support and love via phone calls, emails and hallway confabs.  I can’t tell you how much it means to both of us.  Don’t worry. We’ll soon be out of the service bay and back on the road. Having your attention and love along has made the wait much easier.