Star Wars fans all over the US are reveling in today’s opening of the latest Star Wars feature, Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens. This week’s news in Los Angeles, in addition to an unprecedented closure of LAUSD schools, featured a block long tent in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre where A-Listers partied after the premiere.
You know what? I could care less.
I’ve got much bigger things on my mind this week. Matters of life and death. Our granddaughter is coming along this week; she will be here momentarily. Boba Fett, The Bounty Hunter, or more accurately, the voice of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, actor Jason Wingreen, now 95, discharged from the hospital this week, has returned home to live the remainder of his days. Life and Death. As one precious life begins, another nears its close.
My husband has known Jason since the 1950s, back in New York, when they were neighbors in their Cornelia Street apartment building, just across the street from Caffe Cino, a coffee house/gathering place for the burgeoning off-off Broadway scene. In addition to a mutual interest in theatre (Jason was a founding producer for Circle In the Square, where he and Jimmie also acted in many productions), they shared a wife. Well, more accurately, Scotty, married to Jimmie for three years, until their marriage was annulled, later married Jason. Jason and Scotty lived below Jimmie and his second wife, actress Betty Miller in the Cornelia Street apartment, in an arrangement evocative of a Preston Sturges film.
When Jason and Scotty moved out to Los Angeles, late in the 50s, Jimmie and Betty remained in touch. After Jimmie and Betty divorced and I came along as wife #3, I remember meeting Jason and Scotty for the first time after one of Jimmie’s performances. The Wingreens lived in California then, Jason working on “Archie’s Place.” I was so nervous, but shouldn’t have been, because Jason was a warmly welcoming raconteur and Scotty was always sensible with a wry wit and direct candor. I took to them both immediately, and felt at ease.
Cut to the mid 1980s, when we moved to LA, and began to see Jason and Scotty socially. Scotty was a wonderful cook, and we had frequent dinners in their beautiful home. An example of Scotty’s wit was after I had learned how to make crème brûlée, and had made it two times in one week, she said,
Els, are you trying to kill him?
We shared the ups and downs in our lives, his loss of Scotty to cancer in 1996, the loss of my Mom in 1997.
Jimmie and Jason shared a passion for the Boston Red Sox, and together, we surfed the cycle of suffering as the team routinely failed to break the curse of the Bambino. In 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 game loss to the New York Yankees to win the 2004 ALCS and go on to play in the World Series for the first time since 1986, both Jimmie and Jason were like kids on Christmas morning. We all gathered to watch the games in the our family room. Both Jason and Jimmie have sons, which they worked to indoctrinate as Red Sox fans, Jimmie perhaps more successfully than Jason.
Jason has always been a generous man. After Scotty passed away, he frequently invited friends to dine at the Atheneum, the Cal Tech Faculty club, an alumnus perk of their son, Ned’s four years as a Physics student.
Last week, we had a call from Jim, Jason’s business manager. He told me that Jason wanted to get a card to our son Chris. We worked out how I would pick up the card. Then Jason ended up in the hospital; however, he kept insistently prodding Jim about the card. At a moment when most people would have ceased to worry about others in light of their own health issues, Jason was dogged about Chris getting this card.
Last Saturday, I drove to Jason’s house and picked up the card. Today, when I spoke with Chris, I opened it and snapped some pictures of the card texting them so that he could see the card before our trip this weekend.
We talked about how special and yet typical it was of Jason to remember Chris. Chris laughed about all the Red Sox games that he had watched with Jason and Jimmie in straight backed cane chairs, facing Jason’s tiny television.
About ten years ago, one of Jason’s great nephews outed him as being the voice of Boba Fett, the Bounty Hunter. Since then, he has received thousands of letters from adoring fans from all over the world, and requests to autograph photos. Jason has been far more accommodating of these intrusions than many actors might be, but he has also taken a lot of pleasure from the personal letters, reading us his favorites when we saw him. And when each of us had a birthday, Jason would sing “Happy Birthday” on the phone machine, as Boba Fett, ending his messages with a somber, grumbling voice:
This is Boba Fett calling to wish you a happy birthday!
So now, as we await the imminent birth of our grand baby, her mama and papa-to-be counting the hours, and as Jimmie and Chris and I think fondly of Jason’s healthier days, suddenly the Star Wars movie seems more pertinent. To both the inevitable coming of life and coming of death, I entreat:
First, let me reconcile for a moment that what I’m about to do breaks every code of ethics in the theatre for stage managers. Spilling the dirt is verboten. Stage managers are privy to all, witness to much that is shocking and transformative, and sworn to silence except what is necessary to tell a producer should the production be in danger of flaming up. If there were a Hippocratic oath for stage managers, it might read something like this:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won artistic gains of those artists in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the cast, crew and creative team, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of coddling and artistic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to theatrical creation as well as physical reality, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the director’s note or the producer’s decision.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a production’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my actors, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a poor behavior, a toxic exchange, but a passionate human being, whose behavior may affect the person’s company and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the overburdened.
I will prevent toxicity whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as those crazy ass actors who cross my path.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of helping those who seek my aid.
Modified by Els Collins, Stage Manager, from the Modern Hippocratic Oath
I am fully aware of the severity of my breach by sharing this tale with you. I don’t share it to dissuade you from going into this esteemed profession, but merely as instruction in how to navigate its rocky shoals. For now, while the memory of these weeks’ challenges is strong, I want you to know; whatever the challenges your production brings forth are surmountable and most of the time with pleasing and astonishing revelations in the process. And you rubberneckers out there, don’t get too excited. I do have boundaries.
We had two weeks with the actors to put the show back together again. This would be a snap, right? Same cast, same band, same set, lights, sound, projections, costumes. The two new factors were the insertion of a new sound engineer, (which struck terror in my heart and, I can only presume, in the heart of Musical Director Abdul Hamid Royal), and the replacement of the stage left PA, completely new to the show.
To quote Sound Designer Philip G. Allen, what sound engineer Patrick Hoyny was asked to do this week
…was like taking a leading role in the show with only three rehearsals.
I can say with certitude at this point, and only with the healthy advantage of hindsight, the re-opening of Colonus in my rear view mirror, this process was as pain-free as it could have been, in the skilled hands of the new sound engineer Patrick Hoyny, and with the gentle guidance of Sound Designer, Philip G. Allen. I can also say that the show rocked last night.
A remounted production falls under the aegis of the stage manager. I have never remounted a show before, so it was with some small amount of sorrow that I came to grips with this before stepping back into rehearsal mode. After ten years away from the PSM role, my director’s chops are a bit dulled. I flattered myself to think that my directorial abilities were quite keen at one point; my notes were on point and helpful for those actors learning the roles to be prepared should anything happen requiring them to go on. With weekly rehearsals scheduled under most LORT contracts, I had, over the years, refined my approach to the delicate task of putting different human beings into roles where they have little time to do anything other than observe another actor do their role. Usually these rehearsals are limited to 4-5 hours per week, and they don’t have the benefit many times of working with the set parts as they might be in show mode. They most likely will have access to the props, but certainly not the lighting conditions or sound cues of the regular performance.
In the case of the Colonus Remount, we had our Musical Director, Abdul Hamid Royal on the keyboards, and we did our rehearsals in the evenings to accommodate both my schedule as the Production Manager at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts and those of the musicians. Scheduled from 6-10PM, we worked about 5 days the first week, then jumped into dress rehearsals the second week. There was rarely a night when every single person was on stage to perform his/her role, because it is difficult to assemble 45 people, most of whom are busy musical professionals. However, we had been through this scenario in the past – we had several acceptable work-arounds, or short-hands for what we needed to do according to the various scenario. They ranged in severity of challenge from easiest to hardest to solve listed below:
What do we do with 1 usher, not the usual quota of 2?
Producer Wren Brown’s son, Brandon, had quite gracefully stepped in in the role of the second usher on several occasions, as had one of the theatre’s staff members.
What do we do without all the members of the Ismene Quartet?
In fairness, we (knock wood) never had to deal with this issue in performance. Do it with the members who are there and rehearse vocally when all are back. They are all solid professionals.
What do we do without the actor playing the role of Choragos?
Quintet member Ricke Vermont, whom I had also affectionately dubbed our dance captain, had performed twice in this role and had done a beautiful job, in the case where a family emergency called away our regular Choragos.
What do we do without the Soloist who sings “Lift Him Up?”
We found an extremely good alternate in cast member Sharetta Morgan-Harmon, who plays the Singer Antigone. It required some modification in blocking because she begins downstage rather than stepping out from the choir. The changes in blocking necessitated jumping over two light cues and required a change in the microphone used by her for the number.
You can see, we had worked out a number of quite challenging scenarios already in the course of previous rehearsals and performances. This time, however, there were some even more challenging scenarios awaiting us.
One of the Colonus performers, William Allen Young, who plays the Pastor in the show, has been shooting a new CBS primetime show called “CODE BLACK.” He had started to do this during the first run of Colonus, but by the time we began these refresher rehearsals, they were in full shooting mode for the episodes for the upcoming season. As anyone doing theatre in Los Angeles knows, in the battle between a TV gig and a theatrical gig, TV wins. It is pure economics. This is one of the most challenging factors in making live theatre in LA. Having said that, Will, ever the consummate professional, had communicated with me and with producer Wren T. Brown clearly what days were potentially problematic and had also arranged a few Fridays off from shooting completely so that the performance schedule was clear. How he can manage the work load of two full time gigs is another issue. But he’s an extremely dedicated actor and he has powered through both assignments. I can’t wait to see his show, which airs Wednesday, September 30th.
During the rehearsals, we rolled with the absences caused by work, family emergencies, etc. There were a few last-minute announcements from cast members about absences I didn’t know about, but as we had before, we accommodated them, and as per the SM Hippocratic oath above, no one died, and I didn’t need to take any lives. I feel pretty good about that part.
There were two rather challenging rehearsals, this past Tuesday, and Thursday’s final dress. I want to share the specific issues that arose and the ingenuity of the cast members and creative team in the results of the absences even though I am clearly breaking the oath. It was emotionally powerful to see the resiliency of the remaining cast as well as the teflon nature of this production – the will power that holds the fabric together and keeps the show unified.
On Tuesday, one of the leads suffered a medical issue that prevented him from coming to the theatre and even notifying me about his absence. The emotional rollercoaster of emotions that I went through was typical of any stage manager. I know, because of the 5 years of really good therapy I’ve had, that feelings are just that. Feelings. Surmountable. For a stage manager, nothing can be taken personally; coloring the facts with emotional baggage of expectation or history isn’t helpful to getting the work done on stage. But in the interest of teaching, I’ll share my emotions:
Anger – “Where can he be? Who does he think he is putting 45 other people out and not calling? He better be dead if he didn’t call.”
Embarrassment – “Did I not communicate the call to him? I know some people don’t follow the email. Should I have texted him to make sure he had the call?”
Worry – “Why haven’t we heard from him by the 8pm start? Is he all right?”
Fear – “Can someone please go check on him? What could have happened to him?”
Relief – “Thank goodness he is alive.”
Fear – “Is he going to be all right to do the show?” (I’m not proud of this coming so quickly on the heels of #5, but any stage manager who tells you this isn’t their first thought after the relief phase is lying.
Worry – “What adjustments do we need to make to his blocking when he comes back while he recovers from this situation?”
Relief – “We came up with some really good adjustments that can even work in performance if need be.” Again, these involved adding lighting instruments and creating alternative blocking options some of which we employed on the Wednesday night following his return.
So, you see, anything is possible in the theatre. That night, as Abdul Hamid sang the missing actor’s role while also playing the guitar part on his synth, I watched in awe as Dorian Holley appeared at the pivotal moment to walk Singer Oedipus up the stairs to begin his “descent.” He dropped him off then returned to his position on the stairs upstage right.
Remember, we are making it up. Creative minds will create elegant solutions to artistic problems. Theatre is just a never ending string of gifts like this.
The second scenario involved planning for the potential absence of Will due to his shooting schedule on Thursday. In addition, one of the ushers, Jonathan, was going to be out on Wednesday and Thursday due to another work commitment. The remaining usher, Sedale Threatt, Jr., had performed a lot of step-in assignments for actors missing in the rehearsal process. A recent graduate of USC School of Dramatic Arts’ three year MFA in Acting, Sedale is a quick study, committed to the work, and an extremely hard worker. When it became clear on Wednesday evening that Will might be held late at CBS on Thursday, Sedale offered to walk the role of The Pastor.
On Thursday, when I came into the theatre, I found him preparing to walk the part, with script in hand, while lead actor and Tony Award winner, Roger Robinson, coached him from the front row of the theatre. Watching from the booth as I readied the projector for the dress rehearsal, I could see that Sedale had a pretty good mastery of the blocking and was confident with his words. Lulled into a sense of security that things were handled, I went about my pre-show tasks. Rookie mistake. You’ve got to think it through step by step…
At 15, the PA from stage left notified me
Els, the ladies want to talk to you downstairs in the dressing room.
I quickly made my way backstage, after making the 15 minute call to the choir, and when I entered, they all turned their heads expectantly toward me. Sharetta spoke first:
Els, who is going to kidnap us if Sedale (the only remaining usher) is playing the Pastor?
Els: Crap. I’ll be right back.
I know many of you are thinking less highly of my anticipatory skills, but a quick hallway conversation with Sedale determined that he could both play the Pastor and then exit in time to re-enter with Creon as a henchman, kidnap the girls, then exit only to re-enter moments later to deliver the speech that ends Act I, echoed shortly after by the Ismene Quartet in “Numberless.”
And, believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened.
There were about 50 invited guests in the audience, and while I had to turn my face away because of the severity of the compromises we had made to get the show up that night, the audience was still completely engaged in the story and enthusiastic in their response.
It is a sign of something (what, I’m not sure yet, but am willing to bombard you with my theories about it) when we outsource the most quotidian transactions of our lives in the interest of efficiency and saving time. We are getting really good at learning how to pay others to live our lives for us.
I’m one to talk. I recently signed up for Blue Apron, a delivery service that once a week, organizes the ingredients and preparation descriptions for three restaurant-quality entrees for two people; it delivers them in a cardboard box emblazoned with its logo and packed with darling little plastic bags that tug at my sustainable little heartstrings. You can, of course, tell them when you want the food delivered, and what foods you will eat – I have chosen the pescatarian option. When I unpack the box each Thursday, nestled among the water soluble ice packs are the ingredients for a surprise menu of foods that you might order at your local California style restaurant. Each meal is worth about 650-700 calories, and takes roughly a half hour to prepare. All you need to supply is salt, pepper, and olive oil, and the pots and pans you will need to prepare the food.
I have enjoyed coming home, picking out what I will prepare from the set of three glossy photo cards. I lay the card down on the counter, open the fridge, and reach into the vegetable drawer and meat drawer to extract the appropriate ingredients. I have learned more from the past five weeks about portions and preparation than I have in the over 30 years I have been cooking for us, and the food is flavorful and beautiful to look at.
1) I no longer have to wander robotically through the aisles at Ralph’s, jamming my cart full of enticing vegetables that will puddle into a mush in the coming derelict days, while I zap another dinner into the microwave, eschewing the assembly of a fresh salad.
2) My dinner prep takes on the excitement of a chemistry lab experiment. The process welcomes a mindful cooking experience. Yes, there is a lot of chopping and I wish that I had Rachel Ray’s sous chefs standing by to do that for me, but they haven’t figured out how to make those people available to me online yet. (Just a matter of time, folks, just a matter of time.) After cutting and chopping until the ingredients are assembled on my cutting board, I am guided step by step into the creation of something that makes both me and my husband swoon.
Cons? Very few, except the pesky packaging issues, which may eventually become morally reprehensible enough to me to stop the service.
What do I save in the use of this service? Well, brain cells, money and of course, the precious element of time.
On Facebook this week, I’ve been bombarded by ads for a service called Washio, a 24 hour pick up and drop off dry cleaning service which purports to save me even more time than my current dry cleaning arrangement, that consists of laboriously packing the white laundry bag and walking it across the street to Ralph’s, to the dry cleaning service there. I know, you’re thinking “Poor Els.” I guess I could argue myself into saving myself those 150 steps to Ralph’s, but in the interest of promoting better health by walking each way, I will pass on Washio.
Last night, when I opened the mail, my husband had received a discrete invitation to Trunk Club a Chicago based internet men’s clothing service which can provide a “stylist to help you build your wardrobe.” Jenny, the cheerful, midwestern stylist inside the booklet describes pictorially four different trunks, with clothes laid out as though on a bed awaiting to be packed.The four trunks belong to four ideal men, Jason, age 39 from California, an account executive; Chris, 44, a civil engineer based in Chicago, Jeff, age 34, a financial consultant from New Jersey, and Leon, a New York based writer director. For an average of $160/per items and an average of 14 items in the average trunk, you can drop $2,240.00 to get a trunk of clothes.
I guess you can figure what the cons are in this equation. But the clothes look stylish and hey, if you’ve got some money to incinerate, go for it.
So what is it that we are doing with all the extra time that these body-snatchers are saving us? Where are those precious moments we have to think and ponder the worlds problems while we clean out the lint trap in the dryer and fold our smalls? What about the face time we are missing with the folks at Ralph’s, who smile at me and make me feel like I deserve their beautiful veggies? Or the time I spend cleaning out the vegetable drawer in my fridge? These are precious moments, people. As for the time I’ve saved? Productively paid forward? I know that I now end almost every day in a coma on the couch, playing about 25 games of solitaire on my computer while I watch the news before going to bed.
The trip to the Access Evaluation Center this morning reminded me a lot of my trip to Lourdes back in 1983. I don’t know what I expected but when we entered the warehouse I didn’t expect a full blown episode of Mister Rodgers neighborhood gone to seed. The entryway was lined with people in varying stages of physical impairment. Arrayed around the roughly 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse were busses and ramps, carefully laid out pathways lined in yellow paint. The walls of the warehouse were decorated with large color photographs of the various types of busses in use in the city of Los Angeles, interspersed with gray line drawings of more busses, trains, trees and even an ungainly plane taking off into the dingy white acoustical tiles that covered the ceiling.
I brought my extremely indulgent husband, the ex-marathoner, here today to see if he is sufficiently impaired to take advantage of the para transit services offered to people in Los Angeles. While I am more than willing to drive him wherever he needs to go, I thought it would be nice for him to be able to get around without driving.
The process is outlined below at the website for this service. Check it out. We had done the steps to get here today, and had arrived a few minutes early for J’s 9:00AM appointment.
This is an impressive facility, with dozens of people in the process of being evaluated. Each person sports his or her own means of battling the indignities of time: walkers, canes, scooters. We all find ourselves in this downtown purgatory for what we have been told will take from 2-4 hours.
After sitting for an hour or so, and watching the rhythms of the room, I gleaned that following the brief intake session, we would return back to the original seating area to await the next evaluator who would walk him through his paces. In the intake session, like a well-tuned team, the evaluator held up a small camera and said, “I’m going to take your picture now.” Jimmie leaned forward, and just as the man was about to snap the photo, one of his colleagues swept in with a large piece of white poster board to block the camera’s view of the row of waiting patrons behind where Jimmie was seated. It was impressive. We returned to our spot and watched approximately ten people march or roll or limp by, their attentive evaluators carrying clip boards and prepared to grab them by the belt which was wrapped around each applicant’s torso. The general sound of bustle in the room was broken occasionally by the chirping sound of a traffic-crossing sound, the light of which was just visible over the top of one of the busses.
Desks for the horde of evaluators were cleverly and discretely scattered around the room, the walls of their cubicles decorated with playful storefront designs, suggesting that we were in a perfect version of LA with people to assist you onto and off of the busses.
I have to say, as a bus passenger, I have always been impressed with the care and respect the drivers give to those passengers requiring assistance with their wheelchairs and walkers. So the testing is understandable, given that the Metro already has considerations in place.
This facility may be where old busses go to die, but they don’t die, they continue in their service here, providing a live set for the practitioners.
After an hour of waiting, I can see that my husband was bored with this exercise. I, on the other hand, was avidly interested in the process and continued to jot down my impressions.
There appeared to be about 20 evaluators, and at the end of the testing area, a man in a mauve polo shirt sat at a computer and processed out people as they completed their testing. I could see we wanted to get to the mauve man. That was how you won the game in this warehouse.
We sat on purple plastic chairs arranged in front of one of the busses. To our left stood a dusty looking Palm tree and a small 3′ round of AstroTurf at the base of the tree. When we arrived, we were told to sit by the palm tree. I thought about how much fun the designer of the warehouse must have had with this assignment.
A trip to the restroom revealed another completely full zone of waiting, about thirty more people in relatively good cheer in this purgatory of paralysis.
An industrious employee in a blue polo and sweatpants, with one phone headset in his right ear, the other dangling over his chest, swept periodically dirt and dust tromped through from all our urban feet.
Finally, my husband was summoned by a young man named Robert who was both kind and observant. After leading us past two parked busses to where his desk station was, he asked some questions about current medical conditions, took down the list of medications that we brought.
“This is an amazing place,” I said to Robert as he typed the medications.
“Yes it is,” he said. I noted that there were a lot of people there.
“How many people do you evaluate a day?” I asked. Robert responded that there were anywhere from 150 to 200 people evaluated every day. Impressive.
Robert rose from his table and said, “Follow me. We’ll go for your orientation.” I had heard the language “orientation” earlier and knew that that was done at the final station, by the man in the mauve polo shirt.
“Jimmie doesn’t have to do a tour of duty?” I asked Robert.
“I think he’s done his tour of duty already,” he responded, as he led us to the mauve man’s desk. In about 5 more minutes, we walked out into the parking lot and drove home. In 21 days, Jimmie should receive his Access card which will enable him to call for the van to pick him up and take him well, wherever he wants to go.
I just got back from my Mennonite YAS class. YAS class consists of a half hour of spin followed by a half hour of yoga. All those long blue dresses would get caught up in the wheels of the bikes, wouldn’t they? I can hear you asking yourselves this important question. But the white caps would be good sweat absorbers during the half hour spin followed by half an hour of yoga, right?
I like to rest my bible up on the handlebars next to my water bottle for quick text checks during those particularly challenging hills and sprints.
But no, dial it back, my friend. My reference is merely an observation of the gender sorting that seems to take place every Saturday morning in my downtown YAS class. Our fearless instructor, Stephanie, is great. We find our bikes- most of us creatures of habit-I head directly for the bike under the fan, left side, front row, near the open doors for as much air as I can muster. It’s funny, because I am definitely not a front row kind of gal in the exercise realm. Academically, I would always position myself toward the front of the room, so as to better hear and be less distracted from the shenanigans in the back, the row upon row of hormonally charged note-passers were a distraction in my day. Now the notes are passed virtually and as a lecturer, I know that the better or at least more attentive students are sitting closer to the front of the room.
But where group exercise goes, I have always been a back row kind of gal.
Not so with spin, probably because I usually attend a 7:15 spin class where there are about two or three of us, so I know a retreat to the back is futile. The instructor will find me, so I might as well take advantage of the fan. What happens in this YAS class each week is that the women clump on the left side of the room, and the men configure themselves on the right side in a straight line across the mirror, like horses at the starting gate, leaping at the reins, their individual lanes ahead, poised to break out and win the race. I prefer to think that the women’s collective on the left side is, by proximity, driving our team on to victory over the men. I’m not competitive, by any means, as my son can tell you.
Mind you, this is never mentioned or commented on. But it has happened the last three weeks. About ten to twelve students, all arrayed the same way.
Cut to the yoga room. This is even more obvious. The practice is that you place your mat in the room ahead of time and get whatever toys you need to put by your mat to survive the session; my pile includes sixteen blocks, two straps, and a one touch EMT button that will summon the fire fighters should I fall over during the Warrier 3 and break a hip. I am a stage manager, so I get there early; generally, there is no one in the room when I go to put my mat down, i,e., there are no influencing factors as to where in the gender stream I will end up.
And yet, at the end of the yoga class today, I turned my head and observed that our mats were neatly arrayed in two rows, women in the back, men in the front. Weird, right? It has made me so curious. What is at play here?
I know why I choose the back right corner of the yoga space to unfurl my mat. I want to be as unnoticeable as I can when I topple over or lay on my back in the amended pigeon pose (who made up these names?). Perhaps the young women in the class enjoy watching the broad sweaty backs of their male counterparts, but as far as I can tell, most of the men arrive as couples amongst themselves, so it may not be hopeful longing that positions the women there. Could it be that we really are adopting the historical directives of our foremothers? In religious gatherings, women cede front position to the men? Or, Is everyone in the yoga class as skills weak as me? No, again, casual observance shows good form in both the men and women’s practice.
I am flummoxed by the trend, but don’t see myself breaking my habits. I like the bike I like, I like the mat position I like. But the imp in me wonders what would happen if I took a position in the front row of the right side. Or said, in a loud voice as people were setting up their bikes, “Hey has anyone else noticed how we have self-sorted into men and women in these classes? What’s up with that?”
For now, I am content to allow the Mennonite spin experience keep happening unimpeded. If you have any ideas, or have observed this happening in your classes, let me know! There must be grant money out there for research. Maybe we could get funding from the Axe, or Secret deodorant companies. Just a thought on this quiet segregated Saturday.
It occurred to me this week after a few events out with my husband, a life-long actor of outstanding repute and with a CV for days, that because of my long life with him, I have had many interesting and life-enhancing experiences. I have lunched with television comedy writers on a wisteria-enclosed porch in Williamstown; I have dined in New York with the former co-star of the same TV show. There have been many special moments.
And I have provided a few of the same events for him, where work has immersed me into heady collaborations with some famous people, both those with very big egos, the VBEs and those who are not, but are just VFPs, very famous people. We can eschew chummy companionship with VBEs because they don’t need us anyway, and breathe a more rarified air than we do.
The problem is, that when one sees a VFP, you can’t know if he or she will be a VBE. I am shy about approaching celebrities to tell them how much I enjoyed their work on such and such. First because I don’t think they care, and lately, because those such and suches are harder to extrude from my brain in a way that makes a dignified approach plausible or timely.
The one exception was the night that I was standing on the corner of Hope and 9th St., waiting to cross from the park. I think it was the night of the SAG Awards. A black shiny SUV pulled up to the red light, and the passenger window was down. Tom Hanks was in the front seat; I knew from having stage managed a few events with him, that he was a really nice guy. I caught his eye and he smiled. I had just seen him do a reading of “Twelfth Night, Or What you Will” at the Geffen Playhouse, a fund-raiser for The Shakespeare Center, and so, I said to him, “I just saw you do that reading of Twelfth Night at the Geffen last week. You were wonderful.” He beamed, because it was a completely unexpected reference. His shiny SUV pulled away, leaving me satisfied with the encounter. But I digress.
As my husband has aged, he’s lost mobility from pain in his knees. Whether from the many thousands of miles he logged as a marathoner, or arthritis, his walking has become very labored and painful. He recently graduated from a cane to a walker, so we don’t worry about how long he will have to stand. It’s been a great improvement, if the need for such a contraption can be seen in positive terms at all.
Last Friday, we attended a screening of two films by Robert Downey, Sr. at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax. Jimmie had called me earlier in the week to ask me to look into tickets for the screening of “Greaser’s Palace” and “Pound.” Jimmie has talked about “Pound” for years, and I knew that he played “The Honky Killer” in the film. I had previously looked online to see about renting or buying the film, and had never been able to find it on DVD, so I was as pleased as he about the screenings, and secured two tickets for that night.
We arrived at the theatre at about 6:00PM; the theatre doors were to open at 6:30 and the film started at 7:00PM. There were already a number of people lined up when we arrived. We got into the line, and Jimmie had a seat on his walker.
We were surrounded by young, very hip looking people. Two hipsters with cameras soon emerged from the theatre and interviewed two young men at the front of the line, who were now eating pizza. “How long have you been waiting in line to see this film?” They responded as they continued to munch their pizza on camera. I tried to look blasé, but really wanted to say, “PSSST… Hey, back here! This is James Greene, who plays ‘the Honky Killer’ in “Pound.” But I didn’t. Jimmie is roughly the same age as the filmmaker, Robert Downey, Sr.; it surprised me a bit that they didn’t have the least bit of curiosity about him.
Older people are invisible to young people. Something about achieving the age of 80 plus, or even 50 plus, suddenly negates all your achievements as an artist. Your audience diminishes as you age, and unless someone guides the younger audience to awareness of your work, so does your relevance. In addition to losing your mobility, you also lose your street cred, in spite of the fact that you are sharp mentally, and your skills haven’t diminished just because the vessel that holds them has. This is very frustrating and saddening.
In the past few years, I have become the legs in the family, not an entirely comfortable position for me. When we went into the theatre, it became clear because of the way the chairs in the aisles, that Jimmie’s walker was not going to be able to pass. I took his arm and guided him slowly to our seats in the back of the theatre. The theatre was extremely dim, with light at the front; a DJ spun a record with music from “Pound” for the audience. There were a few directors’ chairs set up for a brief interview with Robert Downey Jr. and Sr. before the movie.
A tall, well dressed and sophisticated looking man entered the front of the theatre from a space off to the house right side. Jimmie perked up and had it not been for his damned legs, he would have sprinted to the front of the theatre. “That’s Bob, I think,” he said to me. “I’d really like to see him tonight.” And just as he said that, the man turned and made his way up the house right aisle to the lobby. I sprung into action.
“I’ll let him know that you are here,” I said.
Jimmie beamed gratefully. I leapt to my feet, nervous, as I readied myself to accost the evening’s celebrity honoree. I found him in the lobby outside the men’s room, at the front of the line, ceded this place no doubt by the young acolytes who respectfully waited behind him.
“Excuse me, Mr. Downey?” I stood at his feet, tilting my head back to take in his 6’5” frame, and feeling very small indeed. I was smack dab in that moment of not knowing if I had approached a VBE.
He swiveled his gaze down at me, implacable, no smile on his face. I braved on.
“I’m married to Jimmie Greene, the honky killer in Pound?” I paused, feeling slightly nauseous as he continued to gaze down at me. Silence. I was starting to break a sweat.
“He’s here tonight, and would love to see you, but has some mobility issues that will prevent his coming to the front.”
And then, just the hint of a smile, and “James Greene. I would love to see him.”
“Great!” I said, scuttling away from him and the front of the men’s room line and hurrying back to our seats.
This is what I mean by wearing the legs in the family. Often, Jimmie has the fervent desire to see and talk with someone but not the mobility and it falls to me, to my legs and my screwed up courage, to leave behind my ego and approach someone whom I would never approach in a hundred years were it not for my husband.
We watched the panel of Bob Downey and several of his colleagues, director Paul Thomas Anderson, and actors Lawrence Wolf, Don Calfa and Pablo Ferro, who played The Indian in “Greaser’s Palace” talk about some funny stories related to the making of these two films.
Then we watched “Greaser’s Palace,” which starred among others, our dear recently-departed friend, Allan Arbus, as the Jesus figure. It is an amazing film, especially in the newly restored version, which was vibrant in it’s colors. Never having seen a Robert Downey film, I was pleasantly surprised at the soulful weirdness of the film.
Intermission came, and the entire audience (save us legless ones) moved to the reception area while we waited for the reason we had come. “Pound.”
I will cede this territory to Jimmie’s recall in a future guest post because it will be more relevant. But I will just say that after “Pound” ended, and we made our way up to speak to Robert Downey, after he and Jimmie had talked, Robert Downey looked at me and said “Thank you for making sure we got to talk tonight.” Which made it all worthwhile.
Other festivities this week took us to the wrap party for Parks and Recreation, at a nightclub in Hollywood called “The Colony.” Again, were it not for my husband, I would not be spending time in nightclubs.
We snagged a great table right near the door, so were able to see as people arrived for the party. Before long, some of the other councilmen from the show, Jon Glaser and Kevin Symons gravitated to our table and were happy to speak with Jimmie. I worked up my courage again and shot this photo of the three of them. After shooting it, Jon Glaser handed me his cell phone to shoot one for him.
See, normal people, people. Not VBEs. And I was there because I wear the legs in this family.
A. I am not looking for a lifelong invitation to your Thanksgiving Table.
B. Nor to invite you to our small but fierce Thanksgiving gathering.
Okay, phew. Glad I got that off my chest. Now, on the eve of Thanksgiving, one of the most important American holidays ever, these are the embarrassing admissions of one who claims to live her life with intentionality.
I have not invited anyone to dinner tomorrow. It will be my husband and me.
We are not invited to anyone’s home for dinner tomorrow.
Our son, the commercial fisherman, is off on Thanksgiving, but is in San Francisco, about 7 hours away with a work start time of Thursday evening at 10PM. They call it Black Friday Crab Fishing. So he will not be coming. Can you blame him? He doesn’t even like turkey.
I am a vegetarian, though I will use this forum to out myself. NEWS FLASH!!!!
Last night, hungry and tired after a long day at work, I came home and reheated the stuffed green peppers I had made for my husband on Sunday and we ate them. Yes, beef and rice and tomato sauce. I was not happy, but I was less happy about eating a lean cuisine from the freezer. It’s all about choices, people.
Monday night, after dinner, I determined two things with intentionality.
1. That we would be home and eating food on Thanksgiving Day.
2. That I would choose to create a memorable meal for us both. That I would honor my husband’s carnivorous inclinations and would make a turkey. My path to pure vegetarianism is already splattered with the carcasses of chickens and green peppers stuffed with beef, and of course, bacon, the condiment. So, I figured one more day this week of eating turkey flesh wouldn’t kill me.
I picked up my plastic shopping bags and crossed the street to Ralph’s and in about 15 minutes, acquired all the things that every good red-blooded carnivore grabs at the grocery store in the week leading up to Thanksgiving:
An 8 lb. fresh turkey – (it felt amazingly like the frozen bird in the next case, but hey, I had three days to thaw it out)
I was feeling pretty smug as I crossed back to the apartment and loaded the makings into the fridge and pantry. I calmly folded the bags and put them in the closet, returning to the couch where Jimmie sat watching the Lakers lose. Again.
Yesterday, I talked with friends at work about what their plans would be and everyone seemed to have managed in spite of their work load, to cough up a festive holiday plan or at least one that sounded much less lame than my own.
And, to add insult to injury, this morning, I picked up the New York Times Food section and found two articles to make me feel even worse about my planning skills:
Funny stuff, right? So here’s the thing. It is highly unlikely that I am going to spend a lot of time making the table look like the one depicted in the NY times. I do not have a prop stylist to make the organic brussel sprouts and adorable little pumpkinettes cavort up and down the table runner. For crying out loud, I don’t even have an appropriate Thanksgiving table runner. I feel like we will be lucky to have the living room vacuumed and the turkey cooked to the appropriate temperature. My yams will be orange and hot and steaming. The green beans will be cooked, and buttered, and probably not in some delicious green bean casserole, but some way which my subpar internet connection will elicit from the unending recipes available online. And you know what? It will be all right anyway. Because it is about giving thanks, right? Not about whether my napkins match my tablecloth – which they will by the way, just because they generally do every day. My mother raised me right. And besides, white paper napkins go with just about anything.
So, here’s the important message I take away even if I’m a loser party planner. Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving, I will be with my husband whom I adore and who adores me. Thank you. I am in good health and so is he. Thank you. Our son is gainfully employed and loves us and we love him and give thanks for him every day. Thank you. I am gainfully employed in a job and occupation which feeds me every day. Thank you. My husband has worked his whole life to do the work of an actor and has supported us with his work both now and in semi-retirement. Thank you. We both have loving families with whom we happen not to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, but with whom we have in the past and will in the future. Thank you.
I hope your Thanksgivings are rich and as full of thanks as ours will be.
Appropriately in this month of breast cancer awareness, I went today to get my lady bits pressed. Happens once a year, when I am lucky, every six months when there are wrinkles in the fabric. I am speaking of the interior fabric, not the ectoderm, which is wrinkling quite nicely and according to schedule. Not the LA schedule, mind you, where I look about twenty years older than women my age who choose to fight back the tide of aging with additional help from medical science.
On the way over to the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Center, I was listening to NPR, a conversation among authorities on data mining moderated by Warren Olney.
There is apparently an awful lot of data to be mined. Everything we do leaves a digital marketing pentimento telling the miners much more than we really want them to know. How creepy is it that you can fill out a survey intending to contribute to the furtherance of modern medical science, and suddenly find yourself on some no-fly, or bad-housing-risk list?
Don’t tweet that you are having car trouble, because you may end up classified as a deadbeat with poor credit, and be put on that bad housing list or a list engendering risky mortgage offerings. The brokerage of imperfect lists, and they are grossly imperfect, it seems, is legal, and may be very hard to elude once you are on a list that has been sold to ten different marketing firms.
For example, news of today’s purchase of the refill pack of four replacement brushes for my Philips Sonicare toothbrush has landed me on every dentist’s mailing list in the greater Los Angeles area.
My visit to the mammography technician will undoubtedly illicit advertisements for reconstructive surgery, or god forbid, new bras.
But at the risk of breaking HIPAA laws, I can tell you there are interesting and very friendly women waiting at the Mammography center. Nothing like a potential brush with disease to bring out the best in women. There is an equalizing aspect to the well-washed blue cotton gowns missing their front ties that we all clutch to keep them closed. We bond in the luxury of having nothing to do but read People magazine, and also in that miserable hiatus between the mammogram and the news that you are finished and can go up to see your doctor, or must return to the scanning room for a second press of the flesh.
In between the brave and the nonchalant, there sits the occasional woman, cheeks pink and flushed, head heavy on her curled fist, who waits for her turn in the ultrasound technician’s room. I have been there. It is a dark place, that moment between the surety of health and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead. Our interior monologues are rich, dark and complex, while our friendly banter belies our fears.
So, for all my sisters out there whose mammograms fall in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, try not to worry as you wait. It will result in lines and more wrinkles to be pressed. Don’t sweat it- I will be happy to share all the botox referrals that this blog brings once those busy data miners are done.