Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part III

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

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

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

IMG_8189

Jimmie and I looked at each other and I ventured,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part II

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

Keeping Us In Stitches

A few years ago, shortly after our son Chris returned from a year long sojourn through Europe, living the dream, as it were, I joked that he and I should write a book. It would be an adult Mommy and Me book, the format of which might be text, as in traditional text, alternating with texts, as in the sporadic digital conversation he and I have had over the last five years via our phones as he has attained maturity. And I do mean attained. It has been a bit of an uphill slog at times, but he has arrived at what I’d call the tree-line of adulthood. If he stands there, he can turn back and see the forest, mysterious and dark and dank; looking forward, a path more clearcut, less encumbered with obvious trip hazards, but now a matter of planning his next steps, footholds and handholds, avoiding gravel slides and icy patches.

Over the years our texts have been personal, confessional, irreverent, insulting, loving, funny, heartbreaking. We have hiked through the woods together in a continual conversation about loss and redemption, self-sacrifice and self-sabotage.

Chris has, since the time he was about five, had an impulsive side, which resulted in a parade of random events and many many trips to the ER. We’ve been to the ER more times than one family deserves to go. I joked with Chris that our book should be entitled “Scar” featuring on the cover a full body photo of Chris, with little arrows pointing to all the scars on his body, annotated with post-its

IMG_6810

Image cropped to minimize the “yuck” factor

 

Last night he added another one to his collection. During the adult hockey game after the adult hockey game he went to play (a decision he derided as the reason he’d been injured -“I could have been on the couch at home, Mom”) , he made contact with his inner left thigh and his skate, resulting in about a 2 inch gash on his inner thigh. In typical gritty form, he called me on the way to the ER, then texted me the before and after pictures of the wound and stitches. I’ve become sensitive to any nocturnal conversation with Chris that begins with the words

Mom, you aren’t going to believe what happened…

I had just plugged in my phone to charge for the night, and when I picked it up, Jimmie’s eyes followed me back over to the couch, tracking my worried looks and listening intently to my subtle repeat of the gory details to fill him in.

It may seem creepy, but this is a ritual of bonding that the three of us have practiced for 24 years. Looking back over the years, in more or less descending chronological order:

  • 1 gash on the left inner thigh- hockey accident, age 27 (8/24/16)
  • 1 left shin gouge from pole on the dock – fishing accident, approximate age 24
  • 1 cut on the inside of his left arm – the broken glass had “nicked” a small artery which required a small surgery. He had a cut under his right eye requiring 3 stitches and another one needing 2 stitches on the top of his head. June 26, 2012 Barcelona Beach Bash
  •  1 tear of left hand between thumb and fore finger, car accident, age 17
  • 2 broken collarbones – hockey accident, age 15
  • 1 left wrist laceration requiring extensive hand surgery – hockey accident, age 12
  • 1 right pinky laceration causing damage to nerve – razor blade incident, Age 8
  • 1 injury to legs from jumping off the roof, age 5

See what I mean? That’s a hell of a lot of bonding. We are probably lucky to have not been called before the Department of Childrens’ Services for child abuse.

Some of our texts veered toward discussions of automotive injuries. The car I gifted to Chris did not take so well to the Fisherman’s Wharf environment resulting in many many trips to the Automotive ER. I considered at one point buying stock in Honda just to increase my ROI.

But the most important texts have been about the discoveries and growth in Chris’ life, including his pursuit of and discovery of his birth Mom in March of 2015, the gestation and birth of his own baby, and the flourishing of his daughter Skylar and fiancée, Whitney.

March 2015 text to Chris (edited somewhat)

Me: I was just filling up the feeder when a spider crawled over my hand in the sink.

Me: dropped half of the stuff in the sink

Me: Even worse I don’t know where the f—ing spider went

Me: I had an epiphany today in spin class – I know, how SoCal of me; but it was this; why would a mother disclose in the first conversation with her newly discovered son such dark details about his parents’ misfortunes? (Both Jimmie and I had asked ourselves this question when Chris told us about his first conversation with his birth mom.)

Me: But the more salient question, I realized, as I sweated and strained up the “hill” today, was “Why would Chris share that information as the very first information we received about his long lost family?”  “Wasn’t that really the question he had asked us a dozen times over the years with decisions that were reckless and dangerous and self-sabotaging of his own life path?

Me: The question was  – will you (adoptive Mom and Dad) still love me if I show you what I’m made of? What darkness and depths I am capable of reaching? Will you have my back? Legally, medically, financially? How much do you really love me?

Isn’t that the question we all ask ourselves in our life journeys? How true to us will our parents, friends, spouses, children remain? How much will we allow ourselves to cherish our bodies and psyches?

And the answer is, we are in it for the long haul. Thick and thin, we’ve got your back, son.

The Perils of Grandparenting

There are so few places where you can get a good candid shot of your family, but Los Angeles County’s Natural History Museum afforded us the perfect opportunity to show our fortitude in the face of a T-Rex and other threats.

This week has marked the first visit to Los Angeles of our beautiful granddaughter Skylar, and her professionally qualified parents, Whitney and Chris. We’ve had a great time, fending off Dinos and Cheetahs while we got to know each other a little better. Talk about bonding exercises! Here are a few tips I’ve learned about the perils of grand parenting this week:

NHLA603176804978

How is it that we kept laughing while being chased by a cheetah?

  1. Don’t offer to babysit the first night when your grandchild is exhausted from an all night road trip the night before. It usually ends in tears. And not just the baby’s. Have you ever felt more inadequate than when your grand baby is screaming in your left ear?
  2. When in doubt, check the diaper. There are usually only three reasons that we are no longer having fun: Wet or poopy diaper, hungry, need a nap. Or see 1.
  3. Do not send video tapes of the melt down moments (see 1.) to the parents with the entreaty “Can you come home now?” This is irresponsible and subpar grand parenting. You can do better than that. My friend Hannah has told me I’m allowed to send them to her instead. That’s a good friend. And have you ever tried to soothe a squalling baby and take a video at the same time? I’m not adept enough to pull it off.
  4. Always have a burp cloth near by. This is just the euphemistic name for a better place for your baby to throw up on than on your new shirt.
  5. If you are out at the restaurant and the baby is lying serenely in your daughter-in-law’s lap after the meal, don’t offer to hold her. It will usually end up in tears.
  6. Binky = Success.
  7. Don’t try to conduct business when you are babysitting. Had to put the phone down with the company manager from the Kirk Douglas yesterday to rescue Grandpa, who had dropped the Binky. See 6.
  8. It’s okay to go to sleep when you’re babysitting and the baby has gone to bed and is quiet. It only took me two hours of waiting for the pros to come home to realize –

    DOH! Chris and Whitney go to sleep at night while she is sleeping. I can go to bed, too.

    NHLA603176804976 (1)

    Always take a photo if you are surrounded by giant butterflies and ladybugs. It will be a classic. 

Gold Stars – 51/56

When I was about 7 years old, I asked my parents for a piano and piano lessons. It was a bold request; we had just moved from our house in Pittsburgh’s North Hills to a newly constructed colonial on the outskirts of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, placed lovingly by my parents at the foot of the hill leading up to my paternal grandparents’ home. We had visited the house through all phases of construction, peering over the muddy pit that would become our basement as it was excavated, to playing tag in the spindly wooden uprights which would define our bedrooms and bathrooms.

I don’t know where I got the idea for piano lessons from. I had heard my mother play Clare de Lune when we visited her parents’ home in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and I remember being surprised that someone as capable and strong and sensible was also so expressive, so lyrical, so sad. She lost herself in the keys, and the sound of her playing filled their house with a melancholia that was tangible. I don’t know why I remember it as sad, because I think she was actually happiest then in those early years of motherhood, but my auditory memory is one that stills me to a sadness.  Mom wasn’t the only one to play that piano; my Uncle Lou could bang out happier music, which underscored our sing-alongs. My cousin, Doug, too, had a propensity for playing that was astonishing. He really was adept. Perhaps I was jealous of his skills. Who knows.

Anyway, for whatever reason, my precocious seven-year-old self got it into her noggin that she was going to be a virtuoso pianist and when we moved into the finished Greensburg house, one Christmas morning, there, in the linoleum-floored family room adjacent to the kitchen and laundry, was a dark, upright piano. I was enthralled, and spent hours playing the piano, and learning the songs that my piano teacher, Mrs. Gardner taught me. She lived in a house in the center of Greensburg, right across the street from a a friend of my father’s  from Yale. It happened that Dad was a squash player with this friend, Joe, and Joe had recently constructed a squash court behind his house, right down the street from Mrs. Gardner’s house. So while I was being taught by Mrs. Gardner, Dad was working up a sweat across the street. Sweet deal for both of us. Every Saturday morning we went to our separate labors.

The inside of Mrs. Gardner’s home was dark; her concert piano ebon, it’s black and white keys angled so that as I sat on the bench, my back was to the window on the front of the house facing the street. She was really old. Remember, this was my 7-year-old perspective, so she was probably my age now, or maybe even younger. But she had been a concert pianist, so I was told, and now, her hands were gnarled with the arthritis which had forced her career to a close. Her training was strict and rigorous. I was a little terrified of her and her methodology.  She told me that my fingers should also be tightly clenched, the fingers functioning as little independent hammers to strike the keys during the endless scales that she gave me to practice. She wrote the fingering with a stubby pencil above the notes, afterwards, laying the pencil to rest on the music stand of the piano. And she used little gold stars to reward me if I came and performed the scales or the simple pieces well. Oh, how I lusted after those gold stars, or the little piano stickers. They incentivized me to a ridiculous extent. Sometimes when I would sit on the bench of the piano at home, having been cajoled there by my patient mother folding laundry to my left at the machines, and I would think about those little gold stickers and the pleasure of Mrs. Gardner’s approval. It took so little then to make me reach for a goal. My parents did a good job teaching me how to strive to better myself.

Today I have a piano in my living room, adorned with pictures of my family and friends, my new granddaughter held lovingly by my son and his beautiful partner. I haven’t played the piano for weeks, and before that, for almost a year. There are no gold stars in the books in the piano bench. There is a copy of Clare de Lune, which I occasionally struggle over; it’s more about making contact with my mother, who has gone on to the great piano concert hall in the sky, than my piano practice.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other goals that I’m reaching for. You may have followed my current physical challenge of 56 yoga or spin classes in 57 days as a 56th birthday present to myself. It hasn’t been a solitary journey. I have had lots of support along the way, and lots of gold stars from my instructors at #YASDTLA.

12698450_1706220409648396_4770166049108330825_o

Special thanks this morning to Mike Nobrega for giving me the gold star I needed to cross into the final 5 days of my challenge. I’m offering you a free ride and yoga class any morning next week at 5:30AM Monday-Friday to start your own challenge, or help me finish mine!

Boycott the White Oscars

Recently I was appointed to a committee at the School of Dramatic Arts to address issues of Diversity and Inclusion. When I received the letter, the phrase “blood from a turnip” crossed my mind, but then I remembered after the Summit on Diversity and Inclusion that we’d had late last fall, how uplifted and purposeful I had felt, and I tamped down my low expectations of what else I could manage, attending the first meeting last week. It was a vibrant assembly of faculty, students and alumni, led by Anita Dashiell-Sparks, our Diversity Liaison,  who all have the common desire to see these issues addressed and improved within our school and the University at large.

The conversations we began last fall about privilege and alliance, utilizing power to illuminate the shortcomings of our school and society were animated and energetic. After attending about 6 of the 11 events over the weekend, sandwiched in between tech rehearsals for two shows, I felt hopeful that we might make some changes to elevate the sense of inclusivity within the school.

Then along came the Oscar nominations and the news from the Academy that there were some changes coming along – culling the white herd of older, inactive Academy members, the 1%ers of the industry, along with a goal of doubling the number of female and racially diverse members by 2020 – the Academy’s own environmental quality act, if you will. You probably raised your eyebrow at “culling” – we’re not talking about taking them out back and killing the older inactive members of the academy – we’re talking about term limits on voters of 10 years, renewable then if they remain active. We are simply talking about removing people from the voting process who are no longer active in the industry. I would hope that all healthy organizations would consider that part of a routine process. This has nothing to do with an age purge, by the way – Clint Eastwood has been an active Academy member, all his life, even more so, arguably, since he hit the age of 80.

My husband noted that I am getting really steamed about this topic. No more so than this morning when I picked up the Los Angeles Times and read William Goldstein’s inflammatory op ed entitled “The PC Crisis at the Academy.” In his article, there were several times while reading that I muttered to myself:

Can you not see your own privilege?

It is true that the academy doesn’t make the movies – that the studios and independent producers need to step up their game and make more diverse movies showing the broader world. And yes, it has happened that people of color and projects of color have been nominated and have even won awards – in 2014, several films were recognized: “12 Years a Slave” (3 Oscars) and “Selma” (nominated for Best picture) in 2015. So how does it happen at a major awards show in a subsequent year that we see no actors of color nominated? Where are Abraham Attah and  Idris Elba for their powerful performances in “Beasts of No Nation”? Nominations for Screen Actors Guild awards, as well as Golden Globes, BAFTA and AAFCA happened. What happened at the Academy? I expect that the membership, as has been posited elsewhere, shuffled the DVD to the bottom and watched instead one of the more mainstream films. Until the shuffling to the bottom ends, it is inevitable that the nominations will skew to white, heteronormative nominees. And that’s the problem.

Why must the academy perfectly mirror that diversity? It’s a meritocracy.

William Goldstein, The PC Crisis At The Academy, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016

First of all, there is nothing close to perfect “mirroring” diversity going on in the current film industry. Secondly, the idea of a meritocracy reinforces the idea that within a mostly white male industry people who “have it” will be given opportunities equal to those enjoyed by the mostly white male industry practitioners; this is naive. If that were true, surely there would be no need for organizations such as Women Make Movies, a group that has existed for thirty years to address the underrepresentation of women in media. No, Mr. Goldstein, it is up to the white membership of the industry to embrace the wider audiences by supporting projects that better represent those who actually are going to the movies. To hold the mirror up, as it were. Ignoring important films like “Straight Outta Compton” is emblematic of the problem. Sure, I had problems with a lot of things in that movie, including it’s treatment/portrayal of women. However, there were also some incredible performances that deserved Oscar recognition, like O’Shea Jackson and Jason Mitchell, to name two.

…I find it troubling that the leadership pushed through these changes without consulting the academy at large.

William Goldstein, The PC Crisis At The Academy, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016

Given the demonstrated and measured lack of diversity within the Academy,  asking the members to cull their own herd and double the minorities and women voluntarily would be to expect this change to happen within a predominantly white, privileged vacuum. And if history is any guide, this isn’t happening. At least not as fast as I would like to see. Too fast, you say? 

I know there are Academy members who do want to change, to keep up with the times, to reinvigorate the Academy with new members and to have the Academy mirror society at large more accurately. There are those in leadership positions, on the Board of Governors of the Academy as well (19 of 39 of whom are women) – witness the recent climate change proposal.

In our first Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting last Friday, I was energized by the younger members. I felt their passion, and pride in being assigned to such an important body for change. More than once it was articulated that the white members of the school need to step up in alliance with the principals of advancing diversity and inclusion. To use their (pardon the acknowledgement of privilege) power.

So here’s a simple thing we can all do in a few weeks. We can simply refuse to watch the Academy Awards – Sunday, February 28th; just tune out. Refuse to participate by silently supporting the lack of diversity, the stunning exclusivity that is rampant in the film industry. Use that time to go see a movie or a performance that does embrace the principals we want to embrace. Go and attend the matinee of the MFAY3 Rep performance of  The Threepenny Opera at USC School of Dramatic Arts to witness what our world can look like in entertainment.

New Year’s Eve Personal AMR

Right when I think I won’t be able to extract myself from the couch to return to work on January 4th, it occurs to me that I need to do that annual self-evaluation called an Annual Merit Review. This is what faculty members do to justify the salaries they are paid for the prior year and to make a case for their continued employment in the coming year.

There’s nothing wrong with justifying your job. If you do it really well, you get to keep it, and believe me, I know how blessed an event that is. Just FYI, I’ve started that document. This is a list of ten less formal but more personal events from 2015, some of which I blogged about this year. If you want to visit the blogs, the links are included below.

In 2015, I:

  1. returned to the professional theatre for the first time in 10 years, to stage manage. I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted to do it again, but when the right project comes along with the right timing, anything is possible and the experience was amazing. Gospel at Colonus first DaysGospel at Colonus week 2,Gospel at Colonus – Music and MovementGospel at Colonus Tech Week,Gospel at Colonus Opening NightGospel at Colonus – 6 Degrees of Wren T. BrownGospel at Colonus Messy HumansGospel at Colonus – ClosingGospel at Colonus Family Reunion,Gospel Remount
  2. watched our son really grow into adulthood, become a hockey coach and put down roots with a wonderful fiancee and their new baby. Drone Parenting

    IMG_5584

    Skylar

  3. in the happiest event of the year, added a title to my name: Nana Els. You can see above the beautiful baby who gave me that title just before Christmas. I wear it with a pride beyond what I ever believed was possible. May the force be with you.
  4. oversaw the remodel of a bathroom and a kitchen, as well as the living and dining room repaint and recarpet.Emergency Kitchen Remodel Remodeling,First week Remodeling bath,Pictures of completed remodel
  5. Spent three brief vacations in Lake Tahoe. Three vacations? Unheard of! I’d advocate buying a vacation home there, but I know the minute we did that, our reason for visiting would move.  That’s one reason. The other is below.
    IMG_5566 2

    Digging out of the snow.

     

  6. witnessed the joy on my husband’s face when he was offered an acting job in the waning hours of the year. (more to come on that in a future blog).
  7. sent out some Christmas cards after vowing in prior years that it was too much work. The secret? Go to Vroman’s now and buy the cards on sale;stash them in the closet. Hopefully by November of the 2016, I will still like them, and there will still be a federal postal service to deliver them.
  8. got a tattoo, my first. Also, probably my last.  The Gift
  9. lost some dear friends and relatives. It never gets easier to lose loved ones, but death is a strong reminder/incentive to keep living to your fullest potential.
  10. reorganized my closets and financial accounts to bring me more joy. And a retirement. The two are not related, but both bring me joy.
    IMG_5076

    Bags of clothing I cleaned out.

    I hope your year was equally eventful and overall positive. Let’s raise a glass to the untapped potential of 2016!

May the Force Be With You – In Life and Death

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.

Jason_WingreenMy 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.

RED SOX NATION REJOICES (1) - 10 of 10

Jimmie, Chris and Jason celebrate the happy victory!

IMG_1041

Jimmie on the phone with stepson, Frank, in the moments after the Red Sox clinched the World Series in 2004.

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;IMG_5531 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.

IMG_5532

His now wobbly signature has graced so many generous cards and head shots.

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:

May the force be with you.

Giving Thanks

IMG_5438

Els and Whitney and Cupid by the Lake

During the week of giving Thanks for all that we are grateful for, my husband and I flew to Reno, Nevada, then rented a Jeep Grand Cherokee to drive over the Donner pass to where our son and his fianceé live. There is so much to be thankful for, I almost don’t know where to begin.

Thank you to the car rental staff for making sure we got that 4-wheel drive vehicle, though the process wasn’t Thrifty nor fast. After all, that extra hour allowed me the opportunity to have a cup of hot chocolate before heading out into the 30-degree gloaming.

Thank you for the pickup truck I followed all the way through the snow to our final destination. I think our S.U.V. imprinted on it’s rear bumper. It was kind of comforting for someone who hadn’t driven in the snow for thirty years to have someone who seemed to know what she was doing ahead of me.

Thank you for the very large room overlooking the lake. And the parking lot.

IMG_5435

Our bucolic view of the Lake in the snow.

Thank you to the large dog next door for the early wake-up call. I lay there fuming before composing the snarky post card I pushed under the adjoining door and instantly regretted. It read:

Dear Neighbors,  I’m sure your dog is lovely, but has been barking for the last 40 minutes incessantly (from 7:38 to 8:20AM). While we appreciate how challenging it is to travel with a pet, we did not come all this way to share in your dog’s misery.

Thank you for the endless string of football games that kept all of us engaged for 3 days between feedings. Thank you, too, on behalf of some of the guests who even won money.

Thanks for teaching us that crockpot stuffing doesn’t need the extra chicken broth even though it looks a bit dry. The glutinous mess was still tasty and now we know for next year!

IMG_5455

Thanks to Kelley’s tree farm for the experience of picking out the best tree on the lot and finding out that it was only $10 a foot instead of the spruce’s $20 a foot.

Thank you for the newly hatcheted Christmas tradition of watching our son trim the bottom and top branches off the tree with a rusty machete that he just happened to have in the trunk of his car. A little too “Hotel Rwanda” for my tastes, but handy after all.IMG_5457

Thank you, Tahoe Sheriffs, for not ever pulling my son over and finding that rusty machete in the trunk of his grandma car.

Thank you for reminding me why I live in Southern California, allowing me to practice for four days the burdensome ritual of putting on and taking off sweaters, zipping up and down down coats, scarves and boots. For both myself and my husband. I’ve got it now.

Thanks for the front row seat to see the parents of our future grand baby as they decorated their first shared Christmas tree. IMG_5461And for the nice in-laws that we seemed to get along with famously.

Thank you for the patience to wait another two weeks or so until “she” arrives via the precious talismans signaling her arrival for the time being. IMG_5445 Thank you for the love and hope and turkey and gravy and pumpkin pie and pizza and excitement of the weekend.

And finally, thank you for the five uninterrupted hours of togetherness we had in the airport on the way home. We don’t get enough time together, and we were happy to spend in spite of the annoying publicist who paced back and forth behind us, ricocheting between berating his poor assistant and kissing his clients’ asses. I had to turn around when I heard him say, “Yo! Dog! What’s up!” Middle-aged white guy, wearing a white cable-knit sweater over a well-fed tummy, and a large sheepskin collar  on his black leather jacket turned up ala The Fonz. Not what I would have expected in a million years.

 All in all, life is good. Thank you!IMG_5465

31 Years – The Gift

Endgame Photo

L to R: Alice Drummond (Nell), James Greene (Nag), Alvin Epstein (Hamm), Peter Evans (Clov)

My husband and I celebrated our 31st anniversary on 9/1. Yep, 31 years ago, we tied the not in a small Episcopal church on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Our lives then, as now, revolved around the theatre. At the time of our marriage, Jimmie was performing the role of Nag in a production of “Endgame” at the Samuel Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row with Alvin Epstein  (Hamm and also Director), Peter Evans (Clov) and Alice Drummond (Nell). This production subsequently toured to Israel where we had a free honeymoon, staying at The Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel had a bar with a piano where, I kid you not, the piano player sang “Where it’s at, at the Diplomat!” There, in the bar,  they served martinis consisting of about a thimble full of gin, a lot of ice, a twist of lemon and two of the smallest olives you ever saw. We were still drinking then, a habit which I shed shortly after our return from Israel, and Jimmie, about a year later.

A successful marriage of over thirty years is marked by many changes, involving mutual growth  as well as personal.

If you read my blog about our 30th anniversary, and the romantic weekend getaway at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, you can see that this year was going to be hard to top. 30 Years, 30 Memories

So I started to think about the gift as a dramatic story; the kernel of the story coincided with something inexplicable that I have been thinking about over the past three weeks. You may think less of me, or perhaps more after you learn that I have been thinking hard about getting a tattoo. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my midlife crisis kicking in. I’m hardly the family’s first. Our son, Chris, has entire sleeves of elaborate tattoos on both arms, which, if the truth be told, I’ve given him a great deal of grief about.

My thought process in the past week got more focussed, as the timeline shortened, and I found the image I wanted while cleaning off my desk, an unopened box of Crane’s stationery.  The notecards are adorned with a single, colorful hummingbird hovering over a frond of Indian paintbrush,  a vibrant red flower stem that matches the bird’s ruby throat.

IMG_5016

Our Anniversary Dinner at the Perch Restaurant (before the dramatic reveal)

We’ve become obsessed with hummingbirds, starting from when Jimmie and I decorated our patio two years ago with furniture and two hummingbird feeders. Each day, from 7am to about 8pm, we have from 10-15 hummingbirds darting back and forth between the feeders, sparring for access. They are enormously entertaining to watch. Frankly, I don’t know why it took me so long to choose the image for the tattoo, but once I had, it was just a matter of working up my courage and finding the time to do it.

My online search for LA Tattoo parlors was brief; I quickly selected the one from Yelp with the most stars that was closest to Downtown LA, Alchemy Tattoo. I pored over their site, looking for similar images, and learning a little about flash, catalogue frames of tattoo art that is displayed in a parlor to give those with the urge but not the clarity some ideas.

This was supposed to be a surprise, of course. I figured there was nothing that would surprise my husband more than my getting a tattoo. It wasn’t just the shock value, which I hoped he could handle, but it was the (hopefully) romantic statement that I would go through a lot of pain and suffering for him, decorate my body with an image that had profound meaning to both of us and to our lives together. So, for the purposes of maintaining my cover, I told him that I had to go do some shopping for our anniversary, and after breakfast, I headed out the door with my hummingbird notecard and the best intentions.

Just before leaving, I texted a photo of the card to Chris, asking him for a sanity check. He approved (duh, Mom) and off I went. I pulled up in front of Alchemy Tattoo, which is on Sunset Blvd in Silver Lake.  It was about 11:45AM on Sunday, and the security doors were not quite open, but I pushed my way in, heart pounding. FullSizeRender 9It was empty! Great news. Chris had warned me that I should be prepared to discuss my project with someone, but not get in, because usually walk-ins would be given second priority to those who had larger ongoing projects. But, he had said, you might get lucky.

Jake, one of the artists, greeted me with the news that the place didn’t open until 12, but in spite of that, he came over to listen about my project. He told me all work was paid in cash, which caused me to sag for a moment, until he referred me to the liquor store next door where he said the owner would give me cash back on a purchase. I went over and bought a water and got some cash, returning to Alchemy. By now, Jake had surveyed the other artists and determined that none of the ones present were available – they were working on larger work with more organized clients than myself. But Josh was on his way in, had no appointments, and could help me with my project.

IMG_4980I sat self consciously, in the front of the store, the only person in a 3 block radius with no ink, and did my crossword puzzle, in ink, while I listened intently to the culture of the shop. There was a lightness and ease in the room, aside from my own terror, as people dropped in, dogs in tow,  to share their tats with the artists there. I watched as a young red head came in to continue work on his left arm, and he was asked to show his completed work to the staff; they audibly appreciated it.

Then something happened. I had no idea how it was going to feel to get a tattoo, and that worried me, but the process of planning, designing the art work was one that was so familiar, that I instantly relaxed. I watched as Jake worked with the young man who was adding a dagger to his arm, listened as they discussed the shape, size, color and placement of the new tattoo among his existing art. They moved around the shop, looking at the art on the walls and describing how his idea of the dagger might differ from the options there. It was the theatrical design process in microcosm.

When Josh arrived, he and I looked at the image of the hummingbird and he discussed how the tiny (less than 1″ square) image would not translate well, and he threw it into the copier there and blew it up to about 2x the size. We discussed the flowers and I said I might like a different flower, and he showed me some cherry blossoms which he then went away and sketched into the picture. While he did that, I continued to try to finish my crossword puzzle and calm my nerves.

Soon we were solving the fact that I’d worn a pretty inappropriate blouse – I turned it around so the buttons ran down the back and Josh began to do the tattoo. Just like the dentist, the noise of the gun was worse than the pain.  It was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. Jake, at the next station over, was working on the red head’s knife, and when I asked how it was looking to Josh, piped up with

That pentagram is looking pretty good.

FullSizeRender 8

Selfie with Joshua Jimenez, my hummingbird artist @joshuajimenez_tattoo

Tattoo humor. Who knew.  I laughed and continued yoga breaths to get through the discomfort. I told them about my earlier trip, (only about 38 years ago) to a tattoo parlor in San Francisco, with a calendar-sized picture of a red footed booby. How the artist there had turned me away because I didn’t have the exact size artwork, and how relieved I had been. More jokes about the Red footed and other types of boobies that they had done. Throughout the process, I wanted to see what was happening, but of course, that wasn’t possible. As we neared the end, I asked Josh if I could take a selfie for the record and he agreed. See, I’m smiling, probably from relief that it was over.

On my way home, I stopped at Macy’s to buy the package that I could carry into the apartment to justify my 3 hour absence.   And after two days of hiding my tattoo from Jimmie, on our 31st anniversary I will show him the gift that signifies we are bonded forever. Our little hummingbird. IMG_5014 IMG_5012IMG_4984