Nana on the Train

I’d boarded the train, and was seated in my roomette, Car 1433, Room 8. Though Wifi was advertised, please note that this was the suggestion of wifi, proving to be extremely spotty (hence the delay in this post). I had an idea that I’d listen to Pandora, but it quickly became clear that wouldn’t be happening. Hmmm. let’s see if I can save my drafts….

Saturday morning, I arrived early at Union Station with my new suitcase and backpack, enough time to get a cup of tea before boarding the train. When in Union Station I always feel like I’ve stepped back to the 40s, with the Deco chandeliers gleaming overhead, and the solid wooden upholstered benches corralled by brass stanchions burnished by time and heavy use.

I’m brandishing a new do, having gone to the Barber Punk’s, a loft salon that Chris turned me onto the day we walked around DTLA, and tried to take care of our own needs. I teased the Barber when I got my latest haircut that she’d cut my hair to Chris’ specs. She went in quick with the #2, before I could say, “Wait! I think I’m a #3!” As a result I look a little like “an escapee from Synanon” which was my Dad’s phrase when I did the #2 over my entire head one summer before I headed off to college. My niece, Niki, encouraged me to not ever forget my lipstick and earrings…. At Barber Punk’s, appropriate notes have been made to avoid this result next time, and since hair always grows back I’m not concerned.

The roomette was smaller than expected, based on my virtual tour of the Amtrak website, but of course, doh!, one only needs to imagine two roomettes that are the width of a train to realize what the reality would be. Spacious for one, I can imagine with two people and luggage it would be a challenge. The conductor was a little heavy on the horn, as we breezed through Simi Valley on our way north. The train was remarkably quiet, the ride smooth and soothing, the sun beaming in on the opposite seat, lighting up my bag of Christmas presents. Lighting up my anticipation of the next few days of travel and arrival.

Here’s the good news. Everything’s included in the ticket price for a Superliner roomette – all food, including dining car reservations made by the train attendant, who sported a shiny metallic Michael Kors purse when she came by to take the reservations for lunch and dinner. 12:15 and 6:30 were my choices, and I remain pleased with them. Especially in retrospect, when the full holiday capacity of the train delayed the later diners by hours. Some didn’t get fed. The dining car was behind me about six cars. Ricocheting off the walls as I walked through the cars, several of them festooned with Christmas lights, took me back to my train trips in Italy in my early twenties, and the disastrous and comic timing of our arrival in Pisa (our destination) when I was about four cars away from my luggage.

The view outside changed from urban industrial, outside Union Station, to Valley industrial (just a bit less graffiti), to the rocky outcroppings of Simi Valley, before we attained the ocean vistas near Santa Barbara. Nothing between us and the water but rolling banks of ice plants. (Forgive my horticultural inaccuracy – but it looked like ice plant to me….)

Traveling solo can be daunting. But on a train, it’s easier because you need to eat and eating is a community table activity. As they noted frequently over the loudspeaker, “if you are a party of under four you will be making a new friend.” At Day One lunch I sat with a young couple on their way to Portland for the holidays, and a woman about my age, on her way to Seattle, her son joining her on the train in San Francisco.

At the end of dessert, the awkwardness started to wear away and I introduced myself by name. Once I shared that I taught production in theatre at USC, the young man across from me, knuckles tatted and a trademark logo (R) behind his right ear, eagerly disclosed that he was a production manager for rock tours like Metallica and we discussed the complexities of the automation involved in these tours. Rather, he discussed them and I listened with interest.

Back in my roomette, with the darkness came the sense of isolation and loneliness that Elizabeth Harper Neeld addresses in her book on grieving. The emotional loneliness of missing the person you’ve shared everything with for fill-in-the-blank-years, and the societal loneliness of finding your place as a soloist in the world. as the light faded from behind the hills, I found myself dreading the trip to the dining room.

In fact, recently, I didn’t attend a party to which I had been invited and had accepted. I realized that it was the flying solo part that was too tough.

My grandfather once told us a self-deprecating story about how he’d wanted to learn how to fly and took lessons in a small single engine plane. The way I remember the story was that he was returning from his solo flight, and after landed the plane successfully, he stepped out of the cockpit, and right through the wing of the plane. That was the end of his flying career.

I didn’t want to do that at the party – step through the wing of the plane on my first solo flight. And so I didn’t go. On the train, my re-integration into the world was necessitated by my neatly planned appointments to eat. I met some fascinating people, two young animators (WB and Disney), a Metro LA employee and ferroequinologist (my word, not his). It was simple. We were defined by our destinations.

I’m getting off in Portland.

I’m going all the way to Seattle.

Our destinations precluded ever having to talk about my new status as a solo traveler, recent widow, griever, etc. No one on the train ever knew I was going through anything until I slipped with a kind woman traveling with her two sons, by mentioning I’d been reading a lot on the train, and she asked me what I was reading. Uh oh.

A book on grieving.

Fortunately, she didn’t follow up. I appreciated that.

This is where I’m at at seven weeks. Fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of facing the necessary steps to make myself whole again. Excitement about learning to fly solo.

The train trip was a chance to reflect. In between naps. After lunch Day 2, when I woke up from a nap, the rain which had earlier tear-streaked the windows outside had changed to snow, and the deep accumulation chilled the windows to my left. I felt snug inside, listening to classical music and typing furiously.

A Trip to the Zoo

We could potentially categorize the entire vacation as a metaphoric trip to the zoo. The baby bouncing on the banquette at breakfast, the too numerous to count feedings that transpired throughout each day – breakfast buffet, pool food, afternoon snacks, dinners at the Harbor Restaurant, Convivo, Los Agaves to name a few. Well-fed denizens of this zoo. Languid lounging poolside in the afternoon. African mud baths in the park.

Watching the toddler groom her mother’s hair with a plastic fork, providing unprecedented calm at the dinner table. It’s really hard to keep a two-year-old entertained any more than she herself can do so by running out the door onto the sidewalk and watching Daddy take chase.

We hatched this plan to vacation in Santa Barbara earlier this spring, after deciding that a trip to Hawaii wasn’t in the cards for Nana and Grandpa. As it is, Grandpa occasionally asks Nana “How far are we from home?” To which Nana responds, “Two hours.” This soothes Grandpa considerably. As does watching TRM Show before they retire at night.

Last night Nana and Grandpa J had a rambunctious visit from the toddler and her parents after dinner. Nana displayed how to do a somersault for Skylar, and her parents laughed and laughed at Nana’s decrepitude. Oh, it was more fun than a barrel of monkeys (apropos given the theme of the week). I ask you, when was the last time you had to do a somersault? Stop reading right now and try one. You’ll laugh too. Don’t blame Nana if you end up in traction. Seriously, don’t.

The only tonic was for 29-year-old-father-of-the-toddler (FOTT) to do one himself. Yes, Nana did capture it on the iPhone, but has decided to hold out for a bigger payout to keep it off this blog.

Nana’s Fitbit has been apoplectic this week, constantly whirring on her wrist: Get Up! Go! The unprecedented spans of sleep are really upsetting the little buzzer.

IMG_0607Yesterday it was placated a bit by their actual trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo, a quaint hillside dotted with small exhibits and a lot of parks and activities for kids. After getting our tickets (parking, entrance, attractions, train, small home equity loan) at the gate, we rushed to the top of the park to the Giraffe enclosure where we waited in line with about 50 fourth-grade summer campers for the moment when we would all get to feed the giraffe. Nana forged ahead to the top of the summit, to see what the excitement was about. One very patient but not-yet-sated giraffe stood at the bottom of a V-shaped ramp – the right side holding campers with handfuls of romaine lettuce, the left side their escape made, usually squealing after feeding the bottomless pit giraffe. Meanwhile, Nana’s alternative but equally desperate need was for a power outlet for Grandpa Jimmie’s scooter, which was threatening to die a horrible death. Grandpa Dan located the perfect power outlet, and while we waited for the feeding moment, we charged the scooter. Small gratitudes.

 

Many other feeding opportunities at the zoo yesterday, first the sheep and goats, then the humans.

 

Today, Nana finally insisted that they rent one of the surreys-with-no-fringe-on-top to pedal along the beach, her handsome FOTT at the helm, her precious grandchild wearing her bright red helmet in the front basket, facing bravely forward as instructed, but turning impishly to flirt with Nana, and to threaten removing her helmet, the strap clenched in her teeth while giggling in a charming but devilish manner. Her beautiful mother (MOTT) sat behind me, peddling, but also catching clothes the toddler threatened to chuck out of the bags in the basket near her. Hilarity ensued.

It wasn’t until we were well on our way that MOTT and I realized that our steering wheels had no impact on the direction we were going. Leave it to Nana to realize this was the case, and yet, to continue “steering” diligently thereafter.

We rode up the beach past Stearns Wharf, looking for the playground where we were meeting Grandpa Dan and Kathy and Cupid, only to discover that we were going the wrong way. So we turned around, again, much hilarity, as FOTT put his foot down to back us up and get us reoriented in the other direction. And off we rode, going past the hotel again, waving at the bicycle rental man gayly, as we headed off around the bend past the zoo itself.

Then the beautiful MOTT pulled out her phone to check our destination and we realized we had passed the park twice without seeing it, and so headed back past the hotel again, going as quietly past the bicycle rental station as possible so he wouldn’t think us the imbeciles we were without even trying to be.

Nana was happy as a clam, her Fitbit racking up the steps, breaking a sweat for the first time this trip.

 

Recharging Our Batteries

Sometimes there’s a synchronicity in things that borders on breathtaking. This week it’s about batteries.

  • Your alta fit bit battery is low.
  • Your internet isn’t functioning (four calls and a trip to Staples to buy a new Uninterrupted Power Supply when the old one was fine) only to discover it was indeed the modem. A trip to the Beverly Center where you discover there is no Spectrum Store. A glance out the window indicates that it is at the Beverly Connection, which to the Spectrum technician on the phone was the same thing, I guess. After 15 minutes there, I finally noticed the board where our names were listed in order of being helped. I was #22. I plugged in my earbuds and waited, doing some people-watching.
  • Jimmie’s scooter battery dies while his niece Stella is visiting and they are in the park necessitating a full tilt push of the device back to the apartment. (I’ve been there before – humiliating, ridiculous, a test of the humanity of others.) God love Stella. When I returned, I found them at home drinking Starbucks beverages, so she pushed him to Starbucks and then home, something that I wouldn’t ever have done.

Anyway, you can see the theme here. Recharging batteries.

Summer is about recharging our batteries. The days at work are shorter in the summertime, and there are fewer interruptions, allowing us to organize the puzzle that is the following academic year’s season.

More time for visits from family and friends. More time to give back. This summer I’ve started recording interviews with some of the West Coast stage manager notables, for the Stage Manager’s Association “Standing in the Dark” series of podcasts. Selfishly, this allows me time with friends and mentors like Jimmie McDermott, and Mary K Klinger.

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Els and Jimmie and Mr. Bighead, of course. 6/22/18

More time for following our grandbaby’s exploits on the Insta feed.

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Granddaughter Skylar’s joyful mud discovery during a recent Father’s Day camping trip with Mom and Dad.

We had a captivating visit with Stella followed by one from Jen and S. Extraordinary people and we are so lucky to have them in our lives. On the last day, S found a green worm on its way to our tomato pot on the balcony, and brought it inside, where it writhed and danced on her tiny finger like a tiny green belly dancer before finding sanctuary on a full leaf of Romaine lettuce where she proceeded to eat several large holes in the leaf, in a perfectly round shape.

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More time for reading the Sunday paper, especially when your internet modem dies a horrible death. More time to discover to your infinite pleasure that Jonathan Franzen doesn’t seem to give a whit about social media and adores birding. I knew I felt a kinship to him.

More time for finding and using the sweat glands, more time for explosive step ups in HIIT class, and more time for fitbit Workweek Challenges posed by former students. I’m coming for you, Ashley S!

More time for reading. I just finished reading Todd Purdum’s book, Something Wonderful, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution, a beautifully researched and entertaining dive into the history of American Musical Theatre, a subject high on my radar of late. Apparently high on other peoples’ reading lists as well, as this photo and Guardian article revealed. But enough of that. I’m recharging my batteries. No perp walk for me. I told my husband as I got about half-way through the book,

Lucky you! I’m going to sing all the lyrics I encounter.

Which turned into one of the sweetest pastimes we’ve had. Out of the murky depths of our long fused, long term memory banks came the swells of the live theatrical shows of his youth and mostly televised shows from mine. Granted we sounded a little closer to Archie and Edith on the piano bench than Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae,  but nevertheless, it was lovely. We beamed at each other.

Summer brings the crunchy, sweet wholesomeness of cherries, watermelon, lighter evenings and the prospect of summer vacation on the horizon. A week of unscheduled recreation with family. Time to attend book signings by friends, and to go to the movies.

In essence, time to recharge our batteries.

Summer Daze in DTLA

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

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

When will we know our assignments, Els?

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

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

I suddenly felt so lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part III

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

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

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

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Jimmie and I looked at each other and I ventured,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part II

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

Notes from the Wedding Trail – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ceremony came off with a hitch.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monogrammed Pillowcases for a sleepover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite parts of the city?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Talented Aunt Irene

This past week, we had the pleasure of spending four days in New York City, the first time since 2009 when we were there to attend my niece Kendra’s wedding. I organized this trip so we could see my Dad and his wife, Sally, whom we also hadn’t seen in way to long a time. We all ended up staying at the Algonquin Hotel on W. 44th St., smack dab in the middle of the theatre district.  What I didn’t know was that my Dad’s sister, Irene, and her husband, Paul Neal, would also be in New York for some meetings with her new agent.

My Aunt Irene is a truly gifted artist. She has been making art for a long time, close to 50 years now, and her painting style mirrors her personal refulgence.

Renie is my dad’s younger sister. They are 5 years apart in age. They adore each other and have such a great time when they get together which is frequently. They love to laugh, a trait they and I inherited from their mother. Here are a few images from over the years.

When they get together, their laughter is contagious. This trip was no different. One evening, I teased my Dad that I couldn’t believe there was a table in the Algonquin dining room making more noise than ours. I blurted out that he has a stentorian voice which he misheard as centurion, which set us all off. Both words actually apply. My dad is a voracious reader, and a commentary writer. His areas of interest and opining are population, family planning, immigration and a number of other subjects that I studiously avoid because our views are so diametrically opposed. But he is not shy about expressing them and loudly. In retrospect, it is surprising that we avoided talking about the Presidential race for four days. Dad is also one of the most generous men I’ve ever known, and it’s become a point of pride when I can get the table’s check before he does, which happened exactly once the entire week. (I need to practice more.)

Jimmie and I have our own modest collection of Irene Neal’s paintings and jewelry created over the years. On our wedding day in 1984, she and Paul arrived at Paulsson’s Restaurant for our reception bearing a 4′ x 5′ oil painting that she had freshly inscribed to us. It still hangs in our living room. Other periods of her work featured colorful acrylic paintings on wooden bases that are enormous, and totemic in feeling. They are a blast of color and energy just like Renie is. She belongs to a group of painters called the New New Painters, who had a show in Prague in 2002, curated by Kenworth W. Moffett, who passed away just a few days before Renie came to New York. Out of that show came a colorful catalogue of their work, which I have a copy of at home, inscribed in Renie’s loopy writing.

Renie and Paul are environmentalists; out of that love came her creation of beautiful pins and earrings made from discarded plastics. In the 1980s, she utilized the 6 pack plastic rings used to hold beer or soda together, once destined to choke fish but now have a second life as beautiful earrings and brooches. Her most recent jewelry material are the Nespresso pods which she has shaped into delicate, glittery flowers that are quite dressy looking. I was thrilled to be given one by her on the last night there.

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Anna Abruzzo and Irene Neal

Renie and her husband Paul came to New York to meet with Anna Abruzzo, who is interested in repping Renie’s work.

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L. to R.: Dad, Paul Neal, Irene Neal, Sally Epstein, Richard Epstein

We visited Anna at Studio Tag, where she showed us around the architectural showroom showing us all of Renie’s most recent ink stain paintings  gracing the walls of several Studio Tag offices. Before I arrived, they had taken this photo of our group in front of one of Renie’s paintings, and Anna, whose energy mimicks Renie’s, had already named my dad “The Boisterous Man.” I liked her immediately.

After showing us the showroom, Anna took us all up to the roof of the building, where there was a delightful meadow in the middle of Manhattan.


The thing I love most about my Aunt Irene is her natural joy and irrepressible enthusiasm about everything. Right after we got home yesterday, she texted me this picture. I can’t tell if the mounted policeman is giving her directions or lecturing her, but I’m sure that after the encounter, he left smiling because it’s impossible not to when you meet a force of nature like Irene. IMG_6624She always has a smile on her face; she is one of our family’s biggest boosters. What am I saying? You already know her because she is the most frequent commenter on my blog. She gives me a target to aim for when I get to be 80.

Our trip to New York and time with Boisterous Man and his sister Irene is not one I will soon forget.