The Assignment in Chatham

As I walked to the beach, my self-imposed assignment tugged at my sleeve, like an insistent toddler the moment one takes a call. My creative muse gave a shudder as I stepped over a dead field mouse at the end of the tree-covered pathway leading from Aunt Deborah’s Lane to Forest Street.

It was my second walk in three days down to the tiny city beach where the road meets the sand. The first walk earlier in the week was with two dear high school and college friends; stepping onto the beach was an event, Holly reminded us as our feet plunged into the white hot sand of the beach, that we had not experienced together since….

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“Do you remember the last time the three of us were at the beach together?”

ELS

“Of course! The day we skipped school and went to the beach! What beach was it?”

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“Hampton Beach!” (Both of them responded immediately, the exact location fuzzy in my brain.)

ELS

“I think we rented a bus? Who organized the bus?”

NORA/HOLLY

“You did, Els!” (Really? Oh dear, this is getting embarrassing.)

HOLLY

“Who signed for the buses? I’m sure we would have had to have had an adult vouch for us.”

I imagined the two coaches filled with 100 hormonally charged and rowdy 17-year-olds, skin slick with baby oil routinely slathered onto ourselves, excited in our rebellion and proud of our organization of a “stealthy” escape from the confines of our boarding school, St. Paul’s, to Hampton Beach, an 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Concord, New Hampshire. Attempted Beach break out successful!

This week’s beach break out was smaller, but no less well organized. A series of emails had coordinated Holly’s and Nora’s trip to the cape efficiently, arriving with bags containing beer, wine and pie to fill our vacation larder. IMG_6494 2

Chris and Whitney working on the patio.

Chris and Whitney were working on Chris’ resume on the patio when Holly and Nora pulled into the driveway, beeping their horn so loudly, that Chris commented,

What are they your sorority sisters or something?

After a lunch of chicken salad, we gathered our beach gear and began the short trek to the neighboring beach.thumb_IMG_5368_1024

Our beach reunion this week was small but mighty. The three strong women who have come into maturity over the last 38 years were not so when we parted at SPS graduation, our virginal white dresses blowing in the Turkey Pond breeze over the meticulous green lawn by the  Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. We reunited at Princeton University in the fall, after 3 months of summer. Holly then took a gap year off between sophomore and junior years at Princeton, returning to join the class of 1983,a fact which she reminded us of this week. She’d spent the year in Sun Valley, Idaho, waitressing, tutoring French, and working for a small theatre company.

The three of us really didn’t reunite much at Princeton. There were 12 of us from the SPS class of 1978 who migrated to New Jersey, having found another ivy-encrusted idyll to inhabit. Idyll is too strong a word for my experience: I found Princeton socially stifling. I found a social circle of artistic souls, but at Princeton I didn’t develop the close bonds with faculty I had at SPS. I had had bi-weekly visits with my theatrical mentor, Bob Edgar at SPS, on Tuesday mornings prior to mandatory chapel, for what we called our “Tutorial.” There, in the bachelor tidiness of a faculty master’s lodging in Center Upper, the tutorial members, Will Schwalbe, Ed Tuck and I, drank coffee with “Edgar”, listened to classical music, learned how to discuss world events while giggling over Fred Rodgers’ recordings.

Some folks are fancy on the inside,

Others are fancy on the outside.

Everybody’s fancy, everybody’s fine,

Your body’s fancy, and so is mine!

At 7:50 AM, we’d walk together to chapel on the brick pathway from Upper, the snow tamped down by the LL Bean-booted feet of so many before us, often between hip-high snowdrifts. While at Princeton, I never developed such close faculty mentorship as I had had with Edgar, but nevertheless found my theatrical tribe in the bowels of Theatre Intime, an octagonal brown-gray stone building in the center of campus, where we mounted dozens of serious plays, like The Devil’s Disciple, The Children’s Hour, The Mound Builders, and as well as the less serious Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.

Holly found her niche at the Triangle Club, Princeton’s musical theatre group, which celebrates their 125th anniversary this year, a reunion Holly says she may attend; she appeared in Godspell while a member in Triangle. Ironically, neither she nor I have set foot on the campus since we graduated in 1982/83. We discussed how we eschew large social gatherings; for me, sober for 31 years, I’m allergic to large gatherings of people where alcohol is the bonding element. Now I’m so curious as to what caused her to take the gap year while at Princeton.

Nora continued to row crew all four years at Princeton, finding her home there. We had rowed together at SPS, but it had never occurred to me to try out for the crew at Princeton. I think I was destined to spend my free moments in darkened theatres. We laughed about the fact that Holly and I were both so involved in the theatre at Princeton, but had never crossed paths because I had selected the “serious” theatre and Holly, the “social.” When it comes down to it, it appears that I’d selected the “off-Broadway” venue, and Holly, the “Broadway.” Triangle performs student-written material, directed and choreographed by professionals. It is frequently satiric, and usually polished; their strong alumni support allows them to take the shows on tour every February.

Back to the assignment, tug, tug, tug, as the winsome roadside daisies wiggle.thumb_IMG_5361_1024

At the start of our reunion, I gave us the assignment to write about the day, offering to publish their essays on my blog. As though there needed to be a structure, literary proof of our encounter. I thought it would be fun to see how we each experienced the day; Holly is a beautiful writer, as is Nora, who denies her writerly acumen vehemently. In truth, Nora is the glue that bonds all of us in our class at SPS. An email from Nora can and recently did cause the spontaneous reunion of fifteen Paulies who live in L.A., after 38 years of isolationism. She thrives on maintaining the connections of her classmates, and goes to New York to meet annually with some of the class’ stars: Lisa Hughes, the editor of The New Yorker, among other dazzling women from SPS who reside there. Nora’s roots went deep at SPS, as the daughter of one of our teachers at SPS, Mr. Tracy; the other day, in the blustery sun and wind of Forest Street Beach, I espied his passion, and fervor on my friend’s face as we discussed our families.

ELS

I wasn’t really very happy at Princeton.

NORA/HOLLY

Why?

ELS

After SPS, and how comfortable I felt there, when I got to the larger university, I didn’t really feel like I fit in. I wasn’t a “preppy”, and didn’t feel comfortable with that group or many other groups.

HOLLY

I remember hearing that you weren’t having a good time there. I often thought about looking you up and having lunch or something.

ELS

I wish we had done that.

How lovely it would have been to re-connect with Holly and Nora more fully at Princeton. Maturity provides perspective and appreciation of value: I suppose I was still in the formative phase of making friends while at Princeton. I consider myself fortunate to have come away with a handful of very good friends from that time. But I am regretful about how much richer things might have been if I’d stayed more closely tethered to these two soul sisters.

Both Holly and Nora have led such interesting lives. For her graduate studies, Holly studied in Ireland, writing her thesis on Beckett and Yeats. Nora has raised two children with her husband Tim, Holly three with her husband John. We all have stable marriages, aging parents, all of the accoutrements of lives well lived. We have children roughly the same age; Monday we compared and contrasted their paths.

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Chris holds Skylar at the beach.

We had the benefit of having our son, Chris, handy for demonstration, along with his beautiful fiancée Whitney, and their 6-month-old daughter, Skylar. They joined us at the beach after Skylar’s nap. Holly slipped off into the dunes to talk with her daughter, Mia, by phone as planned. It was completely comfortable, like we had never left each others’ sides for 34 years.

Sorority Sisters? Soul Sisters? Yes, you could say that. I am proud to count these two women as sisters of any stripe! Stay tuned for their assignments soon!

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Gathering research for the Beach Reunion assignment, Chatham, MA

I have been missing Chatham

 

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After a two year hiatus, we are resuming our annual trek to Cape Cod, to the beautiful town of Chatham, where we have rented a home to spend a week reading, going to the beach, eating fried clams, and visiting with our friends and family who either live there or have journeyed there to visit with us.

We made the decision after the trip in 2013 that we wouldn’t  go the next year to the Cape. It was a combination of things that brought us to this decision, but we were both comfortable with having made it and nevertheless sad with the finality of it.

The rhythms of that year were disrupted by our decision. The Thanksgiving weekend, when I usually began the rental process, writing to the realtor to secure a lovely little house we had had for the past three years, came and went without the frisson of anticipation of being flat out on the beach with the languorous sun lapping at my legs.

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Then in April, when usually it was time to send the second half of the deposit, and book the plane tickets, the rental car and alert our family and friends, there was instead, just the familiar cascade of shows at work, but no summer vacation on the horizon. That time went by without the flurry of  details coming together with a satisfying sense of organizing a pleasurable and familiar trek.

During the intervening two years, as our usual dates would approach, I would get blue about missing seeing our sister Kate, and missing our annual whale watching trip from Provincetown. Ice cream at the Schoolhouse ice cream Shop, with it’s quirky decorations.  Sweaty long bike rides along the bike path which ran just off the road behind our house. Walking down to the beach and getting caught in the rain on the way back.

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Creamy Clam Chowdah from the Chatham Squire restaurant, and breakfast at the Hanger B restaurant overlooking the one runway of the Chatham airport, usually more trafficked by geese than by airplanes. AAA Baseball games in the late summer sun with the sound of children playing in the playground behind the bleachers, oblivious to the game. Years ago, when most of my family visited at the same time, we went to the go cart track and raced with the kids. thumb_IMG_2236_1024

But thanks to our dear friend Susan’s visit, and the few days off I took while she was here, we began to think about a return to Chatham this summer. We’ll just go for a week this time. Happily it coincides with a visit by our son and daughter in law and our grand baby. We just couldn’t refuse the opportunity to make another trip to the home of our Boston Red Sox.

This year we will be there for a shorter time; later planning resulted in a different  and smaller rental house. There probably won’t be time for a whale watching trip, but hopefully enough time to linger a bit with friends and family. We’ll celebrate Father’s Day with the newest father in the group, our son.

ChrisandSkylarHockeyshot There will be time to drag my freshly painted toes in the sand-the polish I picked last week was labeled “feel the bern.” There will be the pleasure of introducing our newest tribe member to the summer Cape experience. What could be better than a teething baby with sand in her diaper. Ahhh. Life is so good.

 

 

Celebrating Old Friends

One of my dearest friends in the world is visiting us this week from her home in South Africa, where she has lived there for (gasp) 25 years. She arrived in Los Angeles last week just in time to catch Jimmie’s performance in Endgame. Or, to be more accurate, she flew half way around the world, stopping in Dubai along the way, in order to catch Jimmie’s performance in Endgame. We are truly blessed to have a friend like Susan.

Susan and I met, as best as we can remember, our two addling brains competing for the discretely retreating details of our youth, as Juniors at Princeton University. She was living in a brick two-story house near the Princeton Inn College, where I was working as an RA. Somehow, someone at the university or at PIC determined that we would be good students to put in charge of producing events in a small black box theatre in the basement of PIC. We laughed this week as we tried to remember what had been involved in this assignment. I can’t imagine such a thing, but we produced a few shows that year and bonded in the process.

I was a horrid R.A. I was responsible for advising an entire floor of freshmen in PIC for which I received free housing and board that year. That was also the year my Mom went to Columbia University to get her graduate degree in journalism at the age of 45. At 20, under the guise of writing a religion class paper about cults, I managed to get sucked into the EST movement. It was an eventful year.While Mom was at Columbia, she loaned me her car, which was great to have at college; come to think of it, it probably enabled me to go to the EST Trainings and drag along all multiple friends. You are welcome, Susan, Bob and Bill.

I remember visiting Mom in New York, where she was living in a rented room in a woman’s apartment at 101st and Broadway while she attended Columbia.  Mom’s room was filled with antiques, a burled walnut bed with a tattered canopy, but the woman’s kitchen was filled with cockroaches, and after watching my proud and extremely elegant mother eat her Lean Cuisine on the oilcloth covered kitchen table, I promptly drove back to Princeton and got black-out drunk. It was a complicated year; why I was probably not in a position to advise freshmen.

Aside from the low phases described above, I met Susan, and she and I hit it off extremely well. We ran together, like gazelles, through the woods, leaping over the trickling brooks in the Princeton woods surrounding the campus, training for a half marathon, until 10-mile runs seemed routine, and then, a week before the race, I got the flu and had to drop out. Susan went on to run the race; I was proud of her for finishing.

Susan went on to become assistant production manager at the McCarter Theatre, and a year or so after we graduated, she was the one who called me back from Venice, Italy, where I’d been living for a glorious 13 months. She invited me back to be a dresser on a new Joanna Glass play, called “Play Memory”, directed by Hal Prince. I may have told you about how Jo Henderson,the actress I was responsible for dressing, used to call the foam enhanced brassiere she wore her ‘play mammories.’ Anyway, I did come back from Europe to take this job, meeting my now husband of 32 years who was in the cast. I like to tell people that I was his dresser when we met not only because it’s true, but for its naughty shock value. But again, we have Susan to thank for that blessing.

Susan was the maid of honor at our wedding just about a year later, and I remember her standing in the apse of the church playing the flute in her bare feet for our ceremony rehearsal.  Jimmie and I honeymooned at a little inn in New Hope, NJ, near where Susan lived. He was going to have to go off the following Monday to New Haven to rehearse a play, so we just snuck away for the weekend. We walked into the beautifully decorated room, where a bouquet of yellow flowers awaited us. Susan again.

When Jimmie turned 80, we planned a party in NYC with some of our oldest friends, and a day or so before the party, we were invited to come to dinner at our friends Bob and Mitchell’s apartment. We went and sat down; soon after, there was a knock came at the door. When I opened it there was Susan at the door holding a dish of potatoes or something for the dinner. She had flown from Cape Town to be there for Jimmie’s party, and she had been able to keep it such a good secret.  I think I burst into tears; we were both so floored.

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Susan, Bob, Nathan, Els and Jimmie

Later that week, we went to Bryant Park with our life-long friend, Bob, where we witnessed a flash mob of drunken and disorderly Santa Clauses. You think I’m making it up, but I am not. Here’s the proof. Yes, the large Santa Effigy is holding a beer guzzling device, which pretty much sums up how you get that many people to participate in a Santa Flash Mob…

There are some people in your life with whom you can just pick up and continue a conversation like you never stopped talking. We have had a long ongoing conversation about life and its challenges and joys for the past 30+ years, and it never seems to end or sour.  When we were in college, we anticipated how we would spend our retirement years together. We discussed various scenarios, but the one I remember consisted of us sitting in adjacent rocking chairs on a porch in Portland, Oregon. Now, with Susan in Cape Town, Bob in New York, and our friend Bill long gone to his poorly timed encounter with HIV, our lives are more complicated, but this week, we have renewed the retirement conversation. Of course, we are trying to reel Susan in closer to our home in Los Angeles. It probably won’t work, but we’ll keep trying. You don’t let a good friend like Susan get away.

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My Nagg

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1984 Production of “Endgame” at the Harold Clurman Theatre. L to R, Alice Drummond, James Greene, Alvin Epstein, also the Director, and Peter Evans

 

In the summer of 1984, as my fiancé, James Greene and I made preparations for our upcoming wedding, he was involved in a production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. It was produced in a small, off off Broadway theatre, The Harold Clurman Theatre, on 42nd St. west of 8th Avenue, and he was playing the role of Nagg. He had elaborate white chalky makeup to disguise his youthful 57-year-old features, and wore a jaunty night cap atop his head as he emerged from the ash can down stage right. His entrances were throughout the play, but he was able to retire to the comfort of his dressing room in between his perches, due to the escape stairs under his and Nell’s barrels. During the wedding week, when family were beginning to gather for our nuptuals, Jimmie showed his thoughtfulness when, on the evening that my Grandmother was coming to see the play, he moved quickly from his dressing table, where he sat, dabbing on his white makeup to across the street from the theatre at the West Bank Café, where he knew that my Grandmother Betsey, my father and his wife, Joan, and I were all eating a pre-performance dinner. Horrified that she might “meet him” for the first time when he emerged from his barrel as an 80-year-old man, he had quickly scrubbed off his makeup and run across the street to shake hands with her. For the rest of her life, she always remarked about how thoughtful that had been of him.

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Standing under the sign for the Peace Forest, where the Endgame company planted trees in Alan Schneider’s memory.
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The Cultural Center in Jerusalem where Endgame was performed in 1985.

The following year, in June of 1985, the production was invited to perform at the Jerusalem Theatre Festival. The production was supposed to have been directed by veteran theatre director, Alan Schneider, but he had been killed in May the previous year, while,  looking the wrong way while crossing the street in London, apparently on his way to mailing a letter to Samuel Beckett. The festival participants in Jerusalem went to a hillside, where we planted trees in Alan’s memory, prior to their performing Endgame for the first time. Jimmie and I both wore goofy white tennis hats acquired at the airport to ward off the sun while we planted the trees.

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A dramatic photo of Jimmie taken backstage at the Gerald Behar Center.

The festival performances of Endgame took place in the Gerard Behar Centre, where Adolph Eichmann was tried and convicted; there, the historic status of the building and the location of the barrels down stage right where Eichmann’s glass booth had been precluded a trap door to the basement.  Jimmie and Alice crouched heroically for 90 minutes, clutching onto small metal handles attached to the sides of the barrels. Jimmie was still a runner at the time, so this did not pose the perils it would  if he were asked to do the same today.

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Jimmie floating in the Dead Sea, blissfully unaware that he had just lost his wedding ring.

Another Israel episode was the day we drove down to the Dead Sea, behind some military trucks. We arrived at the edge of the sea, and Jimmie was first in, frolicking in the dense salt water, which would not allow you to sink, due to its viscosity. I approached the shore, bent down and touched the water, feeling how slimy and salty it was. I shouted out to Jimmie,

Did you take off your wedding ring?

Jimmie looked down at his hand in horror and the day was ruined, as we realized his ring had fallen to the bottom of the Dead Sea. This did not seem the least bit auspicious for the newlywed couple that we were, but we returned to New York and went back to the jewelry store to replace it. 31 years later, we’re still going strong, so I guess we survived the incident.

Alan Mandell, the director and Hamm of the upcoming Kirk Douglas Production of Endgame, called us several weeks ago, to see if Jimmie might consider standing by for actor Rick Cluchey, in the upcoming production. Alan was being cautious, he had spoken earlier that evening with a very weak Cluchey; he called to see if Jimmie might be interested. Jimmie considered the offer carefully, and when he called Alan the next morning at 10:00AM to accept, learned from a shaken Alan that Rick had passed away the night before shortly after Jimmie and Alan had hung up. Alan then offered Jimmie the role of Nagg. Jimmie accepted. Just last week it was made official. He is so pleased, but regretful he it was due to another actor’s death.

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Jason Wingreen, b. October 9, 1920, d. December 25, 2015.

All of us in the theatre have had several  weeks of terrible loss, losing such theatrical giants as Rick Cluchey, Brian Bedford, Alan Rickman, David Margulies, and our dear friend Jason Wingreen.

Jason, whom I wrote about in a previous post, passed away quietly in his sleep on December 25, 2015 at about 11:00PM. The ideal way to go, if there is one, at the ripe age of 95, at home, having bid his son good-bye, and quietly without pain. We should all be so lucky. There is a strange limbo period between the time that an actor dies and the world learns of it. It was strange in the ensuing weeks, until the obituaries of Jason and Rick began to appear; for those few days the news had not hit the internet yet. It was almost as though they were still alive.  A Google search still listed them in the present tense.

Earlier this week my friend Lynn Johnson Minney, with whom I had stage managed a production of “Camping with Henry and Tom” at the Pasadena Playhouse called to tell us that she and her husband and daughter were going to be in LA, and she wanted to get together. It never occurred to me until much later in the week that she was coming to attend Rick’s celebration of life, until I remembered that she had stage managed a production of Krapp’s Last Tape also 20 years or so ago. She had met Cluchey when she was in her early 20s and had worked on numerous productions with him. It is startling sometimes how concentrically our lives revolve around each other. I thought of Lynn this morning as I did my yoga practice, because she practiced Bikram yoga when we worked together those many years ago, and frankly, I thought she was crazy.

Other circles – Jimmie worked for months with Brian Bedford at The Phoenix Repertory Theatre, in the 1971 production of “The School for Wives,”which began at the Lyceum Theatre in NY before touring to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. David Margulies had been in “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” with Jimmie, and I had worked with him on “Conversations with My Father.” That’s how it works in the theatre – we drive around in our little artistic bumper cars, careening off and then back together. You never know when you will reunite with a former colleague and friend, but you know that when you do, for good or for bad, you have a deep connection. Our work is so intimate that it begets connections that are significant.

My thoughts drift to the current producers of Endgame, Center Theatre Group. They must be sobered by the fact that their cast members range in age from the youthful Irish Barry McGovern, 67, to Charlotte Rae, in her late 80s, and Alan and Jimmie at 88 and 89, respectively. When Jimmie got the call, my brain immediately kicked into production/stage manager mode, asking Alan,

Who are the Stage Managers?

They will need to have a special understanding of the needs and niceties for aging actors.

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Endgame’s senior happy bus

Jimmie doesn’t drive any more; the same may be true for the other actors.  I fantasized that the theatre would organize some sort of senior actor happy bus to shuttle around town to get the actors for their daily rehearsals? Would they modify rehearsal hours?  These are important questions when revving older actors up to an 8 performance week after a rehearsal and tech period. Alan already has tackled the issue of the comfort of the ash cans, remarking with a laugh that scenic designer, John Iacovelli, had responded:

They will be so comfortable they will want to move in!

After Alan’s call,  I drove to the Samuel French bookstore in Hollywood, to buy a copy of Endgame. Picking out the script, I went home and put it into Jimmie’s eager, outstretched hands. Later in the afternoon, at the nail salon, I turned to look at Jimmie, whose hands cradled the script, his face modeling the behavior I had fallen in love with those many years ago, that of an actor in complete concentration. He repeated the lines silently, gaze falling slightly down, eyes fixed alternately on the script and then at some vague point in the air in front of him. Anyone married to an actor knows this far-away-look in their partner’s eye. Jimmie used to pace around the room, or go outside in the back yard to speak his lines out loud. Just now, I found him pacing near the dining room table. This phase typically precedes the moment maybe a day later when said actor will turn lovingly and say,

Would you mind cueing me? I think I’m ready to give it a shot.

We have shared that moment so many times in our lives together, and Jimmie has practiced it for decades before we ever met. I don’t think either of us thought we would experience that again. I am so thrilled for Jimmie with this opportunity. He is so ready and willing to get back on the boards, back in the can, back in the saddle, whatever the lame metaphor I choose. He is, after all, my Nagg.

 

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

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    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.
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    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.
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    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!

Giving Thanks

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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.

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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!

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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

#GrownLadyCrush – Sarah G. Epstein

I was driving to get my allergy shot today, an unfortunate but necessary 1.5 hour investment of time in myself, when I heard an interesting NPR Story about why old women are so often the face of evil in fairy tales and folklore. I listened avidly, as scholars from Harvard and beyond dissected our cultural crone-ology, the dominance of scary old women in Disney films and beyond. You should read the article, but at the tag end of the story, listeners were directed to post instagram pictures of women of the generation above us (very PC way to put it) who inspire us. We were to label them our #GrownLadyCrushes.

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Sarah G. Epstein, my #GrownLadyCrush

I thought it appropriate that on the occasion of my stepmother’s 90th birthday, which happens to fall on Halloween, appropriately seasonal for this bewitching topic, I would spend some time introducing you to my #GrownLadyCrush, Sarah G. Epstein.

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Girls on the Pier, 1920 by Edvard Munch
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Molly Melching, Founder of TOSTAN, another #GrownLadyCrush

I have known Sally for a little more than twenty years, since we traveled to Vietnam in 1994 on a family planning trip organized by my father. Both he and she have had lives deeply involved in bettering methods of female contraceptives, and it was on this trip where their common interests became bonded by affection and eventually love.

They have been married for more than 20 years now, and over these 20 years, I have had the privilege of learning more about Sally and her passions. She is a strong and opinionated woman, well-read and well traveled, avidly interested in helping to solve the world’s burgeoning population problem. Her frequent letters come in recycled envelopes, graced with stickers promoting organizations like “Friends of the Earth.” Frequently, she has sent birthday gifts in my name to Tostan, an organization started by Molly Melching, a young woman who moved to Senegal in 1974 as an exchange student, and began working there, helping to create a model for Community Empowerment Programs which has by now blossomed into more than 7200 communities who have publicly declared the end of FGC and child/forced marriage. Molly Melching, whom Sally provided me with the means to meet, is another of my #GrownLadyCrushes.

In addition to Sally’s powerful footprint in the world and making a difference in womens’ lives, she is a passionate advocate and collector of  the artwork of Edvard Munch. A self-educated Munch collector and scholar, she has written numerous articles and books, and is one of the most prominent American collectors of Munch’s lithographs. She has lectured widely about his life and work, and as a result of this passion, she has traveled the world behind her collection, which she has generously loaned to many museums hosting retrospectives of Munch’s work. Sally has written a lot about the fact that much of Munch’s work documented the three phases of a woman’s life: the virginal young woman, portrayed as a lithe figure in white often looking out to sea; the strong, passionate woman in the midstream of her life, depicted either naked, or clothed in red; the crone, depicted in black.  A powerful rendition of this journey we make as women is seen in his 1895 etching entitled, “Woman.” Munch utilized these iconic  women in white, red and black throughout his work, including in the lithograph depicted above, “The Girls on the Pier, 1920”, which is the frontispiece of her book, entitled “Edvard Munch, Master Prints from the Epstein Family Collection.” Sally thoughtfully questioned whether the artist intended these icons to be chronological (or crone-ological) or layered aspects of any woman at any point in her life. That’s how Sally thinks – she does big picture and drill-down thinking at the same time.

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Woman, 1895 by Edvard Munch

Sally and her former husband, Lionel Epstein,  had begun collecting these Munch etchings and lithographs back in the 1960s, when, as Sally described herself, she was young, idealistic, and innocent. She wrote about her own stages of life as related to her collecting in the essay from the book above, “Living with Edvard Munch Images: A Collector in Three Stages.” In another essay entitled “The Expressionist Prints of Edvard Munch and Richard Bosman” which she co-authored with Charles T. Butler for an exhibit at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia, she discussed her life as a collector. In this essay, her youthful enthusiasm about the impact of Munch’s work on her as a young woman is evident. CloseTotheSurface

I have enjoyed our correspondence over the past 20 years. Sally is so thoughtful about finding articles about the theatre that she thinks I might be interested in, and sending me the periodic post card, always jotted with something about a recent trip or experience she has had. She is extremely organized and disciplined, spending part of each day in correspondence with friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent a good part of her time combing the papers for relevant articles just so she could reach out and remain connected with her friends and family. Sally catalogues her friends and associates from all walks of life, collecting information and updates on them, maintaining a detailed card catalogue system which I have long envied. Early noting my interest in Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Sally has sent me dozens of postcards and many books and has always urged me to write about O’Keeffe’s early trips to New Mexico to visit Mabel Luhan Dodge, and her subsequent life at the Ghost Ranch. We’ve talked about what a fascinating play it could be.  Not too long ago, she sent me an article about the hockey great Gordie Howe, and a copy of his book to Chris, because she knew about his love of hockey.

Sally, in addition to her philanthropy and tireless advocacy of many causes, takes time to throw a pot or two. No, not in petulance, but she is an accomplished ceramicist. She makes beautiful natural colored bowls, and vases, many of which grace our home from 20 years as grateful recipients. In addition, due to her travels, Sally always has the most interesting gifts, brough from points far and wide and shared with equanimity. Finding a gift for her, on the other hand, can be quite challenging, though she has never seemed displeased with our presents.

Sally’s life long dedication to others has been noted many times. She was named the Feminist of the Month by the Veteran Feminists of America, in July, 2010, for her Worldwide Family Planning work, and her advocacy of the Quinacrine Method of Sterilization. She was presented with the Emily K.E. Bradley Award in 2010 for her numerous years of service to Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

But on the occasion of her 90th birthday, these are just a few of the things Sally has taught me to aspire to in my womanly journey:

  1. A well organized Itinerary is an essential part of orderly travel.
  2. It’s easy to cook a turkey. Don’t be intimidated. Just baste it every 20 minutes or so and it will turn out fine.
  3. Nothing warms the heart more than a nice letter or postcard in the mail.
  4. Aging does not remove the exceptional accomplishments of one’s younger life. (I recently learned that while an international exchange student, Sally had climbed the Watzmann, the third highest peak in Germany at the age of 22.)
  5. Actions speak much more about who you are than words.
  6. By acknowledging other people’s interests, you validate them.
  7. Make philanthropy a part of your daily life. Find organizations you care about and support those.
  8. Keep in touch with your family. Gather them around you on important occasions.
  9. Support the arts. Go to the theatre, opera, gallery openings frequently.
  10. Have a creative outlet. Take time each day to exercise, and to be creative.

As I approach the advanced platform of being a grandmother, I aspire to not be Baba Yaga to my precious granddaughter, but instead, her #GrownLadyCrush. Wish me luck, and thanks to Sally for showing me the Lady Crush path. Baba_Yaga_front

Gospel At Colonus – Performance 17 – “Child, if You Can Find A Resting Place”

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Photo of a page from my prompt book. Taken by my brother, Don, who visited last weekend.

Last Sunday was the closing day for The Gospel At Colonus. It was a week of temporary closures. On Friday, I closed up my desktop at USC for a two week vacation, and after Sunday’s “17th/final?” performance of Colonus, I closed up my prompt book and put it to the side for a while.

Closing a show or project is always emotional. After one has spent 8 plus weeks getting to know the cast and crew, weathered the road weariness of rehearsing and teching and performing a high octane production, anything would be a let down. I was disappointed, too, that I was unable to join the cast and crew for the final party, due to other obligations.

Oedipus says to Antigone, “Child, if you can find a resting place;” I am seeking a resting place just for a few weeks. A place where I can restore myself for the upcoming semester and whatever the future holds for Colonus. The future, I’m told, includes a short remount of the play in September, with three show weekends for three weeks after re-opening. Count me in, I say. I just need to figure out what that looks like on the USC side and how to carve out some home hours with my beautiful husband.

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Our son Chris spent some quality time with his Dad, Jimmie yesterday. He texted me this photo while the “girls” were out hiking.

For now, the resting place he and I have chosen is South Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, where we rented a house that can hold 9 and invited family to join us here. Life being what it is, complex and unpredictable, three of the 9 haven’t been able to join us, so we’re cocooned with 4 in the house, and our son, Chris and his girlfriend, Whitney, who live in Tahoe. It’s been very low key, just what the doctor ordered; lots of conversation, and play with the youngest member of the family, Saoirse, who is 3. We have enough cooks in the kitchen to make it balletic enough to constitute productive exercise, and good things have come out of there at every meal.

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Here are the girls at the beginning of the hike.

Yesterday, the “girls” took a hike to the beach, piling our hot bodies into the car and driving to a nearby Beach, walking in from the parking lot about 30 minutes, then back out. S got carried by her mom a lot, and with the 6250 ft. altitude, I was a little jealous of her ability to run and then be carried. We left Chris at the house with Jimmie and they solved the problems of the world on the front porch while we discussed important issues of pregnancy and motherhood while we crushed sage flowers between our fingers and pressed them to our noses. A stand of aspen trees rustled and beckoned to us, and we found a little brook beneath the heavily tatted tree trunks. Tree trunks, tatted with the insouciant knife blades of insouciant youths, looking to make a mark, testify about their undying love, or to just mark their presence in that shady glade steps from the main bike and hiking path. I turned to watch as S bravely walked through the knee high sage bushes, crinkling her eyes to avoid getting swatted with the blades of the bush. Whitney and I  dropped sticks in the stream to race them. She won.

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Jen and S at the beach

Saoirse is one extraordinary child. With their own child on her way into their lives, this week, Chris and Whitney have been attentive to Saoirse’s needs.  I can’t imagine anything more satisfying as a parent than to see one’s child become a parent; to watch as the gentler side of the once rough and tumble boy be exhibited in a heartfelt reading of “Where the Wild Things Are” to Saoirse. Children force us to be present. Children speak uncanny truths with no artifice.

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen making something, when Saoirse said to Jimmie,

You will be young again after you are old.

I turned to shift my startled gaze to Jimmie, at the table, whose serene, unruffled response was,

How old, four?

Together, Saoirse and Jimmie laughed. Hot tears threatened to come, and I turned to find Saoirse’s mom, Jen, standing beside me. The profundity of her remark hit me like an angry slap. I scurried out of the kitchen to find a kleenex. 

You will be young again after you are old.

Later in the afternoon, S wisely intoned to Jimmie,

You are old but you are young, too.

So we are practicing being young again this week, in the cool breezes that waft off the lake and up over the busy roadway to our rental porch. Saoirse and Jimmie and Jen and I sat there this afternoon listening to the ever present traffic, as we peered through the power lines at the tiny wedge of visible water. Saoirse said,

I love the lake. (no pause) I like the trucks, too.

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Jimmie and Chris at the hockey rink.
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Whitney, Jen and S basking in the late afternoon sun at the beach.

It has been quite a week. Not much resting, mind you, but an amazing week of time with family.  Last night we went to watch Chris play adult hockey at the rink where he works. The day before,  we had stopped by to see the rink. It seems so right that after all those years of playing hockey he has come full circle to teach the next generation the art of the game.

And as we all stand on the shore of parent and grandparenthood, it seems right to take a moment to savor it all, to be present in the moment and to embrace both the beach and the trucks in our lives.

Spring Break Auto Transport

ThIMG_4430ank goodness Spring Break came. I don’t know how our students could have managed making it through the spring at the University of Southern California without a break in the 80 and 90 degree weather. Some of them jetted off to New York, where it continues to snow with the relentless fury of the spring semester’s SDA productions. They just keep going up and coming down, one after the other. So it’s great that we had a week to breathe and catch up.

Right after the break, we will be heading into tech for two shows, “The Way of the World,” by William Congreve, and “Grease” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Ever since the title appeared on the list of spring shows, we have been fixated on the car. Every boffo production of “Grease” needs an equally impressive car on stage. Our props manager, Hannah, reached out to the SPAM group, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers, and located several options for the car. The best option was the car from the Cedar Street Theatre, in Lancaster, CA. Their rental cost was very reasonable. They offered to sell us the car, but limited storage at SDA didn’t make it an appealing prospect. So we agreed on a rental fee, and then needed to get the car from Lancaster to LA.

For a Production Manager, and probably almost anyone in the theatre, our work consists of solving problems as they arise. What I love about the work is that each new problem creates a steep learning curve which I try to approach as rationally and economically as I can, and always results in a solution and a new notch in my experience either of how to do something, or how not to do something. This may have been the latter.

Ship a car. Hmmm…. After locating the Auto Transport 411 website, I typed in the details of the car. 1954 Chevy Bel Air, non-operating. Transporting from the tow yard in Lancaster to the Bing pad on the USC campus. Enter. What began next was a constant stream of emails and phone calls from brokers all over the country trying to win this job.  Have you seen the show “Shipping Wars,”? If you haven’t, you should check it out. It is a scream. I imagined that all over the state, truckers were sitting in their cabs with their laptops open, seeing my “1954 Chevy Bel Air from Lancaster to LA” and jeering and pointing as the bids came in, their colleagues low-balling each other in a cutthroat battle for my business.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The above narrative assumes a knowledge I didn’t yet have. All I knew was the phone calls would never stop. The first time I picked up the phone, there was a young woman who began her spiel and didn’t really care if I heard it or followed along. She displayed increasing irritation with my slow grasp of the concept. I was struggling to understand this Auto Transport 411 wormhole that I had slipped into. I hung up with Miss Snarky. I was looking for a price somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. which was not going to happen, but when I got one for $125.00, close enough. I booked the truck.

Here’s what I learned first – shipping brokers are not great communicators.  I signed up for the delivery of the car, put in my card number, and then waited.  Two or three weeks I waited and heard nothing. The shipping date was 3/18/15, and on 3/17/15, when I hadn’t heard back from the shipper, I tried to search through my 26,800 emails in my inbox for the shipper. I see you. Stop that. Don’t judge me. There’s a lot of value in saving emails. And flagging them. I had apparently flagged all 20,000 emails from various transport experts. Finally I contacted the one I thought I had dealt with. Their message said “We will return your call within fifteen minutes.” Three or so hours passed, and I moved to hire another company. Their rate was almost twice what I wanted/intended to pay, but spring break was slipping away and I didn’t yet have my boffo car at the theatre. I went back to one of the earlier transporters that I had talked with at the beginning of the process. Seemed like a nice guy, and his daughter was waiting to hear back from USC about admissions. Scott saved me. Or so I thought.

Meanwhile the company I thought I had engaged called me back to say that they hadn’t talked with me before. He could apparently see everything on his computer and gave me the name of company I had booked for the gig. Furthermore, he explained to me how this whole system worked. He told me that the bidders were all brokers – they weren’t battling to cart my car; they were battling to profit from someone else’s carting my car. That it was going to be hard to find someone to accept the gig for $125.00, even though the broker had agreed to ship the car.

So I called the correct company. I explained that I hadn’t heard from them and I had gone ahead and hired another company. Through his thick Jersey accent he let me know with irritation, “I just dispatched your job.”  I let him know that because I hadn’t heard from him I had gone ahead with another shipper. He thanked me for letting him know.

So today was the day. I talked to Hugo from the towing company, and he picked up the car yesterday and was planning on delivering it to USC today by 10:00AM. When my phone rang this morning, he was circling the campus looking for the gate I had told him to enter through. He said, “I’m talking to Mike. He says he works with you.” I looked down Watt Way and saw a motorcycle idling next to a truck.

 

 I can see you. Just keep coming straight ahead!

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Greased Lighting arrives on campus. Tow Driver, Hugo stands next to the cab of his truck.

Soon Hugo, with his motorcycle envoy came up Watt Way. He parked the truck on Downey while we waited for the bollards to be removed so he could drive forward. I got my first glimpse of the cherry red body of “Greased Lightning.”

Just a few more minutes, and we were behind the Bing Theatre. Hugo lowered the car onto the pad and we admired it. He showed me the battery in the trunk, and then I asked him if I could take a piIMG_4450cture of him in the car. Hugo is a very nice man and he obliged.

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Scenic Designer Dreem Qin appreciating her hero prop, Greased Lightning.
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Front end of the car.
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This journey was a learning experience. As are all journeys, no?

Everyone greeted “GL” with affection. We had a photo shoot with two of the four designers, Austin, the Lighting Designer, and Dreem, the Scenic Designer. And if you want to see the car in action, come see “Grease” at the USC School of Dramatic Arts! USC School of Dramatic Arts – Spring Musical

Facciama Una Passeggiata Downtown!

IMG_3761Tonight after work, we decided to go for a spontaneous evening out. We deserved it, right? It’d been a long couple of weeks – my head so full of details/questions/lists/ it makes me a little tired. March 9th was National Napping Day, too; could that explain why I wanted just lay my head down on my desk for a quick power nap?

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The Farmer’s and Merchants’ National Bank sits across Main St. from Ledlow’s.

We are creatures of habit, my husband and I, but I decided tonight we’d go find another restaurant beside CPK, so we jumped in the car and drove up into the heart of the banking district of downtown LA. We were gravitating towards Pete’s but arrived at the corner of 4th and Main to discover it was gone. In it’s place, was a new, relatively empty (at 7pm) restaurant called Ledlow’s.

We sat at an outside patio table, in the still stultifying heat, and ordered our dinner. We watched as dozens of downtown denizens walked past the restaurant. They were walking their dogs, or just taking a walk.

Did you ever think we’d be hipsters again? I asked my husband.

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Our after dinner coffee at Ledlow’s

I remembered the lovely Italian custom of La Passeggiata, where families go out together to take a stroll between work and dinner, usually in the town’s square. When I went to Sicily, in the quaint town of Gibbelina, it was a nightly occurrence. At 7:00PM or so, the streets and main square filled with hundreds of people walking and talking and laughing with their neighbors. There is really nothing quite like it here in the ol’ US of A. Maybe I’ll wander out in the street on Sunday and see what the tail end of the LA Marathon looks like. Even so, Americans are so busy – so destination conscious. We rarely stroll anywhere.

Earlier today, on campus, I was power walking toward my committee meeting, at about 9:45; as I walked past Bovard Auditorium, the Norris Theatre off to my left, I watched a mid-sized black dog tearing around the grass chasing a squirrel. At first I thought the dog was a stray, but then I saw his owner, a student, or young faculty member, carrying the leash in his hand and watching as his dog chased the squirrel. The dog was a consistent 18″ away from the squirrel, as it darted desperately around the base of the campus trees, looping around the little grove of trees. For some reason, the squirrel never ran up the tree, but continued to just barely elude the dog about a foot above the ground. Suddenly, the dog overtook the squirrel, chomping it’s mouth around its body. I was more than 75 yards away but still heard the squirrel scream. It was horrible. As I turned the corner out of view, my last image was the dog’s nose tucked between the roots of a tree, the dog’s owner looking chagrined. I bet he’ll use the leash next time.

Anyway, the tragedies of squirrel deaths behind me, I embraced the spirit of the Passeggiata all through dinner, as we watched people go by — now an affectionate couple, his arm wrapped protectively in a chokehold around her neck; now a couple with their Irish Wolfhound loping across the street without a leash; here’s a woman with a tiny top hat attached to the side of her head at a rakish angle. It was really good people watching. We had a blast.

By the time we went outside to get the car, Ledlow’s was really hopping, the bar about 3 people deep. The food was great – the Branzino prepared perfectly, crispy skin over perfectly cooked fish, resting on a bed of spinach and roasted baby tomatoes. Jimmie’s hamburger and fries looked delish, too, if you like that sort of thing. We ordered the Devilish Chocolate Cake, but unfortunately, it was from a menu of a previous night, so we skipped dessert. The manager, feeling badly that we had ordered something not available, brought us a cup of vanilla ice cream to make us feel better. It worked.

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My darling husband as we waited for our car, the lit intersection of 4th and Main behind him.

Over this weekend as it heats up, maybe the early evening hours will bring folks out to the streets and we can all take a Passeggiata in downtown LA. Won’t you join us?

Just bring your leash.