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”
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.
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, 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.
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.
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. And 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, 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.
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.
Renie and her husband Paul came to New York to meet with Anna Abruzzo, who is interested in repping Renie’s work.
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. She 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.
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….
“Do you remember the last time the three of us were at the beach together?”
“Of course! The day we skipped school and went to the beach! What beach was it?”
“Hampton Beach!” (Both of them responded immediately, the exact location fuzzy in my brain.)
“I think we rented a bus? Who organized the bus?”
“You did, Els!” (Really? Oh dear, this is getting embarrassing.)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
I wasn’t really very happy at Princeton.
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.
I remember hearing that you weren’t having a good time there. I often thought about looking you up and having lunch or something.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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 Days, Gospel at Colonus week 2,Gospel at Colonus – Music and Movement, Gospel at Colonus Tech Week,Gospel at Colonus Opening Night, Gospel at Colonus – 6 Degrees of Wren T. Brown, Gospel at Colonus Messy Humans, Gospel at Colonus – Closing, Gospel at Colonus Family Reunion,Gospel Remount
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- got a tattoo, my first. Also, probably my last. The Gift
- 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.
- reorganized my closets and financial accounts to bring me more joy. And a retirement. The two are not related, but both bring me joy.
I hope your year was equally eventful and overall positive. Let’s raise a glass to the untapped potential of 2016!
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.
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!
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.
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. And 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. 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!