Last night at about 1:50AM I awoke, nausea rising as I rose from the bed and padded toward the bathroom. Truth be told, I had set my alarm for 4:45am to go to my spin class, followed by my annual sojourn to jury duty. The fact that I was now heaving into the john at 2am seemed like a cruel interruption to an already abbreviated night. And probably the appropriate response to the quick orange chicken I had rolled out for dinner last night.

After brushing my teeth, I went back to bed and lay awake in bed; my mind had stumbled on a grisly pun that burrowed into my brain like a pop music ear worm; my latest is Meghan Trainor’s, Me Too frequently played during the jumps at my YAS spin class.

If I were you, I’d want to be me too.

What does that mean, anyway? Not really what I wanted in my head as I tried to get back to sleep. And psychologically quite the opposite of the man I found myself thinking about.

“Paulbearers.”  At the end of last week, we’d gotten an email requesting assistance at the funeral of our dear Paul Backer to be pallbearers, with a number to contact. I attended the memorial on Friday, had not planned on attending the mass or grave site service, and besides, I’d be too short in both upper physical strength and the height needed to carry a man of Paul’s stature.

But at the scene shop, I heard a funny story, if that’s possible when speaking of pallbearers. A co-worker had answered the call to do the ultimate heavy lifting in life.

My co-worker, Michael, needed a new black suit for the occasion. His old one no longer fit him, and it was 20 years old. So he went to buy a new suit on Friday. It ended up being a little too big around the waist for him. The salesman said, “Can I have that taken in for you, sir?” He said, “No, I’m fine. I have a nice dress belt.” And off he went, slightly baggy suit in hand.

At the funeral, he joined 7 other pallbearers to carry the coffin of our giant friend. The ground in the cemetery was rough, the flat stones a bit sunken in the soggy grass. Mike and the others made their way carefully toward the grave site, all eyes on them; there were a considerable number of former students, friends and family there for the service.

After putting the casket down at the grave site, they all stood back as he was lowered into the ground. Michael and the others had done the undesired job well.

As soon as Michael got home, he reported that his dress belt suddenly broke in two places, his new pants falling to puddle around his ankles. Had that happened while he was holding the coffin, it would have been a scene out of an Evelyn Waugh movie. One that Paul surely would have appreciated.

Michael laughed, as he told me his story, looking heavenward and shaking his right fist, he thanked and swore at our friend, Paul for saving him the dishonor.

I suspect there will be a number of visitations from Paul in the coming months. Not necessarily paranormal, but mental and spiritual. He was so present in our lives at school and his wit and breadth of knowledge will no doubt continue to surprise us. Hopefully his visits won’t take the shape of midnight sickness and a hangover of grisly puns, but things will be ascribed to Paul just because he is much with us, in spite of his current body’s resting place.

For example, I will always think about Dr. Backer when I hear the following terms:

  1. Backer’s audition, now pronounced “bocker’s audition” because we now know the correct pronunciation.
  2. Paulbearers – those who volunteer to do the heavy lifting
  3. Paulacial – what Paul’s office will feel to its new denizen without Paul’s obsessive collection of books.
  4. Paulitical – what I’ll be thinking of as I watch Election 2016 coverage
  5. Paulitheatrics – a festival of devised work celebrating Paul Backer
  6. Paulitico – a blog devoted to promoting the performances of students and alumni of Paul’s

You get the idea. Gone but certainly not forgotten.

Birthday Challenge & I Need Your Help!

Els and Allyzon midway through Allyzon’s Birthday YAS Class

Today was a special day at YAS DTLA. It was Allyzon’s birthday (I’ll let her share the number if she wants) and she threw a big ol’ bash for her birthday. In attendance were virtually all the YAS DTLA star instructors in addition to a lot of others, including myself on Day 21/56 of my challenge. Kristy, Sterling, Julie, Mike, D.J., Andrea, Jules L.,  were a few of the instructors who were riding in solidarity with Allyzon. It was a celebrity event – an A-list ride. Allyzon shouted out to her YAS family throughout the ride, pumping us up and making us all ride like we were there for a reason.

Afterwards, Allyzon generously catered a party; after the YAS class, 1/2 hour of spin, 1/2 hour of yoga, and at 9:30 when we finished, we were feted with a gorgeous all vegetarian spread by Jennie Cook’s Catering and Plant-Based Parties. There was quiche, and some egg-muffiny concoctions, a beautiful platter of fruit, and little individual jewels filled with yogurt and blueberries. Pitchers of cranberry juice and orange juice and a basin filled with Champagne ready to be cracked open – it was quite a beautiful spread.

At the start of the ride, spirits were high, with birthday balloons gracing the back of Allyzon’s bike seat, and flowers and cards littering the top of the stereo. Lots of whooping and hollering accompanied the ride, and a special comedic dance break-out by Instructor DJ and Allyzon had us laughing just when we were starting to break a sweat. Halfway through the ride, the balloons freed themselves from the back of her saddle, and rose triumphantly to kiss the ceiling. The crowd roared.

The yoga room was full, mats close to our neighbors, giggles when our handstands evolved into wide spread legs. I silently admired my mat mate’s pedicure color –

Oh! That’s a nice color!

And before you knew it, it was time to party and the energy was great – like a big family birthday party.

The After-YAS Birthday Party. 

Our parting gift was a homey Mason jar filled with the ingredients to make Allyzon’s signature cranberry, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies. (I know, you are thinking right about now that this is counterproductive to having spent an hour working out), but better the workout followed by the cookies, than the cookies alone, right?

It was particularly fun to celebrate Allyzon’s birthday today because mine is tomorrow. I will be a fierce 56, and you may have read my blog earlier this week about the challenge I’ve set for myself, of 56 classes in 57 days. Here’s where I need your help, gentle but athletic reader. Today was day 21, and I know that I still have 35 days left to meet my personal goal. I invite you (friends, students, fellow faculty at USC SDA, Staff)  to come any M-F at 5:30AM or Saturday or Sundays at 8:30AM between now and February 16th to take a YAS class with me. If you are new to the YAS Downtown studio, you can take the first class for free. If you aren’t new, I have some free coupons saved up – just let me know in advance if you can make it and I’ll bring one along to get you into the seat/mat next to me. Here’s a link to the YAS DOWNTOWN website so you can plan your visit!

Here’s the thing. Yes, 5:30 is really early. But truthfully, when that alarm goes off, your intentions become instantly clear and somehow, it works out with the REM cycle so you can jump out of bed. And it would be so nice to see a familiar face in the room to cheer/goad/push me on. So, that’s my plea for help, and I hope to see you there to help me make my goal. Now excuse me, I have to go make some cookies!

Cranberry, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip Cookie mix


“Oh, Calamity!”


Big Little LiesI try to get 5 servings of reading a day, but of late, with the start of the fall semester, I’m ending up with a brief midnight snack of a read. My current book  is fantastic – it is “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty. In it, the main character, Madeline, uses the phrase “Oh, calamity!” when things go wrong (which they do with endlessly entertaining frequency). Really, you will enjoy this book.


“Oh, calamity” was a line from a children’s book that they used to read to Fred when he was little. The whole family said it now. Even Madeline’s parents had picked it up, and some of Madeline’s friends. It was a very contagious phrase.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

“Oh, calamity!” That’s what went through my head on Wednesday, Sept. 3rd,  when I arrived at my YAS gym and saw a stranger wearing the headset that my usual spin instructor, Beautiful Jim, usually wears. Elizabeth, behind the desk, greeted me and with the apologetic demeanor of someone who knows she is about to give very bad news, said “There were a few changes made over the weekend.”

“Oh?” I said, brightly, thinking Jim had a conflict with today’s class time or something.

“Jim has been moved to the 5:15 PM slot and won’t be teaching the morning classes anymore.”

Oh crap. Am I about to drop big bleary tears on the sign in sheet? How mortifying!

“Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that!” Turning away, I trudged into the spin classroom, and dropped my bag on the floor by the mirror.

I saddled up in spite of my grief, and the friendly 7:15 AM spin imposter, Stephanie, came over to stand in front of my bike. She had an amazing smile, and was deeply tanned.  She had turned off her mic and leaned in conspiratorially.

“Jim said to take good care of you,” she said, as I continued to fight back the tears that threatened to well up.  “He said he is going to miss you.”

“Thanks,” I said, and off we went.

Anyone who spins knows that the classes can vary wildly depending on the instructor. I knew that this was the case when Stephanie basically skipped the warm up that over a year I had become accustomed to doing with “Beautiful Jim.”  Her warm-up was theoretical, not practical – “Loosen up those shoulders and neck,” replacing Jim’s instructions – “5 Shoulder rolls to the back,” and then “Roll those shoulders forward,” etc.

Stephanie was kind, you could see it in her face, but man, she was tough, and there were really no transitions or seated moments between the sequences. Her instructions to crank up the resistance were more frequent and  by the time we started the second rep of the class, I was straining against an unfamiliar heaviness which was much more grueling than my usual workout.

I know, you are thinking – well, that’s good for you, Els. Good to change-up the work out. Quit whining! (You were, weren’t you? Yup, I knew it.)

And so it went. I showed up at the class on Friday and it was just Stephanie and me. No other spinners. This had happened a few times with Jim, and was really okay with me.

I have to give Stephanie her cred where it is due – she took off her headset and came over to the bike next to me and we spun (spinned?) together, her talking me through and correcting some bad habits that I didn’t even know I had. I was thrilled at the end of the class and felt really happy about how it had gone.  I thanked her enthusiastically. Jim? Jim who?

Then Monday the 8th came and I slept in.

Wednesday the 10th came and I slept in.

Friday, the 12th, nope, didn’t hop out of bed.

The week was rough. There were meetings and some stresses at work which were not facilitated by my skipping my exercise or routine. Just as we need our 5 servings of vegetables, and for me my midnight snack of reading, so it was proven to me this week that I need at least 3 servings of exercise a week, and I’m not doing myself any favors by skipping any of them. Bloated, cranky, less productive, surly even.

So this morning, I both slept in, then took Jonathan’s class – I knew it would be rough, but I also knew that I needed it. And now I feel terrific. No more calamities.

At least not for now.

Lose Yourself on the way to Valencia

This morning, the warm up music for Jim’s 7:15AM spin class at YAS was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” and hearing it again made my heart fill with happiness and anticipation. Eminem’s song might seem an unlikely anthem for a 54-year old college professor of technical theatre.

But where this song took me was back to my days as a hard-driving hockey mom. I say hard-driving because then, back in 2000-2003, approximately, we drove an average of five round trips a week from our home in Van Nuys to our son’s hockey rink in Valencia. And that was just the practice trips. Practices were usually three nights a week, and then there was a game a week. He might also have a few other coaching sessions other times during the week. The game trips were sometimes even longer, as we travelled to Anaheim, Riverside, Encinitas, etc. for the games.

And all along the way, this precious time spent sometimes together as a family, or me solo with our son on some practice nights were some of the happiest times of my life.

Chris chose the music to listen to in the car during these 45 minute  to 1.5 hour trips to Valencia. As any parent of a  teen knows, the resistance to our music  or NPR can be so strenuous and unpleasant that one would do anything to  minimize stress or strife in the car. Even listen to Eminem.

I remember once, a few years later when Chris had more sensibly elected to play with a team in Panorama City, we were driving to practice one night and were fighting in the car about homework, or a messy room, or some other now insignificant issue, when my cell phone rang. This was pre don’t-answer-your-cell-phone-under-penalty-of-death-or-major-fines, so I picked it up. Chris continued to harangue me, and if you were to go to the archives of KCRW’s website, you would hear him in the background nagging at me and my shocked, anger-tinged voice answering and turning sweet as I said Hello to Matt Holzman, who was calling to tell me that I had just won a 17′ iMac computer. My anger and the resulting embarrassment at having been caught fighting in the car with my son by Matt Holzman turned instantly to wonderment and elation, as Chris listened and fumed in the passenger seat. Let me just say that was the best way to end an argument I have ever experienced.

But back to our friend Eminem.

That song became our pre-game anthem, blasting in the hockey-gear- stench-filled car on the way to points arctic for weekly games.  And it was sweet, the anticipation of the game, of seeing the other parents, of watching the boys as they blasted out of the locker room, fully charged and ready to win. And the writer in me admired the lyrics booming from the CD player in the car:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

Those were good days, those hockey days. Ice Hockey is a total commitment, financial, time, energy. The hockey parents used to joke that hockey was cheaper than rehab. We spent so much time with our boys and with each other. Holidays, every weekend, and several nights a week cheering them on as they became men. Those night drives to Valencia  after a long day at work were grueling, and yet transformative of him, of me, of our family, and ultimately of our relationship. And sometimes just the sound of a song can make you lose yourself. This morning, I was a proud hockey mom again, feeling energized, happy, and ready to spin my heart out. Thanks, Eminem.