Friday, July 19, 2013

Set Diary: 48 Hour Film Project Turns 10

Friday

3:30:  I've had a good night's sleep, a massage and a hot shower.  Now I'm tingling with anticipation.  Jarrah is camping with the Rupperts so I have a blessed hour of silence to myself before the madness.  I stand buttering some toast when the quiet is shattered by a Harley-Davidson roaring into our driveway.  It's my brother-in-law, Ben, from Australia, whose visit has coincided with the competition.  Since he's a film vet himself from the Melbourne project, we're especially glad he's here now.  And by now, I mean for this weekend.  In the actual now, I need to rest my brain.  I send him to Starbucks.

5:00:  I'm driving Ben and Kate, a 16-year-old vet from last year's 48, to the new kick-off location, by Mission Bay.  I've been grumbling about it--Friday traffic!  Beach crowds!--but it turns out to be quite nice.  We meet up with David, Mark, and Mike C. and check in.  While we wait, David shows off aka "demonstrates" his Phantom helicopter camera rig to everyone there.  He's excited for a whole new world of aerial shots this year.

6:00:  We've been chatting with former Toads Jake and Tim and their respective teams and I've been getting messages from my co-writer, Hilary, who is coming from LA and anticipates a late arrival.  That sucks.  But now it's time to pull our genre!  Squeee!  Kate has to leave but really wants to stay just long enough to reach into the hat--youngest team member at the kick-off traditionally gets to pull.  She makes it just under the wire and we get...THRILLER/SUSPENSE!  The only genre (I mean ONLY) that Hilary and I had agreed to throw back from this year's picks.  It just seemed too hard in under seven minutes.  Now we have a decision.

6:30:  There is some hand-wringing, some phone calls, some soul-searching.  The concern is four-pronged:  Martial Arts, Sports Competition, Operetta and Zombie.  Those would be the four Wild Cards that we would hate to get.  And we could get them.  So we suck it up and keep Thriller/Suspense.  Here we go.  I think the weekend will be a Thriller/Suspense now.

7:00:  The elements are in:  Prop--Garden Hose.  Character--Mac or Margaret McCarthy, Interpreter.  Line of Dialogue:  "You know what I mean?"  And we're off.  Somehow no one is in my car anymore, so I Blu-tooth it with Hilary all the way (and I miss several turns) to Coco's.  I keep repeating to anyone who will listen the five elements of plot I want to follow:  Action, Background, Conflict, Development, and End (comprised of the Three C's:  Crisis, Climax and Consequences.)  Really, I just need to drill it into my own head.  But everyone humors me.

7:30:  At Coco's, where the smiling assemblage comprises the most agreeable Brainstorm Session we've ever had.  Tracy, Andra, Rachel, all three Voltas, David, Ben N, Ben A, Mark and me.  Hilary joins later.  Ultimately, the team will be a tidy 18 members.  But this is the dirty dozen that gets things done tonight. Without our traditional breakout sessions, we still manage to get plot, casting, location and even some tricky conflicts discussed into submission by 10:00.

9:00:  The idea is this:  David and I have just seen "Accomplice," the no-walls theater experience in Little Italy, which was definitely suspenseful.  We build on that idea, but since we have no locations on offer this year, the whole thing will be outside.  We decide to start in Mission Trails, but "start" leads to finish.  And somehow the supernatural intrudes, and now there are ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.  And we've got three college friends on a Groupon.  Initially, we'd dared a women-only cast, but somehow our dear editor, Ben A. sneaks in there.  (He's great, so I'm glad he did!)

10:30:  Hilary and I have broken with tradition by not inviting anyone back to our house for the writing.  She creates a Google Doc, and somehow we are so in synch that we can both compose into it at once from our own laptops with nary a scuffle.  In this fashion, we while away the evening, with the occasional text and Facebook update for our cast and crew.

11:00:  David and Ben N. check in from Wal-Mart.  They have just alarmed some Blue-Shirts by inquiring, "Do you have a large hunting knife?  And a mask?  Or some sort of hood?  How about a long, black cloak?"  They somehow get out of there without anyone calling the police.

Saturday

12:00:  My favorite Facebook plea this year:  "Red bandana or something similar that could be used as a gag.  Light cloths that can get dirty for people who are face down in the dirt.  Bonnets?"  It will probably not surprise you that people had all these things.

2:00:  David has to come in and straighten us out a little.  We keep stumbling over the ending.  That's pretty typical.  This is also the time in the weekend when I start despairing a little bit.  I think it's because I feel lousy with tiredness, but I also realize that, like, NOTHING is yet done.  It starts to seem overwhelming.  But we push on.

4:00:  We have nearly five pages.  I announce that we're going to bed.  Last year we didn't go to sleep until 5:30 and that was just too awful.

4:30:  For once, David is already snoozing like a baby.  And I actually follow suit, maybe because I'm not getting amped up yelling things at him.

7:00:  The alarm goes off, but I am already awake.  I shower and go out to make coffee.  All the lights are on.  When I ask Hilary about this later, she says "You asked if I wanted help with the lights.  So I assumed they must be difficult.  Then I fell asleep."  She takes a few minutes to get up but then somehow we both drift towards script polishing as David runs around us, carrying massive armloads of gear to his car.

8:00:  I update our FB page to please stand by for 30 minutes.  David is grumbling that he needs a PA.  "Why don't you ever ASK for a PA?" I inquire.  More grumbling.  We are getting a little stressed because a Polaroid camera has become a key plot point, and Hilary has one, but no film.  I put out APBs for someone to go get some, but no one bites.  Eventually, we finish up the script and Hilary goes to buy it, and David and I head for Mission Trails.

9:00:  It's already hot.  Grace, bless her heart, has brought coffee, water, danish and fruit for everyone.  How awesome is she?  Julianna and Kate have heeded my calls for "Holly Hobbie-ish" dresses, and miraculously, both have something of this ilk.  Julianna's is particularly impressive, though she warns me that she'll have to be shot from the front as it won't zip.

9:15:  I greet our three new team members this year--Dana, who's on boom mike, and husband and wife duo Mike and Mae Linh, an absolute positive, cheerleading delight from start to finish (I'll include Dana in that set, too!)  They do slate, sound, camera and absolutely anything that comes up--the rare combination of both techie and creative.  They never complain and are always smiling.  How did we get so lucky?

9:30:  I gather my actors and give them a stentorian pep talk about the importance of flexibility, fluidity and other f words.  Because they are awesome, they just nod and look really, really serious, which is what I want them to do.  David asks if we're going to have a read-through.  "Nope," I say, with not a little malicious glee.

10:30:  Trying to follow a location search party that's gone ahead, the group I'm with actually gets lost.  We have to stay in one spot and make calls until we're found.  If that's not verisimilitude, I don't know what is.

10:40:  We are HIKING to our location.  Hiking.  With coolers and bags and loads and loads of stuff.  How did this happen?  I am already sweating.  Our "college friends" (I take to calling them "the weird sisters") catch up to us in the casual hiking duds they'll have to wear all weekend for continuity.  Somehow this means sassy Daisy Dukes, fetching colorful tops and coordinating jewelry.  Yeah, I always look like that when I hike.

11:00:  We're stationed at what we come to call "the hut."  Which I suppose it is, though it has no roof.  I wonder if it used to, but then people did meth in there or had orgies and they decided it's a surveillance problem.  We end up camped here for the next nine hours plus.

12:00:  I'm feeling ahead of the game because the script is done, but the boys quickly eat up the extra time filming about 37 angles of people running.  Which is a segment we eventually cut down to about 15 seconds.  I've begun to notice that no one asks any questions about the importance of a scene at the beginning of the day, but by the end, I'm having to plead for the life of major plot developments that no one feels like shooting anymore.  It's getting hotter and the water is almost gone.  And people have to pee, which is, well, inconvenient.  Not me, though.  When I hike out to the bathroom at the end of the day, I realize I haven't gone since I woke up.  Guess I must have been busy.

1:00:  The issue that comes up early is tone.  Are we going to be funny?   Or scary?  Can we be both?  Joss Whedon tells me we can.  But it's a balancing act.  After all the running, we move into two segments where our weird sisters encounter wacky characters.  Both of them are completely hilarious--a young man in a full tuxedo who steps out of the wilderness into their path (that's our editor, Ben) and a girl perched in the doorway of a straw hut, dispensing wisdom about the spirits (that's Kate, our 16-year-old.)  We do a lot of giggling during these shots, but we are also sweating and there's nowhere to sit.  At one point, something bites my tender cleavage and a massive welt grows there.  I tell ya, we braved the elements this year.

1:30:  I can't stop giggling because Rachel looks so excited when she yells "I saw a goldfish!"  It should be "goldfinch," but she tells me "it came out wrong, and I decided to go with it!"  I almost want to leave it in, even though it makes no sense.  I'm also cracking up about the way Benji says "MURRRRRDERED."  Who knew he was such a ham?  Watching what the actors come up with during filming is one of the unadulterated joys of the weekend.  (And I should mention that one of the comments received during the traditional Go-Pro "Monday after" screening is "Where did you get these actors?" As in, "They rock!")

2:30:  Filming the noose, hanging from a picturesque tree in a grassy knoll.  Unfortunately, it's also above a stagnant creek, which is how we all get pretty bitten up.  There are some furtive murmurings about the vast patches of poison ivy and poison oak we seem to be camped around, too, though amazingly, no one falls into any.  (They do fall, however, into lots of other things.)  The noose scene looks gorgeous, with the light just so, and I'm loving the spookiness of it all.  By now everyone is burned, sweaty, bitten and and dehydrated, so we're grateful when Amazing Grace shows up with what seem to be the best sandwiches ever assembled by a human.  We take a much needed lunch break and reassess.

3:30:  Wanting to film the rest of the scenes with Ben, Julz and Kate, since by now we can see we'll have to come back in the morning, and Ben needs to be editing.  The other two, being teenagers, need to be sleeping.  We get spectacularly drained of our blood when Ben is handcuffed to a tree branch near the aforementioned stagnant creek, though he is certainly a trooper, pinned into a patch of brambles and dangling at a weird angle.  Perhaps the unsettling terror on his face (my favorite of the suspenseful scenes) is not entirely acting.  In any case, it rejuvenates me because it looks so good.

4:30:  Julianna as ghost Elizabeth Larouche comes floating over a ridge, her caramel dress blending in with the path and the light.  Gorgeous.  We have her walk backwards with the idea that playing it forwards later will look like gliding--I forget to ask if that actually happened.  She looks both hilarious and scary with her Goth eyeliner, pearls and catatonic stare, but she's none too pleased about the flies on her eyeballs.  "That's what they do," I tell everyone, "they need access to your mucous membranes."  This starts some vaguely off-color hilarity about mucous membranes, but the arrival of the flies is yet another reminder of our mortality, I mean, our proximity to last light.  We also realize that we've missed our window to hit another location today.  It will just take too long to cart out all the gear without a covered wagon.

5:30:  Once our Larouche ghost has been shot (the slate lists the title as "The Larouche Sisters" all day, and is mostly pronounced "La-ROSH" by the cast, making me crazy) my idea for filming both girls back-to-back, wrists bound in duct tape, is noisily nixed.  "What the hell?  Why would duct tape hold a ghost?"  These are the moments when everyone starts to question stuff, because they're tired and want to wrap as soon as possible.

6:30:  Finally, what we've been calling "the walk and talk," a character-building scene where our three weird sisters bond over their fears.  We're really excited to film this whole sequence in one take, but then it also becomes impossible to edit without cutaways to the aerial helicopter footage.  Lucky we have that.  The shooting is ridiculous:  I'm running backwards in a clump of six tall guys holding cameras, mikes and sound equipment, and eventually I resort to jogging while looking over my shoulder.  Sadly, most of this awesome footage is later cut.

7:00:  Oh dear lord, we are losing the light.  I want to squeeze in at least two more scenes before we are forced to wrap.  Some people have an idea that involves a three-way path and some running, which sounds cool to me so I don't really question how it might fit into the script.  We spend a lot of time arguing about it and it's clear to me that I'm not really forming coherent sentences anymore.  Hell, I'm not forming coherent THOUGHTS anymore.  I wonder if it's because I had two hours of sleep and then spent the entire day in the sun making a movie.

7:30:  We're in the clearing where the last of the sunlight can be found, setting up for what we've been calling "the gun scene."  Mark has brought us a vintage revolver.  Or four.  I've been strenuously insisting that there will be no shooting, stabbing, hanging or actual body count in this film, as we didn't pull Horror, and I think suggestion is scarier.  The model I've been using is the original Dutch The Vanishing, which made me sleep with the light on for a week.  Long ago, in what was actually the wee hours of this same day, Hilary and I found it hilarious that the girls would pretend to be Charlie's Angels when they find the gun, all fun and games.  But the tone is changing.  That said, I announce, "Okay, let's do the Charlie's Angels poses!" and about 10 people (including my husband) start yelling things like "WHAT?" "NO!" "That's been cut!" all at the same time.  And I pretty much go ballistic.  All I remember is yelling a lot.  And then a lot more.  And then some more.  And then throwing my purse.  And David saying quietly, "Don't throw your purse."  My heart is pounding out of my chest.  And this feels very, very bad.

7:45:  So what happens there?  Tiredness, as people speculate.  A life-long trigger to people ganging up on me, or even the perception of same.  A hard-to-shake load of insecurity that people are not really respecting the girl director.  And a healthy dose of childish tantrum.  Mix those up, throw in some spice, and you have the goulash of my "cow," as I name it.  I'm not proud of it.  And I'm sorry.  If you were there and you're reading this, I'M SORRY.

8:00:  People maturely go out of their way to calm me down, and we shoot the scene, and the scene is good.  It's one of my favorites.  Lots of tension, and humor, too.  But no Charlie's Angels.

8:30:  And it's undeniably dark.  We've been hearing frogs for a few hours but now they are deafening, as if they're closing in on us.  We can barely see each other.  And what do we do?  Squeeze into a tiny opening in the trees and film people backing into each other and screaming.  Branches reach out for my arms, spider webs brush my hair.  The shoot is starting to seem like the movie.

8:40:  The hard truth:  we've got shooting to do on Sunday (a first) not re-shoots.  We still have no ending.  I suggest someone find out what time dawn is.  No one sighs or complains.  The Cane Toads are freakin' amazing.  We will meet back at 5:30.

8:45:  On the way to the car, Mark tells us about seeing a mountain lion in these parts.  Awesome.  I'm glad we're all walking in a bundle.

9:00:  It's an absurd time to be off the clock during a 48 weekend.  In fact, I'm fairly certain it's NEVER happened.  But we can't fight Mother Nature.  Actors and writers get a break.  David, both Bens, Mike, Mark and some others, however, simply switch to their editing hats.  After some shuffling of gear, they all head up to Go-Pro for the night.

9:30:  I shower off my dirt socks (which takes HALF a bar of soap) and Hilary and I go for Chinese in an eerily silent and frostily cool restaurant near our house.  I expect that the shower and the warm food is going to plunge me into a coma, but not me--Hilary, however, is nearly speechless by the time we get home.  I think she's asleep before I even turn out the lights.

11:00:  And because it's not our usual pattern, I don't sleep well.  Sure, sure, for two hours I'm as-if-drugged, but then I bolt awake with a pounding heart, buzzing brain and shaking limbs.  I wake again later drenched in sweat.  I can't be sure, but I think maybe I am having cold-turkey withdrawal from adrenalin, which normally doesn't happen until after the weekend.  My body gets confused.

Sunday

4:30:  The alarm goes off.  And amazingly, I'm excited to be up and back to work.  I dress and make coffee, letting Hilary know we'll leave in 15.  She stares at me like she's not sure who I am or why she's in my house.

4:45:  Checking in with headquarters.  David has texted at 1:30, reporting that the rough cut is currently 10 minutes.  Urgh.  That's not good, since we haven't even shot the ending.  He has sent a link but I don't have time to watch.  And, if I'm honest, it depresses me.

5:30:  A beautiful, dusky dawn at Mission Trails, where the rest of the team waits in varying states of perkiness.  Mark, tireless champ that he is, has already been there a while, scouting locations.  We are headed for the Grinding Rocks.  What's that you say?  More hiking?  Oh, bien sur.  Can't wait, old chap.

6:00:  Setting up camp.  The sometime-glimmering-and-babbling brook is a fetid, green pool.  Guess the cast will not be dipping their toes.  Need to film some "lost in the woods" footage that I think is later cut.  Also need to shoot Polaroids of our actresses as corpses.  Hilary says she's "recently taken a class on 'Representations of the Dead.'"  Um, what?

6:30:  When it's time to shoot, our entire crew comes together and Hilary and I admit we have a bunch of ideas about the ending.  So we decide to storyboard the necessary shots as a group.  This is amazingly helpful, and ultimately--under the incisive and flexible direction of Mike and Mae Linh--is achieved in a very short time.  A shout-out, too, to Tracy, Andra and Rachel, who totally bring it every time I call "Action!" even though it's their second day of shooting in 48 hours.  Total stars!

7:30:  Some hilarity ensues over a day-old Polaroid of...grass.  It's artfully shot, a blazing green tuft in a dark background.  But I'm not having it.  "What the hell is that?" I yell.  "It looks like a sonogram!"  This leads to an imagined scenario in which an anonymous audience member calls out "George!  I've solved the mystery!  She's PREGNANT!"  Only in a New York accent.  Yeah, we take another one.  This one is decidedly not artful.   Beige.  Grey.  Leaves.  Done.  We need to hurry up.  Families, babies, dogs and bikes have started to stream through our camp.  Who knew there were so many crazy people who hike on Sundays at dawn?

8:30:  We are trying to achieve something that Mike F. tells me is called a "whip pan."  Whatever it is, I kind of want to douse it in raspberry coulis and then lick the plate.  Instead, we have to get a 6-inch hunting knife to look like it's been thrown, accurately, into a tree.  We are not going to do that.  We are not trained circus performers.  So, instead, a series of shots.  And the very last one...

9:00:  ...is the knife already in the tree, and someone needs to "thwang" it and then dive out of the shot.  It's getting hotter and the sun is rising over the mountain, flooding the scene with inappropriate (for the timeline) light.  We need more thwang!  Mark gives it a go.  Then Hilary steps in.  We do it a couple times, and the last one is the keeper, but oops!  The knife dislodges from the tree and falls to the leaves below.  Only...Hilary is down there.  "Hilary, are you okay?" Tracy calls, as Hilary rises from her recumbent pose, palm gently cupping her neck.  I turn around to see red liquid oozing between her fingers.  And then I scream.  I scream and scream and scream.  Others join me.  This is not good.  I mean, it would be a good movie.  But it's not a good...REAL.

9:01:  Triage.  People are running for First-Aid, towels, I get a Coke (what to do, what to do!) and make her drink it.  The blood is not spurting.  Thank heaven the blood is not spurting.  She is white as a sheet.  Someone convinces her to sit down.  Tracy jumps into action (she's like a mini blond superhero; I've always said so) saying Hilary needs to get to a hospital.  Tracy and Andra will take her.  Only we've hiked in.  Mark needs to run for a car.

9:30:  The rest of us start packing up with the alacrity of the Jews after the slaying of the first born.  Gear and photos and ripped envelopes get stuffed into any available bag.  I make a mistake.  A big one.  I text David, "Hilary just got stabbed in the neck with the knife.  Going to hospital."  Soon I will find out that I almost gave my husband a heart attack.  "THIS DOES NOT BELONG IN A TEXT."  True dat.

9:31:  Tracy and Andra help Hilary up the rocks to the car.  She is conscious, walking and the bleeding seems to have stopped.  I start to calm down.  I call David and while he is very upset, he can breathe now.

10:00:  Rachel and I get a ride back to our cars, stunned.  We part so she can go shower and I'm a little surprised when she says she'll be at Go-Pro later and will bring snacks.  Most of the actors beg off the Sunday sessions, something about being "tired."  Like, whatever.  I drop off an armload of props (including a bloody hunting knife--eek!) and hit the road for Cardiff.  About half-way there, I glance at my phone and see a text from Hilary: "I'm in the ambulance..." and I almost faint.  I push on, heart-pounding, glad that she's conscious but very worried now.

10:30:  At Go-Pro.  David greets me at the door, cheery.  Mark, Mike, and other Mike should be arriving with the data momentarily.  But my first thought is Hilary.  As I'm bringing David up to speed, I receive more texts from her:  she's headed for a Trauma Center.  They need to run tests.  Then Andra calls.  Tracy, too.  They were in the waiting room when Hilary was put in the ambulance and no one told them.  Now they're speeding across town to bring her her purse.  We need to find her parents.

11:00:  I've been texting with Hilary.  She's required to have a Cat Scan and several other procedures (which will ultimately take five hours) but she feels fine.  I'm beyond relieved, but figure she probably hates us like poison now and will flee back to LA at her earliest opportunity, telling everyone that the Cane Toads make a practice of murdering their writers at the end of shoots.  Which is why it's such a relief and a surprise when she texts later that she wants to come edit.

12:00:  Ben is looking surprisingly fresh, ensconced in Gabriel's office, adding our latest footage.  I take a call from Marie about the music, one of my favorite moments of the weekend because she always gets me, even though I feel impossibly vague.  Currently, we have some breathing and some zing-y sounds that I'm finding too...campy?  Typical?  In any case, the ghostly piano she composes is perfect.  I am eager to dig into our unwieldy edit, especially now that I've learned it's 14 minutes.  ACK!

1:00:  Everyone who joins us on Sunday is incredibly helpful.  Mike C. works on sound, and he and Kate mastermind a kick-ass credits page.  Kate and Mae Linh have the saucy idea to put all the production crew in our own corpse-pose Polaroids, so periodically during the afternoon we are all asked "Are you ready to be dead for me now?"  Mike F. is zooming through whatever rough patches I point out, and David is color-correcting.  Mark is dashing around, interfacing with all the factions.  He also has some really insightful suggestions for what to cut.  So, things get done.

2:00:  Ben and I have a massive task ahead of us--getting the rough cut down to under seven minutes.  That one detail, all other fixes aside, will make the difference between an eligible and a disqualified film.  So we have to put all other concerns aside until that's handled, and it's slow-going.

2:30:  Rachel is here now, and has mercifully brought me a burger and a latte.  I think these two details are why I don't get my traditional Sunday editing migraine.  And then, like a returning war hero, Hilary arrives, sporting a giant bandage on her neck.  What's incredible is her sense of humor:  not only does she wave away the attention and plunge right into fixing our film, she is the first to suggest that her "corpse photo" include a knife.  Wow.

3:00:  Ben is a wizard.  Or, as he puts it, a ninja.  Really, it fits.  For the rest of the day, every time he finesses a perfect, smooth cut in under five seconds, I shake my head and repeat:  "Benji:  You're a ninja.  An unstoppable ninja."  Because of his hyper-speed, we get a lot more done than I imagined we could.  Oh, and the 14 minutes?  Cut down to 11 in the time it takes me to leave the room and find a warm soda.  Because some footage was accidentally "stored" in the edit.  That was a high.

4:00:  I am getting worried about music.  Marie is working masterfully from home to provide us with the perfect sonic interludes.  Problem is, we're not ready to deal with music, as there are too many other fires to put out.

5:00:  There's something incredibly freeing about cutting your own dialogue.  I mean, it must be sort of hard for the actors, to see their precious lines lost.  And it takes me a really long time to let go and let it happen.  But once I've decided to kill my babies, I squash them underfoot with abandon.  Second by second, we are inching towards the required length.

6:00:  Now we're ready for music.  But I'm hunched over Benji's shoulder, shouting stuff like "Remove her butt!  We don't need that there!" and "We need one more frame of her face from that side!"  I shout to Mark to have Marie start inserting appropriate music in the current cut, but there is some break in the chain and she doesn't get his message until. it's. too. late for me to deal with it.  Sigh.

6:30:  Luckily, the music is perfect.  Now, there are about eight of us in Ben's office, shouting "Drop Jazzy Ghost behind Elizabeth's scene!  Right...there!  Good!  Now move Ghost Song to Margaret's scene.  No, no, no, not Scary Ghost.  Ghost Song.  Scary Ghost needs to be in the gun scene.  Is there anything over the walk-and-talk?  Not that.  Not that!  GOOD GOD, NOT THAT!  AHHHHH!  Ooooh, THAT.  Perfect!  Oh, I can't stand it--it's too good!!!"  How Ben does all this in about 18 minutes without imploding from the symphony of shouting behind him, I have no idea, but I want to hug him for it.

6:40:  I'm almost crying.  Hell, I am crying.  Mark is leaving with our first edit, aka "the crappy one" that has no music.  While this is actually the first movie we've done that I think is still decent without music, I want my music!  It must happen.  Ben is getting it done as fast as he can.

6:45:  There is a scuffle because David and Mike C. want to review the sound, and I don't understand why they have to do it while we're doing the music.  Someone explains that everything must be done in one place as of now.  It's making me so mad I can feel my fingers and toes buzzing.  It's not rational.  It's just that I.  NEED.  EVERY.  PRECIOUS.  MINUTE.   For me.  MINE. 

6:50:  There's a skirmish because the title card and Cane Toad logo have never made it onto the edit and now we can't find them.  People are literally running around, searching computer desktops for these missing elements.  It is also revealed that some of the Polaroid corpses never made it into the credits before they were uploaded.  I am wringing my hands, moaning and running back and forth, back and forth, outside the editing room.  I can't stand the pressure anymore.  Ben and Mike F. and Mae Linh are looking at me sympathetically.  Rachel is rubbing my back and reminding me to breathe.  Ben A., bless his heart, is still valiantly searching for our title card.

6:55:  Rendering.  Title card, logo, credits and the rest of the music transitions be damned.  David wants to check things, but we checked things the two years we were late, too.  I will NOT be late.  I will have an imperfect edit but I WILL NOT BE LATE.  I'm shouting and jumping around and people are starting to look at me like I should not be driving.  But although I can't articulate it at the time, I know that driving is the only thing that will calm me down.

7:00:  "I'm coming with you!" Hilary shouts, and I try to dissuade her--how will she get back to North County?  Like Victor Velasco, she says she'll meet that problem in New Jersey.  Or something like that.  Kate says she's coming, too.  Her dad shoots me an alarmed stare that seems to say, "Are you fit to drive or do you plan on killing my daughter?"  Secretly, I'm feeling relieved and happy that I'll have my girlies with me in the car.  Because last year I was so tired and scared that I missed several exits.  

7:02:  "IS IT RENDERRRREDDDD?  Because we are going to be late.  We are GOING TO BE LATE!"  Tim runs by and says "You can go with me if you go right now!"  David laughs because Tim is a race car driver.  But I can't go because the damn thing is still rendering.

7:05:  "I'll be in the car!"  I run to the car, talking to myself.  "Do NOT hit other cars pulling out.  Do not hit anything!"  We are already late, already late, already late...I back up to the door and keep the car running.  Then I see Hilary sprinting toward me with the thumb drive.  Kate follows seconds later.  They leap in.  "Drive.  DRIVE!" Hilary yells.  "Just do it...NOW!"  And I drive.

7:06:  And I make a wrong turn.  "I'm going to have to turn around!"  Someone gently suggests I can just meet up with the other road.  I do.  And now I'm on the freeway.  And there's no traffic.

7:15:  Driving.  I veer onto the Local Bypass and Hilary freaks out, but I know what I'm doing.  I feel strangely calm now because they are in the car.  And I know they will run like the wind.

7:26:  Pulling into the Hazard Center driveway.  When was that Mexican restaurant razed to the ground? Can't think about that now.  I bounce over a bunch of speed bumps.  "I'm going to run with you.  I'll park and we'll all run!"

7:28:  We're sprinting like mad to the door.  And we're in line!  Before the countdown!  Duane ushers us to the check-in desk.  We've done it!  WAAAAH!

7:31:  I'm not even tired.  Normally, the adrenaline oozes out of me and I get all noodly, but I feel fine, if very thirsty.  Mark heads to the bar to get me a Cosmo.  Ahhh.  We get a big table and soon we have me, Hilary, Kate, Mike C, Mike F, David, Ben and Mark gathered around, drinking and ordering dinner.  Other teams stop by to chat and offer their congratulations.  And I accept them greedily.  We made it!  Now to wait for the premiere!













Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tiny White Daisies On The Lawn

Passover has just begun, and the first matzah breakfast consumed.  We like it with butter and apricot jam.  It's actually good for the first couple of days.  Then later you want to throw it at the wall.

Feeling a little of that "it's newly Spring and I don't have rehearsal" ennui.  On the other hand, it's been nice being home in the evenings, actually cooking a leisurely dinner and continuing with my project to read every Judy Blume book to Jarrah.  She's so funny and perceptive--she's already told me that Margaret and Sheila are similar because "they both lie because they're worried about what people think of them."  It makes me see that all the Judy Blume books basically pivot on this idea.  Which I guess is what makes them relatable to so many kids, even now.  It's funny because I don't find them relatable anymore, which I guess is the whole point of growing up.  I keep thinking, what are these kids so afraid of?  Tell the truth!  Own up to your fears!  Get over yourself!  I suppose I wouldn't have appreciated that when I was 12.

The last few shows were satisfying.  I feel like it took me a week to recover (Daylight Savings didn't help) but I had a lot of fun with it.  I spent a lot more time on this show with young people (like, really young--one of my show BFFs was 14) so I was often the cool kid with a car.  I mean, it's a 12-year-old car with a big dent in the driver-side door, but hey.  It drives.  I feel grateful that my director sort of gave me free reign to create Ms. Teavee, since she has only about five lines in the entire act that she's on stage (and most of them akin to "What's that?") but by the end of the run I had all the Oompa-Loompas running around saying "I am soooo Instagramming this!  Hashtag adorbz!"  That was really fun.  And at the cast party, when we played "Switch" and the kids portrayed the adult characters in a parody scene, seeing Violet Beauregarde mock me was simultaneously thrilling and mortifying.

Now I need to find a new project and have been scouring auditions to that purpose.  There were a few I might have turned up for, but the runs coincide with my imminent trip to the East Coast for my Smith College reunion--I'm really excited about that.  In a strange yet wondrous development, the entertainment committee for our formal Saturday night dinner has asked me to perform for the class that evening.  When I followed up and asked what they'd like me to perform, this gal said "What do you do?"  That's a bit daunting, but I think I've settled on some stand-up comedy.  Still daunting, but less so than singing during the cocktail hour and possibly wearing out my welcome for life.

I also had a pleasing development on the last day of the show, which began with an awards breakfast for the theater company I've been working with.  I was recognized for both my contributions to "Pippin" and my influence as a youth mentor, and the whole experience brought tears to my eyes.  I was very moved to have people notice me.  After the breakfast, my "Pippin" director asked if I might consider being his dramaturg on an upcoming directorial project of his, a very contemporary, talky drama that is set in 1919 New York.  Of course, this is precisely the place and period I studied for my dissertation, so it seemed like a really fun challenge--not to mention the opportunity to work with him in a new capacity.  The cast is only five people and there isn't a part suitable for me, but this way I can put my research skills to use; they're getting rusty.  That show starts up in September, so I have lots of time to prepare.





Monday, March 11, 2013

Pure Imagination

Morning after the first weekend of "Willy Wonka the Musical."  I am typically zoned out.  Not helping is the fact that we've just "sprung forward" (which sounds even worse in the past tense.)  Jarrah kept moaning, "I'm so confused..." this morning when we woke her up in the dark.  "We are, too, sweetie."  "They should give a week off from school after the time change."  "I've been saying that all my life."

Looks to be a beautiful day, though.  It will be weird not to go to rehearsal.  The show went really well this weekend and I had my personal best on my solo number Saturday night--David and Jarrah were even there to see it.  By which I mean I got through the singing, the tango, the patter AND "the business" (which includes waving a tiny French flag around) without getting out of breath.  That part was the true triumph.  All the other times I've been secretly praying, "Please let me get to the end of this song without passing out."  Truth.

Everyone has been awesomely nice and we're having a lot of fun, but it's been an overwhelming week. For one thing, there are a lot more kids around on this show.  Sure, there were kids in "Bye Bye Birdie," but they kept the poor things sequestered in a tent outside the dressing room--here we're all together, and sometimes the noise level is pretty amazing.  The other thing is that until opening night, we weren't even sure we'd have a show--we were that behind in tech.  This show has a lot of complicated sets, sound and light cues, as well as video clips that have to be perfectly timed, of course.  None of that happened even at our Thursday night Tech Dress, which was performed for an audience of charter school students and their families.  Let's just say I was reassuring myself that at least they weren't paying.

By Friday, we miraculously had a show with all the bits in place, and except for a glitch here and there, that was true all weekend.  Even as I'm congratulating myself on a successful opening, I'm beginning that melancholy process of letting it all go, as we have one more weekend and then it becomes part of community theater history.  I don't have any other projects lined up, or auditions I'm looking forward to.  The next two shows with this group are for kids only.  Two other productions that interested me have show dates when I'll be away in May for my college reunion.  So I'll just have to keep my ear to the ground.

I'm sure it will be nice, for a couple weeks, not to race out after dinner into the chilly evening for rehearsals, but I know I'll get antsy soon.  What will be next?  Who knows?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Men Don't Make Passes

Tomorrow I pick up my new glasses.

They've promised to show me how to clean them, store them--even how to put them on and take them off.  What my friend Robyn calls "the care and feeding" of my new eyewear.

Which is a good thing, because the fact that I need glasses feels about as natural as if I'd suddenly grown a p*nis.  

It's like the doctor smiled and said "Well, whaddaya know?  You've got late adult onset p*nis!  It's kinda rare, I won't lie.  But completely normal, I assure you.  We'll get you set up with a prescription for some new underpants and you'll be right as rain.  'Course, it will take a little getting used to.  But your p*nis is not very big, so it won't be a huge change.  You may only notice your p*nis when you're driving at night, or in a movie theater.  But feel free to use it whenever you want."

Absurd, right?  But I have lived my entire life with 20/20.  I've been quizzing everyone I know about that profound moment when they discovered they needed their first glasses, and most of them have rubbed their chins thoughtfully and said something like "Well, I was in seventh grade.  I think.  I don't really remember.  Actually, I don't really remember a time when I didn't have glasses."  The majority of people I've questioned who appear to be spectacle-free cheerfully admit, "Oh, I have contacts." or "I got Lasik 10 years ago."  

Like it's no big deal.  

Readers, I'm here to tell you, it's a big deal for me.  I've told you that my eyes started bothering me over the holidays, like they had boulders in them.  (They still do, but apparently that's a separate issue:  Dry Eye Syndrome.  I'll refrain from exercising the p*nis analogy here.)  I have read many an eye chart in my day, and I could pretty much skip to "Made in China from Synthetic Materials" in 8-point font in the lower right corner.  My eyes were DOPE.  They looked good, and they worked good.  End of story.  

Except this time, I couldn't see the eye chart.  Like, at ALL.  Blink, blink, blink.  And then a lot more blinking, to clear the tears.  I couldn't even see the TOP LINE.  It was better through the little paddle with the tiny holes, a lot better.  But that was small comfort.  I had FAILED the eye chart.  Nothing would ever be the same.  (Yeah, yeah, I know what some of you are thinking:  suddenly growing a p*nis would be more prize than punishment.  Try not to analyze things so much.)

I thought maybe if I faithfully used my eye drops 10 times a day like the doctor said, the bad eyesight would GO AWAY.  I went in for a full eye exam, where I looked at a hot air balloon, got some stinging drops, and then everything went totally blurry.  I was grateful to have my friend Grace in the room when that happened.  She looked after me.  Why do they say you can drive afterwards?  I couldn't even WALK.  I clutched her arm on the way to the car and then I couldn't even see my phone until 5:30 that evening.  Hours after the fact, I put in some Visine and gallons of thick, yellow tears ran down my face.  Is that even normal? 

My retinas are fine.  "Really?"  I said.  "I don't have blepharitis?"  "No."  "Keratitis?"  "No."  "Shingles on my corneas?"  "What the @#$%&* is that?"  Perhaps someone has been abusing the internet.  She moved the little windows around, stood up resolutely and said "You're at 20/20!" before breezing out of the room.

20/20 with GLASSES, that is.  20/50 without.  I whispered to Grace, "Is that the freakiest number anyone's ever had?"  "Mine is like 300," she whispered back.  Oh.  And my close-up vision is fine.  Which is kind of weird for my age.  Then again, I've always been weird, at every age.  

Following a highly scientific FB poll, I brought David and Jarrah and my internet-parsed prescription to a fancy-pants glasses store recommended by my friend Martha.  In response to their polite query about my preferences, I announced, "I want something fancy."  The gal didn't hesitate before producing a blue pair with floral filigree and tiny blue diamonds around the edges.  I was in love.  David said they looked like they were upside-down, but I wouldn't hear it.  I also peeked at the price and noticed they were about a million dollars.  Clearly, I was going to need a nicer purse to carry them in.

Because I started with the diamonds, it was hard to backtrack to anything "geek-chic" or (horrors) utilitarian and practical, but have no fear--I tried on frames for over an hour.  I learned that I am nose pad-intolerant.  I also learned that I like round, but round doesn't like me.  And that anything too dark makes it look like my entire head has disappeared.  Jarrah went from mildly interested to actively protesting, and David's input was limited.  (He later said, "I didn't need to say, 'Um, NO' because they all looked good on you."  Awww.)  The owner of the shop quietly yanked away any pair I had misgivings about, until only one remained.  

My glasses are French, by a company called Lafont.  They are multi-colored, and have sort of...lightning bolts on the sides?  They are not boring.  They are not practical.  They are not really the glasses of a girl who plans to wear them only driving and at the movies.  But some part of me has been seeing this as a coming-out party for my eyes.  They have busted the chrysalis of their past life and now they need a big-ass party.  

Outside, I was seized with buyer's remorse.  Not because I don't like them.  "What if the reason I want really cool glasses is because I don't think I'm cute anymore, and I'm trying to hide?  Or because I'm trying to compensate for not actually being cool myself??"  David calmed me down in his usual fashion.  "You're over-thinking this.  You're cute and you'll have cute glasses." and then the really devastating truth:  "Besides, it's not like this is the only pair of glasses you'll ever have."

Oh.  Right.  And that's the part I just can't get my mind around, Readers.  The permanence of this condition.  Even worse, the certainty of more unfamiliar eyes to come.  And the wave of strangeness when I borrow the specs of someone else with "distance myopia" in a sports bar and discover--with an internal soundtrack like a brick dropping on a piano--that the TV across the room has words on it.  Like I suddenly have someone else's eyes in place of my own razor-sharp peepers.  Feels about as comfortable as getting a totally new body part.  Of any kind.  

Through all this unfamiliarity, this unrootedness, there's only one thing I know for sure:  the new glasses are rad.  And I plan to rock them, even if it feels weird at first.  Hey, I'm an actor.  I'll just pretend I'm playing the part of "Girl With Glasses #5."  With any luck, it will eventually feel like the role I was born to play.  



In With The New

Been a busy couple of weeks around here, launching into the New Year.  After a quick jaunt to Palm Springs to ring in 2013, we've been off and running.  I participated in the fabulous 24 Hour Theatre Experiment (more on that later) and auditioned for Willa Wonka the Musical, and we hosted a laser tag birthday party for Jarrah that was much smaller than her previous parties but perhaps more fun because of that.

Aside from my small directing gig in October, I haven't appeared on stage since August and was feeling a little rusty.  Of course, I had two really depressing auditions in the fall, so I was also feeling a bit skittish.  I worked hard on my audition song ("This Can't Be Love," a Diana Krall version) with my voice coach, less because of the challenging nature of the song and more because I still do not give good audition.  I let nerves overcome me and get really breathless and shrieky.  This time, I was determined to stay cool and calm.

My appointment was for 8:30 on the first Monday back to school, so it was tough to feel bright-eyed at that hour, but I'm happy to say I did just fine.  I'm sure if I heard it played back for me I'd be all over critiquing myself, but my memory tells me it was not humiliating.  Late that night, I learned I had a callback for the next day.

That night was pretty challenging, with two songs to learn, solo and choral performances, learning and performing a combination (the fabulous Miss Candace choreographing this time) and reading sides with every possible combination of small child in the fully-packed room.  I had been hoping for Mrs. Gloop because I love the song she does with Augustus, "I Eat More."  I could read the shifting sands pretty quickly, though, that someone else was likely to get that part.  I left there feeling I'd done a good job but not really sure how it would turn out.  They said we'd hear by Thursday (this was Tuesday) but a FB tip-off the next morning suggested it might be sooner.  Sure enough, I got a voice mail around 1:00 from the producer, offering me the part of Ms. Teavee.  Wow!  Although I'd put her down on my audition form, I didn't really know much about the part and had mixed feelings, even while I was super-excited and grateful to have a role with a name.

After the read-through on Saturday, I learned that my character has a solo song, with her son, Mike, and it's a fun one.  That is exciting and a little scary.  She doesn't have the best lines, but she is on stage for most of Act 2.  Basically, I'm trying to just remain open to the process, which is totally strange for me.  I only have two close buddies in the cast from former shows (Ryan and Ariel, from Bye Bye Birdie and Pippin) but I'm sure I'll get to know the other adults.  I'm already well on my way to becoming fast friends with my son, who is 12 and delightful and not exactly shy, calling me "mom" and hugging me each time he sees me.  Last night he directed me to perform a Charleston with him while we were waiting to rehearse our song--the first small number on the list!  The entire company also learned "The Golden Age of Chocolate" together and that was a blast.  I think that first night we break out the librettos and Kirk gives us our parts is my favorite.  It's such a creative time.

After everyone else left, Mike and I learned the song "I See It All On TV."  I had only heard it once, and Kirk asked us to jump in and sight-sing immediately, which is a huge challenge for me.  I struggled with the low key (having only sung soprano in Pippin, even though ironically my whole previous life I described myself as a second alto) and then the parts where we have to join together.  The hardest part was the harmony in the finale, which I blew again and again until I was red-faced and sweating.  Our dear director was sitting quietly in the back and I was ready to faint, thinking at any moment he might stand up and announce that he needed to re-cast because of my incompetence.  I have to hold the world "ALL" for a long time and it was sounding like bloody hell until Kirk suggested I pronounce it "HALL."  The audience can't hear the "h" but it helps the sound.  Genius--he was right, of course.  I'm happy to say that our final run-through of the night has glimmers of sounding like an actual song, so I'm hopeful it will continue to get better.

So, for a while I am back at rehearsals up to five times a week, which is great but challenging, too, with our evening schedules.  I haven't been sleeping well since David has been sick and snoring to beat the band, but hopefully that will pass.  In other news, Jarrah will be getting her braces in the next couple of weeks, and that will be like an after-school sport, since we'll be driving out to OB at least once a week for a few months for adjustments.

I'm also picking up my new, fancy glasses tomorrow, and I'm excited and nervous.  A post on that process will be forthcoming, too.  Happy New Year, Readers!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The View From Here

Jarrah is EIGHT!

Yesterday we celebrated in the traditional way with a day devoted to the whims of the birthday girl, shared with Joy and family, and this time happily joined by David, who has a full, glorious week off, courtesy of Go-Pro.

Things went a little differently than planned.  There was the requisite visit to Build-A-Bear, which typified our child's personality when she chose the very first, hideous hot-pink cat she laid eyes on and was done looking after that (I joked that I hope she doesn't end up choosing her romantic partners in this capricious and impulsive way:  "Right:  you by the door.  You'll do.") and with a surprisingly small amount of fuss she was persuaded to change her McDonald's plans to Stacked! instead, much to the relief of everyone else who didn't want to eat at McDonald's.  We had a fun lunch at Stacked! even though it takes about 30 minutes for everyone to get their order into the iPad, but we weren't in a rush.

After that, Jarrah headed up to Encinitas with Mary and Paul for some Barbie Dream House quality time, while David and I headed back to our place to gather snow clothes for another annual tradition--sledding and s'mores at Quail Gardens's Holiday of Lights.

Then, once we arrived and she opened the fabulous Spy Kit from Joy, she didn't want to go to the snow anymore, and I just had to roll with that.  I say "I" because no one else really cared, but it did mean David and I had done a whole lot of shlepping basically for nothing, since we ended the night with the traditional pie at Coco's--and we could have had Coco's right by our house.  Ah well.  We all had good company and fun, and Jarrah was happy.

On a more somber note, I missed the traditional homemade Swedish pancakes at our place and most of the Build-a-Bear festivities, as I had an impromptu trip to the opthamologist--my second in three days.  I started feeling like I had a boulder in my right eye about a week ago, followed by a dry, gravelly feeling and an extreme amount of blurriness.  Because I was worried about the boulder, I took a chance and called the same office I went to in 2009 when I had the opthalmic migraine.  That day was traumatic, but ended happily because the migraine went away and I still had my 20/20 vision, which made me not a little bit smug.

This trip was not so triumphant.  It was awesome that not only did they remember me, but allowed me to come in instantly (I mean, like, the minute I called) to check for the boulder, and you'd think I'd have some closure.  Instead, the (very nice) doctor did a quick exam, peeled my lid back with a hook (OW!) to check for rocks, and said whatever it was, it wasn't serious.  She prescribed a full exam on January 10 and said I have Dry Eye Syndrome.  Why do I have this?  Because, apparently, I'm old.  It's more common than anyone thinks, she said.  I have to put artificial tears in my eyes six times a day.

But here's what made me cry.  I couldn't read the eye chart.  Normally, I can read it lightening fast and even see the "Made in USA" at the wee bottom.  This time, I couldn't even read the top line; it was too blurry.  I cried.  What had happened???

So apparently some of the blurriness is due to the dry eye.  But I'm gonna need glasses anyway.  I don't know why this is so hard to accept.  I think people who lost their "perfect" vision early on didn't have as long as I have to get attached to it.  And now I miss it mightily, despite the slight consolation of getting to pick out super-cute glasses.

So off I went with my drops, and the boulder feeling did not go away.  Plus I kept waking up during the night feeling like my right eye ACHED, and it feels incredibly light sensitive, like there's a stripe of white in the middle of it.  It freaked me out enough that when they said they were closing for five days after noon on Friday and could I come right back in, I ran, even though it meant missing some precious birthday moments.

She checked everything again.  Didn't see anything.  Did a fun test where she GLUED little pieces of paper to my eyeballs and told me to RELAX for five minutes with those on, to measure my tears.  I am supposed to have a 15 something-or-other in each eye, and I have a 9 and a 12.  My options are:  continue with the drops, do some other expensive drops for five months that might hurt and might not work, or get some artificial tear ducts surgically implanted in my eyes.  Guess which I chose?

Still no news on the weird stripe in my right eye.  She says she doesn't see it, but I haven't had the full exam.  So I'm still pretty worried about that.  When your eyes are bothering you, it's hard to think about anything else--ever noticed that?



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hanukkah Monologue

The following is an impromptu piece I wrote yesterday afternoon when challenged by my friend, Anna.  She was hosting a latke party and I asked what I could bring.  "How about a comic monologue?"  she said.  "You better not be kidding," I shot back.  "It's okay if you're not off book," she said.  I wrote it quickly and read it after the candle lighting, and that was fun, though as typical in these situations afterwards I was wrapped in a hot paraffin dip of shame for having called attention to myself.  I'm such a paradox.  Love me anyway?

************

When my daughter started public school, I figured I’d be thumb-wrestling all the other stay-at-home moms for the privilege of presenting on Hanukkah in the classroom, but it turns out:  I’m it.  Each year, I gather up my menorahs, my candles, my dreidels, my gelt and my Trader Joes latkes (shhhh!) and prepare to dazzle the children with the Wonder of Being a Jew.

Last year, something went slightly awry.  I received 22 thank-you notes, 20 of which included some version of “Thank you so much for teaching us about the bloody, bloody battle where everyone died.”  Hmmm.  Thought they seemed a little too alert during that section.  The last two hoped Jarrah would be in their class next year because they liked my cooking.

This morning, it was my turn again, and when the kids returned from recess, they found me attempting to stuff candles into a bunch of nuts (the metal, not the edible, kind) on the preschool menorah I cherish from five years ago.  I also brought the fancy zebra-wood art menorah my atheist husband gifted me with when we’d only been dating three months.  Hmmm.  I guess he really wanted some, um, holiday cheer.

“Can you eat that?” one of the girls asked skeptically as I wedged the pink wax into the recalcitrant holes.  I get that a lot.  If a holiday tradition isn’t about gifts or snacks, they don't see any point to it. 

At least I have a bit more good news than for my Passover presentation.  “Well, they slathered their doors in bloody, shredded lamb and then a lot of people’s children died screaming in the middle of the night while their mommies and daddies cried and cried. The Jews ran and ran, trying not to be shot or drowned, and then we ate some extremely constipating crackers for about 40 years.”  Good times.  Jews know how to party.  You can imagine the mirth after the Yom Kippur talk.  “Wait…you guys celebrate by STARVING?”

 The kids were really great.  They actually seemed interested when I explained that no, Hanukkah doesn’t gallop around the calendar at whim, but actually falls on the 25th of Kislev every year, no matter what.  Sometimes we might be eating turkey at the time, or watching everyone else open their stockings, but by gum, we are consistent.

When I said “Who knows what ‘Nes Gadol Hayah Shum?’ means?” a bunch of hands shot up.  “Isaac?”  I called out.  “Education?” he said. 

Alright, alright, you made your point.  “Dedication” is not exactly a scintillating translation for the word “Hanukkah.”  Why couldn’t it have been “Dazzling Drag Revue and Dessert Buffet?”  We’d get more takers. 

I read them a book called “The Story of Hanukkah,” which contained this priceless lesson:

“Although the Jews were not trained soldiers, they fought incredibly bravely.  They ran out yelling when they saw the king’s army, then ran back and hid behind some rocks until the army left.”  I love how apparently the Jewish definition of fighting “incredibly bravely” is going “Nah-Nah Nah NAH Nah” and then running and hiding.  Reminds me of my favorite quote from the British novelist E.M. Forster:  “I would rather be a coward then brave because people hurt you when you are brave.”  Now there’s a boy who’s going to make his mama proud. 

The kids were dismayed when I said that the Maccabees sobbed because the temple had been messed up and filled with garbage.  They seemed so wounded I wondered if they thought it was kinda like being made to clean their rooms.  That was a pain and suffering they could relate to. 

Dreidel was a big hit.  Everyone got really competitive REALLY fast, and there was a lot of “ANTE UP!” and “SUCKA!” when someone landed on gimel.  One boy looked close to tears and told us “I had the entire pot, and suddenly, it was all gone.” 

“Well…” I said, and his teacher continued:  “…don’t become a gambler!”  Hey, we know some valuable stuff.  They don’t call us The People of the Book for nothing.

Last year, Jarrah told me she was sad that she didn’t get to celebrate Christmas, and it made her feel very alone because all the other kids did.  “Oh, sweetie.”  I soothed.  “I’m so proud of you.  You’ve learned what it means to be a Jew.  Yes, it’s sad, and hard, and you will suffer.  I’m glad you’re getting the hang of it early.”

I jest, but really, I do feel a lot of warmth and good cheer around Hanukkah.  It’s a nice time to spend with family and friends, exchanging gifts, singing and being grateful for the past year. 

Oh, who am I kidding.  Hanukkah rocks because—like my grandmother always said—for eight days fried food has no calories or cholesterol.  Pass the jelly donuts, will ya?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

My Strong Suit

David and I have been married a long time.  I mean, not ladies-and-gentleman-the-last-on-the-floor-for-our-wedding-dance long, but pretty darn long.  Sometimes I'm reminded of how long by a particular incident.  Like this one.

He wanted a new suit to go with his sharp new haircut.  Now, that doesn't sound like a big deal, except when you know all the facts.  Which are:  he hadn't cut his hair in 18 years, and he hadn't bought a suit in 14.  How do I know that last figure so precisely?  Because I was there when he bought the last one, and because we had just started dating.

Four weeks into our relationship, my old pal Synthia called me up and asked me to bring David to her wedding.  This was significant, because she was pretty controlling about her guest list.  She said, "I just get this feeling he's going to be important in your life."  Smart woman.  But you might recall that I met David at a wedding, a wedding where he was wearing an elf-like costume of green pants, a mint green shirt and some sort of green tie.  No jacket.  He didn't own one.  His shoes--brown before that evening--he had handily painted black with "shoe paint."  So you're getting a picture of his personal style.

I suggested that he might be more comfortable in a traditional suit at this wedding, since it was black tie optional.  He agreed, and right there you can tell that he really liked me.  He was going almost as far out of his comfort zone as a few weeks later, when I enrolled him in salsa lessons (that's a story for another day, Readers.)  As we drove to the mall, he was silent and edgy.  When I tried massaging his neck, he snapped "Could you not PUSH my head forward when I'm driving?"  He's a testy one, I thought.  (Actually, I was wrong there.)  When we arrived, I suggested we start in Banana Republic, of which he had never heard.  "Does that have something to do with COLONIALISM?" he said.  I had a bit of a stomach ache.  This wasn't going to be easy.

We ended up at Nordstrom, where the capable Men's Finery dudes took over.  They installed him in a big dressing room, where I could sit and watch.  They brought in a black Mani suit (I heard "Armani") and told us that tailoring was included.  The suit cost about 700 dollars, about which David was incredulous, noting that he had never paid so much for an article of clothing he would probably never wear again.  We also chose some "furnishings," including a sharp blue shirt, a blue-and-gray tie, some dress socks and some smart shoes.  I had to admit he looked pretty nice when they were done with him.  Now if I could just convince him to wash his hair before this event, he'd be a looker.

We had fun at that wedding, and all the weddings after, including our own, three years later.  Along the way, David got a lot more use than he expected out of that suit.  We even added a couple more shirts and ties.

And now, here it was, 11 years into our marriage, sullen seven-year-old-hunched-over-iPhone in tow, after a long day of school, work and general domestic drudgery, and we were back at Nordstrom, in search of a new suit.  We'd both started to notice that the old one was a bit out of date:  pleated pants, thick fabric, VERY long jacket that he seemed to be swimming in.

Here we were, in the very same Nordstrom, in the very same dressing room, on the very same quest, and yet...and yet I started to see glimmers of difference.  And Readers, these glimmers amused me mightily.

First off, I had researched suits before we arrived, and I already knew to ask for a particular Hugo Boss that had caught my eye.  The suit guy (who seemed like a lifer, compared to the young turks on the floor) sized him up and brought him a Long.  David slipped it on and pronounced it comfortable.

"No," I said.

"No?" they both said.

"No.  Jacket's too long.  I want something that hits about hip length.  Kind of like"--my gaze swept the room, alighting on a 20-something dude behind the register--"his.  I think it will look better because David has a long torso and really short legs."

"I do NOT have really short legs," David corrected.

"Okay, whatever, but I want a shorter jacket.  Can he try a regular?"

"But, madam...this jacket fits him well.  It's his size."

"Hmmm.  No harm in trying the regular, though, right?"

Both of them seemed a bit peeved, but the regular was located, and I proclaimed it perfect.  Something was wrong with the pants, though.

"Are they going up his butt?"  I asked.  "I think he needs some shoes.  Maybe a dress shirt, to really see how everything lies."

Suit-Lifer (aka Charles) scurried off, and David was kitted out with shirt and shoes.

"Not that kind of shirt.  I want something thinner.  Chic-er."

Charles galloped off.  David galloped after him, to ask about the pants, and I could hear them yelping in the corridor.  Jarrah's head was down over the Zombie Invasion.

And then I started giggling.  Because I realized...THINGS HAVE CHANGED.  No need to stand on ceremony anymore--David doesn't get fashion, he knows it, I know it: DONE.  And the guy's been married to me for 11 years.  No need to pretend I'm not a bossy thing who wants things just so.  David knows it, and now--lord love him--Charles the Suit Guy knows it, too, and he won't make the mistake again of asking David's opinion about anything.  That's not where his sale is going to get made.

I can hear them in the hall.

"She didn't like the shirt!"

"Does she like the pants?"

"I don't think so!"

Now I could just enjoy myself.  With the new shirt, something was not quite right with the jacket length.

"Okay.  How about the Dolce and Gabbana?"

Charles raised an eyebrow.  That was a significantly more expensive suit.  The way I figured it, if David was averaging one new suit every 14 years, he might as well make an investment.  Charles scurried off, and returned with a beautiful D&G suit.  It looked fabulous on David.  He even smiled, looking at himself.  He never does that.  Something was wrong, though--and we needed another size.

"No problem," I said.  "Let's check the computer for other Nordstroms that might be able to send it to us."  For some reason, this seemed like a surprising solution to our friend Charles.  But he did it, and the correct suit was located in San Francisco, to arrive within five business days, in time to be tailored for the upcoming party.  As he rang us up, he said "See?  I told you he was a Regular length all along."  And then he winked at me.  He winked at me, Readers!

That settled, we headed out onto the floor to look at shirts and ties.  "White?"  David asked.  "No," I said.  "Something with color.  More contemporary."  He picked up a tie with some sort of gold pattern. "I like this."

"Oh, sweetie," I said.  "No.  No, you don't."

Last night, the D&G arrived from San Francisco, and we had it tailored.  It's perfect, fits like a glove.  Makes David look even taller, if that's possible.  I picked out a lavender paisley tie.  David was skeptical.  "You'll get used to it," I promised.  Charles brought over an electric blue one to show me.

"Yes?"  he said.

"Hmmm."  I said.

"You can just say you don't like it."

"Oh, I will.  I was just trying to figure out why."

I caught sight of myself in the mirror.  I looked like a vaguely homeless freak, wearing a mismatched shirt and hoodie, pajama bottoms, hair sticking out of the pony tail in every direction, and my purse COVERED IN DIRT from having left it on the ground during an outdoor party last weekend.  Yep, I looked like a high roller, alright.  Hey, Big Spender.

And yet, it was because of me that this suit sale was going down.  Now that I think about it--I'll bet Charles sees this a lot.

And it was certainly no surprise to David.  Nope, it was pretty much like any other Friday night--me deciding what he's going to do, and he--for the most part--happily doing it.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm A Loser, Baby

So it's Monday morning and I have a splitting headache because my stomach doesn't remember how to drink coffee and I'm focused on eating this piece of toast in front of me because whether I should be attempting to eat a piece of toast yet is still a matter of debate.  And I haven't slept because David and I apparently can't tell time and don't realize we're only going to get a few hours before the school alarm until it's too late.  Also, I really, really need some Advil due to a certain little visitor but--again, with the stomach, so instead I'm just in a lot of pain.

And I'm reading the paper, trying to catch up on all the ones I missed while we were away and I was poisoned (really, is there more of a fool's errand?  The damn thing is different every day anyway) and I open to an article about a show I auditioned for a while back, the one where everyone laughed merrily and everyone said I was hilarious in Pippin and I was clearing my schedule for the callbacks when I got one of those stock e-mails that said my talents wouldn't be needed for this production and I got this email before the auditions were over.  Meaning, they had no idea yet who they were going to see before the callbacks but I, in particular, personally, ME, was not needed.  And now there's this big article about how the show is a world premiere and everyone is so, so excited, yada yada, and I grimaced.

Then, on the next page, is a big spread about a lovely woman who is currently the Big Kahuna of American poets.  I mean, she's gone as far as you can go with that title, let's just say that.  She's also the director of a creative writing at a major university and has about a million awards for her books.  She also seems really smart and interesting.  Which I don't really remember because I knew her a long time ago.  When we were both in the same MFA program and graduated at the same time.  And since then?  The book I wrote?  Well, it's in the library at UMASS, but if I want to see it, I'll have to visit it there because the only copy I have is on a floppy disk that stopped being viable around 1996.

In the afternoon, my child was furious with me because her playdate's parents picked her up too soon, which was apparently my fault.  She packed her American Girl accessories and her pillow and left a note on the bed which read "I just don't feel like I fit in here, so I'm moving out.  I'll write you a letter if you want."  She then set up camp in our driveway for the rest of the afternoon, occasionally sneaking back inside to steal snacks.  No matter what I did or said, I couldn't make her do her homework, take a bath, clean her room or do anything I said.  My threats and entreaties were either met with "No." or "I can't stand you."  I was the most useless parent ever put on the planet, even that's supposed to be, like, my main job.  And I hid in my room and I cried.  I hid from a seven-year-old.

Then I have this meeting at my house in the evening, a meeting where I've put out coffee and cupcakes but I can only stare at these things because my stomach is saying "no, no, no" still.  And one of the people at this meeting was there when I auditioned for a show very recently that turned me into Miss Havisham, waiting by the phone day after day in my lacy wrap for a call that never came even though I had a callback where I felt like I totally killed.  And finally I can't keep deftly sidestepping her mentions of this show and when I say I never head ANYTHING she says that the director loved my reading, yes he did, my reading was amazing, what an incredible reading.  So I just had to say, but not my SINGING? And she said, oh so delicately, well, he felt the part needed a really particular kind of belt voice, so...

...which was apparently the particular kind of belt voice that is not mine.  And that smarted.  A lot.  Because I thought I did my best.  And I've never had an audition where I thought I did my BEST and they didn't like it.

And then they all left and I cried.  And then David and I watched "Dancing with the Stars" and I cried some more because it would be so cool to be on that show but I'm not a star but also because they are just so good sometimes and it's a triumph of the human spirit.

And after that?  I was tired.  And, like Scarlett O'Hara, I figured tomorrow was another day, and I'd never be hungry again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Birthday Week Blues

I'm in a Monday morning funk.  Still in my bathrobe.  Sulking.  Instead of being grateful that I have legs, which is my policy.

Just returned from a Jewish Women's Retreat in the woods near a town called Angelus Oaks.  Yeah, I hadn't heard of it, either.  Apparently, bears know it well, since a gal opened her cabin door and one was chilling right outside.  I didn't want to walk alone at night (hell--ever) after that.  But otherwise, the weekend was a good experience.  I met some really cool women who have had amazing lives (a bunch of them were older than me) and taught three Nia classes to smiling and appreciative students (even if two of these classes were at freakin' dawn.)  They served massive amounts of tasty food, provided lots of pretty paper and glue for a Saturday night art project, built a big campfire for s'mores, and introduced me to the wonders of Liat, the 25-year-old song leader, who could play absolutely anything on her guitar for sing-alongs.  Because I'm a big diva, I insisted on my own cabin (the other women were four to a room) and I'm glad I did, after Saturday morning reports of snoring, heating disagreements and constant bathroom trips.  I'm a light sleeper, and I was snug in my tiny cabin with the white noise feature on my iPhone and a luxurious mint-green velour blankie from home.  It also gave me a place to hide for 15-minute increments of reading when the hours of making cheerful small-talk with strangers got to me (extroverts are really just introverts who charge their batteries with huge swatches of alone time.) 

And that should conclude my near-constant gallivanting for the present.  We had returned from the Florida/Bahamas/Disney Cruise excursion only four days before I left for the weekend.  I am happy to say I am a cruise person (I think?  This was a short cruise) and that the Disney Dream is gorgeous and not just for kids.  One of the highlights was an adults-only dinner at Palo where we were treated like kings and queens, and the "Rainforest Experience" in the adults-only spa where you could stand in a beautifully tiled chamber and press a button that said "Mediterranean Storm" or "Siberian Mist" and get a personal show of water, light and scent.  In the ports of Nassau and Castaway Cay (the Disney-owned island) I loved, respectively, the Dolphin Encounter (it's impossible to be cynical about hugging a dolphin) and the Stingray Adventure, where we snorkeled in a crystal-clear white-sand cove with 56 resident sting rays swooshing and flapping around us.  Bliss.  Disney Dream employees either love their Disney jobs or are operating under threat of some horrific punishment, but they were smiling, generous and warm 24 hours a day.  Free self-serve ice cream cones and towels shaped like animals and a veranda overlooking the navy-blue sea didn't suck, either.  Oh, and Jarrah was all about the Oceaneer's Club and the Aquaduck, a water slide four flights of stairs above the top deck that actually extends over the sea. 

I also fulfilled a life-long dream of visiting Epcot park, and it did not disappointment (it didn't hurt that it was International Food and Wine month, either.)  The various lands are so beautiful, and the gray, misty weather really cooled things down that day (otherwise, both Florida and the Bahamas were ridiculously hot and sticky for October.)  There were no crowds, and it was all very relaxing, except for Mission to Space where I'm fairly certain my heart actually stopped for a couple of minutes.  We also visited Magic Kingdom, which was sort of interesting and sort of meh, considering most of the rides are the same as in the park where I practically grew up, and it was horribly hot and crowded.  We took one Disney sabbatical day and traveled a couple hours to the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater, FL for a pilgrimage to the marine rescue center that is the home of Winter, the famous, tail-less dolphin from the movie "Dolphin Tale."  That was a great day, and sunset on the sugar-soft, white beach capped it off beautifully.

See?  I have nothing to be funked about.  This always happens, though.  I look forward to my birthday celebrations but I dread them, too, expecting too much and also expecting disappointment.  It's a vicious cycle. 

But enough about me...how are you?  How do you feel about YOUR birthdays?