Thursday, December 31, 2009

Amaretto Sour, Please

Just read on Facebook today that Tavern on the Green is closing after dinner service on New Year's Eve. It's been open in Central Park for 75 years, and now there will be a legal battle over whether the next restaurant is allowed to use the name.

No matter. I've only eaten at Tavern on the Green once in my life, and I was 21 years old. It was my senior year at Smith, and my friend Beth had invited me to New York for her 21st birthday party. Beth is an only child, and let's just say her father doted on her. In my memory, he had rented the entire restaurant, but I wonder if that's even possible, let alone affordable. But Beth had at least 25 friends there, and we ate and drank extremely well. Yelp is filled with disrespect for the legendary Tavern menu, but that's not how I remember it. The meal was scrumptious, and the never-ending cocktails didn't hurt my impression. We were all in the best of moods, and I was so grateful to Beth for inviting me.

I had met Beth the previous year, in England, where I attended the University of London for my junior year. We were fast friends immediately. We stayed friends for a long, long time. I miss her now, and don't know how we fell out of touch.

I have a photo from that occasion that I still love. Beth is sitting in a chair and the rest of us are standing behind her, our arms around each other. A lot of my London friends made it to the party. I don't know where any of them are today, which bums me out. I attended the party with Carolyn, one of my best friends from Smith, who had hit it off with Beth when she visited me from Paris. Carolyn is standing next to me in the photo. We are still in touch, though we don't talk as much as I'd like.

We used to joke that because Beth is the only one seated in the picture, it looks like she's in a wheelchair. Which isn't funny, exactly, so much as it is misleading. I am wearing an electric blue sweater dress, borrowed from Carolyn. I often borrowed her clothes, and she mine. It's a pretty tame ensemble, for the '80s. Not so my hair, fiery red and huge. In those days, it was just like that, without any interference from me. I have a slight, secretive smile, and am looking coolly chic--almost New York chic, but not quite. I was having a good year, and a secretive one. I was learning a lot of things, none of them academic. I was having a lot of fun.

And I think I imagined this was what life would look like, from now on. I'd always be in groups of friends, in big cities, eating and drinking well, laughing too loud. There would be countless pictures of me in famous restaurants, with twinkle lights all around me, and the bare branches of Central Park in the background.

But most of those people--I don't remember their names. And I've never been to the Tavern again. I've had a lot of fun, fun I wouldn't have dreamed of then. But it's been different. The week that photo was taken, I was interviewing for jobs in publishing in New York. I imagined myself a famous writer, one with lots of events, a more literary Carrie Bradshaw (in a time when Carrie Bradshaw didn't exist.)

The Tavern has been around longer than I have, and now it's done. People will think of it in a similarly nostalgic way, and "remember when" in their own lives.

And I'm not a famous writer...yet. But if you're reading this right now, thank you. Because of you, what I write gets read. That night in 1987, I had it all figured out, but I never imagined I'd write about my day and someone might read it on the other side of the world, or across town, and they might tell me but more likely I'd have to take it on faith.

Which is always how it is, being a writer, if you really think about it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Precious Little Darlings (Seriously)

I don't usually wax sentimental about children. Many of you know that I am easily overwhelmed by the little beasts. Once, my dear friend Mary called me excitedly with an idea: How about she and I open a day care center?

"Oh, honey." I said. "You seem to be under the misapprehension that I like children. That's very sweet."

But joking aside, there are moments when I think I might understand that ridiculous concept, "the innocence of children," though my grasp is fleeting. Two of these moments have occurred in the past week.

The first one featured Jarrah and Joy on Christmas at Joy's house. J and J were playing in Joy's room, and something went askew, as it does very infrequently with these two. I heard some squabbling, and found Jarrah sulking and teary. After I cross-examined them both, I thought I sensed the subtext.

"Jarrah, are you feeling jealous because Joy's cousins are here, and you don't like to share her?"

Jarrah nodded, face furious, eyes wet. Jarrah has always had trouble sharing Joy. Since they're both only children, it's not often an issue between them.

Joy watched this exchange, and then said very calmly, as if years of experience and wisdom were guiding her:

"I think Jarrah thinks I love my cousins bigger than her. But the way I love them is different. My cousins are already six and 10 (note: they're actually 10 and 15) and that is different. Jarrah and I are the same age and we will always be that. Jarrah, you don't need to worry that I love them bigger than you; I love them different. And Jarrah, you're my best friend--I could never love a friend bigger than you."

I stood there, amazed at the understanding and maturity of this little speech, and my eyes filled with tears. My voice cracked a little when I said:

"Joy, you are...such a good friend. Isn't she a good friend, Jarrah?"

But Jarrah, bless her heart, is not old enough to align her feelings and her behavior (some of us never get there, right?) and continued to sulk with her arms crossed. Only the increase in tears spilling over her cheeks told me that she was not immune to the sentiment. In any case, it was only another minute before they were building a fort for kitties under Joy's bed, and the whole thing was forgotten.

But not by me.

Yesterday, we spent the day in La Jolla Shores with Jane, her sister, Danielle, and Danielle's two daughters, Rachel (12) and Aliza (7.) It was one of those sunny December afternoons with a navy blue ocean and beamy sunshine that make you wonder how anyone lives anywhere but here, so serene and lovely that I didn't even lose it when Jarrah charged into the waves fully dressed. How could she resist?

Before the tidepooling, we had lunch at an outdoor cafe, with a surf shop next door. Danielle's girls are delightful company, and incredibly sweet with Jarrah. They were all clamoring to shop for some reason, so Jane accompanied them while I went to move the car. When I returned, Jarrah was showing Jane an, um, distinctive necklace--a pendant with a huge, pink sparkling heart. Jarrah wanted to buy this necklace, ostensibly for me. When I demurred, everyone headed out, but Jarrah and Aliza were still near the jewelry, and Rachel was browsing nearby. Suddenly, Aliza said:

"I need to talk to Jarrah's mommy privately." We all sort of froze, and then I said:

"Okay. What's up?" Aliza looked at Jarrah, and said "Do you have some shopping to do...elsewhere?" Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Rachel looking half-amused, half-alarmed. I thought fast.

"Rachel, can you take Jarrah outside for a minute? Thanks." Aliza took my arm and led me back to the heart necklace.

"Can I ask you a big favor?" she said. She looked at me very seriously. She has gorgeous eyes, with lashes lush as a pony. "Step over here for a moment." I was trying hard not to laugh, not sure what to think.

"If I buy Jarrah this necklace, do you think you could give it to her at her birthday party, since I have to go back to Seattle?"

My face just melted. "Aliza, that is so sweet of you! Of course I could do that." She ran off, saying she needed to speak to her mom. Frankly, I figured that would be the end of it. Aliza clearly didn't have any money. I was outside chatting with Jane when I saw that Aliza had led her mother back into the shop and a transaction was taking place. Next thing I knew, Jarrah was wearing the pink heart.

"Jarrah." I whispered. "Give Aliza a big hug." I thanked her and Danielle. "I just couldn't say no to that kind of generous impulse," Danielle told me. And clearly, the apple doesn't fall far...well, you know the rest.

Again, I was a bit teary over this incident, though Jarrah was oblivious. I couldn't get my mind around a 7-year-0ld actually scheming to buy a gift for another child. It makes me hopeful for the future.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day Dream Believer

Whew! Not sure how people have more than one kid. I mean, forget all the meal requests and ER visits and loads of laundry. How do people do multiple birthday celebrations? One a year knocks me on my ass for a couple of months.

True, I probably over-think the whole business. Try too hard to curry favor with the youth of today, which we all know is a fool's errand. And then the celebrant in question spends the drive home whining "Today wasn't any fun for me! Why was there no fun for MEEEEE?" no matter what one pulls out of the hat. But at least I can say I tried.

The morning began with Swedish pancakes and lingonberry sauce with powdered sugar. Dear, sweet Readers, are you thinking I made those? No, lovely ones--Cost Plus did. I mean, we had to cook them, of course. Two days ago. Then Jarrah asked the perennial question: "Is this a perfect day for a dress?" which, for once, I didn't argue about. I just took a too-small "Christmas" frock from the back of the closet and paired it with some velvet leggings. And sneakers. Hey, let's call it "sense of humor chic." Jarrah can work it.

Soon, we were on the road to meet Grace and Julianna, Jarrah reading aloud from the Book of Monsters she received from Auntie Jane yesterday. You might think that an odd gift for a newly-five year old, but then again, you might not be Jarrah. She is already well-versed in Golems and Grendels and would like you to be, too.

At the mall, there were Littlest Pet Shops and Bubble Gum makeup from Auntie Grace and Auntie Jules (bliss!) and an unfortunately timed splinter, with accompanying tears. Mind you, the tears had nothing to do with pain, just an urgent need for a band-aid, which "cured" the splinter instantly. Soon, Jarrah was getting the royal treatment--two people primping her fingers and toes simultaneously--pink for the fingers, red for the toes, and fabulous flowers on both. She even waited patiently for them to dry. This was her first "real" mani-pedi, so don't tell her I instructed them to skip the soaking, scrubbing and massage. She was stoked.

Lunch at California Pizza Kitchen included some really ace mac and cheese--Julianna's favorite anywhere (I tasted it--she's onto something.) Jules told us she has 26 more days to order mac and cheese from the kids menu, and the moment of teetering on the brink of maturity is bittersweet.

After lunch, G and J had to rush off, but Jarrah and I hit Build-a-Bear, which just happens to be "Squeakuel Central" at the moment, and Jarrah lost no time choosing Alvin--complete with red sweatshirt--as her lovey du jour. I think she baffled the cashier by announcing that Alvin was now a girl named Sarah. There was a long, whiny line, but we were able to bear it (ha!)

Chipmunk in hand, we scurried to the car, since I alone knew we were missing our next event--two hours of "free" snow in the park outside the children's museum downtown. We had invited Robyn and the boys, and Synthia let me know she'd be there with her girls, too.

The next part wasn't so lovely, Readers. There was a 20-minute repetitive tour of downtown with the narration "I can't really talk about that right now; try to stop asking questions and help Mommy find parking" and calls from Robyn, who was understandably agog at the line for the snow, which snaked around the block. Triggered by a drive-by, I suggested the Ghirardelli ice cream parlor, which would have obtainable cold stuff, and the kind that kids rarely complain about. Another 10 minutes of circling and we found a spot, only to join a long line with some very disgruntled looking people moments later. I said to Robyn, "What is up with all the people? What are they, on vacation or something?" She agreed that the celebrating had gotten out of hand, and that there was simply no need for this kind of population insurgence.

Eventually, we made it inside, and were mollified by giant glass dishes of ice cream, fudge, cream and sprinkles. Jarrah's mint chip cone was bigger than her head, but the girl has a can-do spirit, and met the challenge in due time.

Sugared up, Robyn and her kids were stick-a-spoon-in-them done, but Jarrah was still clamoring for snow. I (internally) took a deep breath, and said I would check to see if it was still there. Well, the birthday gods smiled, because a spot opened up directly in front of the park with 90 minutes still on the meter! That seemed like a sign, so I tossed Jarrah my gloves (I couldn't find hers, despite my assiduous packing) and we joined the line.

Or tried to. It was still around the block. "Oh Jarrah, this is not going to happen. I'm sorry," I explained mournfully. I offered a few minutes in the play structure as a consolation prize. Well, I'll be a five-year-old's mommy if I hadn't just parked my bum on a curb and texted Synthia "Still here? Just arrived. Line is crazy" when she appeared! And gave us cut-sies! Near the front of the line! Brave souls had been in line the entire hour we'd been slurping ice cream, and it was a matter of minutes before Jarrah was swept into the corral with her friends (and how about THAT little birthday gift from Auntie Syn?)

The snow was not fresh, or soft, or ample, and an over-bright woman with a megaphone called "Thank you for playing! One more minute!" about every, um, minute, but there was time for one sublime toboggan down a manufactured hill, and 30 seconds of grinning snowball flinging, before we were escorted out like so much snow-covered riff-raff.

And then there was the whining, and crying, that I hadn't been able to do more. There were so many gaps and fissures of disappointment in my partly planned, partly serendipitous, day, that the chill breeze was wafting through. Still, I thought it was all pretty rad. And I must admit I smiled (facing forward, eyes on the road) when I heard:

"Mommy, I'm sorry I said the day wasn't fun. It was."

Edited to add: Jarrah just went to sleep, Alvin/Sarah under one arm, and a beautiful, soft bear from her Australian Nana and Granddad under the other. She'd had a second ice cream sundae by then, and opened lots of wonderful gifts. As I tucked her in, I said "Good night, five-year-old. Mommy and Daddy love you very much."

"Thank you, Mommy." she said. "Thank you, Daddy." And she closed her eyes with a huge smile on her face.

Hey, Shorty! It's Your Birthday!

Dear Jarrah,

I can't believe you are five today. It seems like a minute ago you were the baby with the big cheeks who said "Em!" all the time. Now you are tall and skinny and say a whole lot more.

I am usually full of words myself. But today, I just want to say that I am very proud to be your mama.

Happy Birthday, beautiful girl. I love you.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Baby, It's Bad Out There (Say, What's In This Drink?)

Recently, I was accused of hating Christmas. That is just not true. First of all, I don't go around hating things. That sounds so intense and passionate, and everyone knows that I am bland and wishy-washy and have no strong opinions whatsoever.

And there are actually things I love about Christmas. Such as peppermint mochas at Starbucks (and that's saying a lot, since normally I hate Starbucks) and candy canes and hearing non-denominational winter songs in stores like "Let It Snow" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." (Yeah, I realize that last one isn't non-denominational, but it's really about the heartbreak of missing loved ones, so I'm sticking to my position.)

And I love looking at Christmas lights. The gaudier, the better. This was our second year visiting Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Penasquitos, and it was even better this time. Last year, it had rained, and the streets were pretty but deserted. This year, we went on Christmas Eve, and while everyone else seems to have done the same, we were super-smart and parked outside the melee. Then we walked through while all the cars went about 5 miles an hour. Walking is the way to go, because we spent nearly two hours admiring all the trouble people had gone to. Most of the houses have themes, like Dr. Seuss or Disney princesses or zombies. The houses are lit up like Vegas, but they also have characters and and trains and music. Some of the families had fires going in their driveways, movies playing on portable screens, or cookies on offer to passerby. Santa even tossed Jarrah a candy cane across moving traffic, and though it smashed in the street, she was very, very happy and briefly stopped saying she couldn't walk another step.

And I love something else, something more personal, that has become a tradition for us--spending Christmas day with Mary, Paul and Joy. For five years now, we've been invited to afternoon dinner (lupper?) with them and their extended families, and it's always the loveliest of times. There are two little girls in fancy red dresses running around (at least until they decide it's time to spend the rest of the evening in their underpants--wonder how long that will last?) and lots of turkey and stuffing and cranberries and sweet potatoes and wine and pie and cookies and fudge. The latter comes from our kitchen, because it just doesn't seem like Christmas to me without fudge. Making fudge is not a typical behavior of Jews in captivity, but I have the most scrumptious recipe and everyone does love it so.

This year, I experienced another Christmas tradition, one that I will not be adding to my list of loves. When Mary asked if I'd like coffee, I lost my head and said:

Sam: Thanks! And can you put a splash of eggnog in there? Is that done?

Mary: Sure. Do you want regular egg nog or light eggnog?

Sam: I don't know. Which do I want?

There was a wrinkling of noses around the room, and the consensus that I wanted regular. A short time later, Mary handed me a Santa mug with a frothy whipped concoction that looked delectable indeed. I was impressed with my own daring. I took a sip. Um...WOW.

Sam: That's quite a...taste sensation. So this is a beverage that Christians enjoy? (general mirth) What's that...interesting aftertaste?

Someone informed me the aftertaste was "fake rum." Okay, maybe I would like it with real rum. I sniffed my libation, and to the fake taste was added an even more pronounced fake smell.

Sam: Well, I guess if I were Christian, I might like it, but not so much.

Paul: Apparently, Sam, you are egg-nogstic.

Okay, that was the best joke of the day. Paul got an air fist-bump (he was across the room) for that one. Someone give him a prize. Just not an eggnog latte. Even though he's Christian and might appreciate it more than me.

Each year, there's a lot of laughing and hugging and ripping of wrapping paper, and somewhere between my caffeine buzz and my sugar coma, I take a moment to appreciate the gifts of the past year, less tangible than good friends, a warm house, yummy smells and gift cards, but somehow a cotton-batting snow-white glitter-sprinkled fluffy base for all that stuff, and oh so much more.

What Lurks Beneath

Reading a book about the wonders of undersea life. (More comprehensive post to follow later today.)

Jarrah: But I've never been scuba diving!

Sam: I haven't, either. I've been snorkeling, but when you scuba dive, you wear a tank on your back that pumps air into your blood, and I'm too claustrophobic for that.

Jarrah: What's claustrophobic?

Sam: It's when you get anxious in small spaces, like caves and elevators.

Jarrah: But you love elevators!

Sam: No, I wouldn't say that.

Jarrah: Well, I'm not afraid of anything.

Sam: Good for you!

Jarrah: Well, actually, I'm afraid of lobsters, and crabs, and the Corpse Bride, but that's all.

Sam: Fair enough.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winding Down

Ah, the sun's going down on a beautiful San Diego afternoon in late December. It was very cold today...possibly 65 degrees. I had to wear a jacket in the shade--I mean, that was not negotiable. Freezing in just a t-shirt. Seriously. A bit of an inconvenience, that. I'm sipping coffee, but I won't dwell, since I think my entire next post is going to be about coffee. I'm feeling sort of peaceful because I had a refreshing nap earlier, albeit one that cost me $8.50. I took this nap during a matinee of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. Despite its many twists and turns, I just couldn't keep my eyes open.

Jarrah's on a two-week school vacation, and it's been hard to blog. Not so much because Jarrah won't let me--on the contrary, I can't tear the kid away from the new paper doll kit she got in the mail (Thank you, Teresa and Gina!) It's the best thing since rubber Disney princesses. It's more that it seems to be a blogging wasteland out there at the moment: people aren't updating very often, or checking very often, and they're certainly not commenting very often (at least not for me.) I know, I'm being a whinger, but it's made me realize that I'm much less motivated to post when I might not get a single comment for over 24 hours. Wah wah wah. Apparently, people have family, and visitors, and fudge-making, and tree-trimming, and all sorts of distractions from my blog. How truly bizarre.

We have been having some fun here and there. The photos are from a delicious outing with Mary, Paul and Joy on Sunday to Balboa Park to see Steam Powered Giraffe, a group of...mimes? folk musicians? comedians? performance artists? All of the above, I'd say. They were lovely people, very funny, great singers, creative and charming. The girls loved them, but I was enchanted and had to become their fan on Facebook without delay.

We also had a latke party for the last night of Chanukah, since I was totally absent for the first weekend, and wearing jingle bell antlers to add insult to injury. I think that was the most children I've ever had in my house at once, and I was discovering little lumps of partially-chewed food in every nook and cranny for a couple of days. Also, there seems to be a sort of math equation accurate for every convocation of children in one's home: they will locate whichever toy has the most and the tiniest pieces, and will distribute said pieces with greater efficiency than helicopter seed pods. Still, I think they all had fun--there was a great hue and cry (in a good way) during the dreidel game, and they all went home with chocolate gelt for their troubles. And their little faces were sweetly shining during the menorah-lighting. Ah, the innocence of youth.

The adults seemed to be having fun, too, and they certainly didn't go home hungry. There was brisket, latkes, apple fritters, salad, tzimmes (a traditional Jewish dish with baked carrots and dried fruit) jelly donuts (you're supposed to eat fried stuff) and cookies. Funny thing about the brisket. Turns out if the package says "corned beef brisket," this isn't just a serving suggestion. It means when you have painstakingly chopped, measured and mixed your 14-ingredient sauce, you will discover that meat has been brined before you browned it. Oops. Most people were too polite to say anything, and it still tasted alright. As for the grating, chopping and frying, I had two experienced chefs on my team (Hi, Calvin and Robyn!) so I could take a back seat there. And if I had to pretend I didn't know how to grate potatoes just to hear Robyn say it was lucky that I'm smart and pretty, so be it. I do what I need to do.

Since the weekend, I've been working overtime to make sure we're not too bored. There was the aforementioned movie and lunch date today with Robyn and her boys, and yesterday Grace and Julianna accompanied us on "the Asian experience" (we skipped the foot massage part) with a Vietnamese lunch and leisurely browsing at the Japanese dollar store. We also might have spent two hours trying out massage chairs, but no one seemed to mind.

Hope you're all enjoying a peaceful and joyous holiday season. Tune in soon, when I hope to have my blogging mojo back to my near-daily posting of the past few months. If you're eager to hear about coffee and wedding dresses, you're in for a treat.

Why I Can't Win

Trying to brush Jarrah's hair while she marches in place and pinwheels her arms around.

Sam: Be still! Ugh! Why can't you just stand there? Pretend you're a snowflake.

Jarrah: Snowflakes aren't still. They fall from the sky.

Sam: Okay, pretend you're a rock.

Jarrah: No, people can move rocks around.

Sam: Fine. Pretend you're a star in the sky.

Jarrah: Stars twinkle. And shine on people. Also they disco.

Sam: They disco?

Jarrah: Yes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Falling Star

It's all over. No more Tuna Christmas. Back to real life now. No more rehearsals, call times, uncomfortable costumes, finicky audiences, crazy adrenaline highs or late nights. Until the next show.

I'm a bit dazed. For one thing, I didn't get out of bed until 11:00. A special shout-out to my husband for getting the kid ready and off to school this morning with no help from his snoozy princess actress wife. There should be some sort of support group for theater spouses, with excellent snacks and possibly cocktails.

I'm going to make a list of things I will miss about this show, and things I will not miss. Lists make me feel better.

What I Will Miss:

1. Lip-synching "Strangers in the Night" in the dark with the whole cast as we wait for our curtain call.

2. Gossiping about family, kids, marriage, Tiger Woods and the theater lifestyle in the "girls' side" wings with the other--as Duke called us last night--"hags" (Hi Elouise, Connie and Shelley!) in our bad wigs and garish makeup.

3. That first music cue, where we all hold our breath to see if it's a "good" audience tonight.

4. The boys--Greg, Kenny and Aaron--sashaying around in their dresses and giant bosoms.

5. Hi-fiving Jolie (my "little sister") as she squeezes by me for the scene right before my entrance.

6. Charlene's pink glasses (alas, they broke) and saying "I can't afford to waste my artistic integrity on that pathetic little shrub." And her walk.

7. Hearing myself go "jingle-jingle-jingle" every time I nod because of my fuzzy bell antlers.

8. Inita's coffee cup apron, and the way it feels to dance in cowboy boots. And people saying "You look amazing with black hair!" afterwards.

9. The look on people's faces when Greg and I run through the audience after winning our "award." And waving to our "boyfriends." That scene is such a high.

10. Slithering along the flats when I hear Garland say "Hi, Inita" in his distinctive nasal whine. And what it feels like to breathe "We're fine, cute stuff. You know, Garland, I sure wish you came in cans...I'd pop your top every five minutes!" Heaven help us--this is the line Jarrah has been quoting verbatim.

11. When I tell Petey (the amazing John, who plays four characters) I'll go get some lettuce for his iguana, I am only miming getting some lettuce. But every time, without ever having discussed it, my "best friend Helen" (Greg in drag) is waiting behind the curtain with his hands out, offering me some imaginary lettuce. And every time, I reach for it without irony, and carry it carefully back out into view. To clarify: No one sees us do this. We are backstage. But it happens the exact same way every time, as if we as actors have wordlessly agreed to suspend our disbelief in the same way we're asking the audience to do. There's something truly, magically idealistic about this, like a pure belief in the Tooth Fairy or wishing on a penny in a fountain. It makes me happy to be an actor.

What I Won't Miss:

1. Stuffing my jeans. I so enjoyed throwing my ass away this morning. Bye bye, ass! Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

2. The damp, freezing, consumptive environment that is the Point Loma Assembly backstage. And the way the door to the girls' wing doesn't close and people are always flinging it open when I'm half-naked.

3. Yeah, that's probably it. When is the next show?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tonsorial Temptation

It has come to pass. The moment much discussed with other, more seasoned moms, the moment I always secretly, smugly believed my child was far too sensible for.

No, it's textbook. Like a love of bubbles and balloons, a need to write on the walls, and the sudden, inexplicable peeing in the pants while 10 feet from the bathroom.

Jarrah hacked off some of her hair. Several pieces, about three inches long. Which should be really obvious on her straight, shiny curtain of near-blackness, but for some reason, isn't yet.

We were sleeping at the time. Had begged for a few more minutes. She said okay. But the Scooby Doo movie, apparently, was over. The cinnamon toast was dispatched. There was only one thing left to do.

Pick up those pink Hello Kitty snippers and SNIP! And now it is done, for posterity. Mark the date on the calendar. Two weeks from her fifth birthday, Jarrah heeded the siren call of the scissors.

I've cut up bills, tickets, money, socks and stuffed animals. I've really enjoyed that. But the thrill is gone. I need to get that buzz again. Maybe if I cut up something I've never cut before. My pajamas? No, the princesses have immunity. But hey! What's this hanging over my face? It looks so...cuttable. And hey! Don't people pay money to have their hair cut? And hasn't Mommy been saying it's been way too long? Heck, I'd be doing everyone a favor here!

Off to SuperCuts to obscure the damage.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I Need A T-Shirt With A "P," For "Punished."

The piper has arrived, demanding payment, claiming I'm in arrears. I'm sick. Oh happy joy.

I actually woke David up in the middle of the night (well, I'm sure I was doing that anyway, with all my sniffling) to ask if he thought I had swine flu. He clamped a hand on my forehead and said:

"No. You're cool."


"You can't have swine flu without a fever."

"Oh. And you're sure I don't have a fever?"

"I'm sure. Also, do you have aches and pains?"


"You don't have swine flu."

Well, okay then. But my stupid nose is crazy-stuffed, and I'm going through tissues like I just watched Marley and Me.

Also, I have a strong desire to lay on the couch with blankies and a heating pad, watching trashy movies, drinking Gatorade, eating food high in partially hydrogenated oil, and pouting.

What's that a symptom of?

I want to say I've learned my lesson--NO MORE LATE NIGHTS FOR ME! But no. I haven't learned a damn thing. I just want to get better by Friday so I don't have a Rudolph nose on stage and so I can stay up late again.

You wouldn't think I'd been around long enough to have learned a thing or two, would you? Don't answer that.

Monday, December 07, 2009

It Never Rains In Southern California

Long weekend, mostly nocturnal. During the day I was barely sentient. Which is my own fault, because I stay up too late after shows, and I've never had this three-a-weekend schedule before. It's kicking my ass. (And not just the pillow one.)

Saturday night was indeed a come-down after the Friday Night Howlers. They were very polite and restrained on Saturday. Two of my writing students came, and one even told me that she thought it was very funny but didn't want to laugh too loud because it would be unseemly. Hello? Unseemly is my middle name. Sunday night the laughter was back, but nothing close to Friday. I think Friday may have been the Hailey's Comet of audiences. At least I got to see it once. Saturday I was a bit spooked about forgetting lines and I think it made me tentative. Which is a bummer since David was making the video that night. Sunday night I was over it and back to making a valiant effort to chew the scenery. Mmmmm, scenery is tasty.

Sunday night my friend Bryan was there, all the way from L.A. It was the first time he'd come to one of my shows, and it was very exciting for me to finally have nabbed him. As I've mentioned previously, Bryan and I actually met in Drama class, and did our thespian initiation to a scene from Taming of the Shrew. He still greets me with the line "A combless cock! And Kate shall be my hen." from time to time. That was (gulp) 25 years ago. He went on to fame and glory in Hollywood (well, more than me--he was on Saved By The Bell) while I didn't soar higher than a medal for acting at the Cal State Fullerton Drama Festival my senior year. But Bryan and I are still as dramatic as ever, so it's a treat to have him in the audience.

It's been raining since I opened my eyes this morning and it's now 7:00 p.m., which is par for the course in some parts of the world, but seriously freaky for San Diego. There was a comedy of errors this afternoon when I picked Jarrah up from school and told her to wait in the car while I got the groceries. The grocery bags got wet when I opened the trunk, causing the bags to break, and while I was trying to stuff the escaping groceries in some different bags, my umbrella blew away. I was soaked to the skin with strawberries rolling around in my trunk when I heard a muted "Mama! Mama!", and saw Jarrah's face in the window with an "O" mouth and a pointing finger--in the direction of my umbrella, which was hightailing it down our street on the back of a monsoon-like wind. I chased it all the way down the block, laughing my head off. On the way back, Jarrah stared at me like I'd totally lost it.

Jarrah has been pillish of late and my fuse has been short. I find I am at my wit's end with the pointless tantrums at least once a day. Maybe my memory is bad, but didn't at least one of those many "your baby and child"-type books I scoured say that she would be an even-tempered angel, ready for an audience with the queen, by her fifth birthday? No? You don't remember that part? I'm pretty sure I read that. And we are definitely going to get kicked to the back of the line with the way things are going. I sometimes wonder if she acts out because I've been gone a lot (first with rehearsals, now with shows) or if the problem is on the other side: I'm too tired and impatient to parent effectively. It's worrisome, and also makes me feel guilty. That's my favorite combination of feelings. As snug as one of those blanket things with the sleeves.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Any Way The Wind Blows

Last night I experienced the best audience of my life. Like, the best audience in history. They were primed. From the moment the lights went down, they were howling. We were backstage looking at each other like "Hell, yeah!" And it wasn't even a full house. They were just that ready for us. The rare times I got to actually look at them, they were smiling from ear to ear, with expressions like "Entertain us, baby. Give us all you've got." Okay, then.

And because they were so awesome, it had to be the night when I messed up. A lot. Well, not a lot, but a lot for me. I don't mess up very much. It's not that I think I'm so amazing, more that I've been standing in front of large-ish audiences for 17 years, talking about Hawthorne and anaphora and Jewish jokes, and my focus is good. I don't forget lines. I don't get nervous and blank.

Until I do, apparently. In my first scene, it occurred to me half-way through that I'd forgotten to wear my hilarious pink cat-eye glasses. I did manage to find them and put them on. I could also feel my wig slipping off my head and had to yank it back. But worst of all, I changed a word in one of my lines, which cued my "Mama" to skip ahead six lines. And there went the rest of my scene. That was not like me, and such a bummer.

Also, the audience was so demented, I was not remembering to pause for laughter. We've heard a lot about this pausing for laughter thing, but it's never been really necessary before. Last night, it was necessary. If we said something, we needed to pause, or the next line was going to be lost. That is crazy and incredible.

In Act II, a sound cue (a ringing phone) never happened, and my scene partner Greg was left to wander the stage like a ghost, waiting for someone to haunt. I stood behind the flats wondering what was going on until our stage manager came up behind me and hissed, "JUST. GO." and gave me a little push. Now I was also on stage, and staring helplessly at Greg. I'm not sure how long we did that, but eventually I just started a scene that seemed appropriate, and we went from there.

But later, I totally blanked when I was supposed to shout lines from off-stage. I blanked even though my scene partner Aaron was fiercely murmuring "Street urchin, street urchin, street urchin" which was all the cue I needed, if I hadn't been freaking out and ignoring him.

So I was a bit unsettled. And throughout, there was the howling laughter, the balm of forgiveness and acceptance. Which, because I am me and crazy, made me feel guilty. I wanted to rush out there and announce "You guys! You are so sweet to laugh, but we are MESSING UP! You should come another night when we don't mess up!"

And I realized that I will never, ever experience this again. You know how you just know things? There will never be another audience that loves us in the same way again. You can never go home again. It's never as good as the first time. And all that.

So I'm glad I got to experience that kind of love, but I hope that tonight, I remember my lines. And hope they are not greeted by stony silence. Because I've been there, too. Distinctly not as awesome.

Afterward, our director took us to a cute new wine bar for a drink, where I drank a big glass of chardonnay and ate no food, then stood up and found I didn't remember how to walk that well. It was a while before it seemed like a good idea to get in the car. Luckily, I had company and cake.

When I pulled up to the house at 3:30, I noticed that there was glass all around David's new car. And air where his window should be. Uh-oh. When I woke him up to investigate, he discovered that someone had tried to steal his iPod, not the car. They didn't get it, but now he needs a new window.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Movie Review: This Is It

I've waited over a month to see the Michael Jackson concert documentary, mostly out of stubbornness because I just could not believe the hype about the "two week engagement." Sure enough, it's now December (the movie opened on my birthday) and a dramatic disappearance was an empty threat.

If you've heard that--as a documentary--it's a little weird, you won't hear differently from me. Clearly, the director (also MJ's concert director) Kenny Ortega is working with limited material here. The footage is raw, mostly without costumes and effects, though we do get to see some beautiful set-pieces in the making--my favorite is the towering back-lit building frame for "The Way You Make Me Feel," especially when the dancers are scurrying up and down the scaffolding in time to the music.

And Michael himself is weird. He's emaciated, and often appears to be wearing sequined pants and tops as his everyday casual wear. He never takes his sunglasses off, and he mostly says "God bless you" and "It's all about L-O-V-E" when he does say something, which isn't often.

On the other hand, his voice--though he sometimes holds back because he's in rehearsal--is still pure and transporting, and damn, the man can MOVE. The years and whatever he's done to himself don't seem to have impacted his signature style in the least. He's a charismatic dancer to the end.

And he knows what he wants. He's not a tyrant, but he's definite about his desires, firmly but gently correcting his producers, technicians, musicians. His instincts seem spot-on, too. When he asks for a moment of silence, or an extra bar of bridge, it's the right choice--the drama is heightened just so. And drama is what he's unabashedly going for.

When it comes down to it, though, the rehearsal footage of some of MJ's most famous songs is not enough to keep me engaged. I doze off a bit in the middle. For me, the real story is introduced in the first five minutes, and while it simmers tantalizingly in the background (literally) it never really pops. And that story is the dancers.

The movie opens with close-ups of Michael's backup dancers, with a few words from each. Some of them are in tears (it's not clear whether this footage is pre- or post- news of MJ's death.) One of them talks about what an honor it is to work with the man who was world famous before they were even born.

We see some all-too-brief audition footage, with some fascinating soundbites from the directors and choreographers. One explains that, in an MJ show, "the dancers are an extension of the man." My favorite quote comes from a choreographer during the winnowing process from hundreds of dancers:

If you don't have that goo, that ooze, coming out of you--you're not going to get the job.

I love how raw and delicious this notion is, that charisma must be gushing out your pores for you to belong in this project. After all, the King of Pop would expect nothing less from himself.

When the auditions are done, there are 11 male dancers chosen for the show. Apparently, there are female dancers, too, but we barely see them. The male dancers, however, are on display--a solid but mutable background--for the entire film.

And here's where I start to get disappointed. All that talk of goo and ooze makes me sit up and take notice. More like that, please. Let's hear from these dancers, their impressions of the auditions, the rehearsals, the great man himself. They are clearly spending the most time with him. But almost immediately they are clumped into a single entity, emphasized by the cutaways to them cheering and clapping for their idol during the rare occasions he is on stage without them. Once, they are shown doing a synchronized wave during the chorus of "I'll Be There," but offstage.

Yet I can't stop looking at them. They clearly have the goo and the ooze. One towheaded mop-top in particular keeps pulling my eye, the expression on his face like he can't believe his luck, that he knows he's making entertainment history with every crotch grab. It's so charming and revealing. When the camera pulls back for a wide shot, my eye is drawn away from the pale, elf-like MJ in front and towards the boys in their baggy pants and backwards hats, dancing their sweet little hearts out. And doing it like it's the last thing they'll ever do. They really do look like an extension of him, but more present, more vital. Their commitment and passion shine on their faces.

Little did they know it was the last thing MJ himself would ever do. And that all their hard work would be relegated to a grainy documentary, and never once would they feel what would take the place of the cue:

"And wait for applause...applause...and slow umbrella, fade out."

And that's a different kind of tragedy.

Flying Up Ceremony

In the next couple of months, I have to decide where Jarrah will be going to kindergarten next fall. This isn't an easy decision, because while our neighborhood public school is across the street, it's the only one in our local cluster of five that doesn't report high test scores. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really clear on what the test scores mean, and that I'm not a big believer in tests as a major indicator of learning. But still. The fact that the other four schools have very high scores is enough to make me want to check them out. And the fact that San Diego has the "choice" program, where I can enter Jarrah in a lottery for any school I want, is both encouraging and overwhelming.

Recently, I called all five schools to ask about tours. I had a wide range of responses. One of them has tours every Monday, at 7:30 a.m. (heaven help us.) One of them has a special touring day once a month. Two of them said yeah, sure, they'd have tours but they didn't know when yet. And our neighborhood school chortled and said "Tours? Just come in and we'll give you a tour. Anytime."

Today I went on my first tour. I did the monthly one, because it is only monthly, and because 8:30 sounded at least a smidge better than 7:30. The school is Benchley-Weinberger, and it's one of two magnet schools on my schedule. (The other one is Green, which is an Athletics magnet. That sounded idiotic to me until they explained that the kids get P.E. five days a week instead of one (!) like the other schools. What the @#$%&*? Kindergarten with only one day of P.E.?)

Benchley-Weinberger's magnet is Communication. I am all for Communication, and starting it young. They are also something called a "California Distinguished School," which they apparently had to apply for, an arduous process arduous enough that they may let the honor expire. We were invited to meet in the auditorium for a short presentation and video, followed by a tour of the classrooms, library and computer lab. And I was practically on time.

I know I must have a few local readers who are going to be familiar with the schools I mention, and who will be far more knowledgeable about public elementary schools in general if they have older children than I do. I encourage you to share your impressions with me (privately if you wish) because I am trying to learn here. I don't have a lot to go on--just what I'm told. I plan to tell you about my tours as I take them (the deadline for enrollment is February 15) and I'd like all the advice I can get.

I didn't catch the name or position of the gal who gave the tour, though she was friendly and enthusiastic. We briefly met the principal, who described herself as as grandmother, one who would be "proud" to see any of her grandchildren at B-W. We also met two little girls who welcomed us in sign language. One of the Communications features of the school is that the kids learn sign language starting in kindergarten. They also have Panda Pals, which is why one of the girls was more like a third grader, escorting her kindergarten pal.

This little display brought tears to my eyes, a sudden and embarrassing development that continued throughout the hour. Certain things about the place (or the idea of the place?) stirred up some kind of inexplicable emotion for me. I also got choked up seeing the kids in the library, watching them work at little round tables in the kindergarten classrooms, and hearing one of the kindergarten teachers tell me that they spend a lot of time working on what it means to focus on a task, in case the child did not pick up this skill in preschool.

I wondered about my tears. I have heard many people say they cried when their child started kindergarten because it seemed like they were growing up, but my child has already been attending school full-time for two years. It's not like her schedule (or mine) will change. Something else was afoot. Maybe it's the knowledge (displayed prominently) that she will be reading and writing, two pleasures so dear to my heart. She'll have access to a world that has been my constant support for longer than I can remember, and this feels significant. Maybe it's the idea that she will be making friends that she may know for years, or forever. Maybe I'm freaked out by having to make such a big decision for her, choosing her daily environment until she's 11 years old--what if I make a terrible mistake? Maybe it's just the abstract wondering about how she will be: happy, busy, motivated? sullen, lonely, struggling? I almost can't bear considering the latter.

In any case, I enjoyed the tour. Despite the grim state of the buildings (why do all California schools look like bunkers from WWII?) the classrooms were decorated with student art and the teachers seemed cheerful. The kids were busy reading and writing and drawing at different "stations." I liked the idea of the campus "news station" (which even kindergarteners can anchor) and newspaper, and the fact that they take field trips to the theater. It frightened me to hear that the school could lose its magnet at any moment due to budget cuts, or that the size of the kindergarten classroom could go to 29 for the same reason. But I won't avoid those problems on my other tours unless I start thinking about private school, and I can't see that happening.

After the official tour, we were encouraged to wander around, poking our heads into older classes, or anywhere we wanted to go. I liked that, and found that I was feeling peaceful now. Not so much because at least one school seems like a warm and inviting place, or even because I get a bit high researching things (though I do.) I think I was feeling peaceful because I remembered that I believe in Jarrah, and know she is up to the challenge of a new place, new friends, new tasks, new information. I might wring my hands about where to send her, and wring my hands frequently (even after the decision is made) but she is the constant.

She welcomes what is new, and that's always been true. Wherever she ends up, she'll be happy. And having this kind of trust and certainty in her makes me so very lucky.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Do You Hear The Lambs, Clarice?

Lately Jarrah's been asking for "real life" stories when she goes to bed. When I press her for specifics, she narrows it down to "bee stories."

By this, she means the small collection of stories I've assembled over the years in which bad things have happened to me or my loved ones involving bees. She will listen to these over and over:

Once, Daddy and I went to an outdoor movie theater, and they gave us blankets in bags. And when Daddy opened his, a bee flew out and stung his finger, even though it was nighttime. It hurt a lot.

Once, I was walking around in flip-flops at my sister's soccer game, and a bee stung my toe. It blew up and became huge. I screamed and screamed. My mom had to take me home and throw me in the bathtub.

Once, Daddy and I were at the Starlight Ampitheater and a bee stung his toe while we were smelling the flowers. It hurt a lot and blew up. When it stayed that way for two weeks, I made him go to the doctor. Turned out it was infected, and he needed antibiotics.

Once, when your Aunt Lindsey was a baby, she followed a bee around the window with her little finger and finally squished it. It stung her and she screamed a lot.

That's as detailed as the stories get. For one thing, I don't remember them that well, and besides--she doesn't care. She really just wants to hear that people screamed. I know this, because she starts getting confused and asks for other "real life" stories that don't involve bees, but also involve screaming.

"Tell the one where Uncle Karl was screaming in bed."

"Oh, that one isn't about bees."

"Tell it."

Once, when Uncle Karl was little, he started screaming in the middle of the night and we all came running from our rooms. When we got to him, he was throwing his pillows and blankets in the air like a crazy person, screaming "There are crabs in my bed! CRABS! AAAAHHHH! CRABS!" Pop-Pop tried to calm him down but he wasn't even awake. The rest of us stood in the doorway staring like, "Whatever."

"Tell the one about Pop-Pop screaming in the car."

"That one doesn't have to do with bees."

"Tell it."

Once, when we were on our way home from Sea World, I was sitting up front and asked Pop-Pop if we could listen to one of my 8-Track tapes. He said sure. I put in Paul McCartney and Wings and "Silly Love Songs" started up. It starts "EE-OO-AH-OO-EE-OO-AH-OO," a mechanical sound. Pop-Pop went "AHHHHHHH!" and swerved the station wagon over to the side of the road. I stared at him and he kept screaming "AHHHHHHHH!" I said "What's the matter?" and he screamed "THE CAR IS BLOWING UP! DO YOU HEAR IT?" "That's the song," I whispered, and knew I was somehow going to be in trouble.

Jarrah laughs and laughs whenever I get to the part in the stories where someone screams and freaks out. The car blowing up in particular tickles her like mad. "Again!" she screams. "Again!"

"But I've already told it three times. You know it!"

"I don't care! Again!"

I need to start gathering more childhood memories where someone was screaming. Apparently, hearing about people screaming is like hot milk and back rubs to my very strange kid.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

But How Do You Really Feel?

Sometimes I go back and look at older posts from this blog. Yes, Readers, you need not point out that my narcissism knows no bounds, but it's also just a fun way to see how Jarrah is changing.

I don't usually do this, but today I found a post from December of 2007--two years ago--and couldn't resist reprising it. Believe it or not, it's VERY short, so check it out.

Apparently, not much has changed after all.