Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Worth Two In The Bush

Yesterday we had a brush with some "enthusiasts." I'd always been curious about the Tijuana Estuary Nature Preserve in Imperial Beach, and since we'd been gifted with an 80 degree day in November, I pushed a visit onto the weekend agenda. Since I control the weekend agenda (David and Jarrah's would read "tinker with electronic things" and "watch Phinneus and Ferb" respectively) it was sort of a done deal.

After a yummy lunch along the IB boardwalk (my, how that area has changed!) we made it into the Estuary parking lot about 2:40. "Why do all these vehicles seem to be Parks Department trucks?" David wanted to know. "Maybe we're the only ones who had this great idea today," I firmly replied. The Visitor Center was swank but deserted. "Why are we whispering?" asked Jarrah. "Um," I said, "So we don't disturb the...exhibits?" Which were a lot of stuffed former animals. Our favorite spot was a little nook that was designed like a nest. Jarrah did a "photo shoot" of us in there, and was quite bossy about it.

We were approached by a friendly ranger who asked if we were going on the 3:00 bird walk. When I said yes, she was giddy with delight, and offered us three pairs of binoculars. Before we knew it, the clock was chiming 3:00 (would you believe me if I said it was actually tweeting quite realistic bird sounds?) and we were joined by a guide whose name I didn't catch. He was very swoopy and enthusiastic, with a Russian accent and a slight whiff of alcohol, and he fixated on Jarrah to be his "scout" and the keeper of the laminated bird guide. Something happened between that introduction and his heavily enunciated attempt to fascinate her with the stuffed birds we were likely to see, and I could see he had lost her. She handed back the guide. "Oh, but you get to carry this!" he trilled. "No, I'm good," she said. That kid knows her own mind.

Two ladies joined us, and then suddenly appeared Mary Ann, another ranger uniform-clad type whom the Russian said "would probably accompany us." Uh-oh. Five tour takers and two tour guides. Smelled like a smackdown in the making.

First, they established their credentials. He, a former molecular biologist. She, a retired middle school principal. He claimed to know every inch of these wetlands. She claimed to have seniority. Let the games begin.

Quickly, it seemed we would have to choose who to follow on the trail. The Russian forged ahead, darting his eyes around. Mary Ann hung back, pointing out Lemonade Berries. Mary Ann chit-chatted; the Russian urged us on with stage whispers. The sun dappled across the waving grasses all the way to the Tijuana bullfighting stadium and beyond.

Soon enough, I spotted a Snowy Egret. What, are you daft? intoned the Russian. That's a Great Egret. Lo, the majestic size! And see the color of the beak! And what? Could it be? Are we receiving a winter visit from a Northern Grebe? Yes, yes, yes!

A word about my predilection for birdwatching. When Mary Anne asked why we were taking the tour, I answered, I thought, honestly: "I love birds." But I must sheepishly (birdishly?) admit that perhaps I don't really understand that statement. I think maybe I love birds like the ones I saw in Australia, where they all have coats of many colors and multiple heads. I like my birds flashy. They gotta work hard for the money. I need plumage, baby.

The birds of the estuary were lovely, I'm sure. I'll bet if we went out for coffee, we'd be the best of friends in the time it took to share a molasses cookie. But I must confess that they were all rather...brown. Various shades, to be sure. Some touches of white. But will bird people turn away in disgust if I admit that they all kind of looked the same? Please, Bird People! Don't forsake me! I am ignorant but I can be taught! Education works on me!

At one point I spotted some sandpiper-like thingos foraging in the mud. "Mary Ann!" I whispered. "What are those?" "Ah, yes..." she said seriously, adjusting her glasses. "Those are birds...they are definitely birds...indeed, I believe they are known as Yellowlegs. That's right--Yellowlegs."

I had a brief flashback to riding the rain forest cable car in Cairns and telling Jarrah that the white butterflies she kept seeing were "The Common...Cloud. The Common Cloud butterfly. Often seen in these regions. Yes, indeed."

At the end of the bird trail, there were various lookouts for spotting birds, of various sizes and shades of brown, who were dipping and feeding around the brackish pools. The Russian had worked himself to a fever pitch now. "IS THAT ANOTHER EGRET! QUICKLY, QUICKLY! AH, THE BROWN WILLET! SO CHARMING, QUICKLY, MORE PHOTOS! AHHH, THE LIGHT, THE LIGHT!" When Mary Ann would get a bit enthusiastic about her finds, however, he'd shush her dramatically. "You will scare the birds!!!!"

Right about now Jarrah had had enough. "I want to go," she sulked. "This is the end. My binoculars show only blackness." (Not true--I checked.) Somehow I couldn't bear to hurt our intrepid guides with an early departure. Or maybe I was just worried a slap fight would erupt in our absence.

Eventually we did make our slow way back towards to the visitor center. Along the way, I had an opportunity to disappointment the Russian, after we discovered we'd both done graduate work at UCSD. "You are in Literature," he pronounced. "do you know the origin of the expression 'thin as a rail?'" "Well," I said, "since that was kind of a leading question, I'm guessing it has something to do with the bird?" "It does not!" he exulted. "It is from Mark Twain, in 1874, and refers to fence posts. However! I have been trying to prove that he was not the first to say this, and that it will, in fact, relate to the bird! I thought you might have been the one to help me." "Sorry," I said, "not my area." It came out sounding gruff and ungracious, but weirdly, I was quite sincere.

Just then the Russian commanded that we stop at the bridge and look down, claiming that we might discover all sorts of bird shenanigans this way. We watched idly as some small feathered friends tripped the light fantastic down there. Then David spotted the fluffy brown chicken emerge from the embankment grass. "What's that?" David asked mildly. He and I later agreed we were fully expecting the answer "A wild chicken!" "SILENCE!" bellowed the Russian to the chattering woman next to him, "YOU HAVE FOUND WHAT YOU SEEK! THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS THE LIGHT-FOOTED CLAPPER RAIL, RARE AND ENDANGERED!!!" David's camera shutter clicked and clicked.


The little chicken bobbed and weaved in and out of the grass as we all stared reverently. If anyone started to say something, the Russian screamed "SILENCE!" again. It went on for so long I wondered how many photos we were required to take to avoid offending him with a rebuke to this magical moment.

So, Dear Readers, the day was made. Would I go again? Sure, I'm all about cultural enlightenment. And maybe, just maybe, some day I'll make my peace with the fact that our birds only come in one color and have just the one head.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Thanks

My niece Lilah, at nearly nine months, is the chillest baby I've ever met. She's the kind of baby where you'd think, "Well, we might as well have 17 more of these, because it's a piece o' cake." I mean no disrespect to my own child. She was a mighty cute baby, too, but man, she wasn't easy. Lilah is the kind of baby who not only never cries, she never even looks perturbed. If you meet her gaze, her big, blue eyes break open like a Christmas cracker with sparkly looks, and the added bonus of a great, gummy smile. If you throw a stuffed ball to her, she'll happily fling it back for as long as you can stand it, and reward your repetitive efforts with unabashed screeches of delight. If you put a plastic stacking cup on your head and "atchoo!" it off, she'll laugh until she gives herself the hiccups. Oh, Auntie Sam! You're not only hilarious, you're an insouciant wit!

So hanging with her over Thanksgiving did not suck. I enjoyed spooning orange slop into her tiny mouth and strapping her into her fish-covered high chair. My dad said "Must bring back memories." Um, no. The day I met Jarrah, she was eating filet mignon and Caesar salad, and she was too big for a high chair. So this is a first.

Another first was staying up in the OC for a couple days over the break, rather than spending three hours in traffic on Thursday morning and schlepping home the same night, nearly comatose with pie head. We bunked at a nearby Residence Inn (how I love them, with their roominess and friendly smiles) and joked that having Jarrah around helps us take advantage of all amenities. She marched me to the Exercise Room Thursday morning for a little pre-prandial sweat, and all our warnings did not dissuade her from leaping in the outdoor (!) pool in late November, and then staying in there over an hour (twice!) because "Mama!" she shrieked as I joined David on the chilly lounges, "I MADE A FRIEND!" Of course you did, darling. Of course you did.

Her friend, Grace, was a year older but similar in height, and also Asian, so their hair matched. They had an absolute blast, and Jarrah was sad to leave her at the end of our stay. We had a poolside chat with her dad, who explained that they'd be living at this Residence Inn for the next two months. They're from Honolulu, but Grace's mommy will be undergoing cancer treatment at UCLA for a long spell, and his work gave him a temporary transfer. Wow. Spending the holidays at the Residence Inn, far from family and loved ones, fighting for health. That was a good reminder to count my blessings this Thanksgiving, on tiny fingers and toes, and to keep right on going after that.

Monday, November 21, 2011


A sort of melancholy day, as the first day following the strike of a show always is. I had coffee with my friend Lisa, visiting from San Francisco, and asked her "You know that feeling after a show, where you might be sad, you might be relieved, you might be nostalgic, you might be in limbo, and you're not sure, but you know you're feeling SOMETHING kind of a lot?" Yeah, she knew.

To cheer myself up, I scheduled a massage in advance. A hot stone massage, yet. This is a place I go often, but I've never experienced their rocks before today. I wish I'd left them as a pleasant fantasy. I've had rocks before, but these did not suit me. There was a lot of slippery, oily, not-very-deep rubbing that ultimately left me with aching shoulders and a vague headache. And it's more expensive than the non-rock variety. Harumph.

Sitting outside at the Living Room on a surprisingly sunny and lovely November day (sorry, East Coasters) did help my mood, but then it was scrunched again by my own carelessness: I'd asked a friend to watch Jarrah between camp and ice skating but had forgotten to pack her scan-able skate card. When I arrived, Jarrah was forlornly watching her friend skate because the weirdly rigid skate staff refused to look for her in their computer without the card. I ask you, what is the point of being registered by a computer if you can't, then, look it up? By the time I sorted it out and got her skates on, it was time for her lesson and she burst into tears because she couldn't free skate. And I felt like a major heel. WWM (World's Worst Mom) Award of the day.

It's Thanksgiving week now, and I guess I'll get some sleep and start to recover from FOUR shows in less than 48 hours! To those of you who came out to support me and the cast--thank you from the bottom of my heart. As one of my cast mates put it, "without you, it's not a show."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Things She Carried

"I'm sorry, Mommy."

"Well, I'm still a little mad! I told you I really had to do one thing this afternoon and I needed some quiet time to do it! [I'm Alumnae Secretary for my class at Smith College and the column was due today.] I made you a nice lunch. Even dessert. I let you watch "Fishhooks." But I still had you pounding on the door and screaming?!?"

Her eyes filled with tears. I thought maybe more remorse was on its way. Color me wrong.


Um, this was new. I turned around so she didn't see me smile. The front door slammed. I figured I'd give us both a few minutes to cool off.

Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the couch when the door opened very slowly. An arm appeared, then a leg. Then a very contrite little face.

"I decided to stay. I wanna be a family again."

"How come?"

"I got carried away."

Awwww. "Give me a hug."

"I figured I would go to Joy's, but that's too far. Then I thought of Nathan's, but it would mean crossing a lot of streets that I'm not allowed to cross by myself."

"But otherwise you woulda been outta here? If Joy's and Nathan's weren't so far and you could cross streets?"


"Well, thanks. That makes me feel special."

"There was one other thing I needed."


"Love." Her eyes welled up again. "I needed love. And someone to tuck me in at night. And make me dinner. And care about me."

"That's good, 'cause Daddy and I want to do those things."

"I did bring my Halloween candy."

"You remembered your Halloween candy but no shoes?"

"What do you mean?"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Oh? Who Did That?"

Just got home from the theater after our first weekend of shows. Have a somewhat pea soup head. Not surprising after seven straight days and nights at the theater, plus two full-length rehearsals before that. Today the kids backstage had out their textbooks and their belabored notebook sheets covered with algebra equations, preparing to re-enter their real world on the morrow.

Opening weekend was fun! Friday kicked off with a champagne reception (and some seriously yummy meatballs) and Sunday David made a video of us. In between, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was never the worst of times, but we did have our visits from the Theater Gremlins, as I've been calling them. Just today I went out in the dark to move a table and fell headlong over a low wall concealing some lights. It sounded like a construction site, but I was strangely unwounded, except for my pride. I was also snatched in Act Two and entrusted with a desperate and essential mission: storm the stage in the next blackout, gallop up the rickety stairs to the "bedroom," grope for a pillow on the "bed," continue groping until I located a teddy bear under said pillow, gallop back down the stairs (no banister, poorly marked, did I mention the blackout?) and meet another crew member across the stage for the teddy hand-off. All within 20 seconds.

Yesterday I lost one of my costumes between my scenes--scenes that necessitate a quick change under the best of circumstances. One of the girls found my dress balled up under the makeup table. I have no one to blame but myself. Soon after the lights came up in a blaze of glory to reveal me and all my students--save one. And where was she, Readers? Sorry she was late, quoth she, several minutes into my sweating. She never mentioned it. Too embarrassed to apologize? Who knows? All I know is that my improv skills are sadly lacking. I was saved from needing them, but it burned me to realize I would have been flailing about a minute later. I could see the rest of my students smiling serenely in the dark, knowing their comrade was AWOL but having faith in either a) their own acting under duress or b) my ability to shovel us all out from under the cliff that was avalanching our way. If "b," that was nice of them, but seriously deluded.

Speaking of my students, I've been having a lot of fun bonding with the teens. We've talked Hunger Games, Princess Diaries, siblings, school but mostly we've talked PERFORMING. Whatever our age, we all get that. Wanting to do it, that is. I'm kind of falling in love with all of them.

I've been marveling at the ridiculous amount of times "David" has to change his tie. Often at a full gallop, as various hands grope for his collar while he speeds past. I've been loving the serenity of "Lisa," who spends most of her scenes hopscotching around the stage but always looks cool as a duchess waiting in the wings. I am agog how FEW times people miss or are late for cues, because with 18 people and 57 changes, there should be more moments when the lights come up on an empty chair. But everyone is doing their job, and doing it with a smile.

One gal taped us little notes to the mirror on opening night. Another brought us all cards with candy bars attached. Each show a mystery giver has been leaving a box of chocolates or cookies in the center of the dressing room. Jessica cheerfully constructs '60s-era coifs for several ladies every show with nary a complaint. Everyone picks up hastily discarded costumes and hangs them, and is ready for a zipper or jewelry adjustment, or to reposition a bobby pin.

It's almost bizarre how different this group of people seems than the one I sat silently with for six weeks, barely exchanging hellos. Now we're all giggling and whispering, and when we're not, we're sharing some serious stuff and it's lovely. Aside from some errant light cues (and yours truly falling over the furniture) the show is looking gorgeous, and everyone is bringing it. I yearn to be on stage longer, yet I'm puffed up with pride for the people who are.

With all that wonderfulness, I'm still looking forward to a couple days off, to catch up on sleep, watch TV and snuggle with David in the evenings, and most of all to take a break from the 90-minutes daily regimen of hair and makeup to prepare my hair for the Bump-It beehive and my face for the mint green and white period eye makeup with bubble gum lipstick. Not the most flattering colors on me, but fun for a change.

Give me 24 hours and I'm sure I'll be yearning to get back in there and scratch my initials in purple pen on the daily sign-in before spilling out my jewelry and pins beneath the old-fashioned bulb-ringed mirrors: I'M HERE! READY TO PUT ON A SHOW!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


I have a friend who for some time has referred to her iPhone as her boyfriend. I had no idea what this meant. Isn't it just a phone? I mean, a cute phone, that has the internet, but even so?

Readers, I just got my first iPhone. And not only my first iPhone, my first ever smartphone. And, wow. Just wow. I get it.

I want to carry its small but substantial and smooth weight wherever I go--can it survive the shower? I reach for it in my pocket or purse, to comfort me, the shape of it, its compact wonderfulness.

In this little rectangle, I have my whole world. I can call people and text people and they can do the same to me, sure. But with a little jangle I have my e-mail, and my FB updates, and I can (and do) snap photos of everything I see and show them to people. When my longing gets too strong, I whip it out and write notes or set alerts or check the weather--not just any boring old weather but an app that tells me whether I need a hoodie or sunglasses, with pictures. I can make restaurant reservations or check if the restaurant in question is crapcake. I can book a flight for a sudden getaway. I can look up words for the instant satisfaction of proving that I know stuff.

I can say "Buca di Beppo" into the iPhone and delight when it brings up five places to buy "hookah tobacco." I can whisper the name of my hair salon and--just like that--my iPhone calls them. I can say "Take me home" and suddenly, reassuringly, it will.

And when the need is really strong, I can just whisper seductively "Do you love me, Siri?" for the absurd pleasure of hearing her say "I'm not capable of love" or boldly proclaim "I love you, Siri!" so she can shut me down: "I'll bet you say that to all your Apple products."

People keep asking me if I like my iPhone and I answer truthfully, "I love it. Now that I have one, I'm not sure I even need friends anymore. The phone is enough."

And they laugh at my hyperbole. Or do they?

Roar and Glare

We are in the theater. After rehearsing in a junior high common room for six weeks, we're finally on the real stage, with the real sets, and I'm doing some painfully real stumbling over chairs and beds that I didn't know were going to be there.

But would I trade it for all the Gucci shoes in the world? Not a chance. Hell Week is the best. The excitement of being in the theater for the first time. The feel of the lights on your face (changing every second as the lighting designer tweaks them so you don't look too green.) Finding your little corner of the dressing room. Giggling back stage when someone says something crazy to lighten the tension.

We're all a little crazy, giddy, heightened, expectant. We've got something coming. Friday night. People. To see us. And we're getting ready for them. We're gonna DO IT UP.

And all the stiff formality, polite small talk, awkward silences of the rehearsal time is gone, baby, gone. We're all friends now. Or at least co-workers with the best, most unified job in the world. Adults and kids mingle freely, laughing at the same jokes, sharing our theater horror stories. That one guy who always sat in the corner blowing his nose is a buoyant lark. I've got everyone's names down, character and actual. We're sharing lipstick and fixing each other's collars, comparing notes on our drugstore pantyhose, and in whispers, doing something very much resembling sharing our deepest hopes and dreams, because that is what people do backstage, and one of the things that makes the theater life so very addicting.

Dear Readers, we are about to put on a SHOW.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Culture and Stuff

Sam: I noticed that one of your friends had a scythe at the Halloween parade this morning. I thought weapons weren't allowed. (mumbles) Maybe that's not really a weapon. But it's pointy.

Jarrah: What's a scythe?

Sam: I guess he was the Grim Reaper.

Jarrah: Grim Reaper? What does that mean?

Sam: Well, it's...another name for Death.

Jarrah: WHAT?

Sam: (giggles)


Sam: I'm just thinking about that Monty Python sketch.

Jarrah: WHAT?

Sam: You know, when the people are eating the Salmon Mousse and the Grim Reaper knocks on the door.


Sam: "Hello?" "I am Death." "Who is it, darling?" "It's a Mr. Death or something? He's come about some reaping?" "I don't think we need any at the moment. Ask him if he wants some sherry." (more giggles)


Sam: Well, it's just...it's British. I love British humor.

Jarrah: WHAT IS IT?

Sam: It's just...you know...well, you watch Dr. Who with Daddy. You know British humor.

Jarrah: Only the Doctor is British. The others are regular.

Sam: Oh. I didn't know that.

Jarrah: Why is he called the Grim Reaper?

Sam: I...don't actually know. And now that I think about, I'm not sure what he does with the scythe.

Jarrah: What's a scythe?

Sam: It's a...curved blade thing. On a stick.

Jarrah: What's it for?

Sam: Well, anyway...the parade! So cute! Loved that candy corn witch!