Sunday, February 7, 2016

Marvelous Martha

They say deaths come in threes.  Today we lost the third friend in three days.  This one, like Richard's death, hurts.

In between Richard's death on Thursday and today's sad passing of Martha Dickman, Walt lost his co-worker and friend of more than 50 years, Al Almquist, whose 100th birthday party we attended last year.  Obviously his death was not a shock, but every death is a shock, isn't it?

Martha was one of those people that I considered friend, though I don't know that we ever had in-depth conversations.  We just were involved in the same things and around each other often, at various times in our lives and saw each other frequently enough that it never occurred to me that she was anything other than a friend.  I interviewed her several times for one newspaper article or another.

She was a member of the Davis Comic Opera Co. throughout its entire thirty year history, whether performing or helping put the production together.

She was a soloist in a blues band for many years.

When Citizens Who Care, that group that gives care to the frail elderly and their caregivers here in Davis, was looking for a fund raiser, Martha and Stephen Peithman formed a group which performed for some 12 years, the largest CWC fund raiser each year, giving unselfishly of their talents to raise money for a good cause.

I don't know which year this photo was taken, but several years ago.  The make-up of the group changed over the years but Martha and Steve (standing next to her in the back) produced and were in every show.  

When Martha's voice began to lose its oomph, she performed with a mic (by their last performance, in 2014, many other aging performers were now using mics).  Martha also loaned her grand piano, which was transferred to and from the theater every year.

But over and above the performing, I will always remember Martha as a gentle, elegant lady, always willing to help young performers (when, in the early days of Lawsuit, Paul was having trouble sustaining his voice throughout a 2 hour show, she worked with him to give him tricks for how to keep his voice going).

"She was one of a kind. And one of the kindest, most loving and supportive people in my theatre family," wrote someone on Facebook.  "Martha was a personal inspiration and force of nature, and always made my heart sing." wrote another. "A sweet and gentle person."

The last time I saw Martha was at a thank you reception last fall for those involved with CWC, where she was specially honored.  They encouraged her to sing a bit and today I am regretting that I only recorded about 45 seconds of her song....but obviously even at 90, the pipes were still strong.

NOTICE TO THE WORLD:  I do not want to write another obituary for several months, please!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Yesterday at Logos

As slow as it was at Logos last week is as busy as it was this week.  I usually take four little slips of paper to write notes on, but this week I needed 5.  Mike had a busy morning too, though he's trying to be an overachiever, writing down the title of every book sold.  I record by genre (CF for Contemporary Fiction, SF for Sci Fi, BB for Bargain Book etc., with the number of each genre sold "CF (2), BB (2)," etc.)  Poor guy left a note on the sale sheet that things had been too hectic to record the titles of all 8 of the children's books he sold!  I reassured him that such completeness wasn't necessary.

My first customer was a cheery British guy who came in, saying he had a few minutes before his train was due to arrive (we are 2-1/2 blocks from the train station) and he had time to brows.  He found a philosophy book and left a happy camper.

A tall long-haired woman with dark framed glasses, wearing bell bottom pants and a plaid "big shirt" came to the desk with 4 books by Deepok Chopra, then took 2 back, standing at the bookcase for awhile checking her phone.

A guy was happy to find "The Girl in the Spider's Web" by David Lagercrantz, the brave author who is trying to keep the Stieg Larsson Lisbeth Sander series going.  The guy said he was willing to pay $6 to see if it was any good before buying any more of his books.  I suspect he will like it, since the New York Times reviewer said, "Fans of Stieg Larsson’s captivating odd couple of modern detective fiction will not be disappointed.”

A lovey dovey couple looked around for awhile then joined hands, hips and lips as they walked out the door without buying anything.

A guy carrying a frou frou drink with whipped cream on tops of it.  He was wearing a grey t-shirt with a figure that looked like an ultrasound of a pink monster baby inside a bright blue placenta.  He bought a couple of books on European travel.

A guy was looking for a book on The China Study (which he was surprised I didn't know since it was quite well known, he tells me).  He was surprised we had no computer to check to see if we had the book since he didn't want to take the time to check the shelves.  I'm always surprised when people are disappointed that we can't check a computer.  I mean, people, really!  It's a used book store.  We may occasionally have more than one copy of a book, but most of the books are single copies.  Can you imagine the headache of keeping track???

A thin middle aged woman with spiky metallic red hair bought a couple of bargain books and said she was amazed to read the store policy (now posted on the window) about donating to charity.  She said she would bring some books to donate

In the middle of confusion, our Brasilian daughter Sonia called and I asked her to call back later that night (since we were going out to dinner right after I left Logos).

Interesting sight outside--a woman walked past with some pink and white streamers on a pole.  I wonder what that was about!

A woman was wearing an attractive kind of sweater-poncho-hoodie thing in a nice striped pattern.  She bought a book on Chagall and one on travel in Egypt.

A colorful woman in a powder blue jacket with a pink knit cap and a black t-shirt with "Italia" on it in pink bought a couple of bargain books.

A couple with a wirey dog who looked like "Shannon," a dog I remember from my childhood, was looking for "Eugene Onegin" and was happy to find the Proust work.  I was happy to pet the dog.
A girl bought a Lisa Sing book ("Shanghai Girls") but was quite uninterested in my telling her it was an entertaining book and that there was a sequel.

A woman brought "Satanic Verses" to the desk and said "I guess I should finally read this."  I told her that I hoped she would find it was worth all the trouble the book caused when Salman Rushdie wrote it.

The next woman was wearing a purple coat, dark grey Nikes with electric pink trim and aqua laces.  She was there with a guy who was probably her Dad and bought the very thick book, "The Historian" by Kostova Elizabeth.

Two student women types came in, one with long blue hair and a nose ring (how do you blow your nose with a nose ring?) and the other with brown striped hair (striped with blonde) piled on top of her head.  They didn't stay long and didn't buy anything.

A guy with whitish-grey hair, carrying a bag from The Paint Chip (an art supply store) came in, leaning heavily on a cane.  He bought 8 hard back books, some of which were oversized.  I filled up a bag for him, and he added a couple of books to his Paint Chip bag, but each of them was so heavy I didn't know how he was going to carry them while using a cane.  He said he would sit down when he needed to on the way to his car, which was about 4 blocks away.

2 girls came in and one of them bought 3 bargain books, counting out the price in quarters.

My friend arrived at 4:45 and wondered where the humor books had gone.  That was the first time I had noticed that several of the shelves had been rearranged.  The mysteries, which have always been right at my elbow, had now been moved toward the front of the store.  My friend bought 2 bargain books and a sci fi book, "The Flying Sorcerers," a book of short stories, not to be confused with "The Flying Sorcerer," my favorite David Gerrold-Jerry Pournelle shaggy dog story.

A Hobbit-looking guy (or maybe the mole-looking Wesen from Grimm) came in with a "small bag of books to donate."

A guy came in with two bags to donate, then two more, then two more.  In all there were 14 bags of books when Susan the Peter got to the store.  Fortunately, he wasn't interested in a receipt.
A UCD looking student bought a book by Edward Gorey and an art book.

A mom with 2 kids, a preteen girl and an older teen boy came in.  The girl bought a fantasy book and the boy bought "Paradise Lost."

At the same time the store was filled with.
  • A barrel-chested short guy who reminded me of Richard Dreyfus
  • A woman in a uniform from the Calif. Department of Fish and Game
  • A short Asian woman with a tall non-Asian man
  • A middle aged couple
Only the park ranger bought anything, one of the Alexander McCall-Smith "Ladies #1 Detective Agency" series and was surprised to hear there were others in the series, since she'd never heard of them.

A group of people, all holding yogurt cups from the yogurt store around the corner, paraded by preceded by the afternoon joggers.

And then Walt arrived and we went off to Sushi Unlimited again to "celebrate" what would have been David's 44th birthday.

Friday, February 5, 2016

One of the Good Guys

The Pinata Group lost another one today.  Richard died after a short stay in the hospital following a heart attack.  Richard was one of the good guys.  I really loved that man.

Richard and his wife Michele came into our lives, not through the Newman Club, as all the rest of the Pinata group did, but when we put our kids into Tiny Tots nursery school in Oakland, where their son Eric was also enrolled.

From the beginning, we all just "clicked."  As we began our New Year's Day pinata parties, we always included Michele, Richard and Eric, and in short order they were just one of the group and we forgot where the Newman folks ended and the Havel folks began.

Richard and Michele owned property in Mendocino county, which was nicknamed and is still called "Eric's Property."  We had many, many camping and huckleberry hunting expeditions on that property.  Richard mixed gin fizzes by attaching his blender to the motor of his beloved "White Elephant."  

We have always teased Richard about his built in nose and glasses.  In fact, when he turned 50 (he was the oldest of us, by quite a bit), Michele threw a surprise party for him where everyone, including his 80-something mother and the stripper hired for entertainment, all wore Groucho glasses.  I'd love to post a photo of this event, but we missed it.  We were hosting our first foreign student, Eduardo from Brasil, and we gave him the choice of going to the party or driving up to Washington/Oregon on a camping trip right after Mt. St. Helen's erupted.  Being from Brasil, especially Rio de Janeiro, the prospect of seeing a nude woman was nothing special, but the chance to collect volcanic ash was something he would not get to do in Brasil.  So we missed the party of the century.

When Char and Mike sold their house in Oakland, they sold it to Michele and Richard, to keep it in the family.  They took over their house and their dog Rocky.  We had so many parties in that house, always with a big bowl of clam dip as the center of attention (we made sure the boys didn't hover).
When they sold the house, Ned and Paul made a video about it.

We lost Michele in 2007.  She and Richard had bought a house up in the Sierra foothills.  Richard was delivering Meals on Wheels that morning and when he left the house, he noticed Michele sleeping on the bed.  When he returned home, she hadn't moved and he discovered she was gone.  It was a terrible blow to all of us, because who would have thought that someone so young and so healthy would be one of the first to leave us.  We scattered part of her ashes on Eric's Property and Char and I took some with us to France when we went there with the girls in 2009.  Michele, a French major, always wanted to visit France and never made it.  Now some of her ashes rest somewhere off the coast of Nice.

Richard continued to live in the house, the old man on the hill.  Char and I drove up and visited him a couple of times and have been talking about driving up there again, but now it's too late.  Proving once again the necessity of not putting things like this off.  I don't feel guilty for not going to see him, but sad for us that we missed the chance for one more visit.  I think the last time we saw him was a Mike's funeral.

We are of an age (at 73 I am the youngest of the pinata group) when the death of one of our good friends is not unexpected, but it's always a big punch in the gut to realize that we are a little smaller and a little less rich now.

Richard made it to the other side to be with Michele again...and just in time for David's birthday.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I'm So Relieved

I was relieved three times today...maybe four times, sorta.

First, we went to see The Little Mermaid last night and it has a short run, so I had to get the review in fairly early this morning.  Normally I get a review started and then go to sleep and finish it in the morning.  Last night I conked out before I had a chance to start writing it.  But the strangest thing happened.  It's never happened before.  I woke up at 7 a.m., with the review written in my head!.  The bulk of the review, other than the specifics I had to get from the program, was clear as a bell.  All I needed to do was type it, clean it up a bit, add the names of who played what, and in no time I had sent it off to the paper.  I don't expect this to ever happen again, but given that I was already behind when I went to sleep this was a great relief.

Next I went to Atria to deliver my mother's clean undies.  She wasn't there when I first got there, so I left them on her bed and went looking for her.  She was just finishing lunch, so I walked her back to her apartment, where we had a decent visit.  I had to cut it kind of short because I had an appointment at 3, but I didn't leave there frustrated, like I so often do.  That was a relief.

Then, remember when I wrote about my angst finding my favorite strawberry field gone?  Well, I also mentioned it on Facebook and someone told me that it wasn't gone, it had just moved 200 yards east of where it once was, and that the original plot of land was going to be planted in almond trees (which are as abundant around here as vineyards are in the Napa Valley).

So I took the back road to the freeway and sure enough.  I had to stop and take a photo.

The "Local Grown Fresh..." sign is where the old stand sat.  And around it is all the dirt where there used to be blackberry vines.  Behind me is all the dirt where there used to be strawberry fields.
BUT, that little white block up by the trees in back is the new stand.  Right now it's not much and there isn't even a road to get to it, but it's there, so it will rise again...and I am very relieved.

But the biggest relief was yet to come.  I've had such depression over my mother lately that I sometimes feel like I want to explode,  I come home from Atria and all I can do for awhile is sit in a chair and stare off into space.  I am remembering my father during his nervous breakdown, sitting in the living room, with all the lights off, the only thing was the red glow from the tip of his cigarette.  He would sit there for hours. I think about that memory a lot these days, when I just can't find the energy to do anything because I feel so weighted down by concern for my mother and frustration over her worsening symptoms (even though by comparison to so many people dealing with dementia in loved ones, I have it so very easy).

So I finally made an appointment with the therapist I saw about a year ago, for a few months to discuss, among other things, my mother.  She was the therapist I got by accident because the one I had my original appointment with had a conflict.  But since I didn't know either of them, it made no difference to me who I saw.  

It turned out to be the best "accident" because Deb is just perfect for me.  She got me through the problems I had gone to see her about originally and today I discovered, as I talked, that intellectually I know all the right words and the right answers, but emotionally I needed help with how to continue to cope.  What I needed was a safe place to explode and let it all out...and I did.  And it felt good.  There are no answers, of course.  She made a couple of suggestions I will follow up on, but she told me what I needed to hear, which was given my mother's robust physical health we are possibly looking at several more years of dealing with her dementia and she may well live past 100.

(I showed her the before and after picture of my mother's visit with her old beautician and the difference in her caused Deb to give a surprised gasp)

I didn't make a return appointment because nothing is going to change between now and a few weeks from now and I felt so much better just having had the chance to let it all out and get feedback from her.  I told her I wished I were in worse shape because I enjoy her company and would like to come back again, but can't justify making another appointment.  She gave me a big hug and her phone number and said to call anytime if I need to explode again.  I may do that, but for right now, I'm feeling like a huge load has been lifted from my solar plexus and I can pick up and go back to Atria with renewed strength to face the next chapter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Strawberry Fields--Not Forever

I was shocked to drive out Covell Blvd. the other day, on my way to the back road to I-80. and find...nothing.

No ramshackle hut, no resting fields, no dead vines.  Nothing,

The strawberry field and shack was just....gone!

To my great surprise  when I mentioned the strawberry stand to Walt a few days ago, he was not aware there was one there. 

It was about a mile and a half out of Davis and in my mind's eye had been there forever.  I looked forward each year to the stand reopening so I could start buying strawberries again.

It was run by an Asian family and had the best, cheapest, sweetest strawberries around.  When you bought them (and I always bought at least a flat) they were warm and sweet and you could hardly wait to get them home and do something with them.

The shack itself always looked like it could be blown down in a strong wind...and it never looked any different.  Some boards thrown up along the sides, always a pile of rubbish, and that American flag waving proudly over it.

For the first years I started buying there they only had strawberries, but lately they have branched out to blackberries with tall vines stretching out into the field opposite the strawberries.

But now there is nothing.  The shack is gone, the plants are gone and all you see is a brown field stretching off into the distance.

My heart is broken!

The proprietor was always a cheery guy who would throw in some other stuff for you at bargain prices...things like zucchini or green beans or some other bit of produce he happened to have on hand.
About half a mile from the stand there was a truck which also sold strawberries from the field to people who weren't likely to turn in at the stand itself.  Sometimes I bought my strawberries there.

What will I do now when strawberry season rolls around?  There is always the farmers market and the fruit stand on the freeway, but it won't be the same as this, my favorite fruit stand.  It was similar in appearance to the cherry stand in Gilroy that we frequent in cherry season as we are driving to Santa Barbara.

But this was in our own back yard.  And now it is gone.

It's going to be a big readjustment this spring....

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I "met" Alexandra Billings on line through Steve Schalchlin.  We corresponded a bit because we are both Judy Garland fanatics, and it's always nice to meet another one.

Alexandra is an absolutely gorgeous transgender woman who, when I first "met" her was doing cabaret in Los Angeles.  I bought a couple of her CDs.  She could belt out a torch song every bit as good as Judy Garland.

Now, for those who watch Transgender, she is Maura's friend Davina.

And so she was at the SAG awards this weekend (where her group was nominated for the best ensemble award, but lost out to Orange is the New Black).  She wrote this of the highlights of her evening and it touched me so much, I decided to share it.  I should share also that Alexandra is another person living with AIDS and has been for many years.

Highlights of The SAG Awards....

-Hearing Helen Mirren say "Fuck this, I'm letting it air dry!" in the ladies room.

-Seeing Kevin Spacey smile at Viola Davis in a way that was about respect and admiration and ease and beauty. He saw in her a grace that she exudes constantly and was so very grateful to be in the room while that caught fire.

-Telling Carol Burnett that out of the three times I tried to commit suicide, I was saved once by Phil Donahue, once by Lucille Ball and once by her. As she wept openly, she took my hand as I knelt down, and said: "That is extraordinary and I don't know what to do..." So we Shattered together and I held on to her as she held on to me and my wife snapped a picture and my past met up with my present and I saw my blessed life land softly in the hand of the Divine. 
-Running out of napkins and using the fancy tablecloth to wipe the pork juice from my chin

-Staring at the back of Leonardo Dicaprio's head. Even the back of his head is sexy.

-Kissing my wife and watching her fall apart as she met some of the Big Bang cast. Her entire vessel was shaking.

-Taking off my shoes and finding a Dunkin Donuts booth on the way out. We bought 4 bags of donuts and I put 22 packets of sugar in my coffee. I still have the urge to dust everything in my house. Twice.

-I took a moment and I looked around and I remembered being somewhere in my twenties and being told I would be dead within 6 months. That the infection was racing through me and that time was my true enemy. And so I sat there in that room and I took a moment and I saw Our Lady J and I saw Trace Lysette and Hari Neff and Van Barnes and Laverne Cox and we were all present and awake and being held by our history and our life force. And I knew, as deeply as I ever had before, that who we were mattered just as much and who we Became. And that we were seen. And that we were lead. And that we were enough.

And for the years I felt depleted, I suddenly felt expansive. I took up a little more space.

And so we give back. And so it goes on. And our sisters of the present revolution will not perish and so our brothers of the former did not die, for we are keeping alive the very foundation from which we all came. And we do that by being together. And by looking around. If only for a moment.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Love, Information and Pizza

I was proud of myself for getting both reviews of the show we saw last night finished and sent off to the respective publications.  Usually, I find writing two different reviews of the same show a challenge, but not for this show.  I almost always sweat bullets trying to get it right and to make the two reviews sound like I didn't plagiarize myself.  But it was easy to take a slight different perspective on this for each paper this time.  I kind of like what I wrote for the Sacramento News and Review:
Watching Capital Stage’s Love and Information, by award-winning playwright Caryl Churchill is like sitting in front of your television and clicking through the channels one by one, pausing briefly to see what is going on.

Eleven talented actors, some of the best Sacramento has to offer, play ~100 characters during 50+ scenes over 95 minutes. There is no plot to intrude on the action and you’d think this would be a big mess, but it works beautifully.

Under director Benjamin T. Ismail, the show moves at a fast clip and in the end, you realize the importance of “communication” in our lives, the sad, the funny, the informative.

Churchill takes the audience on an exhilarating carnival ride. Take two giddy teenagers mooning over a popular star and contrast to a conversation with an Alzheimers patient, or learning how scientists test chicken brains, or various words for the thing we put our dinner on as we sit down to eat.

We have developed short attention spans and this show plays into that. We get a glimpse, but only a glimpse of the lives of others and then we move on to the next scene. It’s the equivalent of theater in 140 characters, like Twitter posts.

It sounds as if it wouldn’t fit together, but it does. This is innovative theater at its finest, thanks to the skill of all involved (no small amount of which includes the technicians who designed the set, the lighting and the sound, all integral to the success of this show).

Capital Stage is offering its audience an opportunity to see a unique, highly acclaimed new play which should not be missed.
The difficulty with reviewing for the News and Review is that you have to give stars, 1 to 5, to show how much you liked it (I was SO glad when we got rid of that star rating system at The Davis Enterprise!).  I was going to give it a 4 because it really was fun, but the more I wrote my two reviews, the more I decided I really liked it, so in the end I gave it a 5.  

Before we went to the theater, I had to prepare dinner.  Usually on Sacramento theater nights I cook a frozen dinner but we were in luck yesterday.  Our Brasilian daughter, Sonia, stopped by for a visit with her daughter Denise (who is going to grad school at UC Davis).  Sonia is an artist, living in Napa with her vintner husband and so they are close by, but not THAT close by and we don't see each other often.

They could only stay a short time, but she brought me a sample of her newest "invention."  One Brasilian food I use to make and absolutely love is something called pao de queijo, which are little cheese breads. They are made with cassava flour instead of wheat flour and there has never been a time when I did not think I had made some horrible mistake as the dough, which feels like silly putty, looks grey and unappetizing.  But somehow, after it has chilled, when you roll it into balls an cook it magic occurs and the most delicious thing emerges from the oven as your finished product.  

Brasilians who have lived with us have said it tastes like the real thing.  I don't think I could make it any more because I don't think I still have the recipe.

But Sonia, after a lot of experimentation has created a gluten-free pizza using pao de queijo for the dough.  She gave us one of her vegetarian pizzas and it was delicious.

She had taken it to Whole Foods, which immediately wanted to order 25 of them, after tasting the sample, but unfortunately there are all those messy rules and regulations you have to go through before you can sell something like that professionally (thank goodness I didn't know about that when I was baking and selling cakes!) and banks are reluctant to give you a loan if you have no experience, which you can't get without a loan.  So she's in a Catch-22 situation and I don't know what is going to happen with her potential business.

But if she can't get it going the world will miss out on a delicious treat (and I won't be able to get another pao de queijo pizza!)