|Day 13: Happiness is dinner with good friends|
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Friday, July 19, 2013
Friday, August 3, 2012
The G.R.U.B. Group: Walt, me, Henry, Jill, Willa, Diana, Marie
Thursday, July 21, 2011
We've had the annual Gilbert dinner and I've taken my China jacket out for a trip again. Walt rented a car for the trip, since we need a part replaced on our car and he didn't feel comfortable driving it all the way to San Francisco and back again until the repair had been made. The rental car didn't have a way to play music off my iPod, so I "had to" read all the way to the city while Walt drove.
We hit some heavy traffic, this being rush hour, but most of it was going the other way, so though we had a long line of bumper to bumper traffic, it was much heavier going the other way, and we had planned ahead and actually got to the restaurant half an hour early.
This was the Delancy Street Restaurant, the same one we had been to last year. The restaurant is a big part of the Delancey Street Foundation, the country's leading residential self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. Started in 1971 with 4 people in a San Francisco apartment, Delancey Street has served many thousands of residents, in 5 locations throughout the United States. Residents at Delancey Street range from teenagers to senior citizens, and include men and women and all races and ethnicities. The average resident has been a hard-core drug and alcohol abuser, has been in prison, is unskilled, functionally illiterate, and has a personal history of violence and generations of poverty.
The restaurant, staffed by residents of the project, looks upscale, the food is great, and the price is considerably lower than you would find at a comparable restaurant elsewhere in the city.
One nice thing about the place is that it is easy to find parking--that's a huge deal in San Francisco, where it sometimes takes longer to find parking than it does to eat dinner. Here there is usually available on street parking, if you can figure out the confounded new fangled way to pay for parking.
And if you can't, valet parking is only $4, which seems incredibly cheap.
Since we were early we spent some time checking out the menu posted in front of the place,
and then went into the bar to have a glass of wine while we waited for the others to arrive.
There were 10 of us this year and we had a table off in a corner.
This is not a restaurant you go to for speedy service. It was probably half an hour before someone came to take our order -- and there were very few people at in the place. It also seemed to take forever for the food to come. But when it did, it was worth the wait.
I had planned to order the rack of lamb, which I had enjoyed the previous year, but the seared ahi tuna with wasabi noodles sounded intriguing and was so good I was halfway through eating it before I remembered to take a picture.
It was all very low key, but I just love getting together with these people at this dinner every year.
It would just be nice if Gilbert had been there to enjoy it with us.
*Gala Reinternment of Uncle Buddy
Thursday, July 15, 2010
It was 25 years ago tonight when that terrible telephone call came, the one that changed my life. It was the call letting me know that my best friend, Gilbert Russak, music director for The Lamplighters, had had a heart attack following very minor surgery and was not expected to live. Within a couple of hours of the original phone call came the call that said he had died.
I had been a fan of his when he was performing and we became friends after the publication of the first Lamplighter history. We were friends from about 1981 until his death in 1986.
We made it through that first terrible year after his death and on the first anniversary, the five of us who had handled his funeral arrangements decided to go out to dinner. That dinner evolved the following year into a dinner for a group of about 15 people, those whom Gilbert had considered friends, sometimes as many as 20. We enjoyed each other so much that we continued to meet every year on or around the date of Gilbert's death.
At first we always had the "G.R.U.B." (the "Gala Reinterment of Uncle Buddy") in a restaurant that he liked. He usually ate dinner out at a round of favorite eateries. But gradually those restaurants began to close and so we expanded our territory.
Will always handles the arrangements and makes suggestions for the place and the others of us weigh in on the convenience of the date. We always include a toast, which is the greeting that he usually gave people that he liked, looking at them over his glasses. "Oh. Its You."
When I look back and realize that we have now been doing this for twenty-four years it amazes me. It is longer than any of us knew him. He would be amazed himself. Over the past 24 years two of the members of the group have died.
This year we ate at a new restaurant to us, Delancey Street, where we had tried to have dinner a few years back, but came on a night when it was closed. The restaurant sits just a couple of blocks from the base of the Bay Bridge, along the embarcadero.
The restaurant is unique in that it is a big part of the Delancey Street Foundation, the country's leading residential self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. Started in 1971 with 4 people in a San Francisco apartment, Delancey Street has served many thousands of residents, in 5 locations throughout the United States. Residents at Delancey Street range from teenagers to senior citizens, and include men and women and all races and ethnicities. The average resident has been a hard-core drug and alcohol abuser, has been in prison, is unskilled, functionally illiterate, and has a personal history of violence and generations of poverty.
The restaurant, staffed by residents of the project, looks upscale, the food is great, and the price is considerably lower than you would find at a comparable restaurant elsewhere in the city. In the past we have had such problem with dinner cost spiraling out of control and controversy over who didn't put in enough money, that Jill was in shock when she got her bill tonight and didn't think it could possibly be that cheap.
The biggest change in our group over the past 25 years is that...well...we're all 25 years older. We now all subscribe to AARP and much of the conversation this evening centered on the "organ recitals" of the aging--which organs are giving us problems. Someone has neuropathy and now walks with a cane, someone had liver problems, there was a bum shoulder. A couple compared notes on the wonders of Percocet and other medications. We drank a toast to somebody's prostate and discussed whether you are ever too old for Pap smears. And eventually someone would shake his or her head and moan that they couldn't believe we had turned into old people who sat around discussing their aches and pains. But then we'd laugh and continue doing it.
We all complained that it was 9 p.m. and we were all ready to go to bed, and then we remembered the early years of this gathering when we would stay out late, then go to Jill's for dessert, talk well into the early morning hours and then Walt and I would drive home again. Can't do that any more. We talked about the beauty of naps.
It's hard to believe that Gilbert would have been 80 if he had been there.
This is always one of my favorite events of the year. I used to see these people all the time, but sometimes I go for a year without seeing some of them, so big changes are always a surprise (as with the one who now walks with a cane). But I'm so glad we started this tradition. We decided tonight that our next big change will be when the first person in the group moves into an assisted living facility and we decide to have the dinner there.
Tomorrow is Cousins Day, so the next entry will be posted late.
Monday, July 20, 2009
When you live in an area where the temperatures have been above 100 degrees for several days, this is the most wonderful sight of all.
It's a wall of fog rolling in down Twin Peaks and into San Francisco. There is nothing more wonderful to this San Francisco-born girl than the see a fog bank like this.
We were meeting our Lamplighter friends for the 23rd observance of Gilbert's death. This year it was at a little French restaurant (not my suggestion!) across the street from Laguna Honda hospital, where my sister died (not that that has anything to do with anything...and it's not even a hospital any more...but whenever we pass by I always remember Karen).
I swear it was like being back in Paris again, really (except that the waiters spoke excellent English). There were ten in our group this year and we were seated, as usual, at a long table. (The problem with this arrangement is that you only get to talk to the people across from you and next to you. I don't think I've had a conversation with Jill at one of these shindigs in years!)
The first thing the waiter did was to put bottles of water and baskets of very crisp baguettes on the table. That was when I decided it was like being back in Paris again.
I ordered a salad starter, Willa and Henry had escargot, which came not in the traditional way, but packed inside a big marrow bone with some stuff sprinkled over them and around the bone. Very strange presentation, we decided.
Walt's soup came in a jauntily tilted bowl.
We made the traditional Gilbert toast, "oh it's you" and another for Adrian MacNamara, who had come to these dinners until his death several years ago. The toast was made for his wife's benefit. As I looked around the group, though, I realized that we are losing people rapidly. John was there without Jeanne; Roger was there without Darian. Made me look at Henry & Willa and Walt & me and wonder which would be the next surviving spouse!
Henry, Walt and I had duck breast for dinner which was delicious.
The thing that looks like a pancake is actually polenta with marscapone and then what tasted like brandied cherries on top. Very yummy.
Walt and I split a creme brulee for dessert. It was $7 and it wasn't nearly as good as what I had in France. It tasted like they'd added some sort of liqueur to it and the consistency was runny at the bottom, but it was still tasty, if waaay overpriced for the size
We stood around inside the restaurant keeping Marie company until her cab came to take her home. Will was already (at 9 p.m.) complaining that he needed to get home to bed and that he used to be able to stay up very late, but lately he's just getting very sleepy.
Jill had offered the same excuse when she left before everyone else. She's over 70 now and can't quite take the same level of partying that she used to be able to. All things considered, fairy revels are not what they were!
We've now been doing this for more years than any of us knew Gilbert, even Marie (and I suspect she knew him the longest). Each year I think about how amazed he would be to know that we were still getting together in his memory each year. This year we were joined long distance by Laurie, who sent a message from Florence wishing us all well.
It's a good tradition. I'm glad we do it. And since Gilbert died in July, the excuse to get out of the valley in search of fog is always a welcome distraction!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This entry is difficult to write, but I thought about it on the ride home from San Francisco last night and decided that while I've pushed all these memories way to the back, I really want to bring them forward and examine them, and maybe someone will stumble on this some day and find a little comfort and a little hope here.
Last night was the 22nd G.R.U.B., or the Gilbert Dinner. Twenty-two years of meeting at some restaurant to raise a glass and toast our friend Gilbert Russak, who died on Bastille Day in 1986. We've had large groups and small groups at this annual dinner. This year we were 10 and when time came for the toast ("Oh--it's you") it was followed by other toasts, one for Adrian, one for Jeanne, one for Dario ... people we have lost over the past 22 years. I decided we were like a tontine without a prize at the end. We'll continue to meet, year after year. Our numbers will gradually shrink until there will be only one person left, who will probably go to the greasy spoon, The Big Heart, and collapse over one of their artery-clogging burgers. What a way to end it all.
I had to laugh about us after dinner ended and while the bill was being calculated (always a challenging task...why do we always end up $20 short?) I looked around and realized that everyone had his or her cell phone out, trying to find the calculator built into the phone.
Not a geek in the room. There were lots of comments about "I think I have that, but I don't know how to use it..." and lessons shared by people who had figured out that particular function, but maybe not another function. Really kind of funny at the time.
During dinner, we talked about how Gilbert would have gone crazy for the Internet. He missed the Internet by a few years but he was such an information whore that had he lived to see Google and the explosion of information on the Internet, he would have been in hog heaven. Especially for someone who had as much trouble sleeping as he did, having a computer in the middle of the long night would have been a godsend. But he didn't live to see that.
And that was what started me remembering that horrible, horrible night in 1986 when I received the call saying he had died following what was supposed to have been a simple in-and-out surgery. Nobody expected him to have a heart attack in the recovery room.
Gilbert and I had a strange relationship. He was my best friend and for the period of time that we were friends, I guess I got a lot of my identity and self-esteem from being with him. He taught me so much. It was at a point where my own nest was beginning to empty and I had more time to spend in San Francisco, and Walt was more tolerant than most men would be at letting his wife spend so much time with this gay man. For some 3 years, my life was really centered around what Gilbert & I were doing, what project we were about to do, what event we were going to attend.
When he died so suddenly, I was totally lost. It was as if the bottom had dropped out of my world. Oh there was still my life here in Davis, Walt and the kids, but that exciting bubble I had been living in had burst, the person who was at the center of it was gone and, as many people in grief feel, I just didn't know how I could go on without him in my life.
My plan was simple. At some point, would just climb into his car in his garage in his empty house, turn on the engine and I wouldn't have to think about that any more. The pain would go away.
But I didn't do that, obviously. The idea seems unthinkable to me now. And it wasn't really a serious plan at the time--but I did consider it. It hurt that much. I learned, then, that there is a reason for funerals. It's a lot of busy work for the survivors. It keeps your mind occupied. I couldn't die until I'd taken care of business. I got his house ready for his relatives, who were flying in from Oklahoma. I took care of them, helped them make funeral decisions, got through the memorial service and the scattering of his ashes. I would postpone my one way ride in the car until that was all over.
But when it was all over, there was the house to take care of. I didn't want strangers pawing through his stuff. He would have hated that. So I paid the company that was going to settle his estate and bought all the contents of the house (they offered me a good deal) and I started taking care of his stuff myself, keeping too much, giving a lot away to friends, sending stuff to the dump.
By the time I had done all that work, I didn't want to kill myself any more. I was learning how to live with the pain and Gilbert had once again taught me a lesson, this time about how to start dealing with grief.
It's been a long time since that night when I thought about climbing in his car and ending the pain and as we drove home from the Gilbert dinner, I thought of all the wonderful things that have happened in the past 22 years, the things I would have missed if I had killed myself.
The internet, for one thing. He wasn't here to see it, but I was and obviously it has become an important part of my life. There is a whole community of friends who are now special parts of my life becuase of the Internet. Real friends. Face-to-face friends I never would have met without the Internet.
I wrote a book, with the help of my friend Alison Lewis. I never thought I would be able to write a book, but it was so important to me that the accomplishments Gilbert made in the last 10 years of his life be chronicled. So "The Lamplighters History, Part 2" was written and I'm so very proud of it.
I would have missed the entire history of Lawsuit, and all those concerts I loved attending.
We traveled. I never thought I would see a foreign country, but two years after Gilbert died the family traveled to England and Ireland and had the very best family vacation ever. It created a real special bond with the kids and it kicked off a love for travel that Walt and I have shared ever since. How sad if I had denied myself the opportunity to broaden my geographical horizons.
I met Steve, who for a long time was jealous that he was always being compared to Gilbert. Why? Just because he's a gay man in show business with whom I worked on musical projects? Pshaw. Steve was the door that opened after Paul died and the thing that filled the hole that Gilbert left behind. Would I rather have Gilbert and Paul back? Of course. But they were each tormented souls who, I suspect, are happier where they are, and what wonderful adventures I would have missed by not having Steve's friendship.
Peggy came into my life. This fascinating, exciting woman who also took me on adventures, who made the most mundane fun, who reactivated my love of photography, who shared my love of wild animals, who gave me the courage to travel around the world to continue the adventure. Her friendship is very special and how sad it would have been if I had not been around to meet her.
I was working at a typing company when Gilbert died. Since then I learned medical transcription, worked for most of the doctors in town, managed two medical offices and became a theatre critic. Quite a lot in 22 years. And I enjoyed most of it, making wonderful friends in the process.
Cousins Day! How sad if I had missed the opportunity to connect with my cousins and have these wonderful experiences we've been having for the past year and a half.
There were, of course, the sad things that happened over the past 22 years, including burying David and Paul, but I think the one thing that living through the grief of losing Gilbert (rather than giving in to the immediate desire of just wanting all the pain to go away) was that I learned that grief, no matter how intense -- whether it's the loss of a friend, or the loss of a child -- gets better. People say "you'll never forget him," which is somewhat silly. Of course you don't forget somebody that you loved or a child that you raised. Of course it always hurts on some level. But you learn that life can be beautiful again, maybe not today, maybe not for a long time, but there comes a day when the air around you sparkles again, when you hear the birds singing and think it sounds beautiful, when something excites you again, and when you realize that you are so glad to be alive, and how much richer your life is for the experiences that you've lived through....and survived.
I really do understand when people say that death is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I'm glad I didn't choose it. I'm glad that with the support of wonderful people -- like Walt -- I hung in there and gave my own life a chance.
Tomorrow is Cousins Day--finally. Rasptinis and "65" and catching up on the past two months. Next journal entry will be posted late.