Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hometown Boy Makes Good

I love it when my friends hit big time, as they often do. A childhood friend of mine, Michael Stuhlbarg, has the lead in the new Coen Brothers film, "A Serious Man." (See the trailer here.)

Though a year younger than I, it was pretty evident to all of us in proximity that Michael's life trajectory was already determined: He was going to be an accomplished actor and that's all there was to it.

Along with a bunch of other ratty kids, I co-starred with him in a production of "Annie Get Your Gun" and he already seemed professional, even in high school. Atop of his endless talent, Michael was also unfailingly kind and polite. And with tongue firmly in cheek, I can finally use that age-old Hollywood cliche, "He was a dream to work with."

From graduation, Michael went straight to Juilliard and has never wanted for work since. The man has had one acting gig after the next - mostly on Broadway. He's played Hamlet in Central Park - always a golden gig for any actor - and been nominated for a Tony award. In a true testament of his talent, consider this: Michael has never been a waiter. Ever.

Sometime during the mid-90s, my pals, Michelle, Lisa and I visited New York and Michael kindly handed over the keys to his apartment while he stayed with his girlfriend. There was very little furniture in it but we were incredibly grateful.

At the time, Michael was starring in some play where he played the ghost of a tortured Jewish man. He had to look emaciated for the role and so our efforts to wine and dine our gratitude to Michael were for naught. There was one dinner where he ordered in that soft voice of his, "Just some water and some lettuce, please." Good grief! Talk about dedication.

So it with great joy that I congratulate Michael on scoring this fabulous role on film. I'm also glad that the world will soon become familiar with his immense talent and most of all, I'm relieved to see him in a role where he is allowed to eat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sorry, Kids - No Melting Trees For You

While strolling the neighborhood of my childhood, I came upon my old school - all of them, actually.

That's right. My preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior and high school are all lined up snug on one street, Centralia Avenue. Furthermore, both my colleges (Long Beach City College & CSULB) can also be found just a few miles down the road. My academic career was tightly packed into a five-mile radius.

While surveying the very spot at Mark Twain Elementary School where I had my first kiss with Sean Bergeron in 6th Grade, I came upon a handy list of substances and behaviors that are verboten to the students. Of course, there was no such list when I was a kid and if there was, it probably only listed tobacco.

Still, I was shocked at the wide variety of recreational habits that a kid might consider, for what is this really but a helpful list of suggestions?

These all make good sense, of course, especially the firearms, tobacco and alcohol. But I did a double-take when I read the ban of "Marijuana ... and Peyote."

Okay, PEYOTE???? Do you know how difficult it is to get your hands on peyote? Sadly, I have no experience with it myself but peyote is actually a cactus that grows in Texas and Mexico and when consumed, the mescaline hits and you see God, plus a few other things. It is used in some Native American ceremonies and 'twas a favorite of the late Hunter S. Thompson and Beavis.

Not only is peyote extremely slow-growing (taking up to three years to mature) but it has been so over-harvested that it is listed as an endangered species.

Now, I ask you, where in the world is a 6th grader going to get his hands on peyote? Perhaps I have become such an old lady that I cannot imagine the sophistication of today's youth. You can probably order it through an iPhone app for all I know ...

PEYOTE?? Really?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Return to the Southland

After a fantabulous weekend with my beautiful stepsister, Julie (who is cancer-free!), I find myself heading once again down to LA. Mama Iva had a successful heart valve surgery and the family is taking shifts as part of her Recovery Team.

I'm quite anxious to see her but also nervous about being house-bound for two weeks. I'm bringing along a few projects, plus my guitar. Perhaps my serenading will make her wish she was back in ICU.

Surely, I'll miss my garden, my friends, my cubby-hole apartment and the arrival of another gorgeous new season in Colorado. Every time I leave this state, it gets harder and harder to board that plane.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Memories in the Sand, 1945

Once again, a reality talent show has unearthed an undiscovered gem proving that TV does retain some value. Meet the recent winner of "Ukraine’s Got Talent", Kseniya Simonova, who tells elaborate stories through sand animation with the help of a giant light box and her pinpoint artistic skill.

The above clip is 8.5 minutes but it gets more amazing as time goes on. Using a dramatic score and few defiant hair flips, this gifted young woman tells the story of the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. You can't help but be moved and it's always refreshing to see the tools of storytelling redefined once again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Cheered on by my friend, Kath (pictured with me, below), I managed to present at last night's Ignite Boulder 6 without completely blowing it. In fact, I had a blast. The presenters were all uniquely impressive - I was honored to be in such company.

I gotta say that the musical entertainment, Mountain Standard Time, was phenomenally good. These boys are fine musicians and really, when is the last time you had a saxophone in a mountain band?

I just read Andrew Hyde's take on the evening and he hit on a key point. I probably did too much 'reading' from my notes during my presentation. However, I'm happy to report that I did NOT read from the slides. The audience - despite their many beers - seemed mostly literate and able to do that on their own. Either way, my presentation, "Screw Logic: A Unbelievable Look at Bizarre Beliefs", went off fine. I took a look at how standard beliefs often get turned upside down over the course of time (see: Flat Earth Society) and that nobody knows anything, especially the 'experts.'

Several of my favorite presentations included "Food Porn: Behind the Lens" (Jen Yu); "Classic Literature Through the Eyes of the Modern Chick Flick" (Cristina Sagray); "Everything I Needed to Know About Journalism I learned From 'Ghostbusters'" (Dave Burdick); "Rainbow Suspenders and Fuzzy Pink Hats" (Kaley Sutton) - about my beloved Burning Man - and "The Alternative, Alternative Energy: My million dollar idea" (Sari Levy.) This last one was about turning America's fat into energy and it was sheer brilliance. To quote: "Farms are about growing, right? At Fat Farms we should be growing more fat people!"

(Here's me with fellow presenters, Cristina Sagray and Jen Newell. We celebrated with sushi after the show.)

And I am so grateful to Andrew & Co. for putting Michael Brown as the final presenter for he would have been impossible to follow. The subject of his presentation was "Risk and Reward" and I figured we would be getting a lesson in investment and finance.

Turns out, Michael is an adventure filmmaker and had documented blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s historic ascent as well as four other remarkable ‘firsts’ on Mount Everest. Along the way, two team members perished in an avalanche. Michael told of making this amazing 75-minute film, "Farther Than the Eye Can See", and politely asked if he could show us bits of the film. Um, yes. Please.

Michael generously shared three 2-minute clips of the most breathtaking, emotional footage - the audience was genuinely awestruck. After the joking around all evening, we were simply blown away by the depth and breadth of Erik's story and the team's endless determination. The physical challenges the crew faced are hard to imagine, their task unbelievably daunting, and they yet persevered. Watching the crew coach Erik over a ladder across a deep ice crevasse ... I was holding my breath the whole time. I can't even imagine.

I just kept thinking, "I'm so glad Erik made it!" and "I'm so glad Michael went last!"

If you get a chance to catch Ignite 7, do it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ignite Boulder Tonight!

Because I like to force myself into scary situations (it makes for better storytelling later), I'm one of the presenters at Ignite Boulder 6 tonight at the Boulder Theater. Ignite is a series of presentations on a variety of random topics. Each presentation consists of 20 slides which automatically advance after 15 seconds. Quick and dirty.

Though it is a worldwide movement, I can assure you that local tech celeb and firestarter, Andrew Hyde, is the main Dude behind this event. Honestly, I'm not sure the man ever really sleeps - he's got his hands in so many cool projects.

Anyway, I took on the challenge of putting together a presentation of some social redeeming value. It was awfully fun doing all the research but I hope I remember to have fun when I'm up there in front of 750 hecklers. (Heckling is an Ignite tradition - so funny.)

If any of you are in the area, please stop by! Would love to have the support.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Patrick Swayze Story

It's has just been reported that actor Patrick Swayze has passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57. We knew it was coming but it's still terribly sad. I certainly didn't know the man but enjoyed his movies like "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing" like everyone else. However, it was always his Chippendale's skit with the late Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live that endeared me to him. That, and the time I almost crashed his car.

It's around 1996 and I'm a proud member of an all-female car parking team called The Valettes. (We had pink bow ties and cummerbunds and handed out roses.) We mostly worked parties in and around LA and Hollywood. We were a novelty act and people dug it.

We were working some party up in the Hollywood Hills, when Patrick and his lovely wife, Lisa, pulled up in a powder blue antique Mercedes. This isn't long after his film, "Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar" - a film I have yet to see. (That's Patrick at left, in drag, wearing the hat. With him is Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo.)

A few of us ladies scramble for position but I win the keys and the privilege of parking his car. I get in and quickly realize two things:

1) There is cigarette ash everywhere and the ashtray is overflowing. 'Hmmmm, I didn't know he smoked,' I thought. (In fact, Patrick was a heavy smoker for years but never did so in public.)

2) I recognize almost none of the regular controls of the average car. With the exception of the speedometer and the gas gage, everything is different. I couldn't tell you the age of the car - 50s? 60s? - but it was old and he may have had it imported direct from Germany. Dunno, but the damn thing was exotic.

Anyway, I manage to figure out how to get it moving and find a safe spot for it. The night goes on and we gals park more cars. Running up and down those hills used to be such good exercise and it was always fun to witness "The Scene." (The highly-tanned George Hamilton also showed up later and he struck me as someone so very happy with his lot in life, I can't help but like him to this day. Plus, he was nice to everyone.)

Hours passed and eventually, I had to use the restroom. Evidently, they didn't have a porta potty for the "help" and I was directed into the swanky mansion to use the loo. I ended up standing in line with a few C- and D-grade actresses and scanned the room. I recognized a few faces but ended up observing Swayze and tried to picture him smoking.

He was deeply involved in a discussion with some guy about antique watches - both the man and Patrick were wearing one. Meanwhile, several women passing by attempted to throw themselves at Patrick without success. He was polite, sure, but his face said it all: 'Move on, lady. I am happily taken.'

And so, I searched for his wife, Lisa, and spotted her standing nearby. She was talking and laughing with a fellow blonde. She struck me as naturally beautiful, secure and wise - which made her a standout at the party and the entire city. Obviously, Patrick agreed. They met when they were both 19 and married when he was 23. Even standing apart, I could see they were permanently smitten.

Back outside, I resumed my duties (btw, Miatas are like having wheels on your ass, incredibly fun) and the party began winding down. Patrick and Lisa emerged, arm-in-arm, and approached me directly. "Hi! I think we're going to call it a night," he said, smiling. That was my cue.

I grabbed his keys and jogged up the hill toward his car. Once in, I remembered the cigarettes and figured he was probably anxious to light up. Heading back down the hill, I quickly realized that something wasn't right - I didn't seem to be slowing down despite my liberal use of the brake. I began to panic and the realization set in: I was going to destroy Patrick Swayze's car and would likely never park in this town again.

Cresting the hill and heading down (not yet fast but definitely gaining some speed), I could see Patrick look up, meet my terrified gaze and leap into action.

Here's the part when I can personally attest to his dancer's athleticism. That boy SPRINTED up the hill like goddamn lightning-fueled gazelle. In one swift movement, he met me halfway, swung open the driver's door and stuck his highly-toned leg in across my lap, leaving his perfectly-shaped ass inches from my face, which - looking back now - was a real highlight.

Then there was a crunch-grinding sound and the car came to a halt, within inches of another expensive celebrity car. I didn't know what to say but was getting ready to apologize profusely when Patrick said to me,

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry! Are you okay? I forgot to tell you that this car has two brakes! Oh my gosh, I can't believe I forgot to tell you! One isn't working and I was going to get it fixed today but .... ARE YOU ALRIGHT??? I'M SO SORRY!"

He then helped me out of the car, where I stood on wobbly legs. "I ... thought ... I was ... going .... to crash ... your car..."

"I KNOW! I could see your face and then I remembered! I'm so glad nothing happened. I'm so sorry. Here ya go," and then he handed me $20. Though we were not supposed to take tips - it was part of The Valettes schtick - I took it, figuring it would buy me a stiff drink later.

Lisa walked past me heading toward the car, smiling big. She didn't speak but it looked like she'd been laughing. She was even happy in a crisis, darn her. Meanwhile, I'd practically pissed myself while nearly mowing down a crowd of fancy people with a movie star's car. Good Lord.


Godspeed, Patrick. From all I can tell, you were an amazing artist, a devoted husband and one sweetheart of a guy. I wish you could have stayed longer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thank you!

Great news! Mama Iva's surgery went super smooth. It was supposed to last up to 3.5 hours but took only two. The doc said when he put everything back together (I'm paraphrasing here), her heart just took off with full horsepower.

She's in ICU and sleeping a lot but they are going to try and get her up today. What a champ! It is amazing what can be done these days and my hats are off to Dr. Shuman and the amazing team at Long Beach Memorial Hospital - the very same place where I had oh-so-many surgeries as a child.

As for my sister, we have some waiting to do before we know more. She is coming to visit me soon and we both need the time together so badly.

Thanks to all for your kind thoughts and prayers. Sometimes I forget how much love is at-the-ready until I tap into it so thanks for the reminder. You guys are awesomesauce.

(Image found at BalanceForce.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Call For Healing Thoughts

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time, Mama Iva will head into surgery at Long Beach Memorial where a highly capable surgeon named Dr. Shuman will replace her aortic valve with some tissue from a pig. (Thanks, pig!)

This is fantastic news since she has put off the surgery for a year or more, fearful of the knife and the long recovery. Mama Iva is not an old lady who sits around and knits. She is a full-time working woman who also throws legendary parties and long recoveries do not fit into her busy plans.

In the photo above, Mama Iva and I are sharing giant margaritas in Ensenada and she is watching a mariachi band nearby. We had such a grand time that when we returned to the cruise ship tour bus a tad late, we were given a stern Hispanic talking to. We just giggled into our cocktails (they'd poured the remnants into plastic to-go cups for us) and promised we would not do it again.

I feel very conflicted about not being there but Cousin Linda (a retired surgical nurse) and my brother, Rob, will be there. As her recovery will take 6-8 weeks, we are tag-teaming. That my brother is leaving his home and family in Mississippi at the peak of hurricane season, is no small sacrifice. I will return to LA later this month and so on. The whole episode offers some strong arguments for having offspring.

And, as if I needed another reason to stress out on September 11th, my beloved step-sister, Julie, will have a biopsy taken from her breast to check for cancer. Julie has had the 'breast cancer' Sword of Damocles hanging over her head as long as she can recall.

Her sister, Kathy (an awesome gal), died of breast cancer at age 37. Her mother, Shirley (my stepmama), also had a double mastectomy. To top it off, cancer runs in both sides of her family. Often times, Julie has felt like it was only a matter of time before the genes caught up with her.

The great news is, they have caught a tiny speck in her breast very early. Also, her wonderful husband, Chris, is a rock of support. Julie is like my mother - fun-loving, tough and wildly popular. She is an expert fisherwoman and lives in the Pacific Northwest. Much like Mama Iva, she has an interest in cocktails - I love this about them.

If you are the praying type or inclined to send along some healing thoughts, please do so. Aim for Long Beach, California and Seattle, Washington. And I know it is cliche but here goes: Hug your loved ones close tonight and always.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Back in the Water

So, I came home from LA yesterday after sobbing my way through the security line. Even though I know my mom will be fine and the next family shift has arrived (my cousin and brother), it was hard saying goodbye. I received no comfort in the air, watching the eight fires below me, smolder and chew their way through the mountains of my youth.

While I spent the week being there for my mom - helping her prepare her life and home for surgery and six-week recovery - I managed to squeeze in a few light moments. Now that I live in a landlocked state, I appreciate the Pacific Ocean more than ever. I brought along my ancient bikini just in case the opportunity should arise. It did.

Much like I did so many years ago, I called up Diane (I think we met in first grade ... or was it second?) and had her "meet me at the beach." I drove the 20 minutes to Sunset Beach - snuggled tightly between Seal Beach and Bolsa Chica - and plopped my stuff on the sand. I ran right into the ocean and it felt like pure heaven, like coming home. I made friends with two teenage girls, Debbie and Sophie, and dived through the waves like a wanna-be mermaid.

Later, Diane arrived and I convinced her to come back into the water with me. We were chatting up a storm, treading water when we suddenly realized we were too far from shore and could not touch bottom. We began to swim back (forgetting that we should swim diagonally) and began to assess our dire situation. Diane yelled out:

"I'm tired!"

"Me too!" I yelled back.

"Are you okay?" she yelled.



And so, I flagged down a nearby surfer named Robert who promptly rescued my ass. "Here just rest on my board and then I'll tow you in," he said with absolutely calm. He'd obviously done this before. "There's a strong rip tide going on today so be careful."

"Yeah, I'll do that," I sputtered.

We got back to our towels with hearts beating and our lives still flashing before our eyes. I tried to resume the conversation and be breezy about the whole episode but Diane was having none of it.

"So ... (pant, pant) .. Diane .. (pant) ... How's the new job?"


"Okay, yeah. You're right. That was scary."

And then we both started laughing and couldn't stop.

My re-acquaintance with the ocean had been adequately satisfied.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My Mother's Heart

Status Update: So, I went into the Long Beach Memorial Hospital a few days ago and found a handsome young doctor telling my mother to pack up and go home. Seems the Plavix - a blood thinner - that she's been on has to work its way out of her system before she can have any kind of heart surgery.

So, we are hanging around the old homestead waiting it out. I'm running errands, trying to wean mom off salty salad dressings and generally being there when needed. She is scheduled for valve replacement surgery on September 11th. (When folks comment on the auspicious date, she likes to point out that she'd had back surgery on Friday the 13th and things went fine.)

Cousin Linda and my brother, Robert, will be here for the surgery. I will head back home, as planned, on the 7th, then return again later this month to help with her recovery. I tease my brother that my shift will begin just as Mama Iva is getting her strength back so she'll keep me running around a lot more.

Thanks for all the prayers and warm wishes. We are all so lucky to have one another, no?