TRAVEL THEME BIRTHDAY CARDS—PART I— 1989-1996

In 1989 Mike started a tradition –now in its 30th year–of drawing for me birthday cards commemorating our travels. In 1989 Mike took a sabbatical of 3+ months in Spain. While we were based in Madrid we took off on many side trips throughout Spain to reinforce his research and to delve into Spanish history and cultural—and, yes,visit vineyards and wineries.

We returned to Spain many times after and have seen the country radically change. Franco died in 1975, Spain was admitted to the EU in 1986 and Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992. These 3 factors have had a tremendous affect in making Spain the modern, democratic society it is today. In 1989 Spain was a virtually cash-only economy–no credits cards–in ’89 international tourism was sparse (except for the Northern European sun-seekers along the Mediterranean coast)–in ’89 the highway system was dominated by 2 lane “highways” that seemed to go through every small village– although EU sponsored limit access highways were in the early stages. Communication for us was difficult since our Spanish on arrival was rudimentary (it got much better quickly) and English or any international second language was hard to come by even in the cosmopolitan city of Madrid. Saying all this we still loved Spain (although we never really got the hang of 10pm dinners).

Now the birthday cards. The ’89 card represents the famous windmills of the area of La Mancha –a stop on our very first trip out of Madrid in our leased car. On this week long trip we covered major parts of Andalusia and southern Portugal. As an aside: in Madrid we housed in a bare-bones pensione with a great location near the historic center of the city within easy walking distance of the Prado Museum to our east and the Plaza Major to our west. When we traveled our landlady, Angela, would have our room (a large bedroom with 2 lounge chairs, and an en suite bathroom with a shower) ready for us on return and didn’t charge us for the lapsed time. She also kept our excess luggage.

The ’90 card shows the Monastery of Montserrat–a pilgrim site in the mountains northwest of Barcelona known for its statute of a Black Madonna. On this side trip from Madrid we stayed in Sitges, a village just south of Barcelona, which at the time was a quiet seaside town. In a more recent visit we barely recognized Sitges since it now “boasts” a long string of 20-30 story condos. Of course, we visited the always intriguing city of Barcelona. At the time Gaudi’s Segrada Familia was anything but a tourist site–that changed with the ’92 Olympics. In ’89 we were 2 of perhaps 20 folks milling about the church, now reservations are required and waiting lines are extensive.

The ’91 drawing is of the Castle of Penafiel, north of Madrid, in the wine area of Ribera del Duero. An actual working winery is dug into the base of the castle’s mountain. Spain has around 2000 castles that were built for village protection during the long-drawn out battle between Christians and Moors during the reconquest of Spain from the 8th century to 1492.

The ’92 card disappeared.

Both the ’93 and ’94 cards commemorate a 3 week summer trip we took in 1993 along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The Royal Palace of Olite (’93), started in the 13th century, guards the walled village of Olite which lies a short distance south of Pamplona. The Palace includes a Parador where we spent 2 nights. The humped-back Romanesque Puente of Reina (’94) was built in the 11th century for pilgrims who were traveling the Camino. The 3 arch bridge sits serenely over the placid water.

The Cordoba card of ’95 card tries to capture the graceful and intricate interior–a field of arched columns– of this truly fantastic and mammoth Great Mosque of Cordoba. The Mosque dates from the 8th century. After the reconquest of Cordoba by the Christians in the 15th century a full-sized cathedral was built within the Mosque but is still dwarfed by the Mosque.

The ’96 birthday card shows the Courtyard of the Lions, one of many beautiful courtyards in the Alhambra of Granada. The complex of buildings was established by the Moors in the 13th century as a fortress–but what a fortress! The architecture combines space, light, water and intricate patterned stucco decoration to form a magical and sensual experience. To many, one of the highlights of Spain. Alhambra and Granada fell to the Christians in 1492 being the last holdout of the Moors in Spain. Unfortunately on our visit in the summer of ’89 we were too late to take in the splendor of the extensive gardens–another time?

While I haven’t quite caught up to 2020 I’m close, more to come!

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Mason, My Friend

As a young man bachelor life can be a bit boring, and on my eternal quest for companionship I made an unlikely find: my aunt and uncles dog, Mason. He’s a friendly and goofy (and a bit wild) Doberman Pinscher. At about 18 months old he’s a beastly 90lb and has energy that you wouldn’t think possible- if you want a workout partner who will push you to your limits, he’s your guy.

A little history on the Doberman breed: Originally created around 1890 by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a German tax collector, as a guard dog to help protect him in his less than popular profession. Mr. Doberman owned a dog pound and had access to many breeds. The exact ratio is unknown but the mix is thought to be something of: Beauceron, German Pinscher, Rottweiler, Weimaraner and German Shepard.

The dog was designed to be athletic and intelligence- both traits clearly exhibited in Mason. Fun fact: Dobermans are often ranked in the top 5 for most intelligent breed, sometimes top 10 depending on the panel. (1. Border Collie, 2. Poodle, 3. German Shepard, 4.Golden Retriever, 5. Doberman, 6. Shetland Sheepdog, 7. Labrador Retriever, 8. Papillion, 9. Rottweiler, 10. Australian Cattle Dog.) -In case you were wondering, remembered Doberman’s are a part mix of: 3. German Shepard & 9. Rottweiler.

The first time I took him for a walk it felt like he took me for a walk! The entire time he was pulling me along, like some hound dog on the trail of a prey. And the first time I took him to Monataño De Oro state park in Los Osos for a hike up Valencia Peak he did the same thing, up and down the mountain! Talk about a workout. I couldn’t help but feel like a Roman legionnaire with his powerful war dog leading the way to battle.

Although I have had many dog companions over the years, (Lobster, Gamba, Coquille, Darlene.) And still to this day my sweet small old Daisy. Mason, like with different human friends, provides a different kind of companionship. His youth, energy and sheer size provide a feeling of excitement and adventure. He’s like your wild friend who wants to go skydiving or jump of a cliff into the ocean. He really does push you to push yourself and his energy is contagious.

Not to mention there’s a certain confidence that comes with having an intimidatingly large and athletic dog. You certainly don’t expect trouble from anyone.

And one of the best parts about Mason, as with all my Botwin dogs, I get the fun and joy of their company with none of the maintenance or responsibility! (Owning a dog is costly and time consuming.)

I hope to be able to take him camping or on a backpacking trip someday. Right now he is still young and a little unruly but as he ages and prepares to go to obedience school I think he will become a wonderful well-trained companion. 

Mason has been another blessing seemingly dropped out of the sky, especially considering these times of the Coronavirus and Social Distancing where isolation is severe and companionship harder to find. He has reminded me once again of why dogs earn the title of, “Man’s best friend.”

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Flashback: Italy 2001- Part II

Wed. Nov. 3-01:

Genoa

Back to La Spezia– on to Genoa to the port to see the fabulous “sculpture” (giant crane) by Rice. –done for ’92 Columbus Expo.

View of the ancient port of Genoa, in foreground the “Bigo”, panoramic lift designed in 1992 by architect Renzo Piano and structural engineer Peter Rice.

Coffee/lunch nearby– then on to Asti. Found Hotel Alerama 4 star– good — fourth floor with balcony (more of a business hotel but nice & with garage below). Got my hair done! They were good! Walked around the piazza– some wonderful stores. Coffee in a lovely old “bar” (and the back again later after dinner for drinks on their outside patio). Dinner at, “L’Angelo del Beato” about a block from hotel– shared antipasto of 4 elements, and I had a beef stew, Mike had chicken “cockles”.

Cell phone finally came alive! Mike couldn’t get thru to Kate/Tom but was able to call Bronwyn and asked her to email them our hotel email address. His cellphone system said international lines in Belgium not working so that’s why we couldn’t contact Kate.

Thurs. Nov 4-01:

Breakfast at hotel.

Tried Kate’s phone number again at 9:00 a.m. –it rang three times but no answer.

Today our concierge reserved an 11 o’clock appointment for us at a winery–Bersano in Alba–foggy, bit rain but we finally got there. I toured the outside museum with Mike and then to car to read. Into Alba old town for lunch at “Calissina” in a plaza, simple meal inside– the coffee outside. Back to Asti & walked to cathedral & around.

“Francese” restaurant (pizza/Italian) we ended up having dinner. Good. Back to hotel & total frustration trying to reach Kate.

Friday Nov. 5-01:

We left Asti at 10:00 a.m to go to Torino– a beautiful city. Saw a Nervi building (a mineral fair was going on).

Stresa on Lake Maggiore

On to Stresa and the Hotel La Palma in/on Lake Maggiore & it is lovely! Views overlooking the lake and islands (pool closed). Into Milan to pick up Kate & Tom at 8:10 p.m.—and we successfully did!!!! Back to hotel for bar—food, sandwiches, and drinks while Jules slept on the couch beside us. Wonderful time! (Kate gave me coffee and Belgium chocolate!)

Sat. Nov. 6-01:

Met down in dining area for breakfast at 8:45 a.m. Bit overcast but off to the village nonethless– we walk around, coffee on plaza, reservations for dinner. First we ate lunch at a cafe on a side street (bean soup, etc. Tom had boar—excellent)– back to cafe on the lake for coffee. I went to my room, laundry, read, bathed, etc. Dinner at 7:30 on the plaza “Fiorentina”. It was ok. Back to bar at hotel– Jules sleeping.

Sunday Nov. 7-01:

Awaken to rain! No sun (not this morning anyway). Off to 11 o’clock church after breakfast. Continuous and fairly heavy rain all day until around 5:00 p.m. So, in car and off to Verbana (@ 20 miles north of here).

Found a good Italian restaurant, on the water and crowded, had lunch. Back and into lounge for a couple of hours. Mike and I went for a walk. Met at 7 for dinner–up village square, behind church–“Papagallo” and it was excellent (didn’t look so good from outside). Back to La Palma lounge for farewell party–Tom, Jules & Kate off at 4 a.m. Taxi to airport. Tom and Jules leave at 7 for Antwerp and Kate on plane for London (for day’s work) & return to Antwerp about 6:30 that evening. Hugs and good bye kisses~! (We took 2 pictures).

Mon. Nov. 8-01:

Final breakfast at Hotel La Palma (next to Astoria & Grand Regina & Bristol Grand–and Stresa on gorgeous Lake Maggiore again!)

Of to ??? next.

Bergamo

Hill town—Bergamo– parked illegally near top & walked up and on Piazza Vecchio– had coffee and looked at tower/church. Lunch later at a pizza/restaurant and then on to Sirmione on Lake Garda but it was wild with tourists and you had to park and walk across a bridge for the hotels on the tip.

Keep looking– ended up in Bardolino on Lake Garda at the Hotel du Lac & Bellevue– lovely front suite with big balcony overlooking lake, best room we’ve had! Walked to (on a lovely lake side pathway) the village for dinner.

Many restaurants– many well populated with many walkers on the way– we went to a quieter one on several streets away & luckily sat under huge umbrellas because it poured for most of dinner. Charming young waiter and a pregnant waitress! Back to social drinking at the bar.

Tues. Nov. 9-01:

Verona Arena

Decided during a lovely breakfast to stay another night but will have to be moved to the front, to a separate building with a balcony and lake view. Then onto Verona (Verona Roman arena)–Beautiful city–straight to the Roman arena of the 1st century, one of the most well preserved. We stood at the top overlooking the city. Into old town– coffee by herb market and Juliet’s balcony, church and then to the river. Lunch at/on side street (pasta pesto.) also saw elaborate burial sites of a wealthy family. Back to Bardolino & Hotel du Lac & Bellevue. Room up in separate building not as nice as original. Frustration trying to get ahold of a hotel in Alitalia.

Verona Arena

Wed. Nov. 10-01:

Breakfast downstairs at the Hotel Bellevue & off to change ticket to Saturday at travel agent’s (thank God—finally.) and to reserve room for Friday night in Milan.

Then off to see an old church remodeled in the 12c. Drove to Adige Valley (towards Brenner Pass and Austria)–gorgeous mountains. Lunch in Mezzocorona (sort of formal–old woman didn’t want me to go out to terrace). Rotari champagne nearby–very unsual shape– wooden eves of building like vines. Mike toured and tasted. More mountins & castles.

Bolzano

Bolzano (Bozen) for the night at the sub-annex (at least a couple hundred years) Hotel Luna Mondschein (Hotel Luna Mondschein). Walked to the river at 6/6:30 p.m. Saw “Dolomites” and river. Back thru central old town–to church and caught 2nd half of mass. To “Tyrol” Restaurant (disappointing meal) and on to coffee with piano player on the plaza.

Thurs. Nov. 11-01:

Room chilly but not many walkers underneath until 8:00 a.m. Went to a luscious breakfast in the dining room.

Left Bolzano (after short walk at 10:15 a.m. for the Mendale Pass (hiking mt.)–bit windy but excellent mountain views. Coffee at the top by lookout. Next, on to the Tonale Pass–a real ski area –almost closed– had to backtrack to find lunch.

On to Sondrio (after coffee stop at “The Spirtiual Inn” Cafe of the Divine Comedy/Dante! We found the Alberga Della Posta Inn on Garibaldi Square & got a room with a balcony (with flags!) overlooking the square. Walked to one of 2 rivers and had a drink watching the sunset down by the station next to Nervi Street (he died in Rome in 1979 but was born here in 1892).

Dinner at Alberga della Posta–after an antipasti of foie gras that was excellent–lamb for me (surprise)–Inferno wine, excellent– finished with coffee in the bar.

Friday Nov. 12-01:

Breakfast and on to Milano– tunnels almost all the way around Lake Como. Emergency stop beside Como (bathroom) coffee “Bellano”– a lovely small town on the lake.

On to pre-reserved “Hotel Restaurant Cervo” Via di Pinedo, Somona Lombarda Malpensa (www.hotelcervo.com). Checked in–lunch a couple blocks down at, “La Quercia” with excellent wine, “Sassella ’97”.

Then to the airport to change tickets for Seattle to San Fransisco– success.

Dinner at Hotel Cervo– Oakland couple (like us) at next table– enjoyable conversation and similar experience with travels in Italy.

Sat. Nov. 13-01:

Breakfast & return car to Terminal II & then on to Terminal I for return flight home to US.

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Flashback: Italy 2001

This particular travel blog is actually a series of quick notes that I had planned to expand on once we got back, but life got busy and it never came about. Now nearly 20 years later I found the notes but have forgotten too much to expand upon anything! (Are camera also broke so we had no original photos.) The notes themselves paint a fast and fun trip through Italy. I hope you enjoy and can follow along.

-Second item: We took this trip about 6 weeks after the September 11th attacks. A tragic and historical event that led to may grave repercussions around the world- Severe travel restrictions and procedures were just one of them. The process in the airports were rough but at the same time a lot less people were traveling so the airports, hotels and towns were a bit emptier which made it nice for us.

-This blog was pieced together by web editor Kevin Klimczak who transposed the hand-written notes to a digital format and sourced the photos for the site locations.

THE START

Tues Oct. 25-01:

Jane (our neighbor) drives us to the airport earlier–due to added security measures as the aftermath of Sept. 11-01. Nevertheless, our start was relatively painless and inauspicious.

Northern Lights

An hour pleasurable flight to San Francisco & 2 1/2 hr. layover for our Alitalia flight to Milan. The international area was quite attractive and quite empty. Our plane left at 4 p.m. (Arr. Milan 11:07 a.m. Wed.) It was less than 1/2 full so we jumped several rows to the first row of economy for the additional leg room & 2 windows. The stewardesses (except for the one who showed us the fabulous Northern Lights) were brisk and unavailable –most hiding in first class–which only had 4 occupants. Difficult, actually impossible to sleep, dozed for a couple of hours. Need to “roll” once we hit Milan.

Wed. Oct. 26-01:

Certosa di Pavia

Around 2:30 p.m., after we left the airport with our rental Peugeot, we arrived at Certosa di Pavia , (home of the Carthusians monks since the 15the c.–only a few left).

Then we checked in at the Hotel Nationale in Piacenzia for Wednesday night, showered & changed, and walked 3 blocks to a casual trattoria for dinner–veal in lemon & salad & grilled veg. In bed and asleep at 10 p.m.

Thurs. Oct. 27-01:

Breakfast (great rolls) at Hotel Nationale & coffee for me on the charming outside patio. A bus tour for Rome came in at 9:00 p.m. the night before and was leaving when we came to breakfast at 8 a.m. On to the ancient village for a walking tour–Castell Arqueta–medieval castle town up on a hill, we parked at the bottom and walked up. Defense tower (with moat) at top–paid and toured it– beautiful views of the hills and dales, walked down, coffee at one of the pizza shops in the small plaza below. Then to Modena (of balsamic vinegar fame). Bit lost–we got a map from a friendly hotel concierge and then we were on to old town. Cathedral square was extremely plain–church locked (till 2:30)– lovely lunch at Clock Tower Cafe outside by small fountain, and we bought some world famous balsamic vinegar that we sampled on cheese—excellent!

On to Siena –highway was terrible–trucks & trucks & fast! Tried 5 different hotels– 4 filled and one closed. Ended up (thru phone call by concierge) at Hotel Vica– extremely basic– bad bed looking over shed roof– but ok dinner with wine. No room in Siena, but will try again later or go for at least a day trip.

Friday Oct. 28-01:

Town Center of Castellina in Chianti  old castle/fortress.

Breakfast (barely made it) 9:30 a.m. at Vica and we were off. Drove thru countryside to the town of Castellina in Chianti province and found Hotel Girasole in the center of town. Lovely old place on a major point/corner of town. A front suite for the price of regular. Coffee on terrace with a view overlooking hills. On to lunch at Osteria Fonterutoli –excellent pasta & salad– Mike wine tasted after. Back to Hotel and on to San Gimignano to see the “city of towers”.

San Gimigano

Beautiful (reminded me of Alsace). Then to dinner at Albergiaccia–excellent! Mike had duck and I the lamb “stew” (Busy and hard to get check, but the food was worth the wait). Coffee, wine, and back to bar across from Hotel– bed by 10:45!

Sat. Oct. 28-01:

Breakfast– good at Hotel in dining room.

Make plans for day–maybe switch rooms today to front room with wide balcony–changed minds, sun in our room daily.

Montepulicano

Off to Chianciana Terme to see Nervi’s ’40 pavilon. Lovely– then to hill town/winetown of Montepuliciano—beautiful–”boxy” shaped town, both buildings and layout- lots of stone squares, kind of barren of flowers and plants inside but surrounded by nature outside. Ate lunch in large plaza, saw 2 kids helping big old dog- fun! Then to tasting for Mike at Contucci Winery-oak barrels–back at 4:45 p.m. Dining again at “Albergaccia”. Same excellent meal (lamb morsels)–began to rain, but coffee/wine anyways again at bar across from hotel. Late– Mike sharing wine with hotel people in lounge. (Albergaccia was a lot of fun!)

Sunday Oct. 30-01:

Rain–looks like it all day. And it was. Mass at 11, not 10:30, so Mike and I walked in rain around city– save restaurants & wineries & rain– church at 11– lunch at Pizza Restaruant across from church and re-walked village afterwards–up to the tower at the top of the Castle. Walked to Etruscan Tomb–fascinating (6th or 7th c B.C.!) (No info on devastation of the Etruscans). Mike to tour winery in town–Eva made “reserva” at “Antica Trattoria” in front of the Castle for 7:30 p.m. dinner, by 7:40 it was packed! Coffee & Sherry down street–raining still.

Monday Nov. 1-01:

Cathedral of Siena

Foggy, partially cloudy, but still plan to go to Siena anyway. Arrived in Siena at 11:00 a.m. (30 minutes to find parking) and another 30 minutes to walk to old town. First to Piazza del Campo– very beautiful (no flowers, shrubs, etc.). Then to cathedral– beautifully “stripped”– hundreds in line to get in– so I stood at exit door to sneak a peak inside. Walked back to square– coffee break. Hot, humid & lots of people. Back at 4:30 p.m. –coffee on back patio, long hot shower for back/arm ache. “Tre Porte” for dinner– nice restaurant but rabbit not so good. Mike went with wine to living/social area but no takers. Midnight drunks yelling outside!

Piazza de Siena

Tues. Nov. 2-01:

Farewell to lovely Hotel Girasole and it’s sunflowers & its lovely dining room with M.T.V…

On to Cinque Terre (pronunced chink-que-terre) (weather nice). Found room in Villa Argentina Hotel in Riomaggiore –most Eastern tip of a 5 coastal towns string- (1st village by port town of La Spezia.) The real job was getting to the hotel at the top of the village but I brazened my way thru! All balconies gone– we had a view of the mountains only but a fantastic terrace with tables and a view of the sea to make up for it. Met people from Sacramento and Swedes–chatted before dinner. We ambled thru the village to the water and train station to buy tickets for walking the “Via Amore” to Manarola, wine, and back–breathtaking! Partly sunny/cloudy–humid. Dinner– Lobster & sea bass at restaurant “Rio Maggiore”

Stresa on Lake Maggiore– excellent food and location but noisy with whooping bus people (Americans).

—Part II Coming next week!

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Haunted Heat Wave 2

See the source image

Marg: Thank you. Hello…yes, she died ten minutes ago, this is a recording and when you hear the beep leave your name and number…what’s the matter Daisy, you think I’m a weakling? No, Bill Gopher came by to…Bill Gopher… Bill, what’s your apartment number?

Bill: 22

Marg: Number 22 came by to repair the set and we’re eating now. Yes, come up. OK. That was the landlady, she’ll be up as soon as she makes a fresh Bloody Mary.

Bill: She’s kind of weird isn’t she?

Marg: Not really. A widow who raises six kids and lies about her age to get this job so she can remain independent has got to have something going for her. By the way, if she calls you and old fart, it’s a Boston compliment!

Bill: (Laughs) Did you know her before you came here?

Marg: No, I moved in shortly after I got divorced and I think it threw her mother complex into high gear. It’s funny, mention a number in this building and she’ll rattle off all the information, in order, that we submitted on the application form.

Bill: Indiscriminately?

Marg: (Laughs) Pretty much… oh she might skip the cab driver. But she means well.

Bill: If you can, swing the conversation to the central conditioning unit, I would like to volunteer to look it over.

Marg: (Background noise, barely audible, of a heavy jelly-like swishing) Shhh…Bill, listen.

Bill: What? I don’t hear anything.

Marg: Get closer to the door, I think it’s coming from the hallway. (Sound loudens then stops)

Bill: (Whispering) Yeah…I hear it. Stand back, I’ll open the door. (Opens door just as Daisy’s prepared to knock)

Daisy:Oh my God, must be telepathic. (Enters) Ahgh! It’s like and oven in here. (Bill starts to close door) Christ, leave that door open and let’s get your temperature down to normal…you look like two cases of ptomaine.

Marg: Hi Daisy, I guess it is pretty sweaty in here. Sit down. (Daisy sits in chair L.) Bill, more wine or would you like some coffee? (Still slightly stunned she picks some dishes off table)

Bill: (Hugs her) Go make the brew Margaret, later I’ll reveal my hidden talent as a dishwasher. (She exits)

Daisey: Well 22, any luck? (Big wink)

Bill: Bill Gopher, Daisy…no, I need to replace a couple of parts. I’m sure I can have it going by tomorrow night. (Fiddles with A.C.)

Daisy: I didn’t mean the air conditioner, Say, I’m glad you kids got together,..you’ve got a lot in common.

Bill: Yeah?

Daisy: You’re both single, You’re twenty-eight you don’t want life to pass by and end up a sterile old fart?

Bill: (Laughing) Guess I better start hustling huh?

Daisy: Well that sounds healthy, if I were a few years younger, I’d have been breathing on your door for a screwdriver the day after you moved in.

Bill: (Laughs) Knock off a few years and you’d have gotten a lot of free service Daisy.

Daisy: (Chuckles) You’re OK in my book Bill, I’d even accept the rent an hour late.

Marg: (At kitchen door) Bill, cream or sugar.

Bill: Sugar.

Marg: Daisy, can I get you anything?

Daisy: No, I’m too old for anything but bloody Mary’s.

Marg: Oh my god, I’ll get a spade! (Exits)

Bill: Did you hear anything strange as you came down the hallway?

Daisy: No, just number 26 belching in the kitchen. Did you ever hear of an Italian who gets gaseous from garlic?

Marg: (Enters during above, hands Bill coffee and sits above table) Daisy, if I scraped my conditioner, how much would the central unit cost me?

Daisy: $150.00 not including electricity. For you baby, we’ll skip the deposit.

Marg: Bill, how much do you think repairs will run?

Bill: Deduce the meal, $5 or $10 bucks for parts. Daisy, who maintains the central unit?

Daisy: He came with the building. Aerosol Inc. I believe, why?

Bill: Nothing serious, it’s just an occasional sighing when the machines turn off. Since I’ve got the tools here, how would you like a free estimate?

Daisy: Well that’s an idea. This heat is affecting any wits anyways. By the way, keep an eye out for my cats. Seems my own cats and some other tenants pets have gone missing lately. Must be the heat. (Heads to door)

Bill: Margaret, I can’t do anymore here till I pick up some parts tomorrows. If you’re not busy, I’ll finish the coffee later.

Marg: Sure, while you’re doing the dishes.

Scene 2

(Next day, early evening..Bill is standing at open door ringing bell, Marg enters from Kitchen)

Marg: Come in and leave the door open till the temperature goes below 115.

Bill: Whew! Throw a little water around and you’ve got a sauna. (Starts fixing machine.)

Marg: (Exits to K.) Red or white wine..the white is cold.

Bill: The cold naturally. What are you doing?

Marg: Trying to decide what to defrost.

Bill: Forget it, we’re going out to a cool relatively quiet restaurant I know.

Marg: OK, (Returns with wine) Daisy called earlier. She thinks you’re great. Told me to get clean sheets on the bed pronto.

Bill: (Laughs) You ought to change them once a month anyways. You look kind of green, the heat too much last night?

Marg: No, I really slept well. It’s something that happened today. (sits L.)

Bill: Yeah, I know, tell me anyways.

Marg: You mean it’s happened to you? Oh it was sickening.

Bill: Go on, try to describe it objectively.

Marg: Remember that strange sound we heard last night? I was standing at the bus stop both before and after work and heard the exact same jelly-like sludging. This morning I couldn’t even turn to look until I had gotten on the bus. I looked out the door and…and there seemed to be a huge quivering outline just behind where I had been waiting!

Bill: (Sits on arm of couch) You couldn’t see anything solid?

Marg: No, just the edges.

Bill: Hey… drink the juice while it’s cool. A few more nights without an air conditioner and you’ll see more than the outlines.

Marg: Bill, are you serious? What the hell’s going on?!

Bill: (Closes door) I don’t know Margaret, but you look pretty good all sweaty and nervous.

Marg: What?

(Bill lunges for Margaret, grabbing her by the arms and dragging her to the bedroom. Unbeknownst to him and under the sounds of the tussle between the two, a jelly-like swishing sound begins to make it’s way up the hallway…)

Marg: AAHHHHH! HELP!

Bill: Shut up! I’ll show you hot!

(The front door creeps open, the visage of a giant potato-shaped creature appears, it slides it’s way in under the light. It’s a mass of the same grayish semi-translucent jelly Bill had been finding in the A.C. units. Only this one has bits of hair, both animal and human, in patches covering its body. Worst yet, inside bones can be seen, even a couple of skulls. It makes it’s way to the bedroom where Bill has pushed Margaret onto the bed. His back is turned but Marg sees over his shoulder!)

Marg: AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

Bill: AAAHHHHHHHHHH!

(The stage blackens, you hear a strange sucking and plopping sound, rapid footstep and the front door slam.)

Scene 3

(Marg is banging on Daisy’s door)

Daisy: (Answers) What’s going on?!

Marg: (Crying) I…I…We have to get out of here! There’s a monster in the building and it just ate Bill!

Daisy: What in the world are you talking about?! Come in! Come in! Do you smell that? Smoke! (Just then the building begins to fill with white smoke.) We have to get out of here!

(Marg and Daisy rush to the nearest fire escape connected to the back of the building and head down the metal stairwell. As they reach the bottom and turn to the building they see flames coming out of most every window.)

Marg: Oh my! Looks like the heat wave just got hotter!

(The building proceeds to burn almost entirely to the ground with only structural remnants remaining. They blamed it on the heat but Margaret thinks it had something to do with the creature. No one believed her story but rather thought she suffered a mental trauma from the near death experience and loss of her home. As to the blob, we assume in died in the fire, but no one really knows….)

END

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Haunted Heat Wave

This is a short play I wrote for some of my high school theatre students to preform for class. We had a lot of fun with it!

The TIME: Modern/present in any large city.

The SETTING:A one bedroom apartment (in any typical apartment complex) of Margret Melon. Who is in her early twenties, appreciative and is one of many secretaries in a large office. Bill Gopher is an electrician in his late twenties and lives in an efficiency apartment in the same building. The only other character in the play is Daisy, a widow who manages the apartment building.

BACKGROUND: Fantastic heat. This was the third summer that the thermometer had gone so high or remained thusly for so long. People refused to discuss the weather, even the television ran only one weather forecast per week. Air conditioners moaned everywhere. Cars, apartments, offices, even the subways had installed huge edifices that roared cooling winds all through the rabbit warren tunnels, if you timed it right you could keep your race through the searing heat outdoors to eight or ten seconds. Backyard and public pools stagnated and evaporated. Trees cowed and grass brittle-snapped died. Baseball bats and baby carriages rotted in steaming garages.

SCENE ONE:

The door to the apartment opens and you can see the lit hallway outside. Margaret rushes into the dim room, flicks on the air conditioner (D.R.) and runs back to stand in the hallway for a moment; waiting for the room to start cooling. Re-enters and flicks the light switch, Stands C. of living room, throws purse, papers, etc, on chair L.

MARG: Come on baby, cool, cool! You spartch along another year and I’ll reward you with a decent funeral. *(Pantomimes looking out center front windows at the sun and searing heat below and closing drapes; sits on floor by air conditioner, enjoying breeze.) Love, you are a purring kitten compared with your roaring, belching tiger-mama in the office, *(Rises and exits kitchen, returning with a glass of wine just as the machine hiccups, coughs, freezes, the machine starts up again, hums along.… Marg. Relaxes… and the air conditioner quits. Marg runs over and flicks the switch, one gurgle…and nothing.) Oh my God, you can’t do this. Kitten? Puss? Shit. It is one hundred and twenty—five degrees out there. *(Replugs plug and runs over and flicks light switch.) Nothing. *(Goes over kicks machine.) You dirty moving coward, you’re no kind of friend. *(Takes wine, kicks off shoes and sits in chair.) I’ll compose myself, sedately drink the wine…then I’ll slit my wrists. That’s the only reasonable thing to do in a crisis. *(Picks up phone.)

Operator would you please dial an electrician for me. I’d do it myself but I would probably yank the cord out of the wall. Thank you so much. Hello? Yes, I would very much like an electrician to fix my air conditioner. *(murmured) Oh..not till next week… Yes, I can hear you, I sound muffled to you because my slit wrists are bleeding all over the mouth-piece. Yes, thank you, Margaret Melon, 13 Alexis Rd. West, apartment 27. If I’m deceased, the landlady will let him in.

*(Hangs up)

If I’m to roast to death, at least I should be we’ll basted.

*(Gets bottle from kitchen, pours and dials phone.)

Hello Daisy, this is Margaret. No. 27…yes. I sound sad?? Rather suicidal, my air conditioner died. Daisy, for a remark like that I’ll make damn sure I bleed all over the carpet, the drapes and the stove! Thanks, if it sets too bad I will come down…but the paper predicted a cool one hundred degrees tonight. No, I’m already reheating last night’s stroganoff…how about a rain check? Yes, thanks, if you don’t see me at the bus stop tomorrow morning, call my mother and tell her to write a nice obituary. Goodbye. What? No, I mailed the rent yesterday. *(Hangs up) You rat. (Carrying glass, exits to kitchen…a few minutes later the doorbell rings. Margaret opens the door slightly, but the audience cannot see who is there until he enters.)

Bill: Hi, I’m. Bill Gopher, your fantastic electrician, you will never get this kind of service again…unless we always live in the same building…say, haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

Marg: Yes, we passed in the basement laundry room last week.

Bill: I thought you looked familiar. (Pause) Would you like to bring the air conditioner out here…or do you want me to come in and fix it?

Marg: Oh I’m sorry, come in. (He does and heads for A.C) I’m Margaret Melon. These past ten minutes of both heat and silence have retarded me. Excuse me. (Exits to K.)

Bill: (Taking out tools and crooning back of A.C., calls) You want to hear a sad pun?

Marg: Yes, what?

Bill: I’m a Gopher in a melon patch.

Marg: Ah… yes. That’s very funny. Would you like a glass of wine?

Bill: No, it’s sick and yes I would. I’ve been working too much overtime. (Marg gives him a glass of wine and sits in chair L.) You know what you said about the silence paralyzing you? I’ve noticed a strange reaction too. If you can stand the heat, a couple of hours of the quiet are really shattering. Warm in here isn’t it?

Marg: Sweltering. Shall I open the hall for awhile?

Bill: No I hate the heat but I hate the God-damn mechanical drone of the air conditioners more.

Marg: Now that’s funny…that’s all you work on isn’t it?

Bill: Just these past three summers, with the wild heat wave an all. I do other things in the winter, say Margaret, what’s this, do you know? (Holds up a small jelly like blob, Marg inspects it and shakes her head.) That’s funny. I’ve found hundreds of them and can’t figure out what they’re for or why they are in the machines. Say, that’s some great smell!

Marg: (Exits room but calls) It’s only leftovers, but would you care to join me?

Bill: Great, let’s do it. (Drops all tools, large screwdriver lands on foot) Argggh! Bitch, shit, damn, fort, kiss..

Marg: (Re-enters, sets table) What did you say, I didn’t hear you.

Bill: Just some electrical terms.

Marg: Help yourself to the wine, it’s the only cool thing in here.

Bill: (Does so and sits L. arm of couch) Funny blob, it’s almost translucent.

Marg: Have you investigated this before?

Bill: Yep, but the head office thinks I’m looney…they know nothing about it. It’s not just new models either, I’ve found them in old tanks like yours.

Marg: I resent that. Mine is a family heirloom.

Bill: When was the last time you had it serviced?

Marg: Not in the four years I’ve had it. That is queer, the hardware looks brand new.

Bill: (Rummages in case and pulls out mason jar with larger blob) look at this one. (About 3 inches long and as thick as a thumb) I took that out of a huge industrial complex last week. You know, I think I’m either blowing my cool with overtime or I’ve boon reading too Much Bradbury.

Marg: Why, what’s the matter?

Bill: (Refills glass and sits L.) The shifts were changing when I work and the men that were leaving seemed unfocused and vague in both speech and actions.

Marg: Maybe they were just besotted with the heat.

Bill: No, No. the machine had never-completely broken down. The first thing I spotted was this wire…when I pointed it out to the maintenance man assisting me he, I think unconsciously, started to push away, and then just wandered off. Later he helped me to clean up and seemed much more alert….doesn’t make any sense does it.

Mark: No, but not a hell of a lot does! How would you like some chow? (exits)

Bill: Sounds like an excellent idea.

Marg: What did the conditioner sound like at first?

Bill: I’m not sure… if it isn’t working right in the first place, it’s hard to determine pother the sound is due to a parts failure or the addition of something else. Margaret, does anyone have a key to the apartment besides yourself?

Marg: (Entering with food) No one except Daisy, And she’s so particular I had to give her written permission last winter to let the maintenance man regulate the heat outlets.

Bill: When was that?

Marg: Late November.

Bill: That’s funny. I don’t think they did anything, in my apartment… maybe the efficiencies didn’t matter.

Marg: Do you have your own air-conditioner or use the central unit?

Bill: The central unit, but I leave it on all day and turn it off when I get home. Usually after 7 in the summer.

Marg: Why, the noise?

Bill: Yes, I read a bit and concentration is nil with all that snarling over my shoulder. By the way, excellent dinner.

(Phone rings)

Part 2 coming next week!

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Serendipity of Travel

If you’ve followed any of my previous blogs you’ve probably noticed our inclinations for accommodations on our travels.  We eschew the big, sterile international chains (like the Hiltons, Hyatts) and prefer small scale hotels with, hopefully, historical and/ or cultural significance.  We’re not seeking the plush places with all the bells and whistles but friendly hotels with comfortable rooms, private bathrooms and, yes, a bar.
But….and so the story begins.
Somport pass
 
In the summer of 1993 we planned a trip along the 10th century pilgrimage route –some 600 miles–of the Camino de Santiago.  The route is well known in Spain and many parts of Europe but not so in the U. S. at the time of our trip (this changed with the 2010 film The Way starring Martin Sheen).  We crossed over the Pyrenees from France  via the Somport Pass in our trusty rental Renault.
Most pilgrims walk the way (or parts of it)–we, lazy Americans, drove.  Mike did his  homework and found our first night stay–the Monasterio de Leyre -a 11th  century Romanesque monastery with its adjoining 18th century inn. The structure is set high up a mountain side over looking a beautiful lake, as seen in the last photo. The interior cathedral was magnificent and it would have been nice to attend a mass there.
Leyer 3
Monasterio de Leyre Interior 2
Perfect–historic, cultural, a great restaurant and relaxing–ah!  Of course being pre-email days we had made no reservations–as in previous travels in Spain we just showed up.  Onward–as we pushed our car up the circuitous path we noticed and dismissed  several black SUVs with blackened windows parked facing down hill along the road.  At the top we were met by a flock of black suited policemen–all with serious automatic weapons.  Wow!  I chided Mike to just continue–to the vocal and loud consternation of the security folks.  Push on we did–Mike sweating profusely.  I jumped out of the car and made a dash to the monastery with the aide of a priest at my side pulling me along and out of the way. He was speaking rapidly and in a frenzy, as was I, expect the conversation was nothing more than loud emotionally-charged sounds since neither of us understood the others language. But we both understood we weren’t suppose to be there. While Mike stayed in the car and tried to ignore the glaring police and their guns but finally chickened-out and safely parked the car.
Fifteen minutes later I returned to the car.  No rooms at the inn!  What’s up?  Well–it turned out that the Spanish King was visiting and staying overnight in the monastery.  At this time the Basque separatist group, ETA, was raising havoc in this region–consequently the heavy security for the King and of course no rooms for the public.
We slowly left–wiping our brows–but alive!
On to Plan B–but we had no Plan B.   We decided not to move on and to seek  local accommodations in the small village of Yesa because the next day we planned a “must  visit ” to the nearby stunning 11th century Monasterio de la Pena. (What makes this monastery so unusual–mind boggling in reality–is that the cloister is covered like a dome with a massive boulder.  Ah, those playful monks!)
The second picture gives a good idea of how massive the rock face it was built under is. They definitely had protection and secrecy in mind.
La pena
san-juan-de-la-pena
Driving on the outskirts of Yesa we spied a low-slung 2 story building of 1940 vintage ,with a unusually large parking lot, set back from the tree lined main road–ah! A hotel.  With a smidgen of Spanish, bits of English, hand gestures and timely grunts we secured a room.  We dragged our luggage upstairs and entered our room–Spartan but clean–2 single beds, no carpeting, no chairs, no TV nor phone, no chocolates on the pillows–and no private or shared bathroom!  What?! (There was a small pot that I assumed was a bed pan, and if not it became one.) Down the hall we found the huge communal bathroom for the entire floor of 30 rooms.   The single open room housed multiple open shower heads, toilets and wash stands–just like a high school gym locker room–and this one for men only.  There seemed to be no one on the top floor in the late afternoon, but to be safe Mike guarded the “bathroom” door as I went about my ablutions.  Mike was next–no guard necessary.  Well, it turned out that the “hotel” was in reality designed as a dormitory for long haul truckers– hence the mammoth parking lot.
Clean and relaxed we skipped the hotel/dorm restaurant and went into town for dinner at a very local tavern.    A bottle of good Spanish wine and a excellent meal–great–except–when we got the bill Mike handed over a credit card.  No cards accepted.  We had no Spanish pesetas (pre-Euro days) since the currency office at the border was closed when we entered Spain. The French francs, the U.S.  dollars and our travelers checks were all refused.  Washing dishes at at a small out of the way Spanish restaurant?  Good for our resumes?
Much to our relief a woman diner approached our table.  As an English woman living in Spain with her Spanish husband she, of course, spoke fluent Spanish and was able to convince the restaurant owners to accept our traveler’s checks.  Saved.  Interestingly, we encountered this woman and her husband several more times in the following days since they, too, were traversing  the Camino de Santiago by car–lazy folks!
Do memories of travel always align with times when plans go off just right?  Well, twenty-seven years later the travel’s of our first day in Spain in 1993 are engraved fondly in our memory.  The serendipity of travel.
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The Doctors Orders

Yesterday I walked into the kitchen and quickly, even insidiously, something slipped from the counter to the floor. I jumped and lunged forward to catch the monstrous spider, or whatever it was, before it could hide, only to sneak out later and bite my bare feet. That morning was the first time I had waked before the rollicking belching the clock makes when it announces dawn.

Anyway, the creature had disappeared. It wasn’t even in my huge open purse that sits on the floor by the china cabinet. The day passed as usual. I should have been warned by that. Being a teacher of mainly psychotic high school students I am always wary of things with a tinge of normalcy.

Last might I told Mike. A Mistake. He felt I should see a good brain specialist, but since I was not the possessor of a super brain he said maybe a psychiatrist would do as well. He adroitly side-stepped my well aimed kick to his shin and offered to do the dishes if I would recuperate over a glass a wine from my day in the black-board jungle.

The following week I made an appointment with an eye-doctor. I told the receptionist that I would be dead inside of thirty-six hours if they didn’t take me withing the next of twenty-four. This was a dastardly lie but the first opening he had was for six months hence and I was frightened by the denseness and frequency of these vague dark blobs that seemed to be increasing each day.

The day of the appointment I was driving home from school when an apparently a driverless car passed me. My curiosity was piqued as to whether it was remote controlled or being driven by a midget. So I accelerated and as I glanced over and the only reason I did not faint was from the five year habit of the same lights, stop signs and traffic at this time, each day driving to and from school. My reflexes became totally automatic and I could not, later, remember having thought about another thing on that particular drive. I think my reactions pleased the nurse, who eyed every emergency patient as a deliberate and purposeful threat to her dinner hour.

A black, writhing, quivering blob.

“Pardon?” Said the eye doctor.

“Sorry” I murmured, “As he plunged the pencil thin light into my right eye, “just thinking aloud.”‘ “Now” he said, breathing heavily into my ear and gleefully keeping his balance on the poka-dotted bar stool which matched the poka-dotted awning over his tool chest, the floor length drapes in the reception room, and the future plan for a life-size poka-dotted Mickey Mouse Cartoon on the ceiling.

“Now” he warmly breathed again, furtively consulting his wrist watch for my remaining, number of minutes, “what seems to be the trouble?”

Matching his geniality I smiled, “Doctor, I seem to be having an on slought of the blobs.”

“Hmmm.” He minutely inspected a damaged cuticle. His adorable secretary wiggled through the room and diplomatically placed the next case history on top of mine. Her smile congratulated the doctor of his fantastic discoveries in the field of science.

“I see. Perhaps you could be more definitive.” He stood up. A signal that I had about a minute and thirty seconds left.

“Doctor, for the past two weeks I’ve been seeing black blobs, like marshmallows in density, and they all disappear when I get tam close. This morning I reached for the alarm clock and a big black glob covered it. On the way here I looked into the diver’s seat of another car and it was filled with a massive, quivering blob. I thought you might be able to discover if it had anything to do with my vision.”

“I see,” he said giving me his fatherly-concerned-look, “oh yes, I do see.” “We would have to consider this a preliminary examination, and, on the basis of your problem, go into much further indepth in the future. The eye, my dear is an unusual and very finely tuned organ of the body…and blah, blah, furthermore…. and possibly in the next examination etc., etc. Have my secretary schedule for a month from now and afterwards I suggest you take two aspirins and drink plenty of fluids.”

“Try to relax my dear.” As he patted me on the shoulder in the direction of the door, “If your spots are a result of some slight imperfection in vision just put yourself in my care.”

Mike met me at the door with a glass of wine and a hug. The embraces were always the best part of the day, long and saying much with no words.

“I say the doctor.” “Oh” pause,”should we be knitting booties.”

“No idiot, the eye doctor. I’m not sure what he said, if he said anything, but I’m supposed to take aspirin and return in a month.” I responded.

I related the incident driving home and he just frowned and sipped his wine. We were to dine with my parents that evening and the nostalgic sight of my father fondly stirring the martinis dispelled all anxieties. For a while… It was comfortable sitting in front of the fire place, sipping cocktails and teasingly nudging Mike with my knee. He was frowning over his pipe as my mother went into her usual proclamation and dissertation. This time it was about the unique advantages only those who had attended boarding high schools had and she could not understand how one could make it through life without having done so. My father smiled and nodded, sneaking a third martini.

“…don’t you agree Mike?” “Uhm, yes, I see.” said Mike as he tapped the burned tobacco into the ashtray.

“Good. Sissy, you light the candles o the table and everyone else carry their glasses into the kitchen ordered mother. I stopped at the entrance to the dinning room, fumbling for the light switch and froze. The entire darkened room swayed and undulated, quivering and retreating before me. From doorway to the French windows it was filled with a jelly-like spongy black mass. It breathed and sighed and seemed to mesh out toward me when Mike grabbed me by the shoulder. “What’s the matter giddy, what is it?” He flipped the switch to the chandelier. He smacked me on the fanny and muttered “No more martinis for some of us.” as he disappeared into the kitchen.

Dinner was normal. As Mother ran through her usual verbal tirade on the neighbors, the Catholic Church, Miami Beach, and her Family. Dad would wait for her to take a breathe and pounce to change the subject. Between her oratorical kickoffs and his interceptions, we progressed from soup to dessert without a break. The only dramatic relief was Mike quietly breaking the stem of his wineglass. I was the only one who noticed. “….don’t you agree Mike?” said Mother. “Ummm, yes, I see.” said Mike as he calmly broke the handle of his coffee cup.

The comedic relief only lasted a moment when a crackling news announcement interrupted the radio in the room over that had been playing some soft jazz.

“State and county health advisers are announcing a recall on all table grapes and grape products, including wine. A new and, until recently, undiscovered fungus has been affecting the grape crops of this region and others. This new fungus is known to cause a kind of delirium and hallucinations of moving black splotches and blurred vision. Worst yet, it can lead to aggression and psychosis and nerves break-downs.”

Stunned, my jaw dropped and I looked over at Mike. His eyes were bloodshot red and crazed and his broken wine glass stem was being held like a knife. Looks like I wasn’t the only one getting carried away with the local wines… which were highly contaminated.

Mike rose from his seat and lunged for my father, a tussle ensued and the two fell to the floor with Mike on top.

*THWOMP!*

My mother stood over Mike with a rolling pin, who’s body was now pancaking my father to the floor.

She looked at me and said, “Now why couldn’t you have married a nice Catholic boy?!”

 

—Co-authored by Kevin Klimczak, tech extraordinaire. (The ending scene was my work but influenced by Caroline’s humor- which is delightful!)

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1976- Dreams, Jobs, & Love (Part 4)

What the hell are you doing here I gasped. Sid sat down and said they were wondering what our first Thespian production at the high school was going to be. I asked Dean why he hadn’t sent a letter instead of traveling eight hundred miles and did their parents know where they were and where the devil could I put them that night. It was now ten after twelve. The Hulk answered soothingly that he had already made arrangements with a neighboring tourist home shortly after the boys arrived. How did they arrive, what time, I asked. Dean answered that they had flown into Boston at seven and arrived at the front door of the theatre, via Greyhound bus, at 10:30.

The Hulk had taken them on tour of the stage and made the sleeping arrangements. He now quietly sat between the boys and put an arm on the back of Dean’s chair. We had made the Leisure Hour an open invitation at the beginning of the summer but apparently nobody buy myself and Bud cared to fraternize with the help. I was very surprised that the Hulk hadn’t just directed the boys to the bar and left it at that. At one o’clock we left the Inn and walked back. I said I’d see them around 8:30 and Nora said if they wanted to pay $2.00 each that they could eat in the mess hall. My separation of teacher/personal life was going to be badly strained by this visit.

At seven the next morning Nora dragged into my room and said the boys had just beat on her door, wanting me to dress and come down to the lounge. When I arrived they were in the middle of an argument with our high school senior who was paid to do the heavy construction. Sid, whose sole credit in set construction was an outhouse he designed for Lil’ Abner last year, was defending the creative versus practical approach to designing sets. I could see from their eyes that they never went to bed at all and then discovered that they had been walking on the beach since 5 a.m. With breakfast not starting for another forty-five minutes, I took them to a cozy restaurant by the Lighthouse. I had three additional cups of coffee while waiting for them to consume their second round of eggs, bacon and toast. Afterward, while hobbling on the beach, I explained that I’d be busy till three and they had to shift for themselves till then. My attempt at diplomacy failed completely. At two minutes to twelve they were in the kitchen asking if they could pay for lunch in the mess hall. The Hulk immediately rose from his usual seat and joined us at a corner table. Between bites of potatoes soup he offered to entertain the boys while I rehearsed after lunch. I agreed and wondered if the Hulk were making shy advances to me through the boys. Wrong again. His chumminess irritated a little when he left the dining room with an arm around each of the boys.

At 3:15, sitting on the kitchen table and drinking Nora’s coffee, I told the boys what the agenda would be for the remainder of their visit. Due to the all-male play, I still had Friday and Saturday night free but Sunday they were to be on the noon bus back to Boston. Sid, I said, with your artistic abilities, you will immediately create and execute a superb painting to advertise our Shakespearean comedy. And Dean, you will spend your time in the construction shop acquiring the knowledge and ability to assemble a first-rate set. We’ll eat dinner here tonight and you can spend the evening backstage watching the technical production of a show. Maintaining the same vigorous authority I used when directing a high school production was my only means for separation of Church and Stage.

During dinner Sid said he had completed the charcoal sketch of the poster and could finish it by Saturday afternoon. Dean was excited by what he’d learned in the shop. He added that the Hulk had volunteered as guide for the backstage tour and invited Sid to come along. Suddenly noticing the averted face of the Hulk at the next table, I put 2 and 1 together and got 3. So that was his bag. I requested the boys to stay together and join us in the Leisure Hour after the performance. They did but not until 12:30.

Dean’s face was flushed when they entered the bar but Sid was laughing. On the walk home I maneuvered them into telling why they were so late. Dean looked away but Sid launched into a five minute description of the Hulk’s offer to drive them to the Inn, his roundabout route there and his subsequent laying of hands on Dean’s knee and later, thigh. I had a suspicion that both boys were enjoying this but weren’t fully aware of the consequences. They objected to my suggestion that they catch the 8 a.m. Saturday Greyhound and begged to remain till Sunday. On one condition, I said, you remain with me like glue.

I spent part of Saturday morning watching Sid paint a beautiful poster and the afternoon on set construction helping Dean build a section of the ramp for our final production. During coffee break one of the crew painted my cast. Using a sponge, she alternated lavender and blue and made it a work of art.

The boys had paid their way that day and I took them to dinner at Wesquosette Inn. My painted cast and matching lavender knit suit caused a slight stir. Several people stopped by the table to express their enthusiasm for our summer season and one romantic even sent a martini with a single rose. I ordered wine with our dinner and the waiter unblinkingly placed wineglasses in front of the boys. Since no one questioned the boys’ ages, we later moved into the patio bar for an after dinner drink. I suggested they dance if anyone was available and Sid immediately trotted over to a 45ish blonde who had been smiling at him. Dean, his sun-bleached hair falling over his eyes morosely stirred his drink. I asked him why the depression and he said Sid had been working on him to befriend the Hulk to see what would happen. I said do you know what could happen. Yes. I asked are you willing to deal with the results just to satisfy your curiosity. Dean said that was the problem, he didn’t know. This guy’s over 40 Dean, this is neither a game nor a novel experience.

Knowing they would do exactly as they wanted, I said no more. At. 9 o’clock Sunday morning, Nora, Dee and I were having coffee in the kitchen and Sid strolled in. I was planning on ten o’clock church, an early lunch with the boys and escorting them onto that noon bus. Where’s Dean I asked. Sleeping I suppose he said and smiled. Oh you ass, come on and I grabbed his arm and headed for the tourist home. Sid refused to go upstairs and remained in the living room. I opened their door to find the Hulk standing beside the bed staring down at a sleeping Dean. I closed the door softly and the Hulk looked at me. I moved across the bed from him and pointed to the door. Get your sick body out of here or I’ll write your school board and screw your ever putting a foot in the classroom again. When the door closed I sat on the bed and shook Dean. I’m awake he said, just slightly petrified. I asked if Sid had done that and he said probably. Come on I said, get dressed and packed, you guys are going to church with me.

The noxious bus fumes were like perfume when I watched the boys out of sight.

Starting at one o’clock that afternoon rehearsals for As You Like It would run around the clock until Wednesday’s opening. My part as the Fairy Queen only entered the last half hour so I’d be free from four til nine with nothing to do. There was one final move I could make and with one week of stock left, I decided to do it today. At four-thirty I walked into the bar beside the wharf where George’s boat would dock. I sat at a corner table over-looking the water and opened a book. I watched every boat that entered the harbor. At ten to six the Herself Alone began her circle up to the dock space. I left the bar and stood about 100 feet from the dock site. I could see George on the deck rewinding a length of rope. Ben, his best friend, was piloting. George had lost weight and had deep circles under his eyes. I wondered if he were ill. His movements were slow and aimless. Ben. looked up, gazed at me for a moment, yelled something to George and headed the boat back out to open sea. George had not seen me and now had his back to the dock. I hoped that Ben would tell him later that I had been on the wharf. It was over. He was to call my parent’s home twice at X-Mas, but I was not to see him again. Driving back to the theatre I decided on one week of self pity, and with my exit from summer stock I would start some planning for the future. Miss Stratford, our director of this final production, was beginning to suffer some pangs of remorse. Sherri, the luscious bitch, had warmly befriended that lonely old maid and literally sweet-talked her way into the lead role. Now that she had no more use for her, Sherri cold-shouldered Miss Stratford every chance she got. We felt sorry for Miss Stratford but it was the kind of pity you have for someone dumb enough to get bilked.

It was generally a good opening. The review was quite praising of everything . . except for the lead female. They compared her to milktoast after a bout of the flu.

The last two days were great. There was a great deal of warmth, sharing and laughter. Most were leaving on Sunday and I made plans to drive Dee and Nora to the Hyannis Airport as soon as the noon meal was over. I was going to spend a week in Falmouth and head home Labor Day weekend. On the way to Hyannis we stopped at the hospital and I had the front part of the cast cut off and the bottom half rewound with gauze to keep it in place. I was supposed to wear it another two weeks, but at least now I could remove it for swimming and replace it myself. I figured that a lot of swimming would enable me to discard it a week early.

Falmouth was great. The sun every day, the ocean and salt breezes, a great Inn with warm hosts, and a variety of eligible males. It soothed. I had an address in my wallet and a letter that had to be written by Labor Day. On the opening night of the last play, a grey haired man, a good friend of our noble director, met me backstage. He had a proposition. In October he was having tryouts for a Broadway play and if I was interested, he would guarantee me a part. There it was, take it or leave it. I said I would have to think about it. He said one week, write and I’ll send you a contract. No lights, no music, just a straight forward business offer.

I lay on the beach the last day of summer. Suddenly the forth coming new crop of students and the future seemed much more exciting than a play could ever be. My daily acting in the class-room far exceeded the exertions for any theatre.

I laughed when I found one of the pictures the baby had stuffed into my jewelry box. It showed a tall, starry-eyed creature costumed for John Brown’s Body. Winnie was just beginning my education in real dramas!

End.

Almost, hang on for one more minute. I’ve never said much about that summer because when we married, five months later, it was still too close and raw for me to handle objectively. Delighted with our life style, you and Winnie, I wanted to explain my infrequent eruptions of hambone. They’re part of me and will continue. I hope you can grow to love that facet of me too.

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1976- Dreams, Jobs, & Love (Part 3)

Monday afternoon we started rehearsals for Barefoot in the Park. I had been waiting for that mother-in-law part all summer. Right in the middle of a big monologue, Bud stuck his head up the stairs to the rehearsal room, located above the lobby, and signaled I had a visitor. Our director, being noble, called Coffee Break and I went down the steps three at a time. My enthusiasm vanished when the guest turned around and I recognized one of our hosts from the Clam Bar. We arranged to meet at’10:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Wayfare Inn. I had hoped the appearance of three of us would dampen his ardor. It didn’t, but I did. As we walked back to the theater afterward I echoed his desire to meet again saying that my fiancee and I had agreed to date this summer. The implied word marriage sent him rushing off without even a kiss. For weeks I had been waking up hoping to hear the crash of pebbles on the window.

On the two occasions I visited our solitary pay telephone in the costume shop, there had been fittings for the forthcoming production. With luck, and lots of costume fittings, I could hold out as long as George. The winner of course would be the loser. Nightly I still checked the parking lot. Sunday, during noon dinner, our director announced that there would be an emergency meeting in the lounge after coffee. The air immediately vibrated whispers as to whether there was a thief among us, our housing had finally been condemned or was the stew loaded with ptomaine. Each one came up with their own conclusion, mine being that a talent scout had observed me in a Barefoot rehearsal and the meeting was to announce my immediate departure for New York. I was quietly rehearsing a THANK-YOU FOR EVERYTHING SPEECH when our director began talking. Apparently there was a snag in obtaining the rights for the play that was originally to follow Barefoot and they were now switching to an all male play. My joy was overwhelming. Starting tomorrow, other than minimum duties, I had all afternoons free! Sharing my abandon with Dee and Nora in the kitchen, they immediately planned a week of casserole dinner so we could hit the beach daily.

Monday and Tuesday worked well but opening night brought a catastrophe that almost finished Barefoot in the Park and my summer. Wednesday I skipped dinner and spent the extra time at the Chatham Fishing Pier solidifying my lines. The mother did not enter until the middle of Act 1. I avoided the pre-curtain chaos and didn’t make-up until the play started. The first Act went smoothly and the audience was delighted.

Near the end of the play, the mother-in-law, caught in the typical Simon sticky situation, reappears from the neighboring bachelor apartment in same bachelor’s bathrobe and slippers. Only a slight variation from the final plot: one of the feet in the enormous slippers was broken. Between the final curtain calls my stage daughter hugged me and said you were great, that last scene was so real you had tears in your eyes! I said you would have too if your left foot was gradually filling a size thirteen slipper. Help me to the hospital. The quick change in the costume shop located about 50 feet from the back of the theater and linked to it by a rutted dirt road and the subsequent race for my entrance had been too much. I had caught that slipper in a pot-hole, fell, and bounced up to find a definite weakening in the left ankle. By the end of the play the foot had swelled enormously and turned eye shadow blue. The prompt application of alternate ice and warm water did nothing but the medicinal Scotch obliterated all feeling except the memory of the applause.

Thursday morning the doctor solemnly announced that the foot was broken and I must stay off of it for 48 hours. The directors wife and I exchanged glances and I said the Show Must Go On and what can you do to enable me to appear on stage this evening. Oh, he said. Well….(Dramatic pause), I can give you a walking cast if you promise not to put your foot down until eight o’clock tonight. All was saved, modern medicine had conquered again.

That evening, at 8:05, our loyal director mounted the stage steps and announced that due to an accident, one of the cast members was in a cast, but directed the audience not to ignore the total cast but only the foot cast. The real irony lay in the fact that my first entrance came after I had (supposedly) just climbed seven flights of stairs. When I staggered onto the stage there was an unbreathing quiet. I was supposed to pant for a few minutes and did so. The audience had been watching each character’s entrance, with bated breath, for 20 minutes, anxiously awaiting THE cast, and now it-was here. After considering the cast from all angles, I meanwhile dramatically panting, they decided to rise to a standing ovation. I, in character and panting diaphramically, smiled and made a mental note to write Helen Hayes in the morning and ask her to airmail the crown. The review, of course, I framed. Copies were sent not only to family, but also friends and casual acquaintances. There was only one person I didn’t send the review to, I knew he had it already.

The additional free time now with my other duties deleted, gave me hours to dream. And think. Since the left foot was broken, I could still drive the car and began to investigate the surrounding countryside with short excursions. One of the side trips turned out to be the high point of my summer. I caught a matinee of Little Foxes with Geraldine Page at the Cape Cod Play-house. Lillian Hellman herself could not have envisioned a more superb Regina. Afterward, over a lonely cocktail, I contemplated a future in theatre.

To do it well, one would have to subordinate every other desire. There was much more involved than G.B. Shaw’s quote “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” It was a choice between real life or spot life. Our leisure hour discussion that night delved into philosophical arguments as to the meaning of life and etc. Since Nora and Bud were openly holding hands, the final hour of Last Calls got into a heated debate over man’s intrinsic need to love versus career, goals, family and etc. Fundamentally we agreed but enjoyed argueing over semantics. Sunday dinner and only two weeks of -stock to go. The Hulk and I lingered over coffee and compared notes on Hopes not Fulfilled so far that summer. I was charmed at his disappointment in not getting to know me better until a few days later when I found out exactly why this hadn’t happened.

Both the mornings and afternoons of these last two weeks were to be spent in our final production, a Shakespearean Comedy. My foot problem had eliminated any chance for one of the juicier female parts involving much prancing about the stage, but landed me with the character (I was embarrassed to write this to friends) of the Fairy Queen. She appeared the last fifteen minutes of the play and again solved all the problems of those involved. Luckily I didn’t have to introduce anybody to their long lost son. Tuesday, after breakfast, our director asked me to help on one of the vitally important creative aspects of summer stock. Without investigating further, I immediately said yes and found I had agreed to paint the five by nine foot poster hung on the street in front of the theatre to advertise the final production. I, who had flunked Crafts in kindergarten. One entire afternoon was spent staring at the canvas trying to get an inspiration. I got a good case of sunburn.

Most of the men disappeared shortly after dinner to make up for the all male company. The cooks would be busy for another hour and I had just reread the newspaper headlines for the third time without assimilating anything. Watching the setting sun flicker through the windows of the lounge, I suddenly longed to be home. To be surrounded by the humdrum and mundane. Maybe my period was coming. I even missed doing the dinner dishes. Deciding that two aspirin and an hour at the laundromat might improve my spirits, I hobbled out to the kitchen to see if Nora and Dee wanted any laundry done. Bud was tied up in the ticket office that night and couldn’t make the Leisure Hour. Nora and Dee had gotten teaching positions in the same city and were discussing the possibility of sharing an apartment. Dee had already made arrangements to live with a good friend and felt that the three of them could manage in a two bedroom apartment. From there we went into a discussion of high-school classes and the initial problems of a first year teacher. Remembering my own beginning agonies I laughed and said that anyone who could manage 25 nitwits for three meals a day could certainly handle 30 teenagers in a classroom. At that moment the Hulk entered the bar with two boys in tow. The boys came to the table and stood there grinning at me. I began choking as I recognized Dean and Sid, two of my last year’s drama students.

Still to come: Part 4 (The finally)

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