In Search of Gloves

Heads up. This will make me sound like an old fogey.

With the season’s chill on its way in, I was on a mission last week to get a new pair of leather gloves.  I’d decided to stray from my usual black and go for something hip, something wild. Teal! Purple! I had in my mind’s eye exactly where I would go…one of the last remaining flagship stores in the city, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the long case in the glove department that I knew would house a plethora of tempting choices.  I also had in my mind’s eye the stately woman behind said counter who would undoubtedly ask, “May I help you Madame?”  I would follow my shopping spree by dropping into St. Pat’s next door for a contemplative several minutes as if in compensation to my indulgence.  Happy with anticipation I walked through Central Park replete with autumn colors, to my destination.

Leaving the throng of 5th Avenue, pushing the heavy, ornate metal framed entry doors, I thought of Mom. Going to Saks had been something we’d done together on special occasions throughout my childhood.  I could almost feel my little girl hand in hers as I entered it’s hallowed halls.  Oh how she would have loved this outing and oh boy did she ever have a nose for bargains. Miss you Mom.

I walked past the perfumes and purses to where I knew the gloves would be but did not find them. I asked a staff member to direct me and she casually tossed a nod over to the far corner.  This did not bode well.  There, practically squeezed out by wildly patterned hosiery, was a tiny table on which sat four short stacks of leather gloves. Brown, gray, black and neon red.  On a nearby table was a healthy display of fingerless, Fagin knit gloves covered in cheap glitter.  I stood sort of Rip Van Winkle like in this ruin of a department. Gloveless, I went into St. Pat’s for solace.  Calmed and exiting I remembered that Nordstom’s had just opened a new store only a few blocks away. I could go there! With a renewed spring in my step, off I went.  Approaching the store you could see bright lights framing its entry as if something to aim for at the end of a tunnel.  I entered. “Hey! How ya doing?” shouted a bouncy someone. “Cute coat!” hollered an overly friendly ‘nother.  It was the only way their voices could be heard over the DJ’s music. Make that live DJ and next to his elaborate set up was a Chippendale’s worthy bartender offering drinks as he danced with enthusiastic innuendo, to the thumping beat.  When a third person shouted, “Whatcha lookin for?”, I realized these heretofore friendly fellow customers were in fact the staff.  So much for “May I help you, Madame?”  When I mimed gloves, she replied with a boisterous “Cool!” and pointed further down the aisle.  There I found a pile of ill organized gloves, few of them leather, most of them Lord help me, gortex.  I could feel a mild sense of panic start to take over in this perfect storm of cacophonous music, frantic customers in desperate need of a purchase fix and salespersons’ force fed glee. I’d been sucked through some wormhole into a virtual world of Selfie-ism that had exploded into 3D reality.  Calling on memories of exiting crowded disco floors in the 70’s, I did an about face and headed for the door. Once again gloveless, I escaped the clutches of immediate gratification and mad hatter cheer to what by comparison, was the bucolic calm of Broadway at rush hour. 

I get, really get for the first time the total appeal of buying on Amazon, which I am resigned to do.  I’ll get my gloves in due time and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.  I feel, however, for the shoppers who will never have the memory of privilege that I hold of hearing your own thoughts in a beautiful department store with an elegant woman who asks “May I help you, Madame?”

Hong Kong

I turned on the news this morning to a live report from a breathless and clearly brave journalist in the maelstrom of a violent pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. Donning tear gas masks, she and her crew stayed the course to bring us the latest as Molotov cocktails landed within stone’s throw and students armed with umbrellas yelled back at fully armed riot police.  The reporter who against all odds continued to speak in whole sentences as she and her crew bolted for safety, said that over the past six months of almost daily protests the students largely remained hopeful that the US government would speak out in favor of their cries for democracy.  

I’ve not been to Hong Kong in years but as these dramatic and heartbreaking images unfolded on the television, memories of the colonial Hong Kong I knew throughout my childhood flooded my mind’s eye. Christmas days often found my family and me swimming in Repulse Bay.  On these holidays after dim sum breakfasts, we’d take in the sea air as we rode the Star Ferry across the harbor, enjoy Peking Duck lunches afloat a friend’s fanciful junk, lounge over scented teas at the elegant Peninsula Hotel and because comfortable, western style shoes were not available in the city in which we lived, we’d get fitted for new tailor made shoes at Lee Kee Boot.  Oh how the name “Lee Kee Boot” would make Dad laugh.  There was a heady ambrosia of the best of British and Chinese culture melding in Hong Kong’s architecture, fashion, porcelains and cuisine. There was of course the sharp contrast of privilege versus extreme poverty. Everywhere but everywhere there was a sense of the thriving industriousness of her people. Hong Kong existed as a kind of miracle in the shadow of the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution in full swing…but it existed and its blended distillation of East meets West sophistication was intoxicating. 

During the early 80’s, Dad helmed the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. During his tenure, my parent’s residence was just off Old Peak Road. It’s breathtaking view, particularly at night, of the harbor looked like a jewelry strewn table top. At that time Hong Kong was among other things, the gateway for American businessmen with an eye on the frontier of communist China with whom we were hurtling toward normalized relations.  It was a heady time.  On one visit to my folks during their Hong Kong assignment, I went into China on a back market visa.  Dangerous, stupid but fun and perhaps the topic of a blog to come. 

I do not mean to ignore wrongs under a colonial system long gone but Hong Kong then, in many ways, represented the best of what is possible in diplomacy, democracy, compromise, mutual respect. To see it on the news in it’s current state brought tears to my eyes.  

The young people who have taken to the streets in support of democracy, need to be supported by any of us who believe in human rights, in freedom, in an open rule based economy.  The students holding China accountable to its agreement of “one nation, two systems”, deserve better than silence from America’s leadership. What does it say about us when we abandon fundamental values in favor of seeking new tariff deals? Can leaders of the free world who do not lend their voices in concern and solidarity claim to be champions of democracy. Can they in fact claim to be leaders? If we cross the Rubicon to the means justifying the ends, isn’t it just a matter of time until our already battered raft of core values sinks…in this case into the storied Hong Kong Harbor?

Door or Eyelash?

Groupon is a beautiful thing I discovered again about a month ago when I found two items there at rock bottom prices I could not do without: Eyelash extensions and a series of 20 gyrotonics classes.  Sporting my pretty new glue on lashes I pranced along to my first gyro class.  My teacher was an adorable bright, young spark. She even commented on how nice my lashes looked.  We started right on time and she guided my classmates and me through our movements with clear instruction and beautiful demonstrations.  She had a terrific eye for proper alignment, a crucial component in gyro and offered helpful corrections, always with kind encouragement and a ready smile. I liked her and as a woman many years her senior I felt that Mommy urge kick in to want to help her pursue her dreams if ever I could. I was raised by non-church going parents and a Buddhist nanny but I’m pretty sure the above means I’m Jewish or must’ve been in a past life. I’ve been the beneficiary of guidance from elders and as they take their leave for higher plateaus I feel the life mantle fall increasingly on my shoulders to help nudge young careers forward if and when I can. Anyway…..during the course of the class I learned that my teacher was a dancer and planned soon to head to LA to check out the scene there.

Click! I knew just the right person to introduce her to: Val, a legendary dancer pal in LA whose career track over the last few years has transitioned into being a very significant choreographer, actress and master class dance teacher.  Val herself had danced for many of the most notorious choreographers of her day and now she in turn was actively involved in passing along her download to the next and next generations of up and coming dancers.

At the end of class I asked my young teacher if I might introduce her to my LA dancer pal? She accepted and we exchanged emails.  By the end of the next day a round of messages had been sent and I was thrilled to know that these two lovelies would be meeting up over the coming days.  Very smugly I felt I’d done a mitzvah. “I’d opened a door”, I thought in obnoxious self congratulations and imagined the downbeat to a grand mentorship that surely lay ahead.

Two weeks later my teacher returned from LA bronzed and sporting, I noticed, a snappy set of glue on lashes.  Excited to learn what had transpired I asked how their meeting had gone? My expectations of hearing about a bold new path having opened in her life were dashed when she reported that she had not had the time to meet with Val. Further she gleefully told me she had managed to find a great place to get eyelash extensions.  Really? Found time to get eyelashes glued on and failed to meet with glorious Val who would have changed her life? If my young teacher could have but touched the knob on this ready door a world of shortcuts, wisdom, experience, introductions had awaited her on the other side. Mighty me sat in judgement throughout my next hour in gyro class.   On my walk home afterwards other voices entered the fray of my disappointment. How many thresholds had I failed to cross, how many ready doors had I ignored? How many hours wasted “getting lashes” or the equivalent of, had I wasted when I had been her age? For that matter, now? How many hours have I wasted over even the last month on Facebook, or mindlessly watching the news rather than reading or meditating or working out?  How many doors have I opened that would have been better if they had remained closed?

Immediate overwhelm and I return to stewing in disappointment over my beautiful young teacher’s failure to meet Val.

Eventually I have to make my peace knowing she will find her own good way in her own good time.  I struggle to get ego back in its cage and commit to the best of my ability to watch for open doors I should walk through and thresholds I should not cross.  Is it, however, time to book an appointment for another set of lashes?

Je M’Excuse

I do concerts here and there on the road. Safe to say that some gigs go better than others.  I’m fortunate to have a particularly talented Music Director who usually travels with me but being in high demand as he is, on more than one occasion I’ve had to sub out his position.  A while back I was heading to Paris for a concert and was in just such a predicament, however the club there assured me they had a top drawer, jazz pianist who’d be happy to fill in. “Silly me. It’s Paris! Of course they have a fabulous jazz pianist!” Problem solved…or so I thought.

Unmitigated musical disaster is not too grand a phrase to describe what unfolded. I arrived at the club late afternoon at the appointed hour for our run through excited for our opening night.  There he was… Mario, the pianist. First, there was the look. His neon nylon suit was totally overshadowed by his enormous bouffe of hair that stood on end well past understandable boundaries of gravity…and then there was the large circa 1970’s plaid bow tie.  His smile was infectious though and after a few pleasantries we got to work. My first real clue that things might not go as well as hoped for was when he pulled out a single sheet of music instead of the music charts that had been sent over months before. Each song sent ran anywhere from six to fifteen pages filled with carefully arranged notes specifically crafted by my Music Director for the given tune.  Mario dug into the ivories and after a few measures it was patently obvious that his preferred style was oom pah pah, which is about as far from anything that qualifies as jazz you can get.  When I asked him why he was not playing off my charts he explained that mine were too complicated.  Evidently unaware of my mounting state of shock, he cheerfully continued with gusto, which was augmented by his terminal case of white boy rhythm. We were now only four hours before our first show. I excused myself for a moment and bolted to the manager to inform him of our looming disaster pleading please could he find a proper pianist?  Failing to make any headway I returned to Mario and the clock kept ticking.  We made what little progress we could and then ladies and gentlemen, it was show time. 

I longed for a life handbook.  What, I wondered, was the best thing to do? Girding myself with the Berlin lyric, I decided that we had to go on with the show.  We repaired to the dressing rooms.  I have no memory of applying my make up. I think this is what happens in moments of impending doom. Memory evaporates. The audience arrived, places were called, Mario and I took the stage.  We began.  He launched into the first number. I tried to find my note, really tried and could not.  I do remember thinking “Just sing and keep singing no matter what.” I jumped in and held to the melody like a sailor clinging to a shipwreck in a stormy sea.  Mario seemed to have some awareness that things were not going quite as well as they ought but this did nothing to help our predicament. More than once he turned the pages with such enthusiasm so as to skip to a much later part of the song. Trying, I’m sure, to be helpful, he would then sing the part of the song he was playing which had nothing to do with where I was in the tune. At the end of our second number I did what any seasoned professional would do (not), hailed the waiter from the stage and ordered a drink. 

The audience graduated through a few stages fairly rapidly. First I suppose they had been in a kind of happy expectation…they had after all bought tickets.  Next was confusion, quickly followed by uproarious laughter.  Humiliating, but at least they were in on the joke of us unintentionally being somewhere between a Monty Python and a Carol Burnett sketch.  I remember saying out loud at some point, after what I believe was his attempt at a solo, ”Throw me a note. Any note!” More than once I stopped mid song and asked him as diplomatically as I possibly could, to take a rest and continued on acapella. After an interminable hour plus, the show was over.  I thanked Mario for his work. He had tried awfully hard and there was no sense in being angry with him.  I retired to my hotel and spent a sleepless night wondering how on earth we could save ourselves the following performance.

By morning I had hatched a plan. I had recorded these tunes, and thought, if the audience could hear the music, even off my computer, in the manner it was meant to be played, I could sing along with myself sort of karaoke style and Mario could bang away doing his level best to keep up with the recording as a kind of guide track.  I strolled the stunning streets of Paris the next morning, which greatly abated the fret over the certain musical guillotine that awaited that evening. Once at the concert venue the manager introduced me to Jean Pierre who he explained was a very fine percussionist. Things were looking up. There was a large percussion solo in the finale and I almost started salivating thinking that if Mario and I could just make it to that point, we could perhaps redeem the evening with a fine percussion solo. Jean Pierre and I talked through the hastily printed off percussion lead sheet. I heard the manager in passing say something along the lines of no pay but free drinks for him and his guest.  We were good to go. Why I trusted this manager to provide a second musician is beyond me. That there were no percussion instruments was of minor consideration.  Necessity being the mother of invention, I grabbed two of large kitchen bowls, a vase, a decorative antler along with a couple of spoons and arranged them atop the piano next to my computer.  The doors opened, our audience took their seats, places were called and we began.

Mario’s survival instinct kicked in and if possible he was playing even more loudly than the night before.  I remedied this by leaning the microphone on its stand into the computer in an effort to amplify the recorded sound, leaving me sans mic. Nevermind. I karaok’ed along to the audience’s raucus laughter. I held onto the grand finale as if it were light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel. At last and with short-lived relief, I introduced Jean Pierre who had been seated at the back of the house. To my horror I saw him rise and stagger one painful, weaving lurch forward at a time. He had clearly taken free drinks as an invitation to imbibe.  Jean Pierre miraculously arrived at his home-made percussion set, picked up a spoon and with a great thwack to the antler, gave us the down beat.  Oh, for a hole in the ground, but finding none, I could only hold onto my self imposed dictum and continue singing no matter what.  I don’t recall who got to the end of the song first, Mario or myself. Whoever it was, Jean Pierre now having worked himself into a lather of rhythm, continued.  I lunged for his shoulders to let him know above the fray that “The song is OVER!” In so doing however I tripped on the leaning microphone, which then crashed to the floor. I was lucky not to impale my front pearly whites on the piano.

Fast as possible I bid my adieus and jettisoned myself from the venue back out into the magic of Paris whose grand jazz tradition I was mortified to have offended.  I did discover I think that the Parisians, to their great credit, have a ready sense of humor.  I’m not sure a performance the likes of what Mario, Jean Pierre and I had inflicted would have been accepted in like manner in say, New York.  Looking back now, we all survived, no one died but I do ardently hope at some point to be able to redeem the experience.  Je m’excuse belle Paris.

The Artists: A Triptych, Part III

“You’ve got to meet the Landrums” my friend commanded one day at work. Apparently I had no choice in the matter so off we went to the Landrum dance class the following day. At 18, I had spent my share of hours at the ballet barre but coming out of my first class with Jacqui and Bill, I felt my body had been redesigned and that more doors, possibilities and energy patterns had been opened in my hour and a half with them than in all my previous classes put together.  They were what they taught…focused, insanely beautiful and hugely gifted.  Time in their classes led to working together when producers on a project I was doing were smart enough to hire them as choreographers. In the fullness of time our weave continued and led to one of my very most formative and enduring friendships.  Chosen family. Over the years I witnessed them apply their creative forces to their every life transition and challenge to beautiful effect. They always, but always moved forward no matter how high the hurdle. The ferocity with which they lived their good lives even as young talents, became a beacon for many.  When I wondered what the ideal marriage might look like all I had to do was witness theirs.  Their intertwined vibrancy was and remains the object of envy for all.  When my life would grind to a halt I only had to conjure a fraction of their gusto to get things moving again.  When at a life intersection I could always ask myself, “What would Bill or Jacqui do?” and get my answer.  When nervous about going into an audition I would channel Jacqui’s fearlessness and go for broke.  When I embarked into the world of cabaret singing I enlisted their coaching help. The list goes on. 

Tragically it has been a decade now since Jacqui died.   If the weight of words could fall into a black hole through the screen…the words in the last sentence did so.  

Having suffered so indescribable a loss, how, we all worried and wondered, would Bill ever find his way?  Well, he did ofcourse find his way forward with one breath at a time, with Herculean strength, with deliberate choices. Doing so I have to think has been the greatest test of and conjuring up of his own creative powers. Forward Bill moved not only to exist, but to create a new and energized life of different and equal depth.  

The dancer in him works every day in his studio…exploring and challenging himself to make new discoveries always with integrity of both mind and body.  The intellect in him took on learning a new foreign language and how to play the guitar. The perennial student in him took on learning about organic gardening. The philanthropist in him promptly set up a program for the elementary school in his village that graduated into a community operated farmers market, also a recycling effort run by the students. He carries no baggage, holds no grudges, nor does he pass judgement.  He keeps who he wants in his life and moves on from others without resentment when needed. If a moment comes that seems hard he’ll give himself the directive to “Change the energy” or “Change the character.” Challenges can be crippling but in the Landrum’s case and now in Bill’s alone, the creative principle no matter the G-force is the rocket he pilots. 

A multitude of students came through Bill and Jacqui’s classes. Many, who went on to great successes, attribute their rise to lessons learned in the Landrum studio. When any one of us in his circle point this out, it always comes as a surprise to him that he has had choreographic influence on life journeys. He never set out to be a mentor but the unique path they blazed and now he blazes, is its own map to true north on how to negotiate life’s rapids, how to overcome and how to build an astonishingly beautiful, meaningful life. For all these reasons and more my cherished, remarkable friend Bill is also my mentor. My friend was right. I did have to meet the Landrums.

The Artists: A Triptych, Part II

The Dancer

If you lived in New York in the 70’s as I did, you too would have frequently seen posters of an Adonis floating mid air, advertising the legendary Joffrey Ballet Company. If you were lucky you would have seen that dancer perform live. I was lucky. He had trained as a teen under Martha Graham. All the great choreographers of the day put their work on him…Agnes de Mille, Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins, Robert Joffrey, to mention but a few.  He transitioned out of dance to focus on his life long second love, costumes and was sought after to design whole ballets for many world class companies. He also designed Tina Turner’s performance wardrobe.  Are you breathless? I am and was recently on a daily basis when I stayed with him in London. Every morning over coffee and still in pajamas we would curl up on his sofas for another installment of, I’ll call them “life talks”.  Like a child at story time I’d soak in another tale of his having been in the rehearsal studio with Robbins or Gwen Verdon, for instance. Mid story, ever the dancer, his twinkling eyes would light up as he would illustrate the moment with a tendue, a port de bras, a whip turn. He also kindly brought out photo albums that documented his process in creating costumes.  First came the montage pages…a line of poetry, a sketch, a postcard, etc. Turning the leaf, the album went on to reveal his detailed sketches with accompanying fabric swatches. Last were photographs of the dancers in his final masterpieces. I was gob smacked. These morning sessions would end only because he had a rehearsal to get to for his upcoming cabaret performance.  The halls of his home are filled with portraits, paintings of life moments I only later realized were his own. Who needed to go to the British Museum?  Not I.  It was clear that each level of artistry had informed the next. His eye for line moved easily into silhouette on a costume, his breath control as a dancer had become the foundation of his singing, his visceral knowledge of dance had expanded into the swish of Tina Turner’s dress, making visible the aura of her fiery spirit.  For all the monsters in our midst there are also these rare wonders of nature who fulfill their destiny as creatives, as continual fountains of the beauty that is possible from within the human spirit.  Lucky me to have experienced this just when its needed most. 

The Artists: A Triptych, Part I

The Artists: A Triptych

I went last week to see a long term girlfriend perform in concert. Her show’s arc was autobiographical and included illuminating stories about having survived a long and successful career in musical comedy theatre. The strongest common denominator through her tales of adventures and misadventures was heartfelt gratitude for it all.  She was spectacular and the audience spontaneously stood to cheer and tell her so during the extended curtain call.  Every thought in the lyrics was explored to its fullest, every emotion was rooted in a truth, every syllable articulated, both literally and metaphorically.  She left it all on the table, got everything one could possibly get out of each song.  Her authentic effervescence radiated out to uplift her audience, she moved with the fluidity of a young gazelle and at 67 she looked impossibly youthful.  None of that was by accident.  She has worked hard to make it so. Knowing her for over four decades, I can bear witness to the fact that this is also how she has lived her life.  She has delved in full tilt at every chapter.  As a young woman she planted roots in good soil and then nurtured them.  In return for steadfast loyalty, her life is filled with an army of long term, beloved allies.  She’s been married to the same good man for almost 40 years.  Their home is filled with works of art by and photographs of their thriving children and now grandchildren. There is fresh fruit out on her sun drenched kitchen counters, healthy snacks in her pantry, comfortable well-lit places to plop in with easy access to wonderful books and magazines at the ready to dive into.  In other words she lives the way she creates her art and creates her art the way she lives.  With intentionality, smart choices, attention to detail, taking absolutely nothing for granted and always with gratitude. Brava Diva.