28 December 2014

The Other One

A few years before I met my spouse, Matt, I met the perfect man for me. It was a casual, work-related meeting that sent me spinning. He was gorgeous, smart, funny, loved theater as much as I did. We clicked immediately. I had been so busy with work, and so disappointed at the fish in the ocean, that he became the first guy I dated in about ten years.

We started seeing each other, going out, spending time together. He told me he loved me, he wanted to be with me, that I was the one for him. I felt exactly the same way. I thought this was it. For the first time ever, I thought this was the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

We dated a couple months, then one day, over lunch, he said the following: “I hope I haven’t said anything that would make you think we had a future together.” What do you say to that? I was devastated. I crashed so low I didn’t think I would ever get up again. I found out he had been dating someone else at the same time he was dating me. He invited me to their “wedding” in a couple weeks. They exchanged rings and had a commitment ceremony (sans me).

A while later, he called and told me they had broken up, and that he’d been thinking of me and wanted to see me. Well, what do you say to that? I told him I was genuinely sorry his other relationship had failed (I was), and for him to call me next week and we’d do lunch.

He never called.

A few years later I met Matt, who turned out to really be the perfect man for me.

24 December 2014

Another Night Before Xmas*

'twas the night before xmas
in the year '68
When a young boy was eager
but forced to wait.

Xmas was around the corner
and presents were near
when suddenly a door bell
the boy did hear.

He raced to the door
"Was it Santa, perhaps?"
No, a chap in brown shirt
and matching brown pants.

"I'm looking for Christopher,
might you be he?"
I didn't at first realize
he was talking to me.

"Um, yes sir," I replied
always taught to be nice
"Sign here," he said,
I think he asked twice.

I signed the receipt,
and returned it to him.
He gave me a box
and a sly little grin.

"What could it be?"
I wondered aloud
and walked to the living room,
my mind in a cloud.

I opened the box,
it didn't say to delay,
and found twelve sea creatures
and a boat with which to play.

Requested so long before
I did nearly forget
from Nabisco I had ordered
his neat sea animal set.

I played with it for years,
in the bath and the pool
and on not a few occasions
was actually late to school!

So thanks to Nabisco,
and the UPS guy too,
my xmas was happy
and very special, too.

Here's wishing a wish
to you and you and you
that your special sea creatures
will arrive in time, too.

*this is a true story 

14 December 2014

Crazy Dancin’ Christopher (No, Really)

I remember dancing at a very young age. As I grew up, I danced in theater, taught dance, and danced for recreation. I mean I danced a LOT. (You can see very early footage of just how crazy I was about dancing here.)

When I was young, our summer vacations always ended with a huge Labor Day picnic for the employees of the company where my father worked, Western Gillette -- sorta like the big company fete you see in the movie musical Pajama Game. It was always held in Paradise Valley (Arizona) at the Paradise Inn (pictured) -- a big, old, sprawling resort that opened in 1944 and had a real Western feel to it. It’s now long gone, with the Phoenician Resort sitting where it used to be. I loved those picnics because they had a big bar-be-que, games for the kids, drawings for prizes, swimming and lots of fun stuff.

One year, when I was about the same age as the above video, I entered a dance contest at one of the picnics. It was open only to kids, and there were many rounds where the winner worked his/her way up. Kinda like a March Madness of dancing. It was a tough slog that finally got down to me and this little blonde girl a couple years older than me. Well, I whooped ass and won! For my efforts, I got a huge box of chocolates.

The picnics -- and, really, my childhood -- ended sometime in the early or mid 1970s when Western Gillette was bought out by the Roadway company. I don't think they ever had company picnics again. If they did, I know I didn’t go to any. Isn't that sad?

11 December 2014

Another San Francisco Storm

Looking at the images of the huge storm battering Northern California today, I’m reminded of a massive storm that struck while I was living in the San Francisco area.

It was Friday the 13th (really), November 1981 and I was working at my bank job in Rossmoor, California. A huge storm had come in during the day and I kept my ear glued to the radio at work, wondering whether I would be able to drive home (I traveled the 4 highway to my apartment in Pinole). There was talk of mud slides, driving rain, etc. Well, finally, 6:00 p.m. arrived. The bank closed and I started home.

The rain was driving very hard. I turned on my windshield wipers and one promptly broke. I pulled into a gas station and got a new blade, then started home again. The normally 30-minute drive took me more than two hours. The downpour was so thick I couldn’t even see the front of my car let alone the road. So, I drove very slowly. I drove around a couple small mud slides, other road debris, etc. I don't remember seeing any other cars at all (who would be so stupid as to be on the road in THAT weather?).

Finally, I got close to home and came over the hill that would lead me down into Pinole. I looked and saw nothing. Nothing at all. Where there should have been lights (from the houses and the huge oil refinery near by) there was nothing. I was disoriented until it dawned on me that the power had gone out in all the cities in the area (San Pablo, Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, etc.). I made my way toward my apartment through the rain and howling wind. I got into my apartment and relished being safely out of the storm for the first time in hours. It was nearly 9:00 p.m.!

Later I found out I had driven through the biggest storm to hit San Francisco in years. It was the first storm identified as part of what would later be known as the "El Nino" effect.

07 December 2014

“A Chorus Line” and Me

There was a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s that I ate, lived and breathed “A Chorus Line” -- Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical from 1975. I can’t even tell you what about it drew me in. When it opened on Broadway, I was an impressionable 15-year-old boy who had been active in grade-school and high-school theater for years. I loved being part of the world of theater: I loved singing, I loved dancing and I loved acting.

And then came “A Chorus Line.”

Everyone knows the story: an audition for dancers for a new musical, the appearance of a once-great dancer who had fallen on hard times and needed a job, and the director who was once in love with the dancer who had the power to give her a new life. It’s so simple and yet, at the same time, incorporated every hope, dream and disappointment ever felt by anyone who ever wanted to achieve anything.

The characters in the show were all me, one facet or another of the young boy in Phoenix who wanted nothing more than to perform on a stage. I had parents who didn’t understand it, friends who made fun of it, and a fantasy world where it all became real.

I watched excerpts from the show on the Tony Award telecast in 1976. I bought the record and sang and danced to it “around the living room” every chance I got. I sang songs from the show at auditions. Everyone around me got sick hearing about “A Chorus Line” and I don’t blame them. I talked my chorus director into letting me do a solo of “The Music and the Mirror” at one of our shows; and my theater director in high school gave me the final song at a variety show. I stood on stage and sang “What I Did for Love” like I was on the stage at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway.

Then, after months of begging, my parents took me to Los Angeles to see the Broadway cast at the Shubert Theater at Century City. The anticipation virtually made me sick. We drove to California. We arrived at the theater only to discover that some of the original cast had just left the show -- including Tony Award-winning star, Donna McKechnie, who left to marry Bennett. I was crestfallen; but the show was still phenomenal.

I dropped out of college after a few years, determined to go to California and make good on my theater dream. Instead of heading right to the Great White Way in New York, my plan was this: go to San Francisco and make a big noise in theater there. Then head down to Los Angeles and became someone. THEN head to New York with one foot on the stage, ready to conquer the theater world with an audience ready to embrace me.

Quite quickly reality crept in. I was in San Francisco only a little while when I saw the kind of talent I was up against. Wow! I was nowhere near their level. My lifelong, dearly cherished dream died a quick and painful death.

On one return visit to my home in Phoenix, I happened upon a small antique store. I was chatting with the owner and kept thinking he looked really familiar. Turned out it was Cameron Mason who played Mark in the original company. We chatted briefly about the show, but I got the impression he didn’t want to talk about it.

My life’s ambition turned to writing shortly after that. I found in writing the successes I was never to find in theater. I got a couple newspaper columns and began reviewing theater. I found it to be nearly as rewarding as performing.

Through all these years “A Chorus Line” has remained an integral part of my life. I saw the show performed six times, including finally getting to see McKechnie in 1989. I interviewed her twice and got to meet her backstage after one performance.

“A Chorus Line” eventually closed on Broadway, but not before becoming the longest-running show in history.

02 December 2014

A Woman Named Betty

In my elementary-school years, we lived down the street from a woman about my parent’s age. Her name was Betty. She was German and had a very thick accent. She and her husband were very gregarious, invited my parents and me over all the time, especially for a lavish holiday spread each December.

One time, she was very somber and began to tell us a story that has haunted me ever since.

When she was a very young girl, her family was hounded by the Nazis because her father published a newspaper. Betty and her family were sent to a concentration camp. She managed to escape the camp thanks to a group of nuns who had come to visit. The plan was for one of the sisters to secrete her out of the camp under her vestments. The other people in the camp scrawled messages to their families all over Betty’s body. The nuns hid Betty and they exited the camp. The nuns put her in a suitcase and put the suitcase under their seat on the train. And this was how Betty was able to leave Nazi Germany.

If I remember the story correctly, she was the only member of her family to survive the camps.