Love Is All Around

sc00361b62In the autumn, sometimes I like to put a little cinnamon in my coffee when I’m brewing it.  That always makes me think of Larry Baker who was the stage manager of a play I was in several years ago, David Dillon’s Party. Volumes could be written about my Party days, I did the play in three different cities, over the course of a year and a half, and it brought many talented, funny, dramatic people into my life, many of whom I’m still in touch with.  Anyway, about the coffee: before every show, Larry would make a pot of coffee and sprinkle cinnamon on the grounds before he brewed it.  It made the coffee taste delicious and made the dressing room area smell cozy and warm.

The play was kind of a big deal, we were on the cover of magazines, we were on a billboard, we each had our own dressing room.  It was an Equity show in a large theatre and it was the most money I’d ever made as an actor.  My parents decided to come to LA for Christmas and they planned on coming to see the show.  Oh, and before I get much further, let me tell you, Party was a play about a group of gay men who get together for a party, play a truth or dare type game and ultimately, every one gets naked.  In fact, my character’s big (pardon the pun) moment comes when he appears naked from the kitchen, bag of M&M’s in one hand, can of whipped cream in the other, and orders one of the other guys to take off his shirt so he can lick the whipped cream and M&M’s off his chest.  (Did I mention it was the ’90s?)  A friend from Bible college had seen the play and told my parents about it, so they had a little idea of what to expect.  I told them they didn’t have to go, but they said they wanted to.

The day that they came to the play, they came early to see my dressing room and meet the cast members.   My parents were impressed with the elegant stage and my Mom took a picture of my starred name on my dressing room. But they were nervous.  My friend Vince offered my parents a cup of coffee and while my Dad politely declined, my Mom said, “Yes, thank you, I’d like a cup.”  And I’ll never forget the image of my shy Mom from Kansas sitting in the lobby area of our dressing rooms, sipping her coffee out of a cup and saucer, Vince in the background playing the gracious host, his own southern roots shining through.  “This coffee is very good,” my Mother said.  And Vince told her about how Larry put cinnamon in it.  “Oh, I wondered if that might be what I noticed.” Fellow cast members came in and out of the lobby, introducing themselves, asking my parents how they liked LA so far. My Dad good-naturedly complained about how hard it was to find a Dr. Pepper out here.

I was touched by all that was happening in front of me.  My fellow cast members all knew my story, that I’d gone to Bible college in hopes of not being gay, that I’d been a youth minister, that I’d only come out to my parents in the last two years and that the news had been very difficult for them.  And that at every step of the way, as heartbreaking as my news was to them, they’d always, only showered me with their love.  And I think that sitting in that room, it was the first time my Mother realized that my gay friends were a form of family to me as well.

The song used it the curtain call every night was the Joan Jett cover of The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, “Love is All Around.”  From the very first time I heard it, as we were taking our bows during the first tech dress rehearsal, it summed up what doing the show was for me.  Here was this song from my youth, and Joan Jett had turned it into a rock anthem.  I felt that I was all grown up at 26, starting a new exciting life and that love was all around, no need to waste it. I could have a town, why don’t I take it? My life was at once, everything I’d hoped and yet, nothing I could have predicted when I was a 6 year old watching the Mary Tyler Moore show on a Saturday night with my parents, but I was gonna make it after all.


189143_106824046067080_2529733_nA few years ago, San Francisco’s historic movie palace, the Castro Theatre, ran the film Picnic.  I was lucky enough to be in town when it was playing and I went to see it with my friends, Michael and Kim.  The Castro is a gorgeous old theatre on Castro street, smack dab in the middle of the Castro, San Francisco’s gayest neighborhood.  I’d obviously seen the movie a few times before, but I’d never watched it with two hundred gay men and their straight girlfriends and I listened to it for the first time through the filter of my people.  I’ll never forget the shrieks of laughter that occurred when Rosalind Russell came to the window, her face covered in cold cream, and pondered, “Anyone mind if an old maid school teacher joins their company?”  But the thing that touched me the most was the pride I felt when Kim Novak sailed down the river, the newly crowned Queen Neelah, and the townsfolk called out to her, “Nee-woll-ah, Nee-woll-ah.”  And while the Neewollahs of my own youth did not include the queen riding down the Verdigris River on a candlelit float (that’s not safe!), it did remind me of the many, many Neewollahs that I’ve enjoyed since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  

It doesn’t matter, where I am: when this week, Neewollah week, rolls around, I keep an ongoing timeline of what is happening back home.  Last night as I was driving home, I wondered who the new Queen Neelah was going to be, even though I’m sure I did not even know any of the candidates.  This morning I thought about how today is probably the first day of the rides at the carnival.  Also, it used to be that today was the first day of the food vendors.  I can taste the jaffles and apple fritters even still.  Friday afternoon, I’ll be thinking about the Kiddie parade, where one year I went as an astronaut (Dr. Ryan Stone?) and the next year, I wore a frog mask and the same astronaut costume and went as the Martian who killed said astronaut and stole his ensemble.  On Saturday, when I am at work, believe me, I will wish that I am at the aptly named, Grand Parade, running into old friends and feasting on barbecue and cinnamon rolls, and sneaking in another jaffle.

I haven’t been to Neewollah for about 15 years now.  That seems unbelievable, but it’s true.  The last time I went, my Dad had just recovered from his first bout with cancer and I remember it felt like we had something to celebrate when we went to the Parade.  We did. The Grand Parade is for many of us who grew up in Independence, a holiday like Christmas and New Years that marks the passage of time.  

I’ve travelled a certain amount and I’ve lived in a few large cities.  I used to live in New York and I never went to the Macy’s Parade.  I live miles away from where the Rose Parade takes place every year and I’ve never gone to that either.  I guess you could say that Neewollah spoiled me on parades, when you’ve grown up with the best, you have no interest in lesser versions.

I’m 45 now, at an age where I’m realizing that few things I experience will resonate in the way the memories of my youth do.  The scariest Magic Mountain roller coaster will never compare to the Tilt-a-Whirl, Yo-Yo Ma will always be second fiddle to Jana Jae. No brush with celebrity compares to the time HBO came to film a concert with Roy Clark, Ronnie Milsap and Merle Haggard and we all thought it was going to make us famous. The prettiest beauty queens will always be Gail Moore and Jeannine Bailey and Missy Housel and Shelly Nelson and Kara Woods. And of course, the most exquisite, sophisticated, delicious, exotic food will always be the jaffle.



I’ve been swimming at the same pool for about 4 years now.  You get to know the regulars over time and there is a Russian woman who reminds me of my grandmother.  She has one lane that she likes best so if I’m swimming in her lane, I usually offer to switch lanes with her.  She always thanks me profusely and tells me that I am a good boy, or something along those lines.  Once when I wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, she thanked me and told me I had good parents.  Today, after we switched lanes, she said, “You are good person.  You are your parents.  You are your grandparents.”  I think that what she was saying is that the people we are is greatly influenced by our lineage.  She proceeded to tell me that when she visits her kids who all live in different countries, they go to the market together and she’ll say to them, “Why are you buying this?  This is the same thing your grandmother always bought.  You are your grandmother.”  And then she told me again that I was my grandparents.

What struck me about the conversation was that my grandmother had been on my mind all morning.  Just last night, I was called on stage to share an impromptu story and I talked about my Grandma Sue, who played Scrabble with me and knitted clothes for my favorite stuffed animal Chim-Chim and was sometimes known to tie a scarf around her head, hold out her hand and mourn, “Alms for the poor?”.  In general, I was not one of those cute kids that adults took a shine to, but my Grandma always treated me like I was funny and interesting and smart, even though I was probably none of those things.  I talked about how I was 19 when she passed away and I wished that I’d had the opportunity to spend more time with her.  A few years ago, one of my cousins told me a story about a time when she and Grandma worked breakfast and lunch together at another cousin’s cafe.  After their shifts were over, they’d go across the street to the dive bar and drink tomato juice and beer cocktails for the rest of the afternoon.  When Vicki told me this, I realized what I feel like I missed by her dying when she did: we didn’t get to become friends, drinking buddies.  My Grandma loved happy hour as much I love happy hour, apparently.

So this loss was on my mind this morning, when my swim buddy told me that I WAS the person she reminds me of, the person who’d been in my thoughts for those 72 laps.  There are ways that I am like my Grandma Sue. When I go to Claro’s Italian market, I know I buy the same pepperoni and olives and provolone that she used to buy, the same items my parents buy.  Food and family were always at the center of her life and I feel that I am the same way.  My meatballs are a variation of my mother’s meatballs which are a variation of her mother’s meatballs that I can only assume goes back much further.  It is a lineage.  

So this morning, I felt like I received a gift. Not only the reminder that my Grandma Sue is still with me, but also, in a funny way, I am her.


By the Time I Get to Phoenix

spritle_chim-chim_trunk2On Sunday night, I went to a Cabaret open mike. I love a piano bar. That’s been documented before. At one point a duo sang a very bluesy cover of Glen Campbell’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix. I enjoyed it, but to me, it did not compare to his version, which is a song I remember listening to from the back seat of my parents’ car when we’d go on road trips. I have a soft spot for old Glen Campbell or Ray Price or Merle Haggard songs. When I hear one, I’m five or six and it’s late at night and we’re driving from Independence to Colorado and I’m half awake, but listening to my parents’ adult conversation in the front seat and I feel really safe and cozy. And I probably have about 3 or 4 stuffed animals huddled close, mostly definitely my #1 stuffed animal, Chim-Chim whose wardrobe was sewn or knitted by my mother and grandmother.

So, that is one of the things that I thought about when these two were singing By the Time I Get to Phoenix on Sunday night. And when I listened to the words of the song this time, it broke my heart a little because it’s a real tearjerker. Maybe it was the first time I really heard it.

And then an elderly bespectacled gentleman got up to sing a song about hoping to find love. (I wish I could remember what song it was.) He was probably in his 70s and quite spry for his age, and the way he plaintively toyed with the hem of his shirt, there was something very youthful about him. I got the feeling he probably looks in the mirror and thinks, my goodness, just yesterday, I was 18. I’m 45 and I do that, and I’m realizing I’ll probably always do that. Time flies.

And then on my way home, I listened to the Glen Campbell original (I know, it isn’t THE original) and I thought about love, my own loves, my heartbreaks. How it’s sometimes tricky to navigate relationships. And yet, there’s a line in the song where Glen says that he’s tried to break up with his girl “so many times before” and I’m left with a little hope for them that maybe he’ll turn the car around and head back to LA. (He is driving from LA, right?) There’s always hope.

I don’t know very much about my old friend on stage singing wistfully about finding love. Obviously, I hope that he has a lifelong partner that he goes home to and they watch Gloria Swanson movies and drink Manhattans and talk about their trips through Europe together. Maybe he has that, I hope he does.

And as I write this, I think about how I want to tie every thing up in a neat bow. Maybe Glen should keep driving, maybe his true love is in Oklahoma and they haven’t even met yet. And maybe my friend is single and likes being single. And maybe the truth is messier, sadder than that. I don’t know.

These are the days that I want to be six again, whispering secrets to Chim-Chim, my Dad expertly commanding our ’73 Buick as it sails across the plains of Kansas, Glen Campbell in the background, singing about a road trip of his own.

Margarita Madness

Is it just me, or is this the most delicious looking plate of nachos you’ve ever seen? I’m sitting at Chevy’s in Burbank drinking a particularly delicious margarita, reading my New York magazine, checking my Facebook to see that 40 people have clicked like on the #throwbackthursday pic I posted an hour ago, getting ready to dig into this. I gotta be honest, it’s an embarrassment of riches. What could make it better? I just came from an audition. Will I get the job? Statistically, no, but hey, you never know. We are nothing without hope. Can I get an amen? And a second margarita? Seriously, I’m in heaven!

No Surrender

bruce-springsteenOn Glee tonight, the students, alumni and faculty of McKinley High will remember their classmate, Finn Hudson.  He was played memorably by Cory Monteith and his death a few months ago was heartbreaking.  I listened today to the songs that will be part of the play list.  One of the songs, called No Surrender, struck a chord, even though I did not think I’d heard it before.  I was surprised to find out that not only is it a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, that song is on the Born in the U.S.A. album, an album that I listened to more than enough that you’d think I wouldn’t forget a single song.  But then again, old people forget things.

So I just watched a YouTube video of the Boss singing the song in concert in 1984.  He opens talking about the song and at one point says, “What keeps people human is their ability to keep people dreaming about things.”  And of course, watching the video, takes me back to the days and nights driving down Penn blasting Dancing in the Dark and Born in the U.S.A. and Glory Days, singing at the top of my lungs.   I know how much my dreams meant to me then and I know how much they mean to me now.

So, with all due respect to the cast of Glee, here is the original. It’s a beautiful, haunting elegy and when I watch him sing it, for a moment anyway, I’m 16 again.

Laughter Through Tears

Picnic-dancing-scene-Kim-Novak-hot-heatIt’s been over a week since my last post.  I had a show on Saturday night that I was nervous about, I felt that I had to conserve all my creativity for that.  It ended up being a great show and my set went pretty well, if I say so myself.  That being said, all I can think about is the saying that goes something like, it never went as good or as bad as you think it did, which, of course, I only think about when something goes well. I tried googling the expression, but just came up with a lot of articles about this.

Anyway, I will tell you what I talked about on Saturday.  The theme was theme and the show’s host, my good friend, Traci Swartz, asked us to explore our themes.  What’s your theme?  Everybody comes to Hollywood with a theme.

A couple weeks ago, I was at home by myself with the dogs on a Friday night.  Eric was in Temecula visiting his parents.  There is something that I like about being home by myself, like it’s a little date with myself.  I had a nice bottle of wine, some leftover pizza I’d made (in my show, I said I’d made a delicious turkey sandwich, which was an unintentional lie, I found some old notes, indeed it was pizza, not that it’s integral in ANY way to this story), and I curled up on my couch like the Little Mermaid to watch Turner Classic Movies, specifically, an interview with Kim Novak, the notoriously shy pinup girl from the 50’s and 60’s, most famous for movies like Vertigo, Pal Joey and of course, Picnic. I’ve always been a little judgemental about Kim Novak’s Madge, that she was a little too much of a movie star in the role, but listening to her talk about the film and the character, I realized I’d been wrong.  Much of Novak’s own life echoed Madge’s and I understood how Madge’s beauty was a burden for her.  Novak spoke of director Josh Logan’s autobiography where he commended her performance and wrote that Novak wore her Queen Neelah crown as if it were a “crown of thorns.”  And I think throughout Novak’s career, she always had to fight to be seen as an actress instead of as a movie star.  

Later in the interview, Robert Osborne (and let me just take a moment to say how much I love Robert Osborne, no one could be the spirit and voice of Turner Classic Movies better than him) asked her about the movie Liebestraum she made in 1991.  She said that she’d been nervous about making a movie, because she had not made one for a while, but when she talked to the director, Mike Figgis, she felt like they were on the same page.  Then when filming started, things went awry, she and Figgis had problems communicating.  She became quite emotional sharing that she wanted to talk to him about it, to get things on track, but she didn’t and that she regretted it.  Fidgeting with a crumpled tissue, tears streaming, glistening down her face (even today, nobody cries more beautifully than Kim Novak), she confessed, “I just couldn’t make a movie after that.”  Maybe it was the sauvignon blanc, maybe it other things, but I immediately burst into my own, less videogenic tears.  It resonated with me, because I have my own tormented relationship with acting, that at times, it’s just too painful.  And I have this thing about how much we all need our art to survive.  We are all artists, and that’s not to say we are all good artists, but I believe it’s something our souls need.  

And then I became VERY emotional, I got up from the couch and walked into my bedroom and flung myself on the bed where Millie (named after Picnic, btw) was on her pile of pillows, licking them.  I took her into my arms and buried my face in her fur, drowning it in my tears.  I wept for Kim Novak, that I’d been so judgemental all these years about her Madge, for her hypersensitivity, that she might someday act again.  I wept for myself, weeping for the acting class that I left because the teacher told me my Vanya was too weepy (can you imagine?), for the fact that I had not had an audition in weeks.  I wept about my day job, that has become increasingly soul crushing.  And I wept about a few others things, too.  And the weeping sort of turned into wailing.  It turns out, I had a lot of pain that night.  Ricky had joined Millie and me on the bed and he couldn’t understand what was going on.  I was moaning and wailing.  Millie was growling because she doesn’t like anyone touching her pillows.  And then Ricky started howling.  Wail, growl, howl.  Wail, growl, howl.  We made for a loud, dramatic chorus.   While I was weeping for all that made me heart break, I had a little out of body experience where I could see, or rather, hear, how we must have looked, and it made me laugh.  Actually, it made me laugh pretty hard.  And then as I lay on the bed, tears, growls and howls subsiding, I immediately felt better, something had been released.

Big surprise here:  when I was little, I cried a lot, and I always remember my mother holding me, patting me on the back, saying, “It’s okay, get it all out.”   I think we all have a few themes, one of mine is that I cry, a lot.  Someone once told me that I luxuriate in my tears and if I wasn’t so true, I would have been offended by such an outrageous statement.  But we need our tears, as much as we need our laughs.  Stresses and sadnesses and hurts build in our body until there has to be a combustion.  

I feel like Robert Harling really nailed it when he wrote Steel Magnolias, that there is something synergistic about crying and laughing, that not only can they feed the other, perhaps it’s their job to feed the other.  Either way, I agree with Mr. Harling and Truvy Jones and Dolly Parton, in fact, it is my theme:  Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.