I was awake at 5 a.m. with a tickle in my throat. I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I got up, took some cough medicine and read a bit on the couch. After awhile, I tired of reading but lay on the couch wishing I could turn my brain off a little. I looked at my hands, really studied them. Whenever I look at my hands, I always think of Suzanne Somers.
I like my hands, I used to really like them but in the last five years or so, they’ve started to wrinkle. Once somebody told me that I had “surfer boy” hands and though I didn’t know exactly what that entailed, it thrilled me to hear it. Also, when I look at my hands, I feel some pride that I no longer bite my nails. Give or take a few years, it was a 40 year habit. Like an alcoholic, I will always be nail biter in my core, but for the last few years, I have been a non-practicing one. I sometimes think that the one good thing to come out of a certain acting class is that I would stare at my hands during my teacher’s impassioned diatribes and look at my nails and think, I want to make a change. So, when I tell myself I can’t change something, I look at my nails and remember that yes, sometimes I can change.
But enough of my nails, let’s talk about my hands. Though not exactly leathery, I do feel like they are halfway between dewy and beef jerky. It’s fine, there are worse things to have to deal with. But like I said, I do think of Suzanne every time I look at these mitts.
It was 1995, I was in that play Party that I’ve written about a few times before on this blog. Around Christmas, folks could bring a children’s toy to the box office to get a certain discount on their ticket. We collected the toys and delivered them to one of the charities that distributed to needy children during the holidays. A great idea, and to promote it, celebrities would come to the show and take their picture with the cast and the photo would run in magazines, mostly the gay press. A win win, as the saying goes. We also collected money at other times for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Several interesting personalities came to the show and had their pictures taken with us, Dave Kopay, Greg Louganis, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl). My favorite was Judith Light who at that point I really only knew from Who’s the Boss. So very complimentary and gracious and beautiful. She talked to us about her friend Paul Monette who had passed away only a few months earlier. On the surface, Party was a trifle, a confection, but it made people laugh at a time when the GLBT community and those who loved them really needed to laugh. Twenty years later, I am still grateful for the experience Party gave me and I am proud to have been a part of something that brought a lot of people joy and comfort.
Don’t worry, I am getting to Suzanne.
Now sometimes, the stars came to us, sometimes we came to the stars. We went to the set of General Hospital to take a picture with some cast members, also we met Lee Meriwether, randomly, at an office building on La Brea. She was dressed for a formal affair that she was headed off to, but could not have been lovelier to us. She was wearing what was quite obviously a wig. I remember worrying that maybe her health was compromised, though in every way but the wig, she was the picture of vigor. I really, really liked her so I feel a bit guilty even mentioning the wig, but it made me worry for her a little, thought it made her appear a bit vulnerable.
The photo op we had with Suzanne Somers was going to be a very big deal our publicist told us. We were to meet her on the set of her series, Step by Step, and she would take pictures with us and ALSO, Entertainment Tonight was going to be there to document it. I had never been on Entertainment Tonight, obviously. The day of the op came. We all convened on the set. We waited in the mostly empty studio audience while members of the cast ran through certain scenes. Our picture was supposed to be at 11:00 but Suzanne was running behind. An hour passed, another hour passed. It was kind of annoying to wait around, but also, exciting to be on an actual tv set. Obviously, it was something I dreamed about all my life, and I was there, just not there in the exact way that I’d imagined.
Finally, after 2 hours, Suzanne Somers appeared. Full make up, and then some. Full hair, and then some. I must be honest, she was beautiful. The biggest smile, the set’s lights added an extra twinkle to her azure eyes. Twenty years had passed since she had been Chrissy Snow, but I got it. She was a star, always would be. Someone positioned the cast around Suzanne. Our stage manager arranged the toys for the tots, that he’d lugged in from his car, prominently around us. If I recall, a few of us held them in our hands. As the flashes went off, I looked down at Suzanne, so beautiful and for the first time, caught sight of her hands. Everything about her had been spackled and pulled into a semblance of youth, but her hands still told the truth. Old lady hands, I thought at the time, though a quick Wikipedia search tells me she would have been 49 on that day. So, give or take a few years, my age now. Entertainment Tonight filmed the entire thing, eventually pulling Suzanne aside for an interview with us talking to each other in the background. We asked when the segment would air, but were told they “weren’t sure.”
On our way out the door, someone in Suzanne’s camp handed each of us our own Thighmasters as a gesture for making the trip. We giggled at the time, but I kept mine for a good 15 years, stored haphazardly in my closet. It’s the only gift Suzanne every gave me, I thought, I can’t throw it away.
But of course, it’s not the only gift Ms. Somers ever gave me. She gave me a great story, a fun memory and a lesson. It might seem bittersweet, how even when we try to hold onto youth, our hands will still give us away. And that’s one way of looking at it. But you know, as I said, I’m almost Suzanne’s then age now and I have a little more respect and admiration. Those hands reminded me of what she had weathered, and I’m not just talking about She’s the Sheriff. Suzanne Somers is many things, not the least of which is a survivor. And just as my nails remind me of what I can change, my hands will always remind me of what I can endure.