You Have to Give Them Hope

harvey-milkI am home after a whirlwind trip to the Bay Area. A friend of mine, Michael Gaffney was doing a reading of the one man show he’s been working on for a few years now and because I’m not working and I could, I decided to drive up for it on Monday and come back last night. He lives in the East Bay and the show was in Berkeley. I thought I was going to head home yesterday morning, but the City by the Bay called to me. I could not be that close to San Francisco without crossing that bridge, both literally and metaphorically.

So, I drove first to Coit Tower. I parked on Sansome, I think, and decided to climb the Filbert steps to the Tower. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, and enjoyed the lovingly restored structure with WPA murals and an ancient Otis Elevator and took several pictures from the observatory deck. And then I took another set of steps down, back to my car. As I was pondering the mixed blessing that living in one of these Telegraph Hill apartments would pose, I noticed a plaque, in a garden. This was Grace Marchant Garden and the plaque itself was to honor a man named Gary Kray who tended to the garden from 1979 to 2012. “His selfless dedication to friends and flowers will always be remembered.” Of course, I wondered if Gary Kray might have been gay, reasoning that any man who tends to a garden, in San Francisco, for 33 years, well, it’s possible, if not likely. This morning, I found his obituary where a friend shared that Kray’s big loves were San Francisco, Paris and the British Monarchy, so, you can draw your own conclusions. His obituary also told me that he worked nights as a cab driver so he could maintain his garden during the day. I thought about the sacrifice he made for doing something he loved and how that sacrifice touched the hearts of so many people. And his work lives on. Anyone, tourist or local, can stop and enjoy the flora and fauna as they take in the spectacular views: it’s a legacy.
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After a quick visit to the Sutro Baths and the fairly new incarnation of the Cliff House, I headed to the Castro for a quick lunch before hitting the road. I walked by The GLBT History Museum, and thought, this is my solo San Francisco adventure, I should check this out. It’s basically one large room and one could spend 15 minutes or a couple of hours there. What struck me most was the section dedicated to Harvey Milk. There was a hologram image of Milk and a blue button with instructions to push the button to listen to an excerpt from his famous tape recording that is featured in the film Milk, where he surmises that an assassination might be imminent and he conjectures what his legacy might be in the event of his death. I had turned away from the hologram as I listened to his words, while looking at pictures and artifacts, I heard him talk about someone from Altoona, Pennsylvania who called him, sharing that Milk’s election had given him hope. Harvey Milk also offered that, if he was assassinated, he would hope to see “every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know.” As I pondered his legacy, I turned around and noticed that the hologram was gone and through the glass, I saw a blood stained suit laid out. My response was surely the curators’ intention because I was truly shocked by its presence. As Harvey Milk continued to speak, I scanned the crimson soiled shirt and tie and jacket. As I became a bit emotional, his words were both a salve and a call to action. His life and death affected and inspired so many people, all races, all sexual identities, all ages.

I thought about Gary Kray and Harvey Milk as I drove down the 5 last night. How these San Franciscans had had these very different, but enduring legacies. They both were a product and a tribute to a city that holds many treasured memories for me.

I must confess now that I’ve buried my lead, and I did it on purpose. Because even more than Gary Kray and Harvey Milk, the person I thought about most as I travelled home was my friend Michael. He’s been the subject and guest star in several of my blogs as well as an occasional guest blogger. His show, at Berkeley Playhouse, a one night only event (so far), was a staged reading of his solo memoir The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses. While he’s been a professional actor for over 25 years, he’s also been a cater waiter for several years. His story is about the juxtaposition of the two careers, the two worlds. It was something I clearly related to, having worked in restaurants, on and off, since I was 19, but it’s a universal theme. Who among us can say that our lives have turned out exactly the way we thought they would? Michael’s story made me laugh and cry, with honesty and humility and passion and tenacity. It must also be noted that the theatre (designed by Julia Morgan, btw) was filled by other artists and cater waiters and artist-cater waiters who love and root for Michael as much as I do. I think it’s rare for someone to be as loved, treasured as he is. I’m so proud of the work that he’s done on this show and I look forward to the next chapter.

So, three men. Three very different legacies, but they were the men who permeated my thoughts and even spoke to me on that long drive home last night. I remembered another famous speech by Harvey Milk, about giving people hope, its importance, and how each of these three gave and give me hope in their own ways. It could have been a lonely trip, but I felt I was in good company.

Guest Blogger, Megan Heyn: Balance

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My friend Megan recently went through a rough patch with her health. She is much better now, thank God. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she might be interested in writing about it. She said yes. This is Megan’s story and I’ll let her tell it, but I want to share what happened when she wrote something on her Facebook wall on her birthday a few months ago, when she was in the middle of a dark time. She shared what she was going through and her wall was filled with messages from people, friends and family, telling her that she and her husband Patrick, her parents too, were in their thoughts and prayers. A million I love you, Megan!’s. I know it was a sad and scary birthday, that more than anything her birthday wish was to feel better again. I’m so glad that she is better, obviously, and I’m glad she is willing to share her story. I think there is something powerful about writing about what you’re going through, while you’re going through it. Maybe as we write, we understand ourselves and life and our loved ones a little better. If you know Megan, you know that she is a light, sunshine, and I think if you don’t know her, you’ll see that light in the way she has honestly shared this chapter.

Balance: a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.

Balance is the key word. It’s the word my dad always uses to enlighten me when I get stuck or confused in life and need guidance. Simple enough concept, yet it’s always been one of my biggest struggles. If I read that it’s good for you to drink 50 oz. of water a day, I’ll start drinking 100. Wait, what? A new study says meat is bad for you? Then consider me a vegan! (Notice how I skipped the preliminary step of being a vegetarian. Go big or go home!)

For four years I lived my life as a devout new age health junkie. I started with the easy stuff, you know, eating a sandwich on lettuce instead of bread (ridiculous). Then I graduated on to the hard stuff, and before you know it, I had a mason jar under my sink filled with homemade mouthwash, and a husband scratching his head and cursing my very hippie existence. The goal of this life style was to achieve perfection, both physically and mentally. To anybody on the outside looking in, it seemed that I lived the ideal lifestyle to achieve health, beauty and success. I was an organic-gluten-free vegan, kicked off everyday with a green juice, grew my own sprouts, made my own kefir, exercised 5 times a week, meditated daily, attended new age conferences, constantly reading at least 2 self help books at a time, never drank or did drugs, and of course was a consummate positive thinker.

Well, you know those ladies who get addicted to plastic surgery? They start with a “minor lift” and then 6 surgeries later, they’re barely recognizable as human. That’s what happened to me. I was addicted to self-improvement and healthy living. And instead of it making me the most beautiful, healthy and successful person around, I wound up with an incurable disease, ulcerative colitis. It’s an autoimmune disease of the large intestine. To be clear, that’s the area where all this healthy food was passing through. (Sweet, sweet irony.) I’ve spent so much time laughing about this! (Side note: I’ve spent zero time laughing about this).

It’s been a year and a half since my diagnosis, and I am just now bouncing back from my worst colitis flare yet. And, surprise surprise… this flare came as a direct result of my pursuit of “natural perfection”. You see, every time I’ve gotten this illness close to remission, I go off my medication and try to “do it the natural way,” a way that doesn’t involve prescriptions with scary side effects. Acupuncture, herbs, this, that, I’ve tried it, and each time I have crashed and burned. I always wind up even sicker than before, and consequently needing even more prescriptions to get back on track.

This particular flare began when I went off all meds and tried to heal strictly with diet and supplements. I was an idiot. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. It can… but I should have known with my previous record that it wouldn’t work for me. I spent two full months unable to leave my house with the exception of my frequent trips to the doctor. For those unfamiliar with the disease, your colon becomes inflamed and ulcerated so during a bad flare, you are in the bathroom passing blood and mucus all day. It was pretty common to rack up 20 trips to the bathroom daily. On top of all that, I developed a fissure (a cut in the rectum) and hemorrhoids as a result of the frequent flyer miles I logged on the toilet. My insides were shredded and so was my soul. I became severely anemic from all the blood loss. I couldn’t sleep because I was in constant pain, and even turning on my side would cause another even more painful trip to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat because that made me sick. One day it took me two hours to eat a single egg. I couldn’t be left alone because I didn’t have the energy to get up and feed myself so my mother and father had to come and stay with me so my husband could go to work. I was officially an invalid.

But thank God for those prescription drugs that I have always been so afraid of, because they saved me… again. This time around, I won’t be going off them without explicit consent from my doctor. I’m still struggling, it may take me months to get back to a state of health that I’m satisfied with, but I’m so grateful to be a fully functioning human now.

And it all comes back to balance. It’s ok for me to be on medication, that is just what my body needs. It is ok to eat healthy, but you need to “treat yo self” on a regular basis. So for those of you beat yourself up after eating that cookie, I say celebrate the fact that you posses the ability to indulge every now and then. I’m a prime example that being all healthy all the time doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve given up on perfection. I will never be perfect. And if that is the case, I might as well loosen the reigns and live a little. Every time I let go and add something to the “bad” side of my balance is a huge victory for me.

Last week, for the first time in forever, I used non-organic bath products, chalked full of paraben. One small step for humanity, one huge step for Megan Heyn.

Remembering a Friend

Sunset on the Missouri RiverA friend died a couple days ago. He was an alumni of the same Bible college I attended. I’ll call him Charles. There is a part of me that feels like I should let this sit before I start writing about it. Even though I’ve changed his name, I wouldn’t want to say anything that would hurt his parents should they ever stumble upon this blog.

I did not know Charles well while we were in college. That seemed like a pity a few days ago and even sadder now. We lived in different dorms, ran with different friends. We only connected a few years ago via Facebook, and to me, that’s when our friendship began.

We had a lot in common. Both from small Midwestern towns who went to Bible college in the 1980s. Also, I’m sure you’re already ahead of me: he, like me, was gay. He was a minister a few years after college, like me. He moved to a metropolitan city, like me, where he started a life with other gay men and women, people who, judging from the posts on his Facebook page, loved him dearly.

A few years ago he returned to his Midwestern home town to take care of his aging parents. I think Facebook became even more valuable to him then because it allowed him to keep close to all his friends, both near and far.

We messaged each other back and forth last week about something that was bothering him. He spoke of a specific incident, a specific person who had been merciless in his views on Charles’ sexuality. Someone he had known many years, someone who even went to our same college, this person, he told me, had disowned him as a friend. And it hurt. I tried to encourage him that he had many, many friends that accepted him exactly as is. He said, “Thanks, Bro, you have been a lifesaver.”

When I read about Charles’s unexpected passing, I was heartbroken. I know he had so much pain in his life, that sometimes it felt unbearable for him. All weekend, mere days ago, he posted pictures of the cute dog he was dog sitting for. I had seen the pictures and goodness knows , there’s nothing I love more that cute dog pictures. I thought I had clicked like on several of them, but apparently I had not and I cursed myself thinking that Charles didn’t even know how much I liked those dog pics. I’m being silly, I suppose.

And actually, that’s the least of it. Since I started this blog, I’m always looking for the next story. When we talked last Tuesday, when he shared frustrations about the judgments he felt from Christian friends and I tried to encourage him, be like that guy Barnabas, the encourager, someone I learned about back in Bible college. I reminded him of the many, many adoring friends he had, tried to make him feel better. We were kindred spirits, sensitive boys who went into ministry to try to save ourselves from being gay.

The next day, I asked him if I could write a blog about his experience, I told him many people would relate to his story. I told him I wouldn’t use his real name unless he wanted me to. I also told him I wouldn’t share his story without his permission. He never responded. My last contact from Charles, if you call it that, is the time stamp on my message telling me what day and time he read it. From his silence, I feared that he thought I saw him more as a story than as friend.

And now he’s gone and I feel like I let him down. Maybe I’m letting him down more by writing about him, but I’m making a decision and I hope that it lands in the spirit it’s intended. Charles was a beautiful, kind, funny, passionate guy. I’d rather not be writing about him in the past tense, because I wish he was still with us, fighting the fight. If you read this and you remember him, I hope you remember him fondly, as I do. And if you are a Christian, a conservative evangelical Christian, I hope you add him and his family into your prayers. And if you are person who had a friend from long ago, a friend you’ve lost contact with because they live a lifestyle you don’t agree with, I hope you’ll reach out and tell them you care, that you love them. We don’t know what tomorrow holds.

I’m really sad this morning. I’ve been sad since I read the news. And I’ll be sad whenever I think of him for awhile. I went to his Facebook page and read the beautiful tributes people have written. One wrote, “You were always so kind to me and I will never forget how supportive you were of me. You told me I could do anything and be anything I wanted and would always remind me of how loved I am.”

“You told me I could do anything and be anything I wanted.” And that is the way I will always remember Charles, a beautiful, kind, funny, passionate man who left us far too early. Rest in Peace, Friend.

Frozen

Never-Been-KissedI’ve definitely been a little sentimental lately.  You might perhaps remember a post from last week where I mentioned that my job of 15 years is coming to a close this week, Saturday is my last day.  A few days ago, I had a conversation with my friend and co-worker Gabriel about another recent blog post.  He chided me that the title of the blog Class of ’84 Reunion caught his eye because he wasn’t even born in 1984.  (Very funny, Gabe!) But we talked about the post, about something that happened long ago, and he mentioned that that’s the thing about people you haven’t seen in a long time, they are locked in, frozen, as the person that you last had contact with.  Years, decades could pass, but they are still that 9th grader or 7th grader or whatever.

And because that particular post had a certain amount of resonance, I have heard from many, many of my classmates in the last 36 hours.  And it’s weird, because that thing that Gabriel talked about, that frozen in time aspect, related to those people too.  I heard from P—–, who when we were in 7th grade, we were in all the same classes.  She was the prettiest girl in the 7th grade and I had a crush on her just like everyone else.  She’s obviously an adult now, kids of her own, but in our exchange, all I could remember was the statuesque girl with the feathered, raven hair.  It was sweet.  And I heard from M—–who reminded me of arm wrestling in the school cafeteria.  He flattered me by saying that he thought I won, but I’m sure he did.  I got a message from H——, my neighbor growing up and I remembered our summer before 9th grade where all the kids in the neighborhood hung out every day.  It was the only summer that we did that, but I thought so fondly about it today.  I talked to S—– who was on the French Club trip to Canada, and T—– who was one of the stars of my summer swim league, and C—- and A—- who, with me, comprised 1/3 of the gayest T-ball team in Kansas sports history.  With a few exceptions, I have little contact with these people in my 2014 life.  They are frozen, at 12 or 14 or 15 or 17.

Also today, I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite movies, Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore, as Josie Geller who had to go to high school twice to really appreciate it.  I tried to find a video of her voiceover at the end, where she talks about the people from high school.  I couldn’t find it, but I did find the speech. “Those girls are still there. The ones that, even as you grow up, will still be the most beautiful girls that you’ve ever seen close up.  The athletes, and the immense sense of fraternity and loyalty that they share. The smart kids- who everyone else always knew as the brains. But who I just knew as my soul mates, my teachers, my friends.”  I feel like I had my Never Been Kissed moment yesterday, reconnecting with these people who were my bright spots of youth, people I admired the most in my formative years.  

And now I think about Gabriel and my friends from Barney Greengrass, AKA Barneys New York Restaurant.  It’s a graduation of sorts.  There is a possibility that many of us will be back in the fall in the new incarnation, but the truth is, who really knows what the future holds.  Yesterday, was the last time another friend Kristin and I worked together.  As she left, I hugged her tight in a somewhat successful attempt to make her cry.  “You’re not going to make me cry, Ray,” she said with misty eyes. And then we laughed. It was a nice moment that I hope I never forget.

I’m trying to tie these groups together, old friends from youth and these co-workers who’ve been my friends so long that they feel like family. Some will remain fixtures in my life and others, of course, will remain frozen as they are in June 2014. But frozen is not a bad thing when the memories are warm. (Get it?) If I don’t see Gabriel or Kristin or Rudy or Jonathan or Olya or the rest for another 30 years, they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. And it’s nice to know that in my heart, my sometimes embittered heart that has survived a few hurts, there is room for love for so many, old and new.

I told you I’ve been sentimental lately.

The Grand Surprise

leadI am currently reading a book called The Grand Surprise.  It is the journals and letters of a man named Leo Lerman with biographical information interwoven, edited by Stephen Pascal. Lerman was a writer, critic and editor, but he was also known for the regular salons he held at his home on the Upper East Side which included the likes of Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Christopher Isherwood, Peggy Guggenheim, Diana Vreeland, etc.  He died in 1994 at 80 and even though I’m only on page 77, 1949, I can tell he lived a rich, full, life.  

I just finished reading George Plimpton’s Truman Capote biography and Leo Lerman is one of the hundreds of people interviewed for that book.  As much as I love reading Capote’s work, the more I read about him, the more I think I probably would not have liked him if I’d known him.  Well, maybe I would have liked him, but he would have been one of those friends I would have to keep at a distance.  He could never be a confidante or a person to depend on in a crisis.

Lerman, on the other hand, seems to me, a kindred spirit.  What I’ve read so far, journals and letters from his 20s and 30s, are about loneliness, vocational directionlessness, romantic complications, frustration and judgment about being overweight, all things that resonate with the 20s and 30s incarnation of myself and are likely to be themes, to some extent, for the rest of my days. And, like me at 28 or 32 or 38, the one thing he knows he has are good friends to share his life with. There is something about Lerman that I recognize, something also, that I love.  Would we be friends in real life?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

I need an escape from my real life at the moment.  Between Capote and The Grand Surprise, I’ve enjoyed spending time in mid 20th century New York City.  My job of 15 years is ending next week.  I’ve worked in the same restaurant, a high end lunch spot in Beverly Hills that caters to Los Angeles’ wealthy, since 1999.  I started when I was 30, it’s been 1/3 of my entire life.  The restaurant will reopen in a few months with a new identity, a new name, a new menu.  I could very well be back and also, in the intervening months, something else might come up.  Still, it’s an end to a time of my life and it’s bittersweet.

I suspect that in the future I will write more about this ending of one and beginning of another chapter in my life, but right now, when I start to write, I find I have no perspective.  I have no idea what the weeks ahead hold for me.  Which is kind of exciting, but also a little scary.

So, perhaps, one can understand, why I’ve buried myself in these thick books about charismatic gay men from another time. I close my eyes and imagine throwing intimate gatherings in my living room where all that is served is a jug of cheap wine and a big block of cheddar and everyone sits and gabs and laughs and drinks and eats. We all drink too much and talk too loudly and passionately and later, when I’m cleaning up the remains, I think to myself, my, aren’t we the smart ones!?

The accompanying picture is a painting by John Koch. Leo Lerman is in the foreground, conversing with pianist Ania Dorfmann. The artist is the lean, bespectacled fellow mixing drinks at the bar. He is somewhat famous for another painting called the The Sculptor which I wrote about many months ago, back when this blog was new.

Come Into My World

Butterflies-yorkshire_rose-15990936-1280-960It’s been kind of a long few days.  I received several sweet comments on my Facebook page after my last post.  Yesterday, I was feeling a little pleased with myself when I read something a relative wrote about a conversation we had that had hurt her feelings.  Of course, I apologized immediately, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about it.

I don’t need to go into the specifics here.  It’s a conversation that took place 20 years ago.  I don’t actually remember the conversation, but I do not doubt that it took place.  I was wondering if I would have felt better or worse had I remembered.  It’s a wonder I haven’t received more messages from people in the last 72 hours, reminding me of hurtful things I’ve said, I’ve been around long enough to inflict a few scars of my own.

Since yesterday, I’ve thought about how much hurt we all deal out, most unintentional, hopefully, but some completely willfully.  I do not hold a grudge against the former co-worker that I wrote about on Saturday.  If I saw her tomorrow, I would be happy to see her.  Some friends conjectured why she would say what she said to me, but really, who knows.  I’ve always been a little bit of a brat.  To love me is to love me in spite of my occasional bouts of obnoxiousness.  I can think of reasons why a person just ultimately may not be a fan of Ray Barnhart.  And to play devil’s advocate, I can think of a few reasons why someone would like me, too.

I am sensitive, sometimes overly.  Hence, the name of my blog.  I’m the kind of guy who would smart for twenty years about a comment he received from a person playing an under 5 in the soap opera of his life.   But I am also the kind of guy who feels very bad for hurting the feelings of a loved one, especially someone he’s looked up to since he was a boy.  

Her words to me were, guess what, let it go.  I need to let a lot of things go. I don’t want to be the kind of person who is remembered for his unkind words.  

I’m ending this blog with a video of Amy Grant singing one of her newer songs called, “Come into My World.”  It reminds me of the risk involved when we invite someone to know the real us: the insecurities, the arrogances, the cruelties and kindnesses, too. All the messy rooms and scattered pearls.

Lobsters

Ross-and-Rachel-ross-and-rachel-31487773-700-700To me, they were Ross and Rachel.  They seemed destined to stay together forever, a perfect fit, lobsters.  That’s why, for the sake of this story, I will call them Ross and Rachel.  They were among my first friends when I moved to LA.  They were and are creative talents.  They had been high school sweethearts from someplace else who moved to LA with the same dreams I had.  Jealous type that I was, I thought how much easier it must have been to move to LA with a support system already in place.  

Several years ago, they announced to their friends that they were separating.  It appeared amicable, but eventually Ross and Rachel decided to divorce.  It seemed that their friends were more heartbroken than they were because whenever we all were together, they still seemed, if not a couple, at least, united.  Ross and Rachel-ish.

Rachel threw a big party for a milestone birthday.  And though they were divorced, living somewhat separate lives, Ross was in attendance.  I remember tons of people, tons of alcohol, tons of food.  Not long after midnight, I found myself talking to Ross and Rachel in the kitchen, just the three of us.   It had been a great party and we were all three feeling the effects of a great party, so to speak.  I don’t really remember what we were talking about.  Rachel wasn’t at her most lucid, but hey, it was her birthday.  One minute, she was sitting at a chair around the kitchen table, nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie, the next minute, she vomited onto the entire plate of cookies.  And as I stood there shocked and grossed out, Ross immediately went to her aid. He pulled her long hair back until she stopped throwing up.  He wiped her face, cleaned up the mess on the table.  I tried to help by cleaning up things that had not been hit directly, but Ross had no such boundary issues. As I pretended to straighten the kitchen, Ross lovingly put Rachel safely to bed. In this moment anyway, she was still his responsibility, and he was going to get her through this crisis, just one of many that they pulled each other through in their many years together.

Relationships are hard and things go on in private that others don’t know about or need to know about.  I don’t really remember how Ross and Rachel ended up on Friends. Wasn’t it a little fuzzy as to whether they would get back together or stay together?  I remember thinking that they weren’t going to grow old together, at least not in the traditional sense.  But like lobsters, there were going to be bound to each other in certain ways.

My Ross and Rachel never got back together, either.  They both moved on with their lives with great success, and as far as I know, remain amicable.  It’s a happy ending.  But I will always think of that night, how they reminded me that love reveals itself in many ways and it’s often more expansive than we realize.

What’s on Your Napkin?

Gotham City Improv gang @ Dwyers pubOver twenty years ago, I was cast in small role in a play in New York.  One of the leads was a woman I’ll call Amy, since that is her name.  She was one of the most magical performers I’ve ever seen.  I remember watching her in rehearsal, marvelling at how funny she was, and also so quick, too.  We seldom talked to each other, I was fairly shy and she was the star.  I remember one rehearsal when the entire cast went out to eat together and Amy sat there knitting while everyone else chattered excitedly. She was so mysterious, she made me think of the greats, like Geraldine Page or Maureen Stapleton or Sandy Dennis.  In fact, she sort of looked like a young Sandy Dennis.

A few months later, I took a class at a place called Gotham City Improv.  By fate, Amy was my teacher.  It was the second level of their program, I had taken the first level earlier in the year.  Although I passed, my first level experience was unremarkable.  Well, that’s not true, probably.  I didn’t connect with any of the other students, I did not feel like any of the other students thought I was funny or interesting.  I also did not feel like I was funny or interesting.  Level 2 was different.  I made three new friends in that class, 3 people who have been my friends for twenty years now.  I’ll call them Maryanne, Jerry and Rebecca, because those are their names.  Jerry loved every old movie, just like me.  Maryanne knew every detail of every 70’s sitcom, just like me.  And Rebecca, floated in and out of every scene like the Tennessee Williams meets Beth Henley character that she is, just like, well, just like I see myself in my dreams.  I thought that they were all three magical and funny and interesting and they treated me that way, too.  We laughed.  We wrote.  We sang.  We collaborated.  We actually took every subsequent level together.  We passed every class and looking back, I wonder if I would have succeeded in the same way, if not for them.  I wrote for them.  I would improvise for them, thinking, what will make Jerry and Rebecca and Maryanne laugh?

A few months after I moved to LA, Rebecca moved here, too.  Also, around the same time, I was walking out of my apartment building and I saw Amy walking in.  “What are you doing here?” I asked.  “I’m moving in here.  Do you live here?”  Of all the apartments in LA, by fate or by chance, Amy moved into my building.  And over movies we rented from the corner Blockbuster and budget batches of sangria, we became the best of friends.  

And then Jerry moved to LA and the four of us, Amy, Rebecca, Jerry and I spent a great deal of time together.  We’d see each others plays.  We’d take turns hosting little dinner parties.    And then Jerry moved away.  

Amy met a guy named Jonathan.  He added seamlessly into the mix.  It’s always nice when your friend dates someone you like.  And it’s even better, but actually a little rare, when you like them so much that they become your friend, too.  And of course, that’s what happened with Jonathan.  

I remember one night, several years ago, when Rebecca, Amy, Jonathan and I were at happy hour and Rebecca shared her napkin theory, how we all have a napkin with what we have available listed on it.  It can be objects, like a camera or a computer or a recording studio or a car, but it can also be your skill set, like accents or writing or improv or organization.  Also, on your napkin, you should list the friends that you have, that you can collaborate with.  At the time, we teased Rebecca about her napkin theory.  We still do.  But she couldn’t be more perceptive.  We all have a napkin.  And we owe it to ourselves to ask, “What’s on my napkin?”

I was thinking about my napkin last Monday night after my Spark show.  Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan and I went for drinks together.  There was a spirit of celebration, the show had gone well.  And those three have been friends with me long enough and seen enough shows that did not go well, that we revelled in the glory.

My napkin is very full.  I don’t say that to brag, because I don’t have a movie camera or a great talent for accents.  But what I do have is an embarrassment of riches in the talented friend department.  I feel so lucky to have collaborated with so many people, friends from Gotham City and Popover and Groundlings and Party and Barney Greengrass and Uncabaret.   You know who you are.  

Another thought occurred to me last Monday, which is, you never know, when you meet them, who is going to be an under 5 and who is going to be a co-star in your story.  As I sat with Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan, I marvelled at the prominence we’ve had in each others’ lives.  And how lucky I am that they are on my napkin.  

Fuzzy Navel

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When friends talk about all the keggers they attended during their college years, I always feel not a lot, but a little jealous. My Bible college did not condone drinking alcoholic beverages, it was cause for expulsion. I didn’t really think about it a lot, I didn’t pine for Chardonnay (then). I accepted the rules and believe me, my friends and I still had a lot of fun.

But then there was one night. I think it was my senior year. Two of my friends and I were hanging out, I don’t remember what we were doing, maybe walking around Northpark mall, or getting frozen yogurt at TCBY, I don’t know. But one of us, out of the blue, suggested we go drink fuzzy navels. Was it me? Maybe. There is at least a 33% chance it was my idea.

My friends, I will never reveal their names, not even now, agreed that it sounded like fun. We discussed the if’s, the how’s, the why’s, the when’s. We decided we would do it. “What the hay?!?!” So we drove to a liquor store and I bought a fifth of peach schnapps and then we drove to Dillons and bought a half gallon of Orange Juice. Then we drove around Joplin looking for a spot to drink our fuzzy navels. If I recall correctly, and I’m not saying I do recall correctly, we parked on a quiet road on the outskirts of town. And we made our drinks, probably the three weakest fuzzy navels ever made. In retrospect, I wonder what we drank out of? Did we have ice? Some details I don’t remember, but I do remember we giggled as we sipped our drinks, conjecturing about who had the most to lose if we got caught by cops. We felt like the sons (and daughter) of anarchy. “I think I’m drunk.” “Me too.” More giggles.

After about an hour of this raucous heck-raising, we hightailed it home, promising each other we’d take our story to the grave. Yes, in a way, I’m breaking that promise, but like I said, I’m not naming names.

So, in a way, we were typical college students, sowing our wild oats, or more accurately, wild oat. It was the only time I ever drank in college. Clearly, I’m not ashamed, but I am glad it was an isolated event. If it happened more than once, it wouldn’t hold in my memory the same special way. And even still, when I read or hear about a fuzzy navel, I think of those two friends, and I certainly hope the same goes for them.

Summer Camp Friend

photo-26My friend Eboni left LA last week, moving back to New York with a promise to return to LA as soon as possible. I am one of many Angelenos who hope that she will be back sooner, rather than later. She moved here in February, in part, to take an acting class, that’s where we met. With a little help from me, she got a job where I work and as it turned out, she moved into my neighborhood. We became fast friends. And there was something about the intensity and brevity of our time together that made me think of several Summer Camp friends that I only saw in the summers, and to this day, they are among my favorite people.

Thanks to Facebook, a few of these people are still in my life. My friend Melinda, who was the second girl I ever kissed, btw, is now a missionary in Africa. Her sister Michelle is a published writer who wrote a book about her years working for a carnival in Tales from the MIdway. There’s also Dawn, who reminded me of Michelle Perry, the prettiest girl in the class of ’83 in my high school. At camp, I would follow Dawn around camp like a puppy dog and do anything to make her laugh. All it takes for me to trip down memory lane is to hear the word haven and instantly, I’m a 16 year old at Hidden Haven Christian Camp. It was the awakening of so much who I am or was to become. In my hometown, I was made fun of a lot, I held back from doing things because I didn’t want to be ridiculed, but at camp, I sang solos and wrote skits and “testified.” It’s where I learned that I liked being in front of people. I developed crushes on my fellow campers, boys and girls, and it was more than a little confusing at the time. In the boys dorms, I’d have a friend that we would talk into the night, so proud of ourselves that we could chat about so many things until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. In my world at home, I did not feel interesting, but at camp, when I spoke, people listened to me. It’s the first place I heard an Amy Grant song. And every Friday, after we said our goodbyes, my Mom would take me home and I’d take a long, hot shower, then tumble into bed for an afternoon nap. As I drifted in and out of lucid dreams my heart would still be electrified by the events and people of the week.

Anyway, seeing Eboni leave last week, it brought back those memories of camp. We had such a fun time getting to know each other, working together, sharing a class together, taking walks in the neighborhood. If it sounds like I’m boasting when I say I introduced her to some of LA’s best Happy Hours like this and this and this, well, then I have to own my braggadocio! Every day at work before she left, I’d sing Michael W. Smith’s Friends to her. I have a hope that Eboni will move back to LA and our friendship will resume and even grow, but we never know what life holds. She and I may never live in the same city again. Still, I’m grateful and electrified by the time we spent together talking mai-tai’s and Tennessee Williams and baked goods and Alfre Woodard. And regardless of geography, just like Michael W. Smith says, there are some friendships that are forever.