Saturday, August 1, 2009


Today's the day to realize summer is slipping away. It's time to hurry to the beach a few more times,, enjoy the waves, flippers, snorkeling, suntan lotion, and sand in your shoes.

Not for city lady Em -- no -- the last month of summer is ninety degree temperatures on our top floor, floor fan blowing, living room air-conditioning roaring, bedroom machine purring.

No green -- just one bedraggled plant in the hall that's hanging on -- its sun is the bright overhead florescent.

Outside -- gray, and dusty red, dulled brown buildings -- no green -- no leaves, no grass, trees, or flowers. A block away on the avenue there are four skinny trees in 5 foot square plots of earth, where New York City dogs want to go -- tug and strain on their leashes to visit, despite the KEEP OFF sign.

The seasons in the city are determined not by Mother Nature, but by various city agencies . Spring is when Consolidated Edison attacks the city streets with jackhammers and shovels, inserting more power lines, creating traffic jams and noise. Spring in NYC is a time to keep your windows closed.

Summer is for major renovations -- building owners installing new windows, re-roofing roofs, steam-cleaning or pointing the bricks, which mean scaffolding -- scaffolds adjoining scaffolds that are required by law to extend 20 feet on each side of the property being renovated. The maze of scaffolding, like a dark wooden roadway overhead, blots out other buildings, the sky and the sun. When I get to a corner, usually I glance up at the street sign to make sure where I am.

The fall season in NYC-- ah, the September routines -- doctor, dentist, accountant appointments, dilemmas you postponed ...

It's driver's license renewal time -- do I call the California DMV -- has it run out of money and fired the employees who send out the "time to renew letters?" I can't get a New York license unless I use my married name, which would mess up my other ID's. (I'm one of those married ladies who uses her maiden name -- E.F. is me -- E.F has in her pockets all my dreams at different phases of my life.)

And then -- uh-oh, oh- dear -- cool, cooler, cold weather, and darkness at five p.m! Winter clothes come out of the closet, summer clothes go back into the closet. (I flourish in hot weather. I can't stand being cold.) A defensive, protective state for mind and body is needed for dancing, and household/business chores.

New York winter is rain (dribbles, downpours), and snow (flurries, blizzards), and gray -- gray everything except for holiday decorations -- Halloween pumpkins --turning into turkeys -- becoming Santas -- and puddles. Mud, streams of debris, heaps of slush -- curbs to leap over, bypass, tiptoe around, avoiding kids with bulging backpacks, more panhandlers than last year, and shoppers loaded down with shopping bags, boxes, and cartons.

Someone will undoubtedly send us a poinsettia. We'll debate --buy a tree, or use the little artificial one we bought a few years ago? Maybe we'll buy a geranium plant ... gee-whiz, it'll be the night before Christmas and HAPPY NEW YEAR in a minute ...

Oh please, no! I'm not ready to re-think resolutions, plans, hopes, dreams, building renovations -- when and if we're ever going to kiss our old brown refrigerator goodbye and junk our beat-up old stove, and shop for new appliances. (It's a job we've avoided for years because we don't want to deal with all the irritating, seemingly unsolvable problems that arrive with every new thing you buy.)

Well, Valentine's Day is coming, and the Goundhog might see his shadow and then, in the warmer almost spring-like weather, we'll mosey over to PC Richards on 14th Street, check out appliances, and the four skinny trees on the avenue. Hey. we're true blue New Yorkers -- we ll see if they're taller, and enjoy the shoots of green, the little weeds burgeoning in those 5 x 5 plots of earth.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Broke, unemployed, divorcee -- there I was, a trained dancer, with reviews -- "Little lithe and utterly lovely" said Walter Terry in the NY Herald Tribune; and no income. (In the divorce deal I got what I wanted -- the company, the studio, the sound equipment, the $600 debt my ex husband and I had borrowed from his mother. He got what he wanted, a new wife, and a teaching job at a major university.)

Meanwhile ... rent, utilities, food ... I had to get a job. A friend of a friend knew the producer of the Bell Telephone Hour. Strings were pulled. They needed a "go-fer" -- pay was $450 per week, starting immediately.

I hated the title. I didn't know what to wear. In blue jeans, blue silk blouse, sneakers, hair in a pony tail, I arrived at NBC. Upstairs on the twelfth floor I was given a list: props to assemble, music to deliver to the rehearsal; dressing room assignments to give to the star -- told to follow Mr. Louis Armstrong around and run errands, act like a hostess, "make the Negro comfortable."

GULP! In the arts, prejudice takes a different form. Blacks were moving in, taking over, getting grants, directing, choreographing, contributing fantastic music. Secretly I resented them for being IN, me being just another white dancer and a white choreographer, with white artistic ideas -- nothing fascinating like black people in the arts were now contributing. But the tone of my boss at NBC, the way he said "Negro" was scary.

Mr. Louis Armstrong sat in the star's dressing room, with his wife. He was friendly, and kind, and he asked my name. The guys in his band were in the other rooms. A huge guy said to call him "Big Daddy" and get him some ice. I did. I whirled and whizzed around hyper-efficiently. I knew how to do income tax, book tours, run a dance company, make costumes, drive a bus, and stand over a mal-functioning engine at a gas station and not be sold a ridiculous repair.

Now, I copied music for Voorhees the conductor. I helped the choreographer stage the entrance and exit of the singing chorus. By the third day, I was definitely a member of the Bell Tel production family. The associate director said "You're doing the work of an associate producer. A girl like you -- if you join the union, you could be earning $900 a week."

Louis Armstrong, the star, was going to be performing on a set (they called it a wagon), which would be slid onto the main area, just below Voorhees and the Bell Telephone orchestra.

The producer told the choreographer who told me -- "Get Armstrong and his boys on their wagon during our orchestra's tune up."

I said, "That's ten minutes before Armstrong's going to perform. Why not get Mr. Voorhees to announce him? Then, hit Satchmo with a spotlight, follow him as he and his men take their places." (That was the way people were usually introduced on the Bell Telephone Hour shows which I'd watched as part of my preliminary training in the NBC office.)

"I don't think so" said the choreographer. I made a beeline for the director. "No," the director said, "They don't want a spotlight on Armstrong."

The producer, the big boss came into the main stage, with a list of the guest stars for the next show. It tickled me, sort of ... and worried me, sort of ... Was I going to be a regular nine to five employee now.?. What about my daily ballet class, and getting bookings for the company?

I cleared my throat and told him -- "It would be easy for me to stage Mr. Armstrong and the band, and keep the Telephone Hour tradition -- I can get them to march in as Mr. Voorhees announces them. "

He said, "No %x@#$& nigger with a snot handkerchief is making an entrance in my show."

But-but-buts filled my mind. I guess my jaw dropped because he laughed a not pleasant laugh, and said, "You take care of errands, dear, I'll take care of the art."

So, the distinguished Mr. Armstrong on the Bell Telephone Hour waited on the wagon, and then the lights faded up as Conductor Voorhees said, " The Bell Telephone Hour is proud to present -- Louis Armstrong, and his "boys" (Click the link! It's a great band!)

The tech on Camera One told me afterwards, he'd been told "No close-ups!"

The tech on lights said, "No spot -- they don't want to see Satchmo sweating."

I went back to life as a single woman, worrying about money. I taught kiddie classes, booked a tour, and never did get to be an associate producer.

Our president had a summit meeting yesterday -- beer and talk with the Cambridge cop and the black Harvard professor, and put out that small fire ...

After many, many years, that's what we have to do ... Birthers, blue dogs.. twitterers, bloggers, Tea Party People, all the media publicizing it -- repeating the ugly words the cop and prof exchanged, scrutinizing each word, debating them, booing them, alleluia-ing them -- paying profoundly close attention to racial aspects of having a black president -- everyone repeating the ugly stuff over and over and over and over ... Aren't we brain-washing ourselves even though we know that electing Obama was, and is a wonderful beautiful thing for our nation and the whole world?

We have to stop fanning that old fire -- put it out, put out the embers of a fire that's been burning in America since the first black slaves three-hundred years ago.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I'm a clean up in the p.m. person

I need the morning to be bright and orderly, with things where they're supposed to be. During the day, if I need to find something and have to make a mess on top of yesterday's mess, I get distracted -- can't get organized -- can't find anything.

My mother taught me to make the bed a certain way, and do the daily dusting -- first this, then that -- she had all the household chores planned and organized.

Naturally, I rebelled. I do household chores haphazardly, the fastest way possible so that things look nice. Dorothy our maid goes for exactitude. (See my post "My Sister Doro," May 6). Starting in our bedroom, she proceeds room by room, cleaning everything in sight thoroughly.

For me, the reason for cleaning/tidying is to be able to think about my work and create. So I check my calendar for appointments -- check JCs two calendars -- the upstairs one often has appointments that he didn't put on the downstairs one, which he often misplaces. JC's office is always a mess.

But upstairs in our home, JC is a "Dorothy." Ask him to put a clean plate, cup, or bowl away, and it will be checked for debris, (sometimes re-washed and dried) and put where it belongs, and if the area isn't neat, he'll take out all the plates, check the shelf liner, make sure it's flat, wipe it down, before he puts the plate away.

And he's a stickler fixer when it comes to a carpentry, electricity, and plumbing. But it balances out -- I get wife points for my cooking.

Furthermore, I keep my office more than tidy -- I clean the computer screen, every day update my "blog idea" list, check and handle the incoming, the out-going mail, if necessary re- organize my three boxes -- Blog files, Office file, and The Readery. Also I'm a stickler and an expert when it comes to keeping my computer shipshape.

And now that JC has the new computer which I ordered for him, got loaded and everything installed for him -- I'm sticklering his office every night when I tidy mine -- positioning his pencils, erasers, highlighters, his correspondences, his books , even arranging his computer glasses and Windexing his new monitor . Got to confess -- I'm enjoying doing that for him, as well as earning myself wife points.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Celebrities, famous people, are always surprising when you are face-to-face with them. It's the larger-than-life image on the screen, the visions of him or her on television, the articles about them in newspapers, and the books about them that make the name/the face historical -- unreal.

I arranged a meeting with Leonard Bernstein. (Practiced pronouncing the last syllable of his last name STINE, not STEEN -- even now I hesitate -- which is it, which was it?)

The second time I was employed by Green Mansions, (resort in the Adirondacks where I had my first job -- see my post "Hoard the Vanished Brand" June 6), I'd created some of the staging for Bernstein's chamber operetta, "Trouble in Tahiti."

Mark Ryder and I were the dance team in residence. I'd worked with the leading lady on her big song --"There is a garden ..." It was a fascinating aria -- confusing libretto, but I loved the music.

The Frankel-Ryder Duo (or Ryder-Frankel Duo -- we were already arguing about top-billing), had just been discovered by the IN culture groups in New York. So it wasn't difficult to get one of our new friends to set up a meeting.

Leonard Bernstein was lying down on a couch, when we came into his study. "Hi" he said.

Shock! When he stood up he was gorgeous -- even handsomer than he looked in the pictures -- bare feet, green striped pajamas -- but gee -- very short.

I was 5.4 in those days. (See my post "Black Coat Lament," May 25, about the inch I lost.) Mark was 6 feet. A Google reference says Bernstein was 5.8 -- mm -- my eye is sharp -- I think he was shorter.

Years later, when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were the media King and Queen, Lennie often came backstage for "Hamlet." Richard and JC rehearsed their onstage duel before every performance. Duels, even with blunted swords, are dangerous. Hume Cronyn and I were in the corner watching, Liz was at the mirror, powdering, checking herself.

Into the dressing-room strides Lennie. Richard freezes. JC moving in for a thrust freezes. Richard calls, "Leeeniee!" Lennie cried "Diiickee!" (Dear friends rarely called Burton "Dickie.") They hugged.

I strangled the laugh that welled up in me with a quick coughing fit. Lennie, Dickie kissed -- it was an extravagant, marvelously strange, huggy-kissy kiss on the lips. (Hey, in show biz, kissing on the lips, even passionately, doesn't mean what it means in the ordinary normal real world. )

Lennie dropped in quite a few times. Sometimes before the show -- always with Leeeniee! Diiickee! I got used to it. ( JC and Richard didn't kiss but they often hugged and danced around.) After the show, we'd go someplace for drinks with the various celebrities. (Holy cow, says that part of me who acts like it's nothing -- night after night, everybody who was anybody showed up!)

Liz was in her yellow flowers in her hair phase. I don't remember her outfit, just the black curly hair, the flower, and that marvelous, uniquely beautiful, perfect face -- lavender eyes with that thick fringe of perfectly mascared lashes.

Okay, back to the Frankel-Ryder story -- Lennie gave us permission to work on a "Trouble in Tahiti" ballet. Alas, it didn't happen. Maybe as novice choreographers we just couldn't figure it out. The construction of the music was based on a libretto that didn't lend itself to a choreographic version of the plot as a duet.

My partner and I went on to other things. My "Haunted Moments" ballet to sound effects caught the attention of composer Walter Piston, at Julliard -- there was a flurry of almost-but-not- quite collaborations.

I never did manage to put my meeting with Lennie in a novel, though Cordelia cancels her interview with him in "Somebody" Book I, chapter 27, Installment 4. p. 475, "Mrs. Wife."

Anyhow, DVD's of Lennie's passionate conducting -- the cajoling, powerfully evocative way he demonstrated the emotion he wanted his orchestra to convey -- Bernstein's recordings of Mahler and Beethoven, are unforgettable.

Years later, after Bernstein's wife was gone, we heard the rumors about his sexuality. It was a time when everyone wondered about what everyone else did or didn't do. Most of the celebrities we palled around with, were talking about "playing it both ways."

A young conductor with whom we were creating a musical told us about his meeting with Lennie. "Sad lonely, guy no family around -- the poor guy made a pass..." The casual, cruel picture our young friend painted made me want to weep -- the handsome, gloriously passionate Bernstein exciting a 90 piece orchestra, begging a young man to stay the night ...

Yes, as we ourselves were growing up and growing older, we've heard and seen other sad stories -- inside, behind the scenes, some very private stories that maybe I'll share in some other posts.

The other night we watched the movie "West Side Story." Knowing all the creators, the original cast, seeing the stunning film Robert Wise made ... (He came here, took measurements of my studio, photos of the bars. the floor, the mirrors, close-ups of yellow-pad of dance notes that hangs on the cork board -- used my studio in his "Two for the See Saw" film ...) Enough with the name dropping -- what stays with us, even with all the personal, irreverent, hodgepodge of memories, is the music for "West Side Story" -- the towering talent of Leonard Bernstein the composer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The scary voice croaked -- "What evil lurks in the hearts of men ... Ha ha ha ha ... "

It was terrifying. It implied danger --an enemy hiding in my room, ready to destroy me. I listened to this popular radio drama regularly, nibbling peas from the pea pods. (See my April 16th post "Green Olives.") The Shadow was a spooky hero, who knew who was bad and evil .

Shivering, I wondered if the Shadow knew I'd stolen an extra olive out of the olive jar, and I'd "borrowed" my sister's "Aggie" -- lost it in the backyard bushes. As the show ended, I'd croak with it --"The weed of crime bears bitter fruit ... the shadow knows."

... Evil lurks in the heart ... Bitter fruit ... Even now I sometimes sing-song the words when something unpleasant happens -- someone who's been nice is suddenly rude, or a friend suddenly becomes an enemy.

My friend R was a few years older than I, and someone I counted on. We liked the same music, the same choreography, and when I needed to hire dancers, her experience was better than mine. I responded to looks (tall male dancers, shapely, not too skinny, pretty females), while R responded to technique.

R often advised me about personal things . "Wear more makeup, Em. Spray your hair -- loose ends age you, Em. Don't be buddy-buddy with the kids in rehearsal, Em." I'd nod, but her ideas about grooming and handling employees were wrong for me.

(Even now, I miss her, as a friend and coworker, though she hurt me by putting her "growing older" fears in my mind .)

Just before JC and I moved back to New York from Malibu, I phoned R. I had a project I'd been hugging in my mind, thinking of doing. Jabbering, about the old days, I thanked R for nagging me to do less balletic steps in my Vivaldi solo, and mentioned "Shattering Panes."

"I'm thinking about directing my play, R -- doing a showcase or a staged reading with you as my assistant."

R seized the moment -- jab slash! Right off the bat mentioned a similar play that had bombed, and money -- the union rules that made my showcase idea impossible financially -- and went on about 'inexperienced' directors.' Wow! She thoroughly killed my optimistic, confident playwright's sense that this was the right time for me to try out my play in New York.

I didn't do it. In fact, I couldn't go back to thinking positively about PANES till last year.

Anyway, it got me thinking about other projects, and I went onto other things. But the incident resonates. It changed me -- makes me avoid reunions with dancers who've worked for me, and other former employees.

Does evil lurk in theirs hearts? Is it lurking in mine? Or is it a fact of life, that people you've been buddy-buddy with when you were the boss, have resentments, negative feelings about what you've shared, that they need to express.

I'm not sure why R turned against me. But I'm careful about show-biz hugs and kisses. I avoid the personal chit chat that makes an employee also a friend.

I try to keep my distance.

Monday, July 27, 2009


I would tell the boss of our country:
I'm glad you're there. More than glad -- I feel more hopeful about what's ahead, and safer than I did before you were elected.

I can't stand the heads -- the two, three, or four extra heads on the TV screen, the guys and girls who are there to contribute wise yeses, authoritative no's to the main commentator's subject. Okay, they do have a function -- expressing more pros and cons educates us, but I think we're getting into "too many cooks spoil the broth." Too many opinions are slowing down things, complicating your job unnecessarily.

What you are trying to do for the county, instead of being digested, becomes fodder, food, a tasty subject to chew, tear at, spit out, even vomit on publicly.

I listen to what you say, and even when I don't have any comment or real knowledge about why the current health care providers with their escalating, always escalating costs/charges/ restrictions/ controls, are further endangering our economy -- I hear you. On health care, and Afghanistan.

Yep, on that war, though that war makes me shrivel, cringe, wish, shake my head, shrug --pains my brain because we can't win it, and looming are Iran and North Korea, and Pakistan. Nevertheless, I hear you and thank you for what you've explained, and want what you want to be supported by congress, the media, and we the people.

Your friend who was upset by the police, fairly or unfairly... We whites haven't ever had, or even come close to having the feeling of being color categorized, blamed, profiled -- and having to live with what every black has lived with every day of his life ...

I want what happened to him and what you said, and what the police subsequently said and feel -- to resonate. Continue resonating. It's out there. It's part of our experience now -- educating, enlightening, affecting all of us --no color -- just people.

Thanks for being there, boss.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


1. Image. When I start checking myself in mirrors frequently... that's a symptom that I'm coming down with the blue-flu.

Hey, Dr. Em says -- it's television -- throughout the day you're being hit with weight/osteoporosis/shampoo/anti aging stuff -- why don't you STOP watching television?

(But ... well ... easier said than done ...)

2. Pirouette prowess. the un-fun, the pain of noticing what strived for, what I could do easily yesterday is ... dwindling.

(That other people feel the same way over their various prowesses doesn't help!)

3. World news ... tears? lump in your throat? overwhelming sense of being a unimportant, trivial, faint protestor ...

Hey, Dr. Em says -- it's television -- you are secretly thanking your lucky stars that you are in America, New York and don't have to DO anything except STOP watching, change the channel.

(But ... okay ... well ... easier said than done.)

4. Fixing -- those broken, worn, non-functioning things that you were going to fix, or clean or throw away that sit in the corners of every room ...

Dr. Em say ... fixing and not fixing is a fact of life you deal with or don't deal with while you're trying to figure out what to do on days when you don't feel like doing much of anything -- so turn the page, change the subject, STOP those THOUGHTS and take a shower or have a snack and check the time -- and for an hour concentrate on the specifics of the water and soap or the coffee, the cookie and you're fine.

(But ... well ... okay ... it's 3 p.m. )

It's 4:00 p.m.
Water and soap were nice.
Yum -- cappuccino's at my elbow.

Hey ... gee ... I'm fine.