Count Your Blessings

Sometimes my own stupidity amazes me.  Lately I have been bogged down with “why aren’t things going better for me right now?” type of questions.    Without a doubt I have been given a second chance on my life and here I am wasting my time and emotional energy on negative, self-pitying thoughts.

I know it is normal human nature to have these kinds of thoughts, but come on!  I should know better than that.  Could some things be going better? Of course!  But I need to remember what I have been through and how few people have actually made it through the same battles and are here to talk about it.

I am humbled by this realization and am so very grateful for everything I have.  And it really is an incredibly long list of things I am so lucky to have, starting with my amazing wife Nancy.  I don’t know how I have been able to fool her these past thirty-five years into loving and caring for me as much as she does, but I will gratefully take it.

Then there are my three great kids and their wonderful spouses, who I love as if they were my own kids.  Then of course there are Anne and Porter, my grandchildren, and Three, who is due in early December.  I had always been told how great it is to be a grandparent, but the truth is it is ten times better than anything I was ever told.  As far as I’m concerned these kids can be pooping out gold bricks!

And I am so fortunate that both of my parents are still with us and doing as well as they are.  And of course all of my great brothers and sisters, their spouses, their kids, my aunts and uncles and their kids and their kids’ kids, my in-laws and their families, the list goes on and on.

I have read in several places that when men are on their deathbeds, they usually express the same regrets: they wish they hadn’t spent so much time at work and that they had kept in better contact with their friends.

I realize how lucky I am to still have three very dear friends from my days at Servite, the all-boys Catholic high school forty-five years ago.  Jeff Stehly, Mark McCallick, Tim Boulger and I were all on the football teams together, which explains part of our close bond but they are also just great guys.  While we now live on opposite coasts, I still stay in touch with them and I count my blessings for their friendship.

I can only hope that everyone else is as lucky as I truly am.

Broadway Joe

Having spent most of my life in Show Business, I have gotten to do a lot of fun things.  One of them was when I was a young, twenty-two year old stage manager at the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera which back then about an hour and a half drive east of Los Angeles.  The production was of the not-so-well-known musical Li’l Abner, of the comic strip fame.  However, the production starred the VERY well-known Joe Namath in the title role.

I believe he was about thirty-eight years old at the time and he had done a couple of other musicals in the Midwest prior to our production.  While he may not have been called “Broadway Joe” for his musical theater talents, he was decent in the role and he sure packed in the audience.

He was also one of the nicest guys you would ever want to work with.  He respected the business and everyone else in the show, even the actress who had to carry around a little pig at every performance.  Show Business – go figure!

Every time I would go into his dressing room after the show, he had his feet up and ice packs on his knees.  But we would talk through the show in detail because he was always striving to improve his performance.

And I will never forget seeing the line of women outside the stage door after every performance, just wanting to see Joe and get his autograph.  Broadway Joe comes to San Bernardino.

Next!!

My oncologist in Norfolk is part of a large practice called Virginia Oncology.  I’m not sure, but I think they are part of a national chain of oncology practices.  I don’t think there is anything worse on your nerves than going to an oncology office, especially for the first time.  The fear of the unknown combined with the feeling like the waiting room is a crowded bus terminal can be pretty overwhelming.

All of that being said, I am extremely happy with my oncologist and his level of expertise in the field.  Even though he really knows his stuff and stays current with all of the advancements in my types of cancer, he has never hesitated to suggest I get second opinions or even have complicated procedures performed at the Duke Cancer Center, which is only a three hour drive away.  I realize how lucky I am to have such a great doctor and I know that not everyone in my circumstance can say the same thing.

If you are going through cancer treatments, DO NOT settle for care that you don’t feel good about.  Just because they are the ones wearing the white coats doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to the care and treatment that you deserve.  This includes talking with you in language you can understand and spending time with you until you fully understand what is going on.

If you need to find a doctor near you who specializes in Multiple Myeloma or Leukemia, these websites can be a great help:

The International Myeloma Foundation:  https://www.myeloma.org/are-you-newly-diagnosed

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation:  https://themmrf.org/multiple-myeloma/resources/

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society:  http://www.lls.org/

I cannot stress it enough, DO NOT settle for insufficient care.  We really don’t get second chances with our situations, so you have to be your own best advocate!

South Africa

The other day a friend reminded me that it was Juliet Prowse’s birthday and we shared some memories of what an amazingly talented dancer and performer she was.  I also remember from working with her how kind and gracious she was.  There was the time in her dressing room in Las Vegas between shows when Elvis showed up to see her.  Of course we were all hanging around her dressing room lounge area and I still remember Juliet admonishing Elvis if he was really taking all the vitamins she had had given him.  “Yes, mam” was all he replied as he hung his head with embarrassment because we all knew he wasn’t taking them.

I was also lucky enough at the age of twenty to travel to South Africa with her show in 1977 to perform in Johannesburg and Cape Town.  I’ll never forget flying into Johannesburg and seeing the rich deep red clay soil mixed with the white stucco houses with red clay tile roofs and all of the blooming purple jacaranda trees – really beautiful!

And there was the time in Cape Town, which I thought looked a lot like San Diego, when I visited a guy who had a tomato farm up in the hills outside of town.  As we stood in his field eating big tomatoes off the vine we looked out and I could see where the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans merged off the cape. I could clearly see the different colors of the water bumping up against each other.  Also, really beautiful.

But for all of the county’s natural beauty, we were there during the period of apartheid and to me being a young white guy from suburbia Orange County it was truly an eye opening experience.  In Johannesburg we played in a huge tent theater, but having already worked the tent theater at the Sacramento Music Circus I knew my way around.  But I found the African crew members didn’t quite know what to make of this young white guy who pitched in and worked alongside them.  I came to find out that was not the typical way things worked there.

The terrible toll of apartheid really struck me late one night after a show when I was walking through downtown outside our hotel.  I saw the garbage truck driving down the street picking up the trash – except the truck never stopped.  It just slowed down a little bit and the African crew who were emptying the cans into the truck had to run to keep up.  The truck kept moving and the crew had to keep running just to stay up.  I realized that if they didn’t, they would lose their job and their permission to be in town after dark. So, so very sad.

I will be forever grateful to Juliet for providing me with so many amazing opportunities.

Welcome To Tech Theater

Show Business and theater has a rich collection of traditions, which is not surprising considering how long theater has been around.  I am sure that among the first groups of cave men, there were a few individuals who were the storytellers.  I wonder if those special individuals were revered or made fun of as it seems to be today?

Books have been written about some of these traditions, like how it is bad luck to whistle backstage in a theater (someone might take it as their cue to lower a sandbag on a rope onto your head) or how it is bad luck to wish someone “good luck” before a show.  Instead you are supposed to say “merde” or “break a leg.”  Why? I have no idea.  And don’t get me started on where “break a leg” came from.  I have heard a bunch of different explanations for the source of that one.  And how it is bad luck to say the name of a certain Shakespearean play, so instead you say “the play whose name we cannot say.”

Then there is the tradition of teasing the newest and youngest person on the technical staff.  When I was getting started in theater as a young Production Assistant a loooong time ago, the sheets of colored material that you put in front of a stage light to get certain colored light were called “gels.”  I believe this was because they were made of some form of gelatin.  So the trick was to tell the new technician their job was to wash some of the gels.  What they didn’t know but soon found out was that when you put water on the gels they would melt into a messy goo.  Naturally the older technicians would take this very seriously while the young technician would freak out.  Ha ha ha!

But then the industry ruined this prank by making the gels out of plastic so they no longer melted.  But being the creative types they are, the technicians moved onto a new prank to pull on the young staff.  To be heard onstage, actors all wear small body microphones.  In order to keep the microphone pack (about the size of a box of cigarettes) from short circuiting from an actor’s sweat, the packs were put into rubber condoms.  Problem solved!  So at the beginning of each new show or season of shows, the tradition was to make the youngest, newest technician – man or woman – be given he job to locate and go out and purchase a whole case of condoms. Again, ha ha ha!

But now with the internet, a person can go online, place an order and have the case delivered to the theater – which still raises several eyebrows from the FedEx delivery person.  Those trashy show folk!  Now that I have been away from show business for a while, I have lost track of what is the most current form of torture that is inflicted on the new technicians but I sure they have come up with a few good ones.

What Have I Done Lately?

I never put much belief in the concept that there is a God watching over everything, meting out help only to certain people who prayed hard enough.  If this were true, then why do bad things happen to good people? To test us? I don’t think God is that cruel.

So are we just pin balls bouncing around our world?  In some ways we kind of are, but with the big caveat that by our actions toward others we can help create a much better world to be bouncing around in.  We may not be masters of our destinies, but I really do think we have the power to form a good path for our lives to follow.

But sometimes for no apparent reason our lives will fall onto a very difficult, rocky road.  Instead of belaboring why this has happened, I think the right thing to do is work to make the best of the situation either for ourselves or by helping others.  And yes this can be very hard and sometimes things do not go the way we want them to and things continue to get worse.

But I firmly believe that how we make the trip and live our lives is far more important than any end result.  The beauty truly comes from the efforts we put forth, not necessarily the finished product.

Instead of focusing on the selfish, immoral actions of a few people, I choose to celebrate the caring, loving, selfless actions both large and small that so many people make every day that makes this world a better place. Look at all those amazing young kids who are doing great things to raise money for the poor or cancer research or even animal rescues.  And how about the people who are donating their kidneys and parts of their livers to help others in need?  And on and on and on.

I am humbled by all of these people and their actions.  What have I done??  While it is smaller than donating a kidney (I don’t think anyone would want mine anyway!), I believe being there to help others in their time of need is hugely valuable.  When we do this, the bad things in life seem to shrink down and become more manageable.  And at the same time we become much better people by our actions that we take to make things better for others.

While believing in God and praying can create a good solid base for your life, I think what really matters most is not how hard you pray but how you act toward and for others.

Do Not Read Before Driving

I think it is hilarious how many warnings drug manufactures feel they need to state in their TV commercials for their products.

For a drug to fight depression: “may cause extreme anxiety or depression.  If this occurs call your doctor immediately.” Honestly! That’s what they said!

“Do not take before operating heavy machinery.”  OK, so my asphalt roller/flattener is out.  How about driving my fork lift or my corn combine?

“May cause an erection lasting four or more hours; if so, call your doctor.”  Are you kidding? If that happened I think the woman would be calling the doctor to save HER.  In the meantime the men are saying “great, sign me up!”

“This medicine is not meant for weight loss, but many people experience some loss of weight.”  Again, are you kidding? Sign me up!  It will take care of my problem AND help me lose weight.  But if they said “this medicine might make you smarter” nobody would care or be motivated to buy that drug.

“Do not combine this drug with large amounts of alcohol.”  Help me out here – define “large amounts.” No one should be drinking large amounts of alcohol anyway, drug or no drug!

For a smoking cessation drug – “may cause the urge to consume large amounts of alcohol.” See above.

“Do not take this drug during the day until you know how it will affect you.”  Check!  But if you take it at night, you will be asleep and not know how it is affecting you.

Or the ones with lists of side effects that goes on and on – at least half the time of the commercial.  But my brother in law heard the best one – buried in the list was “may cause anal leakage.” Ouch!

Time Heals Everything

That is a great expression – “Time heals everything.”  In this humble reporter’s opinion (to quote the late, great Howard Cosell), it kind of does and it kind of doesn’t.

Time alone certainly doesn’t heal some illnesses (like cancer) but I have found it does work wonders for softening and eliminating memories of having been done wrong by someone or some other slight.  Not only does fighting a life threatening illness put things into a rather harsh perspective, but so does time.

I will be the first to admit that when you are younger, this is hard to believe.  At that time things seem so much bigger and worse than they eventually turn out to be.  I think that is in part because of our abilities to (mostly) take whatever bad things have been handed to us and then work to make the best of it.  And it usually takes time and perspective to see and understand that.

And this is what makes it so important to “be there” to help others as they struggle with whatever bad thing has been handed to them.  Very, very few of us can work through the big negative things in our lives without some help.  I have always believed that life is a team sport.  Sometimes you are the one needing help and sometimes you are the one helping others.

At the end of the day on this road of life, that is what really matters most.  Were you there to help others?

Ode to Rip

I have had the pleasure of working several shows with Rip Taylor who is still out there making people laugh, but the first time was a loooong time ago when he performed his act at the Sacramento Music Circus under the tent.  I still remember a great bit he did where he sang small parts of many songs, jumping from song to song without a stop.  If my old man’s brain remembers correctly, some of it went like this – and it works best if you sing them without a break between them:

(sung to the tune from Oklahoma)  I’m just a girl who can’t say n-n-n-n-n-n-n-

(sung to the tune “What’s it All About, Alfie?” – younger readers may have to google that one!) What’s that in the pool, algae?

(sung from the tune from The Fantasticks) Try to remember …umm….

(sung) We stand up for Jesus, we stand up for Jesus, we stand up for Jesus (spoken) Well sit down for Christ’s sake!

Applause, applause, applause, take a bow Rip, then exit aisle 7!

There were more that I just can’t remember, but I still think of Rip doing this bit whenever I hear any of these songs and it makes me smile!

Balloons – Cool – Duh!!!

When I was younger I was the Associate Producer for several years under Marty Wiviott at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera.  There we would produce five large-scale musicals a year and perform them for three week runs at the huge 3,000 seat theater in Long Beach, CA.  And we really had a blast doing them!

One year we were producing The Merry Widow.  It was a light operetta starring Ann Blythe, Ed Evanko and a huge cast.  Actually, it had a cast of about 40 actors, an orchestra of 30 musicians and a stage crew of at least 25 stage hands.  So it literally was a production with over a hundred artists.

As I said, it was a piece of fluff show and during one of the last run thrus the Director turned to Marty and me and said “you know what this show needs? A balloon drop during the final number.”  We agreed wholeheartedly and I went to work with Gerry Griffin, our amazing Technical Director to make that happen for the next night’s dress rehearsal.

Gerry worked his usual magic and rigged up a huge fabric sleeve in the fly loft above the stage and filled it to the brim with red balloons.  When it came time in the final number, the balloon drop worked flawlessly and a huge shower of red balloons fell onto the stage.  The problem was that the hall’s air conditioning system pulled all of the balloons downstage and they fell directly into the orchestra pit.  At the time we didn’t think much of that detail and congratulated ourselves for such a great end to the performance.

Well the happiness came to a screeching halt when the show ended and Steven Smith, our terrific Musical Director and Conductor came onto the stage and started screaming “who was responsible for the balloons?”  Being the good soldier that I am, I stepped up to Steven and said it was me.

Steven was blowing a gasket.  We stood onstage a few inches apart while he screamed, and I do mean screamed, at me how irresponsible it was for us to do that without warning the orchestra.  He went on and on.  His point was the musicians were all concentrating on reading their music and playing their instruments when all of a sudden a shower of objects started to fall on their heads.  They were all scared to death.

While I did not appreciate Steven screaming at me, I stayed calm and conceded that he had a good point and I apologized deeply for what happened.  Eventually Steven calmed down but it was one of those scenes out of a movie where we were standing onstage with Steve screaming at me and everyone on the crew kind of slinking back into the shadows.

But the crew got the last laugh because the next day when everyone showed up for the performance and Steven went to his dressing room, when he opened the door it was filled floor to ceiling with red balloons.  Being a good sport Steven laughed it off.  Good job, Gerry Griffin!