Sunday, September 30, 2007

A New Original Play

In early 1982 I brought my California bride back to the Los Angeles area where she lived before we were married. I took a job at California State University, Dominguez Hills [CSUDH] (in the City of Carson) as Director of Research and Funded Projects. In 1997, I moved from that position to organize and become Director of the Office of Community Service Learning until my full retirement in the Spring of 2006.

CSUDH, at that time, was one of the youngest campuses in the California State University system. It had begun in the mid-60s and was what I like to refer to as a "minorities" campus. The student body was a marvelous blend of black, white, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino, Samoan and other ethnically diverse students much like the Los Angeles area. I believe it is the most diverse campus west of the Mississippi River.

A couple of years ago, there was an initiative to build a living history of the campus. Focus groups were held with residents of the local community, past and present faculty, staff and students. The Dominguez Bridge Project was born and one of the latest results of the work is a new play, The Little College on the Hill. I have been cast in it as Leo Cain, the founding President of the then college/now university.

This will be a very special production for me for a number of reasons. I began acting 13 years ago at Dominguez Hills under the direction of Sydell Weiner. In that production of A Shayna Maidel was a young freshman named Naomi Herrera (now Buckley), a first semester freshman at the time, who is co-writer of the present script along with Brenda Arrieta Killian, another CSUDH Theatre Arts graduate. Both of them are among my stage daughters and it was great seeing them this afternoon at the first read through of the script.

The Director is Bill DeLuca who previously cast me in 3 plays, Harvest Moon, Boy and Tales of the Last Formicans. Bill also is founder of Teatro Dominguez which, among other things, takes student written short plays into the classrooms of schools in the Carson area. He is pictured below with Dan Weinell, another one of the cast members with whom I have previously worked.

Bill De Luca (L) and Dan Weinell at the opening read through

So, I'm getting back up on stage again. It's a huge cast of 35 many of whom I have acted with previously and several with whom I worked on the campus over the past 25 years. It will definitely be a challenge and a lot of fun.

And, oh yes, we open November 9 and run 2 weekends.

Friday, September 28, 2007

There’s Always Next Year!

I finally made it out to Dodger Stadium last night thanks to son Seth having a couple of extra tickets that he made available to his dear old folks. It was the first time at game Dodgers' game this season and it was good to be there even if the home team was thoroughly thrashed in a less than inspiring matchup with the Colorado Rockies. I do offer a couple of so-so photos. The first, taken during pregame warm-ups does show the back of Russell Martin (#55), the young All-Star Catcher, as he prepares for the game. It is followed by a shot taken from our seats near the left field foul pole and aimed at the scoreboard (with the full moon visible above the light tower).

Last night's game sort of reflected the year for me. At mid-season both the Dodgers and my beloved Detroit Tigers were in first place. With about 10 days to go in the regular schedule, they both had a chance to make the playoffs as the wild card team in the respective leagues. But that all ended this week and now the final games on Sunday will put me out of my baseball misery.

Added note: As I watch/listen to tonight's Dodger/Giants game, the great Vin Scully mentioned that the Dodgers and Tigers have the 2 worst records since the All-Star break of all the Major League teams. (Sigh - it has been a very long 2nd half of the season.)

It will be a dull October for me. I have no emotional interest in the teams that will be competing for the league pennants and the World Series. I will be counting the days until spring training starts in 2008, constantly reminding myself that, "There's always next year!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Residual Surprise. . .

About 10 months ago, I booked a job in which I was part of a sketch comedy scene to be aired on Talk Show with Spike Feresten, a TV show that aired at midnight on Saturday nights. In order to book the job, I was required to join AFTRA (American Federation of Radio and TV Artists) because it was the 3rd job I had worked under AFTRA jurisdiction. (The first 2 were several years ago when I appeared in 2 episodes of Arrest and Trial, a series of re-enactments of real criminal cases.)

I never was sure that the sketch had aired. . .until today when I received a residual check for "Run #2." And it was a very pleasant surprise because it was significantly more than the few residuals, mostly under $10, I received over the years for my work on Arrest and Trial.

It does feel good. Now if I can just qualify for membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). I still do have moments when I think I will be discovered some day. After all, it's important that we chase our dreams even after our hair turns white and the body slows down a bit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Wall

Most of the fiction I have read in recent years has focused on mysteries and thrillers. Most recently, earlier this week I finished Faye Kellerman's Grievous Sin. But the recent visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC got me thinking about some of the literature that looked at the World War II years and, pardon the cliché, "man's inhumanity to man."

One of the books I saw in the museum shop that day was John Hersey's The Wall, which was first published in 1950. The New York Times described it in part as "the inspiring story of forty men and women who escape the dehumanizing horror of the Warsaw ghetto." I have just begun reading this fascinating historical adventure.

It is crucially important that we remember the tragedies of war and genocide. I would like to believe that remembering the worst moments in history will enable us to become better people and avoid the atrocities of the past. Unfortunately, the years since World War II are rife with examples of just how cruel and inhuman people and governments can behave. But we must remember! We must work toward a time when the atrocities diminish and eventually end.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

Marcel Marceau, the greatest mime of our time, has died at the age of 84. He was born in 1923, the son of a kosher butcher who died in Auschwitz. Marceau and his brother were active in the French Underground in WWII. The full Los Angeles Times obituary can be found here. The photo below was taken by Justin Kahn on July 31, 2002.

For those of us who were not privileged to see Marceau in live performance, we can only be thankful that we had the opportunity to view his art in film and on TV. No one else in my lifetime could express so much exquisite emotion and tell such touching stories without uttering a word. I am saddened deeply by his death which came on Yom Kippur.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur . . . and Rain Falls at Last

It started raining last night just as we were leaving for Kol Nidre services. It was the first rain of the season following a year which was among the driest since they began keeping precipitation records in Los Angeles.

During the service, lightening lit up the windows of the sanctuary; quite a setting for the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The rain had stopped when we left the synagogue but the skies opened fully before we completed the less than 1 mile drive home. It rained most of the night but had stopped by morning when we were ready to return to the synagogue to continue our day of prayer and reflection. The heavens opened again during the Yizkor memorial prayers and then stopped for the rest of the day.

Somehow it seems fitting that rain should fall on the Day of Atonement; that the air should be cleansed as we ask God to forgive us collectively for our transgressions of the previous year.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A (Technology) Postscript

Ever since Earthlink helped me "solve my DSL problems," I have not been able to receive and send a signal through my wireless router. The router simply could not work with the new modem Earthlink sent me for the cost of the shipping charges. The new modem was okay running through an ethernet router, but not the wireless one. Finally, since the original problem was the line signal, I decided to see what would happen if I reinstalled the old modem.

It worked!!! Not only does that modem still work (contrary to what the first 2 of many Techs told me), I was once again able to install my wireless router which has been communicating very nicely with the modem for the past 24 hours.

Having succeeded in getting my system to operate using the same configuration it had before the line signal problems began, I called Earthlink and suggested that they ought to give me a credit for the overnight shipping charges they billed me since I neither needed the new modem nor did it allow me to use my wireless router. Believe it or not, they agreed, with just one proviso. They are sending me a shipping label so I can return the modem to them. When they receive it, that will give me the $39.50 credit.

I have learned a lot about both myself and Earthlink during this process. First, I know something about computers; my initial diagnosis of the problem was correct even if the first 2 Techs I talked to insisted it was the modem, not the signal. [If they only had agreed to test the signal when I first called, it would have saved both them and me a lot of trouble.] Second, Earthlink ought to train all the tech staff to recognize that occasionally customers know what they are talking about. Too many companies refuse to recognize that the problem may be their service and not the customer's computer. Finally, I once again discovered just how persistent you have to be in order to get problems resolved and to not get stuck with footing the bill for the service provider's shortcomings.

And now to continue my journeys on the internet.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Oh, What a New Major Appliance Year. . .

Why is it that when one major appliance in the house fails, they all feel like they have to join the party? Is it something like a contagious disease? But is it so surprising when most of them in our house are in the 15-25 year old range?

It wasn't too surprising when the upright freezer out in the garage dies several months ago. It had been complaining for a long time and was easy enough to replace. Then, early this summer, the refrigerator decided to become incontinent. It never stopped working but we had to mop up water every couple of days that it was depositing on the kitchen floor. I did write about the adventures of getting the new refrigerator into the house here.

And then last Sunday, the clothes dryer refused to turn on. It just sat there making clicking (or was it clucking noises). Since the washing machine had been on its last legs for a couple of years, we decided to buy a matching pair.

Oh, they are truly beautiful. But since I had not shopped for major appliances in nearly 2 decades, the combined refrigerator, washer, dryer experiencing leaves me in an ongoing state of recovering from a major dose of sticker shock. After such a big new major appliance year, we may have to curtail a bit of spending elsewhere. But, on the positive side, they should be good for the next 20 years. Let's see, how old will The Ancient One be in 2027?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Family Came to Visit. . .

I was working out this morning, doing my semi-weekly strength training session in the garage when I heard a noise. I looked up and saw a peahen strutting in the open door. I guess my reaction startled her as she turned and headed across the driveway . . . followed by 4 youngsters, not babies but clearly youthful peafowl.

I was able to get one decent (not great) picture of mom with 3 of her offspring. At the time I snapped the picture, I believe the 4th one was on the roof. They hung around for a while, appearing to be feeding on something buried in the ivy hedge.

My fascination with these large birds continues, especially when a family of them visits up close and personal.

Monday, September 17, 2007

From Baldacci to Kellerman; Espionage to Murder

I finished reading David Baldacci’s The Collectors and have moved on to Faye Kellerman’s Grievous Sin.

I enjoyed The Collectors very much, mostly because of the characters who make up the membership of The Camel Club. But a second plot line was not fully resolved and I know I will meet Annabelle Conroy in a future Baldacci novel, probably with her new friends.

Grievous Sin was originally published 14 years ago and is one of Kellerman’s books that I had not yet read. From my first introduction to her writing, I have been a fan of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazurus Novels. This particular book begins with the birth of their baby daughter.

So I leave of the world of espionage in the nation’s capital and return to the solving of murders in Los Angeles (with a back story that involves Orthodox Judaism).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Avenue Q at the Ahmanson

We took the plunge this year and bought season tickets to the Ahmanson Theatre. Last night we saw Avenue Q, the first show in the series.

We had previously seen this musical on Broadway at the end of 2004. Both productions were wonderful but the experiences were very different. When seeing it for the first time, I recall laughing so often and so hard that I missed chunks of the storyline. This time I laughed less but was able to appreciate the richness of the multi-layered messages.

Somewhere I read, perhaps in the playbill, that some messages can be delivered through the puppets that would draw outrage if they came directly from humans rather than the characters they brought to life. This was most evident in the song Everyone's A Little Bit Racist. (Actually, this was a message I tried to deliver in college classrooms when I was teaching only to have many of the most prejudiced students deny that they ever had any racist thoughts. Obviously, they could not deal with an issue when they were in self-denial about their own attitudes and feelings.)

There are truly many lessons to be learned from this production. But the theatergoer must have an open mind and not be easily offended by the use of some raw language and on-stage puppet behavior. After all, this musical only takes on finding purpose in life, low self-esteem, racism, homophobia, internet porn, relationships and a few other themes. And it is all done with sensitivity, wonderful humor and more than a little "tounge-in-cheek!"

All in all, it was a great night of theatre although I am sure that if I ever see Avenue Q again, I will find a lot of things I missed the first 2 times around.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Nieces and Nephews

When I wrote about my great-nephew's Bar Mitzvah, I included a lot of pictures but none of all my nephews and nieces who were there other than the Bar Mitzvah boy and his parents and sister. Well, I was talking with Son #1 yesterday and he thanked me for posting the photos since he was not able to be in Rockville for the celebration.

So I thought maybe I should post as many other pictures that I have of the other nieces and nephews who were there. (As I do so, I offer apologies to Catherine and Rob whose faces escaped my cameras lens.)

First, photos of my niece Fran (daughter of sister Bobby) and her son, my great-nephew Geoff:

And 2 of my sister's sons, Steve on the left and Mike on the right (with my son Seth in the middle):

And the final photo that I have is of Elizabeth (the Bar Mitzvah boy's Aunt on the right) and her partner Vanessa:

That covers all the niece and nephew pictures I have from the trip. Again, my apologies to Catherine (Dan and Elizabeth's younger sister) and Rob (my sister's youngest son). If any family readers have pictures of them, I will add them later.

I Like Harry Bosch. . .

I have finished Michael Connelly's Echo Park and I plan to read more of his mysteries featuring Detective Harry Bosch.

I liked this very human detective who speaks his mind, sometimes gets caught with his foot-in-his-mouth, yet moves openly and honestly to solve the crime and get the bad guys. And it's always fun to read books set in an area, in this case Los Angeles, I know. Was it great literature? Not really. Was it great story telling? To my taste it was.

Moving on, I have started another David Baldacci novel, The Collectors. In it I will again meet with The Camel Club, a group of "four men with mysterious pasts" whom I was introduced to in Baldacci's book with that title.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

L’Shana Tovah

On the Jewish calendar, the year 5768 begins at sundown this evening. As I prepare to participate in synagogue services, I am thinking about the year just past and all the good things that happened. But those feelings are tempered by memories of those no longer with us who have been so much a part of my life.

Each year is a new beginning and the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide an opportunity to cleanse the soul, ask for forgiveness for the collective transgressions of all people, and pray for a better year ahead . . . for everyone on earth.

L'Shana Tovah. Have a good and sweet year.

Lost by a Peacock; Found by a Human

Standing in the driveway the other day, I noticed a feather which appears below. While I am sure that the peacock in question lost it while passing by, I would like to think of it as a gift to those of us who enjoys the beauty of these majestic birds.

Yes, I know that at times I seemed obsessed by the peafowl in our neighborhood. But our area is among the few where these birds live and breed and they are either loved or vilified by the residents. They can be loud and messy but seeing them always brings a smile to my face and brightens my day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembrance. . .

As I returned from my morning walk 6 years ago today, Donna was standing at the front door, her face ashen. "Billy just called," she said, "to tell us he was okay." "What are you talking about," I replied. "That's what I asked him," she answered.

That is how we first heard about 9-11. Being in the Pacific time zone, we were either sleeping or, as in my case, out on an early morning walk when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in southern Pennsylvania. For the rest of that day our eyes were glued to the TV screen. What had happened was inconceivable and has changed the way that we live.

Bill, my eldest son, had been on his way to work in midtown Manhattan that morning. The subway train he was on had just passed under the World Trade Center. He reached his stop and came up to the street, walking toward his office, his face buried in whatever it was he was reading. He heard an airplane and, as he related to us, thought that it sounded like it was flying very low. He turned, looked up and saw the first of the two planes fly into the tower. I can only imagine the horror he felt on that morning and ensuing days.

Today, we have so many reminders of 9-11; the brave firefighters who lost their lives, the people from many countries who perished, the passengers who fought back at the cost of their lives so that the 4th plane came down in a field. Today, the vary language we use when thinking about our security has changed from what it was. We accept restrictions that we never thought would be acceptable, much less necessary, in a democracy. We willingly accept the long lines and indignity of searches of our luggage and selves as we travel in the interest of "homeland security," an entirely new term in our every day vocabulary.

Last week I spent an entire day of remembrance at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Today, as I think about 9-11 and the tens-of-thousands of mostly innocent lives that have been lost since then from terrorism and the ongoing strife in the Middle East, it seems that humankind has made very little, if any, progress in its ability to live in peace and harmony. Oh, how I pray that world leaders will emerge to change that and bring tranquility and understanding to the world inhabited by our grandchildren.

Yisgodol, v'yisgodol. . .

Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s Time to Show (Pictures) and Tell…

Well, we've been back from our trip for 4 days and it's time to talk about the parts of the trip I didn't write about earlier and share some photos. There were so many aspects of the week we spent in the Washington, DC area that it's hard to sort them out.

First, the primary reason we were there, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, was for my great-nephew David's Bar Mitzvah. It was a Saturday afternoon (Havdalah) service at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD.

David did a wonderful, confident job with the readings from his Maftir portion in the Torah and his Haftorah. I was impressed with his commentary on a selection from Pirke Avot (Sayings of Our Fathers) which he chose because, in his own words, he did not understand it when he read it the first time.

David, the day before his Bar Mitzvah

While the service was warm and pleasant, it reminded me of how different the different branches of Judaism are from each other. We belong to a conservative congregation and there were parts of the reform Beth Ami liturgy that were quite different than what I am accustomed to hearing. But it was a joyous event and I thank David's family for honoring my sister, brother and me by asking us to remove the Torah coverings after it was taken from the Aron Kodesh so it would be ready for reading.

After the service, there was a wonderful dinner dance in the Temple's social hall. It was very much geared toward David and his friends although there was much to enjoy for all of us older folks. I mean, I even got up and danced and that doesn't happen very often.

Dancing the Hora (that's Donna front and center)

Proud parents Kate and Danny welcoming guests at the party with David and Sara

Second, as a result of the Bar Mitzvah, family gathered from around the country. A lot of pictures were taken and I'll share just a couple here.

As much as I hate to say it, my brother, sister and I are the "older generation" of the Cohanim. That's Andy on the left, Bobby in the middle and "baby" me. (What can I say; I have always been and always will be the baby.)

And below is the California branch of the family; Donna and me with Seth and Alicia.

There were many nieces and nephews and cousins there too but I decided to keep this at a manageable length and I don't have pictures of all of them.

We did get a chance to spend Labor Day in DC at the Holocaust Museum. It is important to note that this museum urges us to never forget what happened to millions of Jews, gypsies, political dissidents, homosexuals, Poles and other nationalities at the hands of Hitler. Since World War II, unfortunately, we have seen too many other instances of genocide.

For me, the most emotional moment on the main museum tour is walking through a railcar that had been used to transport people to the concentration and death camps.

Although, to my knowledge, I had no family members lost in the Holocaust, I have many friends who did and I know a number of survivors. And, ironically, my first role when I started acting was that of Mordechai Weiss in the play A Shayna Maidel by Barbara Lebow. It focuses on the reunification of a Jewish family following World War II. The emotions I experienced at the Holocaust Museumin were similar to what I felt in that role .

Finally, we took an additional side trip, driving to Baltimore to visit with Rabbi Ron Shulman and his wife Robin. As I mentioned in my post the day after our return, they moved to Chizuk Amuno Congregation 3 years ago, following 21 years as our Rabbi and Rebittzen here. It was such an enjoyable afternoon and evening getting caught up with them. The synagogue is magnificent. While I do not have a picture of the outside of the building, I do have one of the main sanctuary.

We had visited downtown Baltimore early in the day, having lunch at a restaurant in Fells Point, before driving out to the synagogue. And the day was topped off by a Rabbi led tour of Jewish sights in the city followed by dinner at a kosher Chinese restaurant.

Wow! We really did a lot in 6+ days! No wonder it has taken several days to recover from the trip. Now we can sit back and enjoy the memories and pictures from the journey. Ok – enough "show and tell."

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Little Things Mean a Lot. . . and Now a Mystery

Well, I finished Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and I am glad I read it. I have no intention of writing a thoughtful, extended analysis and I hope I am not being too glib when I say that one of its central messages is that "little things mean a lot" when trying to make changes and deal with major problems. But it is one of his major points and we can learn from it.

Now back to my normal reading as I begin Michael Connelly's Echo Park, a mystery in which detective Harry Bosch is drawn back to a case on which he worked but couldn't solve over a decade earlier.

Ah yes, this book seems like a perfect companion on my daily walks around the neighborhood.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Visitor #2000

Visitor #2000 arrived on the site at 8:07:05 PDT tonight. I don't know who it is although I do know the IP Address is 75.22.84 and that the visitor is here in the Pacific time zone and stops by regularly for very short visits.

Thank you, whoever you are.

New Refrigerator vs. Old Doorway

How do you get a new refrigerator

Through an old doorway? Why, just remove the door and the molding. . .

How else? That's what we had to do today when the refrigerator ordered a month ago finally arrived. Now I just have to reinstall the molding and put the door back up.

Back home from DC

Well, we have returned from our week in the Washington, DC area and a fine trip it was. We arrived home last night rather tired from the journey but with wonderful memories of my great-nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, the gathering of family member we see too little of, visiting with our former Rabbi Ron Shulman (who moved to Congregation Chizuk Amuno in Baltimore 3 years ago) and his wife Robin, and actually finding time to take in some of the sights in Washington. Going through security at Dulles Airport yesterday made us even more aware of how much more pleasant it is flying in and out of Long Beach on Jet Blue whenever we can rather than using LAX.

Now it’s back to trying to get used to a normal routine. I still plan to do a separate blog on David’s Bar Mitzvah and perhaps one on the Holocaust Museum. But first I must get caught up on my sleep. I do like my own bed!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Memorials Day in DC

The Bar Mitzvah festivities for my Great Nephew David ended this morning as relatives and friends began to scatter across the country to their homes. I will be writing more reflectively about the synagogue service and David's "passage" through the rites that confer upon him full responsibilities as a Jew at a later date after I return to California. But this afternoon began the vacation and sightseeing part of our stay in the DC area. You might say that today was Memorials Day as we visited several of those sites that commemorate major events and people in our history. The pictures below represent the order in which we visited the sights.

The first 2 are of the World War II memorial; the first a panorama of the Pacific side of the memorial and the 2nd focusing on the recognition of fighting in Western Europe with a further pinpointing of Alsace, an area in which my father-in-law Sy Brenner was taken prisoner.

Next, a view of the Korean War Memorial, one of the most haunting displays I have ever seen.

Then a shot from just below Abraham Lincoln.

Then we walked over to the Tidal Basin where we viewed the Jefferson Memorial from across the waters.

And finally, our last stop of the afternoon and a shot of FDR at the entrance to the massive memorial honoring his presidency.

So that was our awesome afternoon. Tomorrow will be spent along the mall and a visit to the Holocaust Museum.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Recording Family Recollections

Just a quick post here. In a few minutes I head downstairs where my niece Elizabeth is going to shoot some video footage of my sister, brother and me. She wants us to talk about family history, or at least those memories we might have. It should be fun and interesting.

I did warn her that it was risky to interview all 3 of us in a group. When we are together, we have a tendency to all talk at the same time, interrupting each other and plowing ahead to make sure we make the points we want to make even if no one is really listening. I suspect the same trait appears in other families when they get together after long separations. Elizabeth said that she would take care of our natural tendencies to interrupt each other. We shall see.

It is a bit sobering to think that what is about to be recorded will become part of a visual family history that will allow younger and future Cohanim to hear the words and see the faces of those of us who are now elders after we have moved on. But I am also excited about Elizabeth's project.


Just got back from the shoot. It went both well and as I expected; there always seemed to be a minimum of 2 voices speaking. My sister-in-law had a lot to say and clarify but wanted to stay off-camera. AT times it seemed a bit chaotic but Elizabeth feels that she elicited a lot of good information from us.

Although I was a bit skeptical about interviewing us as a group, I must confess that the interchanges between my brother, sister and me also triggered a lot of memories that might have remained hidden had she talked to us individually.

Thank you Elizabeth for asking us to share our recollections with you.