My Letter From Edward Albee-(Out of the memory box #3)

My letter from Edward Albee Circa 2002

My letter from Edward Albee Circa 2002

Edward Albee’s passing last week was a little hard to take: we only have a couple great American Playwrights left. I wrote him a letter once, and he wrote one to me. The letter (above) was a response to my effusive love of the play “The Goat.” I thought I was the only person that would love the play and I wrote Mr. Albee so he wouldn’t get his feelings hurt when the mixed reviews started rolling in.

(The reviews were so mixed, some critics didn’t review it at all, while it went on to win the Tony award for Best Play 2002). When all of your plays are held up to your “big” play, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which you wrote when you were 30, life can seem like a downward spiral, I suppose.

Turns out  Mr. Albee didn’t need the kudos from me; in addition to the Tony, the was a runner-up for a Pulitzer that year. I put the tickets in the memory box and didn’t think too much about it until last week, when I saw Mr. Albee’s obituary.

*

We rushed into to the theater and took our seats as the house lights flashed a couple quick blinks for the two-minute warning. We sat up close to the stage in the historic Golden Theatre, so close that when Mercedes Ruehl smashes a plate during a climactic scene, I just about jumped out of my chair. There were glass shards lining the edge of the stage. How nobody lost an eye is part of the magic that is Broadway.

Bill Pullman, the level-headed President in the film Independence Day paired with Ruelh. Together they used Albee’s words to lead you to forget how life is when you think YOU have it weird.  The lead actress does the only thing you can do when your husband might have a very hairy mistress. She drinks.

Jeffrey Carlson, (Hitch, All My Children) , did an amazing job as an awkward teenager playing an awkward teenager in an awkward play. Years later I would find out he was no teenager-kudos to hair and makeup.

I was so mind-blown by the content of the play that I wrote a letter to the playwright, Edward Albee. Surprised when he wrote me back, one sentence from his letter would forever change me:

“No two people see the same play!”

Think about this, it not only rings true, it magnifies the theater-going experience and it means that even your grandmother might enjoy a play where sex with a goat is analogous to all of man’s depravity. It seems so simple but it served as a springboard to freedom to write some of the grittier things that, up until that time, caused me to shy away.

I’m not sure what I wrote to Mr. Albee that garnered me such a profuse thank you note, and it was likely the last handwritten note that made it into the memory box before email took over the correspondent world.

Rest In Peace Edward Albee 3/12/28-9/16/2016

 

 

 

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What’s in the box? Episode 2 (One of the 25 jobs)

Someone taking our picture was odd for the times, it was the school photographer with his giant square camera and his blinding flash. Even as an adult, I feared him and his box of combs.

Someone taking our picture was odd for the times, it was the school photographer with his giant square camera and his blinding flash. Even as an adult, I feared him and his box of combs.

I peel another photo out of the memory box, ill-named, as there are things there I do not remember at all. Hand-written scraps in script that don’t ring a bell. Sad things, those little photos you get at funeral parlors, with a Psalm on one side and the dead’s picture on the other. This picture is a happy thing, and it rings a school bell! There are some old computers in this classroom,  and yes, that is a 5 1/4″  floppy drive on the desk, along with a dot-matrix printer. This stuff would replace the IBM Selectric Typewriters in a few short years. For now, it was like something out of Star Trek.

I spent a school year volunteering to help out in the new (first) computer lab at the kid’s elementary school. I did this because like computers and figured I was capable of the task; it seemed the least painful way to be a part of the school (read: not much interaction with other authority figures), it would enhance my resume. But I mostly did it for selfish reasons. I needed to know what my little angels, just down the hall, were up to, and this gave me a little glimpse.

I can’t remember the little girl’s name but she was my favorite. She had a calm demeanor and really liked the computers. I liked hearing her call me Mrs. Roth. She had the audacity to chew gum, and I never stopped her. We had an understanding.

This picture is so old, not every was on board with computers in the classroom, and entire PTA meetings would be devoted to the topic. Today the questions lean towards “Should we still be teaching cursive writing?” I feel Bernice shaking her head.

This was the same grammar school I attended I as a child, the school I was supposed to walk to the day I had to be bailed out. The only kid who needed a map for grammar school, that was me.

The notes on the wall said things like “plug in before use” and “do not use with wet hands.” The difference between keyboarding and word processing was painstakingly written out.

My glasses kept getting larger and heavier each year.The color of cough medicine, this particular pair  had a liquid look to the rims and were likely the “daring “ pair on the rack when I bought them. The photo proves I took the advice to dress casually to the next level. Sometimes we crawled around on the floor to plug things in, we were our own IT department. My daughters were in grade school and I still appear to be wearing maternity clothes. The teachers all wore skirts and nylons, so it was easy to separate the grown-ups.

I took this assignment without knowing I would be the only adult in the classroom. Since the job was titled “Technology Aid” I somehow expected to be aiding someone. Since I was an Audio Visual Aid Society member in high-school, I figured I could surely keep a room full of networked computers running for a couple of hours a week.

This was during the time I also sold Avon. I did these things because the thought of a full-time job and child-care was overwhelming, but also, I liked doing them. The kids in the class were little enough to enjoy learning and were respectful, except one or two that you already knew were going to spend most of their later lives in some form of detention.

They let me have coffee in the teacher’s room, an empty room save the coffee pot that made twelve cups at a time. Primarily a place where teachers went to smoke, I enjoyed feeling connected to the education world by hanging out after class. A few of the teachers had me as a student, and I couldn’t believe they were still at it. I would last one year in this volunteer position.

One more thing, that kid raising his hand in the back of the room? He probably just needed a reboot. I didn’t yet know it yet, but I did, too.

What’s in the box? Episode 1

This was a happy day before all hell broke loose.  It was around Halloween, as evidenced by my orange cup.

This was a happy day before all hell broke loose. It was around Halloween, and I remember this orange cup was the cafeteria’s way of celebrating.

I found some old pictures and this particular one brought back a ton of memories. My baby, my youngest, once told me about keeping a memory box. I loved the idea but wasn’t so good at it, and my memory box ended up hidden away for 25 years. This box is no time capsule, mostly filled with concert ticket stubs, and a lot of “what did I save THIS for?  Let’s dive in!

The first picture was taken around ’79 for my book jacket. Yes, just as I took a picture for my blog before I had one, I had a picture taken for my book before I had one. I fancied myself a writer. So fancy, that I took this photo meant for the back of my book.

I gleefully showed my parents my first publicity shot. Bernice sucked on her can of Tab and stroked her white, deaf cat.
“ Would it kill you to wear a bra?”
No one was questioning my career choice, but everyone was entitled to their opinion on my underthings or lack thereof. It was the turn of the decade, two of my classes were women’s studies, too many layers seemed downright un-American.

I want to be sure I am clear about the vanity involved here, my photographer friend took this picture specifically for my book jacket, although I never wore a skirt I put one on for this photo. We were in beautiful sunny St. Petersburg Florida and it didn’t even occur to me to go outdoors. I had yet to learn about the benefits of natural light but I knew the benefits of air-conditioning.

I was 30 pages into my book. I would only make it to page 33 but on the day that this picture was taken I didn’t yet know that my grandfather would die in a few days, and I was in no way prepared for the toll it would take on me, and my family, physically, academically, really in all areas of life.

The picture brings back details that I am sure are evident because it was in hiding for so long. I can feel the texture of my top in my hands, a fine terry like fabric with intricate little loops.I took the advice to “wear something neutral” ultra seriously. Once in a while over the years I would wonder “whatever happened to the paisley skirt?” It was a satiny one-size-fits all wrap-around that I would later wear through two pregnancies during that stage where nothing fits, but you aren’t ready to face maternity fashion.

I feel the salty breeze coming through the windows when I see the photo. In the background: a print that was popular in the day, the hand giving a daisy to a hand thing. That reminds me that the picture was not taken in my room, and I wonder whose room it was.

You would think I would hate this picture for some of the memories it provides but mostly I remember my friend taking it, at a time when we both believed anything was possible.

Stay tuned for some other scenes from inside the box.

At our house, we did our underage drinking *after* the crash.

BAP_0755-LIf you’ve been in a car accident where the windshield shattered, you know the feeling of “just get me the hell out of here” all too well. I’m not sure I ever got over it. There was not a scratch on me or the driver, but the totaled car looked like the kind they put on display at Project Prom to convince youth to not drink and drive.

I should begin from the beginning.

 

***

 

1976 -Adirondack Mountains, Wilmington NY

Uncle Arnold,  a Notary Public in town (this, before he became a judge) stamps the paperwork to make Joe the official owner of the car. Covered in primer, one had to don the imagination cap to even begin to have a vision of what the car was capable of looking like, but it sounded and felt like a race car, low to the ground, wide wheel base. Joe did his chores and then spent several hours hand sanding the heavily compounded Firebird. Sanding with a ¾ in drill and a half a million sanding discs, I’m sure my friend always  knew he would finish this project in one summer. I had my doubts.

I had my own sanding to do, it was my job to keep the cue sticks sanded and topped off with fresh tips and I took this job very seriously. I was pretty sure the  real Minnesota Fats  would come in and I don’t know, tip me for my nice tips? Headed for college in the fall, and I still believed my little jobs around the family business would somehow make a difference.

After the chores were finished and  dusk began in earnest, there where the fires and the dinners rich in garden vegetables. Toasting marshmallows kept the bugs away, and exhausted as we might be there was a steady group of us who talked through the night most nights.

1977-Middletown, NJ

It was always exciting to have the folks from Connecticut to hang out with, whether we were at our campground or theirs, but it was super exciting to be at our home bases, to show each other where and how we lived “the other 9 months out of the year.”

It was a different time, you could go visit your friend’s school for a day with a simple visitor’s pass, and you only had to be 18 to drink. I want to underscore that we did not drink, and that we were all super cautious about avoiding trouble. I like to think it was the goodness in us, but other stories might refute the point. Somehow we broke away from the adults and went for a ride in the Firebird, which had a bright new shiny paint job and a “new car smell” air freshener shaped like a go-go girl.

We weren’t supposed to be there. Heading off to college in months, it didn’t occur to us to obey any rules or even to take any advice. We were riding around without any destination just to be out of the house and enjoy the sun, I wouldn’t even call it “joy riding” because that term, to me, elicits an image of a sort of reckless abandonment. We were definitely belted in and obeying all traffic rules. The music was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, blasting from the new technology, the tape cassette. The music played continuously, no need to flip the tape, no “thunk” between sides like the eight-track that preceded it.

PART II-Fuzzy Details

We had the car towed to the family’s gas station without thought of convenience or price. I really didn’t know where we were and as it turned out, we were across the street from a police station. Due to this convenient locale, accident investigation and cleanup were as prompt as possible. My father, in his ever omniscient and magical ability to be everywhere at once, saw and recognized the smushed car with the Connecticut license plates before hearing any news of our adventure.

When I climbed the steps on my sister’s front porch, to her dining room that overlooks her yard, I began to feel my muscles stiffen up and ache. I was not sure what was going to be worse, the physical accident aftermath, Joe four hours away from home with a totaled, prized-possession hand restored classic car, my parents anger and worry, the aftermath of getting Joe back to CT. I would have been overwhelmed had I not been so numb.

Part III-What I remember.

I know everyone loves a good accident story. The more details the better…and I guess it is human nature. I hate to disappoint but I don’t remember all that much. I saw the truck in front of us going straight and realized our left hand turn was ill timed with the light, and the next thing I can remember is freaking out about sitting in the glass all about me and a cop calming me down and finally, when I would not calm down, allowing me out of the car.

Back at the house and reunited with family, we recounted the details of the crash. My dad handed Joe a couple of tens and said “Here, take her to Langford’s. Get yourselves’ a drink.”

I was not quite 18, the legal drinking age at the time. We began in protest but my father assured us it would be alright. I remember it was weird sitting at the dark bar without other adults, just us kids. It occurred to  me to ask for a Shirley Temple, but I had a beer.

The police station still stages pre-prom hullabaloos to show the fresh new drivers what their totaled car will look like, including a demonstration of the jaws of life.

Our parents are gone, but this is a story about, more than anything , how they showed their love to us.

I asked my friend, many years later, if he ever thought about it. And he told me:

“Only when I make a left hand turn.”