Sunday, March 24, 2024


Graduation Day, 1974

In celebration of the (ack!) 50th anniversary of my graduation from UCSC, here's what I cobbled together for the online Alumni Reunion Profile pages.


As a junior transfer from Southern California, I graduated in 1974 from Porter (then called College V) with a BA in Aesthetic Studies. This coveted document got me a job selling popcorn at the UA Riverfront Cinemas on Front Street, followed by a stint in the textbook room at Bookshop Santa Cruz. 


As a lark, I answered an ad in a new 12-page throwaway publication called Good Times for a second string movie reviewer, which I thought would be a fun thing to do until I got a real job. This experiment in gap employment lasted 45 years.


I went through two owners, three publishers, at least 17 editors  (I lost count), five changes of venue for our physical offices, and an earthquake. Not to mention some two thousand movies, at the very least, and probably a couple hundred more. In 2017, my reviews started appearing on Rotten Tomatoes. I would still be at it if COVID-19 hadn't eaten my job in 2020. The theaters closed, and even though they've now reopened, people no longer consume movies in the same way; the massive amount of available "content" is too much for a weekly paper to keep up with.


In the meantime, I've had three novels published since 2001, with a fourth on the way. It was also my ridiculous good fortune to be married to artist James Aschbacher for 40 years, whose vibrant and playful murals (three of which we painted together) decorate public spaces and elementary schools all over Santa Cruz County.



My principal workplace for 45 years!  (
Although the Aesthetic Studies degree would soon be discontinued in favor of an actual discipline, what it meant to me in practical terms was I got to make up my own DIY major. Having completed all my science requirements at the community college level, I spent my two years at UCSC taking lit classes from Paul Skenazy and John Jordan, art classes from Doug McLellan, and Art History classes from the inimitable Jasper Rose.


Rose was so entertaining, my housemate (who wasn't even a student) used to come with me to sit in on his class. He would come swanning into the room trailing his slightly tattered black and scarlet Oxford robes, launch himself across the lectern, and greet us with an expansive, "Hello, duckies!" (My girlfriend and I call each other "Ducky" to this day!)


 And although I never studied to be a movie critic (it was strictly on-the-job training), I did take one terrific film course from Tim Hunter on Alfred Hitchcock. In those days of Pass-Fail grading, we could do pretty much whatever we wanted for a final, so I drew a storyboard for an imaginary murder sequence in an imaginary Hitchcock movie. "This is hot!" Hunter scrawled in the margin. Translation: Pass.


My favorite UCSC memory? A bunch of us were loitering in the hallway waiting for our lit professor to come open the classroom when Jasper Rose came gliding by and asked what we were up to. Someone said we were waiting for our Victorian Fiction class. To which Rose replied, "Oh, there is nothing more fascinating than Victorian Fiction! Unless, of course, it's Victorian fact!"


Monday, August 14, 2023


Hey, folks, check out The Colour Room, now streaming on Amazon Prime. It's a drama about the early career of the wonderful Clarice Cliff, a working-class factory girl in the north of England who became one of the most renowned ceramic artists of the Art Deco '30s.


Her work is distinctive, not only for the vivid colors on her hand-painted pieces, but the abstract geometrical shapes she pioneered for everyday household items like cups, plates, teapots and creamers.


The movie is long on atmosphere — those giant kiln chimneys belching smoke into the sky day and night — and cheerworthy in the way the audacious young Clarice rises above her station painting pottery on an assembly line at the Wilkinson company to become one of the company's top designers. 


And while her work confounds most of the stodgy male board members, she perseveres by rallying her fellow "paintresses" to produce her line and market it to an enthusiastic demographic of women. (Not unlike the Girl Power motif of the Barbie movie!)


 But beyond that, the movie was nostalgic for me (or possibly triggering), since my first summer job out of high school was painting bisque ware on the line at the funky Metlox Potteries factory in Manhattan Beach. Company designs were stamped on the pieces, which we girls had to paint in, not only in preordained colors, but in a precise number of brush strokes. Mess up, and your work was relegated to the (dreaded) seconds store. 

Not all that creative, except that it prompted me to start drawing a comic strip about my adventures in the working world, which I just dug out to look at for the first time in (ahem) 50 years.


In the strip, I called it Hotbox Pottery because it was always sweltering in the workplace in summer, with the kiln roaring away. The paint room was a couple of rooms away, but the bisque grading department, where my mom worked, adjoined the kiln room and was blistering in all seasons; the foreman handed out daily rations of salt tablets to keep the work force up and running.

The owner's initials were ES (Evan Shaw, who had bought the company from its original founders), so we always referred to him as Ebenezer Scrooge for his miserly policies. But looking back, it wasn't such a bad place to start my working life, earning my own paycheck (such as it was ), and doing my own banking. Except for the heat, painting pottery was more fun than slinging burgers at McDonald's or any kind of retail job where I'd have to confront a cash register.


Sadly, nothing I painted is ever likely to turn up on Antiques Roadshow (unlike Clarice Cliff). We never got to paint any of the cool Atomic '50s designs; most of our work was the prosaic Rooster or Fruit Basket patterns. Still, newcomers were allowed to sign and keep their first successfully painted plate, which I still have. And in retrospect, I'm pleased to think I had some connection, however tenuous, to what I realize now was the fabled Mid-Century California art pottery scene. 


Who knew?


















Sunday, August 13, 2023


 SCS stages smart, witty story of the actors who saved Shakespeare

You couldn't imagine a better production to capture the spirit of this pivotal Santa Cruz Shakespeare season than The Book of Will. Lauren Gunderson's contemporary play about the creation of the First Folio of Shakespeare's texts is all about the power of words — to inspire and excite, to celebrate and educate, to comfort and heal. And it provides the perfect vehicle for outgoing Artistic Director Mike Ryan to hand over the company reins to incoming AD Charles Pasternak, playing the two real-life actors whose persistence, against all odds, preserved Shakespeare's splendid words for all time.

Ryan and Pasternak play John Heminge and Henry Condell, two Elizabethan actors, friends and colleagues of the recently deceased Will, who hatch a scheme to collect and transcribe all the scribbled-down versions of Shakespeare's play texts they can find to produce a single, official volume of his work in print. This is no easy task. Complete playscripts were rare in this era; normally, actors only copied out their own parts to learn, partly to save on time and the expense of materials like parchment and ink, and partly to prevent other companies from stealing a complete script and producing their own versions. Not that it worked very well, as companies who only had a few scenes of a play to work with cheerfully made up the rest.

This point is made painfully clear in the very first scene as a young actor from a rival company (Mariana Garzon Toro) energetically murders Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech with some random improvised filler. Heminge and Condell, of the King's Men theatrical troupe, and celebrated actor Richard Burbage (played with bombastic verve by Rex Young) gather in a tavern run by Heminge's daughter, Alice (winsome and spirited Allie Pratt) to bemoan the evident deterioration of Shakespeare's plays in performance some seven years after the author's death. Some ardent players like Burbage have memorized entire plays as written, but their generation is aging out, to be replaced by their less-well-schooled heirs.

It's Condell who first proposes the crack-brained idea of collecting Will's plays into a single volume, in his own authentic words — while people still remember what they are. Heminge, who has also become the troupe's business manager, is more tentative, cost-wise. But the enthusiasm of not only Condell and Alice, but Condell's amiable wife, Elizabeth (Paige Lindsey White) and Heminge's own wry, stout-hearted wife, Rebecca (Amy Kim Waschke) convince him of the urgency of preserving Will's thrilling words.

It all comes home to Heminge in a deeply moving late-inning monologue about the power of words to express the inexpressible and give vent to the otherwise unbearable burden of heartbreak.

The supporting cast is terrific, as usual. Young doubles in the role of the publisher, Jaggard, who's been blithely profiting off  the sale of bastardized version of Shakespeare's plays. Ben Jonson (a suitably flamboyant David Kelly), Shakespeare's friend and rival, makes a guest appearance.

Director Laura Gordon is also an actor (she was Prospero in last season's The Tempest),  and her staging makes the most of all the comedy and dry wit, as well as the more subtle, poignant moments in the plot. And for us grumpy traditionalists who pine to see Shakespeare performed in Elizabethan-style dress once in awhile, B. Modern's costumes evoke the period while retaining an unfussy, lived-in aesthetic.

Believe it or not, this is the 10th anniversary of Santa Cruz Shakespeare (emerging phoenix-like from the ashes of the well-beloved Shakespeare Santa Cruz), and the company's 8th season in the lovely Audrey Stanley Grove up in Delaveaga Park. We have Mike Ryan to thank for shepherding the company through these most tumultuous times to bounce back stronger than ever, even now, when the pandemic and its ongoing aftermath continues to wreak havoc in the arts. With Charles Pasternak at the helm (who acted as co-Artistic Director with Ryan this season, before stepping into the job full time next year), we can expect the festival to continue to build on its impressive past while eagerly embracing the future.

Top photo: Kevin Lohman

Above: R. R. Jones

Thursday, August 10, 2023


Complicity, not compliance, highlights spirited SCS offering

There's a telling moment near the end of Santa Cruz Shakespeare's current production of The Taming Of the Shrew. It occurs in the climactic speech by Kate, the designated "shrew," delivering her manifesto on the state of her consciousness after having been "tamed" by her new husband, Petruchio, and it involves the tiny alteration of one single word.

In the line that has given feminists fits at least since the "Women's Lib" '70s, Kate declares,  "I am ashamed that women are so simple." Except, here, director Robynn Rodriguez swaps out the word "women" and replaces it with "people," which, coupled with the rest of Shakespeare's verse, "To offer war when they should kneel for peace," seems less like a call for female subservience to men than an observation on the regrettable human instinct to lash out in the face of any perceived opposition. Kate advocates for the gentle art of compromise — in love, in marriage, in society in general — as a means of achieving one's goals. Which are, in the case of Kate and Petruchio, individually, and, finally, together, the subversion of social conformity in pursuit of a more authentic life.

This SCS production gives us an exhilarating pair of non-conformists on this collision course. Boisterous Petruchio (M. L.  Roberts) has come to town to snag himself a rich bride and expand his own substantial properties. Katarina (Kelly Rogers) is a caustic young woman whose wealthy father, Baptista (Derrick Lee Weeden) has decreed that his pretty and obedient youngest daughter, Bianca (Yael Jeshion-Nelson), can't be wooed or wed until her older sister, Kate, is married off. To this end, Bianca's many would-be suitors conspire with Petruchio to woo Kate and clear their path to Bianca.

 But what begins as a business proposition levels up as soon as Petruchio gets his first look at his quarry — and feels her first verbal sting.  In Kate, he recognizes a fellow iconoclast, despite their different approaches; he cheerfully flaunts the rules of polite society to declare his plan to "wive it wealthily in Padua," while she resorts to waspish sarcasm. Profoundly unhappy in her domestic role from which there is seemingly no escape, she's so used to being mocked for her sharp tongue and unvarnished opinions, she assumes Petruchio's attentions are another cruel joke and launches a preemptive verbal strike in self-defense.

Roberts gives us a roistering, irreverent Petruchio, antic enough to wear a suit of Harlequin motley to his own wedding, yet seriously delighted to find in Kate a temperament so well matched to his own. (Kudos to Pamela Rodriguez-Montero's costumes that aren't rooted in any particular time or place, but are consistently true to the comic and narrative undercurrents in any given scene.) Rogers' Kate is an uncut gem of wit and passion whose only outlet is anger. In sparring with Petruchio, she is not so much "tamed" as liberated from the habit of mistrust. Even his most ridiculous commands — his insistent that the sun is, in fact, the moon, for example — become a test not of Kate's compliance to his whims, but her complicity in his vision of a less conventional and more rewarding alliance. It takes her awhile to learn to trust the one person who understands and values her, but there's great fun and blossoming joy in her discovery that they are kindred spirits, and that their best escape from restrictive social conventions is each other.

Scene-stealing Patty Gallagher shows off her flair for physical slapstick as Petruchio's loyal servant, Grumio (in one scene, she stands, er, gallops in as his horse),  and Sofia K. Metcalf's Tranio is our stalwart guide, helping to keep track of the busy plot; he disguises himself as his scholarly young master, Lucentio, while the real Lucentio (Junior Nyong'o) disguises himself as a humble tutor to Bianca in order to court her in secret.

On the night I went, there was also a special guest appearance by Jewel Theatre Artistic Director and founder Julie James in a featured role as both a hapless tailor, and a scornful widow who foolishly attempts to match wits with Kate. The lively ensemble keeps the action fast and funny right through to the spirited finale that will have you cheering for the art and craft of love.

Photos by RR Jones

Sunday, July 30, 2023


Shakespeare season is now in full swing in Santa Cruz, with the premiere of King Lear last week joining The Taming of the Shrew and The Book Of Will in repertory at Santa Cruz Shakespeare (through August 27).

This is a milestone season for the entity formerly known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz, celebrating ten years since it re-emerged, phoenix-like, in the Audrey Stanley Grove at DeLaveaga Park, under the stewardship of Artistic Director Mike Ryan. It's also a milestone production of Lear. As the rampaging old king driven mad by his duplicitous, ungrateful daughters, longtime SSC Artistic Director Paul Whitworth is making his debut on the Grove stage. It's interesting to note that way back in 1995, when the company was still Shakespeare Santa Cruz, it mounted a production of Lear with Whitworth in the small but plummy featured role of the king's Fool. So it's fascinating to see how Whitworth has aged into the role of Lear in real time, almost 30 years later.

Whitworth brings his entire range of vocal acrobatics to the part; he's particularly effective in the first act, shamelessly wheedling empty flattery out of his two eldest, false-hearted daughters, and in the mad scene in the second half, his wits flown, barefoot, dragging around a few meagre possessions in a cart, vocally caressing each antic observation.

In this production, the philosophical young Fool banished from court with the mad old king is played with tremulous wit and tenderness by Sofia K. Metcalf. In a parallel story of parental foolishness, the Duke of Gloucester's scheming bastard son, Edmund, convinces him that his legitimate son, Edgar, is plotting to kill him, so Edgar flees into the wild with a price on his head, disguising himself as raggedy madman Tom O'Bedlam. Junior Nyong'o is terrific as Edgar/Tom, his madcap exuberance layered over a foundation of aching nobility. 


Metcalf, Nyong'o, Whitworth, Gallagher: heart and soul

The ever-reliable Patty Gallagher pops up as Kent, the loyal courtier who disguises herself as a rustic to tend to Lear in his wandering exile. This quartet of the keenly observant Fool, the king sliding into madness, the pretend lunatic, and the stubbornly sensible shepherd of this mismatched flock is the heart and soul of this production. Derrick Lee Weeden deserves honorable mention not only for his formidable presence and pathos as the duped and repentant Gloucester, but for having the most majestic and commanding voice in the Grove.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I attended the first pre-premiere performance of Lear at a 2pm matinee, which I do not recommend. The production was not lacking in luster, quality or intensity, but if ever a Shakespearean play needed to be staged and seen at night, it's Lear, with its raging midnight storm mirroring the imploding disintegration of the old king's wits at the betrayal of his daughters and his own foolishness.

Watching it in full, simmering sunshine is an entirely different experience — especially when the characters onstage complain about the bitter cold. Yes, awnings erected at the Grove for matinees provide intermittent shade for the audience as the sun moves, but the shifting sun and absence of stage lighting for daylight performances leaves some key scenes to play out in shadow onstage that would likely be spotlighted in the dark of night.

Still, even if I wasn't getting the optimum viewing experience, most of the upcoming performances of King Lear are at night, where dark and possible fog and chill will complement the action onstage. While audiences are unlikely to experience an actual thunderstorm in the Grove in August (although the way the weather has been acting out this year, who knows?), this production generates its own atmospheric river of dramatic turbulence.

Photos by RR Jones

Wednesday, June 14, 2023


I was clearing out James' toy cabinet when, just like a box of Crackerjacks, I found a surprise inside. Tucked away behind the monster models, robots and ray guns was this unassuming little red story book from his childhood: The Little Engine That Could

 It wasn't something he picked up the flea market. Right there inside the front cover, somebody had written in, "Jimmy 1953." He'd had it since he was two years old. 

 I don't know if he brought it with him the first time he drove out west to California from Illinois, or whether he snagged it from his mom's things in storage when the family moved her into assisted living. I never really noticed it before, but what surprised me was that of all the storybooks he must have had as a child (and since he was the fourth of five siblings, the house must have been full of them), this was the one he decided to keep. It's about a train; there are no cute or funny animals, no spunky children, no magic, no whimsical trips into outer space. The illustrations aren't especially beguiling. Why this book? 

So I read it. And now I think I get it. 

To refresh, a train carrying toys and "wholesome food" to children waiting on the other side of a mountain suddenly breaks down. A snooty Shiny Passenger Engine and an arrogant Big Strong Freight Engine refuse to help, and a Kind Engine is too old and rusty. Then along comes a Little Blue Engine that has never been over the mountain and is only used for switching in the yard. But she hitches herself to the train and pulls it up the mountain, chugging along to the refrain, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . . ." 

 Consciously or not, I can see how my Art Boy might identify with that plucky Little Blue Engine. Consider the parallels! 

As an incoming college freshman, he declined his counselor's advice to start with introductory classes and signed up for advanced courses instead. Seemingly on a whim, he shocked his friends and family (who had lived in the same Chicago suburb for generations) by moving to California when his girlfriend at the time got accepted to UCSC. For a year, he made a living scouring the flea market for paperbacks to sell to his mail-order client list of collectors. Until he met singer, musician, and comics fan Joe Ferrara; together (with zero retail experience between the two of them), they decided to open a comic book store. 

A year after that, I met him, and a year after that, we were married. Four years later, when the landlord of our (two-bedroom, one bath, plus office and breakfast nook) rental house in Live Oak threatened to raise the rent from $400 a month to a whopping $500, James decided we should buy a house. He sold comic books. I wrote movie reviews. Interest rates were almost 20%. You'd think any self-respecting loan officer would laugh us right out of their cubicle. And yet, not only did we persist, we put on an addition, refinanced, and paid off the mortgage in six years.

 At which time, he decided to sell his half of the (now thriving) comic book business to Joe and become an artist. He wa 40 years old. He had no art training whatsoever. He was always the first to admit he didn't know how to draw; he had never even doodled in the margins. 

 He just thought he could. 

(Years later, people often asked me if I freaked out when he told me he was quitting his business to make art. I could honestly say, nope. It never even occurred to me to doubt him, given his track record for bucking the odds and making it work.) 

As an artist, he floundered around for awhile until he came up with the technique of layering acrylic paint over oil-based spray paint. Had he ever taken an art class, he would have been instructed that you can't mix oils with acrylics, but since he didn't know the rules, he was free to break them as he invented a style that was so distinctly his own. 

Ten years into his art career, he was commissioned to create his first public mural in Plaza Lane, in downtown Santa Cruz. He tried to hire a professional muralist to paint his design, but when he found out the muralist would charge as much as James himself was making on the project, he figured out a way to transfer the design himself, and employed a much cheaper crew — me — to help him paint it. A technique he perfected over the next ten years, painting murals at schools and public buildings all over the county. 

It's not that he had so much arrogant hubris that he couldn't even imagine failing. Rather, he had no fear of the possibility of failure. If one plan didn't work out, he figured he could always do something else; he had the confidence to adapt. He never paid any attention to people who told him he couldn't or shouldn't do something, so it never occurred to him not to try. 

He thought he could. And he did.

Sunday, October 30, 2022


Hold the pepperoni!

Pizza may be no more than snack food (or, worse, junk food) to you. But to the six extraordinary craftpersons featured in the Netflix series Chef's Table: Pizza, making pizza has become a life-altering ritual at the intersection of Life, Art and Identity.

The long-running Master Chef series profiles renowned chefs from around the world in tasty one-hour docu-bites. In its current (seventh) season, the focus is on maestros of the pizza arts, not only in Italy, but from such unexpected regions as Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Kyoto, Japan. The notion of what pizza is, can, or should be (along with an amazing diversity of ingredients, from flower petals to Korean kimchee), varies wildly from one pair of flour-encrusted hands to the next. But all agree that pizza is the ultimate soul food, expressing not only the soul of the pizza chefs themselves, but of the people and community that inspire them. 

Bonci: Revolution on a plate

That may seem like a lot of symbolism to heap on top of a humble pie, but every pizza tells a story — of drama, displacement, family, culture — and the stories are fascinating.

Native New Yorker Chris Bianco left the city trying to find his place in the world. From his first boyhood job hauling flour sacks up out of the basement in a pizza joint in the Bronx, he landed in Phoenix, selling home-made mozzarella out of his apartment to Italian restaurants and finally graduating to pizza chef. At his own restaurant, he concocts a signature pizza, the Rosa, made with hardy wheat grown in the sandy soil outside Phoenix, red onions sliced as thin and curly as potato chips, pungent rosemary, and crushed pistachios, that "tastes like the desert."

Hailed as "The Michelangelo of pizza," Gabriele Bonci became a celebrity TV chef in Rome (with his own irritatingly bouncy theme song), until he realized the TV persona was devouring him. Painstakingly weaning himself off of fame, like any other addiction, he shed a great deal of physical weight while also streamlining his purpose in the pizza kitchen, promoting the ethics of sustainable agriculture and thoughtful food consumption. He buys all natural ingredients from small farmers, raises his own sheep for cheese, and only buys the meat of animals that have "lived well."  He says, "I decided that pizza would be my weapon. On top, I could put a revolution."

Kim: Trusting herself
On her first day of school in Minneapolis, Ann Kim, daughter of Korean immigrant parents, saw that the bento box lunch so lovingly packed by her grandmother did not look or smell like the other kids' lunches; embarrassed, she threw it away, and spent years being ashamed of her heritage. Vigorously assimilated, she took a detour into theater to submerge her identity, but grew disillusioned with the limited roles offered to Asian women. 

 At a bleak crossroads in life, she thought, "Either you can live in the unhappiness, or you can change it. You just have to trust yourself." Impressed with the melting pot vibe in New York City, from her student days at Columbia (summed up in her first slice of sidewalk pizza), and realizing the one constant joy in her life had always been cooking with her mother and grandmother, she decided on a new direction. "I  said, fuck it," she laughs, "I'm going to put kimchee on a pizza!"

Franco Pepe and his brothers grew up in their father's pizzaria in Naples. All three sons had different career paths lined up until their father's death brought them all back to run the family business. Conflict arose when Franco left to open his own shop featuring his own innovative ideas. His Margharita Spagliata (Margharita Mistake), literally turns the classic pizza upside down, with the layer of mozzarella cheese on the bottom, and infusions of crushed (not cooked) fresh tomatoes and basil striped across the top.

Yoshihiro Imai came from a family of dentists in Kyoto, Japan, but a chance encounter with a library book on breadmaking prompted a passion for dough and pointed him onto a new path. He was in training to become a master chef in Europe until news that his girlfriend was pregnant brought him home. Miserable working in a fast-food cafeteria to support his new family, he opened his own pizza restaurant, foraging for wild mushrooms at dawn and fishing for a lowly species of river trout to invoke the flavor and serenity of his beloved forest. "The path itself," he says, with Zen-like aplomb, "is the meaning and the goal."

Pepe: Vats of bubbling alchemy
Trained as a painter, Sarah Minnick discovered the joy of cooking when the work-study program at art school landed her in the campus kitchen. Deciding food was more fun, and inspired by the DIY, pop-up restaurant scene in her native Portland, Oregon, she turns her artist's eye to pizza with a pallette of "weird weeds," wild edibles, colorful flower petals snipped from her garden, and other impressive  "veggie-centric" concoctions.

All of them share a common passion for locally sourced ingredients, and each has forged close relationships with the small farmers, ranchers, foragers, herbalists and millers who provide them. All of them craft their own dough from scratch, by hand, growing the living dough from regional, stone-ground wheat every morning for the day's pies. Their immersive relationship to the dough is irresistible, gleefully plunging in elbow-deep to massage, roll, tweak and shape their humble ingredients into great vats of breathing, bubbling, alchemy.

Stepping up my pizza game
Of course, pizza is the stuff of ritual in my house too, a way for me to commune with my Art Boy over the pizza board he built and painted so lovingly for our Monday night pizzas. He estimated he'd made a thousand pizzas on the broken, blackened (and beloved) pizza screen I still use. Ridiculously inventive and intuitive with his own toppings (leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes and stuffing; razor-thin lemon slices), he never met an ingredient he couldn't put on a pizza, which is why he would have loved the Chef's Table series. Whenever I get too melancholy wishing he was still here to watch it with me (reason #4972 on my list of Why I Wish James Was Still Here), I remind myself to Be Like James and get inspired instead.

Encouraged by my Spirit Guide, I'm stepping up my own pizza game. Yes, I'm still buying one-pound dough balls from Trader Joe's, but I'm trying to approach it less like a fearful supplicant, afraid of messing up, and more like a confident explorer, establishing a partnership with the dough, not a contest.

My efforts may not yet be vat-worthy, but the journey of a thousand pizzas begins with a single slice.

PS: Do NOT watch this show hungry!

Saturday, October 8, 2022


 On Turning 70

Just like Halley's Comet, tearing up the sky every 75 years. Or Cicadas, emerging every 17 years to blanket the Midwest with their irritating noise. I'm on a similar schedule: every 20 years I subject readers to the ongoing soap opera of my advancing age. 

(Way) back in 1982, I wrote a cover story for Good Times about the angst of Turning 30 — the age after which no one was to be trusted, according to the '60s pop culture I grew up in. In 2002, when I was writing a biweekly, non-movie-oriented column for GT, I wrote Vintage 1952, grappling with the surprising revelation that I had somehow become an official Golden Oldie at age 50. 

It hadn't really occurred to me to continue the saga in print this year — possibly because it hasn't quite sunk in that I'm on the cusp of yet another scary birthday that ends in a zero. Well, let's not say scary, but momentous. At the close of one decade, you're supposed to take stock of The Story So Far, while advancing glib strategies on forging ahead into the next one. 

My first two articles were determinedly upbeat in tone, genial pep talks for embracing the ongoing adventure of life. They seemed to resonate with the vast Boomer demographic of which I am smack in the middle. But life has thrown me a few curve balls since then, including a surprise diagnosis of MS at age 62, and a sudden, unexpected plunge into widowhood. I wondered if my experience had become too specific for readers to find "relatable." 

Then I was messaged by a reader who remembered Vintage 1952, and asked point blank if I had penned any further reflections on turning 70. 

So. On further reflection, I realize you don't get to age 70 without a few battle scars, visible or otherwise. (Unless there's a portrait of your glamorous youthful self crumbling away in an attic somewhere.) In the immortal words of Gilda Radner, it's always something. At this age, everybody has issues — that's part of the deal. Besides, given the global upheaval of these last two years — not to mention the previous four — maybe my sense of personal upheaval isn't so unique after all. 

Still, how deeply did I want to plumb the roiling murk of my psyche at this turning point in my life? Did I have the insight, the courage (the gall?) to produce my personal McCartney III? 

As I noted in Vintage 1952, age alone does not necessarily confer wisdom and dignity on a person, but the very fact of your persistent existence earns you a few perks. I know several women my age who have joyfully stopped wearing bras, mostly retired professional women (as opposed to hobbyists) whose jobs required a dress code. Unlike me; when your workplace is a dark movie theater, who's going to see? I still wear a pull-on sports bras most of the time, but they're mostly decorative, since time and age have so radically realigned what used to go in them. Glimpsing myself in the mirror, I'm astonished to see how far south their contents have descended, taking my cleavage with them. 

The only parts of my upper body that are still nicely rounded are — surprise! — my biceps, accidentally toned in the daily act of gripping my rollator as I drag myself around. 

But I'm not here to take inventory of my mutating body parts — isn't that what "old people" do, drone on and on about their ailments? I promised myself I was never going to be that kind of old person! But the truth is, none of us ever expects to actually be an old person at all, despite all evidence to the contrary. And it's funny how our concept of what constitutes "old" recedes like a bad hairline the closer we get to each chronological milestone. 

Meanwhile, our inner 17-year-old (that imaginary friend no one else can see) assures us that old age only happens to other people; if we take spin classes, do crossword puzzles, go gluten-free, we can beat the rap. 

The calendar, however, does not lie, and no bribes, threats, or claims of executive privilege can slow its inexorable course. Age sneaks up on us when we're not looking, so the question becomes not if we're going to age, but how we're going to do it. 

 Let's face it, getting older is ridiculous, so maintaining a sense of humor about it is more essential than ever. The more you can laugh at it, the less power it has to terrify you into submission. Of course, at this age, not even the most delusional among us can pretend that the best is yet to come. But tempting as it is, you can't stay mired in the past, or you risk becoming a relic yourself, like pay phone booths or videotape. 

Back when Gloria Steinem turned 50, someone tried to compliment her by saying "You don't look 50." To which she replied "But this is what 50 looks like." 

No one else gets to tell you how to look — or act — your age. That's your privilege; if you've made it this far, you've earned it. It's up to you to show 'em how it's done. At fifty, I joked that thirty had once been the absolute dividing line between fresh, hip youth and the "vast nothingness that came after." But what's out there now, looming in the darkness after this particular milestone? 

Ask me when I'm ninety.

Friday, April 1, 2022


 Late in life, when the great Katharine Hepburn was   asked if she ever watched her old movies, she said no —explaining something along the lines of, "There is very little pleasure in watching oneself rot."

I get it.

At least Hepburn had decades-worth of glamour images through which to chart her oh-so-subtle decline — photographed by George Cukor, gowned by Edith Head. 

But with a persistent autoimmune disease like MS, you don't get to review the progress of your life as a gracefully unspooling montage. It's more like time-lapse photography where everything changes in seconds.

My body is becoming an alien life form, in an ongoing, unpredictable state of metamorphosis. Rising from a sitting position requires 15 minutes of standing in place to see if all pertinent body parts are on the same page before I dare a step. My shoulders and upper arms have grown taut and sinewy from clutching my roallator for dear life as I drag my clumsy body around behind me like a tail.

I don't do fast. I have only two ambulatory speeds: shuffle and lurch. Except when one or the other (or both) of my legs launches into an unprovoked series of random spasms, when I look like a refugee from the Ministry of Silly Walks. 

 In one of my Art Boy's favorite (justifiably) unsung '50s monster movies, The Maze, a young woman arrives at a stately country manor house whose reclusive lord is never seen. But late every night, from her sumptuous chamber (mysteriously locked from the outside), she hears a lubricious schlep-schlep-schlepping down the corridor outside her door. Turns out the lord of the manor is an overgrown amphibian (as in giant frog, not Jason Momoa in sexy scales) whose handlers drag him through the halls in a huge sheet and outside to rehydrate in a secret pool hidden within a maze on the grounds. I think of that movie every time I hear the sound of my slippered feet scraping along in the wake of my rollator.

Remember Wall-E, where technology has rendered future humans so sedentary they can only get around on individual little jet pods? That’s what I need!

I can still pass for normal from the waist up, as long as I'm sitting down. But I envision the day the only part of me still mobile will be my head, hooked up to banks of various communication devices like The Brain That Wouldn't Die, spitting out caustic remarks.

Meanwhile, navigating the world of visiting home health care, I find myself teetering at the edge of a new reality where "toilet" is not only a verb, but a team sport. After spending 40 years as somebody's sweetie, it's weird to think of a future as somebody's client.

Back when I was still relatively ambulatory, I figured the only way to keep things running around here was to get myself cloned. Clearly, I need a staff — Financial Advisor Me for bills and business; Chef Me for meal prep (and Sous Chef Me for back-up and clean-up); Secretary Me for emails and correspondence; Medical Me for doctor's appointments and health issues; Money Pit Me to deal with homeowner issues like peeling paint, disintegrating deck furniture, busted window shades, antique plumbing — well I could go on and on. 

 And while all these clones were running around, maybe — just maybe — Actual Me could carve a couple of hours out of the day to write.

The problem with the Clone Theory is that I've become such a crab, I don't want any more than one of me around.

If only I'd thought to have James cloned while he was still here. My body might be rotting just as fast, but at least he'd find a way to make me laugh about it!

Sunday, July 25, 2021


 "Come out here."

It was never a command, only an invitation, delivered in a subtle tone of voice that seemed to promise something wonderful.

On the afternoons when James took his daily walk to the harbor and back alone (in earlier years, because I was too lazy or preoccupied to go with him; more recently because I only had the stamina to go every other day), he would come home, kick off his walking shoes, grab his first glass of bubbly, and head out to the deck.

The kitties came scampering around, delighted to have a human out on their turf, putting on their usual show — racketing about, stretching out like little fur rugs in the sun, launching stealth aerial attacks on each other.

It was the hour that most people were transitioning into dinner mode, so it was usually pretty quiet in the neighborhood. No lawn mowers or gunning engines. Maybe some distant laughter a block or two away, maybe a neighbor's radio, but mostly birds and leaves rustling in the breeze. James always looked forward to this evening ritual, a chance to just sit down and savor it all.

On mild summer nights, after dinner, when I'd finished washing the dishes and he had dried enough to make room in the drainer, he would disappear outside again with his, er, next glass of bubbly (who's counting?) while I was still puttering around in the kitchen. "Come out here," he would urge me from the deck. "Come see the stars."

He knew I had a thing about the stars. I was always threatening to buy an astronomy book so I could identify all the constellations, although, like so many other things, I never quite got around to it. I knew Orion, however, which was always rising over the neighbor's roof at about this time, mainly because the three-star pattern of Orion's Belt is imprinted in freckles on my forearm. But whether or not we knew all their names, any summer night when the stars were visible before the fog rolled in was cause for celebration!

Of course, I always had some lame excuse. Okay, but just let me finish this one sentence, answer this one email, make this one note for tomorrow.

Okay, but just let me finish up in here, wipe down the counter, put on a sweater. What did I do with my shoes?

It was always something. Something I felt I had to do right this minute, one last chore before I'd permit myself to get out there and enjoy some down time. With you. Listen to the birds, laugh at the kitties. Gaze at those beautiful stars cocooned in black night. Cuddle up to my sweetie.

We thought we had an infinity of time, back in those days. Next time you ask, I thought, I'll be ready.

In retrospect, I'd say that 75% of the time, I finally managed to get out there with you. To take a break and just enjoy the peace and contentment, our reward for this life we somehow managed to cobble together from scratch. Against all odds.

But that means I squandered 25% of the time I could have spent with you. I regret every minute that I put you off with some feeble excuse. It appalls me that all those times when I still had the chance, I thought I had something more important to do.

Ask me again.