Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hazel, Anne Frank, and Me

I've made a dozen or so trips back to LA since moving from the city in 1993, and the past 5 years, that annual trip has happened the first two weeks of December.  The trip has gained special significance for me, and has now become the centerpiece of my Holiday Season.
I'm put up by my old friends Scott and Drew, who live in a swanky house in Woodland Hills, in the west end of the San Fernando Valley. 

I usually arrive the weekend after Thanksgiving, and stay 10 or 11 days. 

That's usually two or three days after the time we start to want to kill each other, but somehow, it all works out. The second weekend I am there, the boys host a little Tree Trimming party, which includes only myself, and my two oldest buddies Claudia and Judy (I wrote about all four of these cherished friends a long while ago here). 

While in LA, Judy, who runs the theatre department at Notre Dame High School, hires me to teach movement workshops for her young actors.  This gives me something to do during the day, and affords me lots of time to spend with Jude, but it has become something more to me.  Interacting with young actors reignites my enthusiasm for my craft, an excitement of which I find I often lose track, in my professional life.

This year's trip began with bad luck.  I had chosen a flight which left DC at 10:30 AM, and arrived in Burbank at 3:30 PM, with a very quick stop in Phoenix. 
After a flight cancellation (while I was in midair!) and a complete failure of customer service on the part of USAir, I arrived in Burbank at 9:30 PM.  By the time I collected my bag and rental car and drove across the Valley to Woodland Hills, I was pretty fried.  But Scott and Drew took care of me, handing me a beer or three and serving me a delicious homemade stew. 

The Boys, as Claudia, Judy, and I call them, spend a lot of time decorating their den for the holidays, and the room always puts me in the holiday spirit. 

It is the hub of the house during the hols, where all TV Watching / Christmas Carol Listening / and Tree Trimming takes place.  These guys are very creative with their decorating;  this year's new addition was an animated scene in which an elf works in a sweatshop overseen by Kathy Lee Gifford.
(Take a minute to check out the detail of this scene, it's really quite remarkable.  And yes, they're those kinds of decorations.  You will not find a manger or a North Star or a Wise Man anywhere around, as the boys are secular celebrants of the season).

The next morning (Saturday), a routine set in.  I awoke early, as is my unfortunate habit, and slipped downstairs to boil an egg (which, during this trip, became a euphemism for something else, you don't need to ask...), slurped some yogurt, and then caught up on email on my laptop.  I was always greeted by this fellow:

You'll note that the chalkboard welcoming people to the Boys' home is addressed to somebody else.  Not me.  It remained that way over a week.

After an hour or two, the upstairs would begin to stir with the sound of leaping critters.  Scott and Drew have two dogs, both Weimaraners, and both puppies.  They decided a while ago that they should have two of this breed, known for their high strung nature, their possessiveness, and, from what I gathered, their neuroses.  Why oh why these otherwise intelligent gents thought that owning two examples of this overwrought breed was wise, rather than perhaps one Weimaraner and one Beagle or Basset or Mutt, cannot be answered.  Nevertheless, I was in the house less than an hour before recognizing that this establishment was being ruled by canines.  Or more correctly,  being ruled by the presence of canines. 

The routine of the household is dictated by the needs of these dogs, which was, I think, the opposite of what Scott and Drew intended when they decided to adopt two pets.  The theory was that the dogs would keep each other company, allowing their masters the opportunity to occasionally go out together, for dinner or a movie or even just to shop.  The exact opposite happened. Now, the only way the Boys can leave the house without the dogs is to crate them, separately, and drive away. 

When I was around, and the Boys needed to run an errand, I was banished to my upstairs bedroom to remain, silent, until their return, so as to fool the dogs into thinking no one was in the house. Thus I became Anne Frank, hiding in the attic.

It was a small price to pay, and besides, I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.

In addition to lunch after class with Jude, she and I indulged in our mutual passion, the theatre.  We caught Travels With My Aunt at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, and Vigil at the Mark Taper.  The latter was a real treat for me, as I have performed the play (a two-hander) twice in years past. 
"Vigil," with Diana Sowle, Everyman Theatre, 2003

This production starred Olympia Dukakis, in a role with only a handful of lines, but her participation in the show caused the playwright, who also directed here, to beef up the physical bits for the role.  She was a hoot.
Most nights, I returned to my hosts' for a luscious dinner, and usually, the viewing of one of their favorite Christmas programs.  They spend the holiday season enjoying (repeated) viewings of many such shows from the past (I don't think there is a single show in their collection less than 20 years old). I willingly indulge that quirk, as I have it myself, though not necessarily for holiday programming.  (By the way, return to these pages tomorrow for a Dance Party clip from one of these chestnuts.)

The Boys do a bang-up job keeping my dinner plate filled while I'm in residence, so it's become a bit of a tradition that I help with the clean-up afterward.  And by help, I mean I do it all.  Usually the next day, in the afternoon, after I return from teaching.  When the plates are good and crusty, and the pots and pans are thick with dried, gloppy sauces.  When Scott cooks, he cooks;  they made a pact with each other, early in their relationship, that Scott cooks, and Drew cleans.

These days, I've seen Drew prepare a little specialty of his own (a dessert or an appetizer or something), but Scott does not reciprocate in kind.  Since he does not do any of the clean up, he does not hesitate to reach for a clean pot, pan, utensil, tool, or kitchen appliance when he's preparing a meal.  The room, after a big dinner, usually looks like Beirut.

I'm making some fun here, but I don't mind the K-P duty, it's not expected of me, I just volunteer.  The Boys hear me clanging around from upstairs, and remark to each other that Hazel is back at work.

I guess The Big Event of my trip is the trimming of the tree.  This year was a bit different, in that Judy had a last minute childcare issue and could not join us.  But the dogs surely did, at least from howling distance.  Drew and Claudia did the lion's share of the work, turning the huge tree into a huge success. 
Scott is a fan of "flocking" a tree, which is simply spraying some kind of gunk, probably toxic, all over the green branches and turning them white.  Doesn't sound very pretty, and growing up, I hated such trees, but I have to admit, the finished product is a stunner.

I've been home well over a week now, and there hasn't been a whole lot of Christmas fun to be had.  Logistics prevented my putting up my own tree this year, and I won't be traveling to the family Christmas until the actual day. 

Until then, I've written about 100 cards to be sent out, just in the nick of time.  But otherwise, it's been business as usual.  It makes me doubly glad, and thankful, that I started the season off with a lot of holiday cheer.