Thursday, January 27, 2011


I am a native of New York City. I was for a while a Parisienne and I'm a New Englander now. I grew up a city dweller. I expect no kindness from strangers. One of my math teachers in High School once joked that the Golden Rule in New York was either "Do unto Others Before they Do unto You" or perhaps just "Do unto Others." A friend of mine when I first moved to Boston summed up the Boston mindset aptly by saying "Yes we have a bathroom and no you can't use it."

This is what I grew up with and this is what I live with. I don't say that people are wrong to feel this way. In fact if you are too kind in New York or Boston or Paris you'll get fleeced by the con artists and gypsy kids (I stopped my lifelong practice of giving something to every homeless person I met after a beggar kid to whom I'd given 10 francs chased me down Saint Germain demanding more.)

However there is something about terrible weather that brings out the best in New Englanders. When I lived in Cambridge there was one day when it started dumping freezing rain on top of a decent amount of accumulated snow. In order to walk on the sidewalks, one walked single file in the footsteps that were layed out (because not everyone had shoveled) and sometimes through puddles. And as I navigated the physical challenge that was Cambridge's sidewalks everyone smiled at me. I hadn't seen so many smiling strangers since the Sox won the World Series in 2004. WTF? I mentioned this to one of my friends-a native of Pittsfield and he opined that it was the miserable weather that made everyone so friendly.

I saw it again this morning. A foot more of snow on the ground, sidewalks impassible, people lurching through the snow to dig out their cars and yet they all had a smile or a cheerful comment as I passed them. "Lovely weather!" said the man who was delivering something to the market on Cabot street. Weird as it may be, give the denizens of Eastern Mass a good snow storm and they become as friendly as Minnesotans.

I won't argue with that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I made a dental appointment last week because my back molars were hurting me. They had been hurting me for some time-a couple of years at least. In a moment of lucidity it occurred to me that if they were hurting then perhaps not only was something wrong with my teeth, but it could be the sort of something that results in lots of pain—what if one of them cracked? I am terrified of dentists. I’m terrified of doctors too but there’s something about dentistry-perhaps it’s because the mouth is so full of nerve endings and as a result even getting a cleaning hurts.

So I made an appointment. I was okay until last night, when all sorts of things that could be wrong with my mouth started occurring to me. Well, perhaps I’d just cancel the appointment, I told myself. When I woke up this morning (with aching teeth) I told myself that I had to do it. “They’re not cops-they can’t force you to have any kind of procedure done.” I told myself and “I don’t care how scared you are-you have to go because it isn’t going to get any better if you don’t. It can only get worse and how foolish will you feel if you have to make an emergency dental appointment?” The winning argument I believe was “so you are sure that there’s some unknown thing that is dreadfully wrong with your mouth that is going to be expensive and painful to remedy that will involve taking massive amounts of time off of work and will impact your lifestyle and schooling? You were also positive that you’d flailed your Accounting final.” And I was dead sure about that. So sure that I announced it to my parents. But I got out of the course with a B. So the point I was making to myself was that I was just being mentally ill about my teeth. And therefore, however sure I was I was probably wrong. I still felt terrible about it.

When I got to work I looked up wisdom teeth, since I still have all of mine and since it’s back teeth that hurt-perhaps the wisdoms were making a belated entry. I also looked up gum disease on Wikipedia. And then I made myself stop. I believe that some part of my lizard brain was trying to make me have a panic attack—because then I’d defiantly cancel the appointment.

We had a Big Thing to do at work today*. I told one of my colleagues that I had to go to the dentist, but that I could put it off. This was the right thing for me to do, as it turns out. Aside from fear of dentists I’ve a healthy fear of my boss and I didn’t want him blaming me for being out. My colleague assured me that there was nothing the boss could blame me for and pointed out that whenever he put off the dentist he ended up not going. We joked about how I would in a position to verify whether an afternoon at the dentist was still worse than an afternoon at work (oh yes!) So now there was one person who would give me shit if I didn’t go to the dentist. So I had to go.

I went and gave them my name. They took me to a chair and left me in it. I could hear the sounds of dental equipment all around me. I crossed myself as I sat in the chair and then remembered that I’m not really Catholic anymore. And then I hoped that they would hurry up and start hurting me—otherwise I’d bolt because I was so terrified. I told the nice young lady dentist that I’d come in because my back teeth hurt and she said she needed a full set of X-Rays. “I need to see the roots-as you say you are aching.” The roots?!! Good God what will she need to do if the trouble is in the roots? Root canal? Some other frightening procedure I’ve never heard of before?! I went to get X rayed. I noted that dentistry had entered the digital age-once the tech pulled the switch I could see black and white pictures of my teeth on the flat-screen next to the chair (not that I wanted to see them.)

When the tech was done X raying me I went back to the dentist chair I had first sat in. My mouth was shaking. I tried to think of the scariest thing I had overcome in the past year (I took the GMAT. I had to interview 15 strangers Spring term. I took an elective last term-while taking another class this gave me an anxiety attack once a week but I got through it.) Somehow, none of these was any help.

The nice young lady dentist told me that the pain in my teeth was due to my clenching them at night and that she could make me a mouth guard that would deal with that (better than the commercial ones) I had a few cavities which would need filling. I can live with that-I haven’t had a filling in 20 years. It’s unpleasant, but because I know what I’ll be getting into, I could make an appointment for fillings (and a mouth guard fitting.)

I was thrilled when I left. For one thing, the dentist had been nice and had accepted the fact that I was scared of dentistry. She and her assistant treated me like a grown up human. All through my terrified afternoon I’d been telling myself how much good it would do me to do this thing that scared me. Even my co-worker chimed in. When I pointed out that my list of things to do consisted entirely of things I didn’t want to do he said –“Well at least by going to the dentist you’re doing yourself some good.”

But although I’ll go to have my fillings done and my mold made without much fuss, this doesn’t change my fear of doctors or of dentists. Bodies—this carbon and hydrogen substance of which we are made —are mortal and are subject to wear and tear and decay. I can change my diet, and I can floss more often but time wears on the human body. So doctors will always scare me in a way that bosses don’t. I can always take another course in SQL or MS Access, but I can’t take any course that will make my body ten years younger.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Richmond Theatre Collection

Tomorrow is my Dad’s 69th birthday. My dad is awesome. He was instrumental in turning me into the dork-geek that I am. I was going to write a post to try and show how awesome my dad is through examples, but what I wrote sounded treacly and sometimes cringingly personal. There are things that are sweet and overly personal that I should tell my dad about why I think he’s so awesome. But I should *tell* them to him-not publish them on the interwebs. There is one thing I keep coming back to in my exploratory writing and I think I should write about that instead.

When my parents moved to Staten Island, Dad got involved in a local theatre company. Since growing up I’ve heard a lot of disparaging comments about community theatre groups. There may be some truth in them, but what the people who dis community theatre fail to grasp is that community theatre gives people who are not professional actors and singers a chance to take part in Pirates of Penzance or Cosi fan Tutte. Additionally, it gives people who don’t have the money to go to the Met a chance to see theatre up close and personal. I think I was in second grade when my dad first took me to see Die Fledermaus and it was in a church basement, or something like that, but we were within 15 feet of the action. I loved it.

Anyway, my dad had gotten involved with a community theatre group called Richmond Theatre Collection (RTC.) They did most of their productions in a church. As I understand it, the rule was that if they were doing something Christian they could perform upstairs in the church with the altar as the stage, but if their production was more secular they performed in the basement. Looking back, it seems to me that the church was rather lenient with that rule since Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Godspell qualified for upstairs performances (along with Noye’s Fludde and Amahl and the Night Visitors.)

RTC did four productions a year. They did one Gilbert and Sullivan production a year and other than that, their catalogue was eclectic. They did not do Rogers and Hammerstein and I don’t think they ever did Sondheim. They did some Mozart and some Galt Macdermot (although not Hair, as far as I know) and they dabbled in Benjamin Britten. They did La Serva Padrona, which I loved and The Cradle will Rock (which I did not, at the time appreciate.) And they did Jacques Brel is alive and well and Living in Paris—which introduced me to Brel (in English.)

Dad did all sorts of things for RTC. He sang chorus, he did set designs, he helped build things, he sold donuts and coffee at half-time. I’m not sure how it happened, but I started tagging along with Dad—maybe he needed someone to hold a clamp or maybe he thought I’d find it a treat to watch rehearsals (I certainly did) but I spent a lot of time as a kid hanging out at the church on Saturdays.

I was not a very socially adept kid—I had one good friend through grade school and a few more in junior high, but in general I didn’t “get” other kids. I don't think it would be overly dramatic to say that theatre was the glue that kept me together when I was a kid. I got to go to RTC and help paint things or move scenery (while watching rehearsals.) When they were doing a Gilbert and Sullivan show I got to talk to grownups who were just as into G&S as I was. I got to geek out with the guy who was playing the Sorcerer (in the Sorcerer) and who’d done every G&S show except this one. I got to talk to the guy who had understudied for John Reed at D’Oyly Carte. But I also got to talk to other adults who treated me like a reasonable human, unlike most of the kids I knew. I must have been an annoying brat, but they put up with me. Not just when I was being a Gilbert and Sullivan dork, but other times. They said “Do you know how to make coffee in this Thing? The coffee will be bad and they’ll blame me for it.” Or “the tenor’s been sick I hope he hits all his high notes tonight.” And of course “move this here”, tighten that clamp” “just a little more green paint” “go see your dad and tell him we need…”

In 1986, the Mets beat the Redsox for the World Championship. I was in sixth grade and old enough to participate in a local children’s theatre group. We were doing the Lottery and I was Tessie Hutchinson. But on the evening that the Sox lost, I was done with children’s theatre and was helping out with donuts at RTC’s production of Princess Ida. I got the information from the guy who was playing King Hilledebrand. He was out having a smoke break between acts and announcing the fact to the world at large.

RTC was part of my growing up. Local theatre groups do well when there are people who are willing to treat them like a full time job. In the case of RTC, for a long time this was Mr & Mrs K. They were, I believe, a retired couple. I knew them both. As far as I could tell Mrs K was mostly the music director of RTC. Mr K must have done a lot of administrative work (I don’t think he ever directed anything or acted in anything that I saw.) One of my most vivid memories of him is from Godspell. As I mentioned above, because Godspell was Christian in theme, RTC got to perform it on the altar. The church had a high ceiling with a metal beam near the top. During one of the earlier numbers (Prepare ye the way of the Lord) confetti would drop on the stage. This was managed by filling a box with confetti on the high metal beam. I distinctly remember Mr. K climbing up to refill the box.

A few years later, he was telling me that it was okay to sell donuts that were two weeks old. I thought it odd, but I was a kid and he was a grown up. Not too long after that incident, Dad told me that Mr. K had Alzheimer’s disease.

The RTC project was essentially doomed on the departure of Mr. and Mrs. K. Even though I was a kid, I could see this. Community theatre attracts big egos. And while people with big egos make great comic leads, they are not necessarily any good at administration. Mr and Mrs K had provided that. By the time I was in high school they had gone to California.

The company more or less officially fell apart my junior year in high school. They were presenting Trial By Jury, Cox and Box and The Racketeers (this last being the mock Gilbert and Sullivan opera that a few of the RTC regulars had composed.) To this day I cannot say what was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People that I had otherwise considered reasonable adults yelled and or quit for reasons I could see, but didn't seem as important to me as they were to other people.

I learned a lot through my RTC experience. I learned a lot of Mozart and Gilbert and Sullivan and obscure musical theatre (some of it deservedly so) I learned to operate a dimmer board (not well) and I learned a lot about how people behave—good and bad. I am sorry that they are no longer in existence, but I am glad that they were part of my experience.