“A Friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My American adventure is two-thirds over, and let me tell you, I’ve had a ball. No, I’ve not kept up this blog as much as I could have – and you know what? For good damned reason. It’s that old raging debate – if you’re busy recording, are you actually in the living experience? Humbug. Let me tell you why this trip has been incredible:
I have exceptional friends. Beautiful compassionate intelligent hardworking friends. Besides laptop-working out of myriad Starbucks across this great nation of ours, I have spent most of my time seeing old friends. And as they’re some of the world’s best people, I’d like to tell you about them. Besides, this is the most accurate way to describe what this year’s American adventure has been.
Philadelphia: I’ve already blogged about Philly, but I just feel the need to spread the love to my pals Bruce and Kate. Bruce, dear friend and mentor of mine is the founder of the Philadelphia City Paper, and his wife Kate is the founder of a unique design firm. It is always a pleasure hanging with them and meeting their friends. Over our dinner celebrating their 25th anniversary, I met Ariel Ben-Amos, a proud young Philadelphian urban planner.
New York: Here the adventure picked up speed. Besides seeing my sister Ashley (aka “my sister the surgeon”), serendipity is the only word to describe the few days I spent in this exciting metropolis. While strolling in Central Park on Sunday, we happened across the queue for the Public Theater‘s “Shakespeare in the Park” performance. A longstanding NY tradition, something I have always wanted to experience, I dropped everything and got in line. Lo and behold, I was one of the last 10 or so people to snag tickets to The Merchant of Venice starring none other than Al Pacino.
Ashley having abandoned me to my obscure follies, I met up with my friend Paul (aka DJ Spooky) who happened to be in town for just about…15 hours…between his varied gigs worldwide. I caught up with him between Switzerland and Seattle. With the number of projects he’s simultaneously involved in (he’s an artist, author, editor, teacher, and much more), it’s hard to keep up. He recently collaborated with Chuck D of Public Enemy on a remix of “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” in response to the recent outrage down south (really worth a listen). We met near his place in TriBeCa, had some decent Italian fare (but better wine by far), some more than decent conversation, and happily made our way to Central Park for the show. Despite the stormy weather (of course I wore a silly short-sleeved tunic and sandals), there was a brief lull for most of the play, aided by yet more wine (thank you, dear Paul). Rain and wind and all, it was a pretty awesome day. Amazing how connections just happen. And yes, Al Pacino was incredible as Shylock. Incredible. You, too can get a taste of him in the comfort of your own home from the film version of the same play. Thank you, dear Al. I must say that I was even more delighted by getting to see actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste onstage, as well. I have loved following her career since Secrets & Lies, an all-time favorite of mine, so thank you, dear dear Marianne.
New York, New York was a gift that kept on giving. I got to see Margo, a dear friend who in college had staged managed for me, and who is now a producer on Royal Pains. Jenny, a talented actress in her own right and now a produced playwright, met me for a brief breakfast at Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And Kamilah, a talented editor at the Guggenheim who is also the fiction editor of Make Magazine, introduced me to a gourmet underground cafe in Greenwich Village on the very street that was used as the exterior shot of the Cosby Show’s house.
Even more? That’s right. I met with another college theater bud, David (he played Romeo to my Juliet in our Shakespeare acting class), who just graduated with an MFA in Dramaturgy from Columbia University. He completed his thesis doing a performance project with children in Benares, India. AND my best friend from childhood, Sarit, just had her first baby. I had a visit with her new family in lovely South Orange, NJ (which proved a minor public transportation adventure, alone).
The frosting on the NYC cake? Bloomsday on Broadway. No friends could come to this one, but my sister Ashley, my dear sweet sister Ashley indulged one of my exceptionally (and painfully) odd quirks. We went the 29th annual Bloomsday reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses at Symphony Space. The readers included Stephen Colbert, Ira Glass, Eilin O’Dea, Marian Seldes (who had just received a lifetime achievement Tony Award two days before), and many others.
Chicago: Sheesh has this post become amateur, sentimental and long long long! I will not be doing Justice to Chicago. What a pity. My cousin Danielle Klinenberg is a talented artist. She has had a very successful year, and her work is more beautiful than ever. We enjoyed a beautiful
vegan lunch in her garden in Old Town. Hallie and Rocco Palladino (she a writer, he an academic in philosophy, and both together amazing cooks and food connoisseurs amongst many other things) were a big part of the reason I came to the States last year – for their wedding in Ojai, CA. A lovelier wedding I’ve not seen. We hung out twice, talked about everything under the sun, and let me tell you, better hosts (and margarita-makers) in the world do not exist.
My sister Ashley’s (the surgeon’s) best friend Wendy was in town house hunting. A brill special education teacher, she and her husband are moving back to Illinois after living in the Quad Cities for 3 years (and according to them, good riddance).
Wendy and her sister Dana lived kitty corner to us, and we essentially grew up together since the age of 4 (or 1, as in Ash and Wend’s case). We had a ball hanging in her parents’ house, playing with her new dog Bandit (a “Blue Heeler“), eating spinach and mushroom pizza from Giordanos, and gushing over her dad’s very complete Start Trek anthologies.
My friend Heidi Thompson Saunders, formally the world’s best stage manager and for several years now the best Chicago theater management exec (Court Theatre at the U of C is lucky to have her), hosted her annual barbecue. There, I reconnected with Elizabeth Levy, actress and theater educator (check out Barrel of Monkeys Theater); Bryson Engelen, an actor whose production of Twelve Angry Men just won the coveted Outstanding Ensemble Award at the Jeff Awards; and John Boller, another U of C theatre friend whom I haven’t seen in years and years. Unlike the rest of us lost souls, John is a mathematics professor at our alma mater.
And finally the last few days: I saw Connor Coyne who has written an avant-garde novel, Hungry Rats, that will be coming out later this summer. Julie Burt Nichols, one of my oldest friends from high school, and I had lunch at a typical old spot for us, The Corner Bakery at Old Orchard Shopping Center. Julie is part of the producing team that has resurrected Bailiwick Chicago. Already having produced four or so shows in under a year, they have two going up at the same time, Elton John’s Aida, and Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men. And this evening I had a refreshing walk all over Rogers Park with Matti Allison and Joe Szentivanyi. I can’t but nearly burst with excitement when I encounter Matti and Joe. They are such interesting people, talented artists, that it’s impossible to be bored. No, impossible not to be fascinated. They are world travelers, voracious readers, expert cooks, opera connoisseurs, longtime Rogers Park residents, and enthusiasts of dive-curry-shops. It is essential that each and every reader of this blog who has reached this point check out Matti’s blog, The Squishy Jesus Taxonomy. I highly recommend the section entitled, Convenient Tit.
And there we have it. Friends. My friends. And there is much more to come. I’m traveling to Minneapolis tomorrow to see some very old dear friends. By car. Alone. And I had really better get to sleep in order to do that. Then I’m off to Iowa. To see more amazing friends. What a world. You marvel why there’s any war.