Last week ended on a note of splendour as our friend Matthew Vargo, cast member, took us to tea at the Townsend Hotel don't you know in fashionable Birmingham. It's main street boasts a noticeable lack of chain stores and an abundance of uber stylish boutiques of the paper bag & tissue paper ilk, selling trinkets and, well, paper and crockery and bathrooms and anything else the hoy poly of the town delight in spending their disposable incomes on. The wealth from the car industry that grew and then in its demise ultimately crushed Detroit is still visible in the jaw dropping homes that encircle the town. Vargo - delicately named by father and son - had arranged for us to perch on a 4 seater velvet sofa by the roaring fire bestooned with spring blooms and belanterened with chandelier. Boy had been be-tweeded on request and even Dad had put on a fancy jacket (with sneakers of course, just in case he came over too posh n' that). Backs straight, tea cups pinched delicately in the hand, free flowing tea and staff that couldn't pamper us enough, family and friend were happy campers. Add to this a beauty of open tea sandwiches displayed with the pride and care of an award winning sushi chef followed by a plate of chocolate delights and mama was a happy, if slightly calorific lady. Towards the end of tea, Cory got a phone call from an old New York friend living just down the road from our tea haven. Ten minutes later I had the pleasure of befriending said pal, an effervescent Melica, an actress of Serbian descent full of Eastern European warmth and zing. I could have talked to her for hours (and later in the week we did, but more of that anon). Mr Vargo and I then perused the shops whilst Cory and Melica caught up, hanging out at the local library with the, still be-tweeded, Sam-boy. I managed to buy a few unnecessary items including a little gift for the lovely Austin who was set to inaugurate his travelling, fuschia, pin up decorated bar. You can never have enough cocktail sticks in the shape of luminous pink flamingos. Everyone knows that surely.
Yes, siree, come sunday night Cory and I were unrecognisable as a white trash couple trashing the party down Dearborn way. Least that was the plan. In practice I looked more like a Mexican just smuggled over the border and Cory, well, looked a lot like Cory. Inspite of this, and perhaps somewhat disturbingly so, we fit in rather well with the millais of randomness that greeted us on the 1st floor. At the entrance to the party was a patch of astro turf complete with picket fence and paper decorations. Real mud included. As the door swung open a mason jar found itself into my hand, my name was written on it and some sweet rummy red stuff filled it and my gullet in almost one swoop. Around the crowded room mason jars bobbed about filled with various concoctions which the Austin man had cooked up some time earlier in 5 gallon buckets with taps attached. Everybody was giving it some with the old trash accents. I found myself sounding like a drunk Indian in Wales. Top marks went to the hair department who turned up in force utterly in character the whole evening and somewhat alarmingly in tune with their inner trash. There were "preggos" pretending to smoke, men with "black eyes" and girls who had used the world's supply of hairspray on their heads. We were loud. It was good. Cory and I took it in turns to run in to the bedroom to check on the boy, now lifted out of car seat and into a bed.
He had been well and truly tired out at the theatre earlier. Firstly, by watching the matinee show; it takes a great deal of fierce concentration on his part. Always seeming to me, like he is checking if everyone remembers their lines correctly. Secondly, by listening to the evening show from back stage, where stage manager Joe and dance captain James talked the boy through the science behind the video monitors and flicked between channels so we could even watch the scene changes normally done in black out. That was after Marcus (sound) had taught him how to use a laser spirit level and dad had zoomed around with him on his bike. Meantime mama chatted in the girl's dressing room. When Cory later went on to do his little turn on the hay wagon, he looked discreetly up at the overhead camera and waved to us. It delighted boy and mum in equal measure. Took me back to 1980 when Dad came back with a similar monitor and filmed me prancing about and generally being my 5 year old exhibitionist self. The pleasure and unadulterated excitement I got from watching it back is a memory so crisp and visceral even now. Back in the dressing room, a few minutes of Samuel Whiskers later, and the boy was out to the world straddled across two armchairs and tucked in for the night with the echoes of the show swirling through his dreams.
Who could blame him? It had been a full day, topped off by a trip to mum's venue for the Mariela extravaganza. Last night Cory glibly announces that 20 minutes of material is good but thirty would be better. I tell him to stop taking his producer role so seriously. Then I go into the other room and come up with ten minutes more stuff. The venue was purchased by the lovely Chris back in 1987, who then moved in upstairs and developed the cafe and theatre space downstairs. The air of ageing roadie hippie wafts about him in a barely perceptible purple haze. The kind of loveable eccentric who would not be amiss down the allotment. His reliable tecchie Theo can't do enough to show me different lighting states, and the smiley Dave offers to operate the film for me. Artist Joe, tumbling out at the same time as we arrive surrounded by be-speccled trendy film students gives me permission to borrow his projector. I suddenly feel like I am in a film commune. The spirit of support and curiosity is a marvel to behold. It is true what the sign read outside then: "Detroit. Always an Adventure." This wonderful find is an oasis of experimental splashes in the middle of what, in Chris' own words was a "waste land.". He points at the former crack house, the new car park and the theatre and paints a dreary picture of the place 20 years back. As we are speaking on the sidewalk, I see a two car mono rail glide above in my peripheral. The eponymous "people -mover". I don't know if the folks who designed it ran into copyright issues with Monorail inc. but the title tickles me. Sam and I are due to be "moved" tomorrow during the matinee show. It will be a way to distract mum from any residual fear of getting up in front of friends and, well, generally being foolish for their entertainment. And mine of course. I love to bear my pre-wax pre-excersise alter ego. My mum once succintly described her as "well, you really, just with a costume on." This was after she, my dad and my aunt sat front row on my first outing as the quirky widow in a cavernous cellar of a pub in Great Portland street and proceeded to listen to me tell stories about Sardinian pubic hair topiary. They walked on the same side of the street as me after. Proudly even. Now that's what I call love. I remember catching a glimpse of my aunt, during the act, laughing in spite of herself. Its a cherished memory of the usually poker faced Sardinian undisposed to fits of giddyness.
And so, trashed and Mariela'd out the family found time for some serious mental stimulation in the form of the University of Michigan's Law School. Cousin Jess (a student there, I didn't just gate crash) met us in her lunch hour and whisked me into a den of deli-sciousness that is Zingerman's. A local and much loved institution serving up an array of fat sandwiches from a tiny kitchen huddled beyond a small mountain of delectables from olive oil to peruvian dark chocolate nubs. I spotted, and tasted, a fine Sardinian Olive Oil and coveted some aged vinegars irresistably decantered in gorgeous bottles. I sniffed and stared and wowed and ate. Rather quickly. Boyo had been left sleeping in the car with dad who had much neede time to catch up with some calls. My disguise as a student involved black dressage with scarfness for relaxed comfort topped with my thick rimmed glasses for a projected level of superior intelligence. I think it worked. As we hurried into the hall a student turned round to me and asked if I was a prospective one. I was tempted to give an affirmative. Your honour.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the first thing that struck me beyond the beautiful loftyness of the stone walled room dipped in the diffused afternoon light filtering in through the frosted leaded windows was the sea of open lap tops. It was like Tom Brown's School Days meets Spooks. I felt rather, well, old. Time warped. As if I had missed the past 15 years of technological development. You'd think, from my reaction, that I had never seen a computer before. I just had never seen so many. In one go. Clever people decked the tiered desks. All doing some serious Learning. And typing. The professor is a firm favourite amongst the group revered for her frighteningly sharp memory and ability to run the gamut of years worth of analysed cases with the speed and grace of a mental gymnast. When I meet her, she is surprisingly approachable. We compare notes on our 2 and 3 year olds. She describes the marvel at her daughter's astute sense of negotiation, attributing it to the fact that both parents are professors of law.
Oh how my father would have been proud to see me strut these gothic corridors, books underarm. Well Pops, this is the closest I will ever be to becoming an International Lawyer, in every sense of the word. Is it wrong that after the class I co-ersced son into starring in a short film of him filtering through oversized volumes of law books in the silent reading room, or running down the corridors towards lecture theatres, or, giving a counting lesson at a pew in a seminar room? Surely that is not pushy? Or phony? Or unnecessarily exposing him to the perils of filming and law?
To be sure, my mind was very much excersised for the entirety of the 50 minute class, where we watched a real poice video and then worked through potential ways that the state and defending lawyers would argue their cases to victory. I wrangled with the voluble ethics of the lawyer's role. The way arguing a case is divorced from whatever personal bias they may have. Many times during a lawyer's career they must needs often argue a point they do not agree with in any way. How a professional lives with this dicotomy is something I grapple with. Unsuccessfully. I suppose in the end it really is no different from me standing in front of a camera telling you to eat such and such, packet a fat cheque and bury the feelings that the product I have just endorsed represents everything about the state of our food industry I am opposed to. Kinda.
I love the atmosphere in the place. A viscious buzz of Thinking. A tangible feeling of Growth. Quest. Drive. Fear. Courage. And the gothic celinings and orginal painted window pains representing famous cases from the last century weren't too bad either. Back out in the real world we scoffed a Korean sesame ball, put the world to rights over Orange Pekoe tea and shared a cup cake on our stroll around the characterful Ann Arbor before starting a mad dash home to get the working man to, well, work.
Interspersed with all this activity was some serious playing time for the boy-o. Our little friend Jack made it back up to us and his nanny Jess made reservations for Bounce-U (grammar and marketing are not of the same gene pool). Since meeting her, our son has whined on why he doesn't get to have a nanny. After my non-committal answers he settles on an ultimatum that we either find him said nanny or place a dinosaur infront of the house.
After signing a waiver where I declared that I took full responsibilty for letting my treasured son loose on equipment that could potentially cause injury and/or death we head on through to a flurescent lit carpeted warehouse pumping out beach boy's classics pumped with giant inflatable slides, climbs and general bumpable-ness. It was like all your christmases in one. Sam froze with excitement and then through himself down a 10 foot inflatable slide with his dad a close second. By the time Jack joined us he had built up a sweat (dad that is) and the three of them threw themsleves around whilst Jess and I were giggly spectators. Once the crowd had been moved into the next room mama was ready to flex some jumping action too. I went down a slide (and left my stomach at the top) and then rose to the challenge of racing Cory through an inflatable obstacle course. I was going to prove to him that 7 weeks on P90X taught me to Bring It and that years of watching the Krypton Factor, I was, by the marvel that is osmosis, capabale of any army standard obstacle course let alone this kiddy one. Give me a break. This'll be synch.
Carpet burn and bumped nose later I conceeded defeat. Both hurt. The former has since turned into a bright red scab that bemuses the boy (the big one I mean). After a burger lunch, with comiseration maragrita for mum we shared fond goodbyes to our friends and set off back down the road. On our journey I passed a truck who was a Proud American, or so it's sticker said, a clothing company called "Closet" Man, a food chain offering "Lent Specials", a centre for Growth & Enlightenment at the periphery of the village of Beverly Hills. My personal favourite was the Sadkhin complex offices, who were offering "cures" for hunger. Or so the sign said. I never knew it was a disease. I wondered if it might actually be a charity for foreign food aid. After a minute or two of research I have come to understand that it is actually a "rapid" weight loss program. Dr. Sadkhin has personally "discovered" the:
"sixteen biologically active hunger control points behind the ears named The Sadkhin Points®."
Isn't it great that he discovered things with his name already?! Wait, there's more:
"This non-invasive technique allows you to stimulate the hypothalamus and secrete the hormones that control hunger and dramatically reduce hunger pangs. Patients follow a strict dietary intake program without the difficulty normally associated with debilitating hunger."
Or so the website tells me. Excersise. Schmexcersise. Get me some earrings and I am all set.
This week has been perfectly capped by a wonderful afternoon spent in the company of some luscious local ladies, actresses and director friends of Melica. We spent most of today chatting about life and theatre over coffee and bagels and soup and any other delights the wonderful hostess could shower us with. The four friends are like your thinking girl's version of Sex and the City. It was a pool of creative comfortableness and a great tonic for me. One of the ladies' three year old joined us, and she and Sam flexed the muscles of their upper registers whilst running like crazed puppies around the centre of her beautiful colonial home. I inhaled too much chocolate cake. It was a vegan recipe.....
As if all this whirlwind were not enough lets add in an ADR session into the mix. Yesterday saw me smuggle into Marcus' pad, where he and his colleague Wes from the show wired up a mini studio all for my benefit. My producer back in London on the series I had just completed before we came over had called to see whether I would feel comfortable recording a few lines from various episodes which they had added during the edit. There I stood, in front of a big ole mic, all proper like, with cushions on the chest of drawers in front of me to avoid reverb, revisiting the voices of some of the colourful characters I had been pretending to be all that time ago. Within an hour the boys had put it onto a CD, uploaded it onto a web site for the BBC to download and one producer in a small wood lane office was heaving a brief sigh of relief. The gentlemen will be thanked profusely during the Toronto stay starting next week in drinkable delights.
Sunday sees us heading on a mini road trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house immediately after the matinee. Cory + Sara + GPS = domestics. Cory will be heading on up to Toronto after a few days with us in upstate New York whilst we sit tight for the card what is of the green shade. I'm considering writing to Obama reminding him that I was the one in the chocolate number at his house back in December and could he, if I teach his kids piano and acting, speed up this whole process malarky already. Doesn't he know who I think I am?!
Cory plans to pitch up with several of the crew at the local hostel. Rated top party hostel in the world. He is a slightly scared man, but tempted by the ludicrously low charges for a room seeing as a chunk of wages will be used for car hire to and from Canada as he commutes the three hours south to his home town for a Sam fix. If that isn't fodder for a blog I don't know what is.
So there you have a whistle stop tour of my life this week. Fast. Furious. Fun. But, as always there is an end in sight. Going back home, for so the place upstate now feels to me (why have one when you could have three?) will be a tonic. Methinks it is time for some family recharge. Walks in the woods. Reading with grandma. I'll try to convince Grandpa to take up Sam's baseball coaching where his father left off when we could still get outside.
Time to see the spring in.
I can already pick up a whiff of its sunny, if slightly rainy head....