Thursday, 30 September 2010

Desert Diary

The few days we have spent in Tempe Arizona mean that I have an acute understanding of what a rasher of bacon feels like under the grill. There ought to be a more superlative adjective to adequately describe Arizonian heat other than "hot". I suppose if you are still in that slightly groggy first day in a place and will insist on heading out to stroll around looking for a cafe in the midday sun you have but yourself to blame for not lasting more than five minutes. Sauna. Oven. Furnace.

We left our hotel and headed on towards the Arizona State University campus just across the street. A sprawling mini city of desert coloured concrete buildings home to almost 60,000 students no less. Palm trees dot the main avenue. Cactus line the walkways between the various departments zig zagged with students, golf buggies, skateboarders and enough bikes to make you feel like you are on a busy street in Shanghai. Boy has now become accustomed to being on of them, though, thankfully, his mother has finally worked out that if they leave early in the morning there is less chance for collisions with tardy students dashing for their lectures. Most of which do so upon the retro style Schwinn bikes, in array of pretty pastels, high handle barred glamour bikes. A world away form the bikes fellow students had when I was back at college. Aside from survivable heat around 8 in the morning it also provides the perfect opportunity to breathe in the perfect lull before a place wakes up.

As I do my comical speed walk to barely keep up with boy I take in the courtyards that branch off of the main strip some with trickling fountains at their centre others strewn with heavy concrete (desert coloured) tables under the shade of trees. Students cramming in information. Similarly when we take our ride towards early evening, whilst dad naps before his show I take a moment in between sprints, to bask in the laid back rhythms of a closing day. Vast skies overhead, desert sunsets humming with a pink purple glow beyond the arched walkways in between buildings, palm tree silhouettes gently swaying in the breeze.

Last night we went to Phonecia for dinner. Without time travel. On one of our boy-bike mum-sprint jaunts we came across a crossroads just after the main department buildings with a different place of worship on each side. A couple of churches, a performing arts centre and a mosque. Out of the four, the latter least ubiquitous, especially with the craggy (desert coloured) hill jutting out beyond it. The temple's white walls, blue tiles and gold detailing gleaming in the morning sun. From the courtyard beyond the walls sounds of children playing. Later we see them returning to the classrooms on the upper level via thick white stone steps. I enjoy imagining I am in North Africa or Arabia for a moment. When I notice the grocery store next door I escort biker boy in and touch every exotic box I can find, feeling a pang of nostalgia for the turkish and arab shops of home. I buy a pack of spices because the name on the label reads something unfamiliar. We take a baklava home for the dad. Next night I take the boys back to feast on their homemade houmous and falafel. We order an Ultimate Combo from the fast talking waitress - a one woman show in the making - and take the next hour to chomp through a feast of freshly grilled, perfectly seasoned delights. If it hadn't been so hot (even at 5 in the evening!) I would have sat outside on the white stone benches inlaid with those same blue tiles.

In stark contrast to my day dreaming of Arabian lands the day before had seen us decked out in our best for a bit of Puttin on the Ritz at The Ritz. As part of the publicity for the show, Jeffery the effusive tea maitre d' (yes there is such a job) at The Ritz throws parties in which the visiting casts come and chat with locals who partake in tea and conversation. And scones. With proper cream. Very kindly Sam and I were invited too. Boy, somewhat under the impression that it was a show we were going to watch, refused to leave his regency sofa seat until the end. In practice it meant we were, in all intents and purposes, watching our new family move between tables to mingle with the guests. After a scone break (all breaks should come with scones like these) they broke into a snippet from the show accompanied y the resident pianist who throughout tea was playing a jazz background version of all the characters main songs. We drank green tea on account of Frankenstein and all. On leaving we were presented with a bear who is dressed in the image of maitre d', also named Jeffrey. Sam has christened him his baby girl and we have made a theatre out of the cardboard box he came in. Whilst the paints were out Sam attacked the hamper lid with Pollock gusto. On the balcony. Wearing nothing but his y-fronts like any new wave painter worth his salt.

Tonight we explored the Urban Garden market, next door to my favourite mosque. It is a corner plot of land given over to the nurturing of veggies. Lump in our throats looking at the raised boxes. Our babies at home are doing great, my folks sent us a picture of the grape and apple harvest and Cory almost cried. He actually did cry this afternoon when playing Sam an excerpt of The Sound of Music. It was his first film he remembers watching with his mama. There he was now sharing it with his boy. I'll tease him later.

Down at the market mum feasted on everything she could get her mitts on, from fresh, award winning salsa (now in my fridge) to raw honey from cat's claw plants. I now own a propolis cream and have eaten half a packet of raw flax seed crackers. I also bought homemade incense from an Arizonian hippy who told me that I ought to burn the pine one when in need of mental clarity and money. When I am going to the casino he added. Or, if sharing a dorm place in a drawer to not overpower fellow students. I decided, whether or not this was his intention, that I would take the last comment as a compliment. Though he may have thought me a mature student but hey.

In an hour or so dad will be back from the theatre across the street. An impressive building by the late Frank Lloyd Wright, one of his last. Originally designed for Baghdad as their opera house, but a regime change meant whoever had commissioned the job was fired and so the plans were kept by Mr. Wright. Tempe decided to snap it up and are now proud owners of a something that looks, from the outside, like the cross between a wedding cake and the Colliseum. Desert coloured. Of course. I look froward to exploring inside on the weekend.

Although the magical lands of Sedona are likely to remain elusive to us on account of time constraints, we do look forward to a day with our friend's mum tomorrow. Her daughter took our headshots last week. It is always wonderful to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Then there's the Meet the Crew Party, poolside in an hour or so. Cory and I had planned to party in shifts with one of the cast offering to sit in with the boy later. I have just had news however that our friend in the crew has a room right next door to the pool and Sam might just sleep there whilst we party within earshot. Plan Stan. Infinitely better than our original one of piling cushions into the hamper and laying him on top to then wheel it down. Not even we will go to those lengths just for the photo and the story. Maybe.

In truth I have been feeling the twinge of homesickness rear its head again over the past few days. Our new family is very lovely, personable, friendly - we had a great travel day with ma and boy getting to know everybody. I suspect the feeling is compounded by the fact that I received my first rejection from a literary agent and threw myself into a moment of self-bashing for what I perceived to be self-aggroindesment on my part. I worried that I had fallen into that ugly trap of being someone who enjoys writing a blog for pleasure and then, like thousands of other would-be writers, decides to pursue a future in books. My tail is a little in between my legs. Lasted just up until Sam launched into one of his complex imaginary journeys in which he was skateboarding down Orlando beach (?) and would I please call him on the phone as he is heading home now thank you. Always good to know what job is really pressing. Pat on the backs or lack of them pail into insignificance when there's a three year old to nurture.

Going to dive into that salsa, burn me some sandalwood and lather myself in lavender propolis for the occasion. Glad rags. Spot of blusher. Get to know our new friends. That's what the homesick doctor ordered. And she doesn't even charge a $350 fee.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tea. Sea. Me.

I ought to be finishing up the packing. Instead I am sat here in the air conditioning, reminiscing on our last week in Costa Mesa. My better judgement tells me to keep the sliding glass door open instead for real fresh air but I think better on it, seeing as last week, after a wasp nest was fumigated upstairs one of the poisoned blighters found it's way into our room, crawled across our pillows and stung the boy in the dead of night. Least we're hoping it was a wasp. It wasn't until the morning that I realised his fussing over his hand wasn't just me sleeping on it. The pharmacist, on inspection of the huge red swelling on the fleshy base of his thumb told me it looked like a bite and to keep an eye on it. If, after a spray of Benadryl, it started to spread into a rash or if boy developed strange feverish behaviour I was to take him immediately to ER. I think this is Californian for "it may be a bite of a venoumous spider such as the black widow, keep your wits about you."

Me, a self confessed arachnophobe am now having to deal with my fear head on. Well, up until I shut every door and turn on the air con that is. Our friends who we visited with on Cory's day off breezily told us about the infestation of these creatures and their regular extermination bills. That was after the lady of the house laughed off finding a snake in the back yard and her husband then sharing the story behind the dried rattle snake skin hung by his desk in his home office. The gentleman in question tells me he came across the unlucky snake one day whilst hiking. He had appeared to be in an aggressive temper (the snake I presume he meant) so, for the sake of fellow hikers, our friend's husband decided there was room for only one of them on the planet. I absolutely know I would not like to be on the wrong side of this fellow. Or snake for that matter, even if it is just a skin. Our journey to this friend's house took us through the largest expanse of tomato fields I have ever seen (some people do grow more than our Neopolitan neighbour down at the plot), onwards past a huge army base with the Pacific to our left for the entirety. I gawp up at the mountains to our left having the sensation of familiarity, Cory then tells me this is where they shot parts of MASH. The images of one of my favourite childhood shows flash before me. We start singing the theme tune. Obviously.

On arrival at our friend's home, we meet their adorable little two year old girl, who takes an instant shine to what she calls our "baby boeeeey" and he, in turn, takes on older brother role with gusto. Holding her hand at all times. Showing her how to do everything. Take turns and so on, just so long as he goes first. At least until she scrambles off for something new with him a breath away. We drive to a local burger joint round the corner passing a sign for the upcoming "quiet" auction. Oh to be a fly on the wall.

As we park my eye is drawn to the van next to us advertising Girl-Ease products, specifically disposable bra liners. For sweaty ladies. I think we call them nursing pads back home. I silently count myself lucky I have never encountered problems of the sweaty boob variety. Then again, if I lived in California rather than under the English drizzle I too, may develop this unfortunate problem. Especially if I filled them with silicone or wot-not I spose. The car park is full of entrepreneurial car advertisements I notice. Once you have mopped up your sweat you can then purchase advice from the van owner across the way who will teach you to grow your veggies at home. Failing that, you could always buy the self-watering self-fertilising garden boxes advertised for sale (delivered no less!) on the wall of Costa Mesa's The Lab. More of that later.

After our scoff, and during the young lady's nap, the family and Cory's friend head for a nearby park to do a spot of posing. Our hostess has recently been branching out into photography after a decade of more of astonishing dancing that took her onto Broadway and all over the world. She was happy to take our headshots as a favour, and to build up her portfolio. We must have looked quite a sight. Boy, customarily fedora'd, Dad in a suit (!) and mum, hair blow dried to infinity and our friend all 6ft something gorgeousness, slim as a bean but for a very taut baby bump. She is due in less than a month but I betcha you can still see her eight pack down the sides. It is lovely to be around such a radiant preggo, zip zapping about us with her lens capturing the afternoon light. I catch Cory in my periphery, shaking his head in wonder at my unashamed readiness to launch into poses. I little tilt of the head here, a half smile, full smile, serious glare, silly face. I am appalled at how easily I fall into the negative stereotype of our industry. Hey ho. The shots she sent through afterwards were pretty lovely, not so much of the poser, seeing as she looked, well, a little posey, but the boys look great. Especially the one in the tree with the hat and those big brown eyes.

Heading back to Costa Mesa the following day, we made time to frolic the beaches at Carlsbad on the way. Sounds like a German spa town but looks about as German as a bowl of Udon soup. The wide expanse of ocean glistening in the afternoon rays begging for us to jump in it. So we did. A lot. Got wet. And cold. And very very happy. Especially since our bellies were full of Ruby's delights. It is a chain of burger joints decorated in red and white retro decor. Waitresses wear a forties get up but somehow it manages to stay the right side of gimmicky, and the folk working there seem genuinely happy to be there. Food's good too. Especially if you like the kind of milkshakes that line your arteries in 0.4 seconds. On our way out boy asked for a toilet stop which would have been fine, only the lady waiting to go in next, whilst boy waxed lyrical about the size, shape and odour of his waste matter, was of a certain age, in a neck brace, with a walking stick, and clearly about to wet herself. She calls over the door,
"You nearly done in there?"
"Yeah!" I fib watching my son's face grimace for round two.
"I don't mena to rush you only - "
She cuts off and I wonder whether she has had an accident. In the end I choose to rush the boy. I have a change of clothes for him. The lady on the other hand, probably doesn't have another pair of slacks in her handbag. That I can tell. After our sandy frolics we drive back home. Boy is out to the world after the first few miles and stays that way till morning, with but a brief delirious wake up around midnight for a banana after which he promptly returns to his dreams.

The following day we continue our beach holiday with a trip to Laguna. The name itself oozes the kind of crystal turquoise waters we found there. Hopping onto route 1 we curved in and out of the rugged coast and after a turn or three the expanse of Pacific rolled out ahead of us, gentle mid morning waves reaching the vast shores. We come off the highway around Crystal Cove whereupon we stumble across jaw dropping ocean homes. Spanish styles, uber modern glass constructions and a world of unique beauty in between. Eventually, along from the main drag we arrive at Laguna Beach.

More cove like than the sweeping beaches I have come to associate with California it is a child's paradise. Not only because of its shallow, for the most part calmer waters or its proximity to the frozen yoghurt shop but also for the playground literally constructed on the sand. Boy cavorted between water and ladders and slides gathering and saying goodbye to friends along the way as the locals came and went. Mum got lost in a book. Dad got buried in the sand.

The following day we stayed inland. This time on a trip to the city of Orange. For the name alone really. And yes, Oranges do grow there. In the main square actually. Which is in the middle of a roundabout. With gardens, all Italian styley. Fountain and everything. From this centre, main streets crossroad out, lined with antique shops and cafes. By the time we arrived, after boy's gym class, we hit the lunchtime rush and followed our noses to The Filling Station. With all the outside tables taken we were ushered into a booth inside and were served by a rockabilly lady all tatooed and retro spectacled. Sam took an instant shine to her. I blame it on her smooth timbre. And the way she wore those glasses like she actually was from that time. On this vein boy turns to us and asks if he was in the olden days? I say I don't know was he? He says he wants to be. Later he absent mindly tells me he is practicing for yesterday. I think we are entering a quantum phase. I hope he stays there and helps me figure out my reluctance to be tied down to the supposed linearity of the universe. Incidentally I have been driving Cory mad recently. Every time he talks about the sun setting or rising I feel inclined to differ seeing as its us doing all the turning. "Fine" he tells me each time I offer up my point "come up with a different way of saying it." At which point I invariably stumble. It is a bit medieval though when you think about it? In Italian the term does not appertain to the sun's movements as such. Just a random thought is all.

After lunch we trawl main street, first off spending all of 30 cents on three "penny" sweets at the candystore and then oggling $3,000 tables at George's antiques. I tell Cory that if we ever did live here, I would miss the reasonably priced "antiques" from home. I never came across 1920s secretaire at home that cost $1,000+ even if it is in good nic. With only a few minutes to spare before the event that is tap class we take in the fountain. When we arrive Sam runs around a little two year old lady named Dahlia. Cory follows the kids and I make small talk with her dad. Turns out her great grandfather was quite an influential member of Orange and several generations of the family still live there. When his wife arrives, heavily pregnant but resplendent in Californian beauty it takes me a breath to figure out that this hormonal lady is none too happy with the fact that a strange man is watching her child whilst her husband chats about nothing and something with a lady. I put her at ease as best I can (I, of all people know not to set a preggo on the wrong foot) with questions about Dahlia and baby to be. Before long she is sitting, almost comfortably, in the shade and I take away a little slice of Orange life away with us.

Back at Team OC HQ Cory and I sit with the moms. Amongst the group another heavily pregnant lady (I wonder if it's contagious?!). We coo at our offspring and laugh at their antics, which, to be fair, are not too wild (shame) seeing as Miss Michelle has them under a tight ballerina grip. Least that's what we figure from through the glass. I would like to say that my eyes never left the boy only the mums started talking about a show which they were sure I would know. It took most of the ballet combination for me to figure out what they were talking about. For a while there, I really thought someone had come up with a show called Naughty. A sort of drum your kids into good behaviour via a tv screen jobby and never mind what happens around it sort of thing. When I took the cotton wool out of my brain it turns out Naughty translated into Brit is Noddy. There was I thinking I was getting the twang down.

This time when Miss Michelle (I love the Vaudevillian way the teachers are called Miss and then their first names) turns the lights out and the mirror ball starts turning I notice Sam's prop of choice is a glittering gold top hat number which he whips around him like a wannabe Gene Kelly, his feet stomping spasmodically trying to keep with his imagination. I feel my grin starting to make my face ache. At the end of class I do a bit of shameless swan necking of another mom's book. Before long we are entering into a lively conversation about her culture diversity studies. It is part of her training to become a social worker which, by the by, she is doing concurrent with mothering three children. I love the way conversation ripples through our days so effortlessly over here. The travel is allowing us such time to really engage with people so free are we of rigid schedules. Half an hour later or so, we have exchanged views on our experiences of different religions and cultures. She tells us of her embarrassment at becoming aware of Sikhs and Muslims only later in life, and at a fellow american who had unashamedly asked whether she had been scared going into a mosque for the first time. Prep-for-Princesses teacher wipes by us to begin her class. Seems like last week was the supply teacher. This lady's age, bleach blonde hair, ample (almost real) bosom and teeny tiny waist give altogether quite a different impression than the sardonic retro gal of last time. Wannabe princesses don't appear to mind in the least.

The following morning we head out into the sunshine for the last time to bask in the waters of Newport Beach, about ten minutes down the road. I scour the shore for incredible shells and boy goes loopy in the waves. We all reduce our inner noise to bare minimum, hushed into relaxation by the fresh air, rippling waters and the screeches of an elated three year old. After a cup of gelato we head reluctantly back to the hotel, escaping reality for as long as possible with a pit stop into the Lab. An eco conscious strip mall dotted with surfer urban warrior type stores. The day before we had inhaled a chilled blended coffee drink wotsit at Milk and Honey. A world away from the pink shop down on Golders Green High Road this was an all wooden affair complete with a sofa outside on their little slither of Japanese style garden. On the gravel were also a couple of tables, just enough for lone lap top writers to set up virtual shop of an afternoon. That is, until the internet cut out and I noticed them having to engage in conversation like old fashioned coffee houses used to be, only without the cigarette smoke. Next the coffee hang out is the intriguing 118 degrees restaurant. I walk in, to ask to look at the menu and the lady asks me if I have ever been before. When I answer in the negative she proceeds to educate me on their particular culinary art, which, essentially involves, dehydrating the organic locally sourced veggies, at, well, 118 degrees precisely to retain the mineral and nutritional value. After a browse over the menu where words like Kamut, agave and pistachio pesto jumped out at me I convinced the boys to come in. The food arrived, utterly wheat free, dairy free and almost taste free but for the punchy pesto lining the homemade paper thin coconut wrap stuffed with a crate of thinly sliced veggies. Having ordered two appetisers and a main, I did, in truth feel slightly duped by the fact that everything ion the menu could essentially be translated into home made paper thin wrap and veggies. Butternut squash ravioli, was, well, extra thin wrap over a raw butternut squash puree. Similarly the thai rolls we ordered. I sipped coconut water out of a coconut. Boy slurped electrolyte enhanced lemonade with agave nectar. That is until his dad tried it and made such a face of mild repulsion and then he went off it altogether. The ladies at the table next to us remarked at how nice it was to bring children so young to places such as these. They must have assumed we were on a well meaning educational kick. Little did they know it was purely mum's curiosity and desire to sample some genuine Californian crazy diet first hand. In fairness the veggies were uber fresh. All the super slim yogis feasting on leaves around us thought the same. I think a class had just dismissed from the Bikram studio at the other end of the strip. That's the strain where you do a class in, I think 118 degree heat, and come out looking like Madonna after 30 consecutive days of practice. I tried it in New York City one year, but I got really angry with the teacher wearing a microphone who, having found out I was a Limey, told me to stand upright like Big Ben. It was a standing posture admittedly but I could barely breathe at the time.

We left 118 degrees, small one still hungry, and stopped into Milk and Honey for a luscious pomegranate Iced tea and a bagel. Wheat-free schmeat-free. I am on a tea kick, which, for some would seem inevitable in view of my British upbringing, but it urks me that some of the best tea I have tasted has been over here. First off in Hartford at Jo-Jo's coffee house run by the coffee and tea obsessed Vietnamese guy who knew my regular cup of Java favourite after only one visit. Now at a recent discovery called Teavana. Wherein one will find horrendously overpriced but gorgeously laid out tea temptations. My favourite is the tea packers ritual when prospective buyer approaches the counter. It involves passionate and thorough descriptions of the teas and their properties from people who appear to live for the stuff. Your eyes dart across the multi coloured tins behind them, and, like in the olden days, your goods are weighed and served over the counter. If, like me, you a novice to their specialities, kindly ladies will run the gamut of cha to educate you. On our first visit I tell the lady I like the sample I drank at the doorway. She pulls down a purple tin, and, lifting the lid, she proceeds to waft it over the contents so all its fruity white tea goodness swirls about us on the wind. Sam and I breathe it in with a smile. Then she selects companion teas to mix. Wafting is then done with two lids, holding them cymbol-like. I can only wonder what happens when they get a greedy customer who inquires on a mixture of three types. After ooohs and aaaaahs we do buy some of the stuff. Balk at the price and hurry home to start steeping with our bamboo handled strainer, tea ensconced in our japanese paper covered caddy.

Back at The Lab we walk the long way round back to the car taking in the fat white font on the parking spaces that read, "Tofu", "Say Hi To Everybody", "Eat Your Greens", "Laugh Everyday" amongst other nuggets of new age wisdom. We carry onto the chrome Airstream caravan parked round the back laden with delicate succulent arrangements in drift wood, air plants hung about the place, art work and smelly candles. Boy, energy high on bagel strikes up thorough conversation with the shopkeeper on why and how her cash register is, in all intents and purposes a table and not a checkout. Much of our week has involved shop role-play. I think it pleases him to see his makeshift world is as bonefide as he had suspected. Onward we stroll past a sort of camping, world wisdom type of shop with a fat sign illuminting "Ideas Farm" on its upper level. I think I may have found my calling. We just have time to take in the Native Food Cafe, Cory remarking on the smell of barbecue. I glibly suggest they may be cooking the little 'uns who did not make it to the teepee after all. Utterly inappropriate. Made him laugh. Obviously.

Now I sit, with the clutter that is belongings all about me, chomping on a birthday cookie the man has brought home from work on account of it being a lady in the cast's birthday. In truth I am slightly irked by the fact that our birthdays fell outside of the wonderful tradition for buying cakes within the touring group. Once you have received a birthday offering (this case choc chip cookie creation with psychadelic icing) it remains to you to buy the next person's cake and so and so forth. The sugar high should see me through the next hour or so of bag filling. And into my dreams. Which most likely will envolve nightmarish images of the lady of a certain age who was parading around the stage at the mall today dressed as a pirate doing a show, on exacty whta I don't know, with her assistant, most likely in her late seventies, behind her checking her watch in between little yawns. That was before the Billy Elliot type boys came on to dance and the teenage orchestra played like semi-pros.

Or perhpas I will dream on Arizona, tomorrow's destination. My first memory of that place is arriving at our friend's house outisde Phoenix, to spy a terracotta coloured thing on the hallway floor only to find, on closer inspection, that it was a scorpion. Our friend's mum squished it like it was an uninvited ant. Hmmmmm. Irrational (maybe) insect fears to be allayed for now. Cory is home and I am wishing I had finished the packing before he got home. Nothing sets the scene for comedy and bickering than the two of us dancing about each other trying to stuff the many many shirts off our backs into our cases.

He won't miss that other half of cookie cake now will he?

too late....

Friday, 17 September 2010

First Night. For the Second Time.

Good job I attacked my son's hair the day after opening night. Otherwise I would now be looking back at the photo of he and I next to Mr. Mel Brooks, upstaged by that crooked fringe. Should have known better than to do it myself. With nail scissors. I have told friends I am planning to hand over my mother's license by the weekend. They tell me I have embraced a pivotal rite of passage in motherhood.

He was cleaned up by the kind Jeff, Head of Hair - pardon the pun - who volunteered his expertise to correct my creation the following day at the theatre so that he would no longer look like a young Jacobi in medieval disguise. Even the 50 or so blank faced wig stands in Jeff's room, topped with tresses, seemed to be raising an eyebrow at me.

Thankfully, on the night of the big party, I restrained myself. Boy and I arrived, all gussied up in party gear ready to celebrate the new cast's opening that evening. We had watched the matinee with much anticipation on account of the cast changes and adjustments to direction and set. Mr. Fedora approved of the changes of the transference scene. It's the first thing he told me after the curtain call. We arrived just in time to catch the entire creative team wipe by us and onto the stage. Mel Brooks, Susan Stroman, the designers and producers, flanked by the new creative staff who will be keeping the show in tip top shape as it continues on its journey. The hush that fell was palpable. Like a royal walk-by but with no handshakes. I was swept over into silence also, barely managing an inane grin. These are the people who have facilitated our family's adventures in giving Cory this fantastic opportunity.

Me, wobbling on high heels, tottered in after them, Sam on hip, to the stage, where we found Dad and his hump. The resident director urged Sammy forward, telling Mr. Brooks that he must meet him. The latter is all smiles. The younger comes over a little coy beneath the rim of his fedora. Mr. Brooks insists on a family shot before the cast group pic. Mum waddles into frame, cheshire grin plastered across my face underneath the blusher. Even boy asked me how come my cheeks were so red? I blame it on the excitement of it all. Mr. Brooks, to my left is also grinning, though unlike me, the right side of deranged. After the big group shot, where Sammy is commanded to take centre (he hesitates not) we all clip clop to the party round the corner.

Little fella barely manages to ask for a lemonade at the bar, take a gulp, before he conks out in Dad's arms. Spends the rest of the evening laid out on a fancy black leather chair covered in Dad's suit jacket across from the roaring uber trendy fire. Party blaring about him, out cold to the martini fuelled frolics. Mum notices that all feeling in her feet has given way to absurd pain. I take a moment to wonder how, having worn the same shoes almost a year ago I have no memory of them being portable torture contraptions. Then I remember I was anaesthetised by starstruckedness at The White House. I believe I lost all feeling from the neck down that night, by the time my jaw thumped on the floor when the first person I locked eyes with was Scorsese.

Dad and I, almost recovered but still pumping with antibiotics, sip on our cranberry juices and enjoy mingling with the new troupe. I notice most of them snapping a picture of the Sam-man. I think I could create an entire album of Sam' sleeping spots. Atop the grand piano in Houston and under dad's dressing table amongst my personal favourites. His sleeping antics are new to them. I suddenly feel a little clump of nostalgia at the back of my throat for the acting family we have had to part with. It is swallowed down with anticipation for the adventures to be had with the new lot.

Eventually we hobble home, mum hastily changing into flip flops thank you very much. Relaxed summer night walks are what make a summer to me. This saunter back with a couple of the crew, Austin (of the travelling fuschia bar) and Ben (soundie who is teaching Sam to read by enlisting him during organisation of his microphone pockets in his holder wotsit) and Matthew Vargo (of Birmingham, MI, tea fame). Sam, scooped up from sofa, wrapped up and placed in stroller. In that sweet limbo between sleep and wake. They head up to the after after party. We call it a night. Gym in the morning.

Yes after my usual scout around the confusing alleys of Google I came across Team OC. On closer inspection I find pictures of a hanger size gymnasium with classes for children 6months to young adult. We arrive at the place, literally next to the runway of John Wayne Airport. Our conversations cut through by the roar of engines overhead. After a moment spying the hundresd of private jets parked beyond the wire fence that seperates the industrial zone form the airport we head in, past the 4 1/2 sign in the parking lot. Rose, a smiley Phillipino young woman welcomes us and hands our free trial card over. Boy, Ma and Pa can barely contain their excitement when they enter the gymnasium. To say it is filled to overflowing with squeaky clean state of the art rubber aparatus fit for the best Olympian would be putting it mildly. Let's just say, we've never observed a gym class, for three year olds at least, where the teacher sends each child to a different trampoline rather than wait in line. Or watched the tots leap across the space on a long tumble trampoline the length of half a hangar. Not one rope hanging appendage climby thing. Four. Not one or two balance beams. Seventeen. Plus three dance studios and a martial arts space. All with glass observation walls. A homework room (I see some children actually live here) an open kitchen, a snack dispenser, and my personal favourite, a shoppe. In all its rhinestone glitzy gym wares as far removed from ye olde shoppe as you can get but still.

Dad and I sit, upright and eager, faces enacting every move Miss Sarah asks of her little clan. They follow her around the immensity like little ducklings. The outline of Sam somewhat hazy from our back row seats at the top end of the tiered seating area, but for the big black balls for eyes that are visibly vibrating with delight. After the class Miss Sarah tells us she has never seen a three year old do a cartwheel before. Boy answers before we can take a breath to reply, "I LOVE it. I just LOVE it." Many are the folks in the cast who have commented that with his gene pool, he is in prime position to develop into a 5ft acrobat.

Whilst we had been watching the tyke swing frizzing with pleasure about the space, we also clock the class taking place parallel to them at the opposite end of the hangar. A mother and baby group are putting their 10 month olds through their paces with some heavy duty soft play assault courses. Never too early to develop upper body strength I see. By the time the three year olds are on the balance beams the babies are into the sing song round up of their class. I learn about the ten little Indians who swim down the river to their teepee. When I turn to Cory his face is a little pale with surprise. Like him, I thought that song had been evaporated into 1970s history. Apparently not. Every lesson we have been to since I have heard the reprise. Good news is they always do make it to the teepee.

After class we return to reception and enlist the boy. He bouncing, from foot to foot, inhaling pretzels as if his life depended on it. I spose it does really. Whilst we are plotting our weeks ahead Cory catches sight of the Sense` in the background, swirling into Karate moves from a seated position infront of his computer screen. He looks up and catches Cory giggling. Luckily he has a sense of humour and laughs at himself too. Never been an instinctive thing of mine to tease a black belter. Cory's irreverence is one of my favourite things about him. He clowns around equally with everyone and especially about himself. He had no choice the other night when I read out aloud an interview he had done for Broadway World. In the beginning I felt like the literal transposition of his chat with the reporter was hard "out-aloud" reading but, by half way through, we were both in stitches seeing as literally every other sentence the word Laughs in brackets appeared. If you didn't know otherwise you would swear Cory was stone drunk when he did this. Either that or a man reaching his mid life crisis with the dizziness of a pre pubescent in hormone overdrive. Which is what we both seemed like by the end of reading it, giggling hysterically.

Honestly. Every. Other. Word. (Laughs)

Which is what the lady who was dressed in a red halterneck all in one lycra job with a long tutu and a pink plastic tiara did when she was explaining the class she was about to teach. BAck at Team OC HQ, from under her smirk, as she sat patiently amongst the mums (and Dad) she tells us she leads the Princess Prep class. I know my face contorts into one of those barely concealed expressions. The ones Cor reminds me are bad news in public places and which I remind him are the product of an obsession with observing details about everything and everyone and which will stand me in good stead. One day. Maybe. And anyway why waste time being anonymous when you could be gleaning a myriad of information from a stranger across the carriage? You never know when it may come in handy. In fairness I fear this may be akin to hoarding clutter, but of the mind. No, I take that back. I am nosey. There's the end to it.

Anyhows, on clocking my face, tutu lady starts qualifying what her class is, in a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek manner. Her hand shoeing away imaginary flies as she lists teaching arts, crafts, dance, and, most importantly, manners. To wannabe princesses. I suddenly become self conscious of my accent. And a latent British snobbery rearing it's ghastly head wondering on the meaning and significance of princesses in Orange County. Ought I give the girls and their mums the heads up on the disastrous history of previous american-anglo royal alliances?

The day before, in a similar vein, I had read advertisements for character and social skills building for young girls, starting from as early as five. I suddenly feel a little overwhelmed by the folks profiting from the programming of very young women. Is not all of this part and parcel of the very influences that grown women criticise the media for and yet invest in through via their young daughters? The face creams? The diets? The suck-you-in pants? By my own admission I am guilty of all of the above, but I would hope, should I ever have the good fortune to be mother to a daughter that I would revel in her un-gelled tresses matted with play and tree climbing and dancing to music only she can hear? Before I know it I jokily ask what young Princes learn about? With an ironic wink she tells us that they learn to open doors and pay for the lessons for the girls. The mums (and Dad) laugh at the whole thing, as do I, and yet, a little seed of disquiet sits in my belly. The moment shot through when boy rushes out of his class, aglow with post tap dance delirium and we head out into the sunshine past the blonde blow dries, sweeping off the shoulder summer dresses oversized sunglass and onto the tarmac, narrowly escaping the urge to jump over the fence and get in one of the little planes. Just for the fun of it.

The following days are marked by a noticeable lack of manic exploration and a need to generally introvert a little. On my part at least. Though we are looking forward to hiring a car next week. There are beaches but a few miles away that have our sand scrawled names on it. Plus a dear friend of Cory's is in San Diego and has invited us for an overnight stay. Her little daughter has just turned two. Sam has seen the pictures and keeps asking me when we are going to play with the baby? He did today also, as we sauntered back from the grocery store, mum all smug having fitted an entire shop into a new cooler picnic hamper wotsit on wheels with flap for cutlery and plates. Just what we have needed for our mini kitchen, for, what almost a year?! Finally hunted it down at one of those plastic smelling mega chains. It was just as we past a lady, flashing us a smile from under her cloth hat, eyes hidden under her black sunglasses, 6ft long braid hanging in a U shape from behind her head and tucked into her back pocket. For safe keeping I suppose.

Till San Diego, we have our mall shenanigans to look forward to. I appear to be surprisingly willing to launch myself headlong into the whole OC county mall culture. When in Rome. Besides, there is a boy who believes he is able to transform into a tiger of a saturday. Who am I to rob him of such pleasures?

I've even checked the schedule.

Not a coconut shell in sight.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

From Polynesia & Mexico with Love

Today is the anniversary of a pivotal day for so many. At great cost to many lives, it was also the day that spurred so many people to take important life changing decisions, including Cory and I. News came through to us via erratic emails from Cory who was living in midtown at the time. I was doing my day at my agency office, at that point a co-op. This is the type of agency that is run by actors and is non-profit. Every member has to work the office once a week. I was sat there with my colleague at the time, no radio or TV in our little space, only the snatched lines from Cory. It wasn't till we left for the day a few hours later that the reality set in. And that unsettling silence many people remember. It was then that we both decided, without explicitly communicating the fact, that we would like to share our lives together. Little over a month later Cory had proposed and I had accepted.

As Sam and I stood, in the atrium of South Coast Mall at midday this afternoon, called to a moment of silence whilst the anthem was played we all took a moment of solidarity to replay those memories and send good wishes to those for whom the memory is so painful. Least we would have done if the chap and chapesses on the Asthma Awareness table next to me had not been talking so loudly about the new inhalers they were giving out free. Or that lady behind me asking her son, in shrill tones, that it was a moment of silence and we had to be quiet because the lady asked for silence ok? Twice over. My snap to judgement is unfounded, seeing as we were at a shopping centre on a saturday afternoon in the middle of the Festival of Children.

Through our course of antibiotics Sam has literally been counting the days till he can have his face painted. "I will ask for a Lion this week without stripes ok mum?" Fine by me I tell him, quietly hoping for his success. Half and hour later we have reached our destination and a young lady transforms our boy into a Frankenlion. That is to say more of a green/blue roaring predator than a Savanah native. He took on his role with upmost concentration. Waving regally to all who looked twice at him bestowing them with gentile smiles and knowing nods. "Yes it's me", his expression seemed to say, "I really am the king of the jungle".

After his brush with brushes we filled up mum's tum with a quick lunch and then headed back to the stage to take in the afternoon's delights. First up were a local dance troop. The peppy choreographer proudly announces that the children about to perform dance around 20 hours a week (hang on - that's a full time job isn't it?!) and are the winners of a competition in Lake Tahoe. Moments later the small stage is filled with wannabe performers, legs in the air, smiles plastered on their face, lips and eyes painted 1982 crimson and baby blue. They perform a routine to Imagine in sparkly outfits and a sunflower as a prop. My favourite part was watching the children in the audience gaze up at them. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered. After the winner's encore we strolled up to the other stage to catch the end of a puppet show. A taciturn puppeteer took us through his quasi funny gags but held our attention with his troupe of marionettes. For the parents he added in a few educational questions on shapes and so on. No violence. If parents today saw the Punch (by name and nature) and Judy shows of my childhood there would be law suits. In fairness domestic violence probably has no place in children's shows. Others could counter-argue that this early exposure arms growing women as to what is acceptable or non acceptable behaviour. I'll stop there, the argument is thin to say the least.

After his reticent curtain call and passing out of his card we headed back to the main stage to catch a troupe of diminutive Polynesian dancers shaking the straw skirts off their bodies. Looked like a lot of fun. The drums were banging, the live guitars were strumming, there were hoots and cheers and singing. It wasn't till we reached the front seating area that I realised the dancers were no older than 7. Then the whole scene took on another colour. The singer I noticed was a very large man of a certain age, hollering out to the girls to smile and calling out the change of step. Routing after routine performed and the girls appeared to get younger and younger, gyrating their hips like wizened women. I turn to catch the look on the adults in the audience. I think they all have the same shade of grey awkwardness as I do. The girls on the stage appear be basking in the attention. All of them, no matter what kind of hair they have naturally, have their tresses out loose with a frizzy wave, the kind you get when you sleep in braids over night. I suppose this, along with the bikini tops of coconut shells is supposed to create an ambience of authentic Polynesia. I am secretly hoping they will bow soon. Just as I think it's time to clap does Pimp, sorry Caller, request the girls to go out into the house and find some partners. Sam looks over at me, eyes like saucers bright with anticipation. He cannot wait to get up there and dance. A breath later he is centre stage with a 6ft adolescent who is wiggling her hips like they are about to take off and he is being told to copy. He does. Obviously. With vim. Then the lap dance, sorry demonstration, is over and he is escorted down to rapturous applause. I am wondering where this prude in me has sprung out of, or whether it was best just to follow his lead. I mean, it just doesn't seem right, to tell someone to get off this stage at once young man, when it is just that that puts bread on our table. If only there was less of the come hither hips thing. Ah. I spose if he asks me to make him a straw skirt I will have to draw the line. Skirts are really not my speciality. I can just about stretch to a paper hat and then I call it a day.

To recover from Polynesia we take in the craft table where young children are beavering away at bracelets. On the table there is a piece of paper spelling out P.E.A.C.E. We wait patiently, in that truly British way of behaving like you are in a queue even when there is none and getting quietly frustrated when no-one notices its your turn. Eventually an elfine lady, flicking her fringe away from her face smiles, with a slight whiff of condescention down at us.
"Er, what do we do?" I ask. A little pathetically.
"We're making peace bracelets for the children in Africa."
"Oh." I say. With a slight frown. "Er, can we make one too?"
"Yeah, well, we ran out of twine so, no."
"You can make a card though?"
She hands Sam a card and he starts writing his name all over it. I love the way he scrawls the shapes on top of one another spelling out his name in the way you would build with wooden blocks. It looks bouncy. Like him. I watch him and wonder what on earth these children in Africa are going to think when they get this little piece of paper from a boy they have never met in writing they can't read, shimmering stickers all over it of racing cars with the american flag. I am fighting cynicism here so as not to spoil his enjoyment but what I am really wanting to shout out is "Why?!" Or, please can I offer some help that will really help. I ask nothing because I know it is going to come out all wrong and perhaps a little vicious. Really I ought to have picked up a leaflet and found out more about the whole thing and I wouldn't even be writing all this already. Instead I was all ruffled by the ladies behind the desk looking like they had just cleared the shelves of Abercrombie & Fitch. Textbook displacement of feelings of discomfort about those blooming coconut shells. It made my brain go all defiant.

After signing his card for an African child we went on to the caterpillar stand where a slightly confused young lad talked us through the making of a paper chain that transforms into a caterpillar with the help of googly eyes and a pipe cleaner. It was like being on the pre-school channel all over again. I'm a champion with the sticky tape I'll have you know. The young fella then tells Sam he can draw a mouth on the caterpillar. Boy looks up at him from under his green lion face paint and asks him what caterpillars mouths look like. The young lad flicks the bleached blonde streaked fringe out of his eyes and back onto his naturally jet black hair and looks expectantly at me. I catch myself looking up at him with the same expression as Sam. He holds his breath for but a brief moment of awkwardness and then chooses to laugh it off,"Just draw a big smile." he answers. Boy does. Seems almost happy with the answer. For now anyway.

Almost time for home when we catch the last show of the afternoon. Some Mexican folk dancing we are told. The director, we are told, is just making her way from Bloomingdales. Moments later on stage she enters tottering her voluptuous form on two spindly S&M type open strappy leathery shoes. She has red lipstick. A red rose worn to one side. Smiley, over made up eyes. I wonder if she might like to meet the Polynesian singer man. She announces the salsa dancers. They twinkle on, all false eyelashes. No older than 5. They look at us, a little shocked from under their hair pieces and wriggle a little to loud applause. The routines and performers that follow graduate in age via 9 year old samba dancers, to 11 year old polka people, paso doble adolescents and the grand finale of teenagers. The boy, at the centre dressed in jingling trousers and proper boots starts to stamp out and the crowd ignites. Our boy's face is big and round and utterly engrossed. As was I. My body started jiggering here and there so much so that a lady infront of me asked, all knowing, if I had someone up on stage? No, I answered, just enjoying the rhythm. She barely hid her confusion before turning back to watch. Sammy laughed at this later when I told him and quickly followed by asking me if she had actually seen his bit on stage?

She kind of flicked me the same sort of look that I got from a blow dried lady in her 4x4 yesterday as she caught me pushing Sam in a trolley from the local grocery store. Inside was his bike, my bag and a small bag of shopping. I looked back at her all apologetic, then defiant, then neither, realising she could not tell anything with me wearing big fat shades. Then, as we zig zagged home I had that horrible realisation that in California, to remove a trolley from the grounds of the supermarket is an offence. I am more than half way home when this sinks. I have a desperately tired boy and a husband who will be home in half an hour and for whom I wish to make dinner seeing as he is not altogether feeling great. More fool I really. I had assumed the hotel would be able to shuttle us home from the store. Only found out they had no drivers on a friday when it was too late. Do I carry bike, bag, shopping on eone side boy on other across busy roads on a sunbaked route? Or, do I just borrow the trolley for a minute and help everyone out a little? See, boy had biked to the park. He had biked through the park. He had biked around the park. He had biked to the playground. He had swung, jumped and tumbled with the three children of a friendly Mexican family. The mother and I struck up easy conversation, her anecdotes interspersed with sudden half crazed rants in Spanish for the girls to stay on a certain side of the climbing frame/fire engine. Later she explains, on account of a prophylactic (used) having been left in the sand. She carries on with tales of her life alternately nursing her one year old and looking bemused at my increasingly hybrid accent. She then tells me of her hopes to have her own cake business. My eyes light up. Cake.

I turn to help Sam with something and when I return there is a fat photo album of her work on the floor next to where I was sitting. I leaf through the pictures of her baked masterpieces, from her shaky early beginnings to the art work of her present day. I tell her she will make it a wonderful success. I wonder about asking her how much she would charge to make Frankenstein monster cookies on a stick, but, unusually, I have the forethought to talk it over with Cory first. We make loose plans to meet at the zoo next week. Sam and I get ready to leave, he peacocking with his helmet eager for the girls to catch his cycle moves. A three point turn later and he leaves with a flourish of manic pedalling, which, by the by, I have to jog to keep up with. The fact that I could actually do this tells me I am feeling better. That and enjoying coffee again. So you see, the grocery stop was impromptu, officer. Probably got me on camera and everything. Must have looked a sight, what with my charity shop bought cotton jersey and striped t-shirt, all wannabe navy chic. Perhaps that lady in her SUV was turning her nose up at the outfit rather than the fact that we looked like we were two homeless vagabonds on the run. Maybe she thought I was the one living rough and that I had kidnapped Sammy. Maybe- oh enough already.

Back to the end of my mall tale. The crowd starts to disperse. Sam walks over to me. Takes my face strongly in both his little hands and his eyes meets me square in the face. "MUM-" he begins, "Next time we come to the Festival of Children, I am going to do the whole show. On the stage." Announcement over he does an about turn and sits in the stroller. Plotting his acts I presume.

We take our time to breathe in the afternoon breeze outside. Nice to breath properly again. We walk through the winding sewer fed gardens and onto the hotel. Dad comes home, still croaky, still nervous about having to do a two show opening tomorrow with half a voice and not feeling quite himself. I've just about fed him as much chicken soup as a human can consume without growing wings and am praying that it does the trick. Before he goes to work, he asks us if we will join him in prayer. We nod, Sam shoving in half of his remaining peach into his mouth so he can hold our hands. Dad offers thanks for our time together, for the fact that we are travelling like many families but dream of. Then his eyes glaze. "Today is a special day," he tells Sam, throat barely masking a quiver. "Why?" asks Sam, as is usual for any statement, of anything, ever. "It's the day daddy decided he would like to live with mummy for the rest of his life." Now I'm a bit quivery. Green lion takes the emotion in his stride. He is used to living with us after all. Outside in the gardens below a wedding ceremony has just begun. We wonder at the slightly saccharin poignancy of this until we open the window and realise that the man leading the ceremony sounds like he is calling a play by play from the commentators box. Must do the lovey dovey thing for extra cash on the weekends, in these tough times.

And so to endings and beginnings. Ending of viruses in near sight, beginning of the new run of the show tomorrow afternoon.

Time to get that spring back in our steps.

Even if it is late summer.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Down but not Out

I've heard of doing things as a family but this was ridiculous. I'm thinking about our group trip to the doctor's yesterday. Thing is, our bodies seem to be grieving the end of our Californian summer what with the start of an autumnal breeze wafting up from the sea n' all. The three of us are sneezing, coughing like bronchial chain smokers, croaking when we talk and knee deep in chicken soup and tea (go Bimby go!). So it was that wednesday morning saw short, shorter and shortest take a trip to Urgent Care. Put aside everything you know about NHS waiting rooms. We were greeted by a smiling (?) dare I say it happy receptionist, who had a psychedelic nurse scrub outfit going on presumably to make her unthreatening to children, though, from the look on Sam's face I wondered if it was having the opposite effect. She tells us, beaming, they do not accept traveller's insurance. This did not seem such a problem till the $350 bill at the end of our meeting with the doctor. He, olive skinned, broad and muscular, a cross between George Clooney and Jeff Goldblum, breezes in, all sexy efficiency. I feel intsantly a little better. Perhaps this is what they mean by placebo effect? He talks without commas or breaths, in little over 3 and a half minutes he has found out what we are doing adn why and we know he took acting in college and isn't it amazing how actors can transform themselves. Cory tells him that if he said he recognised him from the show he would be seriously worrie. Then he looks over his shoulder whilst doc sticks a light in my ear to catch the baseball game on the tv. Hung on the wall. In the room. In stereo. I look around to see if there are any complimentary low carb low sodium no trans fat baked wholewheat pretsels but no such luck. Seconds later (Cory dragging his feet for wanting to know about that last hit) we are back out and waiting for a cab back to the hotel, leaving George Goldblum flirting with the nurses. Now I get why the smiles.

This is a car town. I know this because the other day (more fool me) I took poor boy and I on a couple of mile trek to the local playground. Several times the sidewalks just simply stopped. We had to zig zag in and out of parking lots - ma with groceries, boy teetering on his bike. Course the cool, cloudy day suddenly turned up to a mid summer morning all of a sudden so that probably did not help my mood. What with me dressed like it was autumn and my arms falling off with bags full of apples and then a bike because boy just looked exhausted. Bless him, he just that morning learned how to ride it. All proper like. No training wheels. He looks hilarious. Surreal like those two year olds you see zooming down the black runs in Austria, or those 5 year old pianists thumping out Liszt. I'm not saying he is a genius, more so the clever people who decided balance was the trickiest thing for kids to master, and so, why not make a bike with no pedals first. When the tykes get the hang of that, then adding the pedals is just like the cherry on the cake. We weren't so sure after Nicole and Austin fixed on the pedals backstage and Dad took him out. I received three accidental calls from Cory, or "butt-calls" as he so delicately puts it. If I'm in a bickering mood I kindly point out that the term is inacurate seeing as people are not calling for butts. Or bottoms. Or derrieres for that matter. It's a loose loose conversation. On the first of these calls I hear Cory with encouraging tones, an unsure Sam in the background. The second, I hear that slightly more forceful coach tone creeping into Cory's peptalk. The third call tips me over the edge as I hear Sammy wail disconsolately in the background but Cory carrying on with the final call to arms. I ring him back and tell him to call it a day. Immediately. When they arrive home a few minutes later they are both all smiles boy positively beaming under his helmet, his two big eyes look up at me like chocolate lanterns "I did it! I did it! I did it!" I would congratulate him only I am crying so hard. In the time it took for them to get back I have watched the video Dad has sent me and can't believe that little chap, whose head was once smaller than my boob (mind you they didn't half get big when it was time for milking) is now venturing into those new found feelings of independence and freedom. I tell him, after I have collected myself almost, that he is almost ready to leave home, only he needs to perfect his cooking and sewing first. Reading might help. Ah, perhaps he ought to stay another few years at least. Daddy is red with pride.

Later when we go to the "local" park we find Leah. A beautiful hispanic 5 year old with most of her front teeth missing a few replaced with shiny silver ones. Her black hair wisps in the wind and the two frolic under the setting sun. She makes Sam giggle. I watch him tease her. Occasionally she looks over to her aunt who is playing one on one basketball with her boyfriend. Under a tree a group of youths sit hunched in conversation. The only person who unnerves me is the lonely drummer man in the near distance tinkering out rhythms on the metal table. He plays hard enough to be heard but sits far enough away to imply a need for privacy. The juxtaposition makes me uneasy. THen again, I think parents have a plugged in unease for lone men near playgrounds. It almost got Cory into trouble when I think back to a day when he sat outside a playground watching some children during lunch break as he thought about how much he missed his nieces and nephews. It was during drama school in London. Next thing he knows a policeman is walking over to him asking him if he can help him in any way and what is he looking at exactly. Cory cringed with embarrassment and still does to this day when he tells the story. Anyhows, lonely drummer man and his pencil moustache left soon after Sam and Leah got embroiled in a complicated creation in the sand.

Now we are all on day two of antibiotics. This has meant that I essentially cannot share any observations of Costa Mesa itself hibernating in our little home as we have been. All I know is that the gardens surrounding the arts centre across the street have a sign on them informing us that they have been irrigated with reclaimed waste water and please do not touch. Green as anything. I also know that we live outside one of the few "traffic circles" in the country. Brits are familiar with roundabouts. Here there are yellow signs explaining how to follow the flow which makes it to my mind infinitely more confusing than they already are. I also know that there is a cab driver nearby with the most piercing sea-green eyes Cory or I have ever seen, and that every morning, after we get passed that cattarhy cloggy feeling in our brains we marvel at the view of palm trees swaying outside. One fat trunk is directly outside our window. It looks like a projection so clean are the windows. I have come to realise I can play shops for hours on end and that chocolate cravings during mild illness is normal, and gives brief but much needed relief to sorry-for-ourselves family. I think I get the better deal what with not having to sit in technical rehearsals for ten hours a day in a darkened theatre. The director gives his instructions from the blackness in the stalls on what they call the "God mike" over this way. Spark debates in some circles I am sure.

It has been a few days of introversion. I have lost myself in a book, The Help, literally reading it at every chance, even on the loo. It was a gift from our friends in LA. She also gave me another novel which like the first has the character of a writer at the centre and her indecision, fear then ultimate determination, bravery and truth that lead her to her successful published book. It certainly has shed some light on my own writing. Nothing like a great book to inspire and terrify you into finishing your own. Perhaps not tonight though. My body, free of excercise but full of nutritious soups, brews and medicines needs rest. Much as I like to think of myself as, inertly invincible there comes a time when a work out is not what the doctor ordered, even if he does look like a film star.

One thing that has sparked much excitement this week, taking us out beyond our mounds of snotty tissues is viewing my second column online. It is just so wonderful to see your words in print so to speak. Course I wonder at the seeming self importance of the style, and this blog for that matter. The way our little journey may appear so terrifically more important than other more sobering things going on on the planet. I suppose I can live with being perceived as a person who lives on the lighter side of things. In true in part I suppose. I think I have had a taste of challenging episodes during my time on the planet so far to know that if you just keep standing and breathing things change and grow and level out eventually, just as perfectly as they ought to. There I go. Trying to be clever again I suppose. Should of learnt that does you no good back in 96 when, arriving late to a seminar, having just booked the main auditorium for my final year piece on Italian women, I catch the tail end of our professor announcing that people who put on their shows in the large auditoriums have inflated egos and little else to substantiate them. I might as well have gone home right then and there. Instead I rode a three week journey to writer's/choreographer's hell and back when I was told I suffered from near incurable written constipation as she so succinctly put it during one of our teacher student meetings. If only she could see me now. She'd prescribe me immodium right away.

Sposing the broken night sleeps and antibiotics are addling my brain even more than usual. Resting up for the big opening night in a few days time. I'm thinking I might even squeeze myself into a cocktail number. There. Bit of dress day dreaming soon absolves the danger of trite ramblings.

Mmmmm. On second thoughts....

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Back on the Road

Our time in LA, for the time being has come to its inevitable end. Not to say that we used up our time in an uncharacteristically laid back manner. Far from it. That last week was jam packed with as many lovely people as we could squeeze in, who in turn involved us in their excursions. The starry night of Norah Jone's concert at the open air Greek Theatre under a golden almost full summer moon being towards the top of my favourite Los Angelesian memories list. Or that dreamy sunset drive down the winding Mullholland Drive dotted with jaw dropping homes and hills. Closely followed by jumping up and down to a Journey tribute band in a Santa Clarita park with ten others and their children. Who went on to run around the fields till the rangers finally switched off the floodlights. We also got to babysit two wonderful young ladies - of the psychedelic rocks - delighting in observing Sam being commanded to attention in their complicated enactments, he, bewildered and bewitched in equal measures. His final appearance in Act 8, with a red and white spiky wig and a mock Roman soldier's tunic topping the twenty other costumes he was changed into. Today he has shared his idea for Acts 9 & 10.

Whilst Dad was filming a commercial for Farmer's insurance, enjoying watermelon & feta salad and saute shrimp for afternoon snacks, shots of B12 (camera operator told him he had to cut back as the vitamin overdose was giving him a buzzzzz man), espresso and altoids served after the five course lunch (how he'll ever work for the BBC after becoming accustomed to that I don't know!) Sam and I were figuring out the LA subway. Or Metro. Or train that hardly anybody uses. We used this on several occasions to reach our friend's house off Sunset Boulevard. Ooh just typing that makes me go all funny. Who'd have thunk it? Me with boy and stroller and a bag full of incases, strutting down the boulevard like it was Kilburn High Road of a tuesday afternoon. On our penultimate ride, we exited just in time to catch lady sticking bra tape to the inside of her vest barely covering her ample bosom. Onward we went, past Creative Asylum, an office of sorts above the Cat & Fiddle pub, catching sight of a garish array of wintery Christmas cards in the window of Borders twinkling in their snowy glitteriness under the bright afternoon summer sun. Past the movie school with isometric hairdos shuffling around the main doors smoking, past the turning which would take us to the beloved Zumba class at the YMCA and hang a left to the bustling bungalow what is mate's pad. On one evening, when dinner plans fell through with a friend I was left downtown wondering what to do with myself. Boy unexpectedly conked out which I always take as a signal to grab a coffee and loose myself in a book. This is what I did, finding myself all of a sudden in an unexpected harrowing part of the story. What a sight we must have been. Me, iced coffee and book in hand, dark shades, tears trickling down from underneath, boy drooling. When Dad calls to say he is done with work I take it as a queue to jump back on the train to North Hollywood and, finding a hungry husband, we decide to do a quick about turn at Universal City.

Uphill we drove till we came to Universal Studios that stretches out to a "main street" electrified in neon, back to back shops and restaurants for the over stimulated tourist. After humming and haring over where to eat we ended up in an Italian chain, where Sammy chatted up the lady that takes free pictures of you for $15. After dinner we rolled back out onto the street to watch two grown men being blown up with mega jets of air towards the sky enclosed in a see through plastic tube. They were wearing skydiver's suits. Goggles. Helmets. They flip, high five, smile through the g-force agony. If I hadn't eaten so much chicken parm I too might have joined them. We stroll on just in time to catch the maniacal samba ladies jiggling into oblivion around the tables at the Brazialian steak house dressed in a handful of rhinestones and the entire plumage of a luminous ostrich. Their bosoms defying gravity. And reality, Cory suggests. I fold his tongue back into his mouth and walk on, catching a glimpse of the almost empty restaurant, the few customers there utterly unaware of the feathery action in their peripheral. The dancers jiggle carry on unfased. I recognise a couple moves from DanzMundo. Never pictured the samba as a background dance somehow. Towards the end of the strip I take a look in It'Sugar (not my typo) and indulge the boys and myself in a few candy trips down memory lane. Boy, open mouthed at mum saying yes to a little of everything. It has the desired effect, after two gummy bears, a yoghurt covered pretzel and a pretend strawberry he has had his fill and is more interested in the busker from New Orleans who is trumpeting, tapping and crooning his way through the forties, his Ma, all beaming proud smiles, sat at the Starbucks next to him sipping one of those multi-syllable drinks. I wonder at those skilled servers; by the time a customer ahead of me has finished their paragraph of order I can hardly remember what day it is.

Our time in LA was trickling away, and, as is usual, we left the filming of my moustached Sardinian character-lady to the absolute last minute. With literally, one hour to spare, we sprinted our way around Hollywood Boulevard. Me, moustache sprouted with the miracle of eyeshadow (I didn't have the patience or lack of vanity to grow out my own), boy, sweaty with summer humming loudly under his fedora, and dad, camera in hand. We found us a busker for me to dance behind, I hung out with the yoot by the subway, frolicked in the fountain and strutted down Rodeo Drive. I even got her name put on a star with the help of photoshop. All the while, noticing the wary stares from the american public alternately avoiding eye contact and directly staring at Cory and fedora Sam wondering what they saw in the orthodox muslim tag-along. With a wool cardigan in August. It's good to wear a mask. Least until your sweat starts to melt your facial disguise...

Back home I hammered out my first column. Yes, my submissions have been accepted by The Times. Of Wayne County. I said to Cory I ought not mention my editor in the blog lest she misinterpret something and become offended. He told me that she is not Sardinian and I absolutely must. Every week I will be offering a 400-600 word piece inspired by weekly events. I typed into the evening and read it out to the husband, who, brow scrunched suggested I make it more of a travel piece. I tell him cramming a short paragraph or three with our exploits reads like pure gloat. Then I give it a go. It reads like pure gloat. He reads my initial article again and says he likes it. I send it with fingers crossed, dreading the email from the editor saying thank you very much but no thank you very much (ah, how the acting profession prepares you for rejection) but instead get a very pleasant email and what would my subtitle be please? A few days later I am pirouetting around the flat delighting unashamedly in seeing my first few words in print so to speak. Cory looks at me and asks if we will have to weather this emotional up and down and up again every week of a sunday night. I say probably. Till I get better at it. He sighs off into the kitchen for a beer.

The mountain that is packing was surmounted, relatively painlessly, though I am utterly out of practice, and before you could say route 405 we were headed down the Pacific Coast Highway to Costa Mesa. Just before our exit a hummer past us plastered with advertisement for some film or other, all hip hop cool. As it overtook us I caught sight of the driver and recognised him as the actor/musician plastered on the side of his vehicle. Hollywood baby. Onwards along the beachfront we past Salon Shag and several number 6 buses from North London. Their roofs, cut off to absorb the Californian rays. Retirees to the sun, the overcast workdays of Queens Park and Oxford Circus in their rusty pasts, hiring out to parties in their sunny winter of their years.

Till I get the hang of feeding a family out of a tiny fridge again we have taken advantage of the lobby's happy hour, scoffing great food despite the signs under the bar stating that food and beverages served may contain chemicals that cause cancer. I come to the conclusion that there may have been law suit situations in their past. Not the most comforting read in your peripheral over roast lamb. During dinner we nodded our hellos to the Bulgarian/Utahan couple we had met in the hot tub earlier. He all tan and blue eyed salesman, she, answering my unabashed nosey questions with eastern european guard. Obviously I decide she is a spy. I am a product of my 80s education after all. Cory explains that a real spy never arouses suspicion. My imagination and I arch our eyebrows up at him.

Now with Dad in 12 hour technical rehearsals for the next ten days, boy and I are left to our own devices to explore our new town. Festival of Children was in full swing at the mall across the road so we decided to take a peek. Half an hour into a queue for free face paint, boy stoic throughout with determination to become a lion, Sam is finally painted. Everyone we pass congratulates him on his tiger face. I don't have the heart to explain that the lady only knew how to do tigers not lions. He roars through the afternoon except when we sit to watch the Children's theatre performance in the atrium of Aladdin. All the leads are 16 or under and the boy is spellbound. Up until the sultan comes on when he shrivels back to my lap from the front row. Later he has a similar effect on a tiny asian boy. "Wait!" he says, "It's not real, it's just paint." This endears the dad to him right away and we fall into effortless chit chat, as is always the way when Sam is in tow and there are friendly americans around. His wife comes to join us, a very glamourous, trim young asian lady and they probe me with questions about my experience in America. They ask me where have the friendliest people been? Has life been ok here? Do I intend to live here? It's like my green card interview all over again. I pray I am answering correctly this time. I suddenly have a realisation of what it is like to have a conversation with me - usually I am the one doing the prodding, and it is, in effect, a little unnerving. After the man saves Sam from a near fall off a short wall where he is showing off his climbing skills (Sam not the dad) he tells us his father was an actor who appeared on Star Trek numerous times and here is his card should we need help again. Turns out he is a sergeant with the LAPD. Vice squad. Handy. When it is time to go we pass a young couple with a slightly unusual looking stroller. On closer inspection I see it is made for dogs. Pet logo on the side and everything. Fluffy white pooch sitting under the gauze canopy. I wonder if they cover it with those cheesecloth things when it is time for its nap. Whatever happened to using your handbag? At the second atrium we catch the tail end of a performance from a deaf/learning disability community group passionately signing Land of the Free. An enormous American flag suspended over their heads. The tinkle of the carousel clashing with the swelling chorus. One lady is signing the action for freedom so passionately she narrowly misses decapitating her colleague. People watch intently. It is moving despite the overstimulation of a mall on a saturday afternoon humming around them.

And so to bed. Cory has just returned from the theatre across the street, Orange County's impressive arts centre surrounded by manicured gardens. In the rehearsal room next to Young Frankenstein's space the Bolshoi Ballet are rehearsing. This means lobby meals have been punctuated with the occasional pause to gawp at the sultry lithe ballerinas and the muscular balladeers all russian drama about them, leaving their table mid course to smoke yet another cigarette, feet permanently in a loose first position. One of Cory's colleagues has bagged a free massage from their touring masseur. I can bet half the cast will be trying the same tomorrow. I wonder fi we might squeeze in another impromptu breakfast trip to the beach again tomorrow, where, dive bombing sugar levels after coffee we eventually found a surfer's shack from which we purchased breakfast sandwiches and huddled over an outdoor table under the morning mists of Newport beach. Um, not sure. Cory looks like he has worked for his money today. I'm staring at a mound of belongings that need urgent organisation. Boy dreaming of act 9 and peanut butter crackers perhaps.

We're back on the road.

Overcome somewhat with gratitude for these privileged touring travails....