Sunday, July 27, 2014

BIKING

Back in the days when John Cullum, my husband, was job hunting and I was nervously taking over as artistic director of my dance company, John and I biked everywhere.  Quite often on weekends, we went on excursions to areas of New York City that we'd never visited before.

It was a summer and fall thing to do. I loved the wind in my hair, and the exercise --  using my legs, my straight-backed posture -- tut-tut observing John, who rides his bike hunched over. I wanted my ex-tennis-champ husband to have a dancer’s posture -- he wanted me to bike like a biker, and stop worrying about how I looked.

Golly, I still remember when I was a little girl, what a big deal it was to learn how to ride a bike. Harder, even more important than learning to tie the laces on my shoes, riding a bike was a way of becoming a grownup who could head for the park where grownup, bigger kids were jumping rope and playing baseball.

Well, I did it -- learned, and it grew me up, like learning to drive a car did, when I was older. I had to learn to drive in order to be able to earn a living from performing on college campuses.

After John landed a role in Shakespeare in the Park, on our bikes, we visited all sorts of wonderful Central Park nooks and crannies. When John, who was understudying two leading roles in “Henry V” went on for the Chorus, and did the famous “Oh for a muse of fire” speech, he was discovered by Alan Lerner’s assistant.

While John was playing Sir Dinadan  in Lerner and Lowe's “Camelot," on his day off we rode our bikes up and down all the streets -- 41st to 50th street, stopping and studying the exteriors and backstage entrances of famous theaters, not realizing that John would be working on the stage in most of them someday.

Sometime around then, my second-hand pink bike (I’d painted it) was stolen. We’d been parking our bikes in the hallway of our building, where the main entrance door wasn't locked. We'd rented and transformed the 4th floor loft into a spacious home and dance studio, and didn't  have a buzzer that allowed us to unlock it for mail and package deliveries.

John’s blue bike (I’d painted it) was stolen when he was standing-by for Richard Burton in "Camelot," when Richard was off to Rome to co-star with Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” -- it changed their lives, as well as ours.

John’s rising income enabled us to install a buzzer system and buy a smallish Honda motorcycle from an actor pal, who was in “1776," when John was singing “Molasses to Rum.”

Though traffic and potholes scared me, while John auditioned for Lerner, over and over for a new show, working on the Viennese accent Lerner wanted the leading man to have, I started learning to ride “Harry” the Honda.  (That's what I called the Honda.)

Nevertheless, I usually sat behind John on Harry, clutching him as we explored NYC's downtown Jewish shopping district (open on Sundays) where I was shopping for fabric for 16 costumes for my solo performances at Lincoln Center.  Suddenly, “helmets” had to be worn. Golly, I hated the way my head sweated, when I wore a hard hat. John said, "stop worrying -- you look fine," but my hair looked lousy for hours, after a trip on Harry.

Also, Harry stalled sometimes, and there were skids -- a nasty skid hurt my collarbone, so Harry temporarily lived in the hallway. With John’s “On a Clear Day” earnings, we bought our building, also new bicycles, and baby furniture --  parenting's part of our growing up -- our little one, John David Cullum, was arriving.

As JD grew. we employed housekeeper-baby-sitters, and there were more jobs on Broadway for Dad, more prestigious bookings for Mom. We ventured out as a trio on Harry but it was nerve-racking, not safe -- city streets were getting to be very crowded. We gave Harry to John's understudy -- JC played Laertes in Burton’s “Hamlet,” and bought a tricycle for JD.

On Sundays, the three of us biked around the huge empty parking lot that's on our street -- us on two new bikes, JD on his first two wheeler -- then, a full-size bike -- wow, he was growing up fast.

When JC starred in “Deathtrap,” like rich folks, we commuted to a rented summer home in the Hamptons, exploring, on rented bikes, possible fabulous homes to buy. It was a fun game -- we weren’t rich, but a lot of things were in the offing -- meetings with Hal Prince about “On the 20th Century,” talk about John starring in a TV show, a tour for my adaptation of “Cyrano,” with John playing the part. All that, while I was on my way to London for a British Arts Council tour and JC was starring in “Shenandoah,” with JD playing a small role. No doubt about it -- the Cullums were in the busiest time, the prime of life. John bought a scooter but his producers objected, so he and JD traveled to the theater in the limo they provided.

Today, in NYC, there are bike paths everywhere, 290 miles of them have appeared under Mayor Bloomberg’s jurisdiction, and Citi Bikes -- thousands of bikes at 330 stations around the city, (around $9.95 per day.)

 I read recently that around 600,000 cars crawl into lower Manhattan each weekday; that 19,000 New Yorkers commute to work by bike. T'aint a friendly city these days -- car-guys hate bikers, bikers hate car-guys, pedestrians hate the cyclists whizzing the wrong way on one-way streets -- more than 500 people were injured by bikes last year.

Anyway, JD’s an actor in LA now, driving a fancy sports car, and our dusty new (old) bikes belong to a neighbor who has two rambunctious kids. Hey, if you want to ascend to a ripe and active old age, you live less dangerously. On weekends, if we’re not busy puttering and fixing worn-out things, JC’s on our treadmill in our studio, and I, being concerned with staying in shape, do my barre every day in my studio and practice standing tall.

I stand very tall, and so does John Cullum, when we go on one of our long, long walks.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

(VIDEO) THROWING OUT STUFF

We recorded this video in April of 2011.

Each year we find ourselves wondering what to do with overcrowded closets, dressers, and shelves. This video is the discussion we had just the other day.   

"You are a  keeper,"  Emily complains and John Cullum  agrees.

Emily, who is definitely a thrower-outer, wonders why they hang on to stuff that they haven't worn or used or touched years?  And she suggests they need to organize things and give a lot of stuff away.

John agrees --"If I haven't worn it in a year, it's  out of here!" And then surprises his wife, when he confesses how he's been handling the problem.




Monday, July 21, 2014

PILLOW TALK

We were in bed, watching Letterman the other night, and chuckling. There was a joke about scientists learning to turn off the brain -- suddenly a TV clip of George W. Bush talking to reporters about technology, stuttering, losing his train of thought -- ha-ha's -- reporters laughing at poor George, in over his head.

I laughed. I still shudder when I think of GWB, thinking reflexively why oh why did he get elected, and re-elected. Yes, I know how it happened. It isn't funny. To me it's scary and sad.

John Cullum, my husband, who would rather be watching sports, lets me pick what we watch before we turn out the light. In one flowing sentence he said he didn't like George W. Bush, but the disrespect for GWB or for any past presidents, bothered him -- "Em, it's wrong."

I avoid politics when I'm writing a blog. But John made an important point. I knew he was thinking of Obama -- finding it painful to see Obama belittled, dismissed as a muddler, called weak, indecisive. John and I have chatted about some of our friends who voted for Obama, who nowadays complain about him, echoing the negative remarks they've heard so often from the gang in Congress -- the guys who've committed themselves to stopping anything that the President is determined to fix.

The gang is disrespecting us, the millions who elected Obama. Even so, because John respects many friends and relatives who supported George Bush and voted against Obama, my husband John -- the family man, John Cullum -- is saying quietly but loud and clear.  "Don't let your politics blind you to the fact that politics is men and women working to accomplish things they think are good for the family of man."

.... The Family of Man ...  the words kept resonating. They comforted me.

After we turned off the TV, John and I held hands as we usually do, till one of us drifts off to sleep.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

AL JAZEERA AMERICA NEWS

My husband, John Cullum, and I have been watching Al Jazeera America news on TV. It seems to have fewer and shorter commercials. Watching NBC or CBS with their usual four to six commercials, often a repetition of what we just saw, gets us grumbling. "I hate this."

We've enjoyed watching Al Jazeera America. When I blogged about Al Gore ("Our Almost Next President," http://bit.ly/Yjuspb,) I learned that he'd sold his "Current News" channel to the owner of Al Jazeera Arabic & English -- Gore is now completely out the picture. The owners are primarily Islamists, who have certainly expressed negative views of America.

January 2014, when Al Jazeera America was formed and Time Warner Cable included it its listings, and made it available to Americans on a local channel, there was a big hullabaloo. Articles in the New York Times, and UK Guardian said that Al Jazeera was providing subtle, and insidious anti American commentary.

Whoa -- we've have been watching it just at dinner time. Most of the newscasters are clear speaking and previously worked for BBC and American Channels. Not a word have we heard that couldn't have been broadcast on NBC or CBS.

Okay, we have watched only for a brief time. The presentation of news on Al Jazeera America is somewhat less interesting than American news which dramatizes with headlines -- sells news with titles like Scandal, Trouble, Conflict. But Al Jazeera America covered Christie, Benghazi, Republican anti-Obama debates, Putin's doings; today's news is their news -- immigration, and Gaza-Israel.

The fact is, warnings about Al Jazeera news being offensive wouldn't impress us -- it would inspire us to have a look. John and I like or dislike things based on what we feel, and what we feel is based on a lot of things that make us what we are -- cautious, liberal, curious grownups, who are not unwilling to learn something new. 

So will you watch Al Jazeeera America? Why not take a look and see what you feel. We feel okay about peeking in on the island where this supposedly scary guy is reposing.