Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Long Thursday Journey: Part 2, What a night. Plus a touch of Friday.

3:00 pm: I'm at the office. It is of course odd to be here when I usually am not. But it's centrally located and has a usable men's room. Picked up some alcohol and hand wipes from the Duane Reade and start undoing the wax and glue and make goes faster than I thought. Awesome.

I tweet a few pics of it and head back to my desk, which is thankfully unoccupied for this earlier shift. I sit and take those damned shoes off and breath while co workers ask what I'm doing here so early and also how the gig went. I tell them...then remind Mark at the front desk that I will be late tonight for the memorial. I go back to my desk, rest my hips, catch up on email on the iPhone and catch about a 5 minute cat nap. It helps.

4:15pm. I head out. The memorial is scheduled for 5 and its a quick subway ride, but I figure I will see some familiar faces and want to have some room for conversation if necessary.

The subway's are cooperating and in minutes I am back in the neighborhood (The Upper West Side) where I grew up. I don't spend much time here now as I knew few people who still live in this now unaffordable area and it is also fairly unrecognizable from my youth.

4:40 pm: I'm at the memorial chapel. It is an UWS stalwart that I am grateful still stands, and I am reminded that the last time I was here was 25 or so years ago for the memorial of a college friend. The surreal is all over the place.

I walk into the main entrance and there is Alex, one of my first friends in high school. I hadn't seen him in quite a while and we'd suffered a bit of a falling out over the years, but we smile and embrace each other and he says how it does his heart good to see me. We get into the elevator and immediately start talking about how we've processed Mr. Eskow's death as if we'd been in touch every day for the past 30 years even though we've barely spoken for the past 10. It occurs to me that the last really lengthy conversation he and I had was the day of my father's memorial. This is just getting creepy.

4:45 pm: We get to the 2nd Floor chapel and I can see Jerry's daughter, Lisa greeting people. Lisa is only a few years younger than I am. I remember meeting her a few of the times she would visit our school to see her dad. She is still stunning and I can't quite fathom the fact that it has been 30 years since I have seen her. The wheel of life is humbling.

I go to check my coat and umbrella. The woman taking care of all that is Lisa's college roommate (whose name escapes me). She's very sweet and we talk a bit about how things are going. I ask how Lisa is doing, how Libi (Jerry's wife) is doing. She says rather well. He'd been sick awhile but there is still a weirdness to processing it. I nod agreement and mention that I had to blog about it in order to work out my own oddness, I could only imagine how hard it is for them.

She looks at me and says “I read that blog, I think that was you. It was wonderful. Lisa loved it!” I suddenly remember that when I sent Lisa an email of condolence from the notice of Jerry's death that I had told her about the blog if she cared to read it. I actually had no expectation that in everything she had to do, that she would even get to my email, let alone read it. But apparently a google search of Jerry Eskow brings up the blog and her ex husband had found it. I'm amazed.

The woman turns and waves to Lisa then points to me “He wrote the blog” she says. So I wave to Lisa and go to her to say hello and she tells me how much she and her mother loved the blog. That it meant a great deal to her. I start getting teary because well...I hadn't really thought about having an impact like that just from a little blog. It both humbles me and feeds my ego a little.
Lisa introduces me to her mother who tells me that I got Jerry exactly right. Lisa follows up by saying that her mother never does much on the internet. Again, I am floored.

I go into the main chapel area and look at the posters of show's he's directed. A great photograph of him that I remember being in his office and a picture from one of the Senior productions from high school. (The photo is the same one used here) It happens to be a production that my ex wife was in, though she isn't in the picture. Our Town, and Ving Rhames is playing George's father, if I remember right. He was one of the fathers. Anyway, I hadn't seen that pic, aside from the reproduction in my ex wife's yearbook, in 26 years. I grin.

Alex and I look for a seat but see several of our old teachers. Mr. Britten one of our acting teachers who had been one of the original Bozo the Clown's back in the 50s, who has the energy of a teenager despite having to be in his late 70s. Mrs. Koehler, another acting teacher whom I had Junior year. Despite white hair she looks the same and is just as commanding as she was then. Mrs. Schwager who was a math teacher when I was there, but also good friends with many in the drama department. She looks about the same which seems impossible. Later, Tony Abeson comes in. He started teaching there when I was a senior and was a very strong influence on my work. It's a flood of people and memories.

As Alex and I make our way from all the teachers, my ex wife comes in, escorting Mrs. Schein, who was my first acting teacher there. When my daughter was about 4 or so she met Mrs. Schein on the street with my ex. They hit it off immediately and there were frequent visits hence.

But the last few years Mrs. Schein began to succumb to Alzheimer's and it was clearly taking its physical as well as mental toll now. She too was a very dynamic woman, very youthful even as she grew older. She always wore black, like Mrs. Koehler and they both were known to wear leather pants. It is disconcerting to see her now, barely able to walk, and unable to recognize anyone there.

I'm thoroughly impressed and proud of my ex wife for bringing her. Being with very sick people has always been something that has frightened my ex. But she worked through it, obviously, out of love for our old teacher. (My ex graduated in 1977, we met several years after high school but that's another story). They sit together with the other teachers who are very emotional to see “Roz” and thank my ex profusely through tear streamed faces. Its nice to see.

Sometime after 5pm because here I lose all track of time pm:
Paul comes in. Paul, like Alex is a year younger, but came in at the same time I did. He started as a freshman, I as a sophomore (yeah you can do that in NYC, or could back then). He was my first scene partner and when Mrs. Schein sees him she tells him he was a very nice boy. But Paul remembers how many times she admonished him as something or other and doesn't realize how far gone she is. He makes a humorous reference to it, no malice intended, just a fun ribbing, til he realizes what's happening. It hardly matters.

Many others I know of course are there, and there are many hellos. Alan, a guy from two of 3 classes under me but who was there when I was a senior comes in. His girlfriend in high school lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn as mine did and so we hung out a lot too. Alex, Paul, Alan and I are sitting together and the memorial finally starts. I think its about 5:20.

Lisa speaks. She tells funny stories about Mr. Eskow's passionate approach to life, his need to master certain things like mixed drinks or the perfect omelet. Stories of her young son and him. How he dealt with Parkinson's with humor. She finishes by saying that she was an only child, but that when she would visit her dad where he taught, she felt like she was part of a huge family. She speaks of how she loved that old building we used to be in. How it was a kind of magical castle of creativity. I smile and get a bit misty because she's exactly right.

Next is a guy that Mr. Eskow grew up with, went to WWII with and then college too...turns out like me, Jerry grew up on the Upper West Side. And I laugh at some of the stories describing certain streets...despite the decades distance between us they were much the same up until 15 or 20 years ago, so I recognize a lot.

He tells a story that strikes Alex as amazing, about a young woman that Jerry had fallen in love with. I won't go into detail but I'll get back to it later.

More family members speak, nephews, a brother...and then the rabbi says that if there is anyone who wants to speak or tell a story, that the the floor is open.

This strikes me as terribly dangerous in a room filled with about 300 theater people. We love to talk.

Alex gets up. But someone closer beats him to it. This happens several times. Paul leans forward and suggests that all four of us go up, but I feel like I'd just be repeating my blog.

A couple of more people go and then Paul who has the aisle end of the pew, stands...we all stand too. I realize I had something new to say.

Paul gets up first. He talks about how he briefly dated Lisa Eskow. He also spent time with Mr. Eskow in the mornings and have conversations about this or that. Jerry really liked us and enjoyed talking to us. The story was about how one day, Jerry, silently made it clear that dating his daughter was not in the cards for Paul. He just sat with his knee over the other, hands clasped over, peering over the top of his glasses at Paul and Paul said. “This isn't a good idea is it?” Jerry shook his head. That was that. The room laughs.

Alan is next and he tells the story of how it had fallen on Mr. Eskow to tell Alan that his father had died. How patient he was in the telling and how he sat with Alan quietly, telling him that whatever he needed he'd take care of it. A ride home, calling someone else to keep him company home if he preferred. Whatever was needed. Alan said he decided to go home on his own, but how Jerry continually followed up with him over the rest of the year.

My turn. I stand at the podium and suddenly find myself overcome with emotion and have a hard time catching my breath. What the hell is wrong with me? I breath in and introduce myself and mention how the four of us all hung out together in one form or another.

I go on to talk about how the school is very important to me, how it is in my bones. I ended up marrying a woman from there and though we didn't stay married it was such a part of our beings that when our daughter was 5 she decided to go there too (though a different building, she still did it).

Those years are the first time in my life I was in a place I knew I belonged. Where was safe to fail in my work. And fail I did on more than one occasion, but also I had terrific successes.

I pointed out Mrs. Schein, who according to my ex beamed at her mention, and how she taught the basics and how to think through a character analysis. How to hold myself and begin to think well of myself. Mrs. Koehler who taught me that attention to physical presence was as important as psychological analysis.

In my emotional state I flaked on Mr. Britten who was out of my line of site, but later said to him that what he had was a ridiculous joy for being there every day and that he made us all feel good in his class. There was never drama. There was Mr. Capalletti (sp?) how had a very subtle way about him and whos lessons tended to hit you on the back of your head when you weren't looking. And Mr. Abeson, who in my senior year taught me that actors and artists of all stripes have an important place in the world and that we should be proud of what we are. Who helped me clarify some of the language that had been taught me in that school and make it even more active. Who tried to teach me that poverty was not romantic.

In that speech I managed to tell these teachers what I had failed to tell Jerry Eskow. That they were important to me and that I loved them. I looked down toward Lisa and said to her that he had made all those people a part of that teaching there. And that it was indeed a castle and that he made it that way.

I was done and really really needed a glass of single malt.

Alex was up next and told the story of how Jerry had changed his life simply by telling him he needed a box moved from point A to point B...that Alex is now a professional in the stage hands union, indeed in Local 1, which takes a serious amount of skill and ability to get to and that it was Jerry who recognized that in Alex within his first few days in high school and that he knew that if Alex didn't have something to do at all times...there would be trouble.

He then finished by saying that he lived in the same building as this dancer that Mr. Eskow had fallen in love with in his youth. Alex did a paper on her for an assignment for Mr. Eskow. The paper was handed back to him with an A but absolutely no notes. Everyone else had had copious notes.

No matter how many times Alex asked why there were no notes, Mr. Eskow skirted the issue. Now Alex knew why. This strikes many of us as the highlight of the evening.

Another fella from around our time, Bill came up and thanked Jerry and spoke of his street life and how the school saved his life. We are a little dubious of this as we remember Bill as being a pretty cool kid right off the bat and not at all menacing. But apparently it is how he felt about himself and more importantly where he felt his life was going at the time.

Mr. Abeson got up and described what a “hot mess” he was when he came to PA and how badly he needed that teaching job and how on paper he was unqualified but that when he said he felt this was where he needed to be, all Jerry did was lean forward and say “Yes it is” and he was hired.

7:30 pmish: It is over and we are breaking up...we say goodbye to as many as we can. My ex is already gone having to bring Mrs. Schein home before she became too exhausted. I catch up with others there. Some whom I didn't remember but who remembered me (Freshman always remember the Seniors) Some vice versa. I am the only one from the graduating class of 1980 and I am rather disappointed by that fact. Ah well.

I say goodbye to Lisa who is leaving for home in Texas in a couple of days. She's in Austin and we joke about how Austin is the only place in Texas worth a damn. Libi thanks me again for the blog and says again how much I “got him and what he was trying to do”. I find myself wishing that I had managed to get Jerry while I was in high school, but glad I got there eventually. I remind Lisa that most of us are on Facebook and she should do it too and say hello. She nods. I don't think she will do it.

Paul, Alex and a few others and I have a beer/club soda/coffee at a nearby bar and trade stories about all the teachers. I still want a single malt, but I'm broke and I have to leave for work. The Magic Hat beer will do just fine.

8:35 pm: I say goodbye, we all remember that we are on Facebook and to stay in touch. I head downtown to the office where it is so dead I end up doing a little Corel training and watch Countdown and Rachel Maddow on line. They make me think about Fox & Friends, but mostly all night I keep thinking about the memorial. How much of a celebration it was. Joyous. There wasn't a single maudlin moment. A fitting tribute because Jerry would have hated maudlin. That much I knew.

1:15am: I am heading home in the car the company provides every evening after 10pm. I'm grateful for it.

1:45am: Home. I take off the Jos.A.Bank suit, those awful shoes and breath deeply. I sit down at my computer and finish off email, play a little Yoville and Farmville on Facebook to unwind and accept a couple of friend requests that popped up from the memorial, then send a couple of them myself.

There are already notes on the PA pages on Facebook about the memorial. Our speeches are mentioned which is sweet and I see that my blog has gotten a LOT of new hits since the memorial.

2:45am: I lay down. Too tired and achy to think about anything. I plug in my iPhone to speakers and wall cord and listen to Ambience Pacific Shore to let the crashing west coast waves waft me to sleep.

Thank you for today, Universe. Thank you for every day, but especially for today.

Goodnight Jerry.

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