Friday, October 26, 2012

Priceless (or, Night Of A Thousand "Awesomes")

The girls before the show
Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer came running out of the Nokia Theater about an hour after the show ended, dressed sharp and sporting ear gauges encircled with big rhinestones. Or maybe diamonds, I don't know. He's popular enough, maybe he could afford that. Fans were lined up behind barricades to see the stars of the So You Think You Can Dance tour after the show at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, including my daughters, Emma (age 12) and Claire (age 10). And me, of course. The girls wore black t-shirts they had decorated in puffy neon fabric paint. Emma's said "Cyrus We ♥ You", the heart a bright burst of stripes; she also sported a colorful pair of lens-free nerd glasses. Claire's read "Cyrus Rocks!" in her own unique scrawl. They squealed as Cyrus ran down the long line of fans, hooting and slapping everyone's outstretched hands, and then settled at the end of the line to start signing programs and posing for photos.

Will Thomas, the tall and slightly goofy dancer that the girls also love, was the first to make it to our part of the line. He was lively and energetic with his fans, and my girls held their program out for him to sign. I should add this was their first encounter with celebrities so they were wide-eyed and a little shy. But Will was so exuberant they quickly got over it. I was relieved to see that the dancers carried their own Sharpie markers, since all we had in my mom-purse were Eraser-Mates. Not really ideal for glossy paper.

Will and Cyrus were yelling back and forth to each other down the line. 


"Yeah man!" 

"I signed a CHEEK!" 

"No way!" 

"Yeah, she wanted me to sign her cheek!" He gestured at his own face and they howled with laughter. 

Will was so sweet! Notice Emma holding her picture for Cyrus.

After Will moved down the line, we watched Cyrus interact with his fans and inch his way closer to us. He was obviously loving every minute of it, talking, posing for photos and accepting hugs. The girls were starstruck.

For those of you who are not familiar with SYTYCD, well obviously: it's all about dance. Young dancers from all over the country audition to perform, American-Idol-style, on the award-winning show. The reasons why it's so much better (in my opinion) than any other talent competition show are many: the quality of the choreographers and routines, the talent and passion of the dancers, and the variety of dance styles performed. When Cyrus auditioned, we had never seen his style of dance, called animating. The animator in motion looks a bit like a cross between a robot and a stop-motion movie, but more fluid and riveting to watch. Cyrus was mesmerizing, and his huge personality quickly made him my daughters' favorite.

Cyrus was also fascinating because, according to the show, he had no formal dance training. I have to confess that I found that hard to believe. How could a street dancer pick up all those styles as well as he did? But if you buy the theory that some people just have dance in their bones, then Cyrus more than qualifies. This video shows his first audition in Atlanta.

And then he was in front of us. The girls handed him their program, and the 8x10 glossy we had also purchased, and I said "Hey girls... show him your t-shirts."

They stepped back a little so he could see them and his eyes lit up. "Oh my gosh! Wow!" he said with a huge smile. "WILL!"

"Yeah man!"

"Will! I got t-shirts! I got T-SHIRTS, Will!"

"No way!"

Cyrus turned back to my girls. "Those are so awesome you guys!"

"They made them themselves," I added, overstating the obvious.

He put his arms around them and I got the picture. Then Emma looked at her idol and handed him the drawing.

"I made this for you," she said. It was a cartoon she had drawn of Cyrus, with the caption "the animator gets animated!"

He gasped and slowly grinned at her. "This is for me? I can keep it?" She nodded. "WILL!"

"Yeah man!"

This time he was really excited and danced around a little while he yelled down the line, "I got a PICTURE, man! I got a PICTURE down here!"

"That is AWESOME!"

Cyrus looked into my daughter's eyes and said, "Thank you. Thank you SO much. I love it."

She smiled back. I think she might have said you're welcome, but I was a little emotional so I don't remember. Instinctively I went in for a hug, which he gladly gave me, and I said something inane like wow they're going to be tired at school tomorrow but it was worth it, thank you. And Cyrus moved along to his next group of fans.

Look at those smiles! Priceless!

The girls looked up at me, their expressions full of delight. "Wow!" I said to them. "THAT was awesome, huh?" They nodded. They were genuinely speechless. After a moment we headed down to see some of the other dancers: Amelia Lowe, who had (with Will) danced one of Claire's favorite routines to "Lovecats" by the Cure (did I mention that the show is also excellent because of the music? I couldn't get my daughters to listen to the Cure for anything; they would think it was lame if it came from me); Cole Horibe, the intense martial-arts style dancer with the great abs (yeah, I said it); and finally, Eliana Girard, the female winner from this season, who was the girls' other favorite. They were all so sweet and generous. Eliana saw Claire's shirt and grinned, "Cyrus DOES rock!" She asked them their names and said they were adorable. "I love your glasses! Those are awesome!" she told Emma.

Amelia was so beautiful!

Cole was one of my favorites. I love those Hawaiian guys. :-)

Eliana rushed out right at the end of the meet-and-greet. She apologized to everyone for making them wait. The photo I got of her with the girls was not very flattering, and she's so lovely I just picked this one instead.

Before we left, the girls went back to say goodbye to Cyrus. He was still holding Emma's picture. I told him that she was really excited that he still had it.

"Awwww," he said, "this is so great. I want to put it on my blog*. We have a special place on the bus for stuff like this." He looked back at Emma. "I love it. Thank you so much!" And she got a huge hug. Which I captured in a terrible blurry photo on my phone... but we know what it is.

"I can't believe it," Emma murmured as we started the walk back to the car. "That was awesome."

Claire agreed. "That was the coolest thing that's ever happened to me!"

It was 11:20, and the girls had school the next day. Maybe another mom - most other moms - would have gone straight home after the show. Ten o'clock is already way past bedtime, much less midnight, which is when we finally got home. Claire slept in the car, but Emma shuffled through the photos on her phone and talked excitedly about everything that had happened.

Tickets: $... who cares.
Souvenirs: $... who cares.
Refreshments: $... who cares.
Memories: oh yeah. 100% Priceless.

And one more thing: next year, I'm springing for better seats.

*I haven't found his blog yet. I am following him on Twitter, though, so if anything shows up about Emma's picture I will update immediately. I'm not holding my breath... but it sure would be awesome.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cigna, United Healthcare To Provide Coverage To All Americans

Insurance monoliths Cigna and United Healthcare announced today that they plan to provide affordable and thorough coverage to all Americans who are in need.  According to Cigna CEO David M. Cordani, “We just ran the numbers and decided it made sense. In 2010 I received $12.5 million in compensation, plus $8.4 million in stocks and stock options, just for running an insurance corporation. Do you know how many people we could cover with that money?”
Cordani added, “When the health of Americans turned into a Supreme Court dog-and-pony show, that’s when we decided to step up. It shouldn’t come to that.”
Stephen Hemsley, United Healthcare’s CEO, added “between the two of us, we paid lobbyists $3.8 million dollars during the 2010 election cycle. We thought that actually providing healthcare with that money would be so much better. Plus, now we won’t have to pay those lobbyists anymore.”
Early reports indicate that a number of lobbyists will be placed in the five states with the lowest percentage of covered Americans – Oklahoma, Florida, Alaska, Mississippi and Texas – and trained to provide information and assistance to the neediest in the population. We could not confirm this with any of the lobbyists, who refused to comment for this article.
Cigna’s profit in the 2nd quarter of 2011 was $408 million. “I’m very proud of our generous stockholders for backing us on this endeavor. It truly shows that we have the best interests of our fellow Americans in mind,” said Cordani.
United Healthcare showed a 13% increase in profits for the same period.
Said Hemsley, “Let’s face it. More than 17% of people in our country are not insured, and too many are suffering needlessly because the corporations have only focused on their bottom line. It’s time for insurance companies to get back to what their mission really is: providing healthcare.
“It’s just the right thing to do.”

Ha ha! Gotcha! April Fool!!!
(a girl can dream, right?)


Monday, March 12, 2012

Because I was lucky to have her at all

My best friend Karen Dunaitis has been gone for five years and one day. She had breast cancer, and she died. 

Karen was a lot of things to me, but I don't think she ever knew what an inspiration she was. She always nudged me to try new things, to think creatively, and most of all to seize every minute of joy and fun that life gives you. Sometimes she was the devil on my shoulder, other times the angel who wrapped me in her arms and let me cry. I loved her like a sister, and I don't think I'll ever know anyone quite as luminous and free-spirited again. 

Because I was lucky enough to have her at all, I've decided to go way out on a limb here, and share something from the little book I'm working on. This is one of my favorite memories. For those who don't know the backstory, we met when Disney opened their animation studio in Orlando in 1989. Her husband Aaron and my future husband Alex (now my ex) both worked there.


I was still waiting tables at the fancy-pants Hyatt resort near Disney World and finishing up my art degree in the early years at the studio, and then my first job was late shift paste-up at a printing company, so I often had time during the day to drive out to Kissimmee and hang out with Karen. We had a few essential background things in common which cemented the foundation of friendship. One: we were both Midwestern girls who found ourselves living in Central Florida. Karen had bolted for the beach as soon as she got out of high school in Ann Arbor. Two: we were both art majors. She had studied art at Ringling, where she met Aaron, and was a talented stained-glass artist. Three: we liked the same music. Four: we had both spent years waiting tables, or in Karen’s case, cocktailing. Five, and probably related to Four: we liked to party. And of course, there was the whole animation thing, which our men had in common.
            I felt ridiculously comfortable around her. Waiting tables, you have to put on this act for your whole shift, especially in an upscale Italian restaurant in a hotel full of stuffy (and often foreign) tourists. The acting is almost more exhausting than the schlepping of tableside Caesar salads. Karen was home all day with her two little ones and welcomed my company. We would drink Diet Cokes and play rockabilly or Tom Petty and just slide into each other’s company like old flip-flops.
            The house was small, but the yard made up for it. Sunny and spacious, thick with coarse St. Augustine grass and no landscaping to speak of, but it didn’t matter because your focus always went to the dock down by the creek. There wasn’t a boat there, just the canoe dragged up on the grass next to it. But the dock was the thing that drew you in, and you could see why they didn’t care that the house was little more than a firmly planted double-wide.
            All along the creek, the trees grew up and over like so many old aunts and uncles with outstretched arms, welcoming the water and the people traveling on it. Karen and I would sit down there on old Adirondack chairs listening to it run, watching Austin and Dustin splash in a wading pool or ride their Little Tikes cars through the grass. They had white-blond hair and their brown eyes were huge and round like anime characters.
Karen was a natural mom. I don’t just mean she made it look easy, I mean she was an earth mama before I knew what that meant. If the kids’ feet weren’t filthy at bath time, it hadn’t been a good day. When they fell she didn’t run to them in a panic. Her voice stayed calm and consequently so did they, almost all the time. I seldom heard her talk baby-talk, but she made them laugh and called them silly names, and was quick with kisses and I love yous. She taught the kids who their friends were and so they were always comfortable around me, and their hugs were my adrenaline. Dustin was shy, but Austin was a clever thing from the start, with a truly impish glint in her eyes. I adored her.
            One time I was there, Austin couldn’t have been quite three, and there was an issue of Rolling Stone magazine on the dining room table. It was a “year in review” issue, and had a mashup of photos of the year’s newsmakers on the cover.
            Austin eyed me closely; I wore my hair very short then. She pointed at a photo on the cover and said, “That looks like you.”
            It was Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Back when he had hair, of course. Karen raised her eyebrows and busted out laughing.
            “Bu-but that’s a boy, Austin,” I said, pouting.
            She gave me that winky grin and ran off.
            “A very pretty boy, though,” said Karen.


I love you and miss you, Karen. You inspire me still. Thanks for everything you gave me, and all of us. You were one swell broad.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ribbon Candy

I’m finally putting Christmas away, and it’s organization OCD to the max. Since it was our first holiday season in the new, larger house, I decided we needed more d├ęcor items, and now I have to store them somewhere. Thus the compulsive examination of every item, old and new, and the clean, color-coded new plastic boxes to put them in.

Already I have thrown out old stockings, wasted lights, cardboard containers and some glass ornaments from my “peach-and-lace only” tree that I had when I was 25. Seriously, peach glass ornaments that have followed me around for 24 years, and I stopped liking them about 23 years ago. Curse that old Midwestern thriftiness. “Those are perfectly good ornaments, you may want to use them someday.” Sheesh.

The Hallmark ornaments are tucked away neatly in their individual boxes. I’ve been collecting them since the early 90s, and now have enough to decorate a tall, narrow fake tree (which has followed me around for about 14 years now). Each ornament has a special note saying why I chose it, or which child it was for, or later which child helped me choose it, which of course I had to read. Again. Not an efficient use of time.

This year, I was determined to come up with a super-Christmassy activity to do with the kids, since they outgrew the mall Santa long ago.  So I took them to a little candy store in Ontario, California, where they make candy canes by hand and do demos you can watch. It was a 40-minute drive through Pasadena traffic at rush hour, but it seemed like a fun thing to do – “remember that time we watched them make candy canes?” – but the truth is, I was doing it for me. I had an ulterior motive.

Ribbon candy.

When I was growing up in Ohio, we would drive to my dad’s brother’s house in Cleveland for a family holiday gathering. Uncle Ron and Aunt Dot would put folding tables with paper tablecloths down in the finished basement, as the house filled with the smells of the coming feast: turkey and gravy, potatoes and pies. We kids watched Christmas shows in the living room and tried to keep our hands off their big Hammond console organ. This was no wimpy 61-key organ. It was practically an orchestra, with rows of keys and buttons for rhythms and drums and horns. No way a kid could resist.

Sometimes my brother Bob and I, along with cousins Lee and Rob and Cheri, were allowed to trek through the snow to the corner store, where we would (honestly, this is how old I am) look at Archie comics and penny candy. But I never bought any candy because Ron & Dot always had something I treasured: fancy glass dishes full of ribbon candy, peppermint, cinnamon, cherry and clove. Clove was my favorite. Delicate swirls of shiny striped deliciousness that, if you let it melt in your mouth, would turn into candyfloss strings of pulled sugar, like no other candy in the world.

When I was about to enter 6th grade, Dad moved us to Orlando, and the Cleveland Christmases ended. Although we moved back to Cincinnati two years later, I don’t remember if we ever went to Cleveland for Christmas again. It just wasn't the same.

My dad doesn’t even remember the ribbon candy at his brother’s house. When I tell people about my passion for the stuff, they usually look at me like I’d expressed a love for laxatives or anchovies. “I don’t know,” said my friend Kevin. “It just makes me think of old ladies.”

But my memories of ribbon candy have stayed with me. It came to represent everything good and glowing about the holiday season. A couple of years ago, I found some boxed ribbon candy. I took some home, but it was too thick, and stale, not like the ribbon candy I remembered. Eventually I came to believe that nobody was even making it anymore.

And then, while googling “fun things to do at Christmas”, I found Logan’s Candies, an old-fashioned mom-and-pop candy store where the goodies were truly handmade. I went to their website and saw the schedule for candy cane demonstrations. Hmmm, that sounds like fun. And then I looked up at the site’s menu and couldn’t believe it: they made ribbon candy! By hand! The photo showed the shiny waves of striped deliciousness from the glass candy dish in my memory. And the flavors! Watermelon, Sugar Plum, Cotton Candy, Root Beer, Green Apple, Butterscotch, so many more! Peppermint, Cinnamon… and last there on the list:


I had to go. Had to. Our first year in the new old house, my kids older and needing some new traditions with our blended family and lack of grandparents and Uncle Rons to forge their Christmas memories. Had to go.

We arrived at our destination in time for the last demo at 8:30. A crowd jammed into the tiny store to watch Jerry Rowley, the owner, massage and manipulate a huge blob of warm, white candy. He cracked jokes while his hands moved deftly to add the color and flavor and stretch it into long ropes. “As you can see, I cut the candy,” he said, “which makes me the candy cutter.” He passed the red and white sticks to his daughter, saying “she rolls the candy, which makes her the candy..." and he paused before saying, "...roller!” The candy was then passed to his wife, Susi, who formed it into the traditional candy cane shape. “And my wife, as you can see, bends the candy into hooks, which makes her the candy…" a mischievous pause, then, "... bender!” Ba-dum-bump.

As the demo went on, I sidled up to a young lady working the register. I did not see any of my precious booty anywhere and feared the worst. “So, um… do you have any ribbon candy left?”

“Oh yes. We keep it in the back.”

Hooray! “Do you have any clove?”

“No, I’m sorry, just peppermint and cinnamon. I think she only does the clove in the fall. Do you want to get some anyway?”

She boxed up two long pieces of each flavor and I got a handmade candy cane for everyone in the family. The kids were ready to go, having snagged some free samples. But before leaving the warmth of the store, I opened the box to look, and there it was. Handmade, fragile, glossy: just like I remembered. And I got tears in my eyes. I really did. Claire, my youngest, asked if I was okay.

“Yes honey, I’m fine. Let’s go home.”

The ribbon candy lasted through the holidays. I would look at it in its little dish, then break off a swirl, so delicate it would shatter at the ends, and let it dissolve slowly on my tongue, as I drifted back to a living room in Cleveland where I begged Aunt Dot to let me play the organ.

Post script, December 2013: last year (2012) I ordered a whole pound of ribbon candy - including my beloved clove flavor - over the phone, and had it shipped to my house. This year, Dan & I made the drive and I loaded up once again. They were sold out of clove, unfortunately. But I'm starting to get a real thing for cinnamon.