Empty Nesters Has Heart and Humor


Poet playwright Garret Jon Groenveld has written a gem of a play that focuses on a middle-aged couple who has just dropped off their daughter at college and takes a side trip to the Grand Canyon before returning to their now-empty house. It’s a common situation for many of us, yet I don’t recall seeing it portrayed in the theater before.

Real-life wife and husband Pamela Gaye Walker and John Walker beautifully play the empty nesters who are looking to the future, not quite knowing what it holds for them. The two have a natural connection that works well onstage, and they convincingly portray a couple dealing with life changes. The dialogue was so real that these two felt like people I might have known, and furthermore, people I’d like to know. By the end of the first scene, we’ve gotten rich details of their life that paint a vivid picture of who they are and who they have been without it ever feeling like someone is providing the audience with back story. The set, though simple, provided everything necessary for the three different locales needed for the play, and the transitions from one scene to the next were seamless.

The Empty Nesters has heart, humor, and even a touch of mystery, all of which make for a satisfying evening of theater. Go see it!

A PlayGround and Virago Theatre Company co-production at San Francisco’s Thick House through June 14. http://playground-sf.org/emptynesters/

Remembering Mom and the Change

momWhen my mother was several years younger than I am now and she felt warmer than she thought she logically should be or, for that matter, displayed any number of symptoms, she’d sigh in this resigned way and utter in her slow Oklahoma drawl, “I guess I’m going through the Change.” That’s Change with a capital “C.”

At that point I’d abandoned my hometown of Oklahoma City and gone to school in California. The first time I recall her saying this was after my freshman year of college, and I really didn’t know what she was talking about. I’m a pretty straightforward person who doesn’t bother with euphemisms. When people are no longer living, I say they are dead—none of this passing on business for me. I never got a “visit from my Aunt Flo.” I got my period. Period.

Which segues me right back into Mom’s constant proclamations that she was going through the Change. All I know is that her transformation seemed to be taking a long time. I heard about it every time I was home for the summer until I graduated. And when I got my first apartment in Oakland and Mom came to visit, she still wasn’t done. In fact, I’m pretty sure she still hadn’t passed that milestone when I got married. Of course, she was only 49 then, so it’s conceivable that she had not yet crossed that bridge, but I wasn’t versed in the ways of menopause because it was so far in my own future as to seem irrelevant. I guess I don’t actually know when she technically went through menopause.

When I was a child, Mom was at home. She was always first in line to pick me up from school. She was the assistant coach for my sister’s softball team. She sewed dresses for me, drove us kids to piano and guitar lessons, and had dinner on the table every night at 6:00.

But while I was away, she became active in the Oklahoma Women’s Indian Federation and rose in the ranks to become president—this from a woman who rarely mentioned her Choctaw blood the whole time I was growing up in her house.

And she became an advocate for rape survivors, which means that when a rape was reported, she was called in to be with the victim and explain her rights and options before, during, and after she was examined. Mom held the hands of a lot of traumatized women in pain and shock. And if the survivor chose to testify at trial, she’d accompany her.

Mom also taught herself how to use a computer and got her GED. She took up beading, went to powwows, and probably did a lot of other things I didn’t even know about.

On second thought, maybe when I went off to college, she did go through Changes with a capital “C.” And she just kept evolving. Maybe she never was talking about menopause…


Theater’s latecomer policy: Fair but cruel?

playwrightsfestivalposter shortI had been looking forward to the premiere of my ten-minute play for months.

My wacky screwball comedy, “A Twin Tale,” was chosen to be part of the Ohlone College Playwright Festival, which was May 7 & 8. As one of the playwrights, I had two comp tickets for Friday. But Dave needed to go to a memorial service that night, so I bought tickets for Thursday so we could go together.

The two of us headed down to Fremont (an hour’s drive) and actually got there in plenty of time. Although the seats provided no wiggle room, I managed to arrange my knees so as not to bump the person in front of me. I enjoyed all the plays, and the student actors were mostly quite good. They did a beautiful job with my play, and it was great hearing laughter in all the right places. Dr. Gauss, was played by a particularly charming young man who performed a little soft-shoe number for the audience while the other actors set the stage for the second scene. I was very happy and wanted to meet the director after the show to congratulate him, but he was nowhere to be found. No matter, I thought, since I’d be back on Friday.

Twin Tale program
just a random page from the program…


Friday was more complicated. Mary and Nina were coming to my house at 5:30. Then we were going in my car to pick up Julie K. at the Emeryville Chevy’s parking lot at 5:45, after which we would head down I-580 and pick up Kate at the corner of Harrison and Pearl at 5:55. Then the five of us would head south, meeting Julie E. at 7:00 at a restaurant in Fremont where I’d made reservations for the six of us.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

First, my phone stopped working, which means when Julie K. and Nina both called to let me know important information, I could not access that information.

Miraculously we made it to the restaurant on time. However, though our waiter was flirtatious (he knows how to work a table of middle-age women), the kitchen screwed up some of the orders, and five of us had to use credit cards, which was complicated. So we left the restaurant at 7:55 for an 8:00 show. But the night before, they had started 20 minutes late, so I crossed my fingers and drove fast.

But we were coming from a different direction than we had the night before, and I got lost. We arrived at 8:15 and saw a big SOLD OUT sign on the ticket window. In the lobby we flagged down an usher to explain that we had already bought tickets online. The show hadn’t started yet due to technical difficulties, so I assumed we’d be able to slip in before the lights went down. But their policy is to sell to people on the wait list once it’s five minutes past show time, so only four seats remained. The usher wouldn’t let us stand due to fire laws. I suggested that I could stand quietly in the back of the sound booth, but the manager didn’t go for it, even when I told him that I was one of the playwrights.

ohlone map
the map I probably should have had with me

I bowed out since I’d seen it the previous night, and Nina quite graciously offered to sit with me in the lobby while the others saw the show. I inquired about any nearby coffee shop, and we were given directions to Starbucks. So Nina and I traversed the campus and jaywalked across Mission Boulevard just to find that Starbucks was closed.

By this time I was desperate for a bathroom and knew I wouldn’t make it all the way back to the college. We found a Subway Deli, where I made a dash for the facilities while Nina got a soda. And I almost made it.

So the night did not go exactly as planned.

At intermission, the four who actually got to see the show said mine was the best. Then we cut our losses and headed back north.

But we had fun at dinner, as the singletons swapped stories of online dating adventures/catastrophes. And we had a few laughs in the car down there and back.  I feel so lucky that I have supporters willing to buy tickets, make the long trek down to Fremont, and watch several other pieces just to see my ten-minute play.

It made me think of a girl we used to tease in college—Torrey once drunkenly pronounced, “Friends are cool!” It just sounded ridiculous to say something out loud that was so obvious.

But Torrey was right—friends are cool.

Maybe I’m just not meant to ride a bicycle…

bike in shed
My bike back in the shed from whence it came…

My husband Dave is a serious cyclist who is on a 90-mile ride today to train for the AIDS Life Cycle week-long ride at the end of this month.

Me? Not so much. I mean I own a bike, and I ride it every year to the SF Mime Troupe’s performance at Cedar Rose Park because it’s a tad too long to walk, the route is mostly on a bike path, and parking on performance days is limited.

But recently I was feeling guilty for driving my car to downtown Berkeley, so I thought, what the heck? Why not get the bike out?

I first tried it out a few weeks ago. Dave lent me his fancy Kryptonite lock that he hadn’t even used yet. When I reached the library, I tried to open the lock but couldn’t. I asked for help from a fellow cyclist, but he couldn’t get the key to work either. Luckily, I was early (for once), so I rode two blocks to a bike shop to see if anyone there could open the lock. But the key just didn’t work.

The incredibly nice guy at the bike shop swapped out the lock for a brand-new one at no charge whatsoever so that I’d be able to lock up my bike! All he asked is that I bring him the extra key that came with the faulty lock some time so that he could send it all back to the company together. He would deal with getting a replacement, and I was free to go on my merry way without worrying that my bike would get stolen while I was in the library. Thank you, nice bike guy!

Then I hurt my back, after which I got the flu, so I didn’t ride downtown until a few days ago. With my new bike lock (that I locked and unlocked before I set out), I rode along the Ohlone path. Unfortunately I had chosen to wear my book bag rather than a daypack, and it kept slipping off my back, around my side, and landing in what would have been my lap. If it were light, it would have just been annoying; but it held not only my book and papers but also the heavy lock and a tin of chocolate chip cookies. (Don’t ask.) So my bag kept banging on my left knee each time I pedaled. I had to stop multiple times to move the bag around so that it was on my back.

What with all the stopping and starting, I was running late and started pedaling harder. As I rode past a homeless guy at Ohlone Park, he helpfully suggested that I change gears. When I was stopped at Martin Luther King and Hearst, a gaggle of Cal students jogged by me en masse, and I heard one exclaim to another, “That’s because you’re not Mexican!” I have no idea what the context was, whether I should laugh or be offended, or what race any of the youths were, and I didn’t really have time to contemplate it further because the light changed.

banged-up knee
One of my banged-up knees

Although I should have crossed MLK and continued to Milvia, I stupidly turned right. Milvia is a designated bike-friendly street. MLK is a busy thoroughfare. Lots of cars sped by me, some of them rather close. And with all the cars parked on the street, there was very little room to maneuver. When a car whizzed by me only inches away, I got spooked. Instead of waiting to use the driveway just ahead, I tried to jump my bike up to the sidewalk. Not a good idea. I wiped out. A nice man who was walking by helped me get my bike upright and asked if I was okay. I assured him I was, though I’d been better. I was so glad that I had worn jeans because there was a hole in the knee that would have been a hole in my knee had I been wearing anything less. The chain had slipped off the gears, so after re-attaching it, my hands were a yummy mixture of blood and bicycle grease.

I did make it to the library, and luckily this time, my lock worked perfectly. A fellow Playreader graciously gave me a pre-moistened wipe for my hands. And everyone loved the cookies.

But once I got home, I took a shower, iced my swelling lumps, and vowed to leave my bike in the shed until the Mime Troupe comes to town this summer.