Sunday, December 16, 2012


Approaching my half-century mark (am I admitting to that? I guess I am) in a couple of  days, I, like so many before me, preoccupy myself by looking backwards as I hurtle forwards. I'm especially fascinated by those remote college years (can "Rock Lobster" be really that old?). It's not that I regard those days with any particularly burnished glow, nor do I have any remote desire to revisit that time. But still, I look back.

The following is an excerpt from a project I've been working on called "Midterms." I conducted a series of interviews with  a group of college friends who ran together as a sort of tribe Freshman year. I interwove those interviews together to explore who were were then and how we relate to each other now. It was quite revealing, and more than a little nostalgic. I had hoped to get it formatted and sent off to my cohorts before my birthday, but, alas, life intruded. So, until I can get it completed (soon! soon!) I offer the introduction:

In the fall of 1980, just shy of my eighteenth birthday, I arrived on the blustery shores of Evanston, Illinois, leaving behind my moped, my job at Daisy's Chinese Kitchen, my Dungeons & Dragons friends and my New Jersey family to embark on a new life as a freshman at Northwestern University. I had little idea of what I would find there, and no real expectations; all I knew was that it was "away," and that was a good thing. In truth, I felt half-formed, opaque. Searching, but not knowing what for. I was passionately Christian (thought not in an institutional way— I preferred to communicate directly with God); ostensibly straight; devout to sci-fi and fantasy; and in love with wandering Times Square (in its previous seedier incarnation), letting its streetlights guide me where they would. I had secrets, but they were hidden, even from me. 

What I got from my four years of Northwestern, more than a desultory education and the degree, was an identity. I fell in with a group of diverse, gay, and, I must say, fascinating people who were unlike anyone I had ever known. Denis O’Hare. Frank DeCaro. Harry Althaus. Timothy Engle. Darren Perkins. This cluster of friends formed the nucleus of what was known variously as "The Army," "The Group" or “That Loud Group Over There.” Through them, little by little, the shell that was me was filled. They shepherded my coming out with wit and understanding, and under their tutelage I learned much— about music, about film, about the Art of Being Gay. So many discoveries: with Denis I made the switch from Jesus to Sartre, finding that existentialism suited me much better. Frank informed my music library, and showed me the joys of dancing alone in one's room. Harry, well Harry introduced me to so many things: my first gay bar, my first sushi... Tim taught me about the power of tenacity and the genius that was Sondheim. Darren was the only one I could not even approach; he flitted in like a rarified species, dazzling and inexplicable, and flitted out almost as quickly. But really, all of them had that effect on me. I would mostly sit and listen, not daring to compete; I always remember feeling like Armistead Maupin’s Mary Ann in a room of Anna Madrigals.

Since graduating, we have of course all moved away and moved on. We’ve weaved in and out of each others’ lives, lost touch, and found each other again. The connection, though, is always there. Recently, rooting through the jumbled and faded photos from that time in college, I reencountered many other friends, important to me at the time, who are long lost now. So many people drift out of our lives, or are jettisoned. So why have these particular friends remained? I have a theory, of course, personal to me: I think that during these college years I was shaped into who I am today, and that these friends, so vital in that shaping, has left bits of their DNA ingrained in me forever. They can never be strange, or truly absent; they are, in the best sense of the word, Family.

And now, with my encroaching birthday in December, we will all have crossed that half-century mark. Better yet, we are all here, and all healthy, which is nothing to sneeze at. There's not a lot I remember about college (my memories seem to be archived on a disk with an antiquated format) so I wanted to gather recollections and stories of that time before they were lost for good, and to commemorate this half-century mark. Through individual Skype chats I’ve found that I’m not alone in my faulty recall, but when pieced together a pretty energetic narrative emerges...

Happy Birthday to all of us! Have a wonderful, and safe, end of the year!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Thanksgiving Rescue Story: a Sweet Ending to a Tale of Abandonment...

You hear about it every holiday season--Someone thinks it's a good idea to bring a sweet little thing into a home, only to find it being neglected, shut away, just not wanted. Then, tragically, it ends up being cast away like so much garbage. You always hear it happening to those other irresponsible people out there, but this Thanksgiving, it almost happened to me.

I had too many damned desserts.

Every year I write in my little faux-leather menu log book: "Made too many desserts, two next time!" but this year, it reached epic proportions. Part of it was that I had overestimated the appetite of my guests. We had ten people at our Thanksgiving feast, but when three of them are pre-teen boys with limited appetite-attention spans, and three of them are I-will-keep-my-diet-I-will-not-succumb! types, well, you're really cooking for a handful. 
Did I mention the pistachios?

I don't blame the desserts— only, perhaps, their dimensions. A towering spiced peach pie, made with the last of the fall peaches from the Farmer's Market and a cream cheese crust; a pear-cranberry ginger crisp with toasted pepitas, straight from the recipe books of Border Grill; and Caramel crunch chocolate bars. Plus a guest brought the always-necessary pumpkin pie. Each dessert delicious; each dessert gargantuan. Add to that a healthy mug of sweet mulled apple cider before the meal, deviled eggs, the Turkey feast itself and rapidly diminishing appetites: it was the Perfect Confectionary Storm.

May I blame the deviled eggs?

Great headway was made in the pumpkin pie and Caramel Bars on Thursday. Not coincidentally, these were the only desserts the boys wanted to eat. The other two, showier desserts languished on the sideboard, cut into/spooned up, yes, and appreciated, definitely, but by evening's end they seemed to have miraculously healed themselves and were practically whole.  The truly bizarre thing, however, was that though guests ate on them over an ENTIRE WEEKEND, hardly a dent was made in either one. Let me reiterate: these were truly tasty, not some dried/bland/gummy sweets fit only for obligatory nibbles. And yet they would not move. The crisp was apparently self-replenishing; the pie was able to sustain an infinite number of slices and yet not diminish. By Sunday evening, after all the guests had left, Doug and I were staring down at two desserts barely half-way eaten. 

(Really, they were good. I swear. Doug himself, a person not known for his culinary tact, declared them to be keepers. "But you can only eat so much pie and feel good about yourself" was his explanation. Damn these eaters of moderation!)

The pie that would not die.
I would usually have gorged myself over the next few days until I had scraped up every crumb, but I knew a trip to Mexico was only weeks away, and the thought of my squeezable Thanksgiving mid-section going with me on vacation was too frightening to contemplate. Doug was of similar mind. Benj was useless. We felt like the time to share with neighbors had passed. There was no other choice: the desserts had to go. The trash can beckoned. I couldn't bear to watch. Doug, the more remorseless of the two of us—waited for me to give the word. I squeezed my eyes shut, nodded.

And that's when Providence entered the picture, in a manner worthy of the most treacly of Hallmark feature films. The doorbell rang. It was my friend Renée, someone I had not seen in, literally, years. Being, among other things, an accomplished accordionist, Renée was instrumental (no pun intended) in the writing of my novel This is How It Begins, in which a red accordion figures prominently. When I finished the manuscript (then called Liberace Under Venetian Skies) I gave her a copy to read. This weekend she happened to be out on a hike in my neighborhood with her friend Shelley, and stopped by to return the manuscript.

I wasted no time with hello's or how'd ya do's. "You want some dessert?" I blurted out. Her eyes widened but she took it in stride. "Sure!" she said. "Pie or crisp? or both?" I demanded, a little crazed. We went to the car to confer with Shelley. Turns out (handkerchiefs ready?) that Shelley had been ill on Thanksgiving, and had to leave a turkey dinner at her friend's house with only a drumstick wrapped in foil for a souvenir. On the drive home she saw a homeless person on the side of the road and gave him her only Thanksgiving leftover. Did I mention that she also has a sweet tooth? WE WERE PAYING IT FORWARD, BABY!

Shelley and Renée gladly welcomed two deserving desserts into their lives, my crisp and my pie found a new home, and my gut receded back from its semi-gelatinous state. It's a Thanksgiving Miracle, and, knowing my compulsive baking habits... it may even become a tradition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Vocal Harvest

Had a couple of days of voice-over work that I would love to replicate the whole year round. You know, the kind of days where you get a call in the early afternoon to send in an audition from home, then you get called by your agent at 5 telling you you've got the job and have to go in at 6 to record, then the producers call you in to their studio the next day to have you do some more. And I thought it was just a myth. More, please!

The best part was that  I was hired to be a sound-alike for none other than the uber-cool actor Ken Watanabe. Me! This validation's come at a good time— at all my Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness sessions I sit and marvel at the other actors: the amazing suppleness of their voices, their mercurial wit, their fast-and-furious banter, and I can't help, sometimes, but feel a bit... arthritic in comparison. So to nail an actor who's voice is far from mine is a great boost.

Let's see, all I need to do is Chow-Yun-Fat and Jet Li, and I'll have covered practically the entire pantheon of male Asian superstars!


And check.
Just wait 'til they hear my Katharine Hepburn!

Studying Mr. Watanabe's voice (mostly using The Last Samurai as a guide) yielded a lot of quiet pleasure. Jackie Chan (my patron saint in voice-overs) and Ken Watanabe come from the same lower register of my voice, but the differences in their speaking are quite distinct, even taking into account their different ethnicities. Mr. Chan, like the characters he plays, has a certain broadness to his speech; he's quite animated (no pun intended) and charming, but simple in his delivery—he saves his flexibility for his movement.

Mr. Watanabe, on the other hand, is first and foremost an actor, and it shows in his delivery. Listen to the colors of his voice, how he employs tone and nuance quite fluidly, and remember that this is not even in a language he was comfortable with at that time. It's quite impressive.

This gig comes on top of continuing Kung Fu Panda work (only five more episodes to record!) and a voice on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Plus (speaking of pandas), I've got a good role in the new World of Warcraft game: Mists of Pandaria which has just come out. I still can't believe that I'm in this job that I love so very, very much, working (playing, really) with people of the highest caliber of talent, humor and kindness, making funny voices and getting paid for it.

Something to be thankful for, indeed.

Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A True Tale of Halloween Terror: The Black Apple

This is not an urban legend. It didn't happen to a friend of a friend. I know it's true, because it happened to me.

My iPhone... is dead.

It didn't happen in the usual way, through old age, or willed obsolescence, or even a technical difficulty. No, my beloved partner was untimely ripped from me in a manner most unexpected.

Sunday afternoon, my son and a preschool buddy, fully clothed, were playing by the side of our swimmng pool. The little boy, reaching for a ripple with a stick, reached too far. From the other side of the pool I watched as his body angled one degree too many and gravity quietly tumbled him head first into the water. It was a small distance, given his size, but the tiny splash set a tsunami of adrenaline racing up my spine, electric. His head came up, and I jumped in.

My reaction may have been, upon reflection, largely unnecessary. The little boy had just this past summer learned to feel comfortable in the water and could kick a good distance. He was right by the side of the pool and Benjamin was there, too, reaching for his upstretched hand. They probably could have remained there safely in stasis, hanging to the edge, until I scurried over to the other side.  I was also aware that there were items in the pockets of my shorts— what was that, a wallet? in one side, and surely my phone, yes, of course it was, in the other— and I could have shed these items in all of two seconds. I could actually hear my rational self, dimly, in the back of my head, calmly advancing these considerations, but then it was as if a giant override switch had been pulled, bringing all active deliberations to a screeching halt, save for one thought: CHILD IN WATER. GET TO CHILD. And in I went.

The boy was rescued without going down a second time. "I didn't swim, Mommy, I held on to the side!" he yelled triumphantly to his stricken mother, as I pulled myself up to sit next to him, waterlogged. He suffered no outward sign of distress. The same, alas, cannot be said for my phone. I pulled her from my pocket, she flickered her white apple one last time, and went dark, evermore.

"Sometime dead... is bettah."
Doug, playing the part of the grizzled but kindly Maine neighbor, introduced me to a mysterious ritual in which a dead iPhone, buried in a pile of rice, could become resurrected. I dutifully interred my phone into a bag of Natural Directions long-grain and left her there for the night. Would she return from the dead, evil perhaps, but still sentient? I wouldn't care if Siri started sounding like Peter Lorre as long as she could still give me directions to the nearest Bed Bath and Beyond...
"I've found twenty gin joints
fairly close to you."

I spent the night on the edge of a troubled sleep. Was that her beeping, muffled under all that rice, announcing a text message? Did she just buzz? Could that be a Scrabble alert? Alas, no. “Please come back, Siri, come back,” I murmured, half-awake. I could almost hear her mournful tone whispering in my ear: “I’m sorry about this, James, but I can’t answer that right now…”

The next morning, with trembling fingers, I extracted the rectangular corpse from its granular crypt. There beat no alabaster apple upon her ebon frame; she was still dead. Dead as a doornail. Mind, I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail, but...

The day passed as if in a waking nightmare. I was wandering deaf in a hearing world. No music. No texts. No calls. The weather—my God, man! How shall I know what the weather is, without Siri to tell me such? And by what means should I pay for my Starbucks? I had an app for that! 

Away from home, I was like a field mouse trying to escape the rain, desperately hopping from wifi station to wifi station, constantly checking my emails, hoping to piece together what I might be missing from the life Out There. Who was trying to get ahold of me? Who had penned a witty Facebook rejoinder? Was it my turn on Words with Friends?

And then came the abyss, the purgatory which also goes by the name Post Office. Oh, to wait in line, the long snaking line, at the ghostly remains of what was once a robust post office, now serviced by naught but two clerks, both of whom had a penchant to Chat… I had forgotten what it was like to stand in line with nothing to read or hear or play, the stupor that comes with waiting, waiting, trying not to stare too hard at the mole on the neck of the person in front of you… I wanted to take photos of the complete squalor, but... I CAN'T. I DON'T HAVE MY PHONE.

The Horror. The Horror. 

I barely made it home alive…

And now, my iPhone, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
In the pallid bag of rice just above the oven door;
And my Siri has the seeming
Of a demon that is dreaming
And the YouTube’s stopped its streaming
Streaming on the titanium core
And my soul without that apple shining on the titanium core
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Note: The TRUE Halloween horror story is, of course, the devastation that Ms. Sandy has wreaked upon our brethren to the east.  Direct Relief International is coordinating efforts with those on the ground in places hardest hit to get aid as soon as possible. If you'd like to help out with some bucks, just click here

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The (Un)Civil War: Now Playing!

Note: Devil Incarnate, Douglas Wood, has abused his conjugal privileges and has already posted a rebuttal to my post. You can read it at

I must admit: I didn’t watch the debate Monday Night. I didn’t watch the one on the Thursday either. I saw none of them, in fact. Unconcerned? Uninterested? Not at all. I’m intensely invested in who wins this year’s election. It’s only that the debates, and the endless prognostications leading up to, and equally endless recaps following, these slugfests, have a specific purpose, and one that I find increasingly disquieting: to churn the waters of discord.

Debates as blood sport...

The theatre of politics has taken center stage in this election, produced by the media (both left-and right-leaning varieties), sold by the campaigns of both parties and snapped up eagerly by the electorate like opening night tickets to “Iron Man 3.” The debates have much less to do with substance and all to do with narrative and conflict. Swooping storylines of defeat and resurgence, villainy and heroism, writ large and with the subtlety worthy of Michael Bay. There’s no room for complexity, or nuance; our candidate must be golden like Rocky Balboa, thrown against the ropes but coming up swinging; the Other Guy must possess a hulking maleficence worthy of the Soviet Drago. That’s what sells the tickets!

Better yet, let's make debates into musicals! It worked for Hairspray...

Now, don’t get me wrong: there are serious issues at stake here, ones worth fighting for and promoting. And yes, I understand the intent: to fill campaign coffers and goad a sleepy, nose-picking electorate to the voting booth. It’s just the emotional hyperbole that leaves me anxious and exhausted. We want bipartisanship, but how is that possible when we also demand blood and fear apocalypse? The first election I remember was between McGovern and Nixon (am I dating myself here?). In school we held our own elections and discussed positions. Now, my seven-year-old niece comes home in tears, distraught because it was a fact that if the other guy won there would be the absolute certainty of war. How can fight our way back to the center from that?

Debate #4: Thunderdome! We all know Mel Gibson's 
a Romney man, so does that make Obama Master Blaster?

This tribal drumbeat is further compounded all of our social media, the barrage of constant political updates that ping from our little screens, Liliputian cries of repudiation and outrage, often more interesting in scoring points off of verbal mis-steps and tactical errors than the actual issues. We delight in the crude (but pretty funny) characterization of our Opponent while castigating the Other Side for doing the same thing to Our Man. Behind a thicket of like-minded friends, we more than vilify the opposition; increasingly we cannot even fathom them. The other day a friend on Facebook “liked” the other side; I stared at the post in disbelief. How could he be my friend if he liked that monster? How was he so colossally misinformed? The fact that he, too, was thinking the same thing about me (that is, if he had not already turned off my feed) does not diminish my incomprehension.

Now, this is theatricality used to great effect, 
employing conflict and narrative... with a twist ending! Soylent Green is people!

How is this impasse going to change? I have no earthly idea. I may decry partisan behavior but I'm out there sharing and liking with the rest of my brothers-in-arms. Can one have passion without devolving into bitter enmity? In a couple of weeks the Most Important Election of Our Times will be over, and maybe things will calm down. I doubt this. I’m sure the storyboards are already being prepped for the Most Important Election of Our Times—Part 2! We dearly love a sequel. Unfortunately, that means four more years of partisan roadblocks and government stagnation (remember the whole “house divided” trope?). Maybe, just maybe, we could try curbing our taste for explosions and shoot-outs and get in line for something quieter, something with a little more dialogue. You know, like those grown-up movies. 

Okay, let the comments begin!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stair Master

From the 7 floors of the outdoors stairs across the street from my house (12 reps) to the 14 floors of the CNN Building  in Hollywood (6 reps) to the 55 floors of the Wells Fargo Building (2 reps). Brown rice, power bars and (shudder) white chicken meat. It has all lead to this: my inaugural Ketchum-Downtown YMCA Stair Climb, up 1700 steps (75 floors) to the top of the U.S. Bank building! 
Nervous the whole day. Stretch now, or not to stretch now? What should I eat? When? Doug thought it was ridiculous to put so much energy into diet when it was only going to be about 30 minutes of exertion, but I wanted to indulge in the whole marathon vibe.   

Arrived downtown at 4. The place was packed, hordes of people in matching t-shirts, food trucks, a climbing wall, booths galore. A huge screen showed people entering the building, excited, and arriving at the top, considerably sweatier.

My team, the Turtles, were down one member (who landed a pilot) but Sally, Nubia and I were ready and rarin' to go. We get into place at about 5:30. My sister Allison comes with her husband to cheer us on, and tapes us before:

I look up at the building we are about to enter. Are we CRAZY? I get dizzy just looking at it. 

They corral you down the plaza steps, and then one by one you face the doors of the building and a huge timer and then "GO!" you are pushed into the building. And up you go, fast, fast! And then, oh... so... slowly. All I can say is, thank God they were playing "Gangnam Style" before we got into the building, because that was all that was in my head the whole way up. "Hey... Sexy lady..." It's a good pace.

People are moving at different speeds. There are crushed water cups in all the corners of the stairwell, like fall leaves. Kinda gross. I try not to be too pushy, but if you've seen me maneuvering past crowds at the Farmer's Market, well, you can imagine.

And suddenly, I'm at floor 70. Only five more to go! You get your final burst of adrenaline and jog up to the roof. It's pretty amazing.

Nubia, speed demon that she is, joins me two minutes later. We enjoy the view, then go down to the 71st floor for some bananas, water, and apples.

Sally, bad knees and all, arrives moments later, and we exult.

At the bottom, Allison catches us coming out.

We may sound cocky, but forty minutes later, on the way to the restaurant, I can barely walk up one flight of stairs. I eat the most delicious meal I've ever tasted in my LIFE, and then go home and pass out.
Not bad for an old man!

The best thing was-- our team raised $1200 for the downtown Y! Thanks so much to all of you who chipped in; you made it all worth it.

So... what do I do now?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Lot of Nothing

Oh, Tangaryo,
I pledge myself to you!
I have committed myself to Tangaryo. It may sound like I'm entering into a relationship with some Manga hero, but no, it actually means I'm going to be sitting around a whole lot. 

Tangaryo is a Zen tradition based on the ancient practice of demonstrating your extreme desire for a Buddhist life by sitting outside the temple walls and meditating day and night until the priests decide you are worthy and accept you into the sangha. At the Zen Center I attend they have a day of Tangaryo twice a year— a long, formless period of sitting meditation from 9-4. What makes it different from daily meditation practice or even the meditation retreats I've attended is that there is no structure. No bells to tell you how long you've been sitting, no formal periods of walking around, no dharma talks or chanting. Just. Sitting. 9-4.

You might understand why I'd be so terrified.

Why do it at all, you might ask? Well, I've been sitting every morning (or trying to) before the day begins, an extremely helpful practice, and I thought I'd test my endurance. It's kind of the same reason why I'm climbing 75 flights of stairs later this month (there's still time to donate, by the way). Tangaryo is like a meditation marathon. I'm not saying it's the right reason to do it, but hey, whatever gets you on the mat. And I would like to go deeper into my meditation practice. Also, it gets me out of the house.
It's gay pride, martial arts-style!

Unfortunately, I had forgotten that Benjamin had his XMA (Xtreme Martial Arts) graduation ceremony
the same afternoon. He was graduating to Green Belt. This, however, was not a big deal, I thought. The studio seemed to be holding graduations every other month, and I'd been there for the procession of white-orange-yellow-yellow-with-a-stripe belts. So if I missed a color, what could be the harm in that?

I prepped him about me not coming the day before.

"Is it that important to you?" he asked. I told him I thought it was, since I had signed up. Follow-through! I'm modeling follow-through!

In the morning, before leaving for the Zen Center, I found him awake in his room and went in to kiss him good-bye. I told him that I'm nervous, that I thought it was going to be hard. "You know what you should do?" he said tenderly from his bed.

"What?" I asked, fully expecting the "perseverance" speech I've been doling out to him these past four years.

"You should not do it!" he said. "Your only son is graduating today! You should be at XMA!"

Touché. I go anyway, mumbling something about how important it is to "Do what scares you."

He didn't seem to buy it.

I arrived at the Zen Center, apprehensions intact, but it seemed a pleasant enough bunch I'd be with in the zendo, only eight sitters. The Tangaryo leader is Gessho, a woman perhaps a little older than I am, with a bad back and an affinity for crossword puzzles. I liked her immediately. She went over the history of Tangaryo, about the apocryphal tales of people sitting in the rain and snow, slicing their arms off to prove their devotion. We won't be having to do that, fortunately. Three hours of sitting, a lunch break, and three more hours of sitting. She advised us not to take breaks in our car, to listen to music or check our phones. Use the bathroom, walk in the space if need be, but other than that, just sit. Nothing to it, literally.

Before we commenced, I told Gessho of my conflict, my son's graduation that afternoon. She listened, nodded. There was no finger-shaking, no pursed lips and disappointed sighs. "Well, if you need to go early, you should go," she said. "We believe very strongly in upholding personal commitments. Of course," she says with a smile, "you won't really have done Tangaryo, but you can... do it another time."

And so we began. What can be said about my first three hours? I'm afraid there was no insight. Those moments of stillness, pushing through the thicket of thoughts into an open, clear spaciousness, eluded me. Instead, a fuzziness drifted onto my brain that I found hard to shake. And, as I shifted, trying to find comfort on my kneeling bench, thoughts kept returning to myself as a child, kneeling upright on the plush blue carpeting of the living room, a punishment. This particular agony was meted out by my father when he wanted us to confess, or as retribution for having confessed. How many times did he employ this method, as opposed to the other, hotter extreme? I don't recall. All I remember is the shame of it, kneeling alone in the open space, a pillory without the wood, and how the warm room (much like the temperature in the zendo) would cause a stupor to descend, until it seemed as though you were always and ever kneeling there, time dissolving into motes of dust in the shafts of sunlight heating the room, never knowing when your penance would end. And here I was, forty years later, facing the wall, kneeling again, only this time it was of my own volition. And I controlled the time.

I imagine that the second block of meditation, after lunch, was when all the clarity would start to kick in. Peace and calm would envelop me at last. Or maybe not. Alas, I'm not able to report either way,  because after lunch I was in my car, driving fast down the highway, to get to my son's XMA graduation in time. I made it. He kicked, he swung his bo staff, he got his green belt. I got to drive my kid home. It was a good day for follow-through.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stairway to Heaven... or Heaving

75 floors. 1700 steps. The tallest building west of the Mississippi. Guess what I'm going to be climbing up on September 28th?
Did you guess the U.S. Bank Building?
You are kee-rect!
I'm going to be a part of the 2012 Stair Climb for the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA. It's an annual fundraiser for their inner-city programs. They do a lot of good for kids & families: after-school programs, summer camps, affordable preschool and daycare, teen counseling... I've been a member of the Y for quite a few years, and I've always been intrigued by the Stair Climb Challenge.

I had a bucket tear!
It's actually pretty amazing that I'm stepping foot on those stairs at all. Around 2008 I was jogging barefoot on the beach and rrrip went my right meniscus (that little colloidal cushion under your knee). Knee surgery followed. I asked the surgeon what I could do post-op. He suggested leg lifts, say, 50 a day.
"For how long?" I inquired.
"Oh, for the rest of your life."
"Anything else?"
"Hmmm... no."

Luckily I found an amazing physical therapist (Derek Plonka, Insight Physical Therapy in Santa Monica) who gave me a wee bit more to work with than that. Through a regimen of icing and strengthening exercises he got me back on track.

Then the other meniscus tore. This time, I opted for no surgery, only physical therapy.

After a year, I was solid on my two feet.

And then my back went out. Bulging lumbar disc. Back to Derek.


"Let me sample that creme anglais
one more time, okay?"
After two years of timid exercise and overzealous baking classes, things were getting, let us say, out of proportion.

I needed a change, so I swallowed the "Results and Recovery" Kool-Aid of P90X guru Tony Horton. Surprise surprise, with his exercise programs I achieved both results and recovery! All the dread plyometric exercises made my leg muscles stronger than ever, and my knees feel protected and safe. Awwww....

Before THAT all goes south (really, I'm just two lemon meringue pies and a Bûche Nöel away from disaster) I thought I'd give myself a challenge and go stepping for a cause. I've been running up and down the stairs across the street from where I live, and just last week I trained with the Hollywood Y up and down the CNN building--15 floors five times. I made it!

But I need your help. I'm part of a grand team: author Sally Nemeth (who, as a veteran of these climbs, is the Van Helsing of our group), voice-over goddess Kari Wahlgren, and housekeeper extraordinaire Nubia Avendaño. We call ourselves TEAM TURTLE. Slow and steady! Slow and steady! Our team has to raise $500, and we'd like to get it to $700 by the generosity of our friends. Could you throw a few bones our way to give us incentive? Go to my pledge page, it's really easy. Any amount will help.

Thanks so much.

Update: Due to the incredible and RAPID generosity of a few people, we've blown past our goal and have moved the goalposts (is that a thing? ) up to $1000. Thank you thank you!