Bruce arrived Thursday, from Chicago, our hometown, and we got him settled in at our friend Eric’s home-the three of us are good buddies. Thursday night I actually cooked Bruce a special dinner, mole meatloaf, mashed potatoes, quiche, elegant asparagus in a secret sauce, salad, and sweet potato pie for dessert. A semi-religious experience!
Friday there was a rehearsal at my school, The Blind Children’s Center, for our Celebration of Families, songs, plays, and a dramatization of my Family Song. This song describes all different kinds of families and the chorus goes:
But they’re a family, a real family,
There may be dust upon the floor, the roof might leak above,
But they’re a family, a real family,
Living in a house that’s made of love.
The children and I spent a good ten minutes discussing dusty floors and leaky roofs-my students are blind and partially sighted, but all students need to understand every concept in a song, in order to remember the words. We decided that even if your roof leaked and your floor needed mopping, you were still a family!
Being with my students always puts me in a great mood, I was smiling and ready for a trip that evening to the Simi Valley Cultural Center where we were treated to an incredible production of RENT. This theater, under the direction of musical genius Gary Poirot presents musicals that often put Broadway to shame! The stage is tiny but somehow accommodates riveting dance numbers and thrilling singing. Because of Gary Poirot and his fantastic troupe, I’ve had to revise my whole skewed image of Simi Valley. I hope Simi Valley people know what a gem they have in their musical director, who was our guest last Thanksgiving and made my Baldwin sound like a Boesendorfer!
Saturday February 13th, my radio show was pre-empted for the fund drive-(the week before, I raised $3,000 in one hour, so a day-off was in order!)
As soon as the sun came out, I collected all my stale bread and Bruce and I went to Kenneth Hahn Park and fed the ducks and pigeons. This National Park is just off La Cienega, near Slauson, and LAs best- kept secret. There is a lake stocked with rainbow trout and catfish, where mostly elderly fishermen visit and actually catch fish, and there are really beautiful and brave ducks who will take bread from your hand if you are patient. (Feeding the ducks is what I like to do sometimes, when human problems start to overwhelm me, I recommend it-join me sometime!)
I will never forget that Saturday night. Eric, Bruce and I had dinner at OPAQUE (Dining in the Dark). You may have read about it. It is a restaurant where the waiters, all from Braille Institute, are blind, and the patrons dine in pitch black darkness. (The chef is sighted and the menu choices are made before you are led by your waiter into the dining area). Our waiter was Marguerite, short, pretty and blind from birth. We formed a line, hand on the shoulder in front of us, went through two curtains, walked tentatively around what seemed like many curves and were carefully guided, one by one into our chairs, at a table whose shape was a mystery to us.
Since I teach blind children, and, each year, go through intensive training workshops where we wear blindfolds and perform various tasks, including eating, I was confident that I would sail through this experience easily and skillfully. It didn’t happen. This was not a workshop. This was dining with friends I could not see, eating food I could not always locate, hearing voices all around me, intensified, and experiencing myself in the forever dark world of my students. I sat silently for a while, on the edge of tears, with a profound emotion I could not name. I was not in the safe cocoon of school, but out in my own world which had suddenly become strange and a little frightening. I began to "Braille" the table, moving my hands all around the periphery until I encountered Eric with my right hand and Bruce with my left.
Marguerite materialized at my side and announced that she was putting a basket of bread on the table. We handed her our water glasses and she filled them, finding our hands easily to return them. I slid my hand to the bread basket and promptly stuck my finger into the butter container. Our salads arrived, I touched everything before picking up my fork, but still brought it up empty a few times, as I ate olives which suddenly seemed suddenly exotic, and tomatoes which reached new taste buds in unexplored sections of my mouth. When the main course arrived the conversation diminished as we concentrated on identifying the very foods we had just ordered. Bruce and I traded tastes from each other’s plates; a familiar activity which now had become a complex engineering feat.
The food was delicious and we finished every bite, including dessert, which I seldom eat. All flavors were enhanced. All textures were enhanced. I relaxed and basked in what had become an almost cozy darkness-the world of my students.
We lingered and talked. I had never heard the overtones of Eric’s or Bruce’s voice so intensely before. When I was time to leave, I wanted to stay. I wanted to live out the day without sight, and continue touching and listening in this new way.
Marguerite led us out of the restaurant, (the serendipitous address of which is 2020 Wilshire Blvd.) (!) and suddenly, we were in the light, all but Marguerite who dines in the dark every day of her life. It had been a delicious dinner and a profound experience for all of us. It had been a perfect event for a Valentine weekend. And the weekend wasn’t over.
Sunday afternoon was the annual Valentine’s Day concert, "Strange Bedfellows" at my second home, The Workmen’Circle. An afternoon of songs exploring every sort of relationship. Ruth Judkawitz, the choir director, wearing an uncharacteristic cloak of hot sensuality, slunk to the piano and sang the sultry, Peel me a Grape. Eric Gordon, the director of the Workmen’s Circle, sang the poignant, Does Anybody Love You? There were solos by other chorus members, and then it was time for Uncle Ruthie at her outrageous best. I sang my new song in which I declared my dog Muttl to be a far superior mate than any human-the join-in chorus went:
Husbands are a lot of work, and lovers are a pain,
Friends with Benefits bring none,
they just sit and complain!.
So my solution, though far- out, is one you can’t disparage,
Sign my petition and support, INTER-SPECIES MARRIAGE!
I sang my new song about Alzheimers, Rima’s Song, and a song which will never be on any of my future albums, Do Angels Get Horny in Heaven? and closed my set with Faith Petric’s beautiful Take Your Time, framed by the beautiful old classic, Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms. I have sung Take Your Time in concerts, to my two sorely missed beautiful husbands, Bruce Buell and Stan Schwartz.
Take your time, me lovely old lad, There ain’t no reason to hurry. As long as you’re able to wind up me clock I’ve got no reason to worry!
After our concert, Bruce and I drove to "Danny’s" in Venice, and saw an entertainer who knocks my socks off. She is Suzy Williams, a singer of every sort of song, a songwriter, and much, much more! Suzy’s voice can sound like a trumpet or like hot buttered rum, and, her moves can only be described as a kind of "scatdancing!" Bruce and everyone else in the room fell in love with her! Her Valentine program was the perfect way to begin our own Valentine Dinner Celebration, and you can be sure I will be devoting an entire column to Suzy Williams very soon!
When Bruce and I arrived for dinner at Le Pette Jardin on Robertson Boulevard, there were roses from Bruce, waiting for me on our table, and after a champagne dinner, complete with escargot, we went home and spent the rest of our perfect Valentine holiday in front of the fire-two old friends talking over equally old times, and singing, Careless Love, Go Way From My Window, and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose.
So that was my Valentine Weekend, and I hope yours was like mine! So much love. So many songs. So little time. Whenever possible, sing.
Uncle Ruthie is the producer and host of HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS, heard every Saturday morning (8:00am) on KPFK Radio, 90.7 FM. She also teaches music at The Blind Children’s Center in Los Angeles. Ruthie does concerts for children, families and adults, as well as teacher workshops. She teaches beginning piano, and especially welcomes students with special needs. She can be reached at 310-838-8133, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.