Mr. Smith Goes to High School


I’ve been a theatre afficianado since I can remember. And like every little girl whose dreams of theatrical success were filtered through Busby Berkley turntables and tap shoes, of course I wanted to be the STAR.

It started early. I logged more hours in front of our little black and white portable than the rest of my family put together. My creative guardian was my Dad, frequently heard pronouncing he could have been the next Fred Astaire. The man could dance. When I was five, he taught me how to jitterbug to Lester Lanin records. It was HIGH SOCIETY right there in our living room as the orchestra thrummed You’re Sensational. No Crosby or Sinatra for this Grace Kelly, my practice partner was the kitchen doorframe. But the biggest deal, the most exciting experience was the afternoon he came home from work and announced (duh-duh-DUH). . .

“I’m going to be in a show!”

I stopped breathing. Seems his boss, Mr. Wright, had a wife, Mrs. Wright, who was to star in this community theatre production. And they’d asked my Dad to be in it! Of course, now I understand this was predicated on that basic truth of amateur theatre, grab every available man then lock the theatre doors. But at the time, I thought we’d won the let’s put on a show lottery. There was Judy and there was Mickey and now — there was my Dad!

This extravaganza was entitled THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (I know, so bad it’s good!) and I attended every rehearsal. By week two I knew all the dances, each piece of music and everyone’s lines. I have three distinct memories of this production: my father sang Stouthearted Men as part of a cowboy quartet; Mrs. Wright — looking exactly like Gypsy Rose Lee — sang Let Me Entertain You to a hand mirror while wearing a black corset and fishnets and I nearly plotzed when I observed Mr. Wright devouring a McDonald’s hamburger before curtain on opening night — a Friday. I thought the hand of God was about to come down and slam the box office shut. As I pointed, my Mother quickly mumbled something about different rules and made a “don’t you embarrass me” flap of the hand.  I snuck a Sign of the Cross and went back to my peanut butter sandwich.

Well, my father was a success. A year later, the next show was called CIRCUS DAZE (cross my heart) and this time I had a part. Well, two parts, actually because the savvy director double-cast nearly every role. My Dad played a magician (we got to foster the little white mouse who was his prop) and a trapeze artist. I was cast in the pivotal roles of “circus guest” and (wait for it) tightrope walker!

It was deep into the evening when it came time for the circus grand parade. We entered from the back of the house, down the center aisle. I greeted the crowd from high atop my Daddy’s shoulders, in a get up I remember to this day: Peter Pan green tights and my Mother’s sleeveless black velvet evening top trimmed in rhinestone. This fell below my hips and was belted with patent leather to keep it on my 6-year-old frame. With arms thrown wide to the crowd, you could have mistaken me for Degas’ “Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers.” As an onstage experience, it set the bar pretty high.

By the time I got to high school I’d sung Buttons and Bows at a Ladies Sodality Luncheon, choreographed several seasons of summertime shows (the concrete floor in the basement was perfect for tap dancing in my Mother’s old high heels) and played the Queen in Sleeping Beauty. I was jonesing for top billing. What I got was a series of support roles. Okay, occasionally I was up for the lead, but my natural jack-of-all-trades abilities usually kept me smack in the middle of character land. Any baseball coach worth their salt knows you never waste a good utility player.

When Nancy Roux contracted mono during rehearsals for THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT… I was plucked from the chorus to be the ingenue stand-in. My heart swelled with excitement but, sadly, it was not be my Peggy Sawyer moment. It didn’t seem to matter that I sang and danced the role of “The Girl” to perfection (much better than Nancy, everyone agreed.) Nancy, she of the sparkling blue eyes and long blonde hair could have stepped right out of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale and she recovered just in the nick of time. [Ed. Note: See “Sleeping Beauty”.] So, high deedle-de-dee, the urchin gang for me…

Well ito my first year of high school, I became frustrated that my TV-honed talents were so clearly being overlooked. So one evening, I decided to confront my drama teacher (and de facto director/producer of everything), Mr. Smith and get things straight, once and for all. 

Allow me to set the scene: Immaculata High School — an all girls Catholic institution of some size. Christopher Smith — twenty-three and fresh out of the University of Chicago in his teaching debut. Mr. Smith taught English and Drama and we all adored him. He had a dark, neatly trimmed beard, wore corduroy jackets with suede elbow patches and spoke to us like adults. There may even have been a pipe, it was all very young James Mason.

One day in drama class (that is what we called it) he addressed the room to ask had anyone read “Ghosts?” My hand shot up. It was the only one, so he turned to me and said (tres, tres entre-nous), “Of course, you agree it’s a treatise on morality using syphilis as a thematic instrument, right?” I knew immediately I was screwed. Later I realized he meant the Strindberg play. Howeve, my “Ghosts” was a completely unrelated historical pulp fiction novel I’d devoured the week before. (Although, in my defense, it did have a very serious looking cover.) Self preservation kicked in. I was not about to lose this moment of personal connection with Chris Smith, heart-throb to the theatre community at large. “Oh, yes,” I nodded, “absolutely.”  The end. [Ed. Note: That was the day I learned about Strindberg, venereal disease and when acting like I know what I’m talking about, keep it short. Who says theatre doesn’t educate.]

By his second year at Immaculata, Mr. Smith had a veritable harem of female fans, of which I was one. We were all totally in love with him, blindly passionate as only a group of naive Catholic girls of a certain age and era could be for a clearly gay man. When he first arrived at the school, Mr. Smith resurrected the drama department with an energy and enthusiasm that was contagious. My freshman year saw an impeccable production of BLITHE SPIRIT, complete with staircases, gramophones and a flying Elvira. Even though Barb Ashooh did fall from the Foy Flying Harness and break her leg on opening night, we reopened two weeks later with Elvira in a walking cast playing to a sold-out house. Now, that’s show biz!  

We did Anoulih and Shakespeare, conducted a formal ceremony to initiate our own International Thespian Society (Troupe 1055 – see above.) We took bus trips to Boston and New York to see live Broadway musicals. We’d return to class sounding like so many Gene Kellys — “Gotta’ dance, gotta’ dance!” So we did. We staged the prologue from WEST SIDE STORY (that bit with all the whistling and finger snapping) and the Harmonia Gardens scene from HELLO, DOLLY (because we just happened to have a grand staircase lying around) and we loved every bruising minute. Our costumed bodies slid across the floor and descended the stairs — and all this during regular school hours. I do admit I had a leg up here. I could sing. I could dance. And I could steal choreography off the stage or screen like nobody’s business. But I still hadn’t managed to capture that elusive spot light…

INTERIOR.  IMMACULATA HIGH SCHOOL.  NIGHT.

We’d just wrapped our final performance of THEATRE OF THE SOUL by Nikolai Nikolaevich Evreinov, a 1915 monodrama in one-act translated from the Russian. This was full-on theatre of the absurd,  involving endless black drapes, jazz hands and multiple tubes of Ben Nye clown white. (I know, you’re sorry you missed it…) Frustrated by my role — silent in silhouette behind a scrim — I took a deep breath and decided this was the night. I would approach Mr. Smith.

In the darkened hallway outside his classroom, Room 165, my heart was pounding like a drum. Framed in the doorway and backlit by the streetlights below, he looked positively Humphrey Bogart on the runway in Casablanca. I took a breath,  “Excuse me, Mr. Smith?” “Yes?” he smiled and leaned in. Pregnant pause. Finally, “Ummm (polite cough), why don’t I ever get cast in the lead?”

Maybe I surprised him. Perhaps he found my blatant self-promotion unseemly for a Catholic school hallway. Whatever the reason, for the first time in our acquaintance his face darkened. He drew himself up to his full 5’9″ height, glared across the inch between us and said,

As the great Constantin Stanislavsky has said,
“Remember, there are no small parts, only small actors.”

With a jut of his bearded chin, he huffed away. It was a frustrating answer and not the one I’d hoped for. In time I realized Mr. Smith had an impossible task, distributing role after role to his hungry Catholic constituency while trying to maintain a semblance of fairness. As time went on, I also realized that a couple of the girls who had seemed to be his favorites — Sue and Carole — were just more natural Graces to Mr. Smith’s Will.

Luckily, he did not hold a grudge. That summer, Chris Smith realized what I believe was one of his life’s dreams and also fulfilled one of mine. He mounted a production of WEST SIDE STORY. It was my first taste of summer stock and still dazzles my memory. Chris was both producer, designer and star. In truth, his performance as “Tony” was neither the best acted nor the most musical, but it was certainly heartfelt. And he called in every favor and connection he had to get this show up. He secured the Practical Arts Auditorium — a beautiful 1,500 seat theatre; assembled a conductor and orchestra for the recessed pit; and rented the actual road company sets.

Although the rest of the cast were locals, he jobbed in a “Maria.” Noel Fratterigo was a soprano from the New England Conservatory of Music. She truly could not act but she sang the shit out of those high notes, which went a long way when you got to the Quintet. But my favorite move — in tribute to the legend of Jerome Robbins choreography, Mr. Smith had hired four dancers from the Boston Ballet. Our very own ringers — Chita Rivera and George Chakiris would have been proud.

So of course I was cast as a Puerto Rican. My Irish Catholic Consuelo looked perfectly natural next to Maddy Williams Episcopalian Rosalia. Strictly a musical decision, vocal coach Marty Battista declared. She needed us in I Feel Pretty since we were the only two girls classically trained Maria wouldn’t sing right off the stage. Fine with me!

And guess what? Remember that crazy habit of mine, stealing choreography? It came in quite handy on this production. [Ed. Note: Please remember this was way before DVRs or DVDs or even VCRs. WSS was truly event television, broadcast once a year. And I’d seen it every time.] As an unbelievable cast-building exercise, Mr. Smith announced he’d rented the entire downtown movie theatre for the evening and was hosting a private screening for the cast. It was the fanciest thing that had yet happened to most of us.

So of course, the next day at rehearsal I taught everyone the choreography for America and that lovely cha-cha sequence in the gym (you know, when Tony and Maria meet cute and dreamy-like.) Why, yes — the production did have a choreographer, a Miss Evelyn Howard. Her bio mentioned she’d entertained the troops in USO and Red Cross shows, and my guess was WW II. We’d been rehearsing for weeks and she was still blocking the prologue. I was impatient. I decided she was too old and slow, so I took it upon myself to fill in the gaps. Yes, she did notice. But instead of whacking me with her ballet stick, she offered me a scholarship to her dance studio. I dismissed her. (Oh, the ignorance of the young.) I still regret that decision. At the time I was convinced she had nothing to teach me. A few years later when I started to study dance seriously, I realized I’d missed the boat. Had I accepted her offer at age 15, I may have had a fighting chance at developing genuine technique. By 20, it was too late. Hubris, we have a problem…

Mr. Smith did not return to school the next year, no word as to why. I realize in writing this that I never really got to thank him. Not for paying me the compliment of assuming my fluency in Strindberg at age 13. Not for insisting we see the original production of FOLLIES during it’s pre-Broadway run in Boston when Yvonne DeCarlo was still singing Can That Boy Foxtrot before it was replaced by I’m Still Here. And certainly not for tossing a bucket of cold Stanislavksy in my face during the hour of my discontent.

If I could, I would thank him for the passion. The passion he instilled in me for the craft and the business of theatre. He taught us to build actual flats. He introduced us to costume plots and spirit gum. He explained all about Actors Equity and IASTE and Local 1. I’d thank him for the passion he bestowed with equal measure on the dramatic, the scholastic and the musical aspects of theatre. And I’d certainly thank him for the endless hours and I can’t imagine how many personal dollars it took to mount that fabled production.

But most of all I’d thank him for the passion he stirred in the hearts of that group of incredibly lucky girls. In the moment, we all thought we were in love with him and in a very special way, we were. Because Mr. Smith was the magic that is theatre.

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All Aboard That Musical Tourettes Train…


She said, “Yeah.”
I countered, “Yeah.”
Now both, “Oh, yeah.”
What condition my condition was in…” BIG high five.

The above “yeah-yeah” exchange just took place in the lunch area at my current freelance gig.

I have this thing I call Musical Tourettes. This should not be confused with the neurological disorder Tourette’s Syndrome, which like many a medical disorder can use all the research dollars it can collect (hint, hint, click here).

What I’m talking about is my automatic tendency where one word, one sound, and I’m off singing. Apparently, I’m not alone. Rolling Stone has assigned Jeff Beck the same affliction. (Do I hear a new category for next year’s Grammys? Let the nominations begin…) As a group, it appears we already have our own Facebook page.

Now back to the lunchroom. My co-worker, Joan, and I are of the same demographic, which helps with the admittedly out of date reference. All it took was that first word, “YEAH,” delivered with the proper emphasis for me to hear the conductor’s, “All aboaaaard!”

“Surely, you jest. Just one word?” You betcha. Sometimes, just a sound and I’m off and running. While this may seem like a musical blessing, occasionally it can get in the way. (I hear you chuckling at that Mac Book Pro. That was typed ironically, so the joke’s on you!)

A while back I was an assistant at a theatrical literary agent. It was a cool job. Interesting. Different. My boss was a dream and we (well, she) represented some significant clients (Tony Kusher, anyone?) This was early in my awareness of my affliction and some days at the office, I’m sure I did a passable imitation of Dolby surround sound. It only took three or four musical mutters before I’d hear,

“Crap, Dezur. You’ve got the sickness today.”

Joyce was great to work with. But if you’re not holding a ticket, I’m sure the Musical Tourettes Train is as welcome as the elevated express hurtling past your bedroom at 3 AM. So I’d try to stop. I would. But that was like asking me not to breathe. I’d overhear a word or catch the rhythm of a pencil tapping and my brain would immediately fire:

“Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom, when the jungle shadows fall…”

Or the phone would ring (back when phones actually rang):

“Zing went the strings of my heart.”

I became more aware of my Musical Tourettes out of necessity. I needed to keep a job. Sometimes I’ll find myself humming a tune or a lyric, completely unaware of what had flicked the switch. Part of my control was learning to trace it back. For example, with all the cars and jack hammers in Manhattan, the Soul Survivor’s Expressway to Your Heart is frequently at the top of my playlist. And many an emphatic knock on the door has launched the bass line for that oldie but goody Midnight Confessions by the Grass Roots. Yes, kids, that’s how it’s done.

For non-MTs, I assume being around one of us is akin to hearing the annoying bass line rumble for your neighbor’s stereo (anachronistic, but go with it.) You know, that night when they played the theme song from The Monkees. Very, very loud. Over and over and over again. Nothing like the repetition of a 1-4-5 progression to peel the paint off your auditory nerve.

Don’t get me wrong — I adored The Monkees. They were my first “adult album.” (Careful. Don’t shatter the memory of my fragile, pre-teen dreams.) Most of my friends were hot for Davy Jones. But I had a thing for Peter Tork. He was tall and I had standards.

But back to the task at hand. I’ve often wondered about the science of this phenomenon, my Musical Tourettes. Unlike breathing, which is controlled unconsciously by specialized centers in the brain stem, music memory resides in the medial pre-frontal cortex. The basic activity of this region of the brain is thought to be the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.  Orchestration. Musical Tourettes. Makes perfect sense to me.

Actually this puts me in mind of the feeling I get while pursuing any creative outlet: acting, singing, writing, setting the table for dinner guests. (My mother, Jan, taught me real good!) During each activity, I alway have this watermark awareness of my brain. A sense I can almost see the words, shapes and ideas pinging wildly across the colorful background of that moment’s pinball game. And the bells, the clanging, the whistles required to underscore this creative arcade? Yep, my Musical Tourettes.

So while I’m grateful for the advent of the iPod and Pandora Radio, I’m gonna’ keep my seat on that Musical Tourettes Train. To Georgia. Leavin’ on that midnight train. Woo-Woo.

See, I really can’t help myself.

This Sponge Is Saturated


As I begin this official ripening process, I need to face down a major conundrum in my life. And leave it to a 1958 Rosalind Russell movie to effectively frame the issue for me.

Auntie Mame:  Oh, Agnes! Here you’ve been taking my dictation for weeks and you haven’t gotten the message of my book: LIVE!
Agnes Gooch: (tepidly)  Live?
Auntie Mame:  Yes, LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving themselves to death!

See, here’s my deal. For years now, apparently I’ve been waiting for the right moment to start my actual life. Not consciously, mind you. I’ve been cleaning my closets and paying my taxes along with the rest of you.

Maybe it was the palm reading by that Argentinian folk singer, Nehuseniã, back in college. She took my hand, looked deeply into my eyes and said with great portent and a thick Brazilian accent, “You are an old soul. You will come to prominence later in life recreating something from the past.” Perhaps it was playing all those mothers, maids and matriarchs early in my career [I was tall. What’s your point?] That alone could have thrown me off my trajectory and into an unfulfilled ingénue loop where I’ve sat waiting for the appointed poison apple/wolf/fairy godmother to stop by and release me into adulthood.

Whatever the truth, living the “solitary life” (i.e., no kids, husband or mortgage) is not unusual in my circle here in the city. This scenario can seem poetically free or just plain sad, depending on the weather. But one thing is certain, it leaves everything up to me — the good and the bad. And since I don’t have to negotiate with anyone but myself to make changes in my life, where’s the big deal?

Given the choice [Ed. Note: Didn’t she just say that’s EXACTLY what she has?], I’d take living as Auntie Mame over Agnes Gooch. But for some reason, I keep stepping back into the Gooch’s shoes. To many — sometimes even myself — I am Auntie Mame. Extravagant, flamboyant, creative. Sixteen years ago when her daughter was born, my sister-in-law, Michelle, revealed she’d immediately cast me in that role with my newest niece, Claire. Since my nom de tante was already “Auntie Dee,” the stage was set. All right, I didn’t so much take them all on travels around the world as gift them of books to read. Educational. Enlightening. Infinitely cheaper to ship.

To others — and I head up this list — I’m Agnes Gooch, the faithful, schlumpy, diligent admin support for just about everyone’s life but my own.  I used to trip over myself making sure the new co-worker felt welcome. “Help paint your apartment, neighbor, why sure!!!” More than once on the job I’ve volunteered to take over someone else’s workload just because I could. Ever vigilant in my ear was my Mom whispering, “Be quiet. Work hard. Eventually you’ll be noticed.” But that path hasn’t ended up taking me where I want to go. And I’m pretty sure by the end of her life, even my Mom would have tweaked that advice.

So, who am I? Yes, yes, we all know the answer — I’m both. I’m everybody, as are we all, Amen. I’m Mame. I’m Gooch. I’m Catwoman and Donna Reed. I’m the Flying Nun and Shirley Partridge. I’m Peggy AND Kelly Bundy. I’m even Roseanne, with and without the Barr nuts. [The iconography of my youth. Keep it moving…]

Back to my original framework, most of the time in my world, I feel like Gooch. For years, I’ve been that thirsty sponge of obedience, standing on the sidelines waiting to soak up instruction and excitement, attuned for permission to finally what? Wipe up life’s messes? Ring myself out? Well, ladies and gentlemen, as a manager I once worked with used to keen in frustration when that “one too many” of items was introduced at a team meeting:

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This sponge is saturated!!”

More of her anon. Me, I’ve reached my tipping point. The time has come to throw down Gooch’s dictation book and whip off the Coke-bottle glasses. I intend to slip into Mame’s opera pumps and toss that ermine-trimmed cape [Figure of speech. ONLY faux.] grandly about my shoulders. I finally have an appointment with the precipice of my own womanhood and I’m not about to be late. Because, in the brilliantly absorbent words of that “femme fatale,” Agnes Gooch:

Can I have an AMEN. And… Scene.

Pennsylvania Six Five O-O-Ohhh…


I would like to thank Michelle Obama for helping me inaugurate this blog.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those brilliant moments –  you know the kind I’m talking about. Time stops, sound dims and you see that BIG IDEA literally hanging right in front of you; crystal clear with a klieg light drop shadow. For me, a previously messy tangle of missed hopes, dreams and opportunities suddenly did an about-face and revealed itself as the perfect plan. And in a moment, I understood EVERYTHING.

By the next morning, however, I’d misplaced the blueprint. I hate it when that happens…

I was having dinner at Nizza, a lovely “Riviera bistro” in my neighborhood (Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.) Gerry and I are recent acquaintances. I met him through my long-time friend John, who’d been singing Gerry’s praises for years. Since I’m an actor/singer/writer and Gerry is a composer/arranger/accompanist, John thought we’d have a lot in common. He was right. And now Gerry and I are having dinner to discuss the possibility of working together on a new show idea of mine, RIPE.

Following appetizers — and one kick-ass Hendrick’s martini — we start to discuss the show. Now even though I’d chewed on this idea for years, I couldn’t yet spit out the PowerPoint version. So while I struggled to explain my premise to Gerry, I found it necessary to pull out all my highlights, history and hopes and set them on the table. Gerry’s an agile guy. He doesn’t trip over the landscape. Finally, I finish. He leans back and says, “Some time ago I made a decision to only work on shows that truly interest me. This idea fits right in my wheelhouse.” It’s agreed. We will work together. Cue the orchestra, the overture begins…

Now, since I’d tossed all those creative balls in the air, by the end of the evening a few were still bouncing. And that was when the magic happened — when everything aligned. And I knew in a moment the way for me to create this new show was to blog about it.

Over martinis on Ninth Avenue the evening before, the idea had sounded clear as a bell. By the next morning, I was Ethel frantically braying at Lucy, “Honey, what was our plan again?” Still, I couldn’t shake the determined feeling that what I’d arrived at over dinner was the way to go. My task now was to locate a creative particle accelerator somewhere inside my brain and get those freakin’ atoms to behave.

The following week, all I did was think. I ruminated. I pondered. I _____ (insert heavy-handed synonym of choice here.) [Ed. Note:This blog will occasionally be interactive. Keep shoes tied for safety.]

“Maybe,” I said to myself, “if I tidy up, sweep some of the administrative crumbs aside, things will start to roll.”

So I secured my domain name (www.ripeproject.com). I registered for a two night “How To Blog” seminar at Gotham Writers Workshop. I Googled “Best Blogs of 2011” and read through the listing complied by Time Magazine. As a blog virgin, I began to fear I needed some mountain-climbing equipment. The learning curve looked mighty steep. Still none of this regenerated the missing blueprint.

So I tried NOT thinking about it. I picked up a book and read it through in one night. It was an okay story, but a lousy book. So I tried another. [Ed. Note: my one bedroom apartment could function as the library for a tiny town. Books will be mentioned.] This second book, LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave was an aching story by a tantalizing writer and it set everything ringing – my ears, my mind and my heart. Even though it had nothing to do with me, it was all about me. The atoms were stirring again.

Tonight, as I opened my mail box, I saw a letter — a long, elegant white envelope. Where the return address should be, just two words embossed in blue: Michelle Obama, address implied. Now, dear reader, I know this is an auto-generated mail piece. You know this in an auto-generated mail piece. And we both know that the First Lady couldn’t pick me out in a line-up. Even so, for just a second my brain burbled happily, “Oh, I got a letter from Michelle Obama. Sweet.”

[SFX] CUE Recurring Life Tape: Mirror Mirror 

As I gracelessly huff the three flights to my apartment, I stare at the envelope and the diatribe begins.

“Michelle Obama is younger than you are, has a great pair of arms and rocks a sweater set. She’s an accomplished attorney, the mother of two gorgeous, intelligent children and married to the President of the United States.”

The afterglow of Michelle’s postal attention fades before I hit the first landing.

TRACK TWO: Peggy Lee sings Is That All There Is?

“How did she do it? How did Michelle Obama create THAT life while I created — um, mine?”

The compare/contrast is never pretty but it’s a recurring theme for me. Maybe this explains my television addiction. It’s much easier spending Thursday nights with Michael Weston and Sam Axe tactically tripping the matchheads of their scorched Miami lives than actually dealing with my own. Throw in a DVR, I officially cede control.

But as I reached my apartment door, I remembered Gerry and the dinner and my project and suddenly I had a handle to grab on to. And I realize — I see the blueprint again — looking for all the world like a white envelope from Michelle Obama.

So, this project. My project. For several years it’s been little more than a title: RIPE. Evocative, I’m hoping, for me as well as the audience. RIPE will be a journey through story and song investigating what’s involved when you finally step up and live your authentic life.

Near the end of that dinner, Gerry had posited that perhaps this blog could try to illuminate the creative process – something that intrigues and confounds many, even those of us in the thick of it. Just the reflective task I was looking for, explaining me to myself.

So thank you, Michelle Obama, for helping me to launch my first blog and my first post. I haven’t opened your envelope yet, but I will. I wanted to take a picture for this posting (Doesn’t it look significant!) I have a feeling I know what’s inside. A request. For support. And there’s the creative for you, folks. It happens in the everyday. This envelope, seeking support has provided it to me instead. Without even revealing its soft chewy center, it’s helping me uncover mine. This might not have worked for everybody. But it did for me.

So I invite you to tag along for the ride. And now a toast to two women – Michelle Obama and me. We both have some extraordinary qualities. And by the way, I have this funny feeling that just like Gerry, Michelle and I are destined to become good, good friends. Hey, you never know…