Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy Bar-Mitzvah, Marvin

You have not been connected with the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference since 2011, but because so many friends are associated with it, you've taken to breakfasting across the street at a large building still called a bath house, located at beach edge across the street from the conference venue.

Friendships extend back to the mid or late 1970s, when you first began leading the late night fiction workshop.  Of these, one of the more significant is with Leonard Tourney, whom you met in the mid 80s and with whom your friendship merged into a business partnership lasting until he left his teaching position at UCSB, then moved to Provo, UT, where he began a second career at BYU.

You and Leonard participated in hundreds of so-called mystery evenings or weekends, in which you wrote, directed, and performed before audiences composed of individuals on employee retreats or tourist junkets of various sorts.  Your most memorable of these performances were at the Gainey Winery in Santa Ynez, but you have also performed at The Music Academy of the West, and various hotels, historical sites, and restaurants from Los Angeles north to San Luis Obispo.

You also gave weekend writing seminaars and co-hosted the Lions Den Saturday Morning Writing Workshop, which you have continued to host to this day, and the bi-monthly Woodside (suburb of Palo Alto, CA) workshop for twenty or so years, and which you ran solo until 2012.

In tastes and temperaments, you differ, giving your students a rich set of choices to follow.  Leonard seems to construct his plots as well-developed from the earliest draft.  Yours are more tentative and improvisational.  Given your rather edgy impatience and his immense patience, the potential for heated disagreement between you was instructive in its constant non-presence or relative lack.  Thus the resulting chemistry between you was of mutual benefit and, you like to think, instructive for your student clients.

Your favorite reminiscence of your times together came when your plans for one of your mystery plays called for the prop of a birthday cake.  Knowing you and Leonard would be the ones to share the cake after the performance was done, you went to a local bakery where you knew the pastry chef had studied in France and where he produced high-quality pastries.  Luck was with you.

The pastry chef gave you a cake with a message on it, Happy bar-mitzvah, Marvin, which had been a series of mistakes on the part of the order department, involving the fact that the bar-mitzvah boy's name was not Marvin and that it was scheduled a week later than thought.  The cake, with the greeting to Marvin, fit the cheap, exploitative personality of one of the characters in our drama.  The event being celebrated in our play was a birthday, not a bar-mitzvah, and out character was named William.  Thus the cake symbolized the cheap crassness of the character who bought it second-hand for use as a birthday cake.

You and Leonard knocked that cake back with a half-gallon of milk.  Years later, perhaps twenty, at Leonard's farewell party in Santa Barbara, you went to the same bakery, ordered a cake, and asked for the words Happy bar-mitzvah, Marvin, to be displayed on the surface of the cake.

Passing through the desert offerings at the buffet table spread for his farewell party, Leonard came upon the cake, stopped for a moment, his brow furrowed in thought until a smile of recognition arrived.  He reached for a pocket camera to take a shot.  "You know,"  he said while we were working our way through potato salad and hot dogs and deserts, "I've often thought of that original cake as a symbol of our doing those mystery plays.  I'm so pleased you remembered this."

On such gestures does friendship ride.

Tonight, you met for dinner at Cafe Luna where your conversation ran a spectrum of remembered high and low points in the friendship, of successes, failures, gains and losses.  Somewhere in the middle of your taking off on the way the Republicans were already at work demonizing Hillary Clinton and your own preference for Elizabeth Warren as a viable presidential candidate, you saw Leonard's expression change, his glance shift to the side.  He suddenly lifted his hand to offer polite interruption signals to you, then began calling out a woman's name.

You turned to see the target of his greeting.  The name rang a bell and even caused a kind of minor fugue state because you'd mentioned the name the day before at breakfast reminiscence.  Margi Mainquist.  Early in 1986, when Leonard had returned to Santa Barbara from an unpleasant teaching tenure at the University of Tulsa, he'd gone to the UCSB special programs department to present them with a pitch for putting on a week-end-long murder Mystery Play, "Murder at Morro Bay,"  He'd gone to pitch the idea and secure from the University a suitable second-in-command, which turned out to be you.  Thus dinner with Leonard was joined by the individual who'd brought you and Leonard together twenty-seven years ago.

For her part, Margi Mainquist's alert face twitched with pleased recognition.  "I know you two from somewhere,"  she said.  "You both look so familiar and fun.  It's been a while, but I know I know you."

You stood.  "Of course,"  you said, extending your hand.  "Tourney.  Leonard Tourney."  And you made a sweeping gesture toward Leonard.  "  Shelly,"  you said.  "Shelly Lowenkopf.  If it hadn't been for you, we'd be sitting at separate tables tonight."

"Now I know you,"  Margi Mainquist said.  "You're not Leonard Tourney.  Only Shelly Lowenkopf would do such a thing."

On such recognition does friendship ride.

Post a Comment