I took my husband to the opening of The Fantasticks at Alameda’s Altarena Playhouse on Friday night. I had never seen it, although I grew up singing, “Try to remember that time in September … and follow, follow, follow, follow…” The musical is 51 years old and I am just a couple of weeks past 53. We’re both getting up there.
Mingling in the lobby before the performance, I recognized a woman but couldn’t place her. Eventually I mustered the courage to ask her how we knew each other. She said we met long ago through Weight Watchers. She added with a wink that we had been very (very) bad.
Immediately I remembered and adored her all over again. Lynne is my favorite kind of woman — smart with a terrific sense of humor, and I regretted not keeping in touch.
I told her I was looking forward to seeing the show for the first time. She described it as an “old chestnut,” but said that I was certain to know all the songs. She said her deceased husband, Stuart McIntosh, once performed the role of Mortimer in The Fantasticks, and that their daughter, Fiona, is the stage manager for the Altarena.
At intermission I introduced myself to Lynne’s husband, John Lathbury, and said he must be very proud of his daughter. (But Fiona is not his daughter. She is Stuart McIntosh’s daughter. Oops — wrong husband…) Lynne was sweet and charming as she straightened me out.
As it turned out I didn’t recognize most of the songs but the story is timeless —a “young lovers with manipulative fathers” thing. The line, “I’m 16 years old and every day something happens to me!” puts teenage girl attitude right in a proverbial nutshell. The other perfect line equates nearly 40 to very old.
You know you’re no longer young when you go to a show and identify with the parents more than the young lovers. Sixteen seems light years ago, and 40 —not so old.
It seems the universe keeps sending me that same message. My daughter Sarah, a graduate student at Cal, asked me to meet her in Berkeley for lunch last week. I parked in a lot on the south side of campus and strolled along Telegraph toward Bancroft past henna tattoo stands, hemp dream catchers and a rainbow of tie-dyed T-shirts, then through crowded Sproul Plaza.
It was familiar ground from when I was an undergrad in the late '70s. I loved college — Thursday night fraternity exchanges, wee-hour drunken heart-to-hearts with favorite roommates, fall football, the graffiti-carved wooden tables and smell of stale beer and peanut shells in the basement of Larry Blake’s” — ome sweet home-away-from-home.
But last week I saw that Larry Blake’s is now called Pappy’s and the brick walls are there but the wooden tables and peanut shells are just a memory. Passing under Sather Gate, I felt like “Where’s Waldo?” — circle the one who doesn’t belong.
I swam upstream through a swift current of teenagers and 20-somethings. Class must have just ended, and they were rushing off campus to get something to eat. Student leaders and activists stood like rocks in the river, handing out colored flyers for groups based on ethnicity, zero waste, gender equity, animal welfare — you name it.
And not one single arm reached toward me. I was their senior by more than 30 years, and it was plain as the basal cell scar on my nose that I wasn’t one of them. Surreal to be in such a familiar place and feel like a total outsider…
Then a gorgeous leggy blonde girl with a naturally perky pair snug in a bright pink T-shirt smiled widely at me, hand outstretched with a small loop of pink ribbon. “Would you like a breast cancer ribbon?”
Breast cancer. Right … I thanked her and took the ribbon, feeling a little sorry for myself.
When I was in grade school in the City, our family went to the Big Game every other year. My father graduated from Cal; his father, too. When my brothers and I were there together, our dad wore a three-piece suit to the Cal/Stanford game. Some drugged-out aggressive homeless guy confronted him on Telegraph. He stabbed his finger at my father and hollered, “I know you! I know who you are, Henry Kissinger!”
Back at his frat house, my brother had to give Dad a shot of Jack Daniels to steady his nerves. Dad was still trying to figure out if he knew the guy from somewhere.
So in all this nostalgia, another childhood lyric surfaces — “There is a season, turn, turn…” Each generation has its season. For college kids and the young Altarena actors, it’s springtime. My generation is heading into fall. The good news is that it happens to be my favorite season — the dark red leaves, the warm light, and I feel great.
Plus, one day some of those kids will walk across that campus and think, “When did everybody get so young?”
Plug for Altarena: Their 2013 season includes God of Carnage, Rent, Crimes of the Heart, an all-female version of The Odd Couple and the world premiere of The Song of the Nightingale. You can subscribe to their 75th anniversary season for only $88.