Lucky Me

I’m a guest blogger today on the Listen To Your Mother website.

Audition Day! Harriet’s Story

by TARJA on FEBRUARY 21, 2017

Submissions are officially closed and LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER San Francisco is rolling ahead to our  auditions in Oakland, Mill Valley and San Francisco! Janine, Mary and I were blown away by the quality of essays this year. Thank you to everyone who bared a piece of their soul and please believe me when I say that each and every story was recognized and appreciated. As always, it was very difficult culling it down to the next level of auditions.

For those of you getting ready to read your work aloud to us, no doubt you’re feeling excited, nervous, jittery. Maybe even terrified. A little sick to your stomach. We get it. It’s one thing to reveal yourself on paper and it’s another to give life to it with your voice.

Harriet Heydemann, one of our talented 2016 cast members, shares her audition day experience with us – and how her lucky charm made all the difference.

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My Lucky Charm by Harriet Heydemann

I don’t believe in luck. I think amulets and talismans are a bunch of hooey. But I brought a friend with me to my Listen to Your Mother audition, and she brought me good luck. Without Maria, I would never have been selected.

Maria and I had known each other for a few years. We had connected through our daughters, but we had never had so much as a simple conversation without one of them present.

We had agreed to have lunch after my five-minute audition. Maria came early and met me in the library. She could have waited at the table outside the audition room. But the judges were gracious hosts. They greeted Maria and invited her in.

“You can do this,” she whispered to me as we walked in together. “Just read like you’re telling me your story.” Maria sat beside me facing the judges. What the judges saw was a woman with wispy grey hair and a drawn face in nondescript clothing, wrapped up in an over-sized winter coat.

I knew the judges liked my story, at least on paper. What I didn’t know was if Maria would like it. And I never could have predicted was how much she’d like it. She laughed when I said something funny, sighed when I said something sad, and nodded her head in agreement when I said something poignant. For those five minutes, she sat visibly captivated. At the end of my story, her light hazel eyes brightened, and her broad smile filled her face. Without my prompting, Maria was the perfect audience.

“Don’t worry,” Maria said to me over lunch. “You were great. They will pick you. I know it. I watched the judges’ faces. They loved you.”

I liked hearing that someone other than my mother thought I could write. I didn’t believe Maria could read minds or tell the future. There’s only so much a good luck charm can do. But maybe she was a little clairvoyant. The next week Maria’s prediction came true, and I was one of the eleven chosen to read.

In May, Maria came to the performance. “I knew you’d be terrific,” she told me afterwards. Maria’s hair had become thinner. The ninety-minute show had exhausted her. What the judges didn’t know was that Maria had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer.

By August, she was gone.

Sometimes we only have five minutes to be a true friend, to be a good luck charm in someone’s life. Maria made me believe that my stars were aligned, that I had the winning lottery ticket, that something magical can happen when you focus on someone else for a perfect five minutes. I was one lucky writer to have Maria’s encouragement — to laugh, and to sigh, and to nod in all the right places.

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Thank you so much, Harriet. How wonderful to have had someone like Maria in your life.

To our auditioners, we can’t wait to hear your essays come to life in your own voice! Whether your lucky charm is something you hold in your heart, your hand, or a good friend like Maria, you will be terrific.

 

Salsa San Francisco

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Twenty guys, or maybe thirty, in less than one hour. That’s how it goes with 100 people learning to salsa. We form two large circles. The followers (“usually ladies”) are the inner circle facing out, and the leaders (“usually men”) create the outer circle facing in. I can tell the teacher is unsure about these gender specific words. From this point on we are “leaders” and “followers,” which requires a different self-assessment. We pair-off. The music is turned up, and we practice the basic step for about a minute. Then the teacher says, “Change partners.” Followers stay in place. Leaders shift left to the next partner, like a reversed carousel. The next guy holds out his left hand to me, and we dance another minute or so until the next “change partners.”

The teacher has instructed us to smile. Some people don’t know how. Are they trying to look tough, or do they just have bad teeth? A few words may be said. “How’s your day goin’?” More often, we just move our feet and count out loud, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” just like Sesame Street.

There’s not a lot of space on the dance floor. Ordinarily, I avoid close contact with strangers, but here, I’m an anthropologist. (Think Margaret Mead in heels and a short skirt.) I marvel at the diversity, not just differences in color and size, but attitude, from self-assured to smart-ass to shy to awkward, attitudes reflected in the way they dance. Self-assured has done this before. Smart-ass corrects my position. Shy can’t make eye contact. Awkward can’t do the simple basic step. He is sweating, really sweating. Sixty seconds become sixty minutes. When will the teacher say “change”? Please save me from this guy who’s never heard of deodorant.

Then comes Garlic Breath, and I stop inhaling. Next is Sweaty Palms, and I dry my hands on my skirt. There’s the guy in the Cal t-shirt. “I went to Cal,” I volunteer. Why did I say that? He might ask me what year? I could lie. Who would know? Finally, Hot Latin Ballroom, with requisite gold chain, whose torso twists like he’s made of rubber, and I am Dancing With the Stars.

Two of my 20+ partners had a few grey hairs. The rest, I figure I am old enough to be their mother. I tell this to Gary. “Try grandmother,” he points out. I look around the room. Maybe. But I can dance with the best of them.

Unsolicited Advice

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My ninety-five year old uncle called me after Ariela died, right after Shiva, the Jewish ritual of seven days of mourning. He told me he was sorry for our loss. “You loved her, you did everything for her. You gave her everything you could. Now, get over it. Move on with your life.”

At first, I was stunned. On the face of it, his words seemed so callous.

“He didn’t really mean it the way it came out,” his son told me. I wondered about my uncle’s curious advice.

My mother-in-law used to say, “When you live as long as I have, you can say anything you damn well please.” She was well into her eighties when she said this. Still, I didn’t want to dismiss my uncle too quickly.

I saw my uncle this weekend. He lives in Chicago now, and I don’t see him often. He uses a walker and has trouble hearing. He still plays Scrabble. He plays with the dictionary by his side and looks up words before he places his tiles.

He called me “Hairy-et.” I called him, “Uncle Rudy Kazootie.” My uncle from Luxembourg, a country too small to see on our globe. My uncle who manufactured draperies and bedspreads, who read the New York Times every day on the subway, who always wore a hat to cover his balding head, who rooted for the Yankees while my dad cheered for the Orioles, who was openly affectionate with his wife. “She’s a hot potato,” he’d say as he pulled her onto his lap, something my father would never do with my mother.

“I’m the last of the Mohicans,” my uncle said after my cousin Robert died last year. Robert was in his eighties. That left my uncle the last person to know my parents before I was born. “What were they like?” I asked him.

“Good people,” he said. “Your father was an exceptional person.” He put two fingers to his lips and kissed them, like he had tasted fine wine. Then, he squinted his eyes and pushed his palm against his forehead, trying to squeeze out more memories.

My aunt died more than ten years ago. My parents are both gone, too. Of his four siblings, only Rudy’s younger sister is left. A black and white photograph of his younger brother hung in a central position in my uncle’s living room. A handsome man in a soldier’s uniform. “He volunteered for a mission over France and never returned,” my aunt said shaking her head. He was twenty-two, younger than Ariela.

I told Gary about my uncle’s advice. “Don’t you remember Ariela’s favorite expression?” he said.

Ariela spoke with a computer. She used her eyes as a mouse. She had hundreds of phrases filed into folders by category and subcategory. When she was done listening to other people’s complaints about anything from traffic to taxes, from colds to Comcast, she’d navigate through her files and say, “Get over it.”

The Psychic

psychic cartoon We went sightseeing at the Baltimore Harbor last weekend. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and lots of people were out, meandering around the shops and stalls on the plaza. An old woman in a straw hat sat under an umbrella between the fire juggler and the arborist.   Beside her a large poster board read, “Psychic readings $5 and up.”

“Let’s do that,” my sister said. I was surprised that she would suggest something so woo-woo, but I was game. We had some time to kill.

Leslie The Psychic told me I was creative.

“Good start,” I thought.

Then, she asked me what I did. “I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m writing a book.”

“What’s it about?” Leslie asked. If she’s a psychic, isn’t she supposed to know that?

“About me and my daughter.”

“Your daughter doesn’t like this book,” Leslie said.

I nodded. How did she know?

“Where’s your daughter now?” Leslie asked.

Leslie was quickly losing credibility with me.

“She died,” I said. Leslie should have known that.

“Have you thought about the cover?”

“Well, my daughter was an artist. I was thinking about one of her paintings.”

“No.” Leslie shook her head. “Put that on the back. You need to put something on the cover that will make me want to grab that book off the shelf in Barnes and Nobles.”

So, now Leslie’s a psychic and a marketing expert.

“She doesn’t like everything you’re writing. You need to put something on the cover that she will like.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

“Your cover should have clouds, because she’s in heaven. And you should be walking along a beach.” Leslie drew a cartoon of a cloud and a stick figure on the back of her business card and handed it to me.

Not exactly what I had in mind. Leslie couldn’t draw very well, either.

“Your book will be a best seller,” Leslie said.

Well, that’s reassuring.

“Call me,” she said. “And God bless.”