Vanishing Ink

In my hall closet, under a tumble of duffle bags and clothes meant to go to Goodwill (any day now), resides five shoe boxes filled with letters from family and friends that date back to my college days; letters from my mom telling me that dad was carving a new duck decoy, a fairly recent letter from my friend Mean Vick wishing she could get a fainting goat or a horse, a letter my Aunt Lulu sent when I was an intern at the Alaska Repertory Theater in autumn of 1981 and wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving for the first time ever. “[Your mom] said she was going to get a four pound turkey for this Thanksgiving,” she wrote. “I thought she meant it. I didn’t know they didn’t come that small. What I don’t know about cooking you could fill a very big book.”


Often I have to be in a strong state of mind before looking at these precious letters. They make the past tangible, and even things like my parents’ updates on their never-ending attempts to outwit the damn squirrels that got in the bird feeder are funny and endearing, because mom took the time to describe it in writing. Handwriting is powerful. The ink, still living on the paper even though its writer may be long gone, and energy carried in the curve of the letters as much as in the thoughts themselves, takes my breath away.

One of the themes in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is how technology is replacing, or has replaced, letters and real-life conversation. I bemoan the vanishing art of letter-writing even though the last one I wrote was about three years ago. But now I’m reminded of how important it is to put pen to paper and tell someone I love they’re important, even though it appears as though I’m just talking about roasting a turkey.Vick

Inspiration for the craft of letters and writing can be found at Castle in the Air on the always-fun Fourth Street shopping area in Berkeley, and Flax in San Francisco (while it’s still in its Market Street location). For pure eye candy, the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock still mesmerizes, almost 25 years after its first publication.


Very Superstitious

All the bad luck in one place.
All the bad luck in one place.

Understudies are usually portrayed as scheming little wannabes, Iagos who toss banana peels in the paths of the lead actors then lurk in the shadows, rubbing his hands together while waiting for the fall. As an understudy, I’m qualified to state that the stereotype is unfair. I’d never do anything that obvious.

Fortunately, theater people are a superstitious lot, and there are subtler options to try out:

• The blue and green markings on peacock feathers are thought to be an evil eye, and when used onstage cause memory outages and prop failure.

Mirrors onstage are thought to bring bad luck because of the possibility of breakage, also because they could cause technical issues with reflected light. Or they simply distract a focused actor because they’re shiny.

Whistling on or off stage is usually considered bad luck. Back before the invention of headsets, the grips would coordinate their actions based on whistle signals. If the wrong person whistled onstage, these could be interpreted as cues. “Watch out for that incoming . . . oh, bummer! I’ll call 911 after taking over this scene.”

Saying the name of that Shakespearean play with the witches. Some say that Shakespeare got the witches’ chants in the play from true witches, and they were not impressed with their portrayal. In retaliation, they cursed the show and there are endless stories of deadly stagings. Others say it’s merely because there’s so much violence in the play that it’s easy for something to go badly. Either way, the person who says “Macbeth” in a theater must go outside the theater, spit, turn around three times, then (here’s the great part) asked to be let back in. “Say [lead actor], I can’t remember the name of the play where she says, ‘out out damn spot.’”

I don’t advocate this type of behavior, of course. That would be small. Every performance night I wish the lead good luck and hand her a virtual yellow rose. Because that’s just the kind of understudy I am.