Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two Actors Meet in an Alley

The actor and playwright Ethan Phillips (aka Johnnie) sent this email to several friends today and I asked him for permission to publish it here. If I remember correctly, Johnnie and I first met when we were both waiters for Brew & Burger back in the seventies. Soon after that he landed the role of Peewee on Benson. Much later he played Neelix, the chef aboard the Voyager on Star Trek. Neelix's biography describes him as “a Talaxian originally from Rinax, a moon of the planet Talax, in the Delta quadrant.”

Ethan Phillips getting prosthetic makeup applied for the character of Neelix.

By Ethan Phillips

Once many years ago when I was working on Star Trek I experienced the sweetness of Robin Williams. It was about 6 a.m. on the Paramount lot and I had just had my Neelix makeup applied. I left the makeup trailer and made my way to stage 16; to get there I had to go down a long alley between stages 8 and 9. As I turned the corner to start my way down the alley, I saw someone turn at the other end of the alley and walk towards me. It was dark, just before dawn, and as the two of us approached each other, I saw it was Robin Williams. When we were maybe ten feet apart Robin shouted, “Mr. Neelix!” He then went into a very funny totally off-the wall two-minute riff on being an alien chef. The jokes and puns and crazy sounds and accents were nonstop, and it was obvious he knew the show and my character very well. I was his only audience. I was beaming! After a few minutes, with the kindest smile, he bowed, and said, “I love your work,” and he walked on down the alley. I felt like the luckiest actor in the world that day.

Radish-Leaf Soup

While I'm in New York this summer, my husband is in France, and I was very downhearted to learn that he was making soupe aux fanes de radis for supper—without me! I asked him to send me the recipe so that I could share it with you. It's based on a soup that his grandmother used to make (she was from Alsace). It is written in French, and it is very sketchy, but I will attempt to loosely translate:

Get a bunch of radishes (about 40 to 50, he says, which sounds like a lot but who am I to say?), making sure the leaves are really fresh. Remove the leaves at the stem, throw them in the blender with a little water, and chop them on low. Put the mixture in a pot with some salted water, and cook over medium heat for as long as you like because he didn't specify. Meanwhile, boil two potatoes, mash them roughly, and add them to the pot. Season with 1/2 tsp (each) cumin, curry, and pepper and cook another 20 minutes or so on low. Add 1/4 liter of milk and 2 tsp creme fraiche, and a little more salt if necessary. 

And that's it. But just in case I've forgotten something, here it is in French, exactly as he sent it to me.

The Invisible Illness

William Styron's essay on depression, published in Vanity Fair in 1989, is the best description of the disease that I have ever read. Its symptoms do not always yield to treatment, leaving the victim in so much pain that the thought of another day is unbearable, and there is nothing a spouse can do to alter that perception (believe me, I know). In the past 24 hours, people have said a lot of things meant to give sufferers hope, but much of it is bogus. Until we know more about this lethal disease, we will continue to lose its victims at an alarming rate, and until we take steps to erase the stigma of mental illness, we will remain in darkness. A good way to start is by listening to its victims. There is none more eloquent than Styron, whose essay can be read by clicking here. (The link takes you to the Vanity Fair website. Styron later published a longer version of the essay as the 81-page memoir Darkness Visible.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Mother's Dresser

I finally got up the courage to go through my mother's dresser. Two years have passed since she died, and in that time I've gone through the entire house, emptying and sorting. In June, my sister and I emptied the dresser. It was hard, but not as hard as it would have been last summer, when we were emptying out the attic. My mother's dresser was neat as a pin and smelled like lavender. I photographed almost every item, unwilling to let her personal things go without retaining a memento. Jewelry, scarves, my father's wartime ID bracelet (before dog tags), a necklace of gold beads that had belonged to her mother, dress gloves, a box full of discarded hearing-aid batteries with hundreds of notations in her handwriting, signifying the dates they had been changed. Her bedroom, her private sanctuary for 67 years, now bears no trace of her. But I have the photographs, and the handkerchiefs (my sister has the gold beads). I remember her giving one to me every Sunday when I was a kid (I would pick). That was so I would have something to carry in my purse besides the dime for the church offering. The lace and the embroidery was done by Grandma Tucker.