My Weekend with Ted Danson. Sort of.

If I won the lottery, I would have a massage three times a week. No, wait. I mean three times a day! Yeah, three times a day. Because I’m part cat (could you scratch my head just a little longer?), part dog (yes, right there, rub right there),

and part stressed out human being (I don’t care how much it hurts – I need deep pressure on those shoulders!).

Alas. I haven’t won the lottery. But this past weekend my sister and I decided to have our first annual Sisters’ Spa Extravaganza at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

As it turns out, so did Ted Danson.

Now you need to understand that despite living in Los Angeles, I am oblivious to the presence of the rich and famous. Partly this is because when that gorgeous actress goes out in public sans make-up, perfect hair and killer clothes, she looks a lot like, well, you and me. OK, better than me. But not up to Silver Screen images. So when people are screaming, “Oh my God, look! Isn’t that …. (fill in the blank?),” chances are I’m whipping my head around saying, “Where? Where?” while looking straight at the famous face. Who I don’t recognize because she isn’t made up like a movie star.

So here we are, relaxing in the co-ed pre-massage lounge in our fancy Ojai robes and sandals, sipping herbal tea and waiting for our treatments to start. When in walks…a man.

Frankly, the ratio of women to men getting massages is something like 5 million to one, so those hairy legs were a surprise in and of themselves. As our gaze went up from the legs to that famous face, my sister and I casually averted our look so as not to be caught in a classic Midwestern gaping pose. Which of course we both had on our faces but were trying not to overly humiliate ourselves.

Disclaimer: These are NOT Ted Danson's legs!

Really, why were we surprised? We were:

  • In Southern California,
  • At a place that is just ridiculously expensive (Two coffees and one granola yogurt parfait for breakfast cost $26. Without tip.), and
  • Hanging out with people who clearly live in a different universe than these two Cleveland girls (Clue: Conversation overheard on our early morning fitness walk: “I live in downtown Carmel, you know, where we don’t have addresses on our homes.” Why? Because these houses have names like “Tara,” that’s why.).

I wish I could tell you that our “rube-ness” stopped with the stupid expressions on our faces but it didn’t. Hayseeds that we are, we were busy texting and Facebook-ing our friends about our amazing near-fame moment. (We do have enough manners that we didn’t take his picture with our cell phones, so I guess we get one point for that.)

But seriously? Kind of a crappy life, if you ask me. Yeah, he has more money than God, and could afford to order a granola parfait all for himself at breakfast, instead of splitting it. But he doesn’t have what we have, which is anonymity. And that’s no small thing. We get left alone; he doesn’t.

I’ll take my life over his. But Ted, could I just touch your hair to see if it’s real or not? Come on, you’re a movie star, after all!

A Different World

You know what it’s like when you’re reading a really, really good book – how it takes you out of your universe and plants you in a world with different people and different experiences.  The end of the book can be jolting, as you’re catapulted back into your own life.

I’m a reader, and there are many books that have done that for me – The Poisonwood Bible, Love in the Time of Cholera, Plain Truth, The Glass Castle – A Memoir, and even the maligned A Million Little Pieces.

Well, Saturday night I had an experience not unlike reading a great book.  My son invited me to an underground club to hear a new band he introduced me to: Foot Foot.  He picked me up at 9:30 and we headed to Echo Park.  Although the first band was to play at 9, nothing had started yet so we headed down Sunset Blvd to Masa, the restaurant where he cooked for over a year.

Sunset Blvd in Echo Park does not look much like Palo Alto, or La Cañada, or Pasadena, or any of the other gentrified areas where I hang out.  It’s a busy street in a lower income area that attracts artists, musicians and lavanderias (laundromats).  I had purposely chosen not to take a purse, sticking some cash in my back pocket, and as we walked down Sunset, I was grateful for that decision.  I couldn’t help it – I felt out of my safety zone (although being accompanied by my son certainly helped).

Here’s where the different universe comes in.  As we were walking down the street, I was telling Andrew how cool it was that two years ago, he took Scott and me clubbing with him, and we heard The Hold Steady, a group that eventually put out an album that NPR’s All Songs Considered” named “one of the best of the year.”  As we were talking about the club we saw it in, two cyclists came by and shouted out to Andrew – “Hey, we know that club!”  Turns out one of them was one of his 13 roommates from his Silver Lake coop.

When we arrived at Masa, he was warmly greeted by friends that he had worked with, and they instantly made us feel like we were at home.  Stuffed with mussels and good wine (Andrew told me how to make the delicious sauce for the mussels), we headed back up the street to Echo Curio, where the band was playing.

A tiny place, Echo Curio was filled with perhaps 50 people, standing around, listening to the opening act, Pillows, which features two women with extraordinary voices.  The walls were covered with paintings; a mannequin stood by the wall dressed in a garment made of red heart playing cards (worthy of Project Runway, IMHO).  I felt like I had walked back into my youth, although I was by far the oldest person in the room, probably by a good 20 years.  Foot Foot came on – a solo act, as it turned out – and I tuned into a different kind of music and better lyrics than you get on commercial radio these days.

What a fantastic night.  Instead of hearing about my son’s life, I experienced it with him.  I met some of his friends, I ate some of his food, I went to one of his hangouts.

It’s not my world, but it’s a good world.  It’s not my life, but it’s a good life.  And it’s not my style, but it could be.

At midnight, Andrew brought me home, and I was catapulted back into my reality of suburbia, a house, a pool and a (very good) dog.  Just like being absorbed in an outstanding book.  Just like being jolted back to regular life as I turned the last page….

“Question Authority, If You Dare”

I’ve been an avid reader of the Los Angeles Times since moving to Southern California in 1976.  It was a consistently terrific newspaper but has suffered under new ownership and market realities over the past few years, which is a real loss for the community. Now a member of the Tribune Company, I see its future as even more fragile.

Consider Molly Selvin’s article in this morning’s edition: Challenge Authority, if You Dare… It’s a story that answers the question, “Why doesn’t anyone ever ask executives any questions around here?”

The tale starts with a new employee handbook the Tribune put out.  The handbook got rid of the old boilerplate, turgid, stiff language and replaced it with clear, crisp  and frank directives.  Quoting the Los Angeles Times quoting the handbook: “Ask your manager, supervisor, business unit head or anyone in Corporate any question you have regarding the business.  Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer.  You will earn respect and not get
into trouble for asking tough questions.”

All right! You go, Tribune!  Music to this communicator’s ears.  Alas, the story does not end there.  Sam Zell, the Tribune’s new chairman, attended a staff meeting in Orlando, where he was asked a question he didn’t much like by an Orlando Sentinel photographer.  His response was sarcastic and unpleasant. (And don’t even get me started on the content of his response, which was pretty appalling.)  He completed his response by turning his head and muttering a two-word obscenity at the staff member.  One can only imagine…

Oh, wait!  There’s no need to imagine.  Someone videotaped the meeting and now that infamous moment has made its way to YouTube and The Gawker,
where all of us can enjoy it.

Putting lipstick on a pig does not make the pig beautiful. Writing nice platitudes in your employee handbook does not transform a culture.  Please don’t mislead employees about your true nature.  It’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out.  Be genuine.  Be authentic.  Be yourself.  It’s OK – we’re all adults and we can deal with the truth.  What is hard to swallow and creates cynicism and disengagement is hypocrisy. If Mr. Zell didn’t agree with the policies in the handbook, then he should have spoken up.  And if the communications department published that new handbook without getting executive buy-in, well, shame on them.

Gee, why doesn’t anyone ask any questions?  Maybe because the answer is a slap in the face.  Communicators beware….

Juris Avoidance

I’m on jury duty this week.  Last night I performed the ritual known to all so honored – I called the 800 number to see if I was required to report or not today (I’m not).  But four more opportunities to serve are still in front of me.

We were  having dinner with some friends Friday night, and the topic of jury duty came up – OK, I raised it.  There were the usual comments about “50 ways to be excused from a panel” – half joke, half advice.  Then we got into a discussion about those of us who have actually served on a panel, and the sense of responsibility that goes with that experience.  I walked away impressed by how seriously we take this job, while at the same time we dread it.

Part of the dread is the inconvenience of serving.  We’re all busy, and taking time off of work to sit on a panel simply never fits into our calendars.  I have a staff member, for example, who was tapped for a three week trial that is now in week four.  There’s no way to plan for that.

And for those who are self-employed or whose employers are not as generous as Sun, serving means being out of work for the length of the trial, so can result in true financial hardship.

But there’s another piece of it, and that’s what came out at dinner last Friday – the enormity of the responsibility.  One friend sat on a trial where the defendant was charged with stealing two bottles of tequila.  Unfortunately, this was the defendant’s third strike, and conviction on this minor crime would result in a very, very long stay in prison.  So my friend said, “I’m looking at this poor schmuck, and I know he’s guilty as the day is long.  But should
this crime require paying with his lifelong freedom?”  (Yes, he was found guilty.  And yes, he’s in prison for the next 25 years or so.)

Another friend commented on serving on a drunk driving case, and how he ended up feeling sorry for the defendant.  Although worried about the guy’s driving record, they let him off.  I was horrified – drunk drivers are responsible for almost 40 percent of highway deaths in this country.  But trials are not a black and white issue, and skilled attorneys can be very convincing.

Add to this that prosecutors’ jobs seem tougher today.  For Law and Order or CSI fans like me, surely we already know everything there is to know about the rules of evidence, and we’ve seen with our own eyes how those crime-solving wizards on TV always seem to obtain indisputable DNA evidence.  Phrases such as, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” ring through our ears.  The difference between “reasonable doubt” and “indisputable-not-deniable-under-any-circumstances” thinking confounds us.

Yes, I dread jury duty.  I like my somewhat predictable life.  I have no desire to make 11 new friends on a jury panel.  I don’t want to have to think through issues of justice and question my own ability to pick through the pieces and make a decision.  But if my loved one was on trial, I’d want someone like me or my staff member on the panel.  Because then my loved one would be the “poor schmuck” being judged, and I’d want the very best panel possible to make that judgment.