Thursday, October 20, 2016

Home (Bitter) Sweet Home

Too poor to be the Waltons...
It's a kind of landmark. With mom Carolyn Beaupre moving to Lakeside Manor (855 Brinkby Ave. #118, Reno 89509 | 775.827.3606), for the first time in 63 years, there is no one with the last name Beaupre living in Virginia City. Seeing the house we built as a family makes me tear up a bit. It was my mom's dream home when we moved in in 1959. It's way too early to know if things will work out in Reno for mom, or what's going to ultimately happen with the house. Just feels very strange to think there is no family in Virginia City. Many, many years of memories, celebrations, great food, and so much love, the walls could barely hold it all.

"OMG, Jon! I was in that house in the summer of 1978 when I was traveling across country via Greyhound bus and dropped a dime (! ) in the payphone to look you up. You weren't around but your sister Heather answered and your folks took me in for a few days (and I went back a few months later for the Clampers (?) ball). It was one of the most unusual, enlightening experiences I've ever had in my sheltered life!!! I know that house!!!!!"
  - Patricia Pippert

Patricia, you make me laugh and cry at the same time. I'm so happy you got to see this place. I had forgotten that you stayed there! Much love then and now to you and yours..  I remember being at a bar with your dad and he asked me if I wanted another drink. I said, "I'm fine." He said, "I know that. But do you want another drink." Really taught me about the power of language/humor and how to accept a compliment.
 -Patricia Pippert

I have some great memories of that house. It was just yesterday! Need to find those photos.  Oh man. We all got a large dose of "adult" in VC.
  - Vickie Wolfe

Hey - you know the place as well as anyone! Do you remember that my dad greeted Birdie at the front door in his jockeys and just about nothing else but a glass of wine?
  - JNB

I don't think I knew another way to open ones front door till I moved away...
  - Desiree Davis

I really have to wonder if you know the family of my best friend. The Jumps. I know there are many in the cemetery up there.  I'm actually originally from Miami, so it's not a completely new experience. I'm enjoying watching the leaves change that's for sure! I do miss my mountains, though.
  - Maureen O'Conner Weaver

Maureen, belated happy birthday! I'll have to look for the 'Jumps' in the cemetery when I am next up there. How do you like living away from the west coast (well, away from Reno anyway...)?

Oh, I so feel for you,Jon. My family lived in the same house in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for 50 years. When we had to let go of the house, I felt utterly bereft.  Truth is (and was) that a lot of complicated life took place in the house where I grew up....which for me, layers the nostalgia. Maybe this is true for you, too, with your childhood home. Everyone has a unique experience.
  - Melissa Hurst

Melissa, I remember hearing about the Chagrin Falls house when we were in school together - sounds like a magical place (both the city and your home).

I may have visited that house once or twice when young. Sad times when only memories are attached to a place.
  - Donna Marmorstein

I am so torn. Love the memories keep is informed
  - KJ Johnson

I loved living in V.C. And I love the Beaupre family dearly!!!!!
  - Glenda Jenson

Remember you will always hold the home you loved and memories with you in your heart. It will bring those happy times to you when ever they are needed to bring you a smile. Just like a decamp bus line bus 33. I always think of excitement and stories it was holding to be told by its passengers. : )
  - Valerie Mays

Wow, that's quite the thought...
  - Jenn Violet Callahan

Nice post Jon ... memories ...
  - Jani Buron

Virginia City? I didn't know this about you. I had fun up there when my cousin lived in Carson. Lots of history.
  - Ellen R. Stein

"Jon Thank you for the image of THAT House... The stories you've written and told... The amazing life-context you created of your childhood there rests vividly inside me. I recall my own visit to Virginia City, Nevada and how I walked down the street to see that home and to see the hotel that your family managed... It's so vivid and such a great family history Jon. My spirit is with you just now...Remember the story of the airplane in the basement? Remember the story of ice skating in the bedroom?
   - Lynn McLaughlin

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stitches & Scars

I’ve never had a significant surgery

…before April of this year.

Scared, anxious, utterly aware of the seriousness of
this surgery, so close to my spinal column, but it simply became a reality:  I was unable to function ‘normally’ without doing something about the shooting leg pain that never left.

* * *
Keck is only 15 minutes from my home
The staff at USC Keck were wonderfully reassuring and supportive.

Then they stabbed me full of needles, put sensors all over my torso,  drew a bunch of my blood.  Plastic tubes hanging off my body, some pumping stuff in, some taking fluids out.  Ok so far.

“You might feel a little pinch…”

The neurosurgeon, Dr. Liu, not only explained what would happen, he also reassured me of the effectiveness of this procedure.

Finally, wheeled into the operating room, filled with massive machines, and a very kind, friendly staff again.  Head nurse – I think his name was Zac – covered with tattoos.  I felt at home.  It is the eastside after all.  I surrender.

Dr. Chbeeb, the anesthesiologist, is impossibly young.  I asked him why he specialized in anesthesiology and would it make any difference that I taught at CSULA while I’m in a USC hospital.  He laughed and said he liked taking people’s pain away, and no, they were happy to accept patients from CSULA.  We bumped fists (less infection possibility than a hand shake).

Someone said “Already.  Let’s put this patient under…”  My body flooded with Valium and other nice things.  I’m instantly warm, comfortable, very drowsy.  This is going to be no sweat.

* * *
Not MY X-Ray, but very similar.
Note the pinched spinal chord at the bottom.
The operation is called a ‘Decompression of the Lumbar Spine.’  What was astonishing was that for the complexity of the procedure, it took just two tiny incisions.  Amazing.

* * *
I awake screaming, tears squeezed out of my tightly closed eyes, in more pain than I have ever felt.  I squeeze the side of the bed so hard, I managed to jiggle around all the tubes and needles in my arm so that I end up bruised from the back of my thumb to my elbow.

I thought these people liked me!  Now it just seems like they’ve found exactly the nerves to inflict the most pain possible.  Not true, of course, it just felt that way.

“Give him some more…” someone says.  Still, screaming pain in the core of my body.  “A bit more” the voice commands.

Pretty quickly, the absolute worst of the pain subsides, but I’m clearly in for the long haul.

* * *
Working through the pain at home has been hard, as the anesthesia has worn off, and I’m back to existing outside the all-encompassing embrace of the hospital.

My former student Luis has temporarily moved into my place to help
My best pal and care-giver
me out for a couple of weeks.  He’s as close to a son as I can imagine.  We have a long history, mostly of my mentoring and developing a close friendship, helping him in any way I can, and he helping me numerous times by staying in my place when I am out of town, shooting and editing news projects, and in general hanging out with mutual friends.  Right now, I’m really leaning on him as my main ‘wing man’, helping with the heavier chores and cooking.

On that front, Luis is a grad of Cordon Bleu, and every time I turn around, he’s cooking delicious, tempting food – this may turn out to be the best thing about recovery.  T-Bone steaks, grilled squash/eggplant/onion & granny smith apples.   Potato leek soup with smoked pork neck bones.  Chilaquiles, with salsa.  Croissant bread pudding with stewed strawberries and pears.  Luis is great company; we have lots to talk about, and he laughs easily.  Compared with what I would be getting in a recovery hospital, I’ve struck it rich.  Luis brings friends over, which helps make my place a little more lively – he’s a great room mate, and really puts me at ease.  I know if there was a problem, he’d be there.

* * *
Which brings up the big issue of this post.  A week after the surgery is my birthday.  I’ve finally attained 62 years, which a week ago didn’t seem possible.  Today, with back brace, a walker, pain meds, and rehab on the horizon, I’m really feeling every one of those years.  The two hour surgery requires only two band aids.
Amazing, tiny incisions worked their magic

Despite the obvious care and concern of the great staff at the hospital  (especially to prep nurse Simone, who kept up a steady stream of conversation with me that was both funny, reassuring, and graceful in what she had to do and supervise in prepping me for surgery.  I’m quite simply in awe.)  The surgery and my birthday being so close to each other inevitably raised questions of age, mortality, fragility and how our lives are likely to be more and more impacted by health care, medicine, examinations, labs and the like as we grow grayer.

Also, this is a big one.  Sixty two was the age generations before us were allowed to move off the production line, and start taking life easier.  For my generation, 62 will just fly by.  As soon as I recover from this surgery, I’m back to work, and not likely to even consider retirement for at least another decade or more.

So I’m back to feeling a little anxious; not short-term, like worrying about the surgery, which is done, but long term.  How much productive time do I have left?  Have I treated the people in my life with the respect and affection they deserve?

Have I thanked people enough?  Not just regarding this surgery, but in life, in general?

* * *

George, Cecilia & me (Ctr.)
On my actual birthday, April 19, my personal social media started going crazy early in the morning.  By 12:00N, there are 19 voice messages, 26 texts, and an uncountable number of emails and FaceBook birthday messages.  A lot are from students, both current and from the rest of my teaching career, and from so many people from my past, some I haven’t seen in decades.  I get a call from my friends George Lewis and Cecilia Alvear.  George's birthday is a day before mine, and I've celebrated with their families for a number of years.  Cecilia called me up so that the whole gang at her house could join in singing happy birthday to both of us (and Cecilia's sister Magdalena's 4 year old grand daughter Sasha). 

The birthday messages move me.

I’m a cynical journalist, media watcher and teacher.  I remind everyone that it takes just a couple of clicks to send a birthday wish, usually from people who wouldn’t be reminded if it wasn’t for the electronic wizardry of FaceBook.  So as a media theorist, I’m jaded and unimpressed.

On the other hand, no one is forced to send me these kind thoughts.  On this count, I have to give FaceBook my grudging admiration.  The simple ability to send a nice thought to someone easily is the internet at its best.

I am virtually positive that there are folks who deserve more recognition than I do, and I don’t see this long string of postings as proof of my popularity.  Rather I see that long list of messages from people who took a few seconds to write me as part of the rich web of relationships, shared experiences, and connections we have stitched together over the past half century or so.

Old pal Linda was a friend in high school.  We had years of adventures in her VW bug, getting into the kind of benign trouble you are supposed to at that age.  I’ve had no connection to Linda and that circle of friends for 45 years.  Students, like Carlos in San Diego, who has been a pal since he was my student, nearly a decade ago.  I’ve always been proud of his accomplishments and love hearing of his adventures (newly minted dad!).  Friends in Pakistan, Singapore, Europe, and all across the country, from Hawaii to New York, Australia to Canada check in.

Each of my siblings, who know me better than anyone, call to rib me and offer me canes and walkers. (Sadly, I actually have the walker as part of my rehab.)  Rod, who was not only a student, but was also a staff member of our department, and after that an extraordinarily generous and successful producer at one of our major local networks.  He’s come back to school so many times to give inspiration and advice to our students, I don’t know how I can ever repay him.  The whole circle from a decade and a half in New York.  Undergrad school (Univ. of NV, Reno) and Grad School (NYU), a students from a semester teaching in Indiana – not just friends, but groups of friends; circles intersecting with other circles; faculty friends at my current school, Cal State LA, from my old life in radio at KPFK, KPCC and on NPR…representatives from all of them.

* * *

So, sure, it’s never been easier to pop out a Happy Birthday and be cynical about it.  But even from that perspective, I get a lump in my throat as I read down the list.

You didn’t have to write me, but you did.

It’s not a competition, but I can’t help but feel that there are a few people out there who remember me, who care about me, and in many more cases than I can count or deserve, who love me.

It’s humbling, but nourishing and about the best medication someone recovering from surgery could ask for, regardless of age.

It will never be enough, but I hereby post my thanks nonetheless.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Can and Will
by Jon Beaupré
Can’t and Won’t
by Lydia Davis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
© 2014 ISBN 2013033909

It is no surprise that we live in an age of minimalism.  With Twitter oeuvres in 140 characters, a limited attention span, and an irresistible drive to get to the punch line, many of our most provocative and engaging works are created by layering simple story on top of simple
story.  Immediately the work of Nicholson Baker comes to mind - Vox being just one of my favorites; a naughty book that gets to the point rather quickly, but nonetheless, traverses vast territory with its limited lines.  There is a popular collection of very short stories, entitled appropriately, World’s Shortest Stories, all of which are 55 words, no more, no less.  The discipline of fitting into the 55 word rubric, not unlike a Twitter novel, forces the writer to make his or her points pretty quickly.  There is no space for wandering, unlike Proust’s Macaroon (or was it a Madeline?), taking fourteen pages to swoon over the subtle memories of a storied pastry.  No, every word has to count, and if those words are suggestive and evocative of a larger reality, all the better, one small minimalist idea suggesting or implying a larger reality.

Minimalist doesn’t mean that the entire work is made of few words either. Luc Sante’s masterful collection of the 19th Century news filler pieces by  the French writer Felix Fénéon entitled Novels in Three Lines  are gorgeous for their evocative simplicity, but the collection feels endless, like eating handful after handful of popcorn; an undeniable pleasure.  The great works of the composer Philip Glass are often lofty and hypnotic, vast meditations on - well, just about anything - but made up of microscopic changes in chord, mood, rhythm; hence minimalist despite their over all length.

That brings us to the rich treasure of new work by the novelist Lydia Davis, that consist of several dozen observations on what might appear to be of the trivial and irrelevant, but in her hands become little gems, masterpieces  of invention and reflection.  Early in the book she writes a short piece entitled The Dog Hair:

The dog is gone.  We miss him.  When the doorbell rings, no one barks.  When we come home late, there is no one waiting for us.  We still find his white hairs here and there around the house and on our clothes.  We pick them up.  We should throw them away.  But they are all we have left of him.  We don’t throw them away.  We have a wild hope - if only we collect enough of them, we will be able to put the dog back together again.

That’s the whole piece.  In fewer than ten sentences, we learn of loss, longing, domestic life lived by a couple, irrational hope, and the unexplainable bond between a dog and his human companions.

In fact, many of the short masterpieces of Lydia Davis are tinged with melancholy; not exactly tragedy, but a kind of sad boredom that leaves us wondering in our tracks ‘where is that story supposed to go?’

Davis, who was married for four years to the author Paul Auster, has been the recipient of a number of literary awards; something which undoubtedly pleases her but also leaves her pondering whether or not she deserved the award, or rather she should have gotten the award for another work, or she wonders why she didn’t win a more prestigious award.  Frankly, she’s a little bored and cranky about it.

In April of this year on the recently cancelled NPR program Tell Me More, host Rachel Martin asked about this boredom.  Davis replied:

Actually, I don't mean I'm bored by old novels and books of stories if they're good. Just new ones — good or bad. I feel like saying: Please spare me your imagination, I'm so tired of your vivid imagination, let someone else enjoy it. That's how I'm feeling these days, anyway, maybe it will pass

So along with the melancholy, there is a touch of opinionated and cranky curmudgeon.  But the curmudgeon has a marvelous sense of observation and draws wicked conclusions from what she experiences.  Even the ideas for the pieces - taken from dreams, verbatim snippets of Madame Bovary, and just plain off the wall, odd ideas - become hypnotic little gems, like a passage of Philip Glass, that you just want to let roll over you like a good idea.

I think my favorite sequence in the collection is the 15 page story
Lydia Davis
The Cows which reports on the step by step progress of a group of cows during the course of a day.  The account is detailed, accurate, and  more anthropological journalism than fiction. (“ They are so black on the white snow and standing too close together that I don’t know if there are three there, together, or just two - but surely there are more than eight legs in the bunch…”)  You get the impression that Ms. Davis is the opposite of cynical; there is nothing tongue in cheek in her 15 page report on the step by step behavior of this herd of cows; the report is detailed, filled with simple observations, and is ultimately seductive, because just as you realize that nothing special is going to happen with these cows - no denoument, nor climax to the story  - you are too far into the story to pull away, asking yourself ‘why is she recounting the minute by minute behavior of a herd of cows, like Anderson Cooper in a Hurricane?  The account is accurate (we assume), detailed, and consequential.  But why cows?  Apparently, Ms. Davis found the herd more interesting than any of its parts, but that you couldn’t describe the whole of the bovine hive without describing the behavior of the individual cows.  I was reminded of a more literary Jane Goodall, bringing to our attention the fascinating behavior of a much more common species than the great apes of Africa.  A minimalist fascination with a banal subject, raised to the level of an engaging, slightly cracked soap opera .

After staying with the others in a tight clump for some time, one walks away by herself to the far corner of the field:  at this moment she does seem to have  a mind of her own.

I want to know why the cow walks to the other end of the field, but it may just be a mystery of cow reasoning and that’s all there is to it.  Ms. Davis may be ever so slightly cranky, but she is also fanatically accurate in her observations and the combination of the two make the story, and the dozens of other little fragments like lovely little thought bombs that go off as you read them.

If only all the twitter messages I receive were so clever and pregnant with implication and meaning

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sex and the City

          A couple of recent films set in Havana portray the Cuban capital as essentially an uncredited character in the story.  Both Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s 1993 political tale ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’ and Julian Schnabel’s 2000 portrait of the poet Reinaldo Arenas Before Night Falls’ give us a city that is decaying before our eyes, a corrupt old roué, for whom even at this advanced age, sex remains the fuel that keeps things going.  People living in ‘La Habana’, especially the young, are desperate to escape the lecherous embrace that seeks to corrupt everyone.  At the same time, anyone struggling to escape, faces a gravitational pull that is stronger than any dying star.

Ironically, even in the current film, Lucy Mulloy’s ambitious tale of love and despair ‘Una Noche’, the specific sexuality in question, as in the earlier two films, is the same-sex kind.  Ironic, because perhaps one of the most macho cities on the planet seems to be undercut by deep threads of homo eroticism, usually unfulfilled, but simmering close to the surface.  In ‘Una Noche’, the sexuality is both easy going and casual and at the same time, the source of motives that drive the story forward.
Brother and sister Elio (Javier Núñez Florián)
and Lila (
Anailín de la Rúa) 
(The final irony about gay Havana, of course, is that after decades of repression and reeducation of ‘Las Maricas’, one of the most visible and prominent LGBT activists in the world has emerged there:  Fidel’s neice Mariela Castro – President Raul’s daughter.)

Mulloy’s film, which was produced with the blessing of Spike Lee, and appears to have been made without a cent of ‘commercial’ investment, has made its way to festivals and film competitions, so that as it begins its main-stream run, it hits the scene with an impeccable pedigree, and a raft of awards.

Mulloy claims the film is based on a true story.  She lived in Havana for a number of years getting to know people, looking for non professional actors for her drama, and in general, figuring out the allure, the sadness, the sexiness, and general despair that pervade the city.

The plot is simplicity itself:  two young men want to escape Havana (a pretty old story).  The younger sister of one of the young men adores her brother, and doesn’t want him to leave for the U.S.  The sexual dynamics within the trio propel the story.  The brother and sister, Elio and Lila, have an easy going love for each other, a chaste loyalty that goes back to their earliest childhood.  Lila is constantly teased for her long frizzy hair, the hair on her arms, and her Frida-like eye brows.  In fact, she is a sultry, nubile beauty, unaware of her innate sexiness, more tom boy than seductress.  As Lila, Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre is flat out wonderful.  She reminds us of a very young Anna Magnani, or Salma Hayek.

Into this mix, drops Raul, a bonafide stud/hunk, who gets lots of screen time without his shirt.  Raul claims his chiseled brown chest and arms are the result of not getting enough to eat.  His sexuality is so strong, you can almost smell the pheromones coming off the screen.

Mulloy set’s up Raul’s sexuality as the ‘problem’ of the film; ‘problem’ not in the sense of failure, but rather the source of the dramatic tension that drives the story forward.

The ‘problem’, as it were, is that older brother Elio (a moving performance by Javier Núñez Florián) is totally in thrall of Raul, and sets out to help him escape from Havana, one assumes, more because of his love for the steamy hunk, than any deep desire to escape.  He is torn, of course, between his love and loyalty to his beloved sister Lila, whom he regrets leaving behind, and his lust for Raul, which seems inescapable and doomed.  Raul (a heart-breaking performance by Daniel Arrechaga) for his part is both a romantic protagonist and a cad.  He assumes Elio’s attention and help escaping Havana is borne of brotherly affection, and not a late adolescent crush.  For his part, Raul instantly hits on the Taekwando-practicing Lila, who will have none of his nonsense.  She apparently has no particular problem with her brother’s sexuality, but rather dislikes Raul because he appears to be taking advantage of her brother.  Her dislike of Raul, however, is not so strident that she won’t allow herself to be caught up the boys’ attempt to escape Cuba, for Miami, 90 miles away.

There are other characters – the young people’s families, co-workers and acquaintances, each displaying another form of decay and corruption – are more or less incidental set pieces for the story.  Their contributions are primarily to demonstrate the hellish nature of the life the youngsters want to escape.

The great miracle of the film, however, is Mulloy’s wonderful sense of observation.  Her carefully chosen views of the intoxicating city, paint a rich and moving picture of a metropolis rotting in on itself, falling apart at the seams, and yet singing, drumming, dancing, having sex, seducing, and getting on with life.  In another light, Havana would be a sweet paradise.  But life has become so shabby for most people, torn between desperate survival and oblivion, that morals, ethics, civil behavior simply falls away.  It is the opposite of innocent.  Petty theft, disease, crumbling buildings, barely functioning cars and broken lives are the back drop to Raul, Lila and Eilio’s desperate efforts to escape.  It is no wonder that the young trio sets out in the face of enormous peril:  compared to what they are leaving behind, almost no danger would be too much.

Mulloy is clearly a film maker to be watched.  Even though the ‘Una Noche’ runs out of dramatic juice toward the end, it’s a work of enormous promise, and a display of keen observation that really gets under your skin.  The real star is none of the sexy trio at it’s heart, but rather the ravishing and ravaged city of Havana itself.