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Whether you laugh or not at this is of no consequence so that takes the pressure off both of us. My friend and hairdresser, Debbie, put a bug in my ear a month ago that because people around her at the house concert I threw last month were laughing so hard as I was barking orders from the stage that I should give stand up a try. Not much of a stretch, I know. I thought about it, but I am not really a ‘stand up’. All I do is tell stories of my crazy life. Stand up requires timing and practice and more practice and that is just not me. I will hardly even edit this piece if I can get away with it.   The idea, though, did intrigue me. Her show with her partner, Patti O, in this little art gallery in San Pedro was on the night of my 61st birthday. Why not, I thought, it could be fun. So we agreed I would just come out during their break and tell a story or two.   I changed my mind since that conversation. I was in her chair the day before my birthday. I told her I just didn’t think I could do it.   The disappointment was clear, especially since she told me she told most of the 50 people who were coming about me. What, I said, you didn’t!! I figured if I went, there would be like maybe 20 people in the audience. So I said I would at least think about it. And as it turns out both Maria Shriver and I apparently have been thinking.

Patty, one of my dearest and longest California friends, asked me at the last moment if I would go see some panel that Maria Shriver was putting on along with these two other folks, Tracy Gordon and John Kornfeld, on compassion. Compassion? Really? No thanks.   Way too much work.   As Patty has been my rock in taking so many tickets to events at the last minute for me, I really could not refuse her. The tickets were 20 bucks and at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills and up to $100 if you bought Maria’s book. So I said yes, but was going to see if we can get in for free. How, you don’t ask? Well a few years back when I had to weigh kids for football in the program out in Agoura Hills, the owner of the Canyon Club, Saban and now the Rose Theater in Pasadena was the head coach of one of the teams. He let me use the Canyon Club on a Sunday morning to weigh over a hundred kids to see if they were not too fat to play football. I get there and the whole place is carpeted. You can’t use a scale properly on carpet so he set me up in the foyer of the ladies’ restroom where there was tile. Fun times. Then he got irritated with me cause some of his kids, including his own son, were too fat to pass that day. These are the kinds of connections I treasure. Ever since then, all I need to do is call the current president of that football organization and he calls the guy and gets me put on the guest list for shows for free. Oddly enough, I never went to the first two that I asked for, but yesterday I asked for the Maria Shriver thing and I got the green light anyway. We knew people weren’t beating down the door to get in, as there were tons of tickets left that afternoon. I got a text from the president, telling me my name is at the door and if anyone asks, Mr. G ( I’ll leave his name out in case I need to use him again and in case some of you out there are tempted to try this yourselves) put you on the list. Ok, I’ll go then if it’s free.

We get there and of course the lady at the table has no idea who I am, no name on the list that matches mine. I tell her, well that’s too bad, Mr. G said we can come in and you have to let us or he will get really mad at you. She got that look in her eye that people usually get when I ask for something, I better say yes so she goes away. I have no problem with this at all. Ok she says and she writes my name down on some list that pretty much means nothing. She doesn’t give us a wrist band though as those were for the VIPs  who shelled out a $100 bucks to be here and buy a $20 book when they could have bought the general admission ticket for $20 bucks and the book for another $20 being sold at like 15 tables in the lobby.

Patty wants to sit right up front, but there’s a kindly older lady with a rope across the first five rows for the VIPs. Where is your wristband to sit down here, she says. We don’t have one because Mr. G put us on the VIP list (no idea actually) but the event screwed up and didn’t have our names, so we had to write our names on the list and if you are a VIP that had to write your name rather than finding your name on the list of VIPs like should have happened had the staff done what Mr. G told them to and put our name on the list then we would have had a bracelet, so I guess we just sit here without one, right? Same look. Speechless, she pushed aside the velvet rope and we got a nice seat on the aisle in the third row.

The theater was absolutely gorgeous in that Rocco style, as my friend called it. I didn’t have the heart to point out it wasn’t done in the style of some Italian guy from Brooklyn. We got some wine and popcorn and settled in.   I have always liked Maria Shriver, as a huge Kennedy fan, she is most likely my favorite of the offspring and the living Kennedys.  The other two folks she had with on her panel I never heard of and was pretty sure they would annoy me. First was this great plastic surgeried woman named Tracy Gordon who is so into relaxing that there are embalmers jealous of her. The man on the panel was another meditation guru named John Kornfield. I just kept wanting to put a straw hat and some suspenders on him and stick him in a real corn field. Maria wrote this book apparently called, “I’ve Been Thinking”.   Sure, I do this all day long and am constantly told to stop. Maybe I’ll call my book, I’ve Been Overthinking.   We are in Beverly Hills and the audience is filled with mostly women with a lot of time on their hands to be compassionate, a few sleeping husbands who I am sure are here under a court order and a couple of gay guys behind me.

Well it starts off with the usual mumbo jumbo of turn off your electronics and you can be happy except if we did, Ms. Shriver as a TV journalist wouldn’t be able to sell too many books anymore. People that tell me the key to life is relaxing just make me nervous as  hell.   Relaxing as far as I’m concerned is for when you are dead. I hate relaxing.   That’s all they wanted to talk about, that and gratitude.  I believe in gratitude and expressing it at the moment you are grateful for something. But having to sit there and come up with something every damn morning that you are grateful for is so nerve wracking, which explains the need for all that relaxing they followed it up with. Well talking about relaxing and liking people wasn’t enough apparently.   Tracy, who I am pretty sure now her name is really Trudy, but I am too darn tired to look it up, is now going to lead us in one of her love and something exercises to Nirvana or some such thing. We had to close our eyes. That part was good cause I was already falling asleep. Then after a few more minutes of relaxing we had to do this love or something thing where we had to look at the person next to us and say something like “ you are so damn wonderful in your being and thank you for existing’ or some such thing. I looked at my friend Patty and whispered “don’t you dare.” What the heck? Are we in the Catholic Church again where we had to shake random strangers’ hands that you had no idea where they had been and yell “peace be with you”. I am not doing that. Next thing I know, these three perfectly coiffed women turned around in unison and say “ You are wonderful in your being and I appreciate you” All three at the same time like some demented Greek chorus. No, I’m not, I say. Really, I’m not. I’m bad. Turn around. You have no idea. After the shock wears off, it’s all I could do to not burst out laughing. Which by the way it was then revealed by Ms. Gordon that the Dalai Lama laughs a lot and ‘ drum roll here”, it’s really good for you to laugh. Well then she did her job as far as I’m concerned cause I really can’t stop at this point. Imagine that! Joy and happiness being good for you!! And for this people have shelled out $20 bucks to hear it. I am so in the wrong business.

Now it was Maria’s turn. I love all things Maria: Westside Story I just met a girl Maria, Sound of Music Maria. In fact, Maria is my Confirmation name. If you are not Catholic please look it up or this will get too long. Anyway, her big thing in her book is, another drum roll please, the PAUSE. Yes folks, in a room full of women who are doing nothing but pausing- meno, pre and post- she’s telling us to do more pausing. What the hell for?   But pausing isn’t enough. The key to life apparently is also doing a lot of yippee moments. I guess the old Oprah Ah-ha ones weren’t good enough. Really, Maria Shriver, a Kennedy, more money than God, TV job most would kill for, maids, mansions, needs to search for something to yell yippee about every day? And yes there was of course the requisite veiled reference to the Terminator’s termination from her life because of his dalliance with the maid was it? I would have divorced him just because he’s annoying.

Well back to Mr. Kornfield and his lecture on how you can wear sackcloth and ashes but make sure you have a little fun doing it. Not too much though. That’s right. He explained carefully how when you volunteer or do things philanthropically make sure you incorporate a bit of fun into it.   Why I am not giving lectures on having fun, I’ll never know.   At this point I needed alcohol,  but how to get out and get it.   Patty is also bugging me now to find an exit strategy. We waited and watched and then a couple across the aisle got up and there was our chance. We followed them out as if they were mom and pop and we kids had to go along with them. The duck and cover up the long aisle to the exit.

While it was funny at points, I also have to be a little serious now because I did take away something from this panel nonetheless. One of the things Maria talked about is surrounding yourself with people in your life who lift you up, who truly want to be with you and who you want to be with. And shed those relationships that don’t provide this. I think many of us fall into the trap of not wanting to be part of any club that will have us or chase the relationships we know are not really good for us, whether they are romantic or platonic. We got a wonderful example of this from the other two panel members. Ms. Gordon and Mr. Kornfield were actually now husband and wife and I loved the story they told of how that came to be in terms of this. They knew each other as colleagues for over 40 years. They both had gone through some very painful divorces. He sought her out after that as someone whom he wanted to spend more time with as she added that uplift to his life and through this time of closer friendship they fell in love and got married.   In these days of instantaneous swiping left, right and off center, what a wonderful way to find true love. All in all, I am glad I went to this. You never know where you’ll pick up a bit of wisdom along with some laughter. And yes we did go and have the most delicious prosciutto and arugula flatbreads I have ever tasted along with Prosecco at a place called Flats next door. We shouted ‘yippee’ through the entire meal!! To circle back, I never did go and do my story telling at my friend’s show the next night, but there’s always next time perhaps. One never knows where the winds of chance will take us.