Luke Perry, I Knew You When

Former “90210” Publicist Remembers the TV Star

Luke Perry, aka Dylan McKay, in 1990

When I heard Luke Perry had had a stroke, I expected him to live. That’s because a friend of mine recently had a stroke, his second one, at age 56 and he is recovering. My friend, like Luke, is fit and determined. He’s doing the rehab and regaining use of his left side. So after Luke’s stroke I figured he too would recover. A few days later, when I learned that he had passed away, my nonchalant “he’ll be fine” changed to “WTF?!” He was only 52.

I met Luke Perry—aka Dylan McKay—back in 1990, when I was a publicist for “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I worked for the venerable PR agency Rogers and Cowan in its television division. They hired me to help with the launch of Aaron Spelling’s new production (and Darren Star’s first series) despite the fact I didn’t watch TV, let alone own one.

My job was to get attention for the new show to increase its viewership by pitching story ideas around the show and its actors. This was before social media. Hell, it was before email. I had to call or fax—remember landlines and fax machines?—editors of publications like TV Guide and Tiger Beat, and talent bookers for shows like “Entertainment Tonight.” I had to write press releases and mail them—in envelopes, with stamps—a phenomenon now referred to as “snail mail.” Getting coverage was no easy task because even though it was Aaron Spelling’s baby, “ 90210” was brand new and the editors and talent bookers didn’t want to give it column space or run segments until they were sure the show would still be on the air after a few episodes.

They were so young then!

I managed to book a few interviews. I got one for Tory Spelling who was still too young to have a driver’s license. I had to pick her up at her family’s mansion and drive her to the meeting with the reporter. I got one for Jennie Garth and Shannon Doherty, to model second-hand clothes on ABC’s “The Home Show.” That one was a stretch but it’s the only show that said yes. And I booked one for Luke. I don’t remember who it was with, but I do know it was before he became the poster child for Teen Beat, a publication that at time was still reluctant to do anything.

He was meeting the journalist at the Hollywood Athletic Club, then a hip cafe and pool hall, and I was to accompany him—as if he needed a chaperone. As if the reporter were going to ask something so out of line I would be needed to run interference. But Luke had no scandals or skeletons. So all I did was sit there and listen, worrying the entire time about who was going to pick up the check. I wasn’t fully trained in publicity etiquette or PR budgets so when the bill was placed on the table I dared to ask Luke, “When your publicist from the network goes on interviews with you, who pays?” He replied, “Janine is pretty quick with the plastic.” I cannot count the times I’ve thought of that over the years in the face of a dining dilemma, and I have Luke to thank for the frequent use of my credit card.

I often hung around on the set, hoping to find some anecdote I could use for a story pitch—though it was also a ruse to get out of my windowless office. One day the cast was shooting a scene in the Peach Pit and the director had them repeat the scene eight times. I thought the first one was good enough, so was the second. By the third, I had the lines memorized and began to question what I perceived as a waste of both time and film. By the fourth, I would have stormed off the set in exasperation. I dare say Shannen would have too. But not Luke. He remained cool and calm, warm and friendly. In real life, he wasn’t a rich and troubled rebel; he was from the Midwest. He was humble and hardworking. He had done construction jobs before his big break and understood that if the show got canceled he might have to again.

“BH, 90210’s” Peach Pit was modeled after one of my favorite places
to eat pie, The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles.

A year later, he told “Entertainment Tonight,” “We start slapping each other when anyone gets too big headed. We made a promise going into this, ‘Look guys, no one expects we’re going to do anything beyond these 13 episodes, but if by chance we surprise the world and put out a quality program that people want to keep watching, let’s remember how we got there and what makes the show so good.’ The show is good…because it’s an ensemble piece. Everybody works and everybody brings something to it.”

Forget his good looks; Luke’s modesty is what made him so attractive.

 “Call us back when the ratings go up,” the editors and talent bookers had said.

The ratings did go up. And up. And up. But I left my job before the show became the sensation it went on to be.

The work of whoever became the publicist after me would end up being more reactive than proactive. Instead of begging the media for even just a mention, they would be turning down requests for cover shoots and guest appearances. Which probably only made the job harder.

Once I no longer worked on it, I never watched the show, even though it aired for an impressive 10 seasons. It set a new record as Aaron Spelling’s longest running series, surpassing his eighties hit, “Dynasty.”

I may act like I don’t care about the show, but I’ve always taken note whenever the “90210” cast appeared in the media. Like when Tori Spelling, all grown up, graced the cover of People magazine each time she married, divorced, or gave birth. Or when Shannen Doherty displayed herself on the pages of Playboy. When Jason Priestley grabbed headlines for crashing a racecar at 180 mph. And when Brian Austin Green, who was a pipsqueak of a kid when I met him, dominated the tabloids when he married that stunning thing of beauty, Megan Fox. When Luke Perry’s role as Archie’s dad in “Riverdale” was announced, it caught my attention mostly as I had read the comic books as a kid, but also—as with any “90210” news—I felt the remaining threads of a connection to the actors’ lives. After all, I had in my own small, short-lived way as a publicist, helped launch these youngsters into stardom, at least by making the initial introductions to the press.

The news of Luke’s death worked its way into my subconscious as I had a dream about him the night after he died. I was at his wake. Luke was sitting off to the side, looking relaxed and dapper in a suit and tie. I went over to talk to him, not sure if he would remember me. He said he did, and invited me to sit down at his table. I wanted to ask him for his parents’ address so that I could send them a condolence card, but I didn’t have the heart to be a buzzkill and tell him that his funeral was the next day.

Fox Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

I like to think that Luke really is sitting at that table, as relaxed and well mannered as ever. That maybe he’s still alive in a parallel universe, while being remembered and celebrated in this one as if he were still here. And he should be celebrated. He was one of the good guys. And god knows, we could sure use more like him.

The reprise of “Beverly Hills, 90210” was just announced, ironically on the same day as Luke’s death. As sure as the world keeps turning, the show will go on, but this time without Luke as Dylan McKay and without me as its publicist. They would never hire me back anyway, as three decades on I still don’t own a TV.

RIP, Luke.

Pie and the Operating Room

I was just in LA for a medical treatment. Nothing major, just a part of a body part needed to be removed. I wouldn’t normally write about such matters (then again, I write about every other private and personal matter), but pie features prominently so I couldn’t pass up sharing this funny tale of my experience on an operating room table.

I was in the pre-op room, dressed in my cotton hospital gown, when a tall, intelligent looking blond nurse came in to attend to me. Small talk ensued and I happened to ask the nurse, Kate, where she was from.

“Keokuk, Iowa,” she answered.

I bolted upright from my gurney, nearly pulling the IV needle out of my hand. “You’re kidding! I’m from Iowa. I live in Eldon.”

“I’m going to move back someday,” Kate said. “I’m from a family of seven kids and they’re all still in the area. I go back a few times a year. All my friends there think I’m so glamorous because I live in LA – they think of Hollywood – but I try to set them straight and remind them it’s still just me.”

My mom, who accompanied me to my appointment, sat there quietly by my bedside, not saying a word. She has no desire to go back to Iowa. She and my dad moved to LA ten years ago, when three out of five of her kids (including me) were living in LA at the time. She loves living in California, loves the people, the energy, and especially the ocean view from their waterfront apartment.

“I loved living in California and I certainly never thought I would end up in Iowa,” I told Kate. “But I am really happy there.”

“You bake pie?” Kate continued. “I love pie. I went on RAGBRAI this past summer and ate pie every day along the bike route. All those church ladies had made so much pie.”

Angela, the fair-skinned beauty who was smearing a sample of my blood onto a microscope slide interrupted and said, “Excuse me. We need to focus on the surgery.”

“Right,” said Kate. “Okay, please confirm your name, birth date, any allergies….” And then, she couldn’t stop herself. She looked up from my chart and asked, “What kind of pies do you like to make?

“Mostly apple,” I said, sneaking a knowing smile up at Angela who gave up on trying to steer our conversation.

Then my doctor appeared from behind the curtain. Dressed in a flannel shirt and a down jacket, he put his hand on my arm and greeted me warmly. I introduced him to my mom. “Mom, this is Dr. D. I’ve been seeing him for over twenty years. This is the most consistent relationship I’ve ever had in my life. He is the reason I flew half way across the country just to have this procedure done. I wouldn’t trust anyone else.” I added, “One of his many attributes is that he doesn’t buy into drama. You tell him you’re in excruciating pain and he just shrugs. “We were just talking about pie,” I told him.

“Apple is my favorite,” he quickly replied. “The Dutch kind with the crumbly topping. The double crust kind just has too much crust.”

“You like the crumble topping because it’s made with brown sugar and butter,” I told him. “My pie teacher [Mary Spellman] always told me, ‘You can’t go wrong with brown sugar and butter.’”
I was eventually wheeled off to the operating room and the last thing I remember saying to Dr. D as the anesthesia was pumped into my veins was “I’ve never seen you in scrubs.” And then, I was out.

About an hour later I was nudged awake in the middle of having a bad dream about H. (You know something is out of balance in your relationship when your subconscious is trying to work things out under the influence of heavy sedatives!) I noticed I was no longer in the operating room, but in a different room. Dr. D was standing by my bed, once again dressed in his flannel shirt and down jacket. “I was having a bad dream about my boyfriend,” I dumbly said in my groggy state.

“Everything went well. You did great. You can get dressed now. Come back in a few months for a follow up and hopefully one of these days I’ll get to have one of your pies.”
I laid there for a while trying to collect my bearings, observing how my body was feeling – surprising fine, as if it hadn’t just been invaded by scalpels and tubes — and imagined how the conversation must have gone between the surgical team as they worked on me:

She bakes pies, she lives in Iowa, she has a book coming out in April, I read the opening pages on her website, interesting story, what’s your favorite pie, my grandmother used to make a really good coconut pie that I loved, how’s her blood pressure, I can’t believe she flew all the way here from Iowa, she should open up a pie shop here, LA needs more pie, I’m going to buy her book, almost done here, just one more stitch, I’m going to tell my sister in Keokuk about her, did you know she lives in that Grant Wood house from American Gothic, that’s so Americana, I really like pie.

Of course I’ll never know what they said. But I do know this: everyone, everywhere I go, lights up when you start talking about pie. And there, in a Santa Monica surgery center on Wilshire Boulevard, it was no exception. What better subject to put a patient at ease, what better way to connect with strangers, like with the doctors and nurses into whose hands you are putting your life. It was as if the conversation transformed the cold and sterile room and instead filled it, warmed it with the scent of butter, apples and cinnamon. It proves the point yet again that even when just talking about it and not even eating it, pie comforts, heals and nourishes the soul. Pie connects people and their stories, their histories, their hearts. Even in the most unusual of times and circumstances, like at 6:30 a.m. in an operating room.

Next time I’m in LA I will definitely be returning to the surgery center and am already greatly looking forward to it. Why? Because next time the surgical team won’t be cutting into me, they’ll be cutting into the apple pies I deliver to them as a thank you. I can already imagine the crumble topping melting in their mouths.

Resurfacing…in Los Angeles

No sooner did I finish the first draft of my manuscript for MAKING PIECE, I looked up from my laptop and realized three months had passed. Spring had arrived. The snow had melted, buds were popping out on the trees, the grass had turned vibrant green and my nice neighbor Don Eakins had come over with his tiller and plowed a garden for me in the backyard of the American Gothic House. “Good,” I thought. “A garden will keep me busy now that I’m done with the book. I can throw myself into this new project as a way to stay engaged, have a purpose, keep me from getting restless.” (If you know me, you know I suffer from occasional bouts of Wanderlust. Restlessness is a symptom, one I fight to keep at bay.)

“Not so fast,” Don said. “I still have to till a second time, and you don’t want to plant the seeds too early. We may still get some frost. You want to wait until the first of May before planting.”

What could I do with myself with all that time on my hands and no more pages of my book to write? I didn’t even stop to think about it. I simply packed my dogs into the Mini Cooper and hit the road — for L.A. My spontaneity took even my parents and closest friends by surprise. “You’re what? You’re already on your way?” Yes, well, why not? I have a window of free time before my editor gives me the (likely daunting) task of rewriting my book. I have a few weeks before I can plant my garden. And once the pie stand opens — now scheduled for May 20 — I will have non-stop baking that will demand my focus.

I took four days to travel West, retracing the route I took last August on my way to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. Little did I know that August journey would lead to the American Gothic House and a new life in Eldon, Iowa!

On Sunday morning when I pulled out of town, I stopped to say goodbye to the mayor, Shirley Stacey. When I told her that I was taking a road trip to California, she said, “You’re not moving back there, are you?”

“NO!” I assured her. “Just going there to regroup, see my friends and family, and then I’ll be back to make pie. I promise.”

Jack hits the trail for a 5-mile hike in Moab, Utah.
When life in Eldon gets too quiet, the road beckons — 2,000 miles of it!
Um, we’re not in Iowa anymore. (Viva Las Vegas!)
We made it safely. First stop in LA: Jack sprints toward his favorite swimming hole, the lagoon in Playa Del Rey.

So while there’s no pie baking — or writing — or gardening — happening at the American Gothic House for the moment, there’s a lot of adventure to be had. On the road. In L.A. and all points in between. In the meantime, maybe I’ll even start blogging again. Now there’s something to keep me busy.

It’s nice to be back.

A Life of Contrasts

One of the qualities I pride myself on is my range of adaptability. I am equally at home camping in the wilderness (with no toilet or shower for days!) as I am staying in five-star hotels (soaking in a Jacuzzi bath and ordering room service). Marcus shared this love of contrasts and we even had our wedding rings designed to communicate the point: a ring of fine gold ran around the outside to represent elegance, with an inner ring made of steel to represent our more rugged interests, like camping and motorcycle trips. These two rings were mysteriously connected-yet-separate so they made a jingling noise when shaken. The rattling turned out to be a useful communication tool as we would use the sound occasionally, usually when making up after an argument, by shaking them in each other’s ears as a non-verbal way of saying, “I’m sorry. I still love you.” (Photo above: Marcus and me, wearing our rings on our engagement day, camping at Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon. May 30, 2003.)

Now I wear both rings — Marcus’ bigger one on the bottom and mine on top of his to hold his on — making for quite a weighty load on my left ring finger. I can’t wear the rings every day (especially not when baking pies — all that dough gets stuck in between!) but I did wear them to my dad’s 75th birthday dinner on Tuesday, to which we were driven in a stretch limo.

The last time Marcus and I rode in a limo together was five years earlier, for my dad’s 70th birthday. (Photo, right. May 18, 2005) Which made my dad’s 75th birthday yet another one of those bittersweet occasions. (The bitter and sweet combo is a recurring theme these days — but in truth my life feels more like one big messy, sour rhubarb patch!) While it was fun to be with my family celebrating my dad’s birthday in such high style, my heart was heavy the entire evening with the longing for Marcus who should have been there with us.

But wherever Marcus is, surely he would have heard me as I shook my hand throughout the evening (trying to do it in a way that no one would notice or think I had some nervous tick!) I jingled and jingled those heavy gold and steel rings sending him the message, “I’m sorry. I still love you.” And I wish you were here.

(Photo: The Howard Family, minus Marcus.)
(Photo: In the back of the limo with my brother Michael.)
My life continues to be full of contrasts. A fun occasion, a heavy heart. A limo ride to Beverly Hills for dinner one night, driving the RV to the semi-rural life in Portland the next. I set off for Portland on Wednesday and kept jingling those rings the entire 1,000-mile drive. I like to think Marcus did hear me because I made it back safely. If he can’t be my husband any longer at least he can be my guardian angel. The only down side is that my hand is tired from all that ring shaking.
And now for a contrast I’m greatly looking forward to — parking the RV for a while and driving my Mini Cooper again!

Banana Cream Pie for My Dad’s 75th Birthday

I always liked the saying, “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.” I should like it as I was pretty much raised with this motto in mind, at least by one parent. My dad would take us out for hot fudge sundaes before dinner, but we were not allowed to tell our mom! So when I brought home a banana cream pie for my dad for his 75th birthday present at around 3:30PM and our dinner reservations were for 5:00PM, of course we cut right into it and ate a couple of big pieces. Would we “spoil our supper?” Who cares — it’s PIE!Now a note about this pie and why I didn’t make it myself. I can’t use traveling in the RV as an excuse, because I just made a pie in the big rig two days ago. I also could have used my parents’ kitchen, but then the pie wouldn’t have been a surprise. My best and easiest solution was to buy one. And I knew exactly the place. The Apple Pan. We shot our pie TV pilot there in January, and Apple Pan’s banana cream pie was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. You will never find a banana cream pie with more bananas in it!

When I stopped at the Apple Pan to pick up the pie I made a point to say hello to the owner, Sunny. She gets a lot of TV crews coming through her restaurant, but she remembered me, probably due to my unusual circumstances — how often does a TV crew include a grieving widow driving around the country in an RV? “Are you doing better?” she asked. The tenderness of her question made me tear up. (It doesn’t take much!) “We got your thank you note,” she said. “I showed it to my mom. It was so nice of you. We never get thank you notes.” (My dad taught me about eating dessert first; my mom taught me to send thank you notes.)

I explained that I was buying a banana cream pie for my dad’s birthday — “as a paying customer,” I insisted. But Sunny insisted back, “No, please, take it.” She handed me the pie box, adding, “And tell your dad we wish him a Happy Birthday.” Her kindness and generosity made me feel like it was my birthday.

The banana cream pie from Apple Pan was as delicious as ever. And not only did we have plenty of room for a big, fat steak dinner, we had room for more dessert.

First Pie Made in the RV

I’m still in LA and though I have a 1,000-mile drive back to Portland awaiting me this week I didn’t mind making a 120-mile round-trip drive to Faria Beach this past weekend to take my friend Christine (pictured below) on her first RV road trip adventure. In fact, the weekend was one of many firsts.
It was the first pie made in the RV. We bought four pounds of fresh cherries on our way north, stopping at the grocery store in Malibu to stock up on pie ingredients and other supplies.

It was also the first gluten-free pie I’ve ever made. Not that I made it. Christine brought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill organic rice flour, eggs, butter and sugar and made the dough on her own.While she was doing that, I was trying to light the oven. And seeing that it was the first time I used the oven in the two years we’ve owned the RV, I didn’t know how to turn it on. I turned the knob into the on position and held the lighter to where I thought the pilot light sat. Nothing happened except that we could smell gas. After three failed attempts I discovered I was turning the knob for the stove-top burner, not for the oven. Doh!

Meanwhile, I had never made a cherry pie before. I have made many other kinds of pies, many of which I can make without a recipe, but I didn’t know cherry. We didn’t make them at Malibu Kitchen, probably because the pitting process is too labor intensive. Or maybe because the owners wanted to avoid the inevitable lawsuits due to people breaking their teeth on cherry pits. Luckily, I could use my Blackberry to look up recipes and got a rough idea of what goes into the filling. So what if we didn’t have vanilla or almond extract for the filling? So what if we didn’t have the baking powder for the crust? This presented the ideal opportunity to pass along one of my favorite pie lessons to Christine: IMPROVISE!
The oven eventually got lit, the pie got assembled (after an hour of de-pitting the cherries by hand), and voila! And in spite of the missing ingredients, we had a delicious gluten-free pie, which we ate by candlelight.Naturally, pie tastes even better when eaten at the beach with dolphins swimming by!And let’s not forget, RV living is not only about pie. There’s also the not-so-glamorous side of RV-ing. Yes, that’s me below, cleaning out the waste tanks. Fun!It was a great weekend and reminded me that there is so much I miss about living in LA (dolphins being one), and ALSO that I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss gluten-free baked goods. Our RV-made cherry pie could have been a contender in the National Pie Championships! I should know, I was a judge in the cherry pie category for the Professional division.

The Reality of Selling a Reality Show

After several weeks in LA, I’m packing up the RV and returning to Portland. I’ve never been so looking forward to going back to the rainy Pacific Northwest – more specifically to the quiet, calm sanctuary of my little treehouse apartment set on the edge of a vast, womblike forest. These last weeks have reminded me that I’ve been a bit too ambitious in thinking I could resume the pace and normality of my life. My life before Marcus died. My life before that horrific day eight months, four weeks, and three days ago. And now that I look back on it, I can see not only how unrealistic I was to believe that making a TV show about pie would cure me of my grief but also how unfit I am to function normally in the world.

I learned this little fact last Friday as I sat in the office of the Vice President of Development at one of Hollywood’s biggest and most respected reality television production companies, making my pie series pitch. He was intrigued with my idea, about traveling in the RV and interviewing people around the country about pie. And he asked good questions, his first one being: Why pie? He got the whole pie-as-metaphor thing, about how pie represents generosity, community, healing, world peace. But then he grilled me on the chronology of my life.

As he sat behind his desk eating forkfuls of the apple pie I made for the meeting, I talked at rapid-fire pace about how I went from the dot com job in San Francisco to the pie baking job in Malibu, to moving to Germany to marry Marcus, to moving to Portland and then Mexico for Marcus’ job. Then I got to the part where Marcus got transferred back to Germany last summer and how I didn’t go with him. And that’s when tears began leaking out from my eyeballs.

I thought I could tell my story without crying. Sometimes I can. Not always. Not in Orlando a week earlier when I gave a speech at the Great American Pie Festival in front of a hundred people. In my speech about how pie can change the world, I almost lost it completely when I explained how it had only been eight months since my husband died. “Eight months!” I reiterated. In mid-sentence the reality of why I was standing there giving the speech paralyzed me. I’m here because I’ve turned to pie to heal my grief, baking pies and giving them away. Lots of them. The lump in my throat threatened to end my talk right then and there, but after I took a huge breath and a brief pause, I was able to resume.

I seem to have been putting myself in some highly stressful situations as of late. A speech to a hundred people? Sure, what’s a little pressure on top of a huge heap of debilitating grief. A pitch meeting at an A-list production company? Hey, why not put yourself in a position to be scrutinized for your appearance. Even with these bulging eyes permanently puffy from crying? Sure, go for it.

I’m not kidding. This meeting held so much weight I was advised to invest in getting my hair and makeup done for it. That sent me into melt-down mode. “I’m a writer; I’m not used to being judged by my looks,” I cried to my friends. “And if beauty comes from the inside, then believe me, I know just how bad I look these days. No amount of time in a god damned beauty salon is going to help.” But I did it. I spent (er, wasted) over eight hours in the hair salon and close to $600 in the beautification project.

So as I sat there in the VP’s office with my newly lightened and shortened hair, wearing my new pink lipstick – crying – I blathered on to the development executive, “Not going with him will always be one of my greatest regrets.”

After Marcus moved back to Germany I never saw him again. Until he was lying in his casket. “Good thing I’m wearing my waterproof mascara,” I joked, trying to laugh off my unprofessional lack of composure.

He asked me why I wanted to make this TV show. “So I won’t have to get a job that confines me to a cubicle,” I said. But I could tell by his raised eyebrow that he wasn’t buying my flippant sarcasm. I continued, a little too honestly perhaps, explaining, “Because I need to get busy. When we were shooting the pilot I was so interested in all the people I met, good people, and all because of pie. Plus, the shoot and travel schedule kept me completely engaged. It was the best I felt since Marcus died and gave me a purpose to keep going. I want to recreate that feeling.”

Then, clearly trying to sabotage any chance of ever working with this company, I spelled it out for him: “If Marcus hadn’t died I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. And I would rather have Marcus alive than trying to sell you some fucking TV show.” The tears spurted out even faster, making little water stains on my jean skirt. Whoa. Talk about not ready for primetime. Then again, this was a reality television company. And if grief over losing one’s far-too-young-to-die husband isn’t reality I don’t know what is.

I wiped my eyes and continued my nervous chatter with Mr. VP. Someone must have slipped truth serum into my coffee the morning of my pitch meeting because I couldn’t edit myself and my inappropriate comments. “But then, you see?” I held up my hands to him, moving them up and down to demonstrate unbalanced weight on two scales. “TV show or suicide? Okay, TV show.”

Yeah, he’s going to want to work with me. More likely he’s going to call 911.

When the meeting was over and I stuck out my hand to shake his, he pushed my hand aside and said, “No. Let me give you a hug.” So maybe I didn’t scare him away after all. Still, if I could repeat the meeting I would plan it for a week when PMS wasn’t looming around the corner.

People tell me they are inspired by my resilience, by how I’m moving forward with my life, not letting the loss of Marcus stop me from living. Well, people, I have news for you. This is not resilience. This is my misguided manic attempt to keep myself from joining Marcus in the afterlife. But maybe I am making some progress, because I am finally becoming aware of my futile actions.

I’ve learned from these past few angst-ridden, hair-tampering, money-draining, tear-filled weeks in LA that selling this TV show isn’t going to fix anything. And trying to rush the grieving process isn’t going to work either. I was afraid that staying in Portland was keeping my sadness alive, surrounded by too many memories of Marcus there – which was part of the reason I drove the RV down to LA this month, to escape my dark surroundings. But after a taste of the energy and composure – and copious amounts of makeup – it would take to sell (let alone make) this TV show I am appreciating the need to stay in Portland a little longer. I need to embrace the stillness and take the time – however painfully long it takes – to honor the process, a crappy, difficult, undesirable process that is far from over.

As my grief counselor has said, “Grief is hard work.” So instead of looking so desperately for something – like making a pie TV show – to avoid the pain of grief, I need to accept that I already have a job. And as much as I wish I could quit this job, I’m going to get back to it.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Or in this case, a full tank of gas and a big box of Kleenex.

Lights! Camera! Action!

The shoot for the pie TV pilot begins tomorrow. In all the preparation I contacted many different pie shops for permission to film and to arrange interviews with their pie bakers. All that talk of pie made me hungry. So when the end of my conversation with the owner of Apple Pan, one of Los Angeles’ oldest and most popular pie diners, coincided with my dad’s call to ask if I wanted to meet for lunch, I knew just where to go.

“Dad, how does a piece of banana cream pie sound?”

“Mmmm! That sounds great, Boo,” he replied. I could have predicted the answer as banana cream is his favorite pie. We met at Apple Pan, grabbed a stool around the horseshoe-shaped counter, and each ordered a piece of the banana cream pie. (According to the owner, Sunny, banana cream is their second most popular after the apple.) It was not only luscious looking, it was delish with a sweet and flaky thin crust generously filled with bananas and topped with fluffy whipped cream. We inhaled it in record time. Yum!

No matter what the outcome with our TV show, I am definitely going to enjoy the next 12 days of pie tasting

Don’t Get Mad, Get Busy

Things went from bad to worse at the dog park this week. The woman with the three big dogs was there again, and AGAIN they came toward us, surrounded us, and provoked another attack. But this time I was prepared. I had brought my dad, and we were both armed with big sticks — more like branches, and, well, okay, possibly, one may have been a large broom handle. Yes, I know, this was very un-pie-like on my part, but it was for the sake of defending my 15-pound dog against her huge beasts, which, as you can see in the picture below, she is unable to handle by herself.
When she came to collect her dogs there were more profanities uttered, though not by me. She was as aggressive as her Rottweiler, but instead of saying a word I simply pulled out my digital camera and took pictures of her. JUST IN CASE. “You’re taking pictures?” she asked incredulously. No, she didn’t like this at all. My dad, however, was holding his stick up to fend off her dogs and he might have said something to her like, “I’ll use this stick if you don’t get your dogs away from us.” She took this as a threat, said she was going to call the police, and went running back to the group of other dog owners, screaming “Help me!” We went about our own business, throwing the stick for Jack, and ignoring the group of people staring at us as she grumbled to them about us “threatening” her. Police? Did she really think she had a case?

The whole episode was very upsetting. The dog park is usually a very peaceful place, a rare patch of open, grassy space where you can legally have your dog off the leash without risking a $250 fine.

My dad and I went back a few days later, saw through the fence that this same woman was there with her three dogs, so we didn’t go in. We walked with Jack on the outside of the park, along the sidewalk on the OPPOSITE side of the street. She saw us. She yelled, “You’re lucky you’re not in the park or I would call the police.” We said nothing; we just kept walking. And then, a block later, we saw the black and white car pull up alongside of us. She did call the police! We were questioned, because, as they said, they were “required to follow up on a call.” We told them our story and that was the end of that. I hate confrontation. I don’t go looking for it, and when it finds me–first thing in the morning, no less, without any provocation–it is especially dispiriting.

This is when I employed some of my own, nearly forgotten advice, “Don’t get mad, get busy.” So when we returned home from the dog park I told my dad, “Come on, Dad. Get a broom, some garbage bags, and some gloves. We’re going to clean up that sidewalk.”

There is a neglected patch of sidewalk that I have been using every day during my stay in LA. It is my route to the dog park and every time I have walked this section I think, I can’t stand all this litter and these weeds; I am going to come back and clean this up myself. Today was the day. DON’T GET MAD, GET BUSY.

I had just researched Obama events where I could volunteer (another case of Don’t get mad, get busy), but I thought, why not put the energy into a community improvement project? Isn’t that what Obama’s message is anyway, to be part of the solution? I know it still looks scruffy (see pic above), but you should have seen it before we started! We worked for over two hours raking leaves, picking up trash, and pulling weeds. A neighbor even came out and joined in, Marvin, a gorgeous man with two kids who “has been meaning to get out here and clean this up.”

A few other people walked by. They asked, “Why are you doing this? Do you own the land?” (Why ask why?! I wondered. Why not just say thank you?!)

“No,” we answered. “We’re doing this because we want it to look nice, and it has been neglected.” We were doing it because of the “Broken Window Theory“–if you clean up the litter, people will stop littering there. It’s a theory about how keeping your community clean will help reduce crime. Really I was doing it because I wanted to transform my burning negative energy into something positive–and this was one grumpy person for whom baking a peach pie would not be an option.

I always hope for a happy ending to troubling stories. The happy ending to this one is that I have stopped going to the dog park (even though it is a convenient two blocks from my parents’ apartment) and instead I have been driving one mile down to the beach where there is an even bigger park, an ocean view, and a saltwater lagoon where Jack can swim. (See pic of Jack above.) There are never any other dogs around, and thus no hysterical, police-calling dog owners, and we have been enjoying our last days here in L.A. immensely. And now, when I take Jack around the block at night, I can walk on the sidewalk without getting scratched by weeds or stepping on a potato chip bag and know that I have helped make the world an ever so slightly better place.

Signs of Pie in LA

Today is the first day of my second week in Los Angeles. I woke up with a premonition that something bad might happen to my dog, so I spent 15 extra minutes in bed snuggling with Jack before taking him to the dog park. We usually have the park all to ourselves in the mornings, but today we were promptly attacked by a pack of five (5!!) large dogs (think Boxers and Rottweilers). I dove into the sea of barred teeth and pulled my 15-pound terrier out from under the dog pile, dumped my cafe latte all over my clothes, bumped my head against a tree, and found myself yelling profanities at the two women–something like “Get your F-ing dogs off of me”–as their five dogs continued to attack. To which they replied like whiny grade school girls, “Your dog started it.” Nah nah nah nah nahhh nah. I went back to my parents and announced to my dad, “I could never live here again.”

But things improved after breakfast when I found that my Absentee Ballot had arrived. I promptly colored in the oval for Barak Obama and ran to the post office to mail my vote. I parked but hadn’t made it to the post office before spotting a postal truck. The mail carrier was in it, loading her bags. “Can I give this to you?” I asked. “It’s a very important piece of mail. It’s my vote for Obama.” Then I paused, because, well, you never know… “Wait, you’re not voting for McCain are you?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she answered. “I just don’t know after the last two elections.”

“You mean because they were rigged?”

“Yes.”

“I know. I’ve been discouraged too. But we can’t give up.” She listened to my spiel about why Obama is the right person, about how he’s charging Americans to get off their entitled asses and be part of the solution, to DO THEIR PART, and how I felt so strongly that this was key.

“Yes,” she replied, “even my 15-year-old daughter is making me bring my own grocery bags to the store and not letting me buy juice in those little plastic bottles but getting Kool-Aid in the pouches and mix it up at home instead.”
“Good for her. I love hearing that,” I said. It was clear she needed to get on with her mail delivery.

“You can take your ballot over to the post office if you feel better about that,” she said before I left.

I just looked at her and smiled. “No, I trust you.”

I looked up as I was walking back to the car and saw this sticker placed on the road sign. Why was the word PIE stuck to a No Truck Zone sign? I didn’t see any pie shops around. Was it some kind of message from the universe that I’m supposed to finally open my own pie shop here? God knows, L.A. could use more pie!!! No matter the message, it made me smile–and think about making an apple pie for my parents.

Later, my dad and I met my brother Michael for lunch in the little town of El Segundo. While El Segundo’s borders include LAX airport, an oil refinery, and L.A.’s main sewage treatment plant–just the mention of this town makes people wrinkle their noses in disgust–it is a DARLING little town that feels like a throw-back to Iowa. There are old-fashioned diners, hip cafes, a real town square with a grassy park, and FREE parking. I immediately wanted to start looking for a cottage to rent.

After lunch (at the fabulous Blue Butterfly Coffee Company), we walked around the block. And there was indeed a cottage for rent. A retail space. A perfect PIE SHOP location. I could just picture the pies on display in the windows. I peeked inside and could even more so imagine myself rolling dough under the vaulted ceiling, all painted in the freshest shade of white.

I called the number. The man (the current lease holder) said he would talk to the owner about me renting it as a pie shop and have them get back to me.

I said I could never live in L.A. again. But El Segundo is not L.A. Or maybe it’s how L.A. used to be before snotty women started showing up with packs of mean dogs at the dog park. I don’t have to decide today. Maybe I’ll just have to wait for another sign.