we shared a birthday

randynmeIn fact, I’m pretty sure this picture by Cynthia Cooper was taken when we were out celebrating several years ago.

We met in college. Both of us ensconced in the theatre department where we did shows together. We even shared the stage at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington DC for ACTF in a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” – he played “Petruchio” and I “Gremio”.

Over the years we would still be connected via the theatre. Long after college I had the crazy notion of putting on shows in my backyard and calling it WeedWacker Theatre. Early in the planning stages I ran into Randy at Livingstone’s. While drinking and chatting I casually mentioned the insanity I was planning for the Summer. He perked up and said, “Give me a slot… I’ll put something on.”

Well, I did give him a slot. To the delight of the audience that night… Randy, Marie (his then wife) and a couple of other friends put up a cardboard set and performed an episode of “The Honeymooners” with Randy playing the Ralph Kramden part. It was years later that I realized how close he was to that character.

We were even business partners for a time. In the early days of Theatre J’Nerique… Jeff White, Randy and I produced shows under that banner for about a year at The Laundromat… a fringe performance space in the Tower District. Heck, we even made money doing this. OK… to be fair we did lose money on a show to the tune of $3.76… something we laughed about over the years.

There’ll be many stories about Randy. How after college he had gone to LA to try his hand at the biz… or how when he got back he finally got into teaching… and everything in between.  He did have a good many accomplishments and many others will tell of those.

My latest association with Randy was that of slumlord to his tenant. (Something else we joked about.) He lived here the last 4 years of his life… until we had to get him to the hospital 3 months ago.

Like Ralph… Randy was a big lovable lug. At times blustery… funny… infuriating… supportive… he could be an asshole… he could be a gentleman… he could be all that and yet those who really knew him knew that it all hid essentially a sweet and generous interior.

He had more talent than he gave himself credit for. And even though he battled his own demons… even through that… he had the capacity to inspire. This was evident in the passion and “can-do-ness” his students exhibited and I witnessed when shooting many of the school shows he directed over the past few years… yet another legacy.

Randy passed away in hospice care last night. I last saw him a couple of days ago… in our own way we said, “See you around… somewhere, someplace… just not here”. Good night to a fellow actor & director, tenant, partner in crime… and above all… friend.

I used to think I was missing out on everything!

62411gWhen I was a kid there was always some exciting event that I wasn’t going to. A lot of the times it was because I was laid up in bed due to some inconvenient malady.  If it was just the mumps or measles (both of which I did have) perhaps I could have let it slide… but my state of health in my early years was a little more complicated. Ah, the woes of the sickly child. Then again, every child feels that way… (don’t they?) at least I think they do.

As a teen it was usually some party… that didn’t include me. I would hear about it via the grapevine… but nary a word that I was invited. Or I would hear about it after the fact. The thing is, I knew at least half of the “usual suspects” that had a grand time at these fun affairs… that didn’t include me.

Before we continue… NO, this is not a pity post. Really, it isn’t.

By the time I was in college… missing out was still happening but I was caring less and less that I was. Missing out seemed less and less important. This was only because by that time I had been self creating adventures. It was something that I had started in my mid-teens.

Being a boy scout provided me the license in my teens.

“Man, you missed a cool party last weekend!”

“Glad it was cool… I was camping.”

I may have left out the fact that I came face to face with a cobra or that a buddy and I had floated out on a bamboo raft in the dead of night drifting out to the middle of the Straits of Malacca. At times I would share the details… but mostly not. It was my own private adventure that they were not invited to. (Hah!)

The thing is… we are not missing out. We are in fact creating our own adventures.

Unless, of course we’re not. If we are sitting on the couch day after day in our undies stuffing our face with ho hos watching re-runs of bad 70s sitcoms thinking adventure will come knocking on our door… well, it’s not… having an adventure, that is. I guess being convinced you are having a heart attack, getting a ride in an ambulance to find out you only had bad heartburn counts as an adventure.

You got to create it for yourself. I look back… and I’ve had some. Some grand ones at that. Now I have become more discerning… I pick and choose the ones I want to have.

The upside of all of this is… it is never too late. And it is never too late… unless it is too late.

and then we say, “but… “

emptychairOver the last few years I have become acutely aware that my generation has reached the stage when we are not only burying our parents but also each other. This is neither good nor bad… it just is.

Death is a fact of life. The older we get, the more prevalent the occurrence.

The younger years of immortality delusion has faded. Replaced soberly by the knowledge that any meet up with a member of my generation or older might very well be the last.

Perhaps this is the one sin we are all guilty of – taking for granted “they” will always be there. We all do it. And when the inevitable happens we attempt to cover up our sin of not spending quality time with the individual with a series of “buts”.

“But he/she was too young!”

“But she/he looked fine the last time I saw her/him!”

Those, and a myriad number of other “buts” populate our conversation when talking about the recently departed. Sometimes accompanied with the gnashing of teeth, an unrelenting flow of tears and even the rendering of garments.

Sure, I could be cruelly flippant and say something like, “A fat load of good all that drama is gonna do now the person is gone.” Look, I understand the sadness of loss. And that is natural. However, that is not what this post is about. I may not be as cruel as the line above but the crux of it is what I’m trying to get at.

I’ve recently had losses in my life with friends & family. And yes, I have felt the loss… but not the regret.

This is only because over the last few years I’ve been mindful of making as many of my encounters with friends and family count. Not because of the “in case they die…” clause/possibility… but more so as an endeavor to maximize as fully as I can… the delight of living.

Part of that is in the communion with others… especially friends & family… of sharing the fullest experience one can in those situations.

Yes, it does take time and effort. Reaching out takes effort. Making the encounter full takes time. Yes, life does get busy… but the reach out is totally worth it. It fills the soul… at least it does mine.

Plus, the encounter does not have to be on the grand scale of an extravaganza. If a face to face is not feasible, an email and/or a phone exchange can be just as rewarding.

Of late it seems as if the more we have access to the modern tools of communication… the less we actually communicate. Some of my friends claim to text a lot. Texting has it’s place… but it is hardly a full experience, is it?

So, do yourself the favor and start taking the time and effort today. Start reaching out and making shared experiences count. Start taking delight in life and living… especially with your loved ones. Neither you nor them are going to be there forever.



buying to use… and don’t

payingSo, you’re rummaging through piles to find that one thing you’re sure you have. Along the way you run across at least three things you forgot you had.

Fact is, those three items are still encased in their original packaging… along with the original sales slip… from (insert number here) years ago.

You think to yourself, “Oh yeah… I got that at (insert store/location here) when I wanted to (insert flimsy reason here.)”

You set the item/s aside telling yourself that you’ll get to it (insert time span here). You never do… and probably never will. Chances are you’ll run into these items again… along with a few others and tell yourself the same thing… in another three years time.

Now, don’t pretend this hasn’t happened to you.

A variation to the scenario above… includes the thought, “What the hell was I thinking when I got this?!

Anyway, the point being, we often buy on a whim. We think we really needed that “thing” but we don’t. Mostly we are spurred on by a hazy grand delusion that this “thing” will make everything better. We conjure up an unrealistic fantasy of the world bathed in mild sunshine and vibrant rainbows because this “thing” is in our life.

Well, it obviously didn’t… and it probably won’t. Mainly because it has been sitting in dusty obscurity all this time… and probably will for even more trips around the sun.

So, one morning you wake to the inspiration that you are going to “scale down”. The decision is arrived at that a huge yard sale is a win-win. You’d be getting rid of the unessential for a little monetary gain.

You diligently set about “gathering to dispose”.  Soon you have a grand pile collected.

YAY… down-sizing is fun… and slightly profitable!!

But then you come across those things… still in packages. You just can’t sell them at the big yard sale. At least not for less than what you paid for them. Then you remember why you bought them in the first place. Now the visions of mild sunshine and vibrant rainbows return.

Those things go into the growing “someday” pile. Life goes on and the cycle continues.

the curry alchemist


My grandmother and my 8 year old self walked through the bustling Pudu (wet) Market one morning. By any measure, this place was and will always be an assault on the senses. The hustle and bustle, the noise, the smells incoming from all directions.

This was a “Granny visit” spanning 4 days. This also meant that I got to accompany her on shopping adventures… and today the destination was this market only a short bus ride away.

To my 8 year old mind, the market was not unlike a visit to the exotic bazaars of yore… minus traders selling magic carpets, of course.  I desperately wanted one (a magic carpet) and always looked whenever I was at the market.

Sure, there were carpet stores but the carpets sold in stores were never magic. Come on… everyone knows that magic carpets are only sold in bazaars… that’s common knowledge, right?

As we walked through the market, my grandmother was checking out and buying vegetables and such. I was looking up and down the aisles for the elusive magic carpet seller… but to no avail. Yet, little did I realize there would be magic up ahead.

By now we had arrived at the south end of the market designated for the sale of meat, poultry and fish. It should be noted this was also the wettest part of the market so one had to be on the lookout for puddles, the odd pothole and such. I was diligent with this task to avoid a previous incident when I had tripped and had to endure a bus ride home with my entire front side caked in somewhat stinky wet grime.

It was now onto the fish section to pick up a couple of pomfrets. Two months before, this was also the location where I was first schooled in the knowledge of choosing the freshest catch.

“You pick. We’ll need two for this evening.” she said.

So, I picked two with the clearest eyes and the brightest gills as I was taught.

“Good.” she said. “Now feel the belly. Soft or hard?”

“Soft.” Came my quick reply.

“Mushy or firm?”


She smiled at me, patted me on the head, paid for the fish. Then we were off to the meat section. A kati of fresh mutton was also needed.

Across from the meat vendors was where the spice merchants were set up. As soon as the meat was purchased she made for the spice stall on the end.

Opened gunny sacks filled with various spices surrounded a concrete counter on which sat mounds of ground spice paste. Each sitting a foot and a half tall. Chilies, turmeric, ginger, garlic, mace etc… sat on one side of the counter. On the other side sat several small buckets of ground dry spices… cumin, coriander, mustard seed, etc. The center was an area stained and polished to a shine from years of use. All of this emitting pungent and heady aromas blocking out the odors of meat and fish across the aisle .

A teenager sat behind the counter.

“Is your grandfather here?” My grandmother enquired.

The teen boy nodded and ran around the corner returning a minute later with a smiling old Indian man wearing a dhoti and a batik shirt.

“Hallo, Mrs. Skelchy… long time no see!”

My grandmother’s esteem in my eyes was always elevated whenever merchants and traders greeted her by name… and always with the highest regard. This happened often on my shopping forays with her.

“Hallo, Muthu… you look well.”

“Thank You, Mrs. Skelchy. You look healthy. This is your grandson?”


A little catch up chit chat ensued. At this point, I must interject that although I had walked by the spice counters on several occasions in the past this was my first actual stop at one.

“I need rempah for mutton curry.”

“O.K… no problem.”

The old man pulled out a trowel in one hand and a paint scraper in the other. He looked at us and smiled ready for the business at hand.

“Wet or dry?”

“Dry…” my grandmother replied.

“Bengali or Tamil?”



“Not too hot. For one kati, ah?”

Scraping a bit from the various mounds there soon was a colorful pile of paste in the center. He clicked the scraper and the trowel together three times. Then the dance began.

His arms crisscrossing as he mixed the paste with the agility of a dancer… and he looked like he was casting a spell . What made this seem even more so was that I could hear him humming a tune softly as he performed this ballet. Every now and then the hand with the trowel rose and came down into one of the buckets… then back up again sprinkling dry spices into the pile of paste he was finessing. I stood mesmerized.

At one point, while working the mixture with one hand, he reached under the counter and sprinkled a pinch of something over the mixture.

My grandmother squinted a bit, “What is that one?”

“Special… I make for you…”

My grandmother smiled. The old man smiled back slyly. At the end he clicked the trowel and scraper together and sparks flew. This was the crescendo… his party trick. Oh, and this was magic to an 8 year old!

“Ah, got fire! This one is going to be sedap, Mrs. Skelchy.”

He scooped it all onto a section of banana leaf, folded it into a package and handed it to me while my grandmother looked in her purse to pay him.

“The last time… the one I made for you… for chicken… your recipe… the serani one… “

“Ah yes… yes…”, finally paying him.

“Wah, very good! I tried. But missing something, yah?”


“You tell me, lah? So, I can make very, very good.”

“Another time.”

“I know you won’t tell me, wan… but must try, ah?”

“Thank you, Muthu… see you next time.”

“Thank You, Mrs. Skelchy… next time you must tell me, lah.”

Now it was my grandmother’s turn to crack a sly smile as we walked away. She wasn’t about to contribute to his already encyclopedic knowledge of curry mixes by betraying family pride.

I didn’t get my magic carpet that day… but I did see magic and tasted the delicious results that afternoon. That was also the day I learned never to give away all of one’s secrets… especially with recipes.





taste fix


The durian, rambutan and jackfruit (pictured in order above) re-entered my life last week… and happily so. They were acquired on a foray to check out the new Asia Supermarket that recently opened nearby.

“Lucky me!”, I thought to myself as I plonked them into my shopping basket, barely containing my glee at the acquisition. Here were fruits that I grew up devouring back in Malaysia. Unusual fruits to the western palate, to say the least. Tastes I have not experienced in a long while.

Oh, and what taste explosions they are – “jungly” might just fit the description best. All three have a certain primordial quality about them. As each went into my mouth I was instantly transported in my mind to the jungles I would hike and camp in in my teen years.

Like many, taste and smell will activate memories for me. But I also started thinking about how we take things for granted when something is readily available… and miss them when they are not. Aye, a very human conundrum.

I’m not talking about the “good old days” here. It is more about the appreciation of where we are… at the time we are in it.

How often have we walked past a place not giving it a second glance? “It’s there. It will always be there…”, we tell ourselves. Then, one day it is gone. And what makes us miss it is that we really did not take the time to take it all in while it was present… or were present ourselves in the moment. Too often a case of “missing through regret”.

Of course, this goes for the people in our lives as well. The family, friends, colleagues and lovers… who once were.

It made me ask how often do we actually take in the full experience when we are in it. Savoring the moment. How often do we let a moment slide just because we tell ourselves, “There will be another time…” ? Or perhaps we allow it to escape because it really straddles the spectrum of the mundane and is not some spectacular extravaganza.

It is the little things that often mean the most. We’ve heard these words before. I’ve got news for you – it’s true. I try to remind myself of that everyday.

As I devoured the fruit at hand and thought about how I’ve missed the taste… I switched mode halfway and started savoring the experience at present unfolding around me. It took a taste from long ago to remind me to do that. Here I was eating these fruit under the canopy of my gazebo in Fresno, California… and sharing the experience with a few friends new to these exotic taste – now in the present.

I love the memories these tastes conjured… but here was a whole new experience to take in. The furtive initial looks, the inquisitive sniffs… then the first bites and their diverse reactions (especially to the durian). Hardly spectacular and yes, straddling the mundane… perhaps… but it was THE moment and I took it.

So, I’m getting better at it… but there is still a ways to go.



“somewhere there’s music…


… how faint the tune… somewhere there’s heaven… how high the moon”

How High The Moon is one of those songs that plays off and on in my head over time. Usually when I’m trying to work things out for myself. Not always, but often, I can be found humming it on my morning walks. Sometimes it is a frenetic “jump” arrangement and at other times something more “ballady”… depending on what I’m trying to work out in my rabid mind.

Although the Mary Ford/Les Paul version is the most iconic… it was one of Ella Fitzgerald’s take on the song I first heard as a wee tyke that stuck. I was 8 or 9 and had been on an Ella kick… pretty much devouring any and all recordings she had made like a junkie on a bender. Let’s face it… her instrument and use of it was divine. In my book, she was also the mother of all scat singers.

OK… fine… I’ll post it here so you can bask in it’s glory.

BTW… this is the very first version I heard… and now perhaps you can understand a little of what originally blew me away. I distinctly remember my eyes widening in pure wonder… especially in the scat section.

The melody itself is catchy. The lyrics on their own could be construed as a longing love song. But together… that’s where the real magic blooms into something quite extraordinary.  It transforms into the joy of reaching… for something beyond… at least it does for me.

That “beyond” could just about be anything… love (the most obvious), the illumination of a solution, the next good cup of coffee… like I said – pretty much anything. That’s what resonates with me – the reaching out part. The striving for what might presently be beyond one’s reach… and all presented with a joyful optimism.

It’s the kind of optimism I try to take with me into any creative project I undertake. Ultimately, any creative project is reaching beyond one’s reach to be realized in the real, isn’t it?

Yeah, we all have songs that play in our heads. This is one of mine. What is one of yours?