Transformation – Conservative to Liberal

63f44bf5df433d698abb349de3018b08I can only speak to my own transformation but I think it was my three years of traveling overseas that turned me from a semi-conservative to a liberal. Prior to travel, I had no reason to pay any attention at all to anyone else’s customs, hopes and difficulties. My thinking changed by interacting with various cultures and realizing the things we had in common. The little things might differ – what we wore, our food preferences, where we worshipped – but the big things were the same. We all want happiness and a measure of success. If you look at the billions of people on the earth, I’d wager that most of them are working to survive, not working at something they love. What, then, determines what makes their lives good ones?

My thinking had progressed a little bit when I moved from small town Texas to big city Washington, D.C. and then to international Las Vegas. It was not a big city when I first got here but it had an international base in the casinos and I worked with many of them in the show I danced in for my first four years here – French, Canadian, Czech, Italian. I watched their approaches to American norms and heard stories of what it took to adapt to our ways. Although I didn’t have to accept the differences, I found myself thinking about them. What did it take to leave everything behind to come here? I wasn’t sure I would’ve had the courage to do that. And the little differences became apparent as well. Who thought fast food was awful? More important, who survived on fruits and vegetables … and preferred them? Really?

And then I got the chance to travel to South Africa for a show that was beginning rehearsals in Bophuthatswana. I had found the stories of travels from the military people I had met in Washington interesting and they had opened my mind to even more options once I drove across country to Las Vegas on my own and found that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I guess that was the beginning, because I would not have imagined such a thing in high school. In fact, I remember that my mother had once told me that although not a rich family, if I wanted to do something like go to school in Switzerland, they would find a way to get me there. I was horrified at the thought of being that far away. I couldn’t really tell you why. Perhaps it was that I was young and had always had relatives close by that I could depend on to take care of me and although I longed for the independence that all teenagers do, I didn’t want to push it too far.

So I arrived in South Africa, where I spent ten and a half months, and loved the adventure. To this day, I have great stories to tell. But more important, I saw firsthand what apartheid was like and wondered how people could treat each other that way. I saw people who had to be taught what a knife and fork were before they could work as waiters in the resort’s restaurants. That people could be so different was eye-opening and it made me take stock of the sheltered little world I’d left. It also made me put things in a bigger perspective.

I worked in Cairo where women who wore pants of any type (that includes jeans) were suspect as being loose and ran the risk of being followed, and maybe worse, if they dared to walk alone. I had a boyfriend there and learned that, by law, women were second-class citizens. It was not appropriate for me to hug him in public. Unimaginable.

When one of the shows I worked in overseas took me to Ito, Japan, I was particularly fascinated by the plethora of “rules” the Japanese lived by. When I questioned some of them, the answers almost always came back to “tradition.” I realized that in many of the countries I visited, the people I met had no reason to question. They had grown up in one place and much like me before I left Texas, knew nothing else. To them, it was entirely normal and my views were seen as radical. I got a taste of what it’s like to be the outsider with different ways that are frowned upon.

So I came back to the States having loved my travels but sporting a liberalism about what other people could and should be allowed when they come to my country that appalled my conservative mother. Too late. I’ve discovered that once you start thinking a bit more liberally, it’s impossible to back up. And I wouldn’t want to because the most important lesson for me was that if you look at the big picture, everyone simply wants to be valued, loved and to live life to his or her fullest.

Looking Back at the Forks in the Road

1__QnZxAWvqRzIwXDbtMZO4Q

From time to time I see comments from people who say they don’t regret anything they’ve done in their lives. I often want to say, “Really? Just wait.” How can you not look back at some of the forks in the road and try to imagine how different (always assuming better, of course) your life might be.

One of those forks in the road for me began the day I decided to continue a relationship with a man that I’d begun dating before I moved to Las Vegas and before he decided to marry someone else while I was working overseas. His job required a lot of travel – Secret Service – and so I saw the separations as a normal part of our relationship. In my mind, he only married her because, as he’d told me, the agency encouraged its agents to marry. Surely he settled for second best under pressure but just couldn’t tear himself away from me. (Yeah, I know. Don’t laugh). It took me a long time to understand that love is not necessarily reciprocated. That’s a hard lesson because we like to think if we’ve vetted the other person and found them worthy of our love, they must love us, too. How could our love be so misplaced?

In this particular case, our meetings lasted on and off for almost 20 years. Stupid, you say? Why yes. I remain mystified that I could’ve thought someone who only saw me once every year or couple of years would actually be in love with me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I convinced myself that he didn’t really love the person he married or he wouldn’t still be coming to see me. I told myself that he was just too chicken to face her.

Here was the defining moment that made me look at our relationship realistically: Over the years, he drank more and more and I had eventually told him I thought he was an alcoholic and I didn’t want him calling me again as long as he was still drinking. Two years later, he was in town, called, said he’d made some changes in his life and could we have dinner. Well, of course I relented because it sometimes takes a whole lot of water to extinguish the fire and clearly I’d only tossed a sprinkle or two when I’d needed a fire hose. I noticed that although he didn’t drink as much at dinner, he still drank. Hmmm. Then when he told me he loved me, I didn’t want to rock the boat by bringing up the booze issue.

So the next time he came to town, I decided to broach the subject of our long-term relationship and where, if anywhere, it was going (and yes, he drank at dinner). I don’t remember much of the conversation. The only thing I remember clearly is that when I told him he’d said he loved me the last time he’d been here, his eyebrows shot up and he laughingly said, “Jesus, was I drunk?”

Cue anvil between the eyes. Boy, that was a show stopper, I’ll tell ya’! It was also the end of the relationship. My regret is my stupidity. On the other hand, I’ve always believed we learn something from the bad as well as the good so I’ve long since put it in perspective. Even so, I sometimes look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

Then … and Now

Back in my dancing days, I had several opportunities to meet some pretty big stars. I was exhilarated, thrilled that a small-town Texas girl could be in a position to meet famous people and, of course, I wanted a photo with every one of them to commemorate the moment. I’m glad I did because looking at me now, you’d never suspect that show business side of me and it makes for wonderful conversation.

One of my photos, taken backstage at “Casino de Paris” in Las Vegas, is probably my favorite. It was during the show that we all noticed Cary Grant sitting in the King’s Row booth center stage. I was told he held stock in the hotel and was a friend of our comedian and frequently showed up but it was the first time I’d seen him in the audience.

After the show, word spread fast that he was backstage and in our comedian’s dressing room. Everyone dawdled, wasting time that would normally see us racing to the coffee shop for a bite to eat. Someone even called the camera girl to come backstage so those who were lucky enough to be there when he came out could perhaps persuade him to take a photo or two. Finally, I was dared (and of course took it) to knock on the dressing room door and ask if a few of us could get a picture. He couldn’t have been kinder. When he came out, cast members lined up for a photo and he stood there and humored each and every one of us.

Cary Grant

Think the story stops there? Of course not. A little over a dozen years later, I had retired from dancing and was working in a law firm. I wanted to put at least one something in the office that would remind me of the career I’d had for 13 years that had provided me with tons of great memories and dozens of great stories. I chose to frame my photo with Cary Grant and put it on the bookshelf across from my desk.

How ironic that when I put something up to make me think I wasn’t the has-been I sometimes felt like, a younger co-worker walked in one day, examined the photo carefully, then turned to me and said, “Very nice. Is that your boyfriend?” Incredulous, I said, “Cary Grant?” She shook her head with incomprehension and asked me if he was famous. I mentioned several movies – North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Charade, Houseboat, Father Goose – and to my utter amazement, she didn’t know any of them.

Nothing like a younger generation to put things in perspective, is it?

Vegas – the Early Years

In 1977, a year after graduating from college with a BFA in Drama/Dance, I headed for Vegas. I had spent that first post-school year living with relatives in Burke, Virginia and teaching various and sundry dance classes all over Virginia and Washington, D.C. – and I had hated it. So I drove across country by myself, settled in to a one-room apartment near The Strip and quickly secured a cocktail waitress position by the pool at the Circus-Circus Hotel. I also scoured the local paper for audition notices. It took me three months to land my first show in Las Vegas and little did I know that I started with the best – “Casino de Paris” at the Dunes Hotel. It remains the best show I ever did.

In the course of the show, we had a large lion that sashayed onstage for a brief appearance and then spent the remainder of the show lazily napping in a giant cage backstage. Between shows, his handlers would take him out for a walk in the back hallways. Most of us thought of Caesar as a sweet, harmless feline.

And that leads me the photo that I sent to my mother. New to the show, new to Las Vegas, new to the glitz and glamor, I was entranced with being a part of a lavish Vegas production where we had gorgeous costumes, fantastic choreography by Ron Lewis and exotic animals within reach. Like many others, I asked if I could get a picture with him. His handler, Ferco, assured me that he was approachable and when I kneeled down behind him (well out of his reach), he encouraged me to get up close and personal. So I did.

Lisa, Caesar and Ferco

I then sent the developed photo to my mother (well actually to everyone I knew who might be impressed) and waited for her response.  None came. I finally asked her if she’d received the photo. Her response was something like, “Yes and that’s so cute. Of course, I’d be concerned if I thought he was real.” It was great fun telling her he was, in fact, real and listening to the gasp.

I pooh-poohed her concern about being that close to a “wild animal” and assured her that “everyone did it.” Some of that bravado disappeared the night one of our male backstage dressers – I’ll call him Jim – came in the back door slightly inebriated (as I was told) and, like many of us, stopped to reach in the cage and greet Caesar. Most of us would ruffle his fur or pat him on the head but Jim apparently chose to scratch him on the nose. Caesar very calmly bit off the end of his finger. Gives a whole different feel to the photo, doesn’t it?

And I can’t say that any of us ever reached in the cage again or posed for up close and personal photos.

Lisa and Caesar

Hello Spilotro?

hqdefault

If you’ve seen the movie Casino, you have an idea of the mob influence in Las Vegas in the 70s and 80s. A major player at the time was Tony Spilotro and whether you’d ever met him or seen him in person, you knew his name … and you knew the rumors: Tony Spilotro was a mob enforcer and someone you didn’t want to cross. It didn’t matter that my crowd was a bunch of showgirls and dancers on the Strip. We didn’t want to cross him either, even if that meant catching his attention and having to decline a dinner invitation or say no to a request to have drinks with one of his friends. No one wanted to be anywhere near his circle – not even on the fringe. There were too many stories about girls who, flattered, accepted an invitation for a drink or a dinner date with a mobster or mobster associate and then found herself in an unwanted relationship that she couldn’t see her way out of later. No one knew what would happen if you turned down the invitation in the first place, but who wanted to be the first to find out? (That leads to a totally different influence at the time – Lefty Rosenthal – but that’s another story).

If you read up on his history, Tony Spilotro was brought to Las Vegas to help the syndicate embezzle profits from the casinos but that wasn’t enough for Tony. He formed his own illicit group – the Hole in the Wall Gang – and his team of burglars would break into hotel rooms, wealthy homes and high-end stores to steal merchandise. Spilotro was a ruthless, violent man who gained notoriety for an infamous interrogation where he put his victim’s head in a vice grip and tightened it until the man’s eye popped out. So, really, would you want to be in a position to have to say no to this man for any reason at all?

So there we were on a nice summer evening after having finished two shows of Casino de Paris at The Dunes Hotel, two dancers who’d decided to head over to the latest hotspot – Paul Anka’s club Jubilation.

b8a12f83ed97a24463816c0ba81f6088--las-vagas-las-vegas-hotels

The moment we walked in the door, my friend was stopped by a man I didn’t know who invited us to join him and a group of his friends at a table near the back. We walked up to a long L-shaped set-up with somewhere close to 20 people sitting the length of the table and a couple of people at the head of the L shape. The revelers made room for us and asked what we’d like to eat. We knew the kitchen was closed at this late hour but somehow the table was full of food with even more being served. Odd. Someone must have clout.

I turned to my friend and said, “Who are all these people?” She replied that she didn’t know and leaned across to ask her male friend who everyone was and why we were able to order dinner. He responded that he didn’t know everyone because it was a mixture of dancers from various shows but, pointing to the head of the table, said, “And that’s Tony Spilotro.” Bloody hell! I don’t remember staying long and although it may have been rude, I figured there were so many people in the party that one defector wouldn’t be noticed so I didn’t stop by the head of the table to thank him for his hospitality.

Within the next few years, Tony Spilotro was lured back to Chicago for a meeting and he and his brother were brutally beaten and killed and then buried in a cornfield in Indiana.

It’s funny how it takes a little distance to look back at snapshots in your life and realize how extraordinary they were. At the time, nothing seemed particularly unusual about ending up at a table in Paul Anka’s nightclub in Las Vegas with a notorious mobster but it makes for a great story now, especially considering his demise.

 

Who’ll Take Care of Me?

Nurse holding hand of senior woman in pension home

I often hear people ask those of us who aren’t married and have no children, “Who’ll take care of you when you get older?” Interesting question. Yes, it has crossed my mind many times and I used to believe that my brother and/or my friends would take care of me. I ‘ve never been uncomfortable on my own and living by myself is something I treasure. I never have to argue over what television show to watch, clean up after someone else or let him know what time I’ll be home. If I want to waltz around the house naked, there’s no one to point out my flabby parts or use that as the right time to suggest a healthier diet. So it’s not loneliness that concerns me – well not now anyway. I might one day eat those words but right now, I don’t see that as the issue.

But what if I live to a ripe old age, and most of my friends and my brother are gone? I must admit, it is a concern. On the other hand, working in hospice, I see how abysmally family members can treat each other and fight over money and possessions. The patient is more often than not the one who bears the brunt of the disrespect and, sometimes, outright neglect. So, if I were married and had a bunch of children, could I necessarily count on any of them to do the right thing by me? I think not. Many times the children dislike each other and fight over who’s right concerning the patient’s care. The thing is – it’s usually the patient who suffers because the kids aren’t making a decision on what’s best for the patient; they’re deciding based on their own comfort levels. I guess I’m glad I won’t have a child who’s so determined to keep me here that he/she makes hospice staff withhold medications that would make me comfortable so I can be what they would call “alert” even though I’m thrashing around in the bed.

My biggest concern is the in-between stage – the stage where I’m no longer able to live on my own, require constant care but am not hospice appropriate. I hear horrible stories about the care the elderly get in many of the nursing homes. And I can see it clearly. Nursing homes, like most other businesses, have a plethora of employees who are primarily interested in the paycheck and not the job. Many of them have little or no empathy for the elderly people and how could they? They have zero understanding of living with legs that no longer hold them up, or having to take a ton of medications that take care of one thing but bring all kinds of side effects that may make the elderly person seem “slow, ” when, in fact, the brain works just fine. Those are the circumstances that concern me. I’m not sure the outcome of being in that environment has anything to do with whether or not I have children – and children who truly care about my best interests to boot.

So the fact that I don’t have a husband or children doesn’t bother me about growing older and ending up in a nursing home. What concerns me is ending up in a home where the culture is one of “just wheel them into a corner and let them sit all day.” And I’ve seen it. We had a case of a patient who was brought into the hospice to find placement in a different home because the one where he had been living had wheeled him outside ostensibly to “get some sun and fresh air” and left him in the Las Vegas summer sun for the better part of a couple of hours. I worry that I’ll need to go to the bathroom and someone will be irritated that I ring for help too often. I worry that I’ll reach a point where I have to defecate in a diaper and no one will come to change me for hours and hours. I worry that I’ll end up with Stage IV decubitus ulcers because it’s too much trouble to constantly turn me. I worry that I’ll be hungry but someone forgot to take me down to the lunch room to eat. I worry that I’ll be physically broken but mentally alert and people will come in and talk to me like I’m a two-year-old.

Bottom line: it’s the people in the facilities who will be tasked with my day-to-day comfort that worry me.

Self-Image

IMG_0073

Yes, this was me in the 80s in “Jubilee” at Bally’s Las Vegas. So, some 30-odd years later, I’m 50 pounds heavier, have these great gray streaks in my hair, too many lines on my face to count, liver spots, not an ounce of tone anywhere (of course I have to lift the boobs to see some of those areas) and dimpled thighs. The question is: do I care?

Well, I guess I care only enough that I’d like to lose about 30 of those pounds but other than that, not much. The weight gain has most definitely made me feel less feminine but then again, I’m not in the game for attracting a mate so my goal for weight loss would no longer be for outside image but health issues. And the advantage to not wearing dresses any more is that I’m able to bend and stretch and sit in my most comfortable position (legs tucked up) without worrying about exposing anything. There’s a freedom in that I really enjoy.

I find that, although most women will tell you they’re not influenced by slick magazine ads or television commercials or even the women around them, that’s absolutely BS. When I was young, I was also one of those women who professed to have her own mind, one who really loved wearing those sky-high heels that lassoed my toes and caused me to have surgery for a permanently pinched nerve in my foot. Of course, if I’m really honest, I suppose there was a time when I liked wearing uncomfortable things for the sole purpose of “looking good,” because those were the youthful, looking-for-love years. Everyone wants to be sexy, attractive and admired in those mating years, right? The problem for me was that, as a dancer, I spent so much of my time in leotards, tights and jazz shoes – comfort clothes, fit for running and jumping and striking positions you’d never dream of in a form-fitting skirt and heels – that I was always acutely aware of when I felt reined in.

Maybe it’s simply a question of time and place that makes us choose the uncomfortable over the comfortable. I may not be dressing to feel sexy or to stand out in a crowd of women any more, but I still dress (reluctantly) for the occasion. Although I’d love to spend the rest of my life barefoot and in sweats and t-shirts, I wouldn’t wear that to work (but only because I still want the paycheck or I might give it a go). I dress just enough to conform to the culture and no more. I really don’t care if anyone there thinks my shoes look cheap (they are) or whether they look at my ancient history showgirl photos where we lived in G-string underwear and wonder if I now don granny pants. Yes, I do, and some of them are ripped in places but they’re comfortable and who the hell’s going to see them?

Do we dress for ourselves or for others? I think that in a traditional environment (read office), we dress to conform to the crowd standard. In a show business environment, we can be whoever we want to be. But then one’s pretty conservative and one’s a bit more liberal, right? Hmmm, there are a few more variables to what makes us dress the way we do than I originally contemplated.

So, all in all, my self-image at 65 is pretty good. I’d like to lose some weight but mostly for health issues.  I don’t have a huge objection to getting older. Or let me clarify that: I don’t have a huge issue with looks as I age. I do object to the health limitations! But as a child, the people I loved spending time with and talking to were the adults and the older the better, especially when their faces had enough wear to know they had interesting stories to tell. I want to be one of those old-timers and have some interesting things to share. Just let me do it in sweats and t-shirts please.