The Page Turner

It's called The Green Room. It's big. The kids looked really tiny. The girls were wearing fancy dresses. Jacob was wearing a seersucker suit. Beyond adorable.


It was my student's Mother's Day recital. Somehow, though the room is big and they are tiny, the children played like real musicians. They bowed and smiled and even enjoyed themselves. There were challenges: a forgotten chord or two, a bra strap slipping slowly down an almost teenager's arm while she played something fast and flashy, a teacher (that would be me) who had a little trouble remember the first section of an accompaniment to a piece that she wrote a two weeks ago. (So many notes in this head by now.)

They were wonderful. Such an array of personalities.

After the student recital, I played a recital with my friend, the soprano Julia Hunt Nielsen. She was glorious. I was just fine. Together we were pretty spectacular. There is something to be said for just making the music myself instead of always trying to get someone else to do it. I love to teach, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it's nice to get rid of the middle man and just play. No nerves any more. Don't have time for any of that nonsense. Enjoy the music and the chance to share it. Life is too short for anything else.

This was the first time my daughter, Evie, was able to turn pages for me for a recital. She's ten now and quite a seasoned performer herself. The San Francisco Girls Chorus will do that to a girl. It felt like a rite of passage: I'd never let myself hope that she would be such a fine a musician that she could turn pages not only for songs (the lyrics help keep track of where you are) but for a Russian etude by Liapounov. Lots of very black notes flying by like lightning. It was impressive. The page turning, I mean.

If you're feeling like a guilty pleasure, try watching the movie The Page Turner. It's a 2006 French film about a young girl -- just about Evie's age, who becomes obsessed with a concert pianist, infiltrates her life and ruins her career. It's a revenge movie about a ten-year-girl. No, I am not worried about Evie and me.  There's room for both us both. But I'll be extra nice to her, just in case.


Kudos to Iliana, age five, who apparently performed under duress. (She ended up in the Emergency Room with a 104 degree fever and pneumonia.) The things we do for art.

The Good Ones are Allergic to Garlic

They're both allergic to garlic: Bebe and Dave. That's Bebe Neuwirth and David Kessler. Yes, that Bebe Neuwirth. And yes, well, that David Kessler. Probably. (There's another one who you might have heard of, but this one is more important.) I didn't know he was important when we met.

He showed up at my door like any other piano student, a stunningly grey-haired-dignified-yet-hip Robert De Niro. Dave played some Bach for me. We spent most of his first lesson discussing ornamentation. He knew more than I did. He still does. He needed me, though. I play better than he does. I could help him make the music he could hear in his head come out of his hands. That was twenty years ago.

Over the years, I became more than fond of Dave. I started to love him. I think the love started in 1999. He had taken time during a trip to Paris to visit a designer boutique. He brought me back my favorite baby gift. It was wrapped in an oh-so-French-baby-blue cake box. Inside was a delicious three-piece ensemble sewn of a mother's dreams of her adorable, perfect, baby boy.

Dave was a good sport a few years later when said boy, then a 3-year-old, ran into the room during Dave's lesson, picked up an end table and hurled it across the room. It just missed Dave.

His comment:

"Well, I didn't think I was playing that badly."

We continued the lesson.

We started to have my adult student get-togethers at his beautiful Victorian home. Tidbits of information trickled out. He was a forensic psychiatrist. Sometimes he would come straight to his lessons from visiting an inmate at San Quentin. Most of his cases involved murder. No wonder he wanted to play some Brahms.

I broke my rule; I went to his house to give him his lessons. He had gotten a rare form of leukemia and his immune system was compromised. I couldn't imagine him coming to my home: land of child-born germs and table-throwing.

He recovered completely. He resumed coming to my place.

The movie Milk came out. Dave started telling me about his life in the 70's in San Francisco. He had known Harvey Milk. In fact, he had spoken at Harvey's memorial service at the Opera House in San Francisco.

The prosecution had asked Dave to testify as an expert witness in the trial of Dan White. Dave had declined because he was afraid the defense would have said that his objectivity had been compromised. He wonders to this day if the trial would have ended differently had he testified. The Twinkie Defense wouldn't have held up. I'm sure of it.

This week, on Dave's 80th birthday, twelve of Dave's closest friends surprised him with dinner at Masa's.  Dave loves good food.

For my second course I had:

Composition of Early Spring Vegetables

roasted purple and white cauliflower, cipollini onions, brussel sprouts,

baby spring leeks, rapini, maitake mushroom "cream", pine nut "dust"

But I digress.

Dave's cousin, Helen, brought along a copy of a People Magazine article from May, 1979.  It featured Dave, then 48. His coming out made history. He was the first president of Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, the nation's first formal organization of gay doctors. If any of you are relieved that being gay is no longer classified as an illness, thank Dave.

I showed the article to my daughter, Evie.

"Mom," she said. "Can I have this? I want to put it up on my wall."

I love that she's proud of him. I am too.

Small Claims Court

"Could you please explain to me exactly how her piano teaching damaged the oven? Did she bake her piano students?"

We didn't want to sue our landlord. We really didn't. We just wanted him to give our security deposit back.

We began to think it was a case for Judge Judy. When your former landlord wants to charge you for exposing the garden hose to light, you gotta figure that Judge Judy would eat him up.

What we weren't expecting was that we would find our very own Judge Judy in Small Claims Court right here in San Francisco. There wasn't any audience, and he wasn't quite as funny, but he was certainly wonderful.

Before the judge heard our case, we exchanged everything we intended to use as evidence. Tony and I showed our former landlord, Art, our massive binder full of information. I love office supplies and this was a perfect opportunity to make that work for us. Our evidence was organized into 8 separate sections, each clearly labeled. This took a lot of time to put together but I we wanted to do it right. It included a gigantic, lovely periwinkle binder with  lay-flat rings. Did I mention that I have a thing for office supplies?

Art gave us a half-inch stack of papers including our lease and copies of his ridiculous letters to us.

The judge called us forward and asked if we had exchanged our evidence.

"Yes," we all replied.

The judge asked us to give him anything we wanted to use as evidence. I handed him the periwinkle binder. He looked a little annoyed. I think its sheer size was daunting. Art handed him the papers he'd shown us AND a large stack of photographs.

"Excuse me, your honor," Tony very politely interupted. "We haven't seen any of those photographs."

"I thought you said that you had exchanged evidence," the judge shot back.

"We did," Tony and I replied in unison.

The judge glared at Art.

"Are you planning to use these as evidence?" the judge grilled him.

"Uh, well, yes."

"Why didn't you show them to the plaintiffs?"

"Um, well, I thought that..."

"Get out of here and show them the photographs." The judge was not amused.

This was looking good. Art had already shown his true nature. It felt delicious.

We looked at the photos. Art wanted to narrate the slide show. We asked him, politely, to keep quiet.

There was only one that I couldn't figure out. It was a photo of the lower half of a wall.

"What's this?" I asked him.

"That's the missing doorstopper," Art replied. "And the damage that the missing doorstopper caused."

OK. That was one electrifying photo.

We went back in and the judge heard our case. Art's main point was that we had somehow defrauded him by not telling him that I was a piano teacher before we moved in. Since his parents lived next door to the house we rented, it was ridiculous to think that we wouldn't have told him. But he lied. He said that he had no idea that I was going to move a piano in and teach. Kind of strange, since my occupation was listed as "Piano Teacher" on the rental application. But I digress.

This piano teaching, he asserted, had somehow caused incredible damage to the house. All those people, coming and going. His father testified, too, to the coming and the going.

What I think Art hadn't counted on was that those people, the same ones who kept coming and going,  would write letters on our behalf. That was part of the reason the binder was so big. The letters were so numerous and lengthy that I couldn't count on the judge reading them all. I just highlighted things so he could page through and see,

"In my opinion, the manner in which this landlord is conducting himself with respect to the termination of the lease is petty, greedy, and unethical."

"I have never known the Hidy/Smith family to be anything other than dependable, responsible and considerate. The landlord's failure to reutnr the deposit to the Hidy/Smith family seems unreasonable and unethical."

"Over the years we have come to know her well, and thinks of her as, not just the piano teacher, but a valued friend."

"I know her to be a hard-working and responsible person with a well-cared for family and home."

"I have found her to be reliable, conscientious, hardworking and honest."

"I cannot help but view any charges of neglect or damage levied by the landlord as unwarranted."

"I attest to their honesty, reliability and decency. I can attest without reservation to her integrity, diligence and excellence as a teacher, a friend, and a member of our community; she holds herself to the highest standards both personally and professionally."

They went on like that, each one warming my heart as they came in the weeks leading up to the court case. Even if the judge ruled against us, having a Blue Monday file full of those letters would comfort me any time I felt unloved or unseen.

But you know what? The $3,549.49 is going to feel just fine too.


Obama got health care passed. It's a miracle. I'm thrilled.

It made me think of my friend, Nancy because I know she's going to be unhappy about it. She found McCain too liberal and thought Sarah Palin delightful. It's true. What she thinks and that she's my friend. I have a friend with whom I don't see eye-to-eye. Not even eye-to-chin.

Nancy and I violently disagree about all things political. She votes right, I vote left. I live in a world of art and music; she lives in a world of hardware. Literally. She works for her family's hardware distributorship. You'd think we wouldn't have anything to talk about but that isn't the case.

I call Nancy my oldest friend because our mothers were friends when my Mom was pregnant with me. That makes it all old: her, me, our Moms and our friendship.

I love Nancy's humor. She gave me a card last year for my 50th birthday. She took a print of "The Allegories of Music," a painting by the French artist Vanloo (1705-1765). It's a painting of three very cherubic children: a girl playing a pre-piano keyboard, and two boys looking on adoringly. It's sweet, but what I adore are the speech bubbles added.

The girl playing the keyboard (carefully labeled Diane H) says, "Someday I will play Carnegie Hall!"

To my right is Paul H, (my big brother, who has just adopted his fourth child, two from China, one from Nepal and the latest from Ethiopia,) who says, "Someday I will save the exotic baby at a time!"

The adoring boy on my left, Carl W (her big brother) says, "Someday my sister Nancy and I will sell hinges and slides to all of the custom cabinet shops in the State of California!"

Inside she inscribed,

Dear Lady Di,

May our childish dreams continue to be fulfilled.

Love, Nancy-girl.

I have lots of friend now, both new and old. I have people with whom I can talk about music, art, literature, parenting, gardening and politics. But if I really want to laugh and feel like there's someone really there hanging on every word, I call Nancy.

I called her when my Dad passed away a few months ago. She used to laugh, "My parents have been married 55 years and you are the only person that doesn't impress."

My parents were married for 68 years last June. She knew that 55 years was nothin'.

It was my Dad who went first. We'd both been dreading the moment when the first one went. We knew that all four of our parents had been living on borrowed time, especially our fathers.

She may vote for all the wrong people. She may cancel out every vote I'll ever make, but Nancy is my oldest friend and my dearest. I hope that when my daughter turns 50 she'll have a "Nancy" to write her a card that shows her understanding of her life and everything that matters to her.

Old friends are hard to find. Especially funny ones.

His Wedding Ring Slipped Off

My grandparents were married for 68 years. When my grandmother died I asked my Mom if I could have Nana's wedding ring. Mom clearly thought I was odd. I said I really admired anyone who could stay married for 68 years. I wanted the ring to remember them and to inspire me. At the time I was years away from meeting my future husband.

Now my parents have been married for 68 years. They were married in 1941 and are still together. Mom's 89 and Dad is 92.  Dad's not doing too well. He's fading away, one day at a time. And we are fading away from him as his hearing disappears. He reads lips when he's awake enough to hear our attempts to speak to him. If I speak VERY LOUDLY directly at him, (and he's awake,) he may or may not "hear" me.  He sleeps a lot.

This morning he wheeled his walker out and announced that his wedding ring had slipped off his finger. He didn't know where it was, only that it must have slipped off. It makes sense; he's so thin now.

"Maybe we shouldn't have taken the garbage out," said my sister Carol said, grinning.

One "you are completely out of your mind,"  look from Mom dismissed even the idea of going through the garbage in the can on the curb in the 95 degree heat.

"You could get him another one," Carol suggested helpfully.

Mom grunted.

"Look. HE knows he's married and I know he's married and that's just FINE."

I guess she's comfortable with him pushing his walker around the house lookin' like a single guy.