So here we are.
I was all set to write a post about a dear friend of mine. The plan has shifted a bit to include another.
Regular readers will recognize the handle Ironmom (a.k.a. Julie), as she has been my most frequent commenter here. She’s also been a dear friend since college, and she still likes me even though I’m not on Facebook. She’s been in training for the better part of a year for her first Ironman triathlon, and yesterday was her big day. Armed with her bib number, I’d planned to dial up the race site and track her progress, hoping that the fact that she was going to spend more than 15 hours - you read me, 15 hours - pushing her body to the limit would inspire me to do my simple little tasks, including, but not limited to, prepping for some auditions and cleaning the bathroom and other chores I’d been putting off. If she could run a damn marathon on top of swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles, I could banish some damned mildew. And I’d write all about how proud I was of her and how this humble woman both inspires me and puts me to shame.
Then I came home from running errands to the news that Alice Playten had died suddenly - to me, anyway - at the age of 63.
If you do not follow theatre, you probably don’t know the name Alice Playten. But there’s an excellent chance that you’ve heard her voice in commercials and animation, or seen her on TV or in films over the past 4 or 5 decades. And just about every actor who has set foot on a New York stage has seen her or knows her or has met her. She was, to say the least, one of the best-known least-known actresses in the city.
I met her in 2004 and there was no shaking her since. There were long stretches where we wouldn’t see each other, but I’d hear from her via email, or run into her at an event, or get together now and then. I even got to work with her in It Must Be Him (the show that launched this blog), and took her out for what turned out to be a last birthday lunch between shows during that run. She was one of those not-terribly-close-but-still-dear friends that you either see or don’t see, but that frequency or infrequency doesn’t impact the relationship.
This happens a lot with college friends, too. I don’t see Julie the Ironmom nearly as much as I did when we were in the dorm together, seeing as she’s 2500 miles away, so the closeness fades a little over time, but the dearness always remains.
I had been thinking about Alice last week, for a silly little reason. During It Must Be Him, she’d told me about this great dressmaker she’s had for years. Alice, with her tiny, tiny frame, always looked great thanks to “her girl” who could replicate any style for any occasion. I hadn’t gotten the dressmaker’s number then, and I was thinking that I’d shoot Alice an email to ask for it and perhaps make a coffee date and chat - it had been far too long. In fact, it is entirely possible that the last time I saw her was closing night of It Must Be Him in late September. But life got in the way, as it does, and I never got around to that email.
So hearing that she had passed stopped me in my tracks. Cold.
I was racked with regret and guilt for not contacting her, and this absolutely paralyzed me. I couldn’t do anything for the next two hours but stare into space and read the Google Realtime feed of tweets and seriously consider, for the first time, if I should finally get onto Facebook so I could, at the very least, find out if there was going to be a memorial. And that thought turned into: if I’d been on Facebook, would I have touched base with Alice before it was too late? Does Facebook prevent life getting in the way?
But I didn’t succumb to Facebook, even though it would have made some people - particularly Julie - very happy. I’m not sure if I want my last words to anyone I care about to be Stephanie D’Abruzzo Likes this.
And then, in my head, I heard Alice’s distinct voice. Not literally, but I knew what she’d say if she could see me:
Hello, darling girl. Now what’s all this crap about guilt? Listen. I know that you love me, and I love you too. So forget it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly pissed off at being dead. But what’s done is done. So tell me about this friend of yours doing the Ironman. She must be nuts.
Julie is not crazy. I’d say she’s fun. Maybe in the normal world’s spectrum she’s on the slightly crazy end of it, but I think whatever she is, it’s just crazy enough to give her a good spark. Except for the Ironman part. That’s bat-shite.
Alice was a little crazy, in a good way. The best actresses are. The truly great ones are bat-shite.
But she was also sweet, talented, and made me feel tall and worthy. She was also a tough Times-reading bird who suffered no fools, and was unapologetically opinionated and very proud. She’d be flattered that I wrote about her but she wouldn’t mince words:
I hope you wrote nice things. But don’t you have an audition to prepare for, young lady?
Yeah. I do.
We all have things to do. Triathlons and auditions and bathrooms and all the other little things that pile up and up. Sometimes they get in the way of letting the dear people in our lives know that we love them and are in awe of them. We do what we can, but sometimes we don’t.
Is there a point? Not particularly. If I tried, I may put too fine a point on it. Or I might make it about my feelings, which I have promised you this blog is not.
But Julie did humble me, inspire me, and put me to shame with her kick-ass-ness when she finished the Ironman in 16 hours, 34 minutes, and 7 seconds. Alice humbled me, inspired me, and put me to shame posthumously and at the age of 20 when I watched her kick ass on an old Ed Sullivan Show clip online. Mr. Sullivan, a man who was not known for gushing, gushed.
Stephanie D’Abruzzo Likes that. And then some.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.