Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dramaworks’ Long Day’s Journey into Night –a Landmark Production

Last night a hushed, frequently stunned audience witnessed Dramaworks’ long anticipated production of Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. It takes America’s greatest playwright to reach the inner depths of his tortured soul, creating a virtual verisimilitude of his own family life (it is as autobiographical as any play ever written; he viewed writing it as an act of forgiveness).  And it takes a great production company to nurture this spiraling inward play, sustaining the drama for more than three intense hours.  All four of the actors portraying the Tyrone family deliver electrifying and physically exhausting performances.  Although this was the company’s very first performance of the play in front of an audience (a “preview”), it was flawless to my eye, a master class of staging, directing and acting.

Long Day’s Journey is but a day’s journey although it encapsulates a lifetime. It unfolds one late summer’s day in 1912 at the family’s home by the Connecticut seashore, a place not unlike O’Neill’s summer childhood in New London.  The action unremittingly reveals well worn emotional paths to the present. Love transitions to hate and hate to anger and then to contrition and guilt and thus back to love.  The Tyrone family knows how to love, but does not know how to be loving.  It is a study of emotional ups and downs, the audience rising with the few crests and falling with the numerous troughs.

The play revolves around the life of James Tyrone, the family patriarch, an actor whose “good bad luck” was to “find the big money-maker,” a romantic part in Monte Cristo, a play that became a box office success and had the Tyrone family on the road for most of their formative lives. It brought money, a considerable amount in those days.  But Tyrone sold his soul, knowing he could have been a great Shakespearian actor.  That shame shadows him and corrodes his family.  He is obsessed with money, the wastefulness of leaving lights on, the imprudence of hiring expensive doctors for his wife, and his son, Edmund, and is continually derided by his family for being a tightwad.

Maureen Anderman, Dennis Creaghan
The role of James Tyrone is among the most challenging in American Drama and veteran Dramaworks actor Dennis Creaghan makes it his own, embracing the alternating sadness, anger, regret, and even love.  Alcohol is his refuge, its tentacles reaching out to his sons.  It is a wrenching performance by Creaghan and although much of the family’s pain can be traced to him, James had his own hardships as a child and one’s heart goes out to him thanks to Creaghan’s sensitive portrayal.

Mary, his wife, is played by Maureen Anderman, a last minute replacement for the original actress who had to leave the production for personal reasons.  It is a difficult part to play with adequate preparation, but to perform this demanding role on short notice (although the opening was delayed six days) is simply remarkable, and Anderman being such a pro, a Broadway actress who we’ve seen before at Dramaworks, at the Maltz Theatre, and most recently at the Westport Country Playhouse this past summer, delivers a performance which theatre lovers will always remember and associate her with.  She is achingly heartbreaking as Tyrone’s wife.  O’Neill has given us a window into Mary’s subconscious with her suspicion of not being trusted, deep shame, and eventual disappearance into drugged somnambulism.  Along with the believable gnarled hands and regal bearing, Anderman gives us a fully fleshed and real character that astounds with its perfection. She has complete command of every aspect of Mary’s persona.
Michael Stewart Allen, John Leonard Thompson, Dennis Creaghan, Maureen Anderman

Mary had her dreams too.  Before meeting her husband, she was in a convent school and had thoughts of being a concert pianist or even a nun.  She was swept off her feet by James but increasingly her life became one of a secondary player to James, accompanying him while he was on the road which was most of the time.  The only “home” she has known is their summer residence on the sea.  And it is a permanent “home” she has longed for.  “In a real home one is never lonely,” she says to James, reminding him that she gave up such a home – her father’s – to marry him. “I knew from experience by then that children should have homes to be born in, if they are to be good children, and women need homes.”  Also in the context of “home,” she acknowledges that the men in her family have “barrooms where they feel at home.”

Her life as an appendage to James is bad enough.  But O’Neill drills down further into her heartache where the rarely mentioned sorrow of their deceased child, notably named Eugene, resides.  Eugene would have been the middle son had he not died when he was two, exposed to the disease by the older son, Jamie, before the youngest son, Edmund, was born. Thus Mary’s accusation: “Oh, I know Jamie was only seven, but he was never stupid. He’d been warned it might kill the baby.  He knew.  I’ve never been able to forgive him for that.”

Following Edmund’s birth (which she perceived as a duty to her husband, following the death of Eugene) and Mary’s increasing feeling of isolation and blame, she turns to morphine as her chosen remorse-killer to which she becomes addicted for the rest of her life.

John Leonard Thompson, Michael Stewart Allen
She worries about the health of her younger son, Edmund, and although she is in constant denial about the seriousness of his condition, he is finally diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Edmund is played by a new Dramaworks face, Michael Stewart Allen, an experienced Shakespearian actor.  Edmund is O’Neill’s alter ego and much of the playwright’s tortured and poetic observations are expressed through him.  Allen’s portrayal of Edmund’s drunken conversation with his father in Act IV is passionate and his final confrontation with his brother reveals a physical side which takes the audience by surprise.  He is there to be pitied by the family, always a source of their guilt, and, yet, if anyone is “the sanest” in the family, Allen brings that out.

Jamie or James Jr. is played by another Dramaworks pro, John Leonard Thompson.  Here is yet an additional dynamic for the family’s dysfunctional gristmill: the failed older son who holds on to his “infinite sorrow of life.” He is his father’s greatest disappointment.  Jamie’s cynicism is his protection from the truth but when drunk (which is most of the time) his love-hate relationship with Edmund comes to the surface, jealous of his younger brother on the one hand and loving on the other. "You're all I've got left" he drunkenly confesses. Nonetheless he has introduced his younger brother to the same debauchery in which he has indulged; bars and prostitutes. Thompson’s portrayal of Jamie’s antagonism gathers momentum to the final drunken confrontation with his brother in the last scenes.  It is a physically exhausting performance and, as I think O’Neill intended, one does feel pity and fear for the tragedy of being the first born in the Tyrone family.  John Leonard Thompson, who has excelled in so many Dramaworks productions, will be remembered for this extraordinary portrayal of so many conflicting emotions.

Maureen Anderman, Carey Urban
Carey Urban, making her debut at Dramaworks, is Cathleen, a household servant, the only non-family member in the play.  Although a minor character, she plays an important role, briefly imbibing with Mary, waiting for the men to return home, expressing rage at the druggist in filling Mary’s morphine prescription (which Mary insists is for “rheumatism”).  Urban provides what little comic relief there is in the play with aplomb.

And as the home is by the sea, there are numerous references to the fog.  It is both a source of comfort and of sadness. It is a porous curtain into the past.  Mary wonders “why is it fog makes everything sound so sad and lost?”  Edmund, the younger son laments “Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?” It is a symbolic reminder of the kind of fog hanging in their lives, alcohol for the Tyrone men and the opiate for Mary to diminish the pain of their past histories.  The fog actually enters the home in the last act, seemingly seeking out Mary in her final Ophelia-like scene.

Accusations and regret make up the “action.” The Tyrones have to exhume the past to deal with the present and lie (to themselves as well as to each other) to exculpate their guilt.  It is simply a masterpiece of painful writing and brilliant performances. The dark and personal content challenges the directors and the actors every step in the development and its execution.  Performing Long Day’s Journey has to take its toll day in and day out.  It is emotionally exhausting.

We were fortunate to be able to briefly attend one of the rehearsals a couple of weeks before the opening.  It was the “tech week” where Dramaworks blends all the technical elements, lighting and sound while choreographing the blocking and movement of the actors.  We saw two brief scenes from Act I and Act IV, one between James Sr. (Dennis Creaghan) and James Jr. (John Leonard Thompson) and the other between James Sr. and Edmund (Michael Stewart Allen). 

At times Director Bill Hayes and Assistant Director Paul Stancato (they worked as a team on this production) stopped the action, discussing their concerns with the actors and the actors making some counter arguments.  There must be hundreds of such tiny tweaking moments, the invisible hands of the director to help make the scenes authentic and dramatic.  It is a process of trust, starting with casting, the director having to trust the actors for such a collaboratory effort, this trust ultimately extending to the audience. Bill Hayes felt the Dramaworks’ audience -- as well as the theatre’s production team -- was ready for such a journey.  Both Hayes and Stancato (who will direct a future Dramaworks production, solo, next season) successfully merge the symbolic and literary elements of the play.  And the play does read like a novel, O’Neill providing extensive, descriptive stage directions which must be interpreted by the director.

The technicians behind the actors and the director are top notch.  Scenic design is by K. April Soroko, and lighting design is by Donald Edmund Thomas.  The lighting evolves as morning passes into the afternoon, to twilight and finally to midnight connoting the dark denouement. Even the lighting of John Singer Sargent’s paintings was studied to capture the time period and mood.  At the conclusion of Act II, a dramatic bright white spotlight shines on Mary, dressed in white, as “she gives a little despairing laugh” [stage directions] saying, “Then Mother of God, why do I feel so lonely?”  The spotlight fades and cuts to darkness.  Intermission.

The relatively shallow stage of Dramaworks’ theater is compensated by its breadth. There is an upstairs and an outside where the fog comes and goes.  It is a sea-side home of some substance by 1912 standards, wood-paneled, a book case, framed pictures of Shakespeare, and another of a Monte Cristo 19th century playbill, the play which made O’Neill’s father rich playing the role more than 6,000 times.  Costume design is by Brian O'Keefe with his usual careful attention to period dress.  Sound design is by Matt Corey and along with the fog, there is the obligatory fog horn, timed to sound at some of the most dramatic moments.

A final tip of the hat to James Danford, the Stage Manager, a tireless role, the man who attends to the scores and scores of details on stage, right down to the levels of the liquid in the liquor bottles (many of which are gone through during the production).  Danford is in his fourth season at Dramaworks, an enthusiastic pro in every way.

In short, if you are ready to see the greatest American play, and perhaps one of its best productions, take a journey with the Tyrone family and strap on your seat belt at Dramaworks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hopalong Cassidy America

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times, to paraphrase Mr. Dickens.  Technologically speaking, it is wondrous.  As a kid our Philco radio (which was actually a piece of furniture) brought me into the world of the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy, graduating to a big Dumont TV (well the cabinet was big but the screen minuscule), where I could finally see my cowboy heroes (that’s me in my Hopalong outfit).  We had a party line telephone and had to wait for our neighbor to get off their call to make a call.  No dialup. You spoke to an operator to make a call, and telephone numbers began with a word, in our case “Virginia.”  When dialup arrived and party lines disappeared, the first two letters of the word preceded the number.  I still remember ours: VI-6-3134.  Unthinkable, making or taking a call from a tiny device on your wrist, or from one hanging on your belt, or in the comfort of your car  This was the stuff of science fiction, although it was commonly thought that by the 21st century everyone would be driving flying cars.

This time of innocence was belied by the increasing tensions of the cold war with regular air raid drills in school, hiding under our desks as the shades were drawn to thwart the effects of a Russian nuclear attack.  We thought of it as protection, but it was part of the propaganda, that the threat of a sudden attack was real and we shouldn’t worry, the government would somehow look after us (e.g. the drawn shades).  The McCarthy hearings and communist witch hunting were just part of the scheme to whip up fear to justify the investment in a giant nuclear arsenal.

Back then, though, there was the rise of a real middle class, the American dream realized which started with the GI Bill after WW II.  Hard work really did pay off then, and company loyalty and affordable housing abounded, although other social issues lagged, in particular; racial equality, long held prejudices were still ingrained in our institutions. 

Fast forward to the present with the wonders of technology which have changed our lives, and have given promise to a future of driverless cars, robotic assistants, and the colonization of planets (we’ll have to eventually get off this one).

Mankind seems hell bent on destroying those future benefits.  Imagine, the reality of global warming still being questioned, politicizing the very existence of our species (quick get me to Mars where I can feast on potatoes, but please don’t run out of ketchup : - ).  Even if we agree to solve this primary issue, we still have a dysfunctional government which cannot agree on matters of gun control, a decaying infrastructure (see anecdotal photos below), reeducation of the depressed middle class to replace their disappearing factory jobs with those in the technology, health, or service sectors, and how to properly deal with terrorism and immigration policies, income inequalities, and that is but to name a few.

The ingredients seem ripe in the forthcoming Presidential election for the tipping point into downright dystopianism, the stuff of fiction until now, 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, and The Road.  I think of the latter two in particular in relation to what is already happening in Michigan, the Flint water fiasco, and the condition of the Detroit public schools. 

Read David Brooks' insightful piece in a recent New York Times editorial in particular his comments on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz: Worse is the prospect that one of them might somehow win. Very few presidents are so terrible that they genuinely endanger their own nation, but Trump and Cruz would go there and beyond. Trump is a solipsistic branding genius whose “policies” have no contact with Planet Earth and who would be incapable of organizing a coalition, domestic or foreign. Cruz would be as universally off-putting as he has been in all his workplaces. He’s always been good at tearing things down but incompetent when it comes to putting things together.

Imagine if Bernie Sanders does beat Hillary Clinton and Trump or Cruz wins their party’s nomination.  I don’t think this nation is ready to elect a Jewish politician who has socialist leanings.  And of course Clinton has her own issues so she isn’t a shoo-in.  Maybe the Democrats at the last minute can draft Al Gore who won the election in 2000 if it was not for the Supreme Court? : - )  (Parenthetically what would our world look like now if Gore was allowed to win?  Would 9/11 still have happened?  Would we have gone into Iraq?  Would there have been better controls over bank risk taking which might have at least mitigated some of the 2007 collapse?  More progress on reversing global warming?).  Or, as Michael Bloomberg recently hinted, perhaps he’d run as an Independent if Sanders gets the Democratic nomination and either Trump or Cruz runs as the Republican nominee.  But that would further split the progressive vote, making the Republican candidate a more likely winner even with a minority of the popular vote. (As a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I’d support Bloomberg.)

So, if we find ourselves a year from now waking up to a President Trump or Cruz, would we, as Brooks contends, be in a position of having a new President genuinely endangering our own nation?  A self-aggrandizing, poll spouting, reality TV star (to watch Trump squirm as Sarah Palin rambled on invectives and gibberish would be as funny as Tina Fey portrayed, if it were not so tragic – that’s what our political system has come to: reality TV star endorsing a reality TV star), or a borderline fascist, a real tough guy (his persona reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy in many ways) who as Supreme Court Clerk, made the death penalty his cause  and who would carpet bomb the sand of the Middle East until it glows in the dark.  

Either Cruz or Trump might have us strapping on guns as our “Constitutional right.”  And if everyone was so armed, shouldn’t it be a safer America, where we can shoot the “bad guys” and “stand our ground?” Hopalong Cassidy America!  

Decaying 120 Year Old Norwalk Ct Amtrak Swing Bridge

Monday, January 11, 2016

Guns and Stocks

Two recent articles grabbed my attention, preaching to the choir in my case. 

First, the endless posturing of Republican candidates as to who loves God and Guns the most, or is it Guns and God?  Ted Cruz is particularly blunt on these topics, saying something to the effect that no person is fit to be President who does not get down on his (or her) knees each morning to pray and his contention that all us “good guys” need guns to take care of the “bad guys.”  In regard to the latter, the Canadians see it for what it is, a spot on article in their National Post: More guns aren’t the answer. For Canadians, America’s gun cult looks like a collective suicide pact:  The America of the NRA’s imagination is a mythic, death-match arena populated by “good guys” and “bad guys,” “monsters” and “patriots.” As in a videogame or superhero comic book, everyone apparently falls into one category or the other. And since the patriots are more numerous, the theory goes, life is arithmetically safest when Americans are all armed to the teeth, ready to rake others with gunfire at the slightest provocation  

It goes on to conclude that when pro-gun activists and politicians make their case, they often regress into adolescent fantasy worlds — where ordinary Joes and Janes are transformed into heroic commandos. In real life, ordinary people faced with a mass-shooter situation are more likely to wet their pants. [Emphasis, mine – and this conclusion is documented in the article]

I’ve written about this so many times that I’m afraid of repeating myself, so instead I paste below just some excerpts. They certainly explain why the National Post article speaks so directly to me.  Read the National Post’s article though, it’s how we’re seen from our neighbor’s viewpoint.  We are so often chasing our own tails that we lack the necessary perspective.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
It Can’t Happen Here?

Unfortunately, the horror in San Bernardino has fed into all of this, “legitimizing” such dangerous rhetoric and escalating it to personal attacks on President Obama (who now has low polling numbers about keeping America “safe,” the exact inverse of what those numbers were after bin Laden was nailed) - and subsequent accusations that any call for stronger gun control laws is merely politicizing the San Bernardino tragedy.

But such calls have gone on for years with fierce Republican and NRA opposition.  I do not naively believe that better gun control laws and enforcement would magically eliminate such tragedies, especially in the short term.  But I do believe that the Second Amendment, which was written in the days of musket rifles and flintlock pistols, needs serious updating.

At that time, we needed an armed militia and also the founding fathers believed that an armed citizenry would be deterrent to the rise of a despotic government.  The world has changed since then, weapons of war unimaginable to our forefathers, and, now, mostly in the hands of the military and law enforcement.  To make some of the same weapons legitimately available to the citizenry no longer serves the purpose of protecting us from a despotic government as the military will always have superior weaponry (is an converted AR-15 adequate protection against a tank?). The proliferation of automatic weapons just further endangers us all, giving us a false sense of security by just having one in our closet.

No, this is a country of laws and checks and balances and we have to depend on our tried-and-true institutions as well as the much maligned (by Trump in particular) fourth estate to keep our government transparent and trustworthy. If some fringe element threatens us in our homes and public places, we need better intelligence to prevent it and rapid response law enforcement to protect us.

Fully automatic weapons (ones that operate as a machine gun) need to be banned, and guns should be registered just like a car, an equally dangerous thing.  That means getting a license, passing a rigorous background check and license renewals (a gun owner having to report if it is sold, just like a car).  Guns for self defense, hunting and target practicing are understandable but how can one argue that an automatic weapon is needed?  Certainly not for hunting (where is the sport in that?).  Do we really want our neighbors to be totting an automatic weapon citing Florida’s ambiguous “stand your ground” law as a justification?

Will that keep guns out of the hands of the “bad guys” as the Republicans like to call them?  No, but it’s a start and of course the devil is in the details of how such gun control is administered.  Senseless to get further into it here – I’m merely expounding an opinion.

Friday, October 2, 2015
Carly Sidesteps

Switching gears to one of the major issues of our times, gun control.  I’ve written about this topic before and it is sad that we make no progress in this area and now, still, another mass slaughter, this one at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  CNN now reports that the police have identified thirteen (!) weapons connected with the murderer.

As President Obama wearily declared in his news conference, these incidents have become routine in this country and our response is routine:  commiserate with the families and do absolutely nothing to diminish the problem.  Thank you NRA and its obedient congressional cronies.  

I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to this subject.  People should have the right to have registered weapons for target practice and hunting, and for self protection (with licensing akin to getting a driver’s license, testing etc.), with stringent background checks before any weapon could be bought.  Assault weapons should be banned.  Would those steps eliminate the problem?  No.  But it’s a start.  On a macro basis, it is a cultural problem (just look at popular culture which glorifies violence and guns), as well as educational and income equality feeding the problem. 

Monday, January 20, 2014
"Existential Illegitimacy"

There have been twenty mass shootings since Obama became president and he is helpless to do anything about it without the complete cooperation of Congress.  After the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, only a few miles from where we lived for twenty plus years, there was a ground swell (verbal only) in Congress to do something to control the sale of certain automatic weapons, but by the time the NRA got finished with their lobbying campaign, that effort was AK47ed to death.  Explain that failure to the parents of the children slaughtered.

Thursday, January 17, 2013
You Call That a Gun?

Florida airwaves are chock full of reports of surging gun sales and crowded local shooting ranges before the sword of Damocles (Obama) comes swiftly down.  Interestingly, or tellingly, it is the sales of the AK47 type of military weapons that are selling most briskly and at record prices, soldier citizens plunking down $1,000 or more for their favorite assault weapon.  Apparently, their rationalization for needing a military weapon is, well, for their inevitable confrontation with the US Military.  These particular stalwart supporters of the Constitution (a.k.a. conspiracists) "know" of clandestine government plans to send troops door-to-door to confiscate their booty.  The problem with that is if they are harboring AK47s, perhaps the military might come knocking on their doors with a tank?  Now that's a gun!

In a more serious vein, it's about time after all the empty talk that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is brought into the 21st century.  The framers of the Constitution could never have envisioned what now constitutes the word "arms."

Then my favorite blogger, Barry Ritholtz wrote a sobering article for the Washington Post on the first week’s slide (crash?) of the stock market. 

The essence of it is – well, these things happen; ignore the swings and stick to your “strategy.”  While I of course defer to Ritholtz’s expertise and mostly agree, I would suggest that it may not be that “easy” this time. Tried-and-true asset allocation models no longer seem to be valid.  Governments manipulated the markets to such a degree on their way up that the unwinding of those actions (particularly evident in China) have resulted in asset categories becoming highly correlated.  I will not quote the piece here, but I wrote about this a couple of years ago in Reflections of a Relic Investor

I agree with Ritholtz though that acting on investment decisions while emotions are running high is hazardous to one’s financial health. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

In Memoriam

The year ended on a sad note for us. Our friend and my colleague of some thirty years, Mitsuo Nitta, passed away two months earlier and we didn’t learn about it until we received a letter from Yushodo, his company in Tokyo: “I am Yoshie Kato, Mr. Nitta’s secretary. With great sorrow, I have to inform you of the passing of Mr. Nitta on 27th October 2015 at the age of 82.  I deeply thank you for your lasting friendship with Mr. Nitta, and would like to send my best wishes to you and your family.”  I stared at this letter in disbelief, not only stunned by the news but also because it revealed how out of the loop I am now in retirement.

Mitsuo was a well-known rare book collector, antiquarian bookseller, and reprinter of some very rare texts.  He made a presentation copy for me of his reprint edition of Samuel Johnson’s, A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).  (My company had reprinted Webster's 1828 Dictionary.)  He was a Member of Honor of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers whose web site is publishing Letters of Condolences in Mitsuo Nitta’s honor.  I’ve been told that mine will be added soon, but as it may be edited and I’m not sure whether all the photographs will be included, I post it here as well in honor of my long-time friend and colleague, Mitsuo Nitta:

As I had retired from the publishing business more than fifteen years ago, it was only when we sent our annual Seasonal Greetings to Mr. and Mrs. Nitta that we learned from Yushodo that Mitsuo had passed away two months earlier.  I was shocked that my old friend had died, as was my wife and son.  It seemed impossible, a person with such brimming enthusiasm and largess of life.  And I felt particularly saddened that we had become so out of touch since my retirement that I only recently discovered this great loss.

I first met Mitsuo in 1968 when I was working for Johnson Reprint Corporation but it wasn’t until I became the President of the Greenwood Publishing Group in the early 1970s that our friendship and extensive business dealings blossomed.   I knew Mitsuo mostly from the publishing side of the business, Yushodo becoming our distributor in Japan and that relationship lasting decades.  We also cooperated on a number of joint ventures, including reprints of some antiquarian titles.

He always had that twinkle in his eye with a warm but restrained smile suggesting what the future might bring, soliciting an opinion and sharing his. Many of our joint publishing ventures were initiated with nothing more than a handshake agreement, committing resources even before a contract was drawn and signed, a mere formality.

When my wife Ann and I first visited Japan in 1975 he treated us royally and even helped set up appointments with some of his competitors with whom I had dealings on other projects.  Our evenings were occupied by a number of dinners with him and Hisako, or staff from Yushodo.  He liked to pair me with some of his younger managers, always intrigued by what we members of the “younger generation” might bring to the business.

He loved to share the Japanese culture with Westerners and had such generosity of spirit.  On one of my trips to Japan, at the very end of 1989, with Japan at its zenith of economic power, he asked me to make a major address on U.S. - Japan economic relations to Tokyo's Rotary Club consisting of executives of leading Japanese companies at the time. Mitsuo was my mentor for the speech which was very well received.

As that trip was at the end of the year, I brought my wife Ann and my 12-year old son, Jonathan, so we could experience the Japanese New Year together.  Mitsuo took Jonathan under his wing, admiring Jonathan’s inquisitiveness and interest in Japanese culture.  Mitsuo asked his son to take Jonathan for an insider’s tour of the Ginza area in downtown Tokyo. 

We all travelled with Mitsuo and his wife to the Tateshina Resort & Spa northwest of Tokyo where Naruhito, the Crown Prince of Japan had stayed.  I’m not sure whether that trip was a greater delight to us or Mitsuo who was constantly amused by our reaction to living Japanese style (we loved it of course).

There on the eve of the 1990 New Year, we were treated to a special weekend where we were the only Westerners, sleeping on handcrafted tatami mats, eating traditional Japanese food. I remember that Mitsuo challenged me to guess the identity of one of the many dinner courses served throughout the 3 hour meal………something that tasted like steak tartar to me. He laughed when he told me it was raw horsemeat, a delicacy in the region. Luckily, I had sufficient Sake to wash it down.

The high point of the weekend was the spa. First we had to bathe ourselves sitting on small stools, using a bucket with water, soaking and scrubbing every inch of our bodies until squeaky clean. Then, with nothing on but the winter kimono, we walked outside into the freezing night air, with snow all around, disrobed, and plunged ourselves into the steaming hot tubs. A bamboo curtain separated the ladies from the men. We could talk to our wives but not peek. Jonathan took to this so naturally while I had to be coaxed into the hot pool, simply because the temperature difference was so great.  Mitsuo found this very funny.

That trip had a lasting impact on our friendship and left such a deep impression on Jonathan that nearly ten years later he chose to spend his college junior year abroad at Doshisha University in Kyoto, immersing himself in the culture and the language.  Naturally, Mitsuo kept an eye on him, occasionally getting together and giving me his opinion of “the boy’s” maturation and adjustment.

Mitsuo and Hisako were in New York City in April 2011 when he heard I just had open heart surgery, with complications which required a two plus week stay in the hospital.  He insisted on flying down to Florida upon my returning home to see his old friend.  Sadly, that was the last time I saw him.  We hugged as he left. There will always be a place in my heart for Mitsuo, a person of remarkable spirit and dedication to his profession, one who has impacted so many lives.  Farewell, my friend.