Dinner with Richard Dreyfuss

Dinner with Dreyfuss

“Hello,” she said to me in a thick foreign accent, when I turned around to take a peek at the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who was sitting at the table next to me.  I heard her “hello” but turned quickly back to my table companions, thinking she couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

I was out with clients in La Jolla, California following a presentation skills training session I conducted.  Our group was a mix — some in-house marketing people, me and the company’s outside agency.  They were shooting a commercial the next day so anticipation rode high among our rag-tag group of creatives, out to dinner at a restaurant on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Our table faced the ocean, waves crashing against the window before the tide receded.  “Richard Dreyfuss is at the table behind us,” my friend Anita announced quietly to our table.  I saw her told her phone low to her lap so she could take a picture of him.

“Hello,” she said to me again when I turned my neck and took another look at the table behind me.  She was blond and exotic looking, wearing a tight, sleeveless, sequined white and black dress.  I didn’t know why she was talking to me; I thought it was a mistake.  I turned back to my table companions.  By now, we had all pulled out our phones to google Richard Dreyfuss.  From the accounts we read, it appeared that his third wife was a Russian woman named Svetlana.  Was this Svetlana?

The sun began to set with its warm orange glow as we talked about our work and our connections.  Maria, the producer, lived just blocks away from me in Chicago.  Jaime, the agency head, and I realized we had met and worked together more than a decade ago and had a variety of both personal and professional friends.

And there she was again.  She was saying ‘hello’ to me.  This third time I turned to her and said, “Hello, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, I have been trying to get your attention,” she said with a heavy accent.  At first I thought she was Polish.

“Well, hello then, ” I chirped back.

“Tell me about your table,” she asked, raising an eyebrow in an intriguing way.  “I’ve been interested in your table tonight.”

“Well, we are a bunch of people from Chicago.  That’s about it,” I reported.

“Are you Republicans?” she asked.

“Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I know we all have an independent streak, which is not quite Libertarian but very individual,” I hedged, wondering why she would ask such a question

Without having to wonder, she offered, “Well, my husband Richard Dreyfuss does not like conservatives,” nodding to the white-haired man across the table from her, and confirming what we already knew.  Yes, this was Svetlana, the third wife.  “Let me introduce you to my friend,” she said, gesturing to the man sitting next to her.  “He is a doctor.”  The man nodded.  “A doctor of our muscles,” she said.

“Oh, he is a physical therapist?” I asked.

“Yes, that is exactly what he is,”  she said.

Our earnest conversation continued, and my seat-mate Bill joined in as we asked questions and got to know Svetlana.  “You ask me so many questions.  You need to know I could kill you in five ways and you would never know it,” she hissed, intimating that the heel of her Chanel shoes might indeed be one of these secret weapons.

“Did we do something to make you angry,” I asked?

“No, not yet.  You must know that I am Russian and have learned very much before coming to America.”

Just then, I felt someone move close to me.  It was Richard Dreyfuss, pausing as he walked past and whispering in my ear, “What do you think of my wife,” he asked.  “She is an interesting woman to be sure.  How long have you been married?”

“Ten thousand years,” he said.  Svetlana heard this and reiterated.  “Yes, ten thousand years.  Is there any question?”

We talked a little more and then Svetlana moved on to the bar, joined by all our table companions except Bill.  Richard was now sitting all alone.  “Bill, let’ move to his table,” and in an instant we were sitting across from him at his table.

The three of us talked.  We talked about life, about Richard’s career and about things.  Richard talked about the moment he knew his life was changing.  His star was ascending and he was performing in a Shakespearean production.  “I knew that if I continued, there would be no turning back.  That my life would no longer be my own.  That I would become a celebrity and everything would change,” he said.

“I did it anyway and the rest is history.  But when all is said and done, I’m just a person.  A person having a conversation with you, which is nice because I can’t have conversations with people at will, so this is very nice,” he said. Indeed it was nice.  I thought of his work —   American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The list went on.  This was a unique moment.

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from the Marine Restaurant

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from our table.

Eventually a woman came to the table to let Richard know they were ready to leave when he was.  Taking the cue, he thanked us and excused himself, collecting his wife at the bar and leaving the restaurant.  We were the only patrons left and we called cars to take us back to our hotel in downtown San Diego.

Later I surfed the web, learning that Dreyfuss had been a cocaine addict in the 70s, among other many other colorful life facts.  And then there was this tidbit:

“Dreyfuss attributes much of his ability to end drug addiction to a life-altering vision experienced in hospital after a bad car crash. Under the influence of drugs while driving, Dreyfuss knew the crash was his fault. Though he was the only one injured, in his recovery state he was moved by the image of a beautiful little girl in a white dress. The girl served to remind him of the kind of innocent life he could have destroyed, and it compelled him to save his own life, he says, by confronting his drug demons.”

If only we had more time, I would have asked him about this too.  Was it a brush with the divine, a figment of his imagination or a sign that came just when he needed it?  And why did he heed it?  What made it so powerful that it made him change?   (Read Sarah Hinze’s account of this incident here.) But, for now I was satisfied — we had a moment, a very nice moment.

I thought about his comments, when he knew his life was changing, when he knew he could never go back, when he knew he would be a celebrity.  And how he brought us to his table, to talk, to discuss, to have that moment.

If we think about it, we all have moments when we know our lives are poised to change, when we can no longer go back.  These are the fires of our lives — whether it’s an actual incident like burning on a stove or a shift in our minds.  Sometimes things change forever and we don’t know it at the time.  But Richard Dreyfuss did, he saw his life moving from the precipice of rank-and-file actor to celebrity, and knew nothing would be the same again.  Imagine that moment.   Would we all take the risk ahead of us when we are fully aware of the moment?

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Inspiration in the Banquet Line

In general, high school athletic banquets are about sweet and well-deserved awards for the student athletes rather than doses of inspiration. At least that was my state of mind while driving to the Italian banquet hall on Chicago’s Central Avenue this week for my freshman basketball player son. In between the salad and the pasta along the banquet line, a funny thing happened. Yes, the awards were awarded, letters distributed, the boys commended for their hard work and dedication, and the season dissected for freshman teams, junior varsity and varsity.

But then Coach LoGalbo ended the evening by talking about the importance of being a man, of character and how raising the bar made each athlete a better person. He read from a text, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen.

“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.  Man is manacled only by himself. Thought and action are the jailers of Fate – they imprison, being base. They are also the angels of Freedom – they liberate, being noble. Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.”

Some other gems

*“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”

*“Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.”

Written as a literary essay in 1904, Allen essentially says  everything happening in your life (circumstances, achievements, all actions) is because of the thoughts we are thinking all day. Everything – job, relationships, happiness, pain, winning, losing – all is because of our thoughts.  He implores us to become aware of our thoughts.  If we only knew, he says, then we would realize that our life sucks because we are thinking – ‘my life sucks, my life sucks’ all day. And so do not assume that you know your thoughts, he says. Observe them. And then if you change them gradually – you will automatically create any circumstance you want by changing them.

I do believe that.

Thoughts being things is hardly a new concept but it created a hush at the athletic banquet, especially when Coach explained that he uses lessons from the text as part of every basketball practice.

After we got home, I went to the Internet and found the text, about 17 pages in all.

How and why do some people let their life events inspire them forward while others fall backward?  Is it only a question of thoughts?

As a child, how was I not destroyed by my accident?  I was too young to control my thoughts in a positive way so how were they shaped?

Doctors, nurses, parents of course of course played a part in shaping my young mind, right?

I’m not sure.

More than purely positive thought processes, I happen to think it was just my moment to have a second chance. While I think positive thinking is uniquely important, I don’t think it is life’s single magic elixir.  Bad things sometimes happen, no matter how well you may think.  Life is cruel to the kindest among us.  Thinking good thoughts won’t spare us from life’s challenges.

As much as we have the power within us, maybe we don’t credit the power outside us enough.  The God spark might give us more chances than we realize, pick us up more times than we know.  Yes, think positive thoughts and train our children to understand their power.  And also accept–  that some things  happen for reasons we’ll never know and simply shape who we are.

Cover of "As a Man Thinketh (Family Inspi...

Cover via Amazon

What Happens Once in a Blue Moon?

Blue Moon

August 2012’s Blue Moon

Jamie invited the girls over to dinner at her beach house last night and I knew we would talk about everything under the sun.  Among other things Jamie just started her own blog, Under The Dune Moon and finally has a place for all her rants and raves and beach photos.  It’s worth stumbling upon.In any event, I’ve mentioned how I’ve been thinking a lot this week about August’s so-called Blue Moon — the astrological phenomenon where two full moons appear in the same calendar month.  It’s rare but not unusual, happening every couple of years or only about 40 times in a century.August started out with two death events, what with the Toronto road trip for Ann’s mother’s death and my remembrance of my own mother’s death on August 5th, 1996.  I don’t like months to start that way because I’m always waiting for the 3rd event to occur.  It’s the sort of anticipation that makes me feel all nervy.

Throw in this blue moon thing and it seemed to merit a little research, thought and this time, even a poem.  Nothing to me is a coincidence; I believe all events conspire to give us messages, provide meaning and often to spur us on from places where we are stuck.

So what would a blue moon mean and what opportunities lie within it?

Digging around on the Internet, I found some guidance.  It read:

Astrology and the Full Moon

Astrologically the energy of the full moon works to integrate and harmonize the contradictions in the self and others. During a full moon, the seeds sown at the last new moon are ready to be harvested and utilized. Traditionally, the full moon is seen as a time for meditation and particularly for personal issues and global concerns.

During the blue moon this vibration is said to be three-fold. In some cultures the second full moon was considered a very holy and auspicious day. A time when the veil between heaven and earth is thin and the ability to communicate with the gods and goddess is very powerful. It is considered a very spiritually significant time for prayer and meditation going back thousands of years.

Aha!  That thin veil thing again.  It meant that there were signs to come, and I was hoping there would be one for Ann from her mother.  Today she flew down to Florida to begin a family cruise.  When they walked off the airplane, they were greeted by the rainbow posted below.  I’ve had my own rainbow as well and when you need it, it is amazing to see it appear.

I sighed in relief.  Maybe this blue moon had some positive gifts to bear.

Ann's Rainbow

A Rainbow for Ann

If you read about blue moons, there is also some theory that you should focus on your changes — the reference to ‘harmonizing the contradictions in others and self.’  I think I’ll let those evolve on their own this month.  With the blue moon set to arrive on August 31st, I’ll wait for what I think will be its gifts.

Once in a Blue Moon

I live in serendipity

A special community

Where good chance passes through

Just about everything I do.

A glance, a wink, a nod

It really is not so odd.

When you think events conspire

To bring what you desire.

They do.

……………………………………………………………………

What does the blue moon mean to you?  Please share.

Just Start Gayle, Just Start: Chance Encounters at a Barry Manilow Concert

She tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you know how to make this light stick work?”  My daughter Gigi took her light stick, cracked it and made it glow to its warm red color.  “It’s easy, see?” Gigi said, adding, “Are you at the concert by yourself?”  Gayle was attending alone, sitting behind us in Row D.  At 11 years old, Gigi didn’t even know who Barry Manilow was.  At quite a bit over 11, I remembered Barry Manilow from high school but wouldn’t have bought tickets to a concert then or probably now.  But our friend Ann’s mother had taken ill and she gave us the tickets just days before.  What a hoot, I thought, to see Barry Manilow live.  Gigi and I went to YouTube the night before and played more than a few Barry Manilow videos to prepare ourselves.

Now, we readied our light sticks which I imagine are the modern equivalent of cigarette-lighters-at-concerts from back in the day and we began to talk to Gayle.  This was her more than 20th Barry Manilow concert and she had loved him since she was 10.  Gigi and I felt a little sheepish admitting we were even at the concert much less that it was our first one and that we were only in Row C by the accident of a friend’s mother’s illness.

The 7:30 start time at The Chicago Theater came and went and we continued talking to Gayle.  She lived downtown and worked at a social media company.  Oh, and she told us she was a writer of sorts, secretly writing short stories about life without the courage to try to publish any of them.  I couldn’t resist.  “Gayle, you are in social media.  Of all people you know about creating a platform for writing.  You just have to start.  Start with a blog,” I suggested.

“It’s funny you say that,” she mused.  “Just this morning I went to a program on social media and the advice was that there is never a good starting point so you just have to start.  What are the chances I’d hear the very same message on the very same day.”

“The chances are very good,” I said, drawing on my own experiences with this sort of serendipity.  “When we are ready to do something, I think we get the same message many times over.  It’s just that we work very hard to ignore it.  Gayle, the universe is telling you to just start.  Take it from me, you should just get started.”

It was 8:10 p.m. and an announcer finally let us know that the concert was minutes from starting.  Gigi waved her glow stick in anticipation.  The crowd filled in while we were talking and the theater was now full.

“You know Gayle, Gigi and I were not supposed to be at this concert.  It’s only through serendipity that we are.  You want to write.  I’m in the same boat.  Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that we connected,” I said.

Gayle nodded her agreement and handed me her card.  “Stranger things have happened.  I think I need to get started with my blog.”

The curtain rose and all lights were on Barry Manilow.  He opened with It’s a Miracle.

As the Chicago Tribune said in its review of the evening, even now he writes the songs that make his fans sing.

With so much inspiration in the air, it was nice to find some of our own.

Paul’s 11-Cent Dare

United States penny, obverse, 2002

Image via Wikipedia

As February gives way to March, the waning gray winter days have yelped out for some inspiration.  When I read Paul Trout’s wonderful blog post, Create Your Own Luck:  The 11-cent Dare, the other day, inspiration arrived.

As Paul explained on his website blog Paul Trout Executive Consulting, “The problem with waiting for luck to happen to one’s self is very “me-centric.”  What if you could create your own luck by being others’ “unexpected serendipity”? In other words, can you create luck for yourself by helping others feel lucky?”  If you read the rest of Paul’s post, you’ll see that he does in fact create his own sense of good fortune by randomly distributing 11 pennies.

When I checked my coin purse this morning, it contained exactly 11 pennies — a true sign that I should take his 11-cent dare.  For the second time since since reading Paul’s post , inspiration had hit and I hadn’t even begun the challenge.

As readers of Anne on Fire may know, I am a penny fan.  There are encounters with serendipity, life’s little good luck charms or just small bits of encouragement.  Apparently pennies intrigue other people too — roughly 100 people have randomly visited my blog and the I Find Pennies post through Internet searches for “Finding Pennies,” and “What Do Pennies Mean?”

Like Paul Trout, I’d always been “me-centric” about pennies, wondering where they came from and what meaning they held for me.  It’s about time that I initiated the chain and scattered some random pennies.

Bunching 11 pennies in my hand, I walked outside  Along the block around my office, I dropped a penny here and there.   In the minute it took to walk to my car, I saw three people exit the job re-training center and spot a penny on the ground.  One of them leaned over and picked it up.  It felt good to see it.

“The psychological secret of opportunity is that human beings are programmed to reciprocate to those who have helped them.  But when they can’t help the person who helped them directly immediately, they often help others,” Paul wrote on his blog.

I am on my way.  Thank you Paul Trout.

Will you join in the 11-cent dare?

What are the Chances?

In my main ‘day job’ I work with lawyers, lots and lots of lawyers.  Today as I was yukking it up with Craig-The-Lawyer, he mentioned a key meeting tomorrow and asked me to ‘light a candle’.  Without skipping a beat, I quickly retorted, “Well, I’ll do my best but I have a little problem with fire.”

“What is that,” he asked innocently?

Muttering an internal “dang it” for blathering on so quickly with that comment, I pulled out some of my stock burned-leg phraseology, “Oh, when I was a kid I climbed up a stove and burned the crap out of my leg.”

“Did you?” he said and again I added too much more content.

“I did.  I was trying to get a cookie or a cracker from the cabinet above the stove and well, it didn’t go so well.  My shoe got stuck on the burner and it wasn’t pretty.”

“You’re kidding?” he half-queried.  I realized I might now be stuck in one of those lawyer-socratic-phrase interchanges where I would soon head down the proverbial “slippery slope” of this repartee.  I’d offered too much.  I was conversational toast.

“You know, the same thing happened to me,” he said.

“You’re kidding!” I countered, bemused and intrigued at the same time.”

“Yeah, I must have been four or five and I wanted to get some of the cookies we kept in the cabinet above the stove.  But keep in mind that I was kind of short fellow then so I took the phone book with me, climbed up the stove and put the book over the burner.  Wouldn’t you know it but I accidentally turned the burner on high.  I got the cookie, but the book got torched and I’ll tell you, the whole thing scarred me for life.”

“It was a gas stove, wasn’t it?” I interrupted, now taking over the role of questioner.

“Matter of fact, it wasn’t.  It was an electric stove.  My wife was talking about getting a gas stove the other day and I told her that based on my experience with the electric stove, we could not get a gas one.  That would be certain death for me,” he laughed.

“Wait.  Are you telling me you had the exact same experience I did but you didn’t get burned?”  I couldn’t believe anyone would have a similar story, an almost verbatim same experience.

“What I’m telling you is that I seem to be a whole lot smarter than you,” he teased.  “I brought along that phone book and it worked a whole lot better than your strategy did.”

And so it was true.  My mind raced.  How many families kept cookies in the cabinet above their electric stove?  How many little kids had exactly the same precocious crazy idea as Craig-The-Lawyer and I did?  How many more people did I know who would share some sort of similar death-defying childhood feat?

In my earlier blog post, Cabinets Above Stoves (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/cabinets-above-stoves/), I wrote about my strange sensitivity for placing goodies above the cooker.  It doesn’t seem so strange anymore.  In fact, I can attest to countless conversations with my relatives and childhood friends who, as adults, will tell me, “You know, I have to tell you.  I’ve told my kids about your accident and it’s how we talk about being careful in the kitchen.”  At first, it used to take me aback to hear these things, as if burning-my-leg-by-climbing-up-a-stove was my lasting legacy.  Over time however I found it almost reassuring — that if I was to be the poster child for stove-related accident prevention, I could live with being a something of an off-beat hero.

By the way, the wry title of this post “What are the Chances?” is obviously a rhetorical question.  Years ago, I might have thought that running into people like Craig-the-Lawyer who have similar stories to share was an anomaly.  Now, I know that it is just the path I’m on these days.  Lots of serendipity.  No coincidences.

Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.