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Phyllis' Findings

When I was about 8 years old I used to make lists of movie stars Names, just names. Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor...no information or data next to the names, just endless lists. My Mother used to look at my pages of names and say that she wished I was as good at arithmetic as I was with lists of movie stars. Subsequently, my parents took me to my first play. I was a bit nervous...weren’t plays for grownups? However, I loved it. It was Ezra Stone in “What a Life”...the forerunner of the Henry Aldrich show.

Remember, “Coming Mother?” It concerned high school students and even though I wasn’t old enough for high school, I understood and enjoyed it. My next theatrical venture was to a matinee of Moss Hart’s “Junior Miss.” Again I reveled in live theatre and when I read in the New York Post that Mr. Hart was casting for the road company of “Junior Miss,” guess who wrote to him requesting an audition? He responded asking me to come to an address with something to read. I guess my Mom couldn’t see herself schlepping around the country as a stage Mom and so she never let me keep the appointment. I secretly felt she must be jealous. She did let me take acting lessons though, at a place in New York City called the Schick Center. Once a week I went with other kids and I remember when we were all told to “cry.” I was singled out by the teacher as the “best crier.” “Look, children she said “watch Phyllis cry. See how her chin quivers.” I was so proud. Little did they know I was crying for the Sara Bernhard (or Meryl Streep from another era) that I’d never be. I’ll say one thing...there have been several occasions in life when chin quivering has come in mighty handy. It’ll never replace beating your breast or holding your breath, or throwing plates, but with the right audience it can be quite effective. I wonder if my Mother ever felt guilty not letting me fulfill my heart’s desire to be a movie queen? She could make anybody feel guilty. She used to get letters of apology from people she didn’t even know.

Part Two

Son, Randy, came to visit and he surprised me with two tickets to the fantastic Gershwin musical “ANYTHING GOES” from way back in 1934. (it’s too late for you to get to...but it’s probably touring somewhere...check it out) Film-wise we saw three movies in one day! It’s my homage to Mike LaSalle...the best film reviewer of all time.

THE IMPOSSIBLE concerns the 2004 tsunami in Thailand that re-creates the devastating disaster that befalls a family of five. Naomi Watts (as the Mother) and Tom Holland (as her son) are terrific in this true story.

DJANGOO UNCHAINED is the latest Quentin Tarantino’s epic about an escaped slave who joins a bounty hunter (Christopher Waltz) to rescue his wife from an evil plantation lord (Leonardo DiCaprio.) Well reviewed, it wasn’t our cup of tea. Too much gore.

But best of the bunch ...be sure to see ZERO DARK THIRTY. Jessica Chastain will probably win an Oscar for her memorable performance ...and it’s based on facts. about the CIA agent who devised a plan to find Osama Bin Laden.

You’ll also like ARGO, LINCOLN and FLIGHT.

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ENDJOKE: “ I have one last request. Don’t use embalming fluid on me. I want to be stuffed with crabmeat.”—Woody Allen

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

February 2013

Years ago Jerry Seinfeld had a joke which said, “When New Yorkers turn 65, a bus shows up and takes them to Florida.” I didn’t believe it, but when I arrived in Florida several weeks ago, I believed it. It was difficult to find anyone in Florida who wasn’t from N.Y. or L.I., (couldn’t miss them with the New York accents). I found most of the days in Florida hot and humid...”mugginess” was the correct adjective. I’ve been spoiled by the moderate weather in San Francisco.

I decided that what to do in Florida if you’re a Senior is find a nice Independent Living facility (which there are several of on each block), and for a minimum several thousand dollars for a month you can move in and see what it’s all about. Usually you need to bring your own furniture but I asked for a respite arrangement where I’d use their furniture, facilities, etc. for a month and, if satisfied, would arrange a permanent stay.

Okay. I moved into Horizon Club, an Independent/Assisted place that prided itself on being a Marriot Hotel formerly. It was huge and there was a lengthy walk from my room to the elevator and then to the lounge, dining room, front desk. So be it. The inmates (a polite euphemism I’ll use) were a varied lot...almost 200 of them in various states of disability...legally blind, hard of hearing, aphasia, some dementia...and the facility took anyone, in any condition...even those suited for nursing homes..who could pay the healthy prices for all the empty rooms available. Macular degeneration was the operative word for many...some hard of hearing residents had refused to get hearing aids and it was necessary to shout at them to be heard and they usually shouted back. It was quite a scene. Several were quite demented and some had fascinating stories to relate...”I hear Obama is really in a terrible marriage. Michelle’s been trying to divorce him for 4 years.” Another story...”I’ve had 6 boyfriends..one was from the Mafia!” “The guy in the next room is gay but wants to marry me” “I’m only 66 but they tell me I have Alzheimer’s.”

There were several “regular” people, fortunately. Bud was from Ohio and said he’d owned 5 furniture stores and regaled us with stories about types of couches he’d sold over the years. Morris liked films a lot but insisted on eating alone because he didn’t want to “get involved.” Lenore spoke very quietly but whispered how in her former life she was considered very sexy. Ada was quite intelligent but a visiting son was loud and garrulous on a variety of inane subjects. Entertainment night on Saturday consisted of a blonde, jazzily dressed singer and a piano...sometimes a male baritone singer and recorder. Bingo, Dollar Bingo, Pinochle, old movies (musicals, usually), trivia, and occasional travel videos were popular. Food wasn’t bad...choice of 3 main entrees. beef, fish or chicken prepared in various ways... salad, stale rolls, veggies, sugary pies, lots of ice cream. One of my dinner companions had problems eating and “shoved it in” continually until corrected (and he still had problems). An occasional diner removed his dental bridges to soak them in his water glass. I will say that many of the ladies at dinner were dressed to kill...very affluent in former lives with rings on each finger and expensive, impressive jewelry.

Once a week a visit to an outside movie theater was nice, (I did see Argo and Flight), and also there was a visit to a mall for those who could shop (albeit “shuffle”) with canes, walkers, wheelchairs and even speedy scooters. I did receive a few calls from other Independent Living facilities who invited me to visit them and check out how impressive their services were, but getting around without a car proved difficult. I found it impossible to get on-line on the computer at Horizon Club and receiving mail in boxes with keys that frequently didn’t work was another problem. There really was never sufficient staff to cater to the variety of residents’ problems.

The local paper in Deerfield Beach was an unmitigated disaster (detailing local fender benders and obits), but even the daily Florida Sun-Sentinel left much to be desired. One didn’t expect NY Times coverage but a front page article about a woman who had size “L” breast implants seemed somewhat irrelevant. A secondary story complaining about the long lines (an eight hour wait) to vote covered the rest of the page.

So much for local journalistic coverage in our area of Southern Florida.

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

December 2012

How To Eat Out Without Spending A Lot

When eating out, Frances Levant never used to complain if her food wasn’t cooked to her liking. She just paid the bill--and a 25% tip without saying anything.

“I didn’t want to be my annoying customer,” says the 44-year old restaurateur who co-owns several New York City restaurants. But since the economy went out, Ms. Levant has begun watching what she’s spending, and as a result she has revamped her restaurant habits. For one thing she is a more demanding customer. Speaking up if something is wrong with her food or her check, and leaving only a 15% to 20% tip depending on the level of service.

…two appetizers, instead of the appetizer, entree and dessert that she used to often feel an obligation to get. “Appetizers are always much better than entrees and are always the most interesting dishes. I believe they are the best way to taste a restaurant’s food.”

Ms. Levant is not ready to give up eating out. In fact, she dines out at least five times a week to keep tabs on the competition. But she has changed the way she picks restaurants and orders food. She now goes to high-end restaurants only for lunch. “At that meal you are going to spend half of what you’d spend at dinner time, and you’re getting the same food.” she says. “Plus service at lunch time isn’t as rushed.” For dinner she goes to more casual restaurants. And she never has breakfast, or even her morning coffee, outside her home.

Before going to a restaurant for dinner, Ms. Levant plans out what she’s going to eat so she doesn’t order too much. She looks at sites like Eater.com and MenuPages.com in order to find out what a restaurant is known for.

Often, Ms. Levant orders two appetizers, instead of the appetizer, entree and dessert that she used to often feel an obligation to get. “Appetizers are always much better than entrees and are always the most interesting dishes. I believe they are the best way to taste a restaurant’s food.

She also looks for prix fixe menus, which tend to be good deals, and avoids specials, which often cost more than other items, and, of course, she has stopped ordering bottled water and cocktails.

To make sure that she sticks with her plan and doesn’t over order, Ms. Levant snacks on a little piece of fruit or cheese before going out.

The adage, “Never go the grocery store hungry” also applies to eating out, she says. “I’ll never go to a restaurant hungry.

LET’S ALL CLAP HANDS FOR MS. LEVANT AND HOPE SHE DOESN’T INCUR ANY RESTAURANT OWNERS’ WRATH!

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

October 2012

LESS IS MORE

I recently saw a button that said, “If you had it all, where would you put it?” Now that would definitely be a problem. Even with a large house, there’s a point of no return.

Many years ago the slogan “Less is More” was popular. At the time I could never really understand that “Less is NOT more,” “More” is “more.” Mother used to say “Never throw anything away. You may need it.” And always “It’ll always come back.” But how long must one wait?” Even if the peplum skirt becomes the rage again (and I think it may be the rage again), the odds are you will have outgrown it. The only one who wears Harlequin glasses, or did wear them, was Dame Edna, and who wants to look like her? Remember “snoods?” And what about bell bottom trousers, although those may be right in style if you have a pair. Saddle shoes and girdles are about to make a comeback. (Heaven forbid the latter!)

Some years ago I hired an Organization Maven who showed me how to file, organize papers, throw out stuff, and generally simplify my life. I knew I could and should do this on my own, but I didn’t. I needed someone to show me how, what, and where to put things and which things to discard. And I discovered that, yes, less is absolutely more.”

Some years ago, the late Philip Roth wrote Letting Go in which he describes the frenetic contest between one’s sympathies for others and one’s instinct for self protection. Only at the end of the novel are we able to see the hero “letting go” and plunging headlong into the confusion of human life. Most people hang on, and are dreadfully fearful of letting go. That goes for more than just old clothes. It also concerns outmoded attitudes and ideas..and papers and even relationships...think about 50% divorces.

My problem was papers. Some years ago I hired an Organization Maven who showed me how to file, organize papers, throw out stuff, and generally simplify my life. I knew I could and should do this on my own, but I didn’t. I needed someone to show me how, what, and where to put things and which things to discard. And I discovered that, yes, less is absolutely more. Things were easier to find because there weren’t so many of them. I was able to perform tasks more efficiently and able to make the most of my time, because there weren’t so many of them. I’ve never missed the sparkly luminescent dress which is two sizes too small. Also, and most important, I paid attention to William James’ adage: “the art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” There are very few documents that can’t be retrieved from the original source, if absolutely necessary. And the stuff that you file, how much of it do you ever go back to? Does this mean I no longer have a cluttered desk? You’d better not believe that.

Gonna call back my Organizational Maven for the next part of my life. I realize that Mom didn’t always know best and I realize I have to begin “downsizing” and I’m making a start. Today I emptied out a closet with dozens of unnecessary clothes that will go to Goodwill, and tomorrow I start on drawers and files. It definitely has a freeing effect and I heartily recommend it, even if there’s a hint of sadness along with the effect. Will let you know my progress.

Endquote: This is a lifetime of goodbyes. As we continue with life, we will say goodbye to cherished people, things and ideas. Eventually, we say goodbye to life itself with our death. Learn to say a good goodbye. —John Clarke, 1596–1658

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

The older I get, the more I remember with great nostalgia the glorious days of childhood. I suppose I recall a sentimental memory of things of the past. When I was about seven years old my parents decided that maybe it would be a smart idea to buy a house. We were living in an apartment in New York and I had my own bedroom, but the idea of a living in a “house” like the rich people really appealed to me. So we took my father’s rich brother Oscar, who already owned a house, and was also a CPA and an income tax specialist and therefore an expert on houses and everything else that nouveau riche people ascribe to, up to Yonkers.

My folks had seen a house there for $8,000 that seemed affordable and now the “expert” was going to give us his knowledgeable, qualified opinion. We should have left him at home. Uncle Oscar found innumerable flaws...the most flagrant being the fact that he thought a new roof was needed and that would be expensive.

My parents seemed relieved that they didn’t have to go ahead with the purchase now that the “expert” had spoken. I was disappointed because it seemed like a real nice brick house…(my father always favored brick)…with large rooms and a good-sized yard with pretty colorful plants. My horticultural experience at that time was limited to Marigold seedlings in a cheese box.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this uncle and my father never really got along. He was the affluent older brother who had “made it” and wasn’t about to help anyone else get there. He always acted bossy and lorded it over his five younger siblings. No one really much liked him ...and when he went and married a Catholic woman...a “shiksa”...don’t ask! Hell and damnation.

I recall Aunt Millie as being a rather pleasant blonde lady and felt sorry that she had to put up with the loud mouth Oscar. They had one placid blonde son, VIctor, with whom I got along with well, and who subsequently became an eminent attorney on the East coast. So Millie had obviously done something right.

Sometime in there I received as a gift one of those see-through plastic domes with falling snow that swirled all around when you gave it a shake. In the center of the dome was “our” Yonkers house. I cherished that gift for a long time, and sadly enough my folks never did buy a house and remained apartment dwellers forever.

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Cowboy Jim appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

“Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St. Peter asked.

“Well, I can think of one thing,” the cowboy offered.

“On a trip to the Black Hills out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So, I approached the largest and most tattooed biker and smacked him in the face, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground. I yelled, “Now, back off or I’ll kick the dayllghts out of all of you!”

St. Peter was impressed, “When did this happen?”

“Couple a minutes ago.

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Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

July-Aug 2012

San Francisco is a wonderful place to live. Did you know it boasts the second most expensive housing in the U.S? What’s first? No, not New York...Honolulu! And because housing is so expensive, the gasoline companies decided we can afford to pay more for gas than they pay in Los Angeles. They attribute the increased cost to the fact that the people here are more affluent than in L.A. and we do less driving. So with the increased cost of living here, who’s for moving to Los Angeles? Unless you want to break into the movie business, better stick around S.F. If you really want to make lots more money, go to Korea. I hear that teachers of E.S.L. can command $100 or more per hour. Of course you have to learn how to teach E.S.L. first, but if you have a smattering knowledge of Ebonics, you’ll find a job.

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Diets, diets, diets...I’ve tried several..even sent for some on-line product which promised a size 12 in twelve days or something similar...although size 12 was from yesterday...size 12 these days is considered size 9 or so. The first dose I tried provided a hallucination effect, which was disconcerting to say the least. Now something new is on the market...the Baby Food Diet. Have to check that out. They do say it’s a bit of a problem getting the vodka into the juice box.

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On the film front, I highly recommend “A SEPARATION.” This tightly wound, complex drama is from Iran, and a couple’s marital crisis reveals a division of class, sex, age and ideology. It’s directed and written by Asghar Farhadi and he achieves the pace and suspense of a thriller, and the psychological depths and social insight of a good novel in this Oscar-winning film.

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You’ll also like “THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, whic“THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT” with Jason Segal and Emily Blunt is a fun, if somewhat inconsequential movie about a couple whose matrimonial plans encounter various complications, some hilarious, some wrenching, in this genial comedy directed by Nicholas Stoller from a script he wrote with Mr. Segal. No great surprises, but the supporting cast including Alison Brie as Ms. Blunt’s chatty, fertile sister are worth your time.

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A magazine, doing research, goes into a rest home asks a 95 year old lady, “What’s the best thing about being 95?” “No peer pressure.”

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

June 2012

BE AWARE OF TENANTS

The story below took place a year ago and I neglected at the time to write about it...but here it is:

To find a suitable tenant I tried the old, reliable (?) CRAIGSLIST...and sure enough found what appeared to be a solid, gentleman in his 60’s...pretty good references. Naturally, I called a friend of his who said “Oh sure, great guy.” He was agreeable, personable, no immediate problems. Divorced a few times. To make a long story short...after about a year or so, I left San Francisco to visit family back in Washington, DC, and because I was confident and sure he was honest, went to the East Coast for two weeks...and voila...17 valuable rings and three gold bracelets were missing from the second drawer. One heavy gold bracelet had gold charms from several cities I’d visited in Europe. Naturally, I was devastated and I am still a year later emotionally distraught. My diamond engagement ring, and my Mom’s engagement ring, were taken, as well as an opal, turquoise, pearl/diamond and other rings...all valuable and especially of sentimental value. I called the police and they came and made a report with a case number...a San Francisco Police officer came out, but they found no evidence against him. The tenant denied taking anything, saying it must have been an intruder who came when the door was open and committed the crime. Coincidence? Perhaps. Nothing in the bedroom was amiss as it would have been had an intruder entered the upstairs bedroom....no drawers ajar, nothing opened...a box of costume jewelry atop a dresser was untouched....the perpetrator knew where to look. My homeowner’s insurance covered some of the loss, but that was it. In short order, I evicted the tenant, I could no longer trust having any tenant in my home. Sorry to say, I’m still distressed over the loss and have learned my lesson.

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Some Things You Should Get To:

THE CULT OF BEAUTY....The Victorian avant-garde 1860-1900 is running at the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park, through June 17, 2012. The Grand Patron is Diane B. Wilsey. This is a must-see exhibition.

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At the Contemporary Jewish Museum “Houdini: Art & Magic”is an interesting exhibition with pictures and videos of the magician in action. Also some fun magic gifts in the Museum store for the magician kids in your life.

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ANNAPURNA is an absorbing drama at the Magic Theater by Sharr White and directed ably by Loretta Greco. This two character play concerns a terminally ill cowboy and his Eastern seaboard ex-wife who tracked him to a remote part of the Rockies to resolve of an incident that drove them apart 20 years ago.

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The Marsh on Valencia Street is featuring a very funny solo show with Marga Gomez in “NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER.” It’s a hilarious mix of childhood memories, lying about her age, reflections about her childhood and some social satire that will keep you laughing.

Feedback: phyllis@westsideobserver.com

April 2012

I’ve been watching the Republican debates with much interest...although I’ve never been a Republican and can’t imagine ever voting Republican. Nevertheless I can’t imagine why Newt Gingrich is trying to win. He and his Barbie Doll wife, Calista are up there. I guess hope springs eternal. He is so erratic, so much a bigot and liar and I haven’t read anything that makes me think that he has a chance... so if he asked me, I’d suggest he drop out. However, he hasn’t asked me. Mitt Romney will make it to the finals and while I think he’s a better bet than Gingrich, I’m still an Obama supporter...like most of the rest of the country. So, RIP, Newt.

Another subject close to my heart is entertainment: theater, film and all other forms of mayhem. For starters, you’ll enjoy HUMOR ABUSE, which is a one-man show featuring Lorenzo Pisoni, direct from New York. It concerns growing up as the smallest clown in the Bay Area’s pioneering Pickle family Circus, and who doesn’t like circus action? (Possibly even Newt?) The tall, attractive Pisoni tells us all about his fun family and in between regales us with pratfalls, juggling, balloon stunts and if you’re seated in the front row, he might pick on you to join him onstage. Watching him fall head-first, backwards down a long staircase is a feat not-to-be tried by us sedentary mortals. Not that I’d attempt it. The show is at the American Conservatory Theater through February 5th. If you don’t make it in time, next coming to ACT is the world premiere of HIGHER by Carey Perloff and Mark Rucker. It’s called a “gripping love story about two architects competing to build a memorial in Israel.” HIGHER whisks us from sleek New York studios to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as the architects confront their own pasts in a race to make their mark on history. Company member Rene Augesen is featured in this thrilling new work. This show will continue until February 19th, 749-2228.

The San Francisco Playhouse is opening with BECKY SHAW by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Amy Glazer. The last show I saw at the Playhouse was an old Tennessee Williams show, PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT which was quite absorbing. I haven’t seen the new Becky Shaw play but the NY Times calls it “as engrossing as it is ferociously funny.” The play asks what we owe the people we love the most and the strangers who land on our doorstep. It was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist .677-9596

Another solo show that’s very worthwhile is Marga Gomez in NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER, in which Marga comes out about lying about her age and growing older. It’s a hilarious 85-minute mix of childhood memory, social satire, confession and a laugh riot of characters. Playing through Feb. 25 at the Marsh on Valencia Street. 282-3055.

The Academy Awards are coming up and the silent film, THE ARTIST, will probably win. It’s been written that someone requested their money back when they found out it was a silent film. Also in the running is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which may win for best actress although not recommended for the squeamish among you,

For all you art lovers out there, opening February 18th at the Legion of Honor is THE CULT of BEAUTY, THE VICTORIAN AVANT-GARDE 1860-1900, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London in collaboration with the Musee d’Orsay, Paris. It will be running until June 17.

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“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people” - Orson Welles.

February 2012

Phyllis Sherman articles February '11 - December '11
Phyllis Sherman articles February '09 - December '10
Phyllis Sherman articles February '10 - December '09
Phyllis Sherman articles November '07 - December '08