musings

How should I respond to this request?

Today’s post might be a bit convoluted, and some might think I’m petty to write it. I’m going to write it anyway, because I’ve got nothing better to do. To those of you who manage to finish it and follow all the twists and turns, I offer you the gooiest of cookies.I just want to get this off my chest.Fair warning. It’s going to be long, and it might come across as self-indulgent and obnoxious.Those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.

One night in May 2014, I was living in Texas, hanging out on Facebook, when I accessed the page for my alma mater, Longwood University. I remember being worried at the time. My husband, Bill, was about a month out from retiring from the Army. He was on “terminal leave”, which meant he was using up all of the vacation days he’d amassed before it was time to separate from the service. He was also job hunting, and it seemed like the pickings, even in Texas, were slim. I’d gone to Longwood’s Facebook page to take my mind off of my nervousness about the potential financial ruin that might face us.

At that time, we were also planning our third, and most recent, space-a “military hop“, a great perk for military families that allows servicemembers, retirees, and their dependents to hitch a ride on government aircraft for next to nothing. Because Bill was technically still on active duty in May 2014, he was “category three”, which placed him at a high priority for getting a flight. Once he retired, he’d be “category six”, which meant our chances of scoring a flight to Europe or Hawaii would be significantly lower. We planned to fly to Germany and wander around Europe for about ten days, then come back to Texas and plunge into post-Army life. At the time, I thought this last hurrah to Europe could be our final opportunity to visit there for awhile. I had no idea that within three months, we’d be moving to Germany.

That May night in Texas, as I was perusing Longwood’s Facebook page just before we took off on our third military hop and Bill left the Army, I shared a snapshot with Longwood’s community that I had taken in New York City, back in March 1994. The picture was snapped at the back door of a Broadway theater. I was with several fellow members of Longwood’s auditioned choir, the Camerata Singers. We’d just seen the Broadway production of Tommy, starring Michael Cerveris.

The Camerata Singers were in New York because it was the end of our spring tour. The choral director at the time, Dr. Donald Trott, would use spring break as a means of promoting Longwood to high school students in Mid-Atlantic states. Our choir would spend the week traveling by bus to different high schools and churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, where we would perform concerts for church parishioners and students, staying at their homes rather than in hotels. It was exhausting, but great fun and a wonderful opportunity for us to bond. Then, at the end of the week, we’d spend a couple of nights in New York City and catch a Broadway show.

The first two years out of the three I went on spring tour with “Cams”, everyone saw the same show– Phantom of the Opera my first year, and Miss Saigon my second. My third year touring– which was my senior year at Longwood– we were allowed to choose which show we wanted to see. I remember a lot of my fellow “Cams” went to see Les Miserables. Only four of us chose to see Tommy, a Broadway show based on the 1969 rock opera by The Who. I wasn’t close friends with the other choir members who had gone with me to see the show, but I did happen to be the only one in our group who’d brought a camera. A couple of them were musical theater majors, and they’d sent a note backstage for Michael Cerveris.

Before I saw him perform on Broadway, I had known the American actor Michael Cerveris as the British character, Ian Ware, on Fame, an 80s era TV show that I’d loved as a kid. He’d moved on to bigger and better things. I got to shake hands with him because the musical theater majors I was with were studying under Pam Arkin, an actress who was teaching at Longwood at the time. Pam (as everyone called her) knew Cerveris because they’d acted together and were friends. Mr. Cerveris graciously met us and posed for pictures. It was definitely a memorable moment in my college career, so twenty years later, I shared it with the Longwood community on Facebook.

In Bacharach… can you blame me for wanting to visit again?

A couple of days after I shared that post, Bill and I left on our Space A flight to Germany, which took us on a wonderful journey through eastern France. We visited Reims, Epernay, Dijon, Lyon, Nimes, and Nice. Then we flew to Frankfurt and visited Bacharach, an adorable medieval village I’d discovered in 1997, after leaving the Peace Corps. It has the distinction of being the very first town I ever visited in Germany, and I’d been telling Bill about it for years. We’d never had the opportunity to go to Bacharach when the Army sent us to Stuttgart from 2007-09. Since, as of May 2014, we weren’t sure if we’d ever get back to Europe, I wanted to make sure Bill saw Bacharach. We ended up having a very special experience there, which I wrote about on my travel blog.

While we were traveling through Europe in 2014, I got a message from Kent Booty, a writer for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He thought my story about meeting Michael Cerveris was pretty cool, and he wanted to interview me. I remember explaining to him that I was in Europe at the time, so I would have to talk to him once we got back to the States.

Sure enough, once we were back in Texas, I had a long phone chat with Mr. Booty. I explained what I had been doing since I graduated from Longwood in 1994. From 1995-97, I was in the Peace Corps serving in the third group to go to the Republic of Armenia. From 1999-02, I was at the University of South Carolina, earning dual master’s degrees in social work and public health. I had some big career plans back then. But then I met and fell in love with Bill, and became an Army wife six months after I finished my studies in South Carolina. Over the course of twelve years, we moved seven times to four states and Germany. I never got to use my master’s degrees the way I’d planned. Instead, almost every penny I’ve earned since I finished graduate school has been made from freelance writing, which is a lot more portable than social work and public health are, but tends to be less steady, isn’t very prestigious, and doesn’t always pay well.

Crazily enough, just a few weeks after we returned to the States from our space A trip, Bill got a job offer in Stuttgart. I remember telling Kent Booty that we were going to be moving back to Germany. I was excited about it, since it meant we wouldn’t have to live in our cars and we’d get to live in my favorite of our past duty stations. He congratulated me for Bill’s success, and that was the last I heard from Mr. Booty. He never did write an article about me for the alumni magazine. I honestly couldn’t blame him for that, and wasn’t surprised, given that I have pretty much been a housewife since I finished graduate school in 2002. I understand that part of Mr. Booty’s job is to market Longwood to prospective students, and most students are hoping to be gainfully employed once they graduate from college. I sure was when I was a college student. My role as an “overeducated housewife” is probably not very impressive to most people.

Imagine my surprise last night when I got a message on my contact form for this blog, and it was from Kent Booty. He was requesting an interview, and it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t remember talking to me back in 2014. In fairness to him, I don’t really share my name freely on this blog, although if one searches long enough, it’s pretty easy to figure out who I am. Even if I did share my name openly, he probably wouldn’t remember that we spoke in 2014. I’m sure he talks to a lot of people, and most of them are more memorable and impressive than I am. I even realize that he might have been turned off after talking to me, because I know that not everyone can take my over-the-top personality or cackling laugh (people tell me my laugh is the one thing they remember most about me).

I have a feeling this unexpected contact came about because I recently reposted an article I wrote about how an adjunct professor at Longwood changed my life. What I wrote in that article is absolutely true. My life literally changed for the better because I chose Longwood. In fact, last night, I was telling Bill about the many wonderful ways my time at Longwood has blessed me since I began studying there in 1990. Bill’s college experience, by contrast, was not quite as rich.

Bill attended his first two years of school at a now defunct military college in Boonville, Missouri called Kemper, then transferred to the much larger and more prestigious American University in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986, and that was pretty much the last he’s heard from the school, even though it’s probably a lot better known and is definitely a much more expensive school than Longwood is.

Conversely, I have had a bunch of cool Longwood related experiences, even twenty-six years after I graduated. When I decided to join the Peace Corps in 1995, I asked my former advisor, Dr. Massie Stinson, to write a recommendation for me, which he gladly did. I exchanged letters and emails with him throughout my time in Armenia, and even brought him a copy of the Peace Corps cookbook I published while I was there. A couple of years after I came home from Armenia, Dr. Stinson wrote me a recommendation for the University of South Carolina, a school he had also attended. We exchanged emails for awhile until his health failed. When he passed away in June 2013, I sent a message for his family through Dr. Martha Cook, who had also been one of my professors. Dr. Cook and I became Facebook friends, and still communicate almost daily. I have noticed that many of my fellow Longwood friends from the 90s still chat with professors from that time, even though a lot of the professors have retired.

I took this photo from the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught in Yerevan, Armenia, Ruben Sevak School #151. One of my former students from this school now works for Peace Corps Armenia.

I remember being in the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught English in Armenia, reading a letter I received from Longwood’s then president, Dr. Patricia Cormier. She had reached out to alumni to ask them what they thought about changing Longwood’s name from Longwood College to Longwood University. I remember writing back to her, telling her that Longwood would always be Longwood College to me, but to the Armenian students I was teaching, the word college denotes “high school”. So I supported changing the name to Longwood University. Dr. Cormier wrote the most beautiful and personal letter back to me, which really raised my spirits at the time.

A few years later, I was living in South Carolina. I had just finished grocery shopping at Publix, and was loading my groceries into my car, which had a couple of Longwood decals on it. A lady came up to me and asked me if I had gone to Longwood. I said I had, and she beamed, telling me that her very best friend, Dr. Patricia Cormier, was the president there. I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cormier, as her tenure as president was after I had graduated, but I remember her strong leadership and how she had transformed the campus with many new building projects.

I remember Dr. Ellery Sedgwick, another English professor from whom I’d never taken a class, writing to me because I’d sent a letter to the English department asking if anyone would be willing to donate books to my school. He sent a very kind letter to me, affirming that Longwood would support my mission in teaching English. I received several boxes of textbooks from the English department, which I donated to my school.

I also remember an incident involving the late Phyllis Mable, back in the summer of 1999. I was working as a waitress at The Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. Ms. Mable came in for lunch and sat in my section in The Garden Room. I recognized her immediately, because she was truly unforgettable. I told her that I would soon be moving to Columbia, South Carolina for graduate school. A few days later, I received a handwritten letter from Ms. Mable, wishing me luck and offering me support. She had taken the time to look me up and sent me that note to let me know that Longwood was proud of me. It made my day.

I remember being at Longwood to welcome Drs. Charles and Lisa Kinzer, when they joined the music department in the fall of 1992. I was a junior that year, and even though I wasn’t a music major, I was allowed to take a lot of courses in the music department, including sight singing, which was taught by Dr. Charles Kinzer (who was then still a Mr.). His wife, Lisa, was my accompanist for my voice studio with Dr. Patricia Lust. I last ran into Dr. Lust back in 2000… and yes, she still remembered me six years post graduation. Dr. Lisa Kinzer is now a professor at Longwood and is still my friend, many years after we first met. I have often told Bill about how amazingly talented the Kinzers are. I would love for him to get to hear them perform sometime.

And finally, I realize that I still have many, many true friends from Longwood. It was the kind of place where it was easy to meet and bond with other students. My late father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and he was friends with many of his “brother rats” his whole life. I may not be quite as bonded to my Longwood buddies as my dad was to his brother rats, but I still have so many genuine friends from my Longwood years and lots of wonderful memories. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have any connections to American University… not even long lost college buddies on Facebook.

My husband has gone on to have a successful military career and, as of a few years ago, caught up to me in diplomas having earned a second master’s degree from Regis University. We have an amazing life together, although I have not yet managed to set the world on fire with my own career. Bill is still astonished when he sees how connected I still am to Longwood, and how every year, I am even prouder to be a graduate. He has often commented at how personal the Longwood experience is, and how amazing it is that I can still reach out to the Longwood community for friendship and support.

And yet, I still don’t think Kent Booty would want to write an article about me for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He’s already spoken to me, but apparently found me entirely forgettable. Six years after our last conversation, I’m still just a housewife, although I’m living an enviable life. I pretty much do whatever I want every day. I live in a safe, beautiful, European country which affords me the chance to see other safe, beautiful European countries. My student loans are paid off, and now Bill and I even live in Wiesbaden, Germany, very close to the picturesque town of Bacharach, so we can visit there easily. I live in a comfortable home, and spend my time writing, making music, and playing with our dog, whom I’m hoping will have a new “sibling” soon. Bill and I are still healthy; we love each other; and it’s not a horrible thing for us to be stuck in the house together during the pandemic.

I’m still proud to be a Longwood graduate, and I treasure my four years there. I’m not sure any prospective students would admire me for being an “overeducated housewife”, nor do I think my story would necessarily encourage anyone to apply to Longwood, but I can’t deny that my life has been vastly enriched by the small school experience. It still is, many years post graduation. So, if Mr. Booty happens to read this post and still wants to talk to me, I’m sure to oblige. But I will completely understand if he doesn’t, and I’m happy to keep writing about Longwood on my own space. There’s more than one way to be successful in life. Maybe I am not very impressive to the average person, but in my own way, I’ve achieved successes and had experiences way beyond my expectations. And that is all I ever could have wished for.

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book reviews

A review of Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History, by Michael A. Hoey…

Lately, I’ve been overdosing on 80s era television. I don’t know why I do this so often, especially since I didn’t have the greatest childhood. A lot of people enjoy being nostalgic. I think our memories have a way of softening the realities of the past.

One of my favorite memories from the 1980s was my devotion to the TV show, Fame, an hour long program about the students and faculty at the fictional “School of the Arts” in New York City. Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, Fame premiered in 1982 on NBC. I was in the fourth grade. After two years on NBC, the show was canceled, even though it won awards and was critically acclaimed. However, even though NBC passed on Fame after two years, it was popular enough that the producers brought it back in syndication, where it continued for another four years, finally ending in 1987.

Ahhh… music to my ears. This is an extended version of the TV show’s theme, sung by Erica Gimpel. The song was made famous by Irene Cara.

Although the “School of the Arts” doesn’t exist, the story was based on a couple of real life high schools for talented students in New York City. And because the show was about kids who wanted fame, it had a lot of singing and dancing in it. I think I liked the singing and dancing the most when I was a kid, but as I got older, I appreciated the stories more, particularly in the superior early seasons. Anyone who watches the later seasons of Fame will understand what I mean. It truly did jump the shark in a big way with some ridiculous plot lines and musical numbers!

Michael A. Hoey, author of Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History, worked on the television version of Fame for five of the six years it aired. I happened to discover his book about a week ago. I was bored and doing some random Googling when I came across an excerpt of his book. Based on what I read on Google, I decided to purchase the Kindle edition, even though there were a couple of reviews that indicated that I might not enjoy it. I have a pretty high tolerance for bad writing, though… it’s definitely higher than my tolerance for bad singing, which I’m sad to say, was occasionally an issue on Fame. Seems like that show focused more on dancers than singers.

Anyway, Hoey has written a fairly comprehensive account of what went on behind the scenes on Fame. Some of what he wrote surprised me, and some stuff wasn’t at all a surprise. For instance, he writes that actor Billy Hufsey was a bit of a legend in his own mind, much like his character, Christopher Donlon was. That doesn’t surprise me. But then he shared a rather off color anecdote about why Mr. Hufsey didn’t want to wear a “dance belt”. The anecdote was funny, but then, I like off-color humor. I also had to look up “dance belt”, because not coming from the dance world, I didn’t know what it was or what it looked like. I guess I can see why some guys don’t like to wear them, even though they probably keep the family jewels safe and the audience’s sense of modesty safer.

For the most part, I thought Hoey’s book about Fame was interesting and well-written; however, there were quite a few instances in which an editor’s help would have been beneficial. For example, there was a character named Jesse Velazquez on that show. He was played by the very talented Jesse Borrego. On at least one occasion, Jesse’s name is spelled “Jessie”. Similar minor errors appear throughout the book. Same thing with Carol Mayo Jenkins, whose name is sometimes spelled “Carole” or the last name, Jenkins, is left off. These are minor but annoying glitches that a round with an editor would have helped clear from the manuscript.

Another thing I noticed was that Hoey wrote this book as if he was writing to friends. Sometimes he let his personal opinions about the actors and musicians come through in a surprisingly nasty way. He clearly wasn’t a fan of Janet Jackson’s. She was briefly on Fame during the third season and it was pretty clear that she wasn’t a good fit for the show, for whatever reason. I have read Janet Jackson’s thoughts on Fame, too, and she wrote that it was an awful time for her. Hoey writes that Janet Jackson was very rude to him and others and, at one point, he writes that “she performs when her health allows, but she’ll never be as big of a star as Madonna is”. Madonna, by the way, also auditioned for Fame and was passed over. I thought Hoey’s comments about Jackson were kind of mean-spirited and inappropriate, not to mention untrue. Janet Jackson isn’t as hot as she was in the 80s and 90s, but I would certainly never imply that she didn’t make it big. She definitely did.

Hoey also writes about actress/singer Loretta Chandler, noting that she has a “magnificent voice” and reminds him of Jennifer Hudson. But then, when describing an energetic dance number Loretta did as her character, Dusty Tyler, he points out the “she’s not a small person (putting it politely)”– that’s exactly what he wrote– which I thought was kind of rude. It’s true that Loretta Chandler is what the Germans would call zaftig, but I thought Hoey’s added comment “(putting it politely)” was unnecessarily mean and more than a bit rude.

Hoey writes that Cynthia Gibb didn’t seem to have that “sparkle” that some of the other players on that show had, then notes that she went on to work a lot after she was on Fame. She even played Karen Carpenter on the 1989 made for TV movie, The Karen Carpenter Story, and she was in a few big screen movies in the 1980s, including Youngblood with Rob Lowe. Hoey incorrectly describes Cindy Gibb’s all of movies as “made for TV”, but the truth is, she did do a few actual motion pictures that were in movie theaters. I got the sense that he relied a lot on his memory for this book which, I’m sad to say, isn’t always perfectly accurate. It would have been better if he’d double checked some things.

This book includes a lot of information about the writers, producers, and directors of Fame. That information may or may not be of interest to all readers. I am glad Hoey included some information about the powers that be, as it gave me some insight as to how the show worked. However, I don’t think most people who would want to read this book are looking for an exhaustive blow by blow of the behind the scenes people. A lot of people want to know about the people who starred on the show. Personally, I think Hoey included a pretty good amount of info on the players, but I see some reviewers on Amazon note that they got bored by all of the discussion about the producers and directors.

There are some photos included in this book, which aren’t as effective on Kindle as they probably are in the print version. I found myself looking on YouTube to find some of the episodes and clips Hoey mentions, which was fun for me. I especially got a kick out of watching Debbie Allen doing a dance number with her husband, Norm Nixon, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers and, according to Hoey, is NOT a dancer. They did some pretty good editing for this clip.

If you watch the distant shots, you can see that there’s a different guy doing the fancy footwork.

I liked that Hoey mentioned a lot of episodes and musical numbers. He also included some information about how Fame was once sold as a thirty minute show, forcing editors to remove plot lines and musical numbers so that it would fit in time slots. Needless to say, the thirty minute versions did not go over well at all. I happened to see a few of them back in the day and was glad to see them scrapped.

Hoey writes a bit about Michael Cerveris, who played Ian Ware, a British guitar player in the latter episodes of the show. I actually got to meet Mr. Cerveris once. In 1994, when I was a college senior at what was then Longwood College (it’s now Longwood University), I went on spring tour with the college’s auditioned choir, Camerata Singers. We did this tour every spring to recruit new talent. At the end of the week, we’d go to New York City for a couple of days and catch a Broadway show. That year, I saw Tommy, and Michael Cerveris had the lead role. Michael Cerveris is from West Virginia and he was friends with the acting teacher at Longwood, Pam Arkin (who I believe has since retired– I remember she first came to Longwood when I was a sophomore, back in 1991). Anyway, a few theater folks who were also in Cams sent a note backstage and we got to meet Michael Cerveris. I remembered him from Fame, but he’s now a successful Broadway performer. I tagged along with the theater gang because I was the only one with a camera. Below is a shot of me circa 1994, complete with 90s hair…

And yes, that is Michael Cerveris… that hair of mine is killing me!

Overall, I enjoyed reading Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History. While I wouldn’t give it a five star rating, I do think it’s a good read for those who enjoyed watching Fame. I know I wasn’t the only one who loved that show. I miss TV shows that took me to a different place and forced me to suspend disbelief. Fame had some really good, hard hitting, well written episodes in the early years, but it did later become a pretty cheesy plot driven show, instead of the character driven show it once was. It probably went on longer than it should have, but even the crappy later episodes are guilty pleasures for me. And it’s always a treat to watch the super talented but sadly departed Gene Anthony Ray dance, or listen to Nia Peeples sing as she dances. This book makes me want to watch more Fame clips on YouTube, or even revisit the first two seasons of the show, which I managed to download from Apple TV. If you liked the show too, maybe Michael Hoey’s book would be good reading for you.

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