Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


1 Comment

Dads

dad&meinDisney

Me and my dad, at Disney World 1974.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my father’s death.   In 2010, June 20th landed on Father’s Day.  Yes, he died on Fathers Day. Don’t mean to bum anyone out – but that’s how it ended for him and for me. A father and daughter in this world. I became fatherless on Fathers Day.

I’ve lately been obsessed with the Broadway musical ‘Fun Home’.  Like Alison Bechdel, author/artist of her auto-biographical graphic novel of the same name in which this musical is based, I was a child of the 70’s. I lived in a home where everyone was isolated in their own worlds. Although her story is quite different from my own, universal themes abound and have struck such a chord, I can’t stop listening to the gorgeous cast recording without tearing up and thinking of my dad on this strange weekend.

Alison’s father was a closeted homosexual who killed himself shortly after his daughter came out as a lesbian. There is so much more to describe, with fascinating and heart wrenching complications so devastating, it leaves burn marks, hitting ‘the feels’ no matter what your own family narrative is. So, I’ll leave it to you to Google and explore, to sample the music of this wonderful work. I just want to hear the songs in my head, remember the days of my dad when I knew him.

Screenshot 2015-06-20 16.33.06

Michael Cerveris and Sydney Lucas in the Broadway musical “Fun Home”.

My father was a faithful husband, but he adored the ladies, and charmed them all – except my mother – who held him at arm’s length. Like the Bechdel’s, my parents had a complicated relationship albeit caused by different circumstances. Arguments filled the house, filling me with dread. I drowned it out with music.

Unlike Alison – whose father rarely touched her with affection unless she forced him to engage in a game of airplane –  my dad gave me bear hugs and held me when I cried over boys I loved who wouldn’t love me back. He gave me piano lessons, a love of performance and music. He took me to wonderful restaurants and baseball games at Shea Stadium. Drove me from Manhattan every Friday to our family house in Rockland County — every week just so I could at the old homestead – a sanctuary away from the NYC bustle.

Dad lived a full life. He spent a childhood orphaned by war and running from Hitler. He came to the US to live with his German aunt and uncle, learned English, finished high school, aced his SAT’s and supported himself (with the help of scholarships and jobs) through NYU’s business school. He was an US Army veteran, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan turned Mets fan, a guitarist, and an upright bass player. My dad was a brilliant sculptor – re-creating scenes from Don Quixote in clay, and carving lifelike busts of presidents and rabbis. Yes…rabbis. And he did that while he was a corporate man at IBM. In retirement he wrote poems, plays and novels. He died at the age of 83 five years ago on this fateful weekend  from the after effects of a stroke.

As different as our circumstances, Bechdel’s story goes beyond sexual discovery. It’s about a father and daughter who loved each other despite expectations, despite the issues. Dad’s will play airplane and give piggy back rides. They will also scare you and love you at the same time. We hold questions we forget to ask, and they take the answers with them when they go.

I am consoled by the fact my dad and I never left anything unsaid. We said we loved each other everyday. My dad didn’t have secrets like Alison’s father did; however, I often wondered what he was thinking – how he sacrificed an artistic life for a corporate one so I’d never have the difficult childhood he did.

He was a formidable presence in my life, who soared above me yet always allowed me to rise above when it was time.


Leave a comment

Hummingbird

"For poppo. Thank you to the incomparable @dr_woo_ssc for so beautifully bringing my reminders to life. I'll always put my hand out to shake with a smile." Zelda Williams on Instagram

“For poppo. Thank you to the incomparable @dr_woo_ssc for so beautifully bringing my reminders to life. I’ll always put my hand out to shake with a smile.” Zelda Williams on Instagram

I was always a daddy’s girl.  I’ve written often about my memories of him. So, when a beloved talent passes away, there is something about love of his child who pays tribute to their father that gets me right in the guts. (Dhani Harrison, Rosanne Cash to name two). So, this tribute from Zelda Williams is staggering in its symbolism and beauty. It hits the mark hard for me. A very personal tribute, and it’s perfection.


2 Comments

“Bang…Zoom!” Using What I’ve Learned in Improv to Write

bangzoom

Any lovers of comedy improv out there? Maybe you know the concept of word association (or A thru C) – the technique improvisors use when a suggestion is shouted from the audience. If anyone here has ever gone to ASSSSCAT 3000, a popular show at he Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York (where I studied a few levels of improv) and L.A. – you know the drill. Someone shouts out a suggestion, and a monologist takes it, thinks of what it reminds them of and breaks it down with story telling, allowing the group of improvisors to capture elements of a story to create totally out of the blue scenes.

This is how I write on days when my day job is out of control, and I just need to convert my thoughts through the creative portal to my fingertips so I can write. I look at interesting items on the web or ideas that come into my head and do an A thru C: Where This…reminds me of This…which brings me to This…which starts a story based on what I’ve whittled down from that idea.

So…The internet universe has given me a suggestion – The New Yorker cartoon you see before you.  And here I go.

Alice Kramden reminds me of “Bang, Zoom” the comment Ralph Kramden would shout on The Honeymooners to Alice when she really burned him. This reminds me of old timely television, black and white with a dial you had to get up and turn in order to get one of the seven channels available for viewing. Pre-cable. Pre-satellite. Pre-DVR. Pre-Streaming. Pre-anything. Okay – maybe not pre-anything. There was FM radio back then, after all.

It reminds me of the old basement in our old house in Ardsley, New York – fully furnished with a mid-century flair (as we now know it), some old furniture, a bar for cocktails and the lingering smell of mildew. It’s where I watched old re-runs of The Honeymooners with my dad on a Zenith color television that resembled a piece of furniture. It’s likely my father purchased it back in the early 60’s long before I was born because there was never time before 1983 that it didn’t exist in my life. That old wooden thing with the dial and the coffee ring stains and the rough speaker cover with straw and silver threads was a mainstay in our household. It was the kind of old television that would blow a bulb (just like a lamp would blow a light bulb), meaning my dad who have to take it to our backyard neighbor – who happened to be a television repairman – to replace it.

As television advanced, and cable television gave humans more choice to fry their brains on any given night, my dad was hesitant to let go of the old Zenith. It cranked out a lot of hours of reruns of the Honeymooners, or original airings of CBS Saturday night shows like All in The Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (I still feel the cool chill of the basement when I hear the first moments of “Love is All Around”), The Bob Newhart Show or Carol Burnett.  After a while, I defied my 11pm Saturday bedtime and snuck out of bed to watch Saturday Night Live to laugh at John Belushi flipping burgers (“cheeze boiger!”) and marvel at Gilda Radner’s character creations, Lisa Loopner and Rosanne Rosanna Danna.

I remember watching that TV one evening in 1982 when a special report broke into regular programing to announce Belushi was found dead at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Damn. John Lennon had died only two years before. It was rough to see another bad boy John leave the planet. When Beatle John died, I was devastated. When SNL John died, I was really pissed off.

The television set and the basement reminds me of Saturday afternoons watching  The Wonderful World of Disney and NY Mets baseball. I can’t remember what I saw during the Disney hour, but I remember the lull of the Shea crowd putting me to sleep.

I can remember the days when my dad still smoked cigarettes in a red pack that were not Marlboro. To me, the smell of the sixties (which I barely remember) and the seventies is a mixture of cigarettes and toast – old car smell that has the fragrance of a thousand old smokes permeated in the threads. It’s not a bad aroma.  In fact, it’s a comforting one. Although my dad quit the habit when I was still quite young, I can still see the swirl of the smoke streaming from the smoldering cigarette waiting in the ashtray as he took out his guitar to play House of the Rising Sun or his favorite Spanish classical piece Romanza.

But it all comes back to the television. As we entered the eighties, and that old TV set started to lose color, contrast, horizontal and vertical strength, I pleaded with my dad to get a new one. Finally, finally – he broke down and purchase a brand new color  set (now long since thrown out) to replace the old Zenith.

“Why, why do you want to hold on to that old television”? I asked him the day before he walked into Crazy Eddie’s to buy that brand new fancy one.

“The memories!” he’d say. “The Saturday night television. The baseball games. Jack Parr. Laugh In. I watched all those damn shows.  But most of all…I watched a man walk on the moon for the first time. And then a second time. And then I’d watch the the rest of the Apollo mission. This television showed me outer space.”

“Bang-Zoom….to da moon, Alice!”

He must have heard Ralph Kramden say that a million times on that old television. And then he watched a man actually walk on the moon.

Yeah. That television was a keeper. Sorry dad.


Leave a comment

Chip Off The ‘Ol Block

This is my father, Bernard Rotmil, as a young man. He told me that this picture was taken at a charity event in Greenwich Village while he was a student at NYU, likely in the early 1950’s, although I’ve never been sure of the time frame. His childhood was fractured by the upheavals of WWII.  So, as a budding US citizen, his course in higher education, mixed with a few years in the US Army, made him a bit late in the college curve compared to most of his contemporaries.

I’ve been looking for this photo for a few years now, scouring every photo album and box of personal belongings I took with me when my father passed away four years ago.  Yet, my searches came up short. Nothing. I thought this photo would be lost forever, only living in the recesses of my memory.

This morning, while watching CBS Sunday Morning, a segment about World War II came up.  It reminded me of my dad, of course. He was a child running away from Hitler and the Nazi’s before he found asylum in the U.S. as a teenager, living with his German aunt and uncle in Peekskill, New York.  I went over to my bookshelf and pulled out his old high school yearbook from 1947.  As soon as I opened the book, this photo fell out. Relief. I shed a few tears.  My father’s sweet nature showed so clearly in this shot.

Just this morning, an old email chain between me and my Uncle Charles (my father’s brother) with the subject: “Dad and Books Photo” came up. A few months ago, I asked him about this photo, and if he had seen it in the old leather suitcase that belonged to dad. The suitcase contained old birth certificates and photos, and my uncle wanted it due to the personal nature and historical items he shared inside.

Ironic that on a morning where I discovered this picture, my old inquiry to my uncle about this very picture would pop up.  But nothing is coincidental when it comes to fate and love.