“The rest is silence.”

My Andrew Tsubaki Story

Many people shared their personal recollections of Andrew Tsubaki at the memorial service in Lawrence, Kansas on 20 December 2009.  For me, the two most moving testimonials came from his sons.

Philip, the younger son who lives in Campinas, Brazil, said his father left Japan for North America in 1957, at the age of 26, his character and personality already formed as a young Japanese male from that period—strict, stern, austere, demanding, undemonstrative, unemotional.  Philip confessed that he was surprised, and ultimately comforted by, the many email messages which poured in from his father’s former students—one in particular, which said that “the sensei always had hugs for everyone.”

Arthur, the older son who lives in Rockford, Illinois, spoke of his father’s love of travel, and how he took Lily and the boys with him whenever he could.  But, Arthur said, they rarely actually travelled together, because his father always departed a day or two earlier, to make sure all the arrangements and accommodations were satisfactory.  Having paved the way, he would then meet the family at the airport upon their arrival, and that’s how all their trips began.  Arthur ended the reminiscence by saying this is how he now views the death of his father—that, as is his habit, he has simply preceded them on yet another trip, paving the way for them, and that they will again find him waiting for them at the end of their journey.

Although I thought I would, I was not among those who spoke at Andrew Tsubaki’s memorial service, because I suddenly didn’t quite know how to put my thoughts into words, not after I heard the outpouring of grief and love from his two sons.   But now, a couple of days later, my mind a bit clearer, I’d like to share my own Andrew Tsubaki story.

In 1995, Andrew directed the English Alternative Theatre production of Tea by Velina Hasu Houston, a play about five Japanese warbrides trying to live “normal” lives in Junction City, Kansas.  As the producer of the show, I had made arrangements to hold our rehearsals in a large studio-like space  on the second floor of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.  A couple of days before rehearsals began, Andrew asked me if the budget for the production could include the purchase of half a dozen each of the following items—brooms, dustpans, mops, sponges, buckets. 

“Yes, of course,” I replied, “but what are they for?”

“The rehearsal space is sacred,” he said.  “This place is not as clean as it should be.  The actors must clean this place each night before we rehearse.” 

And that’s what they did, the five Asian women we had found to play the Japanese warbrides, on their hands and knees each night before rehearsals began, scrubbing and cleaning those wooden floors at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.  Needless to say, the EAT production of Tea was wondrous and magical.  Andrew Tsubaki would not have had it otherwise.

Although I love the notion that the rehearsal space for a play is sacred, I’ve never dared to ask my actors to do what Andrew Tsubaki demanded of his.  Only the sensei could get away with it.  I have visions of him now, supervising a choir of angels, all of them on their hands and knees, purifying the heavens, because the final resting place of an artist is, without any doubt, sacred.

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

It has been a while since I’ve updated this section of the website.  The plan, originally, was to pay tribute properly to friends and colleagues who have contributed to my own personal growth, not only as a writer but also as a human being. The list seems to grow longer every time I wake up in the morning.  Sadly, there are just not enough hours in a day for me to write and share personal stories about each and every one of them, many of whom I continue to miss fiercely, some on a daily basis.

I hope to retire soon from teaching, and will have more time to devote to these absences in my life.  Meanwhile, I am naming this entry after Jim Erdahl’s favorite song from Les Miserables, his favorite musical, which I am glad we were able to see together on Broadway before he died.  My friends…my friendsI see them all, taking their places again, one by one, the way they did in years gone by, when there were no “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

My friends…my friendsReynaldo (Ronnie) Alejandro, Robert Anderson, Sam Anderson, Nobleza Asuncion-Lande, Lyndsay Boynton, William Burroughs, Mike Cherniss, Tony Cius, Dick Colyer, Jolico Cuadra, Jack Davidson, Jed Davis, Pio de Castro, Carolyn Doty, Victorio Edades, Carroll Edwards, Jim Erdahl, Bob Findlay, Jean Gagen, Elaine Goodman, Grant K. Goodman, James Gowen, Ed Grier, Chez Haehl, Dennis Helm, Bud Hirsch, William Inge, Ken Irby, Judith Joseph, Bob Kahle, Clay Kappelman, Nick Katigbak, Paul Kendall, Eartha Kitt, Mark Knapp, Clay Kappelman, Glenn Kappelman, Tom Klavercamp, Joseph Kuo, Mandy Labayen, Carl Lande, Chuck Lown, Arthur Miller, Kaye Miller, Fusa Moos, Jack Oruch, Jim Pearce, Terry Moore, Charlie Oldfather, Maura Theresa Brennan Piekalkiewicz, Shirley Rea, John Roderick, Ed Ruhe, Amby Saricks, William T. Scott, Jim Seaver, Ken Smith, Eunice Ebert-Stallworth, Ilse Steinhardt, Andrew Tsubaki, Anne Turner, Jane Van Meter, Grace Wan, Josh Waters, George Wedge, Max Whitson, Ron Willis, Theresa Windheuser, Ed Wolfe.

Remembering Imelda

Imelda is a he, not a she. The first thing the puppy did in the house was to chew up my Italian shoes, and so I decided to name him after Imelda Marcos. He figures prominently in my play FIGURES IN CLAY. Here are three excerpts from the play.

DAVID: I bought a dog today.
CLARK: (startled) What?
DAVID: A dog.
ERIC: What kind did you get?
DAVID: I wanted a chow…cinnamon, like the kind my father used to raise…but the woman at the pet shop said chows are temperamental. If it’s a fuzz ball you want, she said, then you should get a keeshond….She said the breed was developed originally in Holland to guard the barges.
CLARK: (sarcastically) Why, yes, of course. There are a lot of canals and barges in Kansas.


CLARK: Did you show Dr. Beatrice the pictures of Imelda?
DAVID: Just like a proud papa.
CLARK: The one of him at the Halloween party is a scream. Liberace would kill for that coat.
DAVID: Liberace is dead.
CLARK: Such a pretty puppy. He looks like a fox, all silver and gray.

And in the final moments of the play…

DAVID: (To Dr. Beatrice) People don’t change, but animals do. What’s new? Well, for one thing, Imelda has taken to staying up with me, at night, when I have trouble sleeping. Usually, I make myself a drink or two, turn on the TV or put on some music, and always, Imelda just sits there and watches me patiently with those sad and quizzical eyes he has, however long it takes before sleep is possible. When this happens, Imelda jumps up on the bed and the last thing I remember, always, is of him wildly licking my face and neck, the shoulders too, all the bare skin I am unable to hide under the sheet and blanket.  At first I
thought it was funny….I thought perhaps the dog was beginning to develop a taste for the nicotine and liquor on my body. And then it occurred to me that maybe he’s doing it for other reasons. Maybe he disapproves of the drinking and the smoking, and the insane licking is a kind of absolution, his own peculiar way of washing away my many impurities, of cleansing me for posterity. And so I drift off to sleep each night feeling neither Chinese nor Philippine nor American, but quite Egyptian. As in ancient times, like an Egyptian pharaoh being embalmed, except there is no dying. Not yet. These days, one merely waits. The waiting is all.

In real life, on his tenth birthday, Imelda was diagnosed with cancer. After five months, his quality of life went rapidly downhill, and Dr. Tom Liebl of the Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital suggested that “it was time.” On 13 October 1997, he told me to bring Imelda to the hospital at 7:45 PM, fifteen minutes before closing time. And so I spent the day with Imelda, doing all the things that he liked best. And at 7:45 PM, I brought him to the hospital. Dr. Liebl asked if I would like to come in and cradle Imelda in my arms while he administered the injection. I asked him how long the whole process would take. He said no more than a couple of minutes, but that sometimes the first injection doesn’t work, and then a second injection would have to be administered. I started to cry. I couldn’t do it. I handed Imelda to Dr. Liebl, and fled from the hospital. To this day, I feel truly guilty that I wasn’t there to cradle Imelda in my arms, to comfort him in that strange and unfamiliar room, to be with him during his final moments in this world.

FIGURES IN CLAY was written seven years before Imelda was put to sleep. And I am still here, still waiting my turn.

Remembering Ed Ruhe

“He takes with Him Memories of Ourselves” by Paul Stephen Lim. Reprinted from Dreamtime: Remembering Ed Ruhe: 1923-1989, edited by Robert Day and Fred Whitehead. Published in 1993 by The O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, MD 21620.

I remember taking Ed Ruhe’s “Novels into Films” class in the fall semester of 1969 (with people like Chuck Sack and Jim Pearce) and how, years later, Ed often said that it was the most extraordinary group of people he had ever taught. What really made the group extraordinary, of course, was Ed himself, with his boundless enthusiasm and passion for the visual in print, the literary on film.

I remember innumerable afternoons and evenings spent around the large and cluttered dining room table in Ed’s apartment, talking both small talk and Big Talk. Whatever the subject of conversation, whether it be an essay on cannibals by Montaigne, or an obscure movie by Kurosawa, Ed would reach back at some point and pull out some dusty book from those inexhaustible shelves to further the discussion.

I remember trips to Kansas City with Ed to dine at some new Italian restaurant, to hear Kathleen Battle, to see the Alvin Ailey Dancers, to marvel at the latest foreign film at the Bijou, to browse through the bookstores and record stores at Westport.

I remember sharing with Ed a rare 1958 Maria Callas recording of “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson and Delilah, which she had suppressed because she had been unhappy with her rendering of three or four notes, and Ed’s playing the said recording over and over, trying to determine exactly which three or four notes had displeased the diva, until we both gave up because it was nearly midnight, and much too late to call Jim Seaver and ask him for his opinion.

I remember the parties at Ed’s apartment, not only the lively ones, but also the deadly ones. One, where an out-of-town friend of Ed’s decided to show over 200 slides of tombstones he had photographed in Europe, and how the guests slipped away quietly until there was no one left, but still the show went on. Another, in which Ed listened quietly to the interminable chit-chat about the significance of I-forget-which-novel by I-forget-whom, with the discussion ending when Ed finally said, with great impatience, “Only time will tell, and we won’t be there to hear that discussion.”

On a more personal level, I remember bringing early drafts of my plays Conpersonas and Chambers to Ed’s office and subjecting him to the agony of listening to me reading all the parts, and the heated discussions we had afterwards because he said my plays were “too complex.” Years later, the reviewers in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere said the same thing, and when Ed saw how depressed I was, he took me aside one day and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being too complex. It just means you’ll never be rich.”

I remember the last movie I brought to Ed’s apartment, to watch on the new VCR I had convinced him to buy. The film was Pedro Almodovar’s The Law of Desire. I’d seen it before, but wanted to view it again with Ed, to see if the movie would strike him the same way. It did. Toward the end of The Law of Desire, there’s a scene where the flamboyant transexual heroine goes to the hospital to visit her brother, a victim of amnesia. The woman brings with her a faded photograph of two little boys at the beach, a photograph of the two of them when they were still young and happy. She thrusts the photograph in her brother’s face and begs him to remember. “You must remember,” she pleads, “because if you don’t remember, then I do not exist.”

Ed Ruhe was a great teacher. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t miss him, not only because he had a tremendous capacity for friendship, but also because he had a phenomenal memory. He’s gone, and he takes with him bits of ourselves which only he knew and remembered, memories of ourselves that now no longer exist.