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Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s learns a lesson from Ann Richards, then runs into trouble on the subway.
Last Friday, the spicy and lovable Texas Governor Ann Richards came back to life for me on New York’s Second Stage courtesy of Anna Deavere Smith’s one woman “show” cum meditation on health care Let Me Down Easy. Given economic challenges, Juan Pablo and I choose our theatre outings very carefully, although thanks to discount codes on TheaterMania.com I wouldn’t say I’m an incredibly deprived theatre queen. Since the onset of the recession, Susan and I have said about anything from an event we are planning to our fall wardrobe that, “Everything needs to work a little harder.” Theatre is no different. And boy, was Anna’s show working overtime.
What a concept. Interviewing people in depth about their experiences with American healthcare, and then painstakingly constructing a performance piece out of the transcripts. The results are riveting. While I’m not sure her recreation of celebrity personalities were the most fascinating, I did walk away with a perception of Lance Armstrong as maybe a little bit of a jerk. Instead, the standout characters included a doctor at Mercy Hospital in New Orleans and her eye-opening account of the desperation of Katrina, and later a woman’s refusal of kidney dialysis after witnessing her daughter’s horrific treatment for the same procedure.
But it was Ann Richards who brought my house down with her indomitable spirit in the face of cancer adversity. As detailed in the show, once Ann moved to New York from Texas, one of her alternative medicine specialists advised her that she can’t just keep giving herself to people, she has to “protect her chi” to help her fight the disease. From then on, when people called Ann and droned on about needing something, she hung up the phone by saying, “Gotta go, you’re wasting my chi.” As a fellow transplant, I love Ann’s combination of Texas pragmatism with New York time sensitivity, and plan to use that chi line frequently.
Anna Deavere Smith had Ann Richards’ wisecracking and big-hearted mannerisms down pat. Many Texans have their own Ann story, and mine takes place in the Admirals Club at Chicago O’Hare. I was traveling through on one of the many layovers during Tyra Banks’ book tour and an announcement over the intercom blared, “Jon Paul Buchmeyer, please recheck with an agent at the front counter.” And then across the lounge I heard Ann Richards’ telltale twang, “Jon Paul Buchmeyer? What the hell are you doing here?! Come on over here and let’s catch up. Tell me how your Daddy’s doing.”
Just like my mother, Ann had worked to put her husband through University of Texas law school and they all became friendly taking apartments in a small house together. I hadn’t seen her since she gave an address years earlier at my high school Greenhill (a speech I later imitated for speech competitions), but here she wanted to catch up with a fellow Texan. Now I know she was blessing me with a little bit of her valuable chi.
On the subway ride home, I dozed off while Juan Pablo caught up with the New York Times on his iPhone. I awakened suddenly to a scuffle between Juan Pablo and a disgruntled man who had grabbed Juan Pablo’s iPhone screaming, “Quit taking pictures of me!” Juan Pablo immediately launched into battle mode trying to reason with the clearly disturbed individual, “I wasn’t taking pictures. I was reading the Times!”
Juan Pablo may be the calmest guy in the world, but in the face of danger, he doesn’t flee—he fights. I had seen this dangerous tendency one time before when we were mugged at rusty knifepoint in Lisbon and Juan Pablo battled it out over a beloved coin purse. I like to say that Juan Pablo’s aggressive tendencies were learned growing up on the “mean streets” of Mexico City, although in reality I think his upper middle class childhood was more gentrified than mine.
That night, the crazy guy kept shouting, “Quit taking pictures of me!” Juan Pablo lunged for his phone, wrenching it from the guy’s grasp, and I was waiting for the guy to pull a knife. Juan Pablo yelled, “It’s not all about you!” Given that the guy was clearly suffering from paranoid delusions, it was probably a safe bet that he thought everything was about him. Thankfully the stand off ended when the train pulled into the 175th Street station and the guy got off. I turned to Juan Pablo, “I’m not sure it’s worth losing your entire chi over an iPhone.”
As we walked up the hill to our home, I remembered that a little part of Ann Richard’s chi would soon be near me in Washington Heights. Thanks to Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project Ann will be memorialized with a special garden at a renovated Swindlers Cove—so I guess her chi will always be watching over me.
All I can say is that night definitely worked harder than I had ever anticipated.