Papa’s Run-In with the Law

I’ve given lots of attention to my paternal grandfather, Charles E. Ruhe, lately, so it’s time to balance it out with something about the grandfather I actually knew, Howard Anness.

Hope Anness Graduation

My Grandmother Olive, Mother Hope & Grandfather Howard Anness, at Hope’s High School graduation

I called my mother’s father Papa, and he lived with my family from the time we moved to Bethany, a suburb of New Haven, until his passing in 1968, when I was 14 years old. He’d been a salesman for the American Screw Company during his working years, and was an enthusiastic vegetable gardener in retirement, keeping the family well supplied with strawberries and sweet corn from his plot in the back yard.

When my brother and sisters were cleaning out the family house, they came across two yellowed old newspaper clippings with an interesting story about Papa that I’d never heard before. The newspaper name and date are missing, but it seems likely they are from the Providence Journal, circa 1910. I’ve transcribed them below.


Cranston Police Head Responds Briskly When ‘Phone Tells Him Supposed Marauder Has Been Seen Climbing Through Window of House.

Many people in the vicinity of the home of Mrs. Arthur Aldrich at 2096 Cranston Street saw Chief Trainor of the Cranston police catch a housebreaker, as he was supposed to be, who entered the place in broad daylight yesterday afternoon shortly before 3 o’clock. Not only were they on hand at the capture, but Chief Trainor led the man gently but firmly out on the piazza and showed him to the multitude after the capture.

This morning members of the family said that the “intruder” surprised by the fearless Chief was not a housebreaker at all, but husband of the daughter of the house.

However, Chief Trainor said the arrival of a younger daughter was most timely, for the finding of the man was under circumstances that would have made explanations difficult, and, if it had not been satisfactorily explained, the man might have had to accompany him to the station.

One of the neighbors saw the man get in to the house through a window and called up the Chief on the telephone to notify him that the peace and quiet of the town that wants awfully to be a city was being disturbed and the good citizens robbed. Chief Trainor at once had his fast pacer Trifler harnessed up and sped to the scene in tome to nab the supposed marauder, who was calmly making himself at home in the kitchen.

The person who reported the case said that the man got off a Providence car at 2:30 o’clock and walked up to the Aldrich home. Mrs. Aldrich and her two daughters occupy the place. The elder of the girls was down-town with her mother shopping and the younger, a mere child, was in school at Meshanticut. The neighbor who peered out from behind the parlor curtains knew there was no one at home and carefully watched the “intruder.”

He walked around the house and tried several windows and then finally came back on the front piazza and after working a time at one of the windows raised it and stepped into the house. That was enough. Pit, pat she rushed to the telephone.


“Hello. Yes. This is Chief of Police Trainor. What! There’s a man entered Mrs. Aldrich’s home and no one there? Be right up. Watch the house.”

Thus spoke Chief Trainor into the ‘phone and so the discoverer watched and waited. The man did not leave the house, nor was there any sign of activity about the place.

Chief Trainor had just returned to his home on Dyer avenue, when he received notification of the break. He had left his fast pacer Trifler, a well-known speedway performer, at the Hotel National. He called the stable and had them get the horse into a rig.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 10.47.34 AM

(Not from the original story…)

He then rushed from the house pell-mell and just in time to catch the 2:55 trolley from town. Once behind Trifler he felt more sure of being able to reach the scene on time. A hurry of hoofs through the village street, and Trainor clinging gamely to the ribbons. On went the flying Trifler, his owner plying the lash. Never on the speedway did he make such a record. Those who saw the noble animal flying along, bearing right and justice to the oppressed, say that he must have made the mile in close to nothing.

Once the steed was stopped in its headlong flight for the Chief to pick up Patrolman McGee, who had rushed out to stop the runaway and arrest the driver for overspeeding. Then on again, like a whirlwind, went Trifler, while Chief Trainor told the tale to his trusty subordinate.


It was a day that fairly breathed mystery and held crime as its playfellow. A soft rain was sifting down through the leaden skies, while a breeze moaned through the gaunt trees as though in warning of an awful tragedy. The whole world seemed to ooze water, and a wet blanket enveloped the earth. The flying Trifler threw several tons of Cranston mud into the faces of the police force, without, however, dampening the ardor of the Chief or his brave command.

At last they arrived at the house. The Chief sprang out and ordered McGee to go around to the back door and stand guard. Then he went stealthily up on to the porch and tried the door. It was locked. No sound came from within the house.

Many of the neighbors, who had been told of the trouble, were on hand, and they volunteered the information that Mrs. Aldrich and her daughter were down-town.

“The little girl is over at the school house, and she has a key,” whispered a little boy, with a start as something snapped like a revolver under his feet. The Chief ordered him to bring the girl. And then they waited.

Finally little Miss Aldrich came, bringing with her the needed key. Chief Trainor unlocked the door and the crowd watched in awestruck wonder as he went over the threshold beyond which lurked untold dangers and a bold bad man with a gun, or maybe a dagger!


There was not a sound as Chief Trainor, prepared for the worst, entered the hall. He walked at once to the kitchen, that door being open. And there he saw the man, sitting comfortably back in a chair with his feet on the kitchen range and a pipe dangling idly from his mouth, while about his head was a hazy halo of smoke. His coat was off, too but he wore instead a calm, devil-may-care expression.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Chief Trainor in stentorian tone.

“What do you think I’m doing?” answered the stranger nonchalantly.

“What do you want here?” again queried the Chief, with his most official air.

“My ease, and I’m getting it,” flung back the daring fellow.

Here was calm, here was bravado, here was everything that goes to make the modern Jesse Jimmy—and in Cranston, too!

Chief Trainor was just about to clap down the hand of the law when the little Aldrich girl, braver than the rest, peeked around the door.

Theodore and Howard Anness 10-12-1913

Howard Anness (r.) with his father Theodore, 1913.

“Why, it’s Howard, the fellow that goes with my big sister,” she shyly remarked. Howard blushed and the hand of the law remained suspended. It was later removed. Chief Trainor had a peculiar little smile when he remarked to the intruder that he had just escaped landing in jail. Then he took Howard out on the front porch and formally introduced him to the crowd. Of course Mr. Annis—for he was the intruder—explained that he had come down from Boston, and knowing that one of the front windows was accessible had decided to wait and meanwhile take his ease.

When Patrolman McGee passed the Aldrich house this morning, he says, Annis met him, still smoking the pipe and still wearing the same nonchalant air. The patrolman says Mrs. Aldrich told him also that the “intruder” was no intruder at all, as he and the oldest Aldrich girl had been married a few days ago.

Inquiry at the Cranston Town Clerk’s office this morning showed that no license had been issued to the couple.



Former Grace Church Rector Unites in Boston Young Man Mistaken for Burglar and Young Lady Whose Little Sister Spoke About a “Beau.”

People out in the vicinity of one part of Cranston street went to bed in comparative peace last night, and this morning arose without any unseemly speed and ate their breakfasts in what approached a calm condition o mind an no apparent dilation of the eyeballs.

Thanks to the police, the veil of what looked like a deep, dark and menacing romance, with its consequent marriage, brought to light. The bridegroom and the bride had been discovered, and a worried, overheated neighborhood enabled to return nearly to its normal state.

It all came about through the frantic appeal of an apprehensive person, who telephoned Chief Trainor that a person had been observed working his way through a window into the house of Mrs. Arthur S. Aldrich at 2096 Cranston street, and that a great opportunity of catching a thorough-going burglar red-handed was ripe for seizing.

But it wasn’t a desperate robber, carrying an arsenal and an electric searchlight, that the valorous chief forthwith surprised in the dwelling, but a very mild-mannered, peaceable, complaisant and urbane young man, who said he was Howard T. Anness, and was unaware he had done anything very dreadful. To the statement of a little girl in the place, that he was her big sister’s beau, he did not deem it necessary to reply.

Mabelle, 7mo. Olive 27mo. ALDRICH

The very young Aldrich sisters, Maybelle (l.) and Olive

As a matter of fact, he had only the day before been married to the big sister, Miss Olive S. Aldrich, in Boston, Rev. Edmund S. Rousmaniere, D.D., of St. Paul’s Church, formerly rector of Grace Church here, performing the ceremony. The went to Boston Monday and were wedded, returning on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday he went back to Boston to get some personal belongings, and on arriving at the house in Cranston found that his bride and her mother had gone down street.

He decided to go in through a window and did so, never suspecting that a lynx-eyed neighbor was observing the operation. He disposed of his effects and proceeded to take things easy until the others should come home. He was thus engaged when he heard a commotion outside. He paid no attention, and soon was astonished to have the Chief march into the place and demand an explanation of his presence. He did not know that people roundabout were interested in his identity, and did not even then think it essential that the Chief or they should be enlightened as to the matrimonial event and so said nothing about it. Being a regular member of the household he considered its and his business of no concern to others.

The result was that it went from mouth to mouth that the little girl’s big sister’s best fellow had been interrupted in a soliloquy, in which a pipeful of tobacco played a solacing part, and that the joke was somewhat on him and very much on the head of the police force.

To-day the young man feels as if he has the better end of the laughing game. He expressed regret that he forgot to serve notice on the neighborhood that he and Miss Aldrich contemplated being made husband and wife by a former leading Providence minister, and suggests that it overlook so grave a slip, as he was far from appreciating the intense interest in his affairs and those of his bride that the locality nourished. This, too, he thought, might explain his failure to take out a marriage license in Cranston.

* * *



Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens

Pasadena, 1. 26.18

Our plan for the morning was to find a hearty breakfast, head over to the Norton Simon Museum for some Culture with a capital C, then begin the long drive home. We headed out to Conrad’s Family Restaurant, the diner we’d discovered the previous morning. If you ever find yourself in Pasadena looking for good, plain food, I can enthusiastically recommend this unassuming restaurant. Plain old-style cooking and coffee. No barristas and buttery pastries. This was breakfast. Buttermilk pancakes, Mexican omelets, poached eggs. The homefries—deliciously seasoned with a mysterious spice—were so good I decided we would eat all our meals at Conrad’s. We didn’t, of course, but breakfast on both of our visits was exactly what we needed.

Gardens over galleries

Our hunger satisfied, we found we still had some time before the Norton Simon opened so we decided to pop in at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. You snooze, you lose, Norton! We wandered for 2 ½ hours and we could have used another day just to finish the gardens. Not to mention the four Museums on the property which we briefly considered visiting. But it was a beautiful morning and we elected to spend it out in the air.

The Huntington offers 12 distinctive gardens. Having reviewed the map, we set our sights for the Shakespeare Garden where the Bard’s words were matched with corresponding flora, and the Japanese and Chinese Gardens on the other side of the park.

We were momentarily distracted by the Desert Garden which was AWESOME. Gigantic cactus, garish colors, and fantastical succulents created an otherworldly landscape that I really wanted to engage with and it was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away in search of Shakespeare. Next time though…

The Shakespeare search was fruitless. Our map-reading left something to be desired, so like the Bard’s enchanted lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we wandered aimlessly through twisting and meandering paths that lead nowhere. We finally found a bust of Will, but never the alleged garden. Perhaps we’d been glamoured by Puck.

A Quick Trip to Asia

Back on a clearer pathway, we hightailed it over to the Asian Gardens. This would be a good opportunity to further explore the aesthetics that inspired the Arts and Crafts movement we saw at the Gamble House.

From the moment I enter a Japanese garden, I feel all my anxiety give way to joy and calm. They are perfectly cultivated to enhance the beauty of the space and to carry us along on the flow of ki. As we strolled these gardens, we saw gold, white, and orange koi gliding under bridges; waterfalls spilling over elegantly arranged rocks; softly shaped shrubs reflecting in still pools. Ancient, worn artifacts dot the landscape like the roadside bas relief Buddhas and the matched lion-dogs guarding the entrance. At this time of year the camellia were bloom, though I’d love to be there in early spring to see the wisteria, one of my favorite flowers. Magnificent trees rise upward, straight and bold or spiral horizontally along irregular paths. And then of course, there were the legendary Japanese bonsai trees.

The Japanese have long been fascinated with miniatures, something many American’s have in common. Doll houses filled with miniature furniture and micro-décor are the most obvious example, but as a child I would create miniature landscapes in my mother’s brownie pans using thick mosses for hills and valley and small ferns to look like trees. Japanese gardens elicit this same sense of fantasy and imagination. And the bonsai trees are the quintessential miniature, meticulously curated for years, even decades and centuries. I was especially delighted to find a miniature Coastal Live Oak, whose full-size cousins grow all around me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

The adjoining Chinese Garden was quite different, though equally restful and harmonious. Walkways were paved with stones in intricate designs, linking structures that provided places to sit and contemplate the beautiful views. The Chinese aesthetic shares the Japanese respect for nature, but to my mind it imposes a more formal structure. In a Japanese garden, I feel like I’m in nature—the human handiwork is subordinate to the forces of nature, and the structures that exist are made of wood and paper. But in the Chinese garden, nature has been mastered—I feel invited to contemplate it from the man-made structures constructed of stone, concrete and glass.

In my Internet preparations for our visit, I encountered a curious use of the term “viewing” in explanations of particular features in the Japanese Garden. The “suseiki” are “viewing stones,” natural rock formations selected for their innate beauty and set somewhere where people can “view” them. There is also “moon-viewing” and “flower viewing”. They seem to point to a notion that “viewing” is itself an aesthetic act, where we, as witnesses, complete the artistic vision. Esoteric, I know, but even if you have never considered the notion, the Japanese and Chinese gardens inspire a euphoric feeling of having helped create something.

The Huntington Botanical Gardens will inspire you with genuine awe. Every time we sat down to rest, we were seduced out of our seats by the visions of beauty still awaiting just beyond. Highly recommended, if you’re in that part of the world. We’ll be back.

—Renée Rothman

Ancestor Hunting in Pasadena


At Haskett Court, the bungalow court designed by my grandfather, Charles E. Ruhe

Pasadena, 1.24-26.18

Renée and I had been plotting a trip to Pasadena for a while. So when she had a few days off work we booked an AirBnB for a couple of nights, loaded up the car, dropped Woody the cocker spaniel off with his Aunt Jan, and headed down I-5 to Los Angeles.

For me, the motivation was to discover my grandfather, Charles Edward Ruhe. Though we share a name (I’m Charles Frederick), I’d never had the chance to meet him. He’d been a soldier in World War I, had been exposed to poison gas, and died of the resulting liver cancer in 1934 when my father (Charles Augustus) was 4 years old. When Dad died a couple of years ago, one of the ways I dealt with the loss was to read through all the family genealogical information that my brother Robert has collected over the years.

I’d known that Granddad was an architect, and that my father had been born in Pasadena. But in my mind I hadn’t put together the story that Charles E. Ruhe was a successful architect in that wealthy suburb of Los Angeles during the Roaring ‘20s, and that he had built several houses in what is now the Prospect Historic District of Pasadena. He was also responsible for Haskett Court, a bungalow complex on California Boulevard which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So I wanted to make contact with my prominent ancestor by visiting his work. Pasadena has plenty of other attractions too, as well as being the home of an old friend from my college days. Enough reason for a trip! Besides, we really needed to get out of the house for a few days.

The trip down I-5 goes from a boring slog through the San Joaquin Valley to white knuckles over the Tejon Pass to LA bumper-to-bumper traffic. Not a fun six hours, but we had good music and plenty of snacks to get us through.

We found the AirBnB, met our hosts Harvey and Ricky and their four rescue dogs, and left our suitcase in the room. The Chinese buffet we found down the street for dinner was the only real food mistake we made on the trip. Not recommended. After the long drive, about all we were up for was bed, so we called it a night and crashed.

* * *

Armada Drive

Next morning, the plan was to visit the Gamble House, one of Pasadena’s architectural landmarks, and then search for some of Grandfather’s houses in the Prospect Historic District. We ended up turning that around—Gamble House wasn’t yet open when we arrived, so we explored in the neighborhood and, aided by Google Maps and a bit of serendipity, we located two of his houses right away—1065 and 1075 Armada Drive. They’re situated right next to each other. The two houses are very different; if you didn’t know they were designed by the same architect, you probably wouldn’t guess. 1065 is Spanish-influenced, with the red tile roof common to that style. 1075 is a French Revival, with a unique entranceway tucked under a turret. We couldn’t get around to the back of either place, but it was clear that both had spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains.


1065 Armada Drive


Renee at 1075 Armada Drive

Many photographs later, it was still too early for Gamble House and we were in need of breakfast. After much Googling, we found Conrad’s Family Restaurant on Walnut and Lake. Classic breakfast place, and delicious!

Haskett Court

With some time still to kill before Gamble House opened, we determined that we were quite close to Haskett Court, so that was our next destination. Grandfather Charles had designed this bungalow court of five buildings for the Haskett family, who occupied them for a number of years. It had been converted to commercial use for a while, but in recent years has been restored and returned to private housing.


Haskett Court Bungalow


Haskett Court Duplex Entrance


Haskett Court entrance from California Blvd

I really think Haskett Court was Grandfather’s masterpiece. It’s a classic California bungalow court, tucked away off California Boulevard between a CVS drugstore and the Pasadena Assistance League, and barely noticeable from the street. But walk up a couple of steps and past the hedge, and you’re in what feels like an English garden. A paved path with gentle curves guides you into the space, where the first four bungalows are neatly arranged on each side, with a covered porch at each entrance that looks like a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the Pasadena weather. The path leads to the fifth cottage, a duplex. The houses have massive roofs that give the small buildings an impressive collective presence, and each has its own bit of private garden. It’s a beautiful little complex.

We walked through Haskett Court and grabbed more photos. Then we located another significant address just a few blocks away. 670 Los Robles, though not designed by Grandfather Ruhe, was the house where he lived in the early 1930’s with my Grandmother Alice, her two sons from a previous marriage, and my father as a baby. It’s a beautiful little bungalow in a lovely neighborhood, and I was happy to find it.


670 Los Robles, home to the Ruhe family in the early ’30s

Gamble House

When we were ready to move on, it was finally time to take the tour of Gamble House, so we headed that direction.


Renee at Gamble House’s front door

Built in 1908 by renowned architects Greene & Greene, the Gamble House is one of the best examples of the Craftsman movement in American architecture. Heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics and carpentry techniques, it represents a break from the over-ornamented Victorian style of earlier years.

The Gamble family, who made their money by putting Ivory Soap in every household in America, belonged to a class of public-spirited moguls no longer found in the age of Trump. According to the docent leading our tour, the house was briefly offered for sale by the last member of the Gamble family in residence. She overheard a potential buyer talking about painting all the beautiful woodwork in the house white to lighten up the dark interior. She immediately took the house off the market. Instead, she donated it to the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California, who now manage it jointly.

The house itself is a jewel. The revolutionary design principles, the decorative motifs that run throughout the house, the attention to each detail—if you have any interest in architecture or interior design, you must visit the Gamble House and experience it for yourself. Photos don’t do it justice, though I took quite a few.

Another Ruhe house found

Following our tour of Gamble House, we took another spin through the Prospect District and found one more Charles E. Ruhe house at 1035 Prospect. It was harder to photograph than the others had been; a somewhat overgrown front garden hid it from view. This house, with a Spanish tile roof, also features gently curving paths leading to distinctive entryways—apparently one of my grandfather’s design trademarks.


1035 Prospect Drive

Mountain View Mausoleum

By this time, we’d looked at enough architecture for the day, so we thought we would search out the man himself—or at least his final resting place. Once again, my brother’s research proved invaluable. He’d located records showing that Charles E. Ruhe was interred at the Mountain View Mausoleum. We drove over there and with the help of Mountain View’s staff were able to locate his crypt. As a morbid sort of bonus, his parents, my Great-Grandparents Edward W. and Katherine I. Ruhe, were interred on either side of him. My roots in Pasadena go deeper than I had realized .

Mountain View Mausoleum

Mountain View Mausoleum, communing with my grandfather

Our visit to the mausoleum finished, we decided that a break was called for, so we headed back to the Airbnb to catch a nap and charge up our nearly-drained phones and camera. We finished the day by joining my old Bard College friend, Catherine, for dinner at Daisy Mint, an excellent Thai restaurant. It was a wonderful reunion and a chance to meet her delightful husband Gene.

One More House for the List

I’ll let Renée tell the story of Friday, with one exception—that morning we headed back to the Prospect District to locate a house we’d missed: 521 La Mesa Place, just around the corner from the Armada Drive properties. This house is in English Revival style, once again with a curving walkway and a distinctive entrance. It has a detail in common with its one of its neighbors on Armada—the curved timbers on the Tudor-style gable that faces the street echo the entrance of 1075.


521 La Mesa Place

I know there’s at least one other house that we missed, but I’m not worried. We’ll just have to go back to Pasadena to find it, along with some of the city’s other attractions that we didn’t have time for on this trip.

Next post: Friday’s visit to the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Coming soon!


More Shodan photos


This gallery contains 3 photos.

  photos by Beau Saunders Advertisements




I was bowing at the door of the dojo after class this morning, with my hakama and black belt neatly folded and stashed in my bag atop my sweaty keiko gi. Linda Sensei called to me just as I turned toward the parking lot, and I swiveled back around to respond.

“Yes, sensei?”

“Are you going to write anything about your shodan? I’ve been checking your blog, and I haven’t seen a new post for a while. Your audience is waiting!”

I mumbled something about being busy, still too close to the event, needing time to process it. Yeah, yeah—excuses, excuses! It’s been almost two months since my test, and the Santa Cruz Summer Aikido Retreat has come and gone, complete with a treasured visit from Anno Sensei. I’m no longer ASC’s newest shodan; Elizabeth and Steven have both taken their first rolls in their new hakamas. If I haven’t processed it by now, it ain’t gonna get processed. So I’ll take a stab at a post about establishing myself in this new identity of shodan.

Memories of test day

I didn’t get much sleep the night before my test, finally resorting to visualizing the full series of suwari-waza (kneeling) pins—shomenuchi ikkyo irimi to the right, tenkan to the left; nikkyo irimi and tenkan; then sankyo, and finally yonkyo. Next, the same pins from a yokomenuchi attack, then katate-dori. The aikido equivalent of counting sheep, I guess. I’d thought I was managing my nerves pretty well, but apparently I hadn’t mentioned that to my nervous system.

Driving in to the dojo that morning, the radio played three songs in a row that seemed to demonstrate some kind of synchronicity: “Let’s Get It On”; “Play that Funky Music, White Boy”; and that old disco favorite from Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out.” It’s a different context of coming out, but it felt appropriate, nonetheless.

The class started with our usual warm-up, slowly stretching out and getting the blood pumping a little bit. We worked through a few techniques, as we usually do. My training partners all wished me luck, each in their own way—some with a last minute tip, others with a hug or a pat on the shoulder. Then it was time.

I was very pleased that a good group of our non-aikido friends came to watch. Many thanks to Willa and Bud, Robert and Su, Ken and Ida, Audrey, Kim and David.

The test itself is a bit of a blur now. I’ve been told by several people that it went on a little longer than usual for a shodan exam, but I couldn’t tell. I made a few mistakes in the course of the test, which stick out when I think about it, but nothing too terrible. The most embarrassing were the zanshin breaks—those moments when I let uke slip out of my awareness. During a shodan test, that earns you a surprise attack. But I managed to maintain my composure and use an appropriate technique in response.

The nature of aikido practice forces you to exist in the moment, which is timeless. So I was a little bit surprised at the call of “Yame!” that ended the randori section. A few moments of suwari-waza to demonstrate kokyu-ho, traditionally the final requirement in tests, followed by a set of formal bows to Mark Zwagerman, my mentor and primary uke for the test; the test board, consisting of Senseis Linda, Glen and Jeanne; and toward Osensei’s portrait on the shomen wall. I’d survived!

The feedback from my test board was overwhelmingly positive—although my flaws were acknowledged, and we explored some of the many areas where I have room to improve. But I do remember Linda Sensei saying, “That was a solid shodan. This isn’t an honorary degree just because you’re 57.”

Afterwards, at the ceremonial circle on the mat, Linda announced to the class that I’d passed, and I knee-walked over to meet her in front of the shomen, where we bowed and she presented me with my new belt and the hakama that marks this promotion. As I’ve mentioned before, the tradition at Aikido of Santa Cruz is that everyone chips in to purchase the new shodan’s first hakama, the traditional Japanese skirt that black belts wear.

Sensei also presented me with another traditional ASC shodan gift, a large piece of Japanese calligraphy she brushes herself. I opened the package and took in the brush strokes, which I didn’t recognize, then held it up for the circle to see, and to get the translation from Linda. “It says ‘Magokoro,’ which means ‘True Heart,’” she said. Below the large characters was a quote from Osensei: “Aikido is the expression of a sincere heart. It is the expression of the heart of love.”

Wow, that still leaves me kind of speechless.

Over the following weeks, I’ve started to accept my new identity in the dojo. There have been many “firsts”—first seminar as a black belt, first black-belt-only class, first time folding the hakama by myself. I’m beginning to get used to wearing the skirt, although I still trip on it regularly.

Shodan means “first step” and sometimes I feel like I’m starting all over again, relearning the fundamentals every time I step on the mat. But you know what? I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. I was joking with Glen Sensei after class one evening, and said, “I guess I get to keep wearing this skirt now—nobody’s come to take it away because the whole thing was a mistake.” He shot back, “Who could do that? You’re a black belt in aikido.”

Yeah. I am.


(Photos by Beau Saunders)


After Class

After class, about 8:00, I briefly interrupted Linda Sensei, who was deep in conversation with one of the very senior yudansha. “Any notes before I leave, Sensei?” We discussed my training schedule for the next few days; I’m taking tomorrow off and getting a massage, and I plan to train in the Friday evening class. On Saturday, I need to get to the dojo early—I promised Dennis I’d cover his misogi while he’s away. It’s a “special day of training,” as Sensei invariably refers to shodan exams.

“Go home and read Osensei,” said Linda. “Hai, Sensei!” is the only reply I’ve been allowed for the last eight weeks at least, and I gave it, gladly. We bowed, and I went to change out of my wet keiko gi. One of my stock phrases lately is, “I was born in the year of the Horse, and I sweat like one.”

Yes, Saturday is my shodan exam, and I’ve been training very hard. I had decided about a decade ago that I was too old to practice aikido, a physically demanding martial art. I’ve spent the past year and a half proving myself wrong.

Most English-speaking aikidoka have a copy of a small book titled The Art of Peace. It consists of brief snippets drawn from the talks and writings of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, compiled and translated by John Stevens. I picked up my copy a few minutes ago and opened it at random, to this passage:

“The Way of the Warrior is based on humanity, love and sincerity; the heart of martial valor is true bravery, wisdom, love and friendship. Emphasis on the physical aspects of warriorship is futile, for the power of the body is always limited.”

Don’t I know it! At least, the last bit—although I’ve pushed my body past what I’d firmly believed were its limits. The first part—that “humanity, love and sincerity” thing—well, I can’t claim to have mastered it, but I’m trying to do the work. And as I look back at this period of preparation, I think one of the many lessons I’ve been given is a daily demonstration of its literal truth.

The techniques we practice are models of connection between human beings. Robert Frager Sensei, one of the few North Americans to study directly with Osensei, once asked the founder, “What is the proper attitude of nage towards uke?” and Osensei replied, “A parent to a child.” And through this intense period of training, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of the place that comes from. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t happen easily—but if it did, we wouldn’t have to practice.

It’s late, and I’m tired. The only thing I know is that I’m privileged to study this profound philosophy with a very sincere and loving community of people. I’m deeply grateful to my teachers, Linda Holiday Sensei and Glen Kimoto Sensei, and all my training partners. I’m looking forward to Saturday, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to test for shodan. I’m told the literal meaning of shodan is “first step.” I’m looking forward to the next part of the journey.




Not Smashing

I really wanted to like Smash, the NBC show that purports to follow the production of a new Broadway musical from first rehearsals to glowing reviews. I’ve loved Broadway since my mother dragged me along to see Ethel Merman in a late-career revival of Annie Get Your Gun. My biggest thrill in the last year was taking my 15-year-old niece to her first Broadway show. I idolize Sondheim.

So you’d think that Smash would be right in my wheelhouse. But it never even crosses the plate, in spite of the baseball number that seems to be the only piece of song and dance they’re actually working on.

How come? As always, it starts with the writing—or, in this case, the list of clichés stood up like a troupe of paper dolls.

Is there any character to give a damn about? Let’s go through the list: The librettist/lyricist who can’t decide whether to adopt a Chinese baby or renew her adulterous affair with the leading man? The successful composer whose mother is still setting him up on gay blind dates? The sadistic director whose casting decisions are made by his prick?

The producer who’s going through a divorce? Anjelica can sling a Manhattan with the best of ’em, but the soon-to-be-ex actually seems like a decent fellow. The creepy assistant/spy now attached to her like a remora? Sorry, I can’t see much of a reason for him in this story at all.

The dueling divas? Frankly, Scarlett… Poison Ivy and Karen the Meek aren’t exactly contenders in the race for the cat-fight pennant. If All About Eve is supposed to be the template for this backstage bodice-ripper, they should have taken a closer look at the original.

So there’s nobody to like, some who are kinda repulsive, and a mismatch in the middle. Not a formula for capturing the hearts of Broadway fans everywhere. Strike one, if we’re sticking with the baseball metaphor.

Strike two, on my scorecard, is that Smash shows no respect for the actual process of creating a piece of theater. How is it that this production is at the point of looking for investors, apparently just a couple of weeks after our librettist has received some sort of magic creative spark from the cover photo of a Marilyn Monroe biography? Well, Ms. Monroe had a complex and tragic life. What part, exactly, are you going to turn into a musical?

The writers have evidently decided that Marilyn’s Kardashian-brief marriage to Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio is the focus, given that one number they’ve been working on, but it’s hard to see how we get a happy musical ending out of their divorce, preceded as it was by nasty public battles. And I can’t visualize a big finale built around her death by barbiturate overdose.

So there are story problems for the show within the show before we leave the dugout. I suspect that even Julie Taymor would walk away from a project this shapeless. A sculptor builds a human form from the bones up; there are no dramatic bones to Marilyn the Musical.

Strike three: The lack of respect for the process extends to the artists involved. It takes a hell of a lot of work, done with a professional attitude by people with incredible skills, to put together a show. But in the world of Smash, everybody’s too bitchy to actually rehearse—assuming they had anything to rehearse, since there’s still no book. Ivy couldn’t possibly have lost her voice, she’s barely used it!

If you need a template for a backstage musical, might I suggest A Chorus Line? You could develop a diverse cast, with lots of interesting story arcs. There’d still be plenty of room for dramatic conflict. It’d be sort of like Glee