by Doug Sugano
In my mind, this post is about a red hoodie. You may disagree, but it’s my post.
My wife, Linda, and I have been friends with Jeannie and Tim for nearly thirty-five years (does it seem longer or shorter written out in words or numerically–35?). Many years ago, I was at grad school at UCLA, Linda was teaching, and we met Tim and Jeannie at one of those grad school Friday-night mixers at a classmates’ apartment. It was fairly uncomfortable for both of us, as we’re both introverts, and the room seemed to be filled with extroverted intellectuals clutching sophisticated adult drinks. Vicky and Richard (both in my program) introduced us to Tim and Jeannie, whom we were immediately drawn to–an Asian/EuroAm couple who weren’t out to impress the room with their literary, allusive banter. At that time, Tim was finishing his Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling degree at Fuller Seminary; Jeannie was working at the Clark Library, one of UCLA’s special collection libraries. Through that mixer, we discovered a lot of things in common besides our love of literature and English Department folk we knew. Long story short, we ended up fast friends–attending the same church and singing in choir together, being in the same Bible study, eating Primo’s donuts, and often meeting at the Zehnders’ house to sing, play music, and eat great food.
About four years later, we decided to vacation together since Jeannie had a line on a renovated fishing shack in Maine. Great trip, great food (incredibly fresh and cheap lobster), and great company. We discovered that L.L. Bean was the place to be on weekend evenings in Portland, Maine. I’ll always remember that Tim (now a therapist) felt the need to soothe the live lobsters (with warm water, thorax massage, and verbal reassurances) before we ate them with melted butter. On that trip, Linda (pregnant with our older daughter, Katy) picked up a red Port Clyde sweatshirt and has always fondly associated that hoodie with the pregnancy.
Fast forward 29 (twenty-nine) years. A few months ago, in June, our daughter Katy and her husband TJ met us at the beach. We were celebrating her pregnancy, and for the occasion, Linda decided to bring out the red hoodie which she had religiously kept for such an occasion. No magic or anything–just some old photo albums and some animated storytelling about a vacation in Port Clyde, Maine that we took before Katy was born, a long time ago.
At the beginning of August, we met up with Tim and Jeannie (whom we called “Jim and Teannie”) in Seattle because her play was being performed. Even though we’d kept in touch, we’d not seen each other for about 10 years. Jeannie, an actor, has been working on her craft as a playwright for a while. She’d spent several years on this play, Hold These Truths–first researching, then revising and workshopping it, all over the U.S. The play is the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, the famous World War II dissident who defied the internment order for Japanese Americans and finally won his case in the Supreme Court four decades after the event.
We were fortunate enough to hear Jeannie give a talk about her process in writing the play, and we finally got to see it, brilliantly performed by Joel de la Fuente. It was a breathtaking performance, not only because Joel played over twenty parts and because Jeannie had done such a marvelous job of writing, but because Hirabayashi’s story is also my family’s story of people denied their civil rights during WWII.
Rather than being maudlin and depressing, the play was alternately funny, deeply religious, and profoundly thoughtful. At several points in the play, Hirabayashi wonders about the condition of the world–whether the world is an inherently decent place (of light) that is checkered by evil acts, or an inherently dark and evil place that is occasionally dotted with points of light. The play routinely asked about the role that people of color, particularly Japanese Americans, played in US society.
During the performance, it was clear that Joel, the play, and Jeannie had control of the audience–gasps, chuckles, breath holding, a lot of crying (you know, men wiping their cheeks ) and finally, standing ovations for both Joel and Jeannie. Besides the personal pride I felt in being Jeannie’s friend, I also felt a sense of relief–that I could feel proud to be an American because there was, at least, a theatre full of people who understood how it feels to be allowed only partial participation in our society. That theatrical experience may have changed how those in the audience viewed Japanese Americans, folks of color in the U.S., and events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s sobering to think about how far our society needs to journey so that all are treated equally, but it’s also heartening to know that there is good theatre, literature, and art which can change our hearts, too.
The good news. Linda and I will be grandparents for the first time soon. Jeannie’s play, Hold These Truths, has been picked up by Seattle ACT for its 2015 season. Please look for it, and if you can, go see it. The red hoodie is likely not responsible for any of these things. Or is it?
Doug Sugano is now the proud grandfather of a lovely and healthy granddaughter, Naomi. Other than that, Doug has been teaching in Whitworth University’s English Department for a long time and currently directs Whitworth’s Honors Program, which has been up and running for over three years.
Photo by dangerismycat.