Literally Leah

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Recession Woes and a Puppet Killer December 14, 2009

Filed under: Fail,Jobs,Magic,Recreational Activity — The Under-Analyst @ 4:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Shortly after moving to the Santa Monica area I was pleased to discover a local paper, “The Santa Monica Daily Press.” Aha!  Here was the perfect vehicle to introduce my candid reporting to all the uninformed neighbors!  The paper’s articles were dull and lacked a much-needed edge (thoughts of Des Moines’ “Juice” came to mind).  On a Friday, a few weeks later, I was meandering home from the grocery store when a cartoon-like character, peeping from a window, caught my attention.  I turned to my right and gaped, open-mouthed, at the gem in front of me.  A quaint building displayed the words, “Santa Monica Puppetry Center,” which casted a shadow over the narrow sidewalk.  I peered closer at the strange images in the windows.  Photos of puppets and what I presumed to be the puppet master filled the two large  panes.  The door read, “Puppetolio, LA’s Longest Running Puppet Show.”

This would be the story that would make my name known in the circulating small paper world! What would my angle be?  “Puppets, Santa Monica’s Silent Neighbors… A Real Boy, the Local Pinocchio… Puppet Masters Vs. Hollywood…I’ve Got An Arm Up My Ass, I Must Be a Puppet…”  I needed to see a performance of this Puppetolio and if I was lucky maybe get a behind the scenes tour. It was then that I noticed a Saturday matinee performance posted on the entrance. I skipped home with visions of puppets and journalism awards dancing in my cerebellum. 

The next day, the BIG day, I woke early and began my in-depth research via Google.  The center’s webpage, , introduced me to Steve Meltzer, Puppet Master, maker, owner and friend.  Normally open-minded, I had to focus on my un-biased data collection (fighting off labels such as; pervert, weirdass, loser, puppet-lover).  I invited a few girlfriends to join me but they all graciously declined (their loss!).  This was probably for the best since I was on a job, after all.

I walked the sunny four blocks and was surprised to see a line of people outside the door.  For some reason I had assumed I might be the only patron or that there’d be no more than three or four of us.  The line had at least 8 people: a few grandparents with their grandchildren, a mom and dad with an unfortunate looking child, and a girl who appeared to be around my age.  What the hell was a twenty-something doing by herself at a puppet show on a Saturday day (we were so close to the beach)?   Maybe she was on assignment as well… competition, bring it skank.  The door opened and the excitement I experienced was nothing short of a Christmas morning.  Tickets were only seven dollars to my surprise.  Steve, the puppet master (whom I recognized from the photos and website) stood behind the ticket counter and asked me if I was meeting a friend.  Nope, just taking in a mid-day puppet show solo, but thanks.  I looked around and was overwhelmed with puppet décor.  Framed photos of puppets and puppet masters lined the walls.  Puppets in un-opened packages were mounted next to antique characters on strings.  The room to the right was packed with puppet paraphernalia and I was slightly frightened.  Where was I?  What did I just willingly pay money to see?  He opened a velvet curtain and we were all ushered in the theatre. The stadium seating was impressive and it appeared that maximum capacity was twenty or so.  I took a seat in the back row and took out my yellow legal pad and pen.  I began jotting down detailed descriptions of my surroundings.  I looked to the right and saw that a middle-aged woman had joined the young twenty-something.  I suddenly felt alone.  Some of the other audience members peered up at me scribbling on my paper.  I ignored them and sat upright with journalistic pride.

The puppet master introduced himself and made a small political joke, which impressed us adults.  The main puppet, used ventriloquist style, was Freddy Mingo.  He led the group on a few songs.  The music in the show was previously recorded and featured the voice of Steve Meltzer, puppet master.  After Freddy, Steve danced a few string puppets on the stage to the delight of the children.  I found myself singing along to “On Top of Spaghetti,” with vigor.  I loved puppets!  I was reminded of my childhood days watching “LambChops.” My only real criticism was the husky voice used for the girl puppets giving the audience the impression these “ladies” on strings had smoked most of their lives and quite possibly had a hormonal imbalance. The show ended after about forty-five minutes, which was perfect for the small attention span of children.  Post-show he unveiled the “workshop” (a small corner of the theatre with puppet body parts strewn about…slightly disturbing) and a giant animatronics puppet that he turned on and made sing for us all.

I heard an elderly couple tell their grandchild that they’d come back in a few weeks.  I held my notepad and continued to take notes.  Steve watched me with curiosity.  I felt powerful.  Finally everyone began to clear out.  Steve turned to me and asked, “I hope you’re not auditing me.”  Haha, oh Steve…

“Heeheeheee Who me? No, just writing a little piece on your setup here,” I replied.

“Oh really?  What are you writing it for?  What publication?”  He asked, smiling. 

This is when I lied.  “The Santa Monica Daily Press.” Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie because I had every intention of getting my story published in there. 

“Oh fantastic, you guys have always been so good to me. Please come have a seat.”

I couldn’t believe this!  I, Leah Josephson, was going to have a one on one interview with the puppet master himself! 

“Let me give you your money back, I never make press pay.”

“No, no, I want to contribute,” I said guiltily.  I began to ask him questions pre-rehearsed from earlier in the day.  We discussed his beginnings, the love he immediately felt for puppetry, his struggle to make a living from it, all of the festivals he had appeared in and the current recession setbacks.  He told me of old puppet legends he had met and worked with (including LampChop’s lady).  He told me, off the record, about just how hard the economy was on the show (which I won’t get into in order to respect his off the record wishes).  The shows were still drawing a crowd but his main source of income was school performances and this year all of the schools cut out their entertainment funds.  He told me to make sure to include this in my article so everyone could be aware of just how critical school funding is. 

Before I left he gifted me a DVD of the show and asked when the article was set to appear.  I told him it was completely up to the editor (liar, liar pants on fire). 

I was filled with adrenaline from my puppet journalism experience and called my nana to tell her that I was the next Barbara Walters (minus the lisp). 

The next week I kept trying to write the article.  I would start and then get stuck.  I sat there at my office and in between clients I’d write a sentence or two, only to read it back and delete it.  I sent the DVD to my nephew.  I began to panic.  Who was I kidding?  I couldn’t write a full feature article that would be good enough to be published, especially by the Santa Monica Daily Press.  And poor Steve! I had duped him.  He’d be waiting and waiting, picking up the paper and searching desperately for our in-depth interview.  Maybe he’d call the paper and ask for Leah and they would say, “I’m sorry we have no such writer here.”  Maybe he would cry.  Maybe he would slam his fist down and lament all his woes to his puppets.  I felt terrible but it was done, I couldn’t write it, I was a puppet journalist failure.

A month later I walked past the puppet center and read the notice on the door, “Puppetolio CLOSED.”  I crept away from the door, shaking my head.  Closed?  It wasn’t possible.  I immediately checked their website after I got home and there it was, “PUPPETOLIO IS CLOSED.  We thank all of our friends for their support over the years.  Unfortunately the economy and other factors has made it necessary to close the Santa Monica Puppetry Center and Museum.” 

“Other factors?”  Like lying, fake journalists!?  I had ruined the puppet center! I had ruined Steve’s life!  I wanted to write a large check out to him and give him back his life and dreams… but I had no money. 

I kill puppets.  So, now I carry this burden on my back.  Like a camel with humps I traverse this desolate world secretly crying out, “I’m sorry Steve, please forgive me.”  A scarlet letter burns on my chest.  And so this blog now serves as a sort of repentance.

Puppetolio lives on! here in my blog, and here in my heart.  

Final Show *(image from official website)


Lady Fortuna and a Visit from Marmee August 12, 2009

Filed under: Identity,Magic,Spirituality — The Under-Analyst @ 9:49 pm
Tags: , ,

My mother finally came to visit me last weekend. I’ve been living in California now for seven months and was starting to wonder if she was ever going to come (she never visited me while I was living in Spain).  I understand that she hates to travel… but I am her daughter, come on (besides… who hates travel???).

I took her down to Venice to see Muscle Beach and the freaks.  As we
 walked down the boardwalk mom stopped and excitedly yelled, “Oh my god
 leah, let’s get our palms read!” 

I had heard of the Venice Beach Palm Reader. A friend of mine claimed she was not only affordable but extremely accurate as well (apparently she foresaw the demise of a mutual friend’s relationship to some jerk). 

I shrugged and quickly 
jumped on board. palm-reader

We walked closer and examined the sign advertising, “palm readings for $10.”  Above the sign was a small staircase leading up to a little balcony with two chairs and a table overlooking the strand. We climbed the stairs eager and giddy like adolescent boys entering a brothel.  The landing was empty  so we turned to the sliding screen door on our left.  A dark sheet draped on the other side of the screen blocked our view into the old apartment.  Mom gently called out, “hello,” and knocked against 
the aluminum frame.  A funny little dog with a cone around his neck burst through a small tear in the screen near our feet. The door slid to the left and behind the dark sheet a middle aged blonde woman emerged wearing a sleeveless, Caribbean-looking 
muumuu. She took a seat in one of the chairs and asked who wanted to 
go first.  Being brave, I hastily volunteered my mother. 

She asked her if she was right-handed and grasped her wrist to examine the fleshy palm.  Mom was informed she would have a long life, at least 80, (this pissed her off and she wouldn’t stop complaining about 
the injustice of a long, old, hard life the rest of the weekend).  The psychic 
continued her “reading,” remarking on mom’s broken love line.  She guessed my mother had been married twice. Mom politely corrected her with, “actually it’s number four.”  The woman nodded and replied, “yes, but 
for some reason I’m getting the sense that two of those you really don’t 
count.”  My mom nodded vigorously, laughing at her own expense and gushing, “I always say that!” Lady
 Fortuna then announced, “the guy you are married to now is a good man, 
why are you so hard on him?”  This left my mom looking stunned and gaped-mouthed (we had just been going over what a nitpick she was with him). Wow, so far I was convinced this lady was the real deal.  She then said that she could tell my mother was an intuitive woman who needed creativity in her life.  She segued this into career talk and told mom to never go back to the cube (again a subject we had been mulling over for several weeks).  

My turn!

She immediately tells me that I have a young spirit and asks me how old I am. I tell her, “25.”  She looks shocked and proceeds to tell me that my energy is still around 17 and that I have a hard time growing up.  “Marmee did you hear that?” I call out.  Mom nods in agreement.  The Palm Reader doesn’t mention anything about how long I’ll live, I take this to mean I’ve got a rather short life ahead of me (I bet mom is jealous).  She then tells me that I love to travel.
 I agree but am skeptical because doesn’t everyone love to travel (my mother not included)??  The Mystical Maiden goes on to say that she sees me writing, possibly doing journalism.  She says that I should be traveling and writing. Obviously! I tell her that I am in fact a writer with my very own blog.  She doesn’t look impressed and continues on with her reading.  She tells me that my current boyfriend isn’t “the one.”  She says that I should be dating, but not necessarily sleeping with any of them (I later find out why). There will be a couple of relationships before I find “the one.”  She says I will marry in the next 5 to 8 years and that I am extremely fertile so I need to be careful of any unexpected pregnancies… eeks.  She definitely sees children in my future, at least two although I may have anywhere from 2-10 children.  10!!???

How cruel to leave 10
 orphaned children after I die from a short life-line.  
Good thing my mom is going to live so long, someone will have to take care of the kids when I’m gone.

Thank you Lady Fortuna, best deal in town; $10 fortune telling and blog material to boot.


Magic, the angry maker. March 25, 2009

Filed under: Magic,Travel — The Under-Analyst @ 6:40 pm

magiccastle1  When first informed of a place called “The Magic Castle” I was immediately wary.  This was not Disney World, this was a “castle” for “magic” in hollywood? Weeeeird.  But my curiosity peaked when a girlfriend of mine described her Friday night outing there as “easily the best date ever.”  Really? At a magic show?  Maybe she hadn’t been on many dates… But she continued to describe the place with positive adjectives and mentioned that there were numerous bars on different floors (well now that was something to be excited for).  The icing on the cake was that the week hosted, “Sorcerers of Spain.”  She said everyone had to dress very formal in cocktail attire and that it was difficult to get in without knowing a member (an elite magic gathering, impressive).  I was invited to go with her and her magic practicing “friend” yesterday evening.  I obviously said yes!

The castle:  A house, castle inspired. Hollywood, semi residential area.  The lobby has a comically small gift shop, a couple of shelves.  We are accepted in (thank you friend’s magic practicing friend).  I am told to say “open sesame” to the wall.  I do, the wall with a painted on bookshelf moves open.  We descend into a bar area with a ghost piano player on the other side.  I’m still excited and we get a glass of wine.  We immediately go into a side room to see an intimate magic show.  Before it starts I am called up to be the show’s volunteer!  I sit down and out comes the middle aged magician who then performs trick after trick (cards and coins) that baffle me and later infuriate me.  

Magic, as a rule of thumb, pisses me off.  All logic says that he did not just pull a bunny from his ass, however, I cannot figure out what he did to make it seem so real (purely an example, although the magic show would have been sooo much better if bunnies were being pulled out of someone’s ass).  Because I can’t understand magic, I get angry.  I try my best to look charmed but in fact I am hating him and his magic.  I receive praises after the show (um thanks?).  We then go to another show in which my friend is chosen as a volunteer.  This time the magician is funny.  He’s old, a fast talker and slightly witty. I like him.  He makes her ring disappear and then reappear. I’m angry but the second glass of wine is helping.  We applaud and leave to the main event.  

A creepy man is walking around the audience eating cookies.  We discover he is part of the act.  His introduction is stupid (he electrocutes himself).  A lady comes out and music starts to play.  She is dancing. Oh, I like this act, a nice change from cards.  She dances around the stage doing trickery with her scarf and then with two large metal hoops.  I am more impressed with her flexibility (she is at least fifty). Her act is done. The creepy guy returns, ugh.  He does some tricks with scissors and paper, all the while keeping that creepy grin on his face and occasionally running the scissor blades over his face.  The audience is loving it. I hate him.  Another guy enters the stage.  He does robotic dancing, I like him, but this isn’t magic.  The woman and man dance together with masks on, it’s weird, and not magic.  The end.  We meet up with my friend’s friend who has been in his magic class all this while.  We watch some impromptu magic in the corner by the upstairs’ bar but by now I am unimpressed.  He is doing knot tricks with a rope. Sailor tricks. I’m tired of magic, it’s exhausting.  We decide it is time to go.  


Am glad that I experienced the Magic Castle?  Yes.  

Could my life have been complete without a visit? Probably not.

Have I created a new found tolerance maybe even interest in magic? definitely not.  


Magicians are still better than clowns, and that’s something.