A Few Things I learned from Barbara Oliver

Don’t stop doing the work that makes you happy.

Take an interest in someone, not because it’ll help your career. Just because.

If someone invites you to their hole in the wall show because they’re so damn excited about it- go.

Give people rides. 

b oliver


In 1994 I came back to the Bay Area from college, fancying myself as the Next Great Theatre Director. I promptly sent out resumes to the local Artistic Directors announcing myself as such. Looking back, I see I was guilty of over-marketing myself a bit. I had only directed two shows, one in an emptied swimming pool, the other in a basement. No one replied.

Except for Barbara Oliver, then AD of the Aurora Theatre. She called me and asked me to have coffee with her. We sat in the old Brazilian cafe that used to be there and she kindly sat and listened to my dreams for creating The Next Great American Theatre Co. She smiled, listened, laughed, talked about how she started The Aurora many years ago. She seemed really curious about me. (Why does this lady care? Is this a gag?) She didn’t offer me a job, telling me straight out I wasn’t quite ready for the Aurora-but made it clear she’d keep me in mind, and that as I did shows I should let her know so she could come see.

A few years later I  started The Next Great etc. It was in a cramped loft that itself was stuffed inside a Karate Studio. To get to the shows you had to cross the Karate floor sometimes dodging windmilling arms and legs. Barbara came to the opening of Ghost in the Machine. She came to a staged reading of RUR. She was always happy to come. There might be 12 people in the house. She was enthusiastic. She’d sit next to my mom, and beam almost in the same way. As long as I gave her a ride home. She didn’t drive.

A year later she hired me to direct two staged readings for Aurora at a private club in SF. But the best part was, again, driving her home. Being able to talk with her, hearing stories of how she and her husband ran a community theatre in Fargo North Dakota before moving to Berkeley.

When my Director dreams gave way to other dreams, Barbara still showed an interest. She even came to see The Laramie Project at Berkeley High school, not just because I directed, but because a neighbor’s daughter was in it. Her praise and support were always a tonic, an uplift. Despite being a tirelessly working director and actress, she always found time. If I was doing a reading of a little known Albee play in someones’ living room, she came. If I asked to assist her as she directed Devil’s Disciple- well, she already had an assistant, but I could be the assistant to that assistant. I could still be part of it. “Of course you’re welcome…”

I guess that’s why I’m writing about her here. There was something kind of old-school, something that doesn’t seem to exist too much these days about what she did for me. She made time. She took an interest, she listened to my dreams. It wasn’t networking- she certainly didn’t need me as a contact. But she put me in places I could meet people, people that could give me a boost up. When you introduced someone to her, she smiled as if she were the lucky one to meet such a new interesting person.

She had the smile of a real sprite. A real fairy kind of sprite- like she knew a secret and it was really about to crack her up. And it would crack you up too, if she shared it with you.

I guess that’s the point. She shared. She shared more than I do. I hope to change that.

Thanks Barbara, and see you backstage. Maybe up there we can do some goofy British melodrama together someday. I can picture it.

What is the best way to overcome procrastination by Facebook posting?

This question came to me like three weeks ago from a faithful reader and theatrical impresario Robert E. I was going to answer it like a week ago but I went on  my greatzamboni facebook page to see how many likes I had then realized it was still 81 like it had been for a while- right then a pop-up ad came up for exotic salt which google knows I collect and so it shares this info with retailers like ExoticSalts.com and before I knew it I was back on  Russian-Bride-by mail site and then I fell asleep with my hand on the One Click Buying button for Amazon and so a week later I unfortunately had a Leafblower, a Nordictrac,  50 Shades of Grey and Jeep. What was your question?

No buddy, greatzamboni is just yanking your nads as the saying goes, I will answer you question promptly now.

The best way to overcome  procrastination by facebook posting is to do like greatzamboni and make facebook posting your work. Take this blog-please! Posting on facebook is just telling people how you’re feeling in hopes to be understood, to be felt. This is what Zamboni do here- this is what people need to do! It’s OK.

But, What are you procrastinating about doing? Work? Love? Facetime? Online poker?

Look at it this way, a few minutes of posting is like a rest for the brain. But if you find that you are chronically avoiding the same thing by your procrastinating- well then maybe you are not meant to do that thing at all. A man who procrastinates doing his menial cubicle job- maybe he should quit the job.

Think of  the things you would do if you had only a year left to live. Would you climb a mountain? Have a child? Write a book? Try to go on Jeopardy? Okay, so now you have that list- now guess what?

YOU ONLY HAVE YEAR LEFT! Can you guarantee I am wrong?


pretty weird day

It’s a pretty weird day. I saw a grown man with his shirt neck unbuttoned proudly wearing a fanny pack  front and center over his belt buckle. It was full of stuff. He exuded confidence.  A saw a covey of hipsters in doublemonk straps and fully suited hawk-eyeing clothes in Goodwill. The tea shop was so empty it echoed. Students have graduated leaving Berkeley a ghost town. There was a long line outside a takeout food place called Slow. I guess it’s slow. There is a mobile home parked in front of my house filled with hunched back twenty year olds  dressed like old people. Who is tall enough to get those damn lemons off my neighbors tree? I feel like today is God’s day off and he has a sub in for him who’s surfing the web and is leaving things to get all higgly-piggly. 

I’m sorry this post has offered no wisdom to you at all. Today I just don’t know. 

“What does Gatsby’s Last Line mean?”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly  into the past”

This is asked today by a reader in Paris, Tennessee.

Dear Reader, thank you for  asking this cunundrical question. Nick Carraway says that Jay Gatsby is the most hopeful person he has ever met. He says that the smile of Gatsby, much like the smile of Zamboni, lights up  the room and makes the receiver of the smile feel truly and completeley known and accepted. And yet, the story has a tragic twist and turn, and ends with this sentence that seems to say “you can’t escape the past..” Is Fitzgerald being hopeless with this last line? Or Stoic?

Zamboni is a bit of a Gatsby, truth be told. We all are Gatzbies, old sports. I Zamboni, is guilty of bragging a bit about “my Yale years” when in truth I only delivered several pizzas one fall to the Skull and Bones Society while I worked for Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana. I was fired by Pepe for absconding with a large white-clam pie . When several angry Bonesmen called to complain, I was summarily dismissed.

As I was saying…as much as we in this my adopted America long for the future where we remake ourselves in the image of our dream- there is some current that seems to always draw us back. I ‘spose this is my answer- that what Fitzgerald is showing us is ourselves. That we are like fruits. Lots of delicious wonder but deep inside lies the seed of origin.

After all, Tom Buchannan was real, one of us too
After all, Tom Buchanan was real, one of us too

Our child blooms towards the sun in the future, but some scar inflicted in the past holds them by the throat. Our nation grows toward equality and peace, but then reverts to the savagery that was around at it’s birth. Bruce Springsteen might say simply- one step up and two steps back.


But  the most important part is that we beat on. We beat on. We beat on. We must.

NBD (mother’s day)

No Bad Days.

the sun was making the leaves so green and for an hour the only sound was the skateboard wheels humping over the concrete, and it was late in the day so long shadows thrown over the schoolyard, trying to defy gravity little by little and skate up the griffito’d walls, but settling for cruising in circles and flying in little ollies here and there

and earlier in church the woman who leads the choir said, “pastor asked me to speak and I just laughed but you know how she is so here i am speakin'” and telling about the grandmother who she called momma, “and we called grandpa ‘daddy’ because they raised us…” She told stories about how daddy was a preacher but momma was a buffer between them and his strictness, “now you know these are good girls you can let ’em go out” and “we did and we were mostly good, but, you know..” and then her daughter spoke and we all thought about not just moms but the feminine side of god, and how everyone maybe at some point has mothered somebody a little bit… you know, “if I can help somebody, as i pass along through this world..” the daughter sang- than my living won’t have been in vain.

and i think of my buddy whose mom is aging, and facing difficulty- my ex-mother in law in a home forgetting everything she did and was.. i think of my stepmother now living alone at the top of a hill, I think of my own mom with one son like a constant fire that flares up and is put out and flares up again, and me trying to do my best- and I think- MAN! this mothering is hard business..

and like the Angel said to god, about this thing, a “mother” that god was creating in her 6th day of overtime, “it has a leak” the angel said.. That’s not a leak, god says, “it’s a tear”

The historic day, i, Zamboni consulted an expert..
Hi Mom!

Tears of pain, joy and so much more..chim chim ..cheree

What is the Zamboni diet?

This has been asked to me many times. People will say, “Great Zamboni, surely your youthful appearance after living a few thousand years is due to some fiber-rich Paleo-Diet heavy in Omega fats and Saw Palmetto Enemas? Give me the secret, so I too can look as good as Zamboni!”

Without mincing words, I will tell you what I eat on on average day, like last February 21st:

5am: One locust. Go back to bed.

7am: Wake up. Puke up Locust. Eat 10 strips of Bacon from Black Iowa Pig. Watch four hours of Estonian TV with sound off.

11am: Eat 12 Cheremoya fruit that have rolled around the legs of a Shaman I know named Lois. Twice, counterclockwise.


11:30: In’ N Out Burger, double/double Zamboni-Style (on secret menu)

5pm: Martini Time!  Stash of prohibition gin from my Uncle Leroy.

5:30: Chopped Salad of Kale, Sunflower seeds, and whatever come from Mama Zamboni’s garden.

8:pm: Go to closest Michael Mina restaurant for Steak Tartare- like the caveman eat except they probably not have gherkins and caper.

10pm: Meditate on pile of hay, drink Mint Chip Milkshake, take 39 pills that Dr. Oz make especially for skin of Zamboni. Sleep.

So there you have regimen of Zamboni. But don’t obsess on the ingredients- they are not true spark of Zamboni’s health. The true thing that keeps me going is my purpose.

But Locust good for fiber. One day I learn to keep down.

Non-Sequitar for this Monday

I blindly reached out for a book, then flipped to a random page and my finger found this. In A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, this one called “Devotion Without End” by I.L.Peretz.

“Reb Chiya used to say:’One might imagine that a man’s true character could be discovered in his eyes. The soul lies imprisoned in his body, and the Creator of the Universe, in His infinite mercy, has built two windows in the walls of this prison.These are the eyes, and through them the soul looks out upon the world and may, in turn, be seen by the world. But these windows, alas, have curtains; and a man whose soul is flawed tries to keep it from sight…  and just when the soul is ready to be seen, he lowers the curtain, presumably from modesty.’

Like the wine dark sea, like a very large glass of dark beer- the words of this Rabbi are  very deep. We don’t often look so deeply into someone’s eyes that we really see them. When looked at in this fashion, our instinct is to look away, and avoid extended eye contact. Why?


If they really saw right into you, or me, then all our secrets would be revealed. Every petty hope and huge fear, harebrained scheme and inappropriate daydream. What doe this have to do with the price of tuna in Islamabad? Hard to say, but since I am Zamboni I shall tell you no problem.

Lower the curtain and your soul comes though.