Sunday, February 26, 2012
LeRoy Bowen, my father-in-law, will have a memorial today in the house he loved, overlooking Puget Sound in West Seattle, where he knew the neighborhoods and businesses like the back of his hand. He'll be remembered there by his family and friends, but I will be missing—because I am of the theater, I am here instead of there, so I wanted to set down a few words on this day.
My favorite times with LeRoy were always when Jean-Michele and I had just flown back from New York—we'd be jetlagged a little, it would be evening, and when we got to the West Seattle house it would be dinner time. LeRoy would cook, because Virginia, my mother-in-law, had abdicated that job a long time ago, and he would make his LeRoy Dinner—basically, exactly the same meal over and over again, with minor variations. It looked like this usually:
—Chicken or pork, which was often very tender, cut off the bone in pieces, made with "LeRoy's Recipe"—which, now that he has passed, I am allowed to finally reveal is Tony Roma's Spice Rub, which he would often reveal with a flourish and laugh, which made him look like a crazy elven cook.
—Root vegetables, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and a few more, broiled in a dish in the oven, often made with "LeRoy's Recipe".
—A salad, made with simple lettuce, slices of tomato and cucumber, with dressing on the side to taste.
—A side dish of some sort, often a few artichoke hearts or asparagus roasted on a pan in the oven with a little olive oil.
—Wine, and plenty of it, if Virginia had her say, which she usually did.
This is a pretty humble meal, and if it doesn't sound humble it becomes so because in an OCD-like manner this was what dinner was, night after night. I really can't possibly express how often they make this exact meal. I've had this meal almost a hundred times, if not more. Now, there are other recipes—for instance, for special occasions LeRoy could cook an amazing salmon, because he bought the best in Seattle and he had a trick to it...the trick being that he used "LeRoy's Recipe".
But on that first night it was never salmon—it was always the standard dinner, which I have learned to see as being very special in its own right. We would sit around the dining table, and it was like a debriefing—and that's often what it would feel like. At that table we told some of our first stories of India, I talked about Shenzhen, I filled them in on what it was like to barter on Tanna—we would trade the stories back and forth, and exotic locales were weighed equally with family news and the latest from the yarn shop.
When I look back now at those dinners, I see a chain that illuminates my evolution—checking in this way, relaxed after a long trip, on a night spent for travel so there is nowhere else to be, there was always this magical breath that hung there. Ruth, Jean-Michele's sister, would often drop by and be part of this ritual as we made sense of our lives to each other each time on that first night. And as we would talk we would often find ourselves discovering the real paths we were making in the world—what we expected and wanted, what we were looking for, a whole universe over that meal had again and again and again.
LeRoy was not an easy man—he was difficult, impetuous, and prone to outbursts. But he could also be extraordinarily generous, with the kind of generosity that demands nothing in return—he supported an enormous family unstintingly, and in the leanest, darkest years he helped us enormously when the work was very new, and we were finding our way.
This was less about the money, which helped when it got the hardest, and even more about the way he treated the work Jean-Michele and I were making. He would always come and see the monologues, and the same thing that made him difficult made him sometimes wonderful—he was passionate. He would feel things bubble up in him and you could see the sparks fly out of him. I think of how angry he would get at the injustices in the world, how he laid his heart open even when he knew it would cut him, and how his rage at the shape of things, even when inarticulate, was a beacon like a fire in the night because it was better to feel than to not feel.
He often said he was a simple man, and he would judge himself for this. I think he had a kind of greatness in him—he was small, but we are all small when we stand in front of the world. He understood tenacity, had made an art of perseverance, had the salesman's art of persistence down not because he was naturally charismatic but because he worked. He was a fighter, and we fighters are not always easy to deal with.
I wanted to do something for him, so I did what I could from here in the theater—on the day that he passed away I dedicated a performance to him.
at 11:05 AM