by Ernie McCray
It was so nice seeing my old friend, Whoopi, the other night. It had been a while. The last time I saw her was a few years ago when my wife, Nancy, and I, found ourselves standing in a line that can only be described as very long at a book store in La Jolla.
When we finally crossed the threshold of the building and got a glimpse of Whoopi, her head was bowed as she was intently writing her name with swift sweeps of her wrist. We just looked at her with deep admiration as she made so many people’s day, smiling at them as she scribbled.
In a moment she happened to look up and spot us, opening her eyes ala Mr. Magoo and she dropped her pen and came towards us like a Drum Major in a Black College Marching Band, calling out to us, “Ernie! Nancy!” and then she wrapped us in a hug that must have warmed the room.
On this recent occasion of visiting her she was appearing at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio and this time she knew I was coming but hadn’t heard that Nancy was no longer with us until earlier in the day.
It took a little doing to get to see her but I was determined because I had my twin daughters, Tawny Maya and Nyla Summer, with me and she hadn’t seen them since they were little, back when we were all living in a beautiful old historic apartment building near Golden Hill Park. And the effort was worth it since her love for us hadn’t changed as she demonstrated by latching on to me with a long affirming hug which I reciprocated with equal intensity and then she grabbed my girls and their aunt Diane in a nice tight “Just look at you” fashion – we were taking time away from others who wanted to see her but we wanted a picture with our camera and the official photographer was concerned about the time as the show was nearing and Whoopi nicely declared, “Hey, excuse us, this is family.”
In the spirit of Sly and the Family Stone, it was, indeed, a momentary family affair. We briefly saw Whoopi again after the show. And the show: Wow! It was Whoopi at her very best, weaving her stage magic, her gift at telling a story as only she can do – in stand up form. A lot of what she had to say was about growing older and not being able to do the things one used to do.
I could really identify because when I ask my body to perform something that’s a bit out of line, it says: “Hey, don’t even think about it! A cartwheel? Are you crazy?”
Based on her act and what I already knew of her, Whoopi and I share similar tastes in life: she likes the f word and so do I (hey, does anything cut through b.s. and allow one to express how they’re really feeling like an f laced phrase?); she loves parenting and grand parenting and nothing in life is more satisfying to me than being around my progeny; she likes to fart (hence her name) and to a dude expelling gas is right up there with sex (we’re finger pullers by nature). Sex, though, it seems, is where Whoopi and I are going in different directions. She says she is no longer interested in dating and her friend is menopause and I’m hornier than a jack rabbit, practically 365 days a year without pause.
Whoopi had me doubled over laughing a few times like the days when we’d hang out with friends in our apartment, clowning around, spoofing the likes of Ronnie Ray-Gun with sentences that began with “Well,” and doing Tricky Dick Nixon impressions in his “I am the president, make no mistake about that” manner. We were quite a group: actors, educators, a clothes designer and a famous mime who would stop by from time to time. We were truly of our time: into the music, Aretha, Elton, Stevie, Joan Mitchell, Jim Croce, you name it; into the interesting minds, Steven Spielberg, Richard Pryor, Gloria Steinem, Carl Sagan; into the events of the world, wondering if our country’s teenagers would have to go off to war in Iran, sitting in stunned silence with disbelief after the Old Globe Theatre had burned down…such cherished memories.
That was some weekend we had with my old friend and we did it with flair, renting a beautiful comfortable desert style Palm Desert home featuring a jacuzzi and a pool, just minutes away from our reunion.
And we didn’t leave our beloved Nancy, “mom,” out. We spread some of her ashes in a waterfall in the pool area at our time share in Palm Springs and sensed her presence, her spirit, her love of fun, throughout our little three day holiday. She would have loved it.
At one point in our visit Diane said to Whoopi: “You know Nancy adored you,” to which she replied, “Nancy was such a special person, I loved her too.” Well, it takes a special person to know one.
So, now, it’s back to my morning visits with Whoopi via my tv as I check my email and news feed on facebook. When I told her of this little routine she asked, with a kind of “Fool, what’s wrong with you?” tone, “What are you doing watching The View?” My reply was “Because of you.”
I think we human beings have to stay connected with those dear to us in any way we can. And jump at the chance to say “Hi” in person. I can’t wait to see her again.