My wife Robin holds a grudge against the actress Kathy Najimy. I don’t, however. In fact, Kathy Najimy is part of one of the best memories of my marriage, but whenever I mention her, Robin scoffs. That’s how different our memories are of the event that caused it all. Nostalgic affection versus bitter resentment.
It was summertime, and for Robin’s birthday we purchased tickets to the Hollywood Bowl’s Sound of Music Sing-a-Long for a large group of friends. The Hollywood Bowl is wonderful in the summer, and seems vast yet cozy. It holds more than 25,000 people, and when you are there on a summer night you feel like you are part of Los Angeles. You feel the pulse of the city, and know that besides a baseball game, nowhere else in L.A. are this many people gathering. It’s warm as the sun sets, but you have blankets ready for when the temperature drops. You are nestled snug in the hills, and if you’re high enough up you can see the illuminated Hollywood sign in the distance. The Hollywood Freeway cuts through the Cahuenga Pass to the East, and you can hear it like a distant river. Deer and coyote creep through the dark hills to the West. You may see them on your way back to your car after the show, if you tried street parking in the high neighborhoods. If you’re lucky the moon will be out, which makes Los Angeles seem perfect.
The Sound of Music Sing-along is a hosted screening of the movie, The Sound of Music, and everyone is encouraged to dress up in costume. As the sun goes down there is also a costume contest, and then as night takes over they start the movie on a vast screen, with excellent subtitles. You sing with the songs, shout back at the picture, and they even hand out goodie bags of props to every attendee, so you can throw confetti in the air, hold up edelweiss as you sway and trade cards of your favorite things.
For the birthday party, we designed costumes for most of our friends. Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti and Do costumes were easy, for instance. We painted eight t-shirts with the two-letter word written on it, and then threw in an extra prop -- like tea bags hanging from a baseball cap for “Ti” for instance. We gave a plastic yellow sun hat to “Re,” a drop of golden sun.
However, Robin went all out. After all, it was her birthday...and her undoing.
Robin dressed as edelweiss -- head to toe. She designed a full body jump suit of lightweight astroturf, including a hood, and covered the entire suit with tiny white plastic flowers. She was a human carpet of the Austrian mountain flower. From the moment we arrived at the Bowl, she got compliments.
Then she was spotted by some of the Bowl staff and invited to participate in the costume competition, hosted by the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Kathy Najimy.
“Just head down to the stage and tell them that we picked you to compete,” one staffer explained.
I escorted Robin down from Section K, high up in the nosebleed seats, but as we got to the stage, the guards told me I could not stand and wait in the aisle. I was a fire hazard, and my costume as the note “Do” was lame and clearly not worthy, so back to the nosebleed seats I went.
I joined our party in Section K and watched as the sun set. It was timed perfectly. Kathy Najimy went through the line of costumed fans and either found a reason to eliminate them, or asked the crowd to vote. The house lights came on just as the semi final round started. The line of competitors, which started at twenty, was down to four, and Robin was surviving every cut.
“She’s going to win,” I announced.
Her birthday revelers shouted loud at every “scream if you like this one” vote, and soon everyone in Section K knew to shout for Edelweiss. Our fan base grew to surrounding sections, and I felt the power of ten thousand people in the upper seats deciding that Robin had to win.
As the twilight faded, the lights of the Hollywood Bowl lit up behind the people on stage, and shifted in different pastel hues, illuminating the bandshell behind them. They lowered the big movie screen, and The Sound of Music logo came up in bright yellow. Robin survived the semi-finals. It was down to two costumes.
Edelweiss Robin was up against two people who were dressed in ONE costume. They had taken a stretch of Astroturf, glued tiny hamlets, rocks, trees and rivers to it, and stuck their heads through two holes in the top. One would call out, ‘We’re the hills!” and the other would then chant, “and we’re alive!”
Their presentation was good, but their costume was not. It came time for the final vote. Kathy Najimy said she would announce each costume, and then judge by the screams and applause.
“And first up -- Edelwiess!” she yelled.
Robin stepped forward, and opened her arms just as a spotlight hit her Center Stage. Her hundreds of white flowers lit up like a reflective beacon. It was dark by now, and my wife was a tiny speck on the most famous stage in Los Angeles, and 20,000 people were screaming for her. She was as big as Jay Z and bigger than Springsteen. She stood there, basking in the hot white light as thousands screamed for her. It was awesome, and I loved watching it.
But Kathy Najimy made a mistake -- an understandable mistake, but a mistake for which Robin will never forgive her. In a music amphitheater so large there are several stations of speakers to amplify the noise as it goes back into the upper sections. It took an extra beat for Kathy’s question to make it all the way up to the back sections, and it then took a moment longer for the growing roar of the crowd to make it all the way back down to the stage, like a wave washing up and back through 20,000 people. But Kathy Najimy moved too quickly to the next contestant.
“And who wants ‘The Hills?’” she asked, and Robin’s rivals benefitted from the roar that was still happening for her. Our roar, from way up in Section K,L,M,N, and O were hitting the stage just as Kathy switched to “The Hills.”
She then decided, incorrectly, that “The Hills” had won.
“The Hills” won a week-long cruise from Vancouver up through the Queen Charlotte Islands. Robin won second place, and received two free tickets to the Hollywood Bowl.
The movie started. I saw Robin, the tiny dot, move off the stage and start the long losing trek up to the nosebleed seats. I ran down to meet her and got to her halfway and escorted her back. People were already yelling.
“Edelweiss, you got ripped off!”
“Edelweiss, you were the winner!”
When we got back to our seats, I did a “shout-out” for Edelweiss and Sections K,L,M, N and O all screamed their support. It was awesome.
The movie was great. The night was great. I was proud of Robin. I loved seeing my tiny little white dot down on the stage, her arms outstretched, as the screams of thousands rolled down the seats and across her. I loved being part of Los Angeles that night. All of that makes it a great memory for me.
When I told her I was writing this post, I asked her how she felt about that night. “Good times,” she said. “But I’m still a Bitter Betty.”
I guess it’s like being proud of someone for winning a silver medal in the Olympics. I feel great for her, but she still remembers how close she was to gold...