“Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humor and like enough to consent.”
So says Rosalind to Orlando in As You Like It, which has always been my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies.
Orlando, a healthy lad, is game for such play.
But what about Hamlet, my hero among the Bard’s creations?
If we could put the melancholy Dane in the Forest of Arden, how would he respond?
This Friday, Sept. 3, will mark the second Yahrzeit or anniversary of the passing of Barbara, my wife and my own little Rosalind.
Barbara and I met in June 1996 at a UCLA extension writing class, and we went on our first few dates in late August and early September of that year, roughly 25 years ago.
I have described in previous articles how, in our writing class, Barbara read my first chapter of fiction, set in a batting cage, in which I invoked George Plimpton.
One day in class, Barbara approached me and asked if I would like to read a book by Plimpton that included a chapter in which he depicted Norman Mailer trying like a carnival strong man to slam a metal ball to the top of a pole.
I told Barbara that I would be delighted to read the chapter by Plimpton.
The next week, Barbara lent me the book, which I read.
But, as it turned out, I missed the last day of class; and I still had Barbara’s Plimpton book. Since I did not have Barbara’s phone number, I decided to phone the teacher, who, after getting approval from Barbara, called me back with Barbara’s number.
As it turned out, Barbara had written her address on the inside cover of the Plimpton book. But I did not notice her inscribed address at that time.
I was able to find her address, though, after I phoned Barbara, when she invited me to Glendale, a suburb north of Los Angeles.
I then returned her book, and we had our first few of several early dates in our courtship.
Unfortunately, I was quite ill in 1996, on the verge of my first psychotic break, so the timing was not quite right for our budding romance.
The following summer, in July 1997, after I had recovered from my first episode in the psychiatric ward, Barbara and I resumed dating.
As she had in the past, Barbara showed great creativity in wooing me, not unlike Rosalind.
In Barbara’s case, she did not don a guise, as Rosalind does in the Forest of Arden, after she has been banished from the court.
Nor did Barbara assign me poems to write, a task that Orlando, a young wrestler, may not perform that well in As You Like It. For that matter, Hamlet, sublime as he is in so many regards, is not necessarily the most gifted of poets.
But Barbara was a gifted poet, as well as a gifted novelist and writer of multiple forms; and she courted me in the most imaginative and mystical ways.
As I look back on our romance, it is clear to me that, long before I consciously understood how entrancing Barbara was, she had already become my Muse.
Twenty-five years after Barbara read my first chapter of fiction, I have finished composing our opus, one that Barbara has mused and that I have written.
Of course, Barbara is not only my Muse; she is also and always will be my J writer.
This is another way of saying that Barbara and I have undoubtedly alternated and combined roles as Muses and writers over the lifetimes, not unlike David and Bathsheba, as I have pointed out before.
In the summer of 1997, when Barbara and I began to date in earnest, Barbara wrote and illustrated two charming children’s books about Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny, our alter egos. She used construction paper and folders, and she wrapped the books with ribbons and bows.
(Note: In the near future, I plan to make Barbara’s books available for reading and viewing on my website, www.robertdavidjaffee.com.)
Barbara said that I inspired her to write these delightful books. And she never stopped writing and illustrating other little works of art for me, such as the cards that she penned and drew for many occasions.
I saved every one of Barbara’s cards, each one a gem; and they still adorn our home.
Barbara did not make these cards for me only on holidays, or the High Holy Days, which are coming up soon.
She made these little works of art for me all the time; and she made them for me out of love, often to celebrate what she and I referred to as “pootie days.”
I used to call Barbara “my little cutie,” which may partially explain the origin of “pootie.”
I took pootie to mean that Barbara and I are part people, part cuties.
So, in the beginning, at least in this lifetime, I appeared to be Barbara’s Muse as much as she was my mine.
But Barbara, the author of the Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny books, was subtly enchanting and inspiring me from the outset.
Like Rosalind, Barbara wooed me and wooed me with her love and her imaginative sparks.
She said that I cured her of chronic fatigue, as she stayed up all night and made those two children’s books about Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny, in which she transmuted our adventures in Echo Park and at a Dodger baseball game into art.
Thankfully, in the summer of 1997, after recovering, to an extent, from my first psychotic break, I had opened up my heart and soul more completely to Barbara’s love.
While I did have a relapse, which occurred in January 1999, Barbara, my own little Rosalind, saved me.
More than anyone or anything else, Barbara gave me reason to live with her nurture and love, her light and truth.
Not long after I got out of the UCLA psych ward in late January 1999, Barbara set me up with what she called the “writing corner” at her condo in Glendale.
At that time, I returned to the fiction that I had begun in 1996 at our UCLA extension writing class.
As I already noted, 25 years after writing my first chapter of fiction, I have finally finished what has turned out to be a voluminous opus. It consists of eight books, more than 6,000 pages, and nearly 1.5 million words.
There are cosmic reasons, an inside joke of a sort, as to why I believe that God, Barbara and the Kabbalists would all agree with me that the opus is done.
I would like to believe that, like the Zohar, Barbara’s and my opus comes from the oral tradition.
It may have some other similarities to the Zohar, which, according to legend, was composed in a cave in ancient Israel by Rabbi Simeon over two decades.
Like the Zohar, the opus, of which Barbara and I are co-authors, delves deeply into Jewish mysticism. It is very language-centric.
And, while Barbara and I never lived in a cave, it has indeed taken 25 years to compose our master work, not unlike the Zohar, which was said to have taken roughly two decades to write.
But, unlike the Zohar, which has little storyline and is primarily a rumination on the Torah, the opus that Barbara has mused and that I have written is an epic novel.
Also, unlike the Zohar, which may have been written by Moses de Leon, a Kabbalist in medieval Spain, there is no doubt as to the authorship of the opus.
Barbara, my authoress or sorceress, has inspired and mused the eight books that I have composed over the past 25 years.
It is a beautiful work, written in a style that I refer to as Kabbalistic-realism. Our opus soars into the infinite with its mystical probes. At the same time, it is grounded in realism, here on Earth.
Filled with love and wisdom, our opus, I believe, will help readers heal, just as Barbara healed me of my psychosis, and I cured her of chronic fatigue.
Barbara and I truly saved each other.
Which brings me back to the rhetorical question that I posed at the beginning of this article: Would Hamlet be game for the playfulness of Rosalind, if we could airlift him across eras and from Denmark to the Forest of Arden in As You Like It?
As a sweet Hamlet, a Jewish Hamlet, I can answer resoundingly in the affirmative, an answer that is and always was evident throughout the 23 years that Barbara and I were together.
In spite of his melancholy, the prince of Denmark yearns for play. As we might recall, Hamlet, a gifted actor, regales the players, who come to Elsinore, with advice on dramatic techniques.
“Speak the speech trippingly on the tongue,” Hamlet tells the members of the troupe.
One of the paradoxical elements of depression is that, like Hamlet, some of us who battle melancholy can also tap into deep wellsprings of joy and mirth in our lives.
Still, it is hard to draw upon these reservoirs if one does not have love. And Hamlet, who may have once had a degree of romance in his life, struggles to regain it with Ophelia.
Hamlet, of course, is a tragedy, not a comedy, which could explain why Ophelia cannot save the prince of Denmark.
While it may not be kind to say so, Ophelia is probably not quite worthy of Hamlet, as Harold Bloom suggested to my senior seminar years ago when I was in college.
Bloom speculated that only Rosalind, from As You Like It, could possibly tame the melancholy of the prince of Denmark.
Rosalind, a dazzling wit, who dons the guise of a man to escape the treachery of the court, might be viewed as a precursor to Julie Andrews’ Victor/Victoria in the Blake Edwards film of that name, except she is a Victor/Victoria on the lam.
We might also think of her as a virtuous, if rascally, predecessor of Mata Hari.
Rosalind does bear a resemblance to a spy behind enemy lines, but she is quite different from Mata Hari in that Rosalind always retains a sense of honor, even as she playfully deploys her gifts of disguise and impersonation.
Of course, Orlando, who is not the swiftest of lads, is not Hamlet, a figure of the greatest depth and complexity.
And so, to repeat Harold Bloom’s theory, it may indeed be the case that only Rosalind, of all the heroines in the Bard’s oeuvre, would be capable of being a true soul mate to Hamlet.
They are a good match; and that is because neither Hamlet nor Rosalind can be contained in the areas that matter most, their capacity for love, their imagination, their wit and their delight in play.
As I wrote at the top, Barbara, my late wife, was very much in the mode of Rosalind. Barbara loved to play; and she particularly loved to play with language, a passion that we will always share.
Not surprisingly, Barbara and I were frequent playgoers.
For many years, we had season tickets at A Noise Within, a classic repertory company in the Los Angeles area. ANW is now based in Pasadena, but it was founded in Glendale, Calif., where Barbara lived for years.
On our second date, which occurred in September or early October of 1996, roughly 25 years ago, Barbara invited me to see a play at ANW. There was a French comedy in repertory at that time, as well as The Glass Menagerie.
We ended up going to see the latter.
Tennessee Williams’ play is not a comedy, and it is not Shakespearean in the least.
But it has a power that spoke to Barbara and to me, then and now.
We both may have appeared to be frail; indeed, we both may have felt that we were somewhat fragile, like the glass objects in Williams’ play. But, in reality, Barbara and I were both more resilient than we or others may have realized.
And we both have always retained sparks of love and joy within us.
After seeing The Glass Menagerie in 1996, Barbara and I ate a meal at a nearby restaurant, then I walked Barbara back to her condo in Glendale.
Standing in front of her apartment building, Barbara lifted her heels and slightly elevated her neck, with an air of expectation. It was a pose of sweetness and modesty by Barbara, whom I then kissed for the first time.
It was one of those “long, wet kisses” that Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis discusses with Susan Sarandon’s character in Bull Durham.
Barbara and I would both remember that kiss, just as we would remember many lovely, romantic and playful moments in our courtship.
Some years later, after Barbara and I got married in 2001, we attended a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop, where William Dennis Hunt, a veteran stage actor with a deep voice, did a marvelous job of playing an old lecher.
That old lecher meets a young woman at the bus stop and quotes Hamlet to her, which she does not appreciate or recognize.
“Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered,” said Hunt’s character to the girl, just as Hamlet utters that line to Ophelia.
Whenever Barbara and I saw Mr. Hunt subsequently at A Noise Within, where he, like many of the players, sometimes worked as an usher on off-nights, I would summon my own bass and quote that line to him.
Mr. Hunt would crack up, as would Barbara and I.
Still, I would not be such a fan of Hamlet, were I not a tad melancholy.
Like Hamlet, I have suffered at times from self-loathing; and I often wish to atone for my sins, for all of my failings.
Thankfully, I am, as I say, a Jewish Hamlet, a sweet Hamlet, who has not left the stage bloody with corpses and who has not inflicted psychic cruelty on Ophelia.
Besides comparing Barbara to Rosalind, I sometimes compared my baby to Cleopatra.
Barbara, who passed away two years ago from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, did not necessarily like being compared to Cleopatra, who can be quite cantankerous.
But Barbara, who was 80 at the time of her passing, was intrigued when I compared her to Rosalind.
Barbara never read As You Like It, but a teaching assistant, who taught my Shakespeare section when I was a junior in college, suggested to me years ago that Rosalind might be older than Orlando.
I thought about it, and I agreed with her theory.
After all, Rosalind and her cousin Celia marvel at and comment at length on Orlando’s youth when he prepares to engage Charles, the court’s wrestling champion, in a match.
And Rosalind has a remarkable degree of wisdom that typically only comes from years on the planet.
Most importantly, as I have already pointed out, Rosalind, like Hamlet and Cleopatra and Falstaff, loves to play.
That was, is and always will be true of my wife, Barbara.
Barbara was thrilled when I would speak in funny voices, as she often told me; and she would reciprocate with her own funny charms.
Sometimes, when I would kiss her outside on the street, as I did after we saw The Glass Menagerie, Barbara would giggle and say, “They’re going to kick us out of Glendale.”
To which I would respond, “Let them try.”
Barbara and I used to engage in such play for years.
Of course, it is also true that characters as sublime as Rosalind and Hamlet, Cleopatra or Falstaff, Harold Bloom’s hero, are not immune to sins, mistakes, or failures.
We all screw up sometimes in life; and we should all try to rectify our behavior and actions, as per the Jewish concept of cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul.
It is comforting to know that God is a merciful God. He is very forgiving, but He also wants us to demonstrate and realize our goodness over the course of our lives through tangible and sustained actions. That is not always easy for us to do.
No one is perfect. Not Barbara, not me.
While I have suffered from loneliness in the two years since Barbara passed away, Barbara felt lonely at times, when I worked at L.A. Weekly late on Tuesday nights, a shift I worked for most of my nine years at the paper, from 1997 until 2006.
Barbara used to call me and ask when I would get home on Tuesdays, when we “put the paper to bed,” and when I often worked overtime that pushed me past midnight, the technical end of the shift.
I loved working that final shift for all those years, many of which I spent joyfully alongside David Caplan, the Weekly’s heroic copy chief, and Sharan Street, the Weekly’s managing editor back then, as the last sentinels for the paper’s copy.
On most of my other regular shifts at the paper, such as Fridays and Sundays, Barbara would come to work with me.
Fridays stand out, because I would take the elevator with Barbara up to the top floor at the old L.A. Weekly office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
On the top floor, there was a couch, where Barbara would relax and read, next to food and beverage machines.
There was also a kitchen a few yards away and a women’s bathroom, as well as the offices of several editors and staff writers.
At lunch time, I would walk down the street to the corner of Sunset and Highland, where there was a Quizno’s in a strip mall.
I would get myself a footlong turkey sub and an iced tea, while I would order Barbara a ham sandwich and a soda.
Then I would walk back to the L.A. Weekly office and sit next to Barbara on the couch of the building’s top floor, where we would have a picnic, just as we did on one of our first dates at the Hollywood Bowl in 1997.
For years, Barbara and I would have our little picnics on Friday afternoons in the kitchen area of the old L.A. Weekly building in Hollywood.
Other staffers would stroll by and purchase food or drinks from the machines, heat up a meal in the microwave in the kitchen, or use the facilities in the women’s rest room.
On my last day at the Weekly, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2006, I was told that I needed to have an “exit interview” with the Human Resources chief, someone I had never met before.
Her name was Maureen Aller, and when I walked into her office that day, which happened to be a Friday, she began by saying to me, “First of all, I have seen you and your wife upstairs on Fridays, and I have seen how sweetly you treat her. And let me just say, ‘That’s a public service.’”
Of all the kind things that people have said about Barbara and me over the years, that had to be one of the kindest.
I told Barbara about that afterwards, and Barbara smiled knowingly. She said that, while I was taking care of her on Fridays, when I was preparing her picnic on the couch, she sometimes would look up and spot a woman, who held the door to the bathroom and smiled at Barbara and me, before she headed into the lavatory.
I told her that must have been Maureen Aller.
At that exit interview, I thanked Ms. Aller for her sweet comment. Then, she asked me if I had health insurance. I told her that I did, and after a few more questions, we finished the interview.
Later that afternoon, Barbara and I, joined by a bunch of colleagues from the Weekly, strolled a few blocks over to Miceli’s, an Italian restaurant in Hollywood, for lunch.
At one point in the meal, the waiter turned off the ambient music. And I sang, at Barbara’s suggestion, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” by Bob Dylan.
I was, of course, directing the tune at my colleagues from the Weekly, but even if I was not thinking about it consciously, I might have been contemplating a future one day without Barbara.
Until quite recently, I had not listened to that song or to any song from Blood on the Tracks in a long time.
Tomorrow, it will be two years since Barbara, my own little Rosalind, passed away.
Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away; and Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, approaches. The Days of Awe are a time of reflection, of suffering, of atonement, and of forgiveness.
But we do not have to limit ourselves to the High Holy Days for such reflection and atonement.
I am certainly sorry for all of my sins, for all of my failings, including the fact that I left Barbara alone at our house on Tuesday nights.
Barbara showed extraordinary courage in her life. And I hope that, two years after her passing, I can continue to demonstrate a scintilla of the strength that Barbara showed when she was all alone.
Until Barbara and I reunite in what Jews refer to as teshuva, which means a return as well as redemption, I too must deal with loneliness, as well as my mistakes.
I screw up all the time. But I also know that I have never tried to hurt anyone in my life.
And neither did Barbara.
By contrast, there are many people who have gone out of their way to try to destroy both Barbara and me.
When I think back to the early years of my courtship with Barbara and throughout our time together, I think of so many lovely times and how much fun Barbara and I had together, how we rejoiced in language and music, theater and movies, reading and writing, and how we loved to play, like Hamlet and Rosalind, Falstaff and Cleopatra, Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny.
That joyfulness, that love, has not gone away. Indeed, it is infinite; and it is sealed in our opus.
Our opus, which, as I noted earlier, consists of eight books, clocks in at 6,155 pages and 1,421,900 words.
At some point, I will publish this octopus, as I call it, just as I will publish Barbara’s children’s books about Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny.
Like Barbara’s books, our opus is a story of love and adventure. It might be best characterized as a love song or Psalm to God and to Barbara, my goddess.
All these years later, I remain a Hamlet. But I am, as I say, a sweet Hamlet, a Jewish Hamlet, which is to say that I am a dreamer and a shepherd boy.
I am also Robert Rabbit, and, as such, I will ask of you again, Barbara Bunny: “Will you be my very, very Rosalind?”
I picture you now, my sweetheart, fluttering in the ether, like a cherub or sprite, waving your wand, as you write me into your Book of Life, just as you wrote and illustrated both of us in the Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny books.
Having finished etching both of us into our opus, I can finally chant or sing, with love and joy, the eight books in our own Book of Life, of which you, Barbara Bunny, are the co-author and Muse.
As I do so, I would like to think that we can transform the High Holy Days, known for their severity, into holidays, days that are filled with joy as well as atonement, love as well as repentance.
So, let me woo you and woo you, Barbara Bunny, my nymph, for, like you, I am once again in a holiday humor and like enough to consent.
Pooties forever, my love!