THE CITY-My daughter, an alumnus of Oakwood about to graduate from Skidmore sent me the survey regarding the proposed change of the gorilla mascot at the Oakwood School in the valley. (See above.)
There's a danger in reacting to "The moment" ... so befitting of Oakwood School, there was a lot of process in coming to a decision. It's my understanding that the voting is underway between the pre-approved Owl, Orca and Oak Tree.
There's even an official lecture. I'll note that all proposed team names begin with the letter "o".
My little gorilla was a terrific softball player. Her brother had been a franchise catcher at the Beeman park little league in Studio City where they grew up.
When the young lad packed it in to play soccer at a neighboring school, Reva did the opposite and stuck with softball.
Even though we always tried to keep our enthusiasm at mid-range levels in case a particularly bad "at bat" should arise, we wouldn't want the child to perceive that we were somehow disappointed in them.
Of course we were disappointed, it's not a totally unreasonable reaction to a strike out. Nothing to start "cutting" over but we tried to be sensitive with big picture contextualizes like "they can't all be Emmys" and "flush it down" and let's move forward.
Occasionally, we'd spot egregious negative feedback in a thick french accent from a famous person who appeared fully naked in Sex in The City the movie, "George, you piece of shit!"
Part of our 'normalization' involved downplaying the occasional grand slam or once in a lifetime catches as well. A muted "Well done" would suffice. If a kid strikes out, they don't have to feel like the family is going to have to sell the farm, "That'll do, pig."
Reva always wanted to play until she didn't. One year, before Oakwood we were put on a team at Beeman alongside Katie and Maddie Gagnon of Studio City California. These sisters were serious players and very inspiring to be around.
Coach Gagnon,. a working actor and his sidekick an Oakwood real estate dad coached the Gators to a once in a lifetime 11-0 season. Going 11-4 or 11-2 is tough but sweeping the table. Unheard of.
My daughter played a lot of positions but mostly I remember shortstop and second base. She gobbled up grounders and had a killer arm, but it was her evergreen reliability and willingness to stand up under pressure that helped the Gators go 11-0.
Invariably, it would come down to girls on base... and my tiny gorilla would stride out from the dugout.
No matter how large and scary the pitchers were or how fast the pitches were coming, no matter how much pressure, though tiny, Reva'd take her time, settle into position.
And she was discriminating with the pitches. Nothing makes a wise old coach happier than when a player who loves to swing, issues appropriate restraint.
Invariably, sometimes early, sometimes late, Reva would connect and very often place it right where the opposing team was not. Sometimes, the coach would make a suggestion and she'd push her helmet on tight, and swagger out and give it a try.
It was a massive delight for the entire school, she was an archetypal steely-eyed... Gorilla.
[Correction: Nobody cared outside of her team, her friends and everyone who would listen to me--so occasionally The County Board of Supervisors and City Council--but she stopped sometime in senior year, when her boyfriend became a reality.]
The Envelope please:
Briefly, the history of the former mascot is unique and one to be proud of, emerging as it did from the name of the student newspaper, The Gorilla, which chronicled school life since the 1960s, was a source of pride for many generations of students.
Pitch from the back of the room: The Oak tree is a clam. As the New York Times summarized, "comedy clams are jokes that you've heard once too often that make you groan instead of laugh."
So many Oakwood gorilla parents have made a fortune selling high school humor, complexity, hostility, and popularity we know how mean teens can be. Whatever choice is taken -- I agree Owls are cute and they are vicious raptors that kill rodents like the wolverines of Harvard-Westlake-- but we need to be mindful that somewhere a little baby gorilla trying to get the yummy part out of a long skinny blade of grass, with her paw.
Now she's going to be replaced by a tree or a white pointy-eared male owl likely to get 780/800 on his SATs and who already has a summer internship lined up at Children's Hospital or... Big Mouth! Alternate pitch: How about The Oakwood Clams?
Sometimes taking no action at all is the best way forward. If we learned one thing from my endless remembrance above, you don't have to swing at every pitch.
Dear Oakwood People,
It was a tie and on reflection all mascots are fraught and Oakwood is very much having the conversation and that is what our founders and families would want. So, welcome home, gorillas, we still love you! As for the Golden Globes... we are shunning you now!
Mean girls, Bad boys, Nasty theys:
I was a writer on one such good teen TV show, "Popular" which is like having an advanced degree in teenager cruelty and empathy.
It was Ryan Murphy's first show featuring Leslie Bibb, the head cheerleader and Carley Pope, the gorgeous nose-ring alternativista hashing it out weekly as their parents moved in together.
Ryan rarely acknowledges the show because the very good producing team of Greer Shepherd and Michael Robin got under his skin. Not not to mention Gina Matthews, a manager who somehow slipped on to the Executive Producer card.
Sometimes Greer would give Ryan coherent notes that actually made his brilliant ideas better, but Ryan had a very strong vision, and he evidently told a journalist once, “They never got me and they kept trying to turn me into something else. And they were very homophobic even though they would have gay characters on the air.”
I think he was referring to the network, but he's being unfair.
My brilliant writing partner and I jotted several episodes over two years for him, one about a hulking italian american teacher named Mr. Don, who in the teaser of the episode, after a series of instructions like "Students should get their duckie designs in by Monday," he tagged the open, "As of tomorrow, please refer to me, as Ms. Debbie." Cut to: the mystified looks on the students' faces. Cue: Popular theme song.
In TV, the showrunner sets the agenda - so sort of the council president by city comparison -- and the writers and Supervising Producers like me, follow the vision of the leader.
My partner and I were both straight males and spent a couple weeks interviewing people with relevant experiences, delivered what we thought was a very good script.
The Popular students had real reactions and Harrison the youngster played by Chris Gorham, whose screen mother was gay, led a very touching crusade among his classmates to save Ms. Debbie.
It came down to the bitter end.
As Ch-ch-changes by David Bowie played the doors flew open and all of the students who had been rallied by Harrison walked down the center aisle as if it were a runway in Milan -- and they were all in drag! Even Josh, the quarterback. Ms. Debbie's fate would be sealed.
Because "Popular" was so good and unflinching, Ms. Debbie (formerly Mr. Don) actually lost her job, as so many Trans people have over the years. It was heartbreaking, but the fact that the progressive young minds, as today were ready for change and acceptance, to this day brings tears to my eyes.
It also got Ari Posner and I a GLAAD award nomination which was deeply moving for any human focused on a "Free To Be You and Me" attitude. The episode also brings in about $250 dollars a year in residuals.
Ryan, who signed a $350 million dollar deal with Netflix may have reworked the scene in Glee, but I know he remembers, we all do!
I know deep down Ryan loves all of his babies and shows equally, but since we're being brutally honest, he cobbled a lot of his best tricks, developed with a very talented group on Popular into his much more recognized, Glee.
Please please please: Do not under any circumstances don a gorilla suit for any reason, but certainly not to mourn the loss of a funny mascot, whose time has come. The inside joke, that Oakwood was not an athletic powerhouse, like Campbell Hall who puts players in the NBA or Harvard Westlake who win state championships, has passed. Au revoir Oakwood gorilla, your time is up.
(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch.)