Jeanine and I were in New York for a week in late May of 2012, enjoying Broadway theatre and seeing friends. Princeton Reunions were happening that weekend, and I wanted to share the experience with her.
I’d spent just one of my college years as a visiting student at Princeton, but I have many ties to the University, with a sister, a brother-in-law and many friends who are alums. Reunions are like a three-day party with live music, interesting lectures and an opportunity to catch up with old friends.
I decided to hire a car so Jeanine and I could go down for the day, returning after midnight. I had tickets for the 8PM Triangle Show that night, a popular student-written musical. I also wanted to see the midnight arch sing, a favorite ritual where members of the University’s close-harmony singing groups perform under the acoustically optimal stone arches.
Would it make my heart race with excitement as it had for so many years?
I wondered what it would be like. Would it make my heart race with excitement as it had for so many years? Would Jeanine be able to perceive the beauty? I’ve changed so much in thirty-five years. In some ways I didn’t want to shatter the rosy illusion I’ve held so close. What if it was just a bunch of sixty-something guys, hanging around their old college, getting drunk on beer, and clinging to the past?
The morning of our visit, I was rushing around, changing my clothes several times, and pulling together an outfit to bring along for the fancy dinner that night. I wanted to look my best, since I would likely see friends I hadn’t seen in decades, and I was secretly hoping to run into an old boyfriend.
It was a minute before 9am, and the car was already waiting downstairs. We grabbed our bags and ran for the elevator, just making it before the doors closed.
“Oh,” I said, with the inflection of someone who has forgotten something.
“What?” Jeanine asked, concerned.
“I forgot to brush my hair,” I whispered, realizing that I didn’t have a hairbrush with me, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
At that exact moment, the elevator doors opened to another floor. Standing before us was a woman whose hair was so bizarre; my mouth fell open in surprise. It was sort of piled up like a spiky bird’s nest, and it leaned off on a 45-degree angle from her head, with strands shooting out in all directions.
The juxtaposition of my statement and this visual was a masterstroke of comic timing. I knew that if I looked at Jeanine, it would trigger a case of the giggles. I held my breath and quickly stared at my feet.
The elevator continued down, stopping to accept passengers on multiple floors, until finally we reached the lobby level and rushed to the waiting car. There was a bit of commotion to sort out our driver, get our bags stowed, and finally be on our way to New Jersey.
We rode for ninety minutes, until the familiar tree-lined streets of Princeton came into view. The driver dropped us at the Nassau Inn, a small hotel walking distance to campus. My plan was to store our things with the concierge so we could change before dinner, and not be encumbered with bags throughout the day.
Strolling the grounds today, the centuries of tradition still held me in their magic.
It was a magnificent spring morning, the mood festive, as we strolled through town, crossed Nassau Street and entered the campus. A flood of memories washed through me, taking me back to my first visit in my junior year of high school. That weekend, I’d fallen in love with Princeton— the magnificent old buildings, the broad lawns, and the charming town where I’d eaten the first Chinese food of my life. Strolling the grounds today, the centuries of tradition still held me in their magic.
My sister and brother-in-law and had come up from North Carolina for his 40th reunion that year. Jeanine and I met up with them to have lunch, tour the campus gardens, and attend a lecture from a foremost Lincoln scholar.
I showed Jeanine the places that mattered most, told stories I’d never shared, savoring the memories of the girl I had been.
After a nostalgic dinner at the 40th reunion tent, we hurried through pelting rain to MacArthur Theater. The theater itself holds sweet memories for me, as the place where I performed A Little Night Music, my first and only Sondheim show as an actor.
We settled into our seats for the Triangle show. Triangle Club is the oldest collegiate musical-comedy troupe in the nation, and the only college group that creates an original, student-written musical each year that is presented on national tour. We watched in wonder at the talent in this clever, creative and hilarious show, Doomsdays of Our Lives. I felt lucky to have been part of Triangle when I attended Princeton, joining illustrious alumni including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jimmy Stewart.
When the show was over, we ran through the rain to make the midnight arch sing, where we savored the close harmony arrangements of pop songs sung by the Footnotes, the Nassoons, the Katzenjammers and Tiger Lilies. Soon it was time to head to the Nassau Inn, to meet our driver at 1AM for the trip to the city. I was tired, but exhilarated, and ready to head back to New York.
The rain was really coming down hard as we sped along the New Jersey Turnpike. It was scary, but our driver was excellent. By 2:30 am, we were back at the Sofitel in midtown, and dragged ourselves up to our room.
I was thinking about all the beautiful moments of the day in Princeton, and the friends I cherished, as we turned out the lights for the night. The day had been a sweet microcosm of all the things I loved most about Princeton— the stately beauty of the campus, the wit and warmth of friends, the prodigious talent consistently on display, and the way I always come away with an open heart and a stimulated mind.
I was almost drifting off to sleep a few minutes later when Jeanine’s voice cut through the darkness from the other twin bed.
“That woman’s hair!” she exclaimed.
We erupted into giggles, the kind that rise up and wind down to silence, then one person starts again, and you just can’t stop… where you have tears streaming down your cheeks and you are riding the fine line between laughing and crying.
I couldn’t believe seventeen hours had passed since we’d seen The Woman With The Hair, and neither of us had remembered to bring it up! It seemed unfathomable that we’d forgotten in the short trip from the elevator to the car that morning, and that in all the hours in between, neither of us had commented on that moment. How was it possible that a veil had dropped over that memory, obscuring it from view until now? That we’d forgotten it became as funny as the vision of the hair itself.
I can’t count the number of times in the last eight years that I’ve remembered this moment. The juxtaposition of my statement that I forgot to brush my hair, with that visual image of the elevator doors opening on the messiest hair I’d ever seen, is a moment I can recall whenever I need access to Life’s sense of humor.
She is that rare gift, a true-blue and loyal friend with whom I can share everything…
That day at Princeton, I celebrated many beautiful reminiscences of the past, but what stands out most for me is the joy of having a friend like Jeanine. She is that rare gift, a true-blue and loyal friend with whom I can share everything, a friend who loves me enough to walk through the places of my past and care about every detail, a friend I can turn to for things big and small, and someone with whom I share a precise sense of humor that can send us into gales of uncontrollable laughter.
Over the last twenty years, we’ve led workshops and retreats together where the whole room has been lifted into riotous, joyful laughter. We’ve also had experiences so deeply sacred, we weep in the ineffable beauty of the Divine.
Today is Jeanine’s birthday, and I captured this memory to celebrate the magnificent gift she is in my life.
Happy Birthday, beautiful Jeanine. I love you to the moon and back.
Jeanine Mancusi says
Thank you for this incredibly loving and beautiful birthday gift, Leza. I treasure our friendship, the love, the ease, the beauty and the fun! I love how we can make each other laugh and oh, how I love laughing with you. It is a joy to know your stories and I am touched by how much you let me in. The way you vulnerably share your past, your present and your dreams of your future with me. Our day at Princeton is indelibly etched in my mind. And yes, that hair!!!! I love you dear friend!
Leza Danly says
Thanks, Jeanine! It’s fun to imagine all the laughter that awaits us!
Carol Ross says
Thank you, Leza, for transporting me to a a time and place that feels magical in the telling. I visited Princeton once, during high school to look at colleges, and vaguely remember the hush of the leafy campus. I delighted in the ending of your story with the comic relief of the hairstyle and the loving tribute to your friendship with Jeanine. Brought a smile to my face.
Leza Danly says
Thanks, Carol. It really was such a magnificent campus when I first visited in 1972, and it is still so beautiful with its grand archways and Gothic style. This photo I chose really captures the grandeur. I haven’t been back since this day eight years ago. Jeanine had heard me talk about it for decades, so it was a treat to take her there.
One comment I don’t include in this piece still makes me laugh. At Reunions, there is lots of beer on tap, and it seems everyone is walking around with a beer in hand. As we walked around the campus, Jeanine turned to me and said, “I had no idea that college is so organized around beer!” This cracked me up. 🤣
Leza, reading this made me laugh out loud (the hair!) and cry. I’m writing with tears in my eyes, feeling your love for Jeanine and for life. I appreciate and celebrate your humor, your passion, your depth and complexity, your memory, your ability to weave a beautiful and compelling story … and your willingness to share it generously. What a joy it is to know you better through these stories on your site.
Leza Danly says
Thank you, Amy! That moment about the hair, both in the elevator and then Jeanine’s exclamation in the wee hours, are forever engraved on my Funny Bone!! And I can hear your imagined giggles if you had been there to share it.
Thank you for all your lovely comments!
Ann Walk says
What a wonderful memory! I too am blessed with a friendship akin to yours with Jeanine. My Great Story coach also happens to be my closest, dearest friend. It was she who introduced me to you and Jeanine, and for that I am eternally grateful. But more than that, I am grateful to have such a wonderful friend.
Leza Danly says
Oh, I love knowing this! Who is your Great Story Coach? Thank you for all your sweet comments around the site. I really appreciate it.