Fred Dickey's Island of Human Drama
Performer's Uncommon, Gentle Nature is No Act
Performer's Uncommon, Gentle Nature is No Act
By Fred Dickey Feb. 24, 2013
One thing quickly apparent about actress-playwright Rachel Goldbaum is that she has the sweet nature that is the fond hope of every parent for every daughter.
She’s kind, tells the truth without fail, and will always cry over your pain. For a grown woman, she’s wide-eyed and has the enthusiasm of a teenager.
I gush, but the woman is unique.
As I write, this is the day Rachel takes the stage in San Diego to perform the lead roll of Maria in “Sound of Music.” Her love of performing draws in the audience and makes unimportant her lack of an ideal stage presence. She’s not tall and--typical for an actress--admits to being a little heavier than she’d like. Also, “Sometimes I miss a cue and sometimes I miss a line. And sometimes I get a little confused.” But she has rehearsed and is ready, shows no stage fright, and is confident her ability will result in a bravura performance. She feels at home on the stage. “I love the theater. It’s my thing.”
As Rachel finishes the title song, the audience approval is strong, and she responds with a glorious smile. It’s not the first time she’s heard applause, but she soaks it right up. Her diverse stage repertoire ranges from melodrama to comedy. In her first sign of ego, she candidly says, “I have talent.” However, shortly after her performance, tears stream down her face.
Why are you crying?
“I was thinking of a friend, a girl who got killed.”
It hasn’t been easy for Rachel. Her circumstances made getting through high school a struggle, but she graduated. She’s worked hard: washed dishes in a restaurant, made beds in a motel, and performed the lowest tasks in a mailroom, all for minimum wage. She wants to stay busy and earn her keep, though her upper-middle class family in La Jolla doesn’t require it of her. She’s got her pride.
Society classifies Rachel as disabled. She knows of the word “retarded.” Neither affects her sense of self. She acknowledges being born with Down Syndrome, but it doesn’t trouble her. It’s a bigger deal to us than to her.
Rachel is a small woman of 38, and has all the recognizable physical characteristics: She’s four-foot-eight and too pudgy, as she would agree. You would not mistake her face. Her speech has a soft, sing-song cadence and her words are spoken painstakingly, avoiding contractions and spaced apart, as though building blocks placed in a row to form a thought.
The venue in which Rachel performed her “Sound of Music” song is the STARS Program at the North Park Vaudeville and Candy Shoppe in San Diego. It’s a tiny store-front theater of 35 seats that serves the disabled by providing opportunity for creative expression. To them, it’s the Old Globe. Rachel sang her heart out, and to her peers she was Julie Andrews.
Standing here among these folks, all of who have mental disabilities, impresses me that there is more pure goodness in this small room than in Washington, D.C. and Wall Street combined. I am made better just by being here.
Rachel has a longtime boyfriend named Matthew, 39, also with Down Syndrome, with whom she never quarrels. In fairness, though, she tends to call the shots most of the time, but that’s because Matthew is a natural go-along guy. They go to Padres games together on their own, and have taken ballroom dance lessons.
What sets Rachel apart from most of us is the extent of tenderness she feels for all who suffer from violence, from heartbreak, or from sadness. Her tears flowed after 9-11, and they dampen her eyes when she discusses the catastrophe of Newtown. Because she retains little memory of crime or hate, each deadly occurrence in the news shocks her anew.
For every tragedy that happens, “I cry. Sometimes I don’t feel so good because I cry so hard.” And, “When a person dies, it breaks my heart.”
When a young neighbor was killed in an auto crash, she appealed to God on his behalf:
Please help Jeremy up there. Please is the only way and he was a best friend with my brothers and my family and his families too. We share his memories for beautiful things and having fun with him a lot. Please God help him his good ways and families and friends. He died in 17 yrs. old. That is to young to die. We felt sorry very sorry. He has joy and happiness with us always playing his drums loud upstairs in his room Please God please send St. John and St. Peter and best of wishes to Jease and mother of Marry and good and grase always with you and share the best wishes.
Rachel is a child of a Christian-Jewish marriage but that isn’t an issue to her. She is a Catholic, but can celebrate Passover with the same joy as Christmas.
She is quite aware that this can be a mean world, and that those of her condition are not immune. “People with Down Syndrome have feelings, just like you do,” she says. “We get embarrassed and feel bad if we think people are laughing at us. Most important to remember is that we like to do all the same things as you do.”
She loves to shop, especially at Hallmark where the expensive cards and gifts would cha-ching their way into her shopping bag as though in the 99-cent store. To her, it truly is ‘only money.’
Her thought patterns go step-by-step in a straight line. When ideas start to make sharp turns, or sweep around curves, she easily gets lost. She would agree she has a low threshold for complexity. To her, all math is Einsteinian. However, she is quite capable of surprise by springing observations that can laser a beam onto the truth.
Brenda Goldbaum, her mother, says that working outside the home is important for Rachel to strengthen self-worth and social skills. When she first started, she did jobs that some might call menial, but Rachel found them rewarding. She now does basic office tasks a couple of days a week.
It is a matter of pride to Rachel to do things on her own. She can take a city bus, transfer twice, and then get to her destination on the trolley--on time.
(To me, that sounds scary. If you asked me to go down to the corner bus stop and ride to downtown, I’d end up on a Greyhound in Yuma.)
San Diego Park & Recreation offers a program called “therapeutic recreation services” that sponsors dances, picnics, and theme-park outings for persons such as Rachel. They also sponsor an annual gambling excursion to Laughlin, Nev.
Brenda says Rachel enjoys the gambling, and she gives her three envelopes of money: one for food, one for souvenirs, and one with about $60 for gambling.
It upsets Rachel when people around her quarrel. Her word for discord is ‘drama.’ She says, “I do not like drama. It makes me sad when other people get hurt feelings. It’s not right to treat people bad. I tell people don’t do that. Do not do drama.”
One thing that might push Rachel close to irritation is when the family goes to a restaurant, and…”They think that I am a kid; they give me a kiddie menu. But I am grown up. I can look at a real menu instead of a kiddie menu.”
Does that bother you?
What do you say?
“I say, ‘Excuse me. Can I get another menu?’ Maybe they think I am six years old.”
Why would that be?
“ I do not know.”
“Do you think it’s because you have Down Syndrome?
“They do not know I have Down Syndrome.”
Rachel, what is your understanding of Down Syndrome?
“Down Syndrome is great. It is great to be Down Syndrome, because I have other friends with Down Syndrome. I made friends in school and in other places with Down Syndrome people.”
Yes, indeed, Rachel has Down Syndrome, and that’s why she is what the rest of us can only flail at life to become, struggling to match her gentle nature.
Maybe God made Rachel Goldbaum to tell us something.
WESTERN GUNSMOKE HEE HAW
(A play by Rachel Goldbaum)
NARRATOR: ONCE THERE WAS A SWINGING BAR NAMED GUNSMOKE TEXAS.IT IS A HOT SMOKEY COUNTRY WESTERN CAFÉ.
ANNOUNCER; WE HAVE A NEW SHOWGIRL AND SHE IS GOING TO DANCE WITH THE SHERIFF RIGHT NOW AND THEY HAVE BEEN PRACTICING A LOT SO WE WILL LIKE THEIR TAPING HIT IT GUYS!
MUSIC-BROADWAY IN GOERGE M COANN
DEPUTY; YOU GUY AND DOLL YOU ARE SOOO GOOD! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?. THAT WAS SOO HARD TO DO
SHERIFF; I HAVE BEEN PRACTICING SINCE I WAS 10 YEAR
JENNIFER; ME TOO. I WAS 14 YEARS OLD WHEN I WAS STARTED.MY FATHER TEACH ME HOW. HE WAS A DANCER TOO.
MORZART( SUDDENLY BLACK BART CAME JUST ON TIME)
BLACK; I HEAR MUSIC IN THIS BAR! WELL, SHERIFF I CAME AT LAST ANYWAY I WANT JENNIFER BACK ANYWAY I WANT HER
(HE GRAB HER FOR NO REASON)
SHERIFF; NO YOU MAY NOT HAVE HER.SHE IS MY PATNER AND MY DEPUTY IS HER HUSBAND!
BLACK; OH O.K. SHES YOURS.! (HE PUSHED HER TO HIM)
JENNIFER; OH THANK YOU SHERIFF!! YOU SAVE ME!
MUSIC; MIND YOUR OWN BUSSINESS
BLACK; OH O.K. I’M LEAVING BUT I HAVE A NEW PARTNER AND SHES MINE
NARRATOR; THE NEWS HAD BEEN SPREAD ALL OVER THE COUNTY. THE SHEREIFF AGAINST BLACK BART OVER THE DANCE CONTEST.
(NOW BLACK BART CAME FIRST TO DANCE THE CROWD BOOED HIM)
MUSIC-SETTING THE WOODS ON FIRE
AFTER THAT THE SHERIFF AND JENNIFER COME ON
MUSIC---ROCK AROUNDTHE CLOCK
ANNOUSER; O.K. THAT WAS WONDERFUL.! THANK YOU VERY MUCH. LET’S SEE IS GOING TO BE THE WINNER. THE ENVELOPE PLEASE. THANK YOU KIRSTINA. THE WINNER IS THE TEXAS TAPPERS
(THEY CLAPPED AND HOLLERED)
SHERIFF; WELL BLACK BART. I WON AGAIN
NOW I CAN ARREST YOU AGAIN AND YOU WON’T ESCAPED FROM ME AGAIN!
(HE HANDCUFFED HIM AND SHOVED HIM)
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at [email protected]
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