Monthly Archives: May 2014

All We Need is an Island

What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Variations of this question are often used as an icebreaker or team-building exercise. I remember completing one during the first tutorial of a second-year psychology class, which required the group to rank items most useful after an emergency lunar landing. If there’s one thing psychology students have an aversion to, it’s group work. However, psychologists have been known to throw their students or research participants in the deep end. In 1954, as part of the Intergroup Relations Project at the University of Oklahoma, Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues took two groups of boys to Robbers Cave in Oklahoma. The boys were split into two groups – the Rattlers and Eagles – and intergroup conflict was generated through competitive tasks like baseball and cabin inspections (that would bring out the competitive streak in anyone) by staff members. Prizes included four-bladed knives, and were highly coveted. As reported in the book Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment (1954/1961), “The trophy was so valued by the winners that they kissed it after they took possession and hid it for safety in a different cabin against a possible seizure by the losers”. The experiment was a success in generating conflict. Of course, the experimenters wanted to show that you may reduce conflict by introducing goals that are only obtainable if both groups worked together. But I digress. In short, while many of you would find these Moon/Island hypothetical group tasks only mildly discomforting, as a psychology student they were true practice runs for our survival if we had an errant lecturer needing research subjects.

"It's never a three-hour tour!" (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)
“It’s never a three-hour tour!” (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

Another thing that comes to mind when I think “island” is Gilligan’s Island. I’ve always felt that the criticism of the show as being unrealistic because of how many outfits Ginger wore on the island was unfair. Surely, these armchair (or Panton chair if you grew up with the show during its original run) critics opine, the passengers on a three-hour tour would have never packed at least 98 changes of clothes (the number of episodes). I have a couple of remarks for this. Firstly, you don’t know how this is not only possible, but indeed probable, until you’ve travelled with my friends and I for a weekend away. Second, if you are looking for holes in the fabric a Sherwood Schwartz-created show, is this really the worst of them? I’m more concerned about where Alice the housekeeper slept in the Brady house.

With these two (flights of) ideas in my mind, I decided I’d ask some friends and/or generally nice people the question of what three items they would like to have with them if they went the way of the Swiss Family Robinson or, more recently, the characters of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Their answers didn’t have to strictly adhere to logic. For example, if they were to mention a favourite album, a record or CD player didn’t have to be one of the other items. Also, they could bring/be with their loved ones – the answers needn’t be only items as specified in the question. The answers were enlightening, entertaining, heart warming, and didn’t once mention a volleyball. Good for them.

Mikey Wax (Photo: Justin Steele)
Mikey Wax
(Photo: Justin Steele)
Matthew Jordan (Photo: Facebook page)
Matthew Jordan
(Photo: Facebook page)

Mikey Wax has a new single, “You Lift Me Up”, and an upcoming album in June. It’s understandable, then, that he might just want a whole orchestra with him. Failing that, Mikey explained his first choice: “An acoustic guitar – I can’t live without a musical instrument, and I would need something to write about how lonely I was on the island. I would ask for a keyboard but that would require a power outlet. A baby grand piano on a deserted island would be pretty cool but getting one there just doesn’t seem possible”. His second choice would be, “Chips and guacamole – I hope this doesn’t count as two separate things. I believe I could live entirely off this one dish and be satisfied. It will provide necessary energy to build a boat out of tree branches and escape off the island”. For number three, “Scotch or wine – you can’t be on a deserted island without some sort of alcohol. Having a good bottle of scotch like a Macallan or a nice bottle of red wine would be necessary”. Singer-songwriter Matthew Jordan has been busy lately releasing singles, including his cover of “I See Fire”. His requirements are also musical: “My Beatles records, a baby grand piano, and maybe my Kindle if I didn’t have to worry about charging it. I think as long as I had all my Beatles music to listen to and a baby grand to play, I’d be happy for a long time Actually, listening to Rubber Soul while relaxing on a desert island sounds pretty awesome to me. It’d be like a vacation!”

Mark Deklin (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)
Mark Deklin
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)
Ben Lawson (Photo: IMDb)
Ben Lawson
(Photo: IMDb)

Mark Deklin plays the man with a past, Nicholas Deering, on Lifetime’s Devious Maids. Mark, himself, is a man of many pasts, with a background in English literature and history and having worked as a book dealer and jazz pianist. His choices reflect some of this. First there would be, “An iPod fully loaded with music – particularly classical (especially Baroque and Renaissance) and jazz (especially by the likes of Coltrane, Tatum, Davis, Mingus, etc.)”. Then he’d like “a Nook or Kindle fully loaded with books – an even distribution of fiction, science, history, philosophy, and humor, please”. Finally, it’s important to stay nourished with “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza… No explanation needed”. Mark does concede, “And I guess water would be good, too”. Ben Lawson, Michael in the upcoming ABC pilot Damaged Goods and recently seen in 2 Broke Girls and Australia’s Love Child, found that the island would bring out some chords and a couple of clubs or spades, “I’d want goggles first of all. Then maybe a guitar. I don’t really play guitar but I’d presumably have a fair bit of time to get good at it. And then a deck of cards; I’d just hope that somewhere on the island there were some natives that I could teach to play 500”.

Holland Taylor (Photo: Linda Matlow)
Holland Taylor
(Photo: Linda Matlow)
Eric Hutchinson (Photo: Facebook page)
Eric Hutchinson
(Photo: Facebook page)

Comfort food, and comfort in other forms, is important. Holland Taylor’s character Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men would attest to that. For Holland, she would need on her island, “An encyclopedia, a mattress, and a chef who had his knives and pots and pans and olive oil and butter and a gun and a fishing pole. Young chef”. If Eric Hutchinson ever needed inspiration for a new album after his recent release, Pure Fiction, a lazy afternoon on the island would do it with, “A chair, an umbrella and a very large bottle of tequila”.

Sheila Kelley (Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)
Sheila Kelley
(Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)
Jesse Bradford (Photo: Brian To/WENN)
Jesse Bradford
(Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Sheila Kelley, actress and founder of lifestyle and fitness movement Sheila Kelley S Factor (seen on Oprah and The Ellen DeGeneres Show) may want to build a pole and ambient space for her pole dancing sequence of movements. She requires, “A solar powered iPod. A machete. A flint”. Jesse Bradford is used to playing characters in situations of high-stakes such as Rene Gagnon in Flags of Our Fathers, intern Ryan Pierce in The West Wing, and Dom in the recent The Power of Few. So it is understandable that an island stranding requires a low-key approach, “Two guitars and a ChapStick”. For Shane Withington, who has played characters in rural (A Country Practice) and seaside settings (currently on Home and Away), it’s also a “Guitar”, as well as “good red wine, and Cate Blanchett”.

Shane Withington (Photo: Home and Away official site)
Shane Withington
(Photo: Home and Away official site)
Fabian (Photo: Official site)
(Photo: Official site)

No man or woman is an island, of course. Fabian’s Golden Boys tour with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell would have to go on hiatus if he were stranded, but he said, “I would want to have my wife, my children and my grandchildren with me”.

Chad Lowe (Photo: ABC Family)
Chad Lowe
(Photo: ABC Family)
Donna Loren (Photo: Mark Arbeit)
Donna Loren
(Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Chad Lowe grew up in the Midwest before moving closer to water in Malibu. For Chad, whose character Byron Montgomery on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is used to moving (to Iceland, no less) or trying to move others (to Vermont or New Orleans), the choice was clear, “My daughter Mabel, my daughter Fiona, and my wife Kim. I realize they’re not ‘items’, but they’re the only thing/people I care about. Plus I know that if we were all together everything would be fine”. Donna Loren is no stranger to the question or the island. She spent 15 years living on the Big Island and Oahu in the ‘90s and co-starred in the Beach Party films. Donna also recalled an episode of The Newlywed Game in the ‘60s where “a husband was asked, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you like to be with?’ And the answer was ‘Donna Loren’!” (I think that couple made their second TV appearance on Divorce Court.) But Donna’s choices are also three people. She explained it this way: “The heart of my husband, Jered; the dancing legs of his father, Harry; and the great compassion of my first husband’s father, Si”.

Matt Long (Photo: Twitter page)
Matt Long
(Photo: Twitter page)
Rick Lenz (Photo: Offical site)
Rick Lenz
(Photo: Offical site)

Matt Long played the empathic Dr. James Peterson on Private Practice, as well as a freelance artist who crossed swords with Joan in Mad Men, working on the Samsonite account amongst others. Now that would be a sturdy island suitcase. Matt would want “my wife, our six-month-old daughter, and a fishing pole”. Rick Lenz experienced life on the plains in The Shootist and more cramped quarters in Cactus Flower. Rick tells me, “1: My wife—for my soul. 2: My paints etc.—for my soul. And 3: books and paper—for my soul. The rest, God will provide”.

Francine York (Photo: Official site)
Francine York
(Photo: Official site)
Dick Gautier (Photo: Official site)
Dick Gautier
(Photo: Official site)

Francine York probably doesn’t need books on the island. She played the Bookworm’s moll on Batman. Francine would while away the hours with “Liam Neeson, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Selleck”. And for Dick Gautier, Get Smart’s logical robot Hymie, some long-time island dwellers are the best option, “I’d like to take Tina Louise, Bob Denver and Jim Backus”.

Don Rickles (Photo: Twitter page)
Don Rickles
(Photo: Twitter page)
Lana Wood (Photo: Facebook page)
Lana Wood
(Photo: Facebook page)

Some felt in spite of the fish caught, painting, dancing and companionship, they’d want to perhaps get off the island. “Mr. Warmth” (or, as any child will gleefully exclaim, “Mr. Potato Head!”) Don Rickles was aware he may be there for a while. He guest starred on Gilligan’s Island, after all. In addition to “a satellite phone so I can call a rescue team” Don would need “a portable toilet” and “a great chef”. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever met James Bond at a card table, but didn’t want to gamble and spend a moment longer than she needed to either: “To quote John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful…a plane, a runway a pilot!” I wonder if John were marooned with her, could he put down his baritone guitar for a while and work on that runway? Some would stay and try to make it work. Erin Murphy sometimes got things done with a twitch of her nose as Tabitha on Bewitched. She’d want, “My husband, for love and companionship; a large pan, to boil water and cook food; and a boat, so I can leave the island when I’m ready for my next adventure”. Josephine Mitchell, star of A Country Practice, is much more use to a drier setting of that show’s Wandin Valley. However, she has a plan to ensure there will always be leftover sustenance, “I would take a Kindle with unlimited downloads, lots of sunscreen and a grape vine so I can make my own red wine”.

Erin Murphy (Photo: Official site)
Erin Murphy
(Photo: Official site)
Josephine Mitchell (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)
Josephine Mitchell
(Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

So, not one of my castaways mentioned food concentrate or 50 feet of nylon rope. But why would you, really? I actually sent an email through to Buzz Aldrin’s team asking him the island question. Team Buzz (they sign their emails that way) very politely passed on the request but wished me the best of luck. I like a Team that gets back to you after a request, even if it’s not an affirmative. If I ever am stuck in one of those team-building exercises again and the Moon question comes up, you know who I’ll call.

Whose choices would make you want to join them on their island? What would you take with you? I’d love to read your choices in the Comments section.

“The past is never where you think you left it” or: Katherine Anne Porter wears rose-coloured wayfarers

Sometimes the planets align. We were running late for dinner with expatriate friends who were in town for a few days. After 20 minutes of no luck finding street parking or a car park that didn’t close early, we ended up in a car park in Wyatt Street. This was no ordinary car park. Each level is named after a planet. Level 9 is still Pluto because, well, when you need parking (and there’s money to be made on office workers and people like us), the Kuiper belt and its dwarf planet is as good as anywhere. Each floor has a mural near the elevator proclaiming what planet/level it is. Or at least I presume this to be so. The lower levels are inhospitable to all but permit parkers. We were on Level 6: Saturn (My Very Energetic Mother Jumps Skateboards Under Nana’s Patio). Each elevator stop is accompanied by a voice proclaiming, “You are on [planet]”. Forget Majel Barrett, Star Trek, fans. This voice is decidedly more booming.


We finally made it to dinner. There were the magical 7±2 (on account of some joining us slightly later) people at the table. We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers and it’s easy to fall back into the old groove even when friends have been away for a while. After dinner we all headed to one of the laneway bars that have taken over Adelaide in the last few months. One gin and tonic (in a wine glass, no less) was enough for me and Bob, and we left shortly after.

Walking back to the car, we inadvertently took a slightly different route to the one walked earlier in the night. As we chatted away, I didn’t realize what street we were on until I turned my head and was facing a familiar façade. When it was a nightclub, it was called Aquarium. Now, I don’t really recall ever going there when I was 18. It had a bit of a reputation for being a place where the bad kids congregated. There wasn’t Yelp or Trip Advisor in those days for me to verify this, you see. But the site of this old club made me realize what was coming next. Down the road, not too far, was The Planet. The nightclub that my friends and I spent at least one, maybe two, nights a week at when we were in first year university.

I tried to peer in through the frosted windows. The building has been vacant for as long as I can remember with promises of reopening as a club or converted office/apartment space. Who said you couldn’t go home again? I should have remembered that you could never see ‘in’. Instead, you had to line up, sometimes half-way down the street on promotions nights, and get to the door to see how busy it was.

Memories came back in waves: awful champagne (we still referred to it as such) from the long bar on the bottom level that led to the dance floor; the upstairs where we spent most of our time, chairs and barrel tables scattered around pool tables; and the third level, which housed the RnB music and felt like it was tacked on to the building and could fall off at any moment. The bathrooms had attendants with perfume/colognes and hand towels! The downstairs actually functioned as a restaurant before the tables were removed from the dance floor and, if you went in and waited, the bouncers wouldn’t ID (this was long before the very stringent checks that go on now). A blessing when you were 17.

Where did the Chupa Chup come from?
Where did the Chupa Chup come from?

The Planet has held somewhat of an increasing mythical status amongst my friends and I. We recall it fondly to those who never went there. I started to wonder, why? Of all the places that we went, why did this nightclub hold such a memory for me?

I suppose it represents, in a much heightened way, what it was to be young and at that time in my life. There were new experiences, new drinks (or just new drinking…not that any son or daughter from an Italian family didn’t have their first sip of vino at seven) and new friends. University only involved about 12 hours of on-campus contact a week and gave me plenty of time to read Gordon Allport’s Pattern and Growth in Personality between parties. There was, of course, the notion of no – or at least limited – responsibility at that age. But, what I think it represents the most is a time when anything seemed possible. You never knew where a night would end, just as I never knew what psychological theory would change the way I thought about everything.

The tendency to see the past with rose-coloured glasses is neither unique nor particularly surprising, at least psychologically speaking. Maybe I tend to do it more than others. Recently I returned to my high school and walked past my old first-year home room. I sighed and waited for the happy memories. Then I realized, wait a minute, for the most part I rather hated first year high school! Nostalgia has always had a seductive hold on me, even if it wasn’t my own. I was most fascinated by the section in the video store that was labeled “Nostalgia”. Not just because they were classics (John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal and Chaplin’s The Gold Rush for two), but because their covers harkened back to something that couldn’t quite be reached but would be oh so sweet if you could get there.

John Garfield, possibly on a Planet pool table getting a talking to from a bouncer. Photo: Movielegends
John Garfield, possibly on a Planet pool table getting a talking-to from a bouncer. Photo: Movielegends

I guess it’s the same with what the Planet represented. In those times it was a feat of strength to wake up after a late night and feel no hangover. More accurately, the hangover was there, but you could still get through Sunday family lunch and go out later that day/night. Plus, you’d go past the baguette bar down the road from the club before hopping in a taxi. But hangovers still didn’t feel good. What about the night where I ended up wearing cowboy shooters all over my new very expensive (even now I consider that jacket to have been way too expensive) jacket? The sickeningly sweet pre-mix drinks, as well as the bravado and arrogance of people jostling each other at the bar to get those drinks. And the things those bathroom attendants must have seen?! I remember Bette Midler shuddering on stage when she recalled the ‘70s. “Running makeup, running stockings,” and watching a group snort a shag rug after she accidentally overturned a tray of cocaine. The last may not be true, but it makes the point. There’s something exciting and liberating about not knowing your limits; but what about the self-doubt, the loneliness of adolescence and young adulthood? Again, completely not unique, but oh so acutely felt.


The street had a lot of memories. There were other clubs there we went to that have made way for all sorts of things. Yes, there will be time for more reminiscing. However, at that moment, walking past that nightclub on the way back to Saturn, there wasn’t time. There was a nightcap of Tia Maria to drink at home and a BBQ to go to the next day.

All the leaves are…

Well, you know the rest.

I’ve just returned from a very quick trip to Melbourne for a workshop. Although Melbourne is always cooler than Adelaide, and even the nights in Adelaide have been getting colder in the last few days, my two days there seemed particularly piercing. As usual, I hadn’t packed clothes that were warm enough, and found that tossing my favourite black scarf into the briefcase on my way out the door was a fortuitous addition. Wish I could say the same for the book I took along with me. The book was on a topic important to my work, and I’d hoped it would deliver the promise on the back cover of a fresh take on a much-studied problem. It didn’t maintain my interest past the first two chapters I read in the hour before takeoff from Adelaide. Instead, while on the plane, I busied myself reading in the Qantas magazine about the top five hotels in California (for enquiring minds, The Beverly Hills Hotel was #1) and engaged in some low-level origami with a newspaper and the tray table. On my second day in Melbourne I happened upon (as I often do) The Book Grocer on Bourke Street, where I gravitated towards works on Lyle Talbot, Patricia Highsmith, and Ahmet Ertegun. I decided to go with the Talbot one for the ride home, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century written by his daughter, Margaret. I’m quite enjoying it.

I’m also looking forward to posting some new articles on the site very soon. I’ve been busy for most of April with conducting interviews and researching future ones. I think you’ll like them.

The photo below is from a little while ago, but what’s more Californian than Santa Monica Pier?