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Continuing Education 

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Who hasn’t picked up the Learning Annex course catalog and dreamed of attending such self-improvement classes as “Understanding Your Aura,” “How To Start a Vending Machine Business,” “All About Champagne!” or the meta-seminar, “How To Be, Do or Have Anything”?

While “America’s leader in Adult Education Since 1980” has divisions in select cities around the U.S., the Los Angeles “campus” provides a genre of academia not found elsewhere: celebrity-taught courses. These are most often one-off seminars, billed as “An Evening With Ellen DeGeneres” or “An Evening With Mariel Hemingway” or, for the HBO-obsessed, “Think You Know Meadow Soprano? Fuggedaboudit!: An Evening With Jaime-Lynn Sigler.”

When I learned that my all-time-favorite TV mom, Shirley Jones, and her husband, comedian Marty Ingels, were teaching a class on “The Value of Separation and Therapy in a Marriage,” I knew I had to enroll. Couples receive a discount, so I invited Giddle Partridge, the high priestess of the Partridge Family Temple (a religious cult whose devotees believe that Shirley is the Virgin Mother of all creation. Their proof? There was no father on the ’70s sitcom.).

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Months into their trial separation, Jones and Ingels have joined with their marriage counselor, Dr. Ron Podell, to educate the masses — or at least the 50 or so pupils who are gathered at the Santa Monica Doubletree Hotel’s conference room. The audience includes members of the famous duo’s entourage: their publicist, Ed Lozzi; their real estate agent, Elaine Young; and other hangers-on, including Jones megafreak Janet Strauss, the Webmaster of ShirleyJones.com.

Jones is fashionably dressed in black: black blazer, black turtleneck, black stretch pants tucked into her black, knee-high boots and a black fanny pack she uses as a purse. Her bleach-blond husband seems slovenly in comparison, stuffed into an ill-fitting off-white Western shirt.

According to Podell, Jones and Ingels’ marriage has devolved into a “fused relationship,” characterized by “constant blaming, anger and loss of boundaries” and the emergence of “circular disturbed communication patterns.” His cure? “Therapeutic separation,” during which there is no communication whatsoever between the couple for the first three months, so that the individuals may experience “life without fusion” (Phase I). Following this period of incommunicado, there is a “gradual connection” (Phase II) after which the couple attempts “resolution and maintenance” (Phase III). Jones and Ingels have broken their vow of silence for this enlightening evening.

Why people would want to receive relationship advice from these two is unclear, especially since their marriage is on the rocks. More curious is why these two would want to spend an evening with this audience. Don’t famous people have better things to do? Granted, the $39 class fee, multiplied 50 times, produces a tidy sum, even after the Learning Annex takes its cut, but the Academy Award–winning Jones could make more from a concert.

Perhaps money isn’t the motivating factor. Learning Annex profs MacKenzie Phillips and Lou Ferrigno might need the extra dough, but fellow faculty Larry King and Jerry Lewis clearly do not. Maybe Jones and Ingels are so removed from the spotlight that it’s nice to know that people are willing to shell out hard-earned cash, not to hear Shirley sing or see Ingels do whatever he does, but just for the honor of being with them for who they are.

Tellingly, the less-famous Ingels dominates the seminar, which quickly digresses into a Marty Ingels standup routine. For those unfamiliar with Ingels’ oeuvre (as many are), he is a comedian who starred in the 1960s TV comedy I’m Dickens — He’s Fenster and provided the voice of the cartoon version of Pac-Man. After a couple of hours of edutainment, Ingels presents his wife with a surrey — a four-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicle for two — which the couple takes for a short spin around the hotel lobby. Jones and Ingels seem to be somewhere between Podell’s Phase II and III.

Throughout, Jones is visibly uncomfortable and seems to wish she weren’t there. In fact, we learn in the seminar that embarrassing stunts — like teaching Learning Annex courses? — are a major source of the couple’s marital problems.

I look forward to another such star-studded event. Unfortunately, I just missed an evening with the “articulate, passionate, unpredictable and more than a little bit offbeat” Ed Begley Jr. And it was only 19 bucks.

—Dan Kapelovitz

Missing Panties

Not long ago Jen Abercrombie, the owner of the Silver Lake boutique Panty Raid, received a frantic early-morning call from her landlord.

“Get down here! Someone broke into the store!”

Few calls are as dreaded by your average small-business owner as one announcing a disaster, be it natural or otherwise. Where big businesses can shoulder the financial burden of insurance covering fires and floods and bombs and burglaries, smaller businesses usually cannot. For a small business like Panty Raid — a recently opened retail store trying to gain the slightest of footholds in a recessionary economy — a small-scale disaster can be devastating. It can mean a sudden, cruel end to both a livelihood and a dream.

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