Relevancy Optional

For some reason we get Good Housekeeping delivered in the mail on a regular basis.  Neither Husband nor I can recall ever subscribing to this domestic tome, either in our current life or any previous lives, unless one of us was once a 1950s housewife.  It’s a mystery how it all began since the magazine always arrives on time and is never accompanied by a bill or the ubiquitous postcard warning This Will Be Your Last Issue Unless You Respond Immediately!  You wouldn’t think a free magazine could cause a conundrum but this one does:  I don’t read it but I can’t just throw it out.  Why?  We don’t know.  So it invariably becomes a trivet for hot serving plates on the dining room table and there it sits looking up at us from a cover that shows part of Dr. Oz’s face with the headline Nine Days to Perfect Health! under our takeout tin of chicken parmigiana and spaghetti.

It also happens that my reading load for this last semester of graduate school includes an extremely dense novel by Henry James and selections from Eight Modern Plays by such challenging playwrights as Chekhov, Ibsen and Pirandello.  I like to consider myself one rung above fairly intelligent, and that having been said, I am somewhat undone by these readings.  I find myself looking up from my books at regular intervals and staring out the window at our Hurricane Sandy ravaged landscape thinking HELP! and WHAT? in alternating succession.  I had hoped my final semester of MFA studies would be a manageable jog if not a casual stroll, but I was unprepared for the roadrunner pace I’ve been doing since January.  For the Henry James class I must hand in a creative work of my own influenced by the master author’s unapproachable style, and for the playwriting class I’m required to produce an original one-act play incorporating facets from the modern plays studied.  At times I feel as cooked as one of Dr. Oz’s chipotle infused pork roasts with stir fry snow peas.

Okay, so now you know.  I’ve been reading Good Housekeeping.  When I can no longer digest one more Russian surname to accompany the other seventeen Chekhov has hurled at me, I turn to the Spring Fashion article entitled, Is Green the New Black? or skin care advice from someone who’s clearly had more Botox treatments than I have tooth fillings.  And trust me, this mouth is a sea of mercury.  Nonetheless, there is something cathartic about finding out you can clean the soap scum off shower doors with a clothes dryer sheet and remove water rings from a wood table with mayonnaise.  Out of a hundred natural housekeeping hints I’ve read, those are the only two that stuck in my head.  There was one about cleaning the inside of your microwave by nuking a cup of either vinegar, lemon juice or vodka and tonic and then just wiping the crud off the walls like mayonnaise on a wood table.  Only thing is I can’t remember which one they said and I’ve tossed that issue.  I would hate to waste a good glass of vodka by heating it to the boiling point only to discover the article said vinegar.  Vinegar I can spare.  The vodka I need for Chekhov.

Daughter’s Featured Fotos show an artful sampling of the City

painted door

painted door

NoseGo

NoseGo

Wrona

Wrona

Veng

Veng

relevancy 5 osvsubwaydeclaration

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The So-Called Past

I won a skirmish with Cablevision last year by threatening to go over to the dark side, i.e. Verizon Fios, but my short-term victory ended a few days ago when I received a letter advising us that our one-year reprieve from the higher rate just wore off.  I was about to rev up for another ultimatum when I turned on the TV today and noticed they’ve quietly given us access to a few channels we never had.  As transparent an effort as this is on their part, it does appease my sense of consumer righteousness.  For the moment.

The network I found early this morning as Husband slept and I read the Sunday paper was the Sundance Channel.  And the face that looked out at me from the screen was that of Claire Danes in all her glorious teenage angst as Angela Chase in My So-Called Life.  The sight of those expressive eyes and trademark red hair stopped me in my tracks.  This show was, and still remains, the most realistic, telling and feeling show about adolescence the world of entertainment has ever produced.  It ran one season, less than a year, for a total of 19 episodes.  And then it was gone, leaving behind pain, wonder and indelible memory, just like adolescence itself.

What made it so special to me at the time was that there was another teenage girl in my life back in the nineties when My So-Called Life charted its short course to cultdom:  Daughter, whose hair ran the gamut from blue to green to red to black and back again.  And who let me into her life and thoughts as we leaned against each other on the couch watching Angela watch Jordan Catalano and deal with her friends, the rebellious Rayanne, lovesick Brian Krakow, and Rickie, the abused gay teen.  This was no ABC Afterschool Special.  It was life, so-called or otherwise.

As parents, we all relish the bonding times; the little league cheering and pizza afterwards, the prom dress shopping, the car drives where the rules of Vegas apply: What’s said in the car stays in the car.  Then there are the other times, like while watching Angela’s friend Rayanne spiral out of control and overdose on who knows what, when a parent must decide how much about their own past to reveal by way of candor, education and understanding.  How far to go to honestly bond without crossing the line into gonzo parenting.  Did you smoke pot, Mom?  What about acid?  (help!)  Wasn’t LSD popular back then?  How much did you tell your parents?  Muhammad Ali never had to think so fast on his feet.

The only jarring thing about watching My So-Called Life today was Angela’s mother, Patty.  Eighteen years ago as we sat together on the couch, Daughter and I wholeheartedly agreed that Patty Chase was probably the most annoying woman on the planet.  She was controlling, neurotic and filled with anxiety about the future.  The year was 1995 and no one had yet heard the name Bin Laden or the words fiscal cliff.  Maybe it’s me, but this morning Patty Chase seemed perfectly reasonable.

Daughter’s Featured Fotos come from FIGMENT and the Summer of 2012

blue ball

blue ball

my so 2 osvfigmentbridge

faces

faces

climbing tree

climbing tree

trapped

trapped

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Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive

First there was a thunderous clap followed by a crash that took out our electricity.  Like a series of dominoes, the houses stretching down our block went black one by one.  Husband and I ran downstairs to see branches and limbs blown up against every window on the first floor of our home and more sailing by like toys in the wind.  We strained our eyes to see out the picture window overlooking our back deck, but the inky darkness hid what the morning would reveal.

faster 1 IMG3469

We came to count ourselves lucky in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Our house would escape flooding and we would avoid devastating misfortune.  At midnight, though, at the height of what was already clear would be a long term disaster, I stood in our front doorway with my hood up over my head and a flashlight in my hand and watched the street I’ve called home for 25 years become a river.  The unforgiving wind had eased, but the water came and it came and it came some more until it was halfway up our front lawn and nipping at the rear wheels of Husband’s car parked inches from the front door.

Tidal water from the stream behind our neighborhood filled the streets and cul-de-sacs of our community and I watched it for hours like a video on YouTube, a weather nightmare happening somewhere else.  I didn’t need a yardstick to tell how deep the street was submerged.  I just watched the murky rushing avalanche creep up the sides of the cars parked along the curbs until it covered the door handles and lapped the side view mirrors.  Weeks later, those flooded out cars remain on the street in front of our house awaiting insurance adjusters and tow trucks.  The knowledge that none of them are ours brings no joy.  They belong to our neighbors.  Our friends.

The once idyllic tree-lined lanes that wind through our neighborhood now look post-apocalyptic, like a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  On the other side of town, falling trees tore off a piece of Son’s roof and one landed dead center on top of his next door neighbor’s house.  Daughter reported from the city that her 20-story apartment building went dark with the Union Square transformer explosion.  She and Boyfriend walked down fourteen flights and over to First Avenue to find the highway along the East River deserted and submerged, the tunnels and subways that form the city’s arteries battered, the South Street Seaport all but washed away.

Below 24th Street, the city was silent, pitch-black and otherworldly.  New York magazine’s cover the following week became instantly iconic with its aerial shot of a half-dark Manhattan taken by photographer Iwan Baan.  Never were the haves and have nots more viscerally divided.

faster 2 iwanbaan

As if New York hadn’t been pummeled sufficiently, the week following Sandy brought a nor’easter that dumped seven inches of snow on houses already frozen without heat and power.  Gasoline became scarce and rationing began once again evoking The Road only more so, with fights breaking out on gas lines between otherwise peaceful people whose tempers were frayed to the breaking point.  Stories of heartwarming compassion piled on top of incidents of frightening violence; our best and worst hours mixing together like everything in New York seems to mix together.  Uneasily, but all our own.

It will be many more months, perhaps years, before the full impact of the storm is absorbed.  People lost their homes, their businesses, some lost their lives.  First responders are already suffering from respiratory ailments contracted in the Rockaways, Staten Island, Breezy Point and other areas of devastation where the people they came to help were forced to remain in conditions that became ever more squalid with too little relief.  But some good things have resulted.  Heads have rolled at power companies rendered inexcusably powerless and unprepared for a storm of Sandy’s magnitude, a Frankenstorm.  The wake up call has sounded and woe be to the agencies entrusted with the public’s well-being that ignore it from this moment forward.  Nature has made it abundantly clear that the dreaded hundred year flood will come more than once in our lifetime.

New Yorkers have again become close allies as they did after 9/11.  People lean on strangers for support without hesitation.  A day does not go by that the storm’s aftermath is not front and center in our collective reality.  On line at Trader Joe’s yesterday, an overheard conversation revealed that the speaker lived in Long Beach, one of the area’s most devastated towns.  The entire line of shoppers became involved in the conversation when the woman said her house would have to be demolished and rebuilt.  Phone numbers were passed for contractors, electricians, offers to help resonated long after I was past the check out.  There will be more good to come, but sadly, the buckets of bad are not behind us yet.

Today’s Foto celebrates something not only good, but wonderful.  Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Son and his lovely Fiancée tied the knot in a ceremony filled with joy, love and laughter.  I wish you all the same.

faster 3 wedding

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Speaking of Democracy

We have traveled a long and winding road from JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” to Governor Romney’s “binders full of women.”  This country’s contentious 2012 presidential election is a rewarding time to be a professional comedian in the United States.  The recently concluded televised debates illustrate Jay Leno’s remark, “If God had wanted us to vote, he’d have given us candidates.”

After the first debate in Denver, Jon Stewart commented that it appeared as if one candidate had taken an Ambien and the other his first cup of coffee ever.  After debate number two at Hofstra, a citizen who is not even a comedian left a post on his Facebook page directed at Governor Romney:  “You’re not making much sense, but at least you’re not answering the question.”  And we won’t even go near Stephen Colbert.  All right, if you insist.  After the final debate, Colbert said, “Oh please, Mr. President. Everyone plays by the same set of rules — and at the end of the game the rich flip over the board and yell, ‘I win!'”

At the end of the day, and also every election, Winston Churchill’s words still ring true regardless of the rhetoric reported or manufactured by the media, pundits and pollsters.  “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  There’s another lesser known Churchill quote that speaks directly to the entire political process and those who show up at the polls to participate in it.  “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

Reading that quote reminds me of a recent car ride with a good friend who reported that conversations with women who support Romney make her want to interrogate them sternly about what they know of his views on abortion and gender equality.  My friend was ashamed of her apparent intolerance in feeling the urge to scream at these women and she wondered what that makes her.  I said it makes her an American.

Distasteful as the political views of others may be, listening to them is too easy a privilege to take for granted in light of recent news reports about the Taliban shooting of a 14-year-old girl for speaking out about women’s rights in Pakistan.  Current events here and elsewhere sometimes make me wonder if I’m reading about things happening in this century or medieval times.  As outraged as I am inclined to feel when listening to a Republican candidate for the Senate say, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” (wtf?) I still would not want him shot for saying it.

That said, I don’t quite feel like celebrating his right to free speech.  I acknowledge that just as my love for bacon is a celebration of the pig, it’s not much of a celebration on the porker’s end.  And even though it would be an appropriate parting shot, I will refrain from a comparison between Representative Todd Akin and the aforementioned barnyard animal.  It would be an affront to the pig.

Sneak peek behind the scenes at the second presidential debate

the media center

the media center

c-span biggie

c-span biggie

outdoor scaffold for affiliates

outdoor scaffold for affiliates

military presence

military presence

return of all the president's men

return of all the president’s men

warming up

warming up

geraldo broadcasting live from the student center

geraldo broadcasting live from the student center

group opinion

group opinion

ready, set. . .

ready, set. . .

correspondents arrive

correspondents arrive

debate hall run through with candidate stand-ins

debate hall run through with candidate stand-ins

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Sweet Literacy

Son and Fiancée came over last night for dinner and brought a delicious Italian cheesecake.  Son asked if I had ever heard of the bakery where he bought it on Main Street and I said sure.  He grinned and told me about an interesting verbal exchange he had with the bakery owner.  Son had walked in and asked what the store’s best cake was and the owner said, “Our cheesecake; everyone knows that.”  Son replied that he in fact didn’t know that and the owner said, “Did you just move here?”  Son replied, “Actually I’ve lived here my whole life,” and the owner threw his hands up and said, “Why haven’t I ever seen you before?  Where have you been?”  The concept of a citizen residing in the same town as his bakery and NEVER GOING INTO IT was too bizarre for the baker to consider.  And yet, there stood Son.

The baker’s moment of anti-Zen brought to mind a project I’ve recently become involved in.  Earlier this summer I completed training to be a volunteer tutor for our county’s state-funded adult literacy program.  I’m hoping to be able to make a difference in the life of a reading challenged adult.  No matter who I tell about this venture, the response is the same.  Everyone asks with no small measure of surprise, “There’s an adult literacy problem HERE?”  And the answer to that is, “There’s an adult literacy problem EVERYWHERE.”  It is a common assumption that if a person has had at least a modicum of schooling it means they can read.  Without indicting our failing school system (which I’ve done many times in the past so why be redundant again) this is the last fact you want to take to the bank.  Schools push students through and out into the world with a shocking lack of basic skills and we won’t even address undiagnosed learning disabilities.

Adults who cannot read feel ashamed.  Invariably their children and even their grandchildren can decipher words better than they can, and it is an intricate dance many illiterate adults engage in to hide their reading inadequacy.  They memorize street signs and subway maps.  They say with regret that they left their glasses at home or they would look at the menu they’ve just been handed.  They are not stupid or destitute or in the country on a limited visa.  They live here; many were born here.  Each story is different but somehow the same, the unifying factor being educations that were cut short by family, financial or personal necessity.  Life got in the way of learning.

Most times you wouldn’t even know that the person you’re chatting with on line at Target can’t read because they’ve spent a lifetime learning how to hide it.  The functionally illiterate are usually highly verbal and engaged.  They may reside in the house down the block on your lovely suburban street or on the floor above you in your apartment building.  Here are the staggering and now probably outdated statistics from my literacy handbook.  On a national level, 30,000,000 or 14% of adults in this country are below the basic level of literacy; 63,000,000 or 29% are at the basic level; 95,000,000 or 44% function at the intermediate level; and a shocking 28,000,000 or 13% are proficient readers.  If you’re reading this blog I’m betting you’re in the 13%.

My adult literacy student is a married father in his mid-thirties who is determined to get his driver’s license.  That is the long term goal.  The short term goal is to read the word ‘firehouse’ without looking at the picture.  Each session he brings his driver’s manual with him hoping he’ll be able to read from it, and each session he struggles through flashcards designed for the first grade.  I tell him he’ll get there, that he knows more than he’s even aware of.  Along with giving reading instruction, my job is just as much to keep his confidence alive and his self-esteem growing.  With a crooked smile he promises me that one day he’ll drive me somewhere with his own license in his own car.  I tell him that will be great because he’s close to seven feet tall and I can’t drive him anywhere.  He won’t fit in my MINI.  Then we laugh too loud for the library we’re sitting in and keep on working to defy the percentages.

Daughter’s Featured Fotos from Pennsylvania rope us into the Rodeo

cowgirl USA

cowgirl USA

mutton walking

mutton walking

spider weaving

spider weaving

sunlight dappling

sunlight dappling

city girl flying

city girl flying

nightfall

nightfall

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Choice Sophie

Our family’s past, present and future converged on Saturday in Brooklyn.  As we walked from Aunt Sophie’s Avenue P apartment to the Chinese restaurant on Bay Parkway, I looked with delight at the company that surrounded me.  There was Daughter and Boyfriend, Son and Fiancée, the wonderful niece I wrote about in Pride and Remembrance, and cousins from my ex-husband’s side of the family, close relatives of Aunt Sophie.  I rarely see these cousins since the 1998 divorce that removed them from my sphere of contacts, but Daughter has kept in close touch and she arranged the visit while the cousins were in town.  I’m so glad she did.

Aunt Sophie is actually my ex-husband’s aunt, and a double aunt at that.  I’ll explain, so stay with me:  Aunt Sophie is my ex’s father’s sister making her an aunt; but she was also married to my ex’s mother’s brother, so I always thought of her as doubly related.  She was also hands down my favorite elder relative.  She and Uncle Natie were like Santa and Mrs. Claus, Jewish-style.  They were round, jolly and devoted to each other beyond measure.  Sophie would stand by Natie’s chair at the dinner table and serve him, only then taking her seat and filling her own plate.  Family myth had it that Uncle Natie would starve to death were it not for Aunt Sophie.  He never met a plate that wasn’t already full.

Uncle Natie passed away almost a decade ago, and Aunt Sophie is now in her late nineties and still in the apartment they shared for half a century, only now with a live-in aide.  Almost blind and not always lucid, she is still the life of the party.  Her conversation runs a well-oiled reel of announcements like, “I still have all my own teeth,” while pointing to her mouth, and “I never took medicine, not even an aspirin in my whole life.”  What about the shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream every night? someone asks playfully.  She waves her hand in dismissal, laughing.  “That was to sleep.  I never took a sleeping pill in my whole life.”  We all hugged her over and over as she sat like a tiny, jolly, no long round queen in the middle of our circle.  I have visited Sophie a half dozen times in as many years and each time I fear it will be the last.

Unable to stem the onslaught of time, we bring things.  Once a futon that Son and Fiancée assembled with astounding speed and proficiency.  Last time a big screen TV to replace the ancient mariner of sets that still wore rabbit ears atop its mahogany console.  This time a toaster oven to replace the one that was so old it had a two-pronged plug.  Daughter and Boyfriend dashed to the hardware store for an extension cord to reach the single kitchen outlet so the toaster oven wouldn’t have to stay perched on top of the stove.  Fiancée spotted burned out bulbs in a ceiling fixture and Son stood on a precarious chair to replace them.  How long they were out is anybody’s guess.  We all ate the Danish and cookies we brought and watched Sophie enjoy our visit.  A visit she would forget the moment we left, if not sooner.

No matter what we bring, we come away with more.  On the walk for Chinese food afterward, we are as lost in memory as we are eager to talk.  Remember how Uncle Natie always had Doublemint gum in his pocket?  Did Aunt Sophie ever give you her recipe for tuna croquettes?  Yes, but they never taste the same when I make them.  Really?  Try frying them in a little chicken fat.  Chicken fat?  My God, do you know how much cholesterol that has?  Yeah, but how bad could it really be?  Natie lived to his mid-80s and Sophie is pushing 100.  Throw a little horseradish into your system and it’s all neutralized.  If good health begins in the heart, then days like Saturday will take us all through life smiling.

While Daughter is away, here are pics from our recent trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Square and the Blue Mosque

Sultanahmet Square and the Blue Mosque

Military guard at Topkapi Palace

Military guard at Topkapi Palace

Donkey traffic jam on the road to Santorini

Donkey traffic jam on the road to Santorini

Using their heads at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

Using their heads at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

Red, white and blue in Mykonos

Red, white and blue in Mykonos

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Second Time Around

This past Sunday, Husband and I hosted an engagement party for Son and Fiancée along with our future in-laws and it was a terrific time.  Many of the couple’s east coast friends will not be able to attend their California wedding and we wanted to arrange a local celebration.  And because this is also me we’re talking about, there was some preliminary drama.  At 4:30 in the morning the day of the party, I awoke with my left eye red, tearing and gluey and I stared at myself in the mirror imagining how splendid I would look greeting guests with a sign around my neck that said Conjunctivitis Woman, Hug at Your Own Risk.  I went online immediately to troll for home remedies and I found a ton of them, all ending with See A Doctor.

The prelude to the eye thing was the arm thing.  On the Friday before the party I decided to bake banana muffins (someone please smack me if I ever tempt fate like that again) and while sliding the muffin pan into the oven I somehow let go of the oven door too soon with my other hand causing the muffin arm to get slammed by the burning hot oven door.  After prancing around the kitchen waving my smoking arm in the air and cursing in what sounded to me like Farsi, I ran to the computer and looked up burn remedies.  I compared the ugly rising red welt on my arm to the Google images and realized I would need a long-sleeved jacket over my sleeveless dress along with the warning sign around my neck.  Rock on.

Fortunately, the party venue was highly air-conditioned and my Jemma Kidd eye makeup perfectly disguised whatever eye issue was going on.  I desperately tried not to let people kiss me when they entered saying I thought I was coming down with something, but nobody heard me because they were too busy burying their face in my hair and squeezing my burnt arm with an excitement that brought tears to my good eye.  Even with all that, it was far and away one of the best times I’ve ever had and just the greatest day and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The next morning I made an appointment with my quirky ophthalmologist, the one I wrote about in City Serenade, who once cleared a blocked tear duct by threading a needle into my sinus through the inside corner of my eye with no anesthesia.  In retrospect, he was probably counting on me passing out so why sedate me?  When I called his office this time they couldn’t locate my record and I realized later that I should have had them check under my first married name.  I hadn’t been there in over a decade proving that once Dr. B clears a tear duct, it stays cleared.  By the time I arrived later in the day my record had been found.

DR. B:  (looking at my chart and shaking his head)  I can just barely recall you.  You were here last in 1996.  And now you’re back?

OSV:  Something’s wrong with my eye.  You’re my ophthalmologist.

DR. B:  (amused)  I am?  How did you even remember me after sixteen years?

OSV:  You’re pretty memorable.  The last time I was here you stuck a needle in my eye.

DR. B:  Is that why you stayed away so long?

OSV:  I had to go into therapy.  I kept reliving it.

DR. B:  I’m flattered.

After a thorough examination, the doctor returned to studying my chart.

DR. B:  The last time you were here you had a different last name.

OSV:  I remarried.

DR. B:  (without looking up)  What happened to the first one?

OSV:  I don’t want to take up your time; you have patients waiting.

DR. B:  Let me guess.  He was an asshole.

OSV:  No, he was a doctor.

DR. B:  Just what I said.  We’re all assholes.

OSV:  Is that what your wife would tell me?

DR. B:  Ask her on your way out.  She’s right at the front desk.

OSV:  I’ll catch her next time.

DR. B:  (handing me a prescription) You come every sixteen years.  If I were you, I wouldn’t wait.

OSV:  Would this conjunctivitis have gone away by itself?

DR. B:  Eventually everything goes away.

OSV:  Isn’t that called death?

DR. B:  (nodding slowly)  Now I remember you.

OSV:  Hey, while I’m here, would you take a look at something on my arm?

DR. B:  Only if it’s an eye.  Take care now.

Daughter’s Fotos are once again Destination: Caribbean

second 1 osvhangingfruit

second 2 osvingoodhands

second 3 osvkites

second 4 osvpeekingout

second 5 osvshell

second 6 osvfinger

 

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After Sam

I got a phone call last night from the married couple who recently bought our family’s business from my brother.  The company they now own was founded by my father in the 1970s and became my brother’s after my dad died.  Over the years, I worked there on and off in many different capacities and Daughter followed in my footsteps by doing the same thing when her grandfather was ill and work needed to be done.

The new owners, longtime employees of my father’s and dear friends to us all, said on the phone that while clearing things out from the building’s storage they came across an oil painting of a little girl who looked enough like me to call and ask if it was.  I said, yeah, it’s me.  I told them that when my brother and I were very young, our parents had a pair of weirdly large oil paintings done of us and our over-sized faces proceeded to hang in every house and apartment they inhabited for the rest of their lives.  My brother had apparently taken his with him when he sold the business and left mine for the new owners.  Something told them that it might fit in more with the decor of my memories than theirs and I said I’d be over to get it the next day, which was today.  In a phone call immediately following that one, Daughter offered to come along.  “Hey,” she said gamely, “it’ll be the last time I have a reason to take the number 5 train to Mt. Vernon.”  Great, I answered.

It was a strange idea we were entertaining that this little road trip to Westchester would bring us closure in the death of a man who loomed large in the lives of so many, ours especially.  I’ve written often about my father in this space, and articles like Beware the Rides of March provide a glimpse into life as my father’s daughter.  His death turned the ground I stood on into broken glass, a bleak period that was chronicled in Ghosts in My Head and again in Remembering the Gates.  Both my parents and grandmother died within weeks of each other in early 2004 and it was like being hit by a speeding train while chewing razor blades.  Like I said, this field trip to Westchester seemed like a jolly idea on the phone.

Neither Daughter nor I had been back to that office in years.  Now we walked in as it was being taken apart, razed even, to begin a new life in New Jersey.  Seeing such an old familiar environment in its current state of sad destruction wouldn’t fit into our heads and we looked at each other dizzily.  Without a doubt we felt happy for the business and the new owners and the future.  If only the past would behave itself.  Here were all these people who called my father boss, employees he hired as teenagers who are now in their forties and still describe him as being like a father to them.  And here also are younger workers who never met my dad, but feel like they know him through everything they’ve heard.  We took turns huddling in little groups sharing Sam stories and looking at Christmas party photos, all the while expressing a mutual amazement at the connection we are still a part of because of one man who’s been gone eight years, a man whose favorite advice was, “Expect no gratitude and you will never be disappointed.”

We will always be grateful, Dad, and the only disappointment is that you’re not here to tell.
Love,

after sam1 little girl
Your little girl

Daughter posted her Caribbean Cruise Fotos but has yet to caption them so let’s do it for her

all-a-flutter

all-a-flutter

spidey

spidey

like a postcard

like a postcard

got religion?

got religion?

holy crap

holy crap

now THAT'S pink

now THAT’S pink

kissing ships

kissing ships

into the sun

into the sun

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Little Words Big Dreams

A friend emailed me recently asking where all the blog entries have gone.  My response was that I haven’t been feeling publicly clever lately.  Privately I’ve been laughing like hell, but none of the sources of my mirth have quite lent themselves to massive sharing.  One glance at anyone’s Facebook page tells me that no one else on the planet feels this type of restraint, and the endless parade of “I’m walking into the restaurant now” and “How adorable does little Bartleby look with all those Spaghetti O’s up his nose?” is enough to further inspire me to keep my personal amusements personal.

I will tell you, though, how my time is being spent and that’s planning a party for Son and Fiancée, formerly Girlfriend, who got engaged this spring.  Son gathered us at the perfect place to break the news, our favorite sushi restaurant where so many of our family life events have unfolded.  Some families have a fireplace and homemade crescent rolls; we have tuna tataki and a televised sporting event on the far wall.  Present on the day in question were Daughter and Boyfriend, Son and (then) Girlfriend, and just me since Husband had to be at work on a Sunday.  Girlfriend was seated to my left and I didn’t see what Daughter saw right away sitting across the table.  The ring.  It was gorgeous and sparkly and perched right on GF’s left hand and Daughter’s eyes got wide for an instant and then her face went back to normal and I kept on yammering about some school paper I was writing.  We all ordered and ate and the meal was over when Son announced that he and Girlfriend had something to announce.

Here I have to say that Husband and I had already clapped our way through many announcements.  In no particular order they have been:  Girlfriend moved in with Son, Son got a promotion at work, Girlfriend was going back to school for another degree, Daughter was up for tenure, Boyfriend was going for his doctorate, etc. etc. and each time we thought it would be THE announcement, the SOMEONE IS GETTING MARRIED one, and I was starting not to care whether the BABY announcement came before the GETTING MARRIED announcement, I just wanted to hear one of them before I went on Medicare.

The last of the chopsticks were being cleared from the table when Son began to speak about something they wanted to say.

SON:  We wanted to tell you all something and it’s too bad Husband had to work today.

DAUGHTER:  YES!  I’ve been about to explode.  Say it, say it!

GIRLFRIEND:  Oh, you saw it when I sat down?

DAUGHTER:  Saw it?  You can see it from space!

Boyfriend and I exchanged blank looks.  We had been chatting about our schools and the beef negimaki and why don’t stores sell that amazing ginger dressing and neither of us had seen it.  Daughter saw it and Girlfriend was wearing it and Son had bought it and Boyfriend and I shrugged in ignorance.

Then the delicate hand appeared in my field of vision with the diamond visible from the moon and the meteor-sized smiles on the faces of the young man I raised and the young woman about to inherit him and I screamed so loud the restaurant owner came rushing over prepared to either stomp on a roach or deliver the Heimlich maneuver.

OWNER:  What is it?  What do you need?

Girlfriend held up her left hand.

OWNER: (breaking into a huge grin)  Sake on the house!

That was just what we needed.

Daughter’s Featured Fotos say it on the Sly

little words 1 send help

little words 2 street

little words 3 not on sale

little words 4 go girl

little words 5 puerto rico

little words 6 flower

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In Praise of Freaks

I recently wrote a paper for a graduate lit class comparing 19th century literary ideals to the 1932 cult classic film Freaks.  If this sounds like a heady topic for a seminar paper, trust me, it beats analyzing the social rhetoric of mid-1800s slave narratives or discussing the scientific hubris inherent in Hawthorne’s The Birthmark.  I’m not a literature major and these papers don’t come easy to me in any form, but getting permission to use a landmark horror movie for a final paper was a gift from the literary heavens.

Freaks was the brainchild of director Tod Browning of Dracula fame, and it represents his first foray into talking pictures.  Even today, it stands as a things-that-go-goosebumps-in-the-night story of circus intrigue, class warfare, and the ultimate penalty for just plain crossing the line. In a nutshell, the story involves the sideshow midget Hans, who dumps his midget lady love when he becomes dangerously infatuated with the normal-sized trapeze artist, Cleopatra. She and her lover, the circus strongman, Hercules, conspire to dupe Hans for his inherited fortune and then kill him. This sets in motion a tale of revenge and retribution by the sideshow freaks that ends in the horrific mutilation of Cleo and Hercules, and the return to “normalcy” of the circus culture.  Good times.

The backstory is every bit as fascinating as the movie itself.  The Freaks cast includes a pair of Siamese twins, a group of microcephalics or Pinheads, a Living Torso, two Armless Wonders, Half Boy Johnny Eck (pictured below), a Human Skeleton, several Bird Women, and three midgets who went on to appear as Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz (Hans was one of the Lollipop Guild).  In the 1930s, there were limited roles for actors with such extraordinary physical appearance.  Might I add that the situation has not changed much in 80 years, although nowadays Johnny Eck, with his resonant voice and leading man looks from the waist up, could easily have occupied the anchorman desk on the evening news.  As long as no one yelled “Fire!” and he had to leave the set in a hurry, the viewer would never know.

in praise 1 JohnnyEck

The urban legends surrounding the movie are legion.  MGM had to set up outside tables where the freaks could eat after regular diners in the commissary complained that the sight of them was too disturbing.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is rumored to have seen the Siamese twins looking at a menu and he ran from the room and threw up.  Supposedly, MGM wanted to borrow Myrna Loy for the role of Cleopatra, but after reading the script she begged her studio not to let her out of her contract.  MGM also sent it to Jean Harlow’s agent, who basically responded with WTF?  So second tier actors wound up playing the leads, but it wouldn’t have mattered who the stars were, the film got pulled from circulation shortly after it was released.  Apparently the public felt the same way as the people in the commissary.  The film only achieved cult status in the counterculture 1960s when it was rediscovered and embraced with fierce acceptance.  By then, freak had a whole new meaning.

The most interesting factoid I discovered in writing my paper was regarding the movie’s final scene.  In the original ending, the mob of knife-wielding freaks castrate the strongman Hercules and mutilate the beautiful Cleo, turning her into the Duck Woman.  The film ends with Hercules singing falsetto from an opera written for the castrato, while Cleo quacks pathetically along with him.  This is a perfect ending and clearly Tod Browning thought so as well.  The punishment for the conspirators’ transgression is banishment from the center ring as main attractions and assignment to the sideshow of freaks.  They would be together forever in their hideously altered state, a denouement of poetic justice.

But the Hollywood censors of the new Motion Picture Production Code were appalled.  They feared such a horrific mutilation of even a grade B male actor would be rejected outright by the audience.  So they made Browning change the ending, and now Hercules is stabbed to death.  Cleo is still mutilated into a Duck Woman, only now she quacks alone.  It’s an incomplete ending and one that shows the way Hollywood reflects the male gaze and marginalizes the woman.  It was all too much for Browning who never recovered personally or professionally from the ordeal.  The film remains a powerhouse, but the original ending has been lost forever.  And with it, Browning’s brilliant quest for equality.

Click here to watch a scene from Tod Browning’s Freaks

Daughter’s Featured Fotos travel from NYC to the Southern Caribbean

do it

do it

pinwheel tree

pinwheel tree

double peace

double peace

old san juan

old san juan

new new york

new new york

purplish

purplish

return of the hippies

return of the hippies

in praise 9 heartofsanjuan

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