That Pesky Pesto

Tags

, , , , , ,

It began with the best of intentions as most calamities do.  My sons’ newly acquired dislike of pasta, other than a precious few kinds, led me to try making it with a different sauce this time.  My older son says he hates pasta. I say that can’t be. First, he ate it by the truckload as a child, and second, as an Italian, I’m pretty sure it is genetically outlawed. I mean, honestly, who uses being anti-pasta as teenage rebellion.  My younger one likes pasta, but apparently not at the imagined amount I serve it.  He claims I make it every night.  The reality is I make it once or twice a week at most.   I ask him to please save his hyperbole for his next sales pitch.   I decide to cut through the pasta embargo by making it with pesto, since they like to eat it that way in restaurants, where apparently the pasta won’t kill you like the one at home does.   I’m talking about making the fresh kind, not the one where you unscrew the cap. That I’ll save for the wine.

My dear friend, Irma, with the greenest thumb of anyone I know, happens to have a lovely garden with both basil and Italian parsley. I have a brand new little baby Cuisinart to try out.   It’s not really made by that company, but by now we use that term as a noun for anything that pulses and grinds.  Well, not everything, but that’s another story. Anyway, after a lovely evening out to dinner with Irma, we go back to her house, sit in her beautiful, but now naked yard, since her tree trimming party a few days before and then pick the basil and parsley for me to take home.  It’s dark, of course, so I ask her if she is sure we can do it without turning it into a Lucy and Ethel episode.  She assures me we can and we fare much better than when I came over to hook up a DVD player for her. That only took several days and a lot more alcohol, but I digress.

Monday night and I’m all excited to try my hand at pesto again, something I haven’t done in years, mostly because I hate cooking and because my cute little old Cuisinart and the big one I got as a wedding gift stopped working just about the time the marriage did. So I take out the new little red Kitchenaid Cuisinart I bought a few weeks ago, not for any particular reason other than I happened to remember I needed one when I was in the Best Buy returning another strange piece of equipment that failed to bring WIFI from my family room to my bedroom.   With cooking equipment, though, I am confident to the point of hubris.  I threw the box, the receipt and caution to the wind before ever turning it on.  I begin by trying to take it apart so I can wash it before using it for the first time because of some imaginary poison we are all led to believe lurks on new things.  I struggle and struggle and finally get the manual out to see exactly how this thing comes undone.  Not in a very obvious manner, I can tell you that much.  I manage to wash and reassemble the complex machine and wipe the sweat off my brow at the same time.  I read a recipe I find on the Internet and take my pine nuts and throw them gingerly into the tiny new food processor.  I move what appears to be the only lever there is back and forth between pulse and chop. I press down on the lid like the manual says. Nothing. Not a whir. Not a pulse out of the damn thing.   O boy. It must be broken I think, because operator error is never my first thought.  So I take the nuts over to my old blender, both literally and figuratively and think this is better than nothing.  I astutely notice there is no hole to drizzle olive oil through in the top of the blender so I just put all the stuff in at once, noticing how much roomier it is in there.   In goes the basil. Next goes the parsley.  I congratulate myself on remembering to remove the stems.  A splash of olive oil here and there and we are good to go.  I put the top on and hit the pulse button. This one makes the appropriate noise but only stuff at the very bottom is being smashed.    Most of the greenery is not being pulverized very much. So I take the top off, get my favorite wooden spatula with the nice flat wide handle, stick the handle part way down to loosen the herbs and nuts while turning on the blender.  Apparently, the blender works just fine judging by the inch of wooden handle it spit it into the pesto in seconds flat.   Well, the next step in this recipe was to pour the whole mess down the garbage disposal.  I then texted my sons to tell them we are having pasta with butter and cheese rather than pesto.   I ignored the groans.  I had also promised Irma, the pesto ingredient procurer, some of the stuff as well. I told her that there would be no pesto from me anytime soon and why.  Her gales of laughter were a welcome reaction, so I guess my calamitous try at the most simple but pesky of the pasta sauces wasn’t all in vain. Tomorrow, I’ll be asking the Geek Squad at Best Buy to teach me how to work a food processor. I’m sure they will be thrilled.

PAPER TALES

Tags

, , , , , ,

I ventured back in to a grocery after a short hiatus since all this coronavirus social distancing began.  At this point in the process, I preferred that they changed the name to “Stay the hell away from me”, as that is surely what I wanted all the hoarding masses to do. I was on line in the Ralphs Grocery store with my lone sad box of Milk Bones, tripping over people with cases of water and stacks of toilet paper the likes of which I have never seen. I shook my head and asked the man in front of me,  “Why the water?  Do you really think that the water coming out of your faucet will get turned off if you get the virus?  Did I miss that memo?  And please spare me the,  “O you can’t drink water from a faucet. Yes, you can and you are probably doing that everyday.  Where do you think the greedy corporate water bottle companies get it from?   Perhaps I was derelict in my parental duties not thinking of my sons’ edible welfare and only of the dog‘s.   You have not met Moe Moe.  I would rather serve my sons ketchup sandwiches than suffer the wrath of my Milk Boneless dog giving me nasty looks all day long.  But even serving a ketchup sandwich would prove a daunting task six weeks later.  It seems even that was all gone.  Staring at the empty condiment shelf in the Albertsons one day, I thought, “What the hell is with the ketchup hoarding?” “They are trying to catch up,” said a nice man in a mask less than six feet away.  I laughed.  I really have to stop randomly putting sound to thoughts. He told me he would be here every Wednesday.  And that is one of the pandemic perks; random strangers talking to you in the grocery aisle.

I daresay, nothing prepared us for the great toilet paper famine of 2020, though.  This was the flagship of American pandemic panic. Could it be the result of failed potty training tactics on a few generations?   I know I won no medals in this parental event.  To this day, my kids, like so many of their peers, refuse to use public bathrooms, not even at school.  A non-genetic trait, I can assure you, as I will use any public restroom and in any condition. The other scar from a parent less than adept at potty training, is the fact my kids will use a roll of paper for each trip to the bathroom.   I now had to preach austerity and threaten them if this bad habit continued under these Depression era-like shortages, not to mention having to have random plumbing strangers with no proper COVID testing come to the house.  My sons rolled their eyes and denied their mortal fecal fear every time I mentioned it.

I must say I began to think of stocking up myself.  But where to start.  I first checked Amazon, seemed the likeliest place.  But they were completely out and not getting anymore anytime soon.  Next stop: EBay.   They had some for like $70 for a six pack of Scott Tissue.  They had refurbished toilet paper, which I don’t even want to hazard a guess on how that is exactly done.  I then came across some strange looking paper that was taller than a normal size roll of toilet paper but shorter than our paper towels.  Odd-looking things. I had to read the description three times to make sure it really said toilet tissue.  It did and O the irony; it came from China.  Aren’t they the reason we were hoarding the toilet paper in the first place?  I did not hesitate for a minute. They had it and so to hedge my bet, I ordered two packages even if they weren’t getting here for weeks.   What to do in the meantime?

The 11thof March brought the first college campus closure notices and so I aided my niece out of Pepperdine up in Malibu.   I had a thought that in this better heeled community perhaps the idea of hoarding toilet paper had not yet set in.  I was wrong.  I returned on the 14thof March for the rest of her things. On the way home I stopped at the local Ralphs Supermarket on Pacific Coast Highway.  There were no lines and no toilet paper either I found out from the nice lady at the little table in front of the store trying to sign up employees for the upcoming 2020 Census.  Yes, of course I signed up to do the Census.  I smiled as she regaled me with all the perks of working for the Federal Government and explained I knew them well having worked for them for over three decades. She was pleased and suggested I apply for supervisor online. Sure, why not. Apparently, she can spot talent when she sees it and I enjoyed it so much the first time around.  I was less excited when I found out that you must be assigned no more than five miles away from your home.  Somehow, a Census taker job in Compton is not as attractive sounding as one in Malibu.  But she gave me good advice and free Skittles. I needed the former, the latter not so much.  The Vitamin Store next door has toilet paper, she said.  A dollar a roll.  Well, that’s a bit steep I thought, and if they still had a supply, so did the rest of the shoppers and so on home I went. But first, a quick stop for dinner at a lovely pizzeria called D’Amore’s that served real New York single slices of pizza. Delicious.

The next day, my son was going to the liquor store even though he never touches a drop. This place, Jack’s, has been in our neighborhood for decades.  Ask Jack to save us some toilet paper, please, if he gets any, I tell my son.   After all, my cigarette habit and your father’s beer drinking kept him in business all those years ago.  My son returns with an industrial strength size roll of commercial toilet paper with a price tag of $7.99 not even neatly placed over the pre-pandemic price of $2.99.   As hoarding syndrome is now beginning to firmly entrench itself, I send my tenant back for a few more rolls.   By now, even my sister and cousin in Italy are shaking their heads and wondering what is wrong with us and the toilet tissue hoarding.   There were those with the braggadocio claims of,  “I don’t need actual paper, I’ll cut up cloths” or “My toilet is right near the shower, who needs paper”.  I daresay I was not in that illustrious group at any point in all this.

A week or so goes by and the quarantine and lockdown is firmly in place in California.  The paper gets more scarce, along with every single other paper product you can think of.  At one point I visited the local Party City and stock up on cocktail napkins just in case.  If we never see toilet paper again, they could come in handy, if we do, they will be nice for a post pandemic celebration.  I remember the Census lady and what she said about the Vitamin Shop. I remember the delicious pizza too, because eating now takes priority over all else.   One of my corona brave girls and I were making plans to take a drive, get some air.   It was very early on, so I did not want to tempt the COVID gods and so I said we’d only go if I have an errand to run.  Errands, the thing we liked least to do had now become my favorite pastime. Let’s go to Malibu for pizza and toilet paper, I suggested.  It was the first week of quarantine and we didn’t quite know all the rules as yet. I stopped for gas a few blocks from her house and asked to use the restroom. You can’t, said the attendant, no more public restrooms. What?? How is this even possible? Are they afraid we are going to steal the toilet paper?  We circle back to her house quickly so I can sneak in and use the restroom without sending her roommates into a panic and then off to Malibu we go.   I checked the Ralphs again, just to see if the school closure or time brought any sense to this community, but apparently not.  I approached the little Vitamin Shop. Inside the door on the right is a bookshelf and the bottom shelf is filled with pink-papered individual rolls of toilet paper. Odd looking for sure as I was used to the big boxes of 45 rolls at a time.  Timidly, I ask, can I buy some? Yes, she says, of course.  How many can I buy, I barely whispered? As many as you want, we have more. I felt like I had slipped through the bathroom looking glass.  I swept up 12 rolls as fast as I could, paid my $12 dollars which now after a week of quarantine-frenzied store emptying, seemed a bargain and left before she could change her mind.   Would you look at this I say to my friend.  We take a moment of silence to marvel at our good fortune.   Next stop, pizza at D’Amore’s to celebrate.

What a change social distancing has made.  The week before, I had sat in this small restaurant with a few tables, admiring the tons of celebrity pictures on the wall. Today, we are met at one door with a soda refrigerator for a barricade and we yell our order across the room along with our credit card numbers, as cash is no longer king here or anywhere else for that matter.  This establishment is in this tiny L-shaped strip mall. You practically drive up to the door. There is a karate place next door that is closed and then a huge store across from them that was already out of business before this all started.  So D’Amore’s, tucked in the corner near the elevator and the bathroom, is basically all by itself now.  A bathroom? We get the key with a big black placard attached handed delicately over with a wipe and I, in turn, grab it with my wipe.  We get to use this amazingly clean public sort of restroom.  I use my Clorox wipe all the way in and all the way out. Never touching a solid surface because I am now a commando when it comes to avoiding any potential viral landing strips.

When the food is ready, they come out the other door and using gloves and masks place your order on a small table they have out front in between the two doors.  They also were kind enough to leave two chairs on the sidewalk for folks to sit while they eat.   This place is on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway with the ocean on the west side. We had noticed a sign when we pulled in that said rooftop parking.   My friend with way better legs, in all manners, was sent up on a reconnaissance mission to see if we could eat up there. And sure enough at the front of what is beach parking in normal times, was a lovely large veranda with clear glass half walls and two concrete small round picnic tables and not a soul for miles and miles. Some potted plants here and there and an ocean view that took your breath away.  What a find amidst the lockdown and the constant same four walls. Now while I am not one to see fomites around every corner and under every bed, I do make it my business to go out with the supplies of a MASH unit these days.  Between the two of us, we had masks, kitchen gloves, Clorox wipes, regular wipes, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and plastic bags.  We could perform surgery if needed.  We commenced to wiping down anything we will touch. No one had been here for awhile and I’m not of the ilk to think the virus can fly through air for miles, land on a table and live there for weeks and neither was my friend. Having a sane brother for a doctor helps.  What a view we had. What a day we had.  This was in the beginning when it was easy to forget the quarantine and all its accouterments, when it still seemed like a temporary and quick inconvenience.  We ate our delicious pizza and salad, soaked in the sun and the beautiful ocean breezes and were ready to go back into lockdown.

When I got home, I inspected my new pink-papered toilet paper whose name was Cascade, a brand I had never seen before. I checked for the markings and lo and behold this paper was from Canada.  So now my new toilet paper collection was complete. I had some nice industrial size from the liquor store, some fine Chinese specialty toilet paper from EBay and now I added the pretty in pink Canadian paper from Malibu to the assortment.   All in all a good haul until the day that Scott returns to the shelves for good.

image

TWO PLUS TWO EQUALS DO RE MI

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Music is math. That’s what our teacher said on our first night of volunteer choir practice. No wonder I can’t sing. I never passed Algebra. And so began my first night as a tenor for the University of Southern California brain research choir. Judging by how annoyed a few of the other volunteers were to find out we were not getting paid $20 dollars an hour, I may be a soloist before long. But I digress. I like research and focus groups. They are fun and pay reasonably well. This one looked pretty darn good on paper. I enrolled in the School of Gerontology at USC as a specimen not a student. The first research project offered involved sticking my head in an MRI machine for an hour and half and playing games while in there. No, thank you, I said, but do keep me in your database for when the project doesn’t involve torture. A week later I got a call from Sara in Professor Habibi’s office asking if I would be interested in a research group on the study of music on old people’s brain and ears. Right up my alley! I have a brain and ears and I’m old.   The Email said they would Uber me there and pay 20 bucks an hour for this 15-week project. Whoa!! Cha-ching, the mother load of making a living as a guinea pig! They sent an Uber for me the following Monday. I don’t like Uber. I rarely take one, as I don’t like holding on for dear life as a passenger. I much prefer being in the driver’s seat and having my passengers hold on for dear life.

The three-hour assessment that day was fun. It was done by the same Sara, a recent college grad from Chicago who worked in the USC School of Gerontology research department and Amita, a volunteer/slash singer in a restaurant band doing this for credits to get accepted into the Masters program. I got to sit in one of  those nifty hearing test booths and squeeze the buzzer when I thought I heard sounds. I always give a few extra squeezes, even when I don’t hear anything, in case I am actually going deaf and because I hate to fail any kind of test. I also had to do all sorts of memory tests like count backwards by seven and repeat words back to them an hour later. I seemed to be doing well. They appeared to like my results. At some point the chatter turned to the nuts and bolts of this project.   There were to be two control groups. One group would get CDs for 12 weeks to take home and listen to them for three hours a week. The other group would come to Cammilleri Hall on the campus of USC and sing in a choir for two hours every Monday night. Now it seemed to me that only this second group was going to get paid. That hope was dashed when I actually asked. Apparently, only the first assessment and the last session to record your brain results involved the cash. O boy. Well, I certainly couldn’t look like I was a research project gold digger, so with the least dejected voice I could muster, I agreed to do it.     Don’t put me in the choir please, I pleaded, or there will be major damage to the brain and hearing of the other volunteers. I cannot sing. I love music. I took piano lessons from Sister Agnita in the basement of St. Francis Xavier Convent when I was in the fourth grade. I can read music, albeit really slowly, but I simply cannot sing worth a damn. It’s just the way it is. So home I went with my Uber driver to await my music research fate.

Now, I know I asked if we would get Ubered on Monday nights and Slick Sister Sara I’m sure, nodded in the most ambiguous of ways. The kind where the recipient’s brain is always going to go for what they want to hear and believe. And this brain is no exception. I got the Email a few weeks later and guess what, I got put into the choir control group. Who says those girls don’t have a sense of humor? I asked her what time Uber would pick me up. What Uber, Shyster Sara asks? The one that is now supposed to take me to USC every Monday night for 12 weeks. She giggles and says, we can’t afford anything like that, but we‘ll pay for parking and tell you what, I’ll even get you ten bucks for gas. Dejected and deflated, I still agree to be part of it, because now I am determined she think I am doing this for the good of mankind and not the easy cash.

We arrive at Cammilletti Hall, (why does this make me think that Cher’s old boyfriend donated this auditorium) 27 of us, and just like every school dance you can think of and a night of Match.com surfing, there are way more women (17) than men (10). Our teacher is adorable Andrew, a student going for his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Music. I find out we are not a choir. We are a choral. There is also a pianist named Barry on an absolutely gorgeous black shiny grand piano. We start out with a lecture and a website where we now have to do homework each week. It’s called musictheory.net and it’s free and there are exercises where your screen (computer, tablet or phone) turns into a piano and you hit the key with the actual alphabetized notes on it that matches the round black floating ones on the scale. If you get it right, it plays the note. No need to actually learn these on one of the two real electric pianos I happen to have in my garage. Then it’s all sorts of voice and body part pushing exercises and Adam’s apple touching and humming and it goes on and on.

Next cute Professor Andrew is going to bravely figure out how to actually separate us into the four parts of a choral; alto, soprano, tenor and bass.   He has the men sing together first and proclaims them all to be the bass section. No surprise there. The women are trickier. He gives them something higher to sing and separates them all quite easily. Then he comes to me. Was that too high for you, he asks? Ah yeah, can I be with the bass guys, please. Nope, we have a tenor he says and the lady next to me, who also must have smoked her way from a soprano to an almost bass, is a tenor with me. I truly suspected it was because I am Italian and chubby that I’m a tenor, not for any real singing ability. Now we all have to move to our proper choral places, which for me means crawling up the damn stairs to the fifth row from my comfy first row seat that I got by playing the old and crippled card.

We are now ready to learn how to sing by reading sheet music. I must confess this part was pretty cool. Humor me, but I never really thought about the fact that a voice could be like an instrument and you could actually read sheet music and sing. I just thought singers followed whatever instruments they were singing with or made it up. The songbook itself we were given, well, let’s just say no one other than the songwriter and maybe his mother had ever heard of these songs other than the one from the movie/play Oliver. Of course, it would be the one play I have never seen.   So we go over singing these together and in our individual groups. This teacher is no dummy. He did a really smart thing. He brought in four of his post grad students to be part of each of the choral groups. This way they can sing really loud and drown the rest of us out. It worked beautifully and I got to do my Milli Vanilli impression.  The soprano girl singer- not mob moll- could hold a note into next Tuesday. It was amazing. So we sang and sang and one song, “I Believe” I even managed to go find on YouTube. Apparently, this was a song sang by the Russian Red Army on some death march. Little did they know they were also perfecting choral vocal exercises at the same time.

I went maybe twice more, enough for a hilarious one on one night with Professor Andrew and the great piano player. He said things like push out your stomach when you sing and I said things like I’ve spent my whole life sucking it in, now you want me to push it out. Things like that. After that, I got lazy and tired and the schlep to USC was just too much for me. They called me several times, pleading with me to come back. Why on earth would they want that kind of torture, I wondered? Research is a numbers game, and I guess I wasn’t the only one that bailed on them, but must have seemed the most likely they could sucker back in. I wonder how it all turned out. I hope it went well. They were such nice people. Well, maybe except the very bitter USC employee they dragged in after a bunch of folks left, who did nothing but complain about the fact that neither of her kids wanted to go to USC for free. Yes, we all felt very sorry for her.  Even the free donuts couldn’t cheer her up. So I guess music IS math, cause I failed this one too.

Desolation Row Redux

Tags

, , ,

They’re selling post cards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown. The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town….

That is the opening verse of both my favorite Bob Dylan song and my favorite song ever. You know how when you meet someone new you ask “Dylan, yes or no?” to gauge the level of potential? OK well maybe not everyone uses this as the litmus test to friendly compatibility.   Don’t misunderstand, there are many here among us whom I adore and are not Dylan fans. I just don’t adore them as much.

I had a writing mentor, Duck. His real name was Donald and if you have to ask why I gave him that moniker perhaps you need to spend less time reading blogs and more time watching Saturday morning cartoons. Early on I asked Duck if he liked Dylan. He did. Your favorite song? You go first. Like a Rolling Stone, he says. AMATEUR I think!! Everyone and their mother likes that song, even those who have no clue who sang it. I tell him mine is Desolation Row. Good choice, he says. I understand why you like it but have you actually been there? Yes, I have and I really loved it there. Tell me what it looked and felt like, he said. That’s why he was such a cool writing mentor and so I do…

It’s sultry first and foremost. The streets are dirt filled and brindled like an old European or Mexican town, sepia streaked and tiny.  The buildings are adobe like and beige and burnt orange and sand color. It’s warm, not tropical warm like Hawaii, not totally humid like Florida but not dry like Palm Desert either. It’s a perfect mix of moist and arid- you can feel the air on your skin like a warm sensuous blanket.  The characters’ clothes are so colorful. They are the most brilliant reds, and oranges, and purples and blues the likes of which you can’t ever see anywhere else.  Cinderella is half tatters, half ball gown!  The whole place is alive with such a festive, carnival like atmosphere, but nothing is cliche or something you have ever seen before.

I imagine myself at the window of a wonderful room- a kitchen- without shutters and windows, no screens, like those in my house in Italy and I am leaning out and looking down at all these amazing people in the street below.  It makes me so happy to see them.  I don’t know who I am with though, I don’t have a clear sense of a man with me, more like a shadow of someone with me at the window.  I can see every character in the song and I can see what they are doing and it’s not sad at all. It’s unique and fascinating and interesting and there is nothing banal or mundane about any of the lives here. And that I guess is what draws me in the most. I abhor boring and no one here is!

A short writing exercise for a song I haven’t heard in years actually. I sought Duck’s counsel on the art, the craft and the business of writing. He gave me advice and then I did exactly as I pleased. He would shake his head and dispenses such keen observations like ‘ you’re completely bananas’ but stayed my mentor for a while. Duck was priceless as a mentor. I mean that literally-he was price less. He mentored me for free. His way of giving back he says. Duck supported three teenagers with his writing many years ago. He was also quite an accomplished sax player for many bands, many years ago. As a fledgling writer, I was lucky to have had his time and patience.

Back to Desolation Row. I only wish. I had not heard the song in a long time. Too busy with the new Beyonce records, I guess. A short upcoming road trip with a friend at the time led me to the song again. The day before, I wanted to hear Desolation Row again. I went to download it and what??? You can’t download just one song from Highway 61, the album it appeared on. You have to download the entire album. Good thinking, Bob’s people. Now don’t tell me I’m not a good patron of the arts. Rather than walk across my backyard and get Highway 61 on vinyl, cassette or CD from my living room (and I am sure if I looked hard enough I could find it on 8 track) I just paid the $8.99 and downloaded it. I didn’t know this newly minted friend all that well. On our trip east to the far reaches of Monrovia, a tiny town near Pasadena, I told her what my favorite Bob song was and as luck or providence would have it she adored the song just as much as I. A friendship born in mutual musical taste needs no other commonality really. Song in hand, we sang our little hearts out to Desolation Row in a syllable soaked contest of which that song has plenty at eleven minutes and twenty seconds. I won by a preposition, a victory I never let her forget. Since the day I heard that song all those decades ago, I’ve always thought that everything you needed to know about life was contained in those ten verses. I still do.

17 Minutes?

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

A last midnight glance at the social media sites said Bob Dylan had released a new 17-minute song just now. 17 Minutes? Really? I had better listen to it in the morning with not so tired ears. A morning call on other matters and then a text from a friend asking if I heard the new song, “Murder Most Foul”, woke me up well before my new pandemic rising time of 11am. I’m up now, might as well listen and listen I did.   The clarity of the words is what struck me first. As if it was important that every word be annunciated so there could be no misunderstanding. The second thought was how honored Nick Cave will be when he hears it, as Dylan sounds a bit like Nick Cave now, although I’m sure it started as the other way around.

In this time of Coronavirus sequestration, I have not taken up cooking or cleaning or filling my time with boredom. Instead, I’ve wandered through the lives of a few 19th Century poets. I am not actually reading the poems of Emily or Tennyson, or Blake or Keats yet. My interest is in their worlds. What made them tick? What were commonalities in their lives? What were the temperaments and circumstances that led them to devote themselves to the written word this way? And who drops down into the middle of this reading, but the man many consider to be the greatest poet of the 20th century and beyond-Bob and his new epic poem.   I don’t really see it as a song.   While the strings and piano provide a beautiful backdrop, these weavings of words and ideas would have withstood bagpipes and a kazoo.

Logophile. A lover of words. A word I learned a week or so ago. Not only a lover of the meaning but the sound of words strung together like the finest of violins.  And there are not many logophiles more maestro than Dylan. Like a perfectly punctuated puzzle, he pieces together words to give you an observation or a thought or an idea that never existed before, that soars or saddens you and sometimes does both at the same time.   Tennyson said, and I paraphrase from spotty memory, the artist can never be in society. The artist can only observe society. And Bob has certainly achieved the accolade of one of the keenest eyes we have had these past six decades.

Halfway between here and the incident, I became obsessed with this murder most foul. I tracked down every book that was written about it from the conspiracy point of view. There was no Internet, no Google, just one book that mentioned another and that book mentioned another. And then appeared the name of the book that allegedly solved the case. I found the only available copy of this small paperback written by one of the shooters in an obscure library through tenacious trickery and not much else. Fiction is never removed from the shelves, but truth often has to fight for its space. A few years later, I disbanded these thoughts when I became a mother. Parenting causes enough paranoia without adding conspiracy theories into the mix. And anyway, the fires of conspiracy burn best and brightest in youth. Today, when my 18-year-old son tells me that this pandemic is a political plot to topple the Trump regime, I merely shrug my shoulders and say “ Who Knows?”   The truth of some things may never be known, but the impact always will.

Bob takes me back in “Murder Most Foul’ to what was my main conspiracy theory for many years, masterfully dispersing the details and images of that day in and out among what came after in pop culture. How profound and how timely this poem is for his patrons and his peers with this current corona devastation aimed right at them. For one brief minute today, I like to think he stopped the COVID headlines in their tracks, as all the news conduits proclaimed this new Dylan song after an eight-year hiatus. Has it been that long? I don’t keep that much track, honestly. Bob like your God, your Higher Power, your warlock or your witch comes to you when needed most. To a 10 year old girl, confused and saddened by a senseless TV war came “Like A Rolling Stone” through the AM radio airwaves. Anthems always delight no matter what they say. To the 18-year-old poetess on training wheels, came “Blood On The Tracks” and by year’s end, she lived every verse or imagined she did. And it’s only fitting that today he speaks to his contemporaries about another tragedy that defined their lives all those decades ago. It speaks to hope and failure in a kaleidoscope of musical and popular references of that decade. But most of all it speaks to survival. His generation has been defined by the Kennedy tragedy the same as the millennials have been defined by 9/11.  He reminds his generation to take the good with the bad, but points a finger at some of the bad still here without actually pointing fingers.

Possession is nine tenths of the Dylan fan law. He gives both communion and community. To his most faithful, they come in solitary listening to receive the word and the balm that will help each of them heal their harm. Their communion with Dylan, the host, is private, personal and possessive. But then communion turns to community and they share themselves with kindred spirits. This happens all over the world. In my tiny corner, it happens once very May where about five hundred of the faithful gather for a day of non stop Bob Dylan music performed by some fifty odd brilliant musicians. Not too many artists are paid this kind of homage.

Many write and many sing but only a precious few really say anything. Some will love this new poem, but won’t understand it. Some will hate it because they understand it too well. But O the joy for those who will both love and understand it. This is Dylan’s latest, and many, I imagine, may think his greatest. Will it be his last? Who knows?   For now, let’s listen to it, let’s read it and let’s let the tears of hope and sadness flow.

 

 

 

 

The Christmases They Are A Changing

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes Christmas is about letting go. Sometimes it is about finding new traditions amidst the strewn memories at our feet. Sometimes the changes are forced on us. Sometimes we seek them and sometimes they simply seek us.   The decorating on my part has been sorely lacking this year. What was I waiting for? What was I running from? I was outdoor Christmas lights ambivalent this year, a task fallen to my younger more mechanically inclined son since his father moved away in the divorce a few years ago. My past two years of badgering him to get the lights done as if his continuing this tradition would somehow lessen their Christmas pain of Christmas pasts. This year I said not a word. It did not matter to me if it got done or not. I could simply join the rest of the lightless homes on our street. And there are many. I left it totally up to his 18 year old self. He did the backyard first as it is his favorite. He added a few new things to make it his own. His Dad arrived early this year and so he scrambled the next night to get it done, a subtle sign to show he’s doing fine. Or just the usual procrastination that plagues teenagers, the olders and everyone in between it seems. I was glad I let those lights spring from his desire and not from some demented nagging on my part to get them up. I was glad he chose the beauty of Christmas lights and all that shines for him and us.

The tree is still not up this year. It’s another one of those past traditions that I seem to find the easiest morsel of resistance in and hang on to it with a death grip. It’s the 19th and Christmas is but a few days away. Maybe I simply don’t care for my newfound parent of young adult experience of going to the Christmas tree lot alone. I did it for several years now and this new tradition gets no merrier with age. The decorations are another thing to meddle with my Christmas ambiguity. It’s taken me weeks to complete the chore that once took a day or so to do. Whether it’s the physical aches and pains of my older self or the emotional aches and pains of my younger self, it is taking my mind a lot of time to wrap itself around the task. I had this one decoration, a fake little snow covered tree on a board with a tiny little house in the woods and deer and birds for decorations. It was kept on a little table in the dining/den as the main tree sits in the living room. When I took it out of the box the other day, it broke into three pieces.   That simple act of forced decoration alteration made me happy. It was as if this gave me permission to decorate in any new way I pleased this year without the rigid submission of keeping things in tact in a way they no longer were. It was fresh holiday air flowing in that room at that moment. No more thought and agonizing as to what must stay where to continue something that no longer exists. I no longer ran from it but welcomed it with open arms.
Christmas traditions are often the gateways for transitions in one’s life.   We mark the passing of the torch from one generation to another when the first holiday arrives where an offspring takes over the hosting duties from the parent. This is often not something a mother welcomes at first.   How often I had heard this phrase, from mother and no doubt uttered by countless mothers across the continents handing off that reluctant baton: “I ask only one thing of my kids…” and I can complete that sentence so easily… “that they spend Christmas at my house.   I honored it for many years as best I could and how I wish she were still here so I could honor it some more. But I was not the sibling to who this transitory Christmas day dinner belonged. My mother acquiesced when the time came, albeit reluctantly at first. I was the sibling that lived far away so I simply went where time and transition dictated.  At first I, too, resisted the idea of a Christmas not at the familial house, but sometimes logistics and grandkids must rule the day.  It turns out fine in the end. They always do these new traditions that marching time turns out for us. We make new memories and new Christmas customs that carry us through until the next event or circumstance forces us to change again.

I, myself, welcome the change this year. A peaceful truce from the damage of divorce a few years ago has made their father join us again for the holidays here. I put up my Christmas decorations in places they have never been before and in an order not memorized from Christmas pasts. A visit from my in-laws after many years adds another new dimension to the day and I return to decorating the living room that I ignored the past two years in either deference or defiance of that divorce. I like the feeling of newness this year. I no longer feel afraid of leaving a few old traditions and decorations behind. I can look back now at all those Christmases with fondness and not longing for a time no longer here. I can mix my traditions old and new together now without regret or regard to maintaining the illusion of things long gone.

The theme of my Christmas home for now is adult children with no significant others and no small children to add that Christmas sparkle and twinkle as only a child on Christmas morning can. No matter how curmudgeonly kids get, on Christmas morning they are magic itself.   They come with their own age based transitions though. My two sons are four and a half years apart. A span like that renders Christmas mornings from both of them tugging you awake at 6am to open presents to one pre-teen wanting to sleep till noon and the other impatiently waiting for his brother to awake. And then, of course, there is the universal change from believing in Santa to unbeliever. I honestly do not remember how my kids discovered there was no Santa Clause. I surely did not tell them, as I would have them believe to this very day. Perhaps they peeked when sleep wouldn’t come and saw us and their Grandma and aunts and uncles hauling the loot under the tree at midnight. I was a quantity not quality Christmas present mother. I will admit I wrapped a flashlight or two just to have more presents to open. I have no real recollection of Christmas in my own youth. We were five siblings to hardworking parents who were not showered with tons of gifts. Sometimes we give our children the things we think we wanted as children ourselves. My most memorable gift was the Barbie dollhouse my younger sister managed to break, in envy or in error, while I attended Christmas Mass with my mother.   Some events slip by and some set the tone for many years.

The day will come when my offspring will have to choose Christmas homes to spend their holidays at and I no doubt will find myself saying … I ask only one thing of my kids.   Perhaps I will be the one to enjoy the fruits of that request and perhaps not. But wherever future Christmases take me, I know that I can stir the old traditions in with the new and conjure up a brand new transition to the holiday at hand as long as I am with my sons and family somewhere.   To all those in transition this year, from fate or simply the ticking of time, enjoy your Christmas. May fortune smile upon you and may this Christmas be only one of many to come.   Merry Christmas to all and thank you for reading.

The Despair of An Empty Chair..Revisited

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

So much life and death has happened since I wrote this piece three years ago.  The resilience of the human spirit makes me happy, no, rather it makes me content.  Happiness doesn’t quite shine as brightly as contentment as one gets closer to the sunset further the sunrise.  Each has it’s own tribulations and rewards.  We wouldn’t be who we are without both.

We are heading towards a brand new Roaring 20’s and all of the possibilities of a new decade.  This piece still gives me a bit of solace as I hope it does yours.  To Granda Anita and Cousin Bruna..our newly minted empty chairs.  We celebrate how long they got to sit in them..   ENJOY!

Too many people missing from too many tables-this thought runs around my brain in an endless loop on Thanksgiving Day this year. Whether that empty chair is newly minted or the dust of emptiness is three inches thick, the temperature of grief can still be taken. We careen now towards the first anniversary of a particular empty chair once occupied by our friends’ and neighbors’ boy, AJ, the absolute worst of all the firsts.   I am, though, no closer to knowing the impact and the method of grief being employed by my two sons than I was on the day it occurred. The silence on the subject is steep. But who can say if this wall of silence is good or bad? There are so many ‘grief books’ as if a manual could provide a blueprint of how to handle the kaleidoscope of emotions or lack thereof that occurs after the loss of someone so close. Grief is singular in nature for many, I believe. It cannot become a group sport for everyone. There are those I suppose, who find solace in talking to perfect strangers about their loss. Others prefer to share that loss with a very few close people like spouses or siblings and yet there are those who can share their grief with no one.

Are any of these ways right or wrong? Not really. The only purpose served is when we attempt to gauge our grief against another’s.   I think there is a pecking order and hierarchy to grief displayed, with the parent or child or spouse of the deceased holding the head position of course. But what if that person at the head of the grief line doesn’t measure up to another’s preconceived notion of the requisite display of grief accorded to their status? Do we silently take our own grief measure? Are we displaying the appropriate amount for our position? Are they? All of this subtle as the slightest movement of an eye in those old horror movie paintings. Silent thoughts that creep at dawn when sleep won’t come.

Age, I imagine, plays a part in all of this. To lose people when we are very young renders us not well equipped at all to know the proper measure. Youth is adorned with such rabid insecurity juxtaposed against an overdose of immortality. How on earth can a teen or child or even a 20 something hope to cope with the stark reality when it’s a peer that passes and not a very old person whose passage is a continuum of life and not a horrible aberration.   Silent rage more the norm in this case alternating with numb denial. So when the topic of the anniversary of the death is broached with my son, it gets met with angry silence at me if not the question. Why are you talking about that, I am asked. I stay silent and don’t respond with why not? Instead I harken back to my youth and my experience with grief to try and understand, to try and measure his grief against a time of mine gone by.

My first exposure was so very young but perhaps that helps to define our coping mechanism. As an eight year old I returned to Italy to say goodbye to my maternal grandmother. I remembered her well and how devastated I was to leave her as a very small child going to America. I climbed up on the bed with her in her same house in Italy where I often visited my very first days. A week later I climbed up on the same bed to kiss her goodbye after she died. A few years later, four to be exact, my mother in her early 40s lost both a brother and a sister within a year of each other. A year before my birth her oldest sister and my namesake died at 36 years old. Grief grew in my home in those years since my grandmother’s death. Exposed very young I was to a mother who wore black for many months as was the custom according to the pecking order of the deaths. More for a parent, less for a sibling, six months here, a year there. It’s no wonder that when I became a teenager capable of choosing my own clothes that most of them were black and still are today, albeit more for the slimming quality of the color than for its mournful boast.

Another searing brush with grief on the first anniversary of my first marriage, a child bride at 22; 37 years ago to the day of this writing. My husband’s 24 year old brother dead from a mixture of drugs and alcohol. We never used the word overdose, such a poor connotation it had. A mixture is accidental of course and more palatable to the taste of grief this nightmare wrought.  Two closer siblings you would be hard pressed to find. The separation of their living together caused squarely by yours truly.   The talk was perhaps he could come to live with us soon. We never did find out what my answer was. We were children at 22 and 26, barely capable of navigating the waters of a new marriage let alone deal with the Titanic sized grief that came crashing into our lives. We could not share our grief. Those that can, stand a great chance to conquer it. It was subtle the thought that I was to blame for breaking this bond that the two had forged amongst the chards of fear and loss they suffered when their father died when they were so very young. Not so subtly I thought the fault was mine as well but came to resent the fact that he perhaps agreed. Not the best framework from which to share and support each other’s grief.

Three years into this grayness, I thought perhaps a change of scenery would do him good. I thought perhaps the balm that my homeland always offered me would lend itself to help mend his shattered heart and soul a bit. He agreed to the trip at first but when time was near he would not go. I was angry and afraid and torn. What should I do? I needed to go home. I needed to be with my parents and with my Italian family. It was six years and a lifetime ago that I had been there. The decision agonizingly came. I had to go alone. It became clear I could not save us both and so I chose to save myself.   Grief is a singular event. We truly never know the depth and the breadth of someone else’s no matter how compassionate we try to be. He told me the reason upon my return of why he could not go at the last minute. He pretended he said that his brother was not dead but simply on vacation in Italy and couldn’t face the thought of losing that bit of comfort that kept the insanity at bay. We lasted but a few more years, the torment too great; his, mine and ours.

A February day at a hotel in a seminar in Long Beach. The 12th exactly. Someone comes in and waives me out with such concern my blood goes cold. It’s a sister I think who tells me our father has died. I don’t comprehend it. I don’t accept it. This is a man whose spirit and wisdom and way of life should lend itself to near immortality or if not at least a 100 of those years. We move in a straight line forward. This is not an easy task. He is dead 3000 miles away. Airline tickets made for myself, my second husband and my 10 month old son. He was 83 when he passed in his favorite chair right before lunch. I smile at that recollection as I write this because that is a reward for a life well lived. I had talked to him just the night before. He said something to me very out of character. I feel like having a beer he said. I said have one then.   My dad was no drinker by any stretch of the imagination. I find a message and comfort in those last words to me. I can’t really explain why . At times I think back and I am saddened that I lived away from him for the last 11 years of his life.   He did come out to visit me in California a few times. He enjoyed it and I enjoyed all my summers in Italy with him and my mother that’s for certain. I do regret now and then not living near him for the entire time. I told my sons recently I won’t ever have you feel this type of regret. I will live wherever you both are. Not quite the comforting thought to teenagers as it is to a 50 year old. He is gone now 18 years and I think of him often. But the grief is not the same as experienced for one whose life is cut so short. I am happy for the longevity he enjoyed and the great health he had till the very end. It was much easier for me I imagine losing him after living so far away for so many years. The loss was much harder for my siblings who saw him so frequently and for which he was much more a part of the fabric of their everyday life. I believe that weaves itself into the grief endured. His death also marked the passage of so many of my parents’ peer group: cousins, sister, brother in law and on and on. It seemed for awhile they would all be gone. All the adults I grew up with in both the Bronx and Italy.

The quintessential death that makes you a true orphan, however, is that of your mother.   There is nothing like this loss. The feeling that the one person in the entire world who you could count on, who loved you truly unconditionally, who would save you from anything and help you with anything is gone.   It’s like you are drifting all of sudden and the seas are choppy and there is no guarantee any more of anything let alone a safe voyage to the shore. My mother suffered her way to death. She was so ill in the hospital at the end and I was so helpless and I was so afraid to go back to New York and see her. I had this feeling that if I did she would let go and so I postponed and postponed and she felt the same way I knew. She would say you don’t need to come.   But then the night came when I talked to her last on the phone and she said please come and I knew and she knew and I asked her to please wait for me and she couldn’t. I got on the plane with my two small sons ten years ago next week and an hour or so after we took off my husband at home in Los Angeles got the call that she passed. We landed at 5:30am and got the news. Not having lived near her either for the past 18 years of her life also saddened me a bit but she came to visit every year after my father passed away and my sons got to enjoy a lot of time with her. I treasure the fact that she lived with me for a month or so each year. I think we got to share things in a different way than just a meal each week or like that if I had lived near her. Who knows? Retrospection is wonderful in it’s lack of fact. Grief comes with no manual and no set time frame but come it will to everyone eventually.

NEXT DOOR

Tags

, ,

NEXT DOOR.  Some well meaning internet inventor said to himself one day, what can I do to stem the tide of social media deteriorating the ability of humans to interact as well, humans. I know, I’ll invent a new website so that neighbors never have to leave their swivel chairs to talk to other people living on the same block. Great idea. So now when those sirens are blaring and tires are screeching and you hear metal twisting into metal, you no longer have to walk to the corner to see who’s dead. You can just get on NEXT DOOR and type “Hey, anybody know what that noise is on the corner of Artesia and Yukon?” And get replies like, “Not sure, could be an accident” or “Maybe the circus was in town and one of the elephants got loose and smashed into a car, yuck yuck”.  “Could happen”, chimes in Floyd from Dublin. DUBLIN? Really? I have been living in North Torrance for 30 years, and there has never been a neighborhood called “Dublin’ until NEXT DOOR. Did I miss another potato famine? And the comments go on and on speculating about what happened. And not one, not one of these people, not even the ones living on the corner of Artesia and Yukon who could have just got up and opened the blinds and looked out their window can tell you what happened.  Two days and two hundred comments later and I go to the Daily Breeze- where the news used to belong- to find out what happened.

I am reasonably sure that the person who invented NEXT DOOR had a best friend or maybe a college roommate who invented RING. You know, that camera with the quality of an old disposable Kodak that you can hang on your front door and sleep soundly at night knowing your house is protected with its own virtual SWAT team? That is, until a cat walks across your porch at 3am and RING starts screaming at you that you are under attack so go check your front door. But when an actual human, who may have nefarious intentions walks up to your door, you get a video of a gray blob with eyebrows that you will never be able to pick out in a police lineup. My kids want RING and surveillance cameras now. My younger one insisting we need it, cause who knows who is going to storm the new studio he has. No, I say, if I have to live with security cameras, I will move first and sonny boy, if you are doing anything out there that is going to attract criminals, stop it. In my 62 years I have never known anyone whose house was robbed other than one person who left his doors wide open at 2am and went out for a burger or something. Might as well have put a sign on the corner, saying, ‘robbers this way’. Nope, I will not ever put surveillance cameras at my house, I say, to which my older son replied, “Really, what are YOU doing that you don’t want cameras here?” Let’s move on.

I particularly like the gunshot versus firecracker debate. It’s 3am on a Saturday night in December. You live four blocks from some of the biggest illegal gun dealers in Gardena, take a guess what it is. But no, the debate rages on. I hope it was a firecracker. This from Earl. Well, what else could it be? This from Ursula who actually lives on the same block as the gun dealers. I want to visit one of those gun dealers right about now.

Then there are the NEXT DOOR political debates. Nothing like a coyote sighting to make neighbors debate politics. Before NEXT DOOR, I never knew there were coyotes in our neighborhood and frankly, I could have gone to my grave without that piece of information. I love the ‘Hey, somebody is chasing a coyote down Van Ness Avenue” type posts. How is that even physically possible, when the only people who even KNOW the coyote is on Van Ness are sitting at their computers on NEXT DOOR!! And these posts always devolve into a political slugfest.   Damn those Democrats, allowing the coyotes to come to the city and get free food by eating our cats and dogs and not earning the food like they should be. And then the rebuttal; damn those Republicans wanting to make those coyotes pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the wilderness and get food via the survival of the fittest, eating of smaller, weaker coyotes method. It never ends. I was so much happier when I thought all the rabid liberals lived in North Torrance and all the ultra conservatives lived in South Torrance.   As a PTA President for eight years in this neighborhood, I also have the unfortunate pleasure of recognizing a lot of the NEXT DOOR names and knowing first hand the person is an idiot. O look, Mary Jo’s crazy mother is commenting and to quote Paul Simon, she’s still crazy after all these years.   I was happier when I didn’t know how many abject morons lived in my neighborhood.

The most fascinating thing about NEXT DOOR, though, is you never know what subject is going to get everyone up in arms. And it’s never what you think. It’s never the coyotes, nor the fact we are being robbed every five minutes. It’s things like “The Malevolent Mailmen” and “The Vodka Lady” that can keep the comments coming.

One day, someone’s RING – and I use the word loosely- camera caught a mailman pulling into her driveway with the little mail truck and throwing her package on to her porch. He never got out of the mail truck. Just hurled the package right out the truck window. My God, the furor this caused. People debated what to do about this rogue civil servant. Call his boss? Go down and report him to the Postmaster General? Behead him?  It went on and on. Sometimes I can’t resist. So I commented that a good friend of mine is a high level supervisor with the Postal Service and the law is that if you do not write FRAGILE or HANDLE WITH CARE or DON’T THROW THIS PACKAGE OUT THE WINDOW on it , according to Postal regulations, mailmen are within their rights to just chuck it out the window. I was thanked for clearing that up by a few people. I still chuckle.

Then there is the Vodka Lady. Follow closely. There is apparently a woman who goes to the liquor store and buys lots of those little airplane size vodka bottles, drinks them in the street and then leaves a trail of these like a drunken Gretel sans Hansel, all along a walkway into a cul de sac and onto some lawns in that cul de sac. And someone suggests, perhaps, just perhaps, that she is an alcoholic and doesn’t want her family to know she drinks. And this is pondered and debated for a while. And then a plan is hatched and the villagers with their RING cameras and torches decide to collect the bottles for a few weeks and dump them on her lawn. What? No, we can’t , say the cooler heads that prevail. There is a rumor of a possible abusive husband who no one here has actually ever seen who could then find out she drinks if that plan is carried out.   The thought that maybe the husband is a bit perturbed because his wife is a raging alcoholic doesn’t seem to cross their comments or minds. And so the virtual hand wringing continues. What to do? What to do? Talk to her, someone timidly suggests. She used to throw cigarette butts on my lawn and I asked her to stop and she did, they say. Well, why didn’t you include vodka bottles in that conversation, genius? And it goes on and on. By this time, I have polished off a fifth of vodka myself and threw the bottle at my computer. This is a fresh story folks, I know not the outcome but I do have an update. There is still division amongst the commenters between just putting out a trash can for her or talking to her and seeing what the problem is because and I quote, “people sometimes do things when drunk that they wouldn’t do when sober.” I’ll continue to keep an eye on the developments here.

And finally, the ever popular, “does anyone know why there is a helicopter flying overhead?”   Now mind you, there are helicopters in this North Torrance/Gardena neighborhood every night of the week. The only thing that changes is on Friday and Saturday nights it ramps up to the equivalent of the opening credits of the old TV show MASH. Our neighborhood has changed drastically in the past several years. The real title of that movie was Straight Outta Compton and into Gardena.   I have been so tempted to do a post that asks,” Hey, anyone know why there are no helicopters flying overhead today?” But I’m also too afraid of the comments. Well there you have it, folks, a website that gives new meaning to the old saying “too much information”. So if you really want to know how badly your neighborhood has deteriorated or just how nutty your neighbors can be, get yourself a RING camera and sign up for NEXT DOOR.

 

AND IT’S JUST SATURDAY…

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PRESCRIPT

A few months back, I came across a want ad for a writer to contribute to a new online magazine about going out and about in Los Angeles. I could do that, I thought. I go out and about in L.A. all the time since I retired. But I was too lazy to actually apply for the job, because I am too tired from going out and about in L.A. all the time. An East Coast work ethic rarely plays well on the West Coast, so I spend a lot of time pretending to look for work. It’s a perk of retirement. You don’t actually have to find the job. I wrote this piece as my job application.   I am never too lazy to share it with you, though. Thank you for reading and if you start an online magazine about going out and about in L.A. give me a holler…

I spend so much time at the theaters in Los Angeles, that I rarely even check anymore what it is we are going to see. My main partner in theatrical crime, Sandi, takes not knowing what a play is about to new heights. If I even try and tell her what we are going to be seeing, she just covers her ears. She says her cellphone calendar thingy automatically fills in “Maddie play” if she even types the word. No titles, no need.

My personal best so far is “Come From Away”. It has become such a beloved and popular Tony award winner that they are making a movie version of it. You can imagine my surprise, as I settled into my ridiculously low priced Ahmanson first row mezzanine seat courtesy of Center Theater Group who likes me more than most people I know, when instead of hearing the opening bars of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, there were people in Nova Scotia looking for planes to land on 9/11. What? No USO scene with Army girls in those cute uniforms they wore back in the war? Not a clue about the genesis of that synopsis.

The surprise is often so much better though. Take the other night, for instance. A text last week from a friend included two plays that I thought she wanted to see. So I do what I do best; immediately get the tickets, send out invites to a few of my theater posse that I think would be interested, tell them the time to be at my house and then drive us to the show. I am the worst passenger in the world, so driving is always me. I happen to love it. My passengers not so much, hence the coin flipping to see who gets to sit in the backseat.   Tonight we were seeing a play call “We Should Hangout Sometime”.

We got to the Santa Monica Playhouse, a great little theater on 4th Street and Arizona, that rarely disappoints in its productions and I still haven’t paid a lot of attention to what the play is about. A lovely girl having dinner at the check in table, checks us in and we buy a glass of wine and a snack. This night the theater peeps were my friend, Robin, who had suggested it and one of my regular theater gal pals, Patty. Robin was a bit squeamish about this play and tells me now she hadn’t necessarily wanted to see it. Huh? Well, apparently I speed read through that text, didn’t I?

The play was a one-man show by a 30 year old named Josh Sundquist who lost his entire leg to cancer as a 5 year old.   He wrote a few books including one with the title of this play.   We know not what to expect. He comes hopping out, literally, on his one leg and his crutches. No prosthesis or prostate for him. You have to go see the play to get that joke. For an hour and a half, this brilliant, hilarious, witty, charming, engaging young man regaled us with his dating tales going back to middle school, along with a few tidbits about his life. I spend a lot of time at the theater, both big and small here in Los Angeles, and I cannot remember the last play that was this entertaining and uplifting and just plain fun to watch. My theater partners agreed. He engages with the audience with a masterful ease.   But along with the jokes, the sometimes gallows humor and the self-deprecating excellence, was mixed some pretty darn good life lessons. The poignancy and heart sharing of those lessons was pure perfection. The play is staged by he and his wife, the darling girl in the red and white polka dot dress who checked us in and gave us wine. Josh’s talent won’t be long for a theater this tiny, the Netflix monster has already swooped in to take it away, so go see it as soon as you can, while you still can. A ticket discounted to $15 on Goldstar is an obscenely cheap amount for this massive level of entertainment.   See Josh, say hello to Ashley and tell them Maddie sent you.

That was Friday night. Thursday afternoon, I had scheduled a field trip for fellow retiree and gal pal Patty to go to the Marciano Art Foundation. The perks of slaving for the Federal government for decades of your life is you get to retire very early and play till you drop, which is exactly what we intend to do. The exhibit we went for was Yayoi Kusama’s polka dot room (not even close to the formal name of the exhibit). That was the picture that caught my eye for this place.   What we found was a hidden gem on Wilshire Boulevard in the Windsor Park area of Los Angeles. I did not even know there was such a section of the city with such a fancy name. This gallery was housed in a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple built in 1961. Two brothers, Paul and Maurice Marciano, bought and transformed it into a spectacular modern art gallery space.   They kept all relics and memorabilia of this Freemasonship and turned them into a permanent exhibit on the third floor. What fascinating objects relating to the Masons in Los Angeles going back decades. There are hats, lots of them, and clothing and books and registers and all sorts of Masonic stuff there.

The best surprise was the exhibit by an artist and activist named Ai WeiWei. He is Chinese and lives in Berlin. I am at a loss to explain this tremendously unique art of his.   It’s flying mache animals and bamboo intricate sculptures. It must be seen to truly be believed. When you enter this cavernous space with concrete ceiling and floor and before you get to the exhibit at the far end, you see what on first glance looks like two huge carpets. But you cannot walk on them as there are docents placed at each corner. Upon closer inspection you see the first “rug’ is made of what appears to be sunflower seeds.  They are ceramic sunflower seeds that were glued together by 1600 Chinese women. It’s amazing. The next ‘carpet’ is piles and piles of ceramic teapot spouts.   These actually date back to the Song Dynasty in China in the 1600s. They are all glued together to form an incredible carpet. It is the first time this exhibit is being shown in the United States. It is glorious to behold. The inscriptions Ai chose to put around the main exhibit were terrific as well. From the Bible, to Socrates, to a 21st century writer, the sentiments are so necessary and profound.

There are so many wonderful and quirky works of art in this museum that it would take all day to explain. There was a photo exhibit by a photographer named Catherine Opie who spent the last months of Elizabeth Taylor’s life at her home in Bel Air without ever meeting Liz. Her exhibit is pictures and pictures of Liz’s things. They are not staged, beautiful things either, but photos of the banged up boxes that her baubles and beads and massively expensive diamonds traveled in. Her bookshelf with the awards. Pictures of her and Richard. Her closet. It was the loveliness of looking at things we don’t usually see that I liked the most about this piece.

The building outside remains the same and is just white and pretty as is the neighborhood. It has a great little café attached and a bookstore. I had the pleasure of finding a pin there that said “Well Read”. I then had to buy a book so the cashier wouldn’t think I was false advertising. “Astrology, Alchemy and Magic in the Arts” was a book that beckoned the entire time I was browsing. I never ignore a beckoning book. We went for the fascinating polka dots and stayed for the delightful surprises this gallery had for us. I am sure to return.

Saturday and back to music. A thereminly musical treat. Once a month, two ambitious music teachers turned local power pop record moguls bring that community together at Joe’s Great American Bar and Grill in beautiful downtown Burbank. For the price of no admission fee, you get four bands in that rather jangly pop genre from far and wide. I don’t get there as often as I like, but I try never to miss the Fresno Big Stir contingent that is Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. They are always a pleasure to see and hear with their massive puppet head that dances around on one person or another each time. My favorite part is watching Blake play the Theremin, an instrument you most certainly don’t get to see played much, let alone in a local roadhouse on a Saturday afternoon.

The night was velvetly capped with a last minute invite to dear lady Jean’s house to welcome back dear lady Sue from Tennessee. These two, along with two more kindred musical spirits, Nancy and Kathleen, made for a lively dinner of beef stew, wine and wonderful conversation. Not to mention the decadently delicious Torrance Bakery macaroons and maple and chocolate chip cookies brought by Kathleen to tempt us all. A pleasant end for me after that ride from Burbank to Hermosa Beach, where everyone it seemed had a need to smack into each other on the road.

Sunday began with Sandi coming down with a horrible headache that kept her from joining us to see the second play that Robin had requested. When she asked to see both plays, little did she know I would make them weekend bookends. An early dinner at Osteria Mamma on Melrose kicked off the end of this whirlwind weekend. I had only been once before, but what an Italian food treasure this place is. Having been born in Italy and raised in New York, my main pet peeve for over thirty years here is lack of great Italian food. Well, I complain no more after finding Osteria Mamma. I can’t remember when I had that much difficulty deciding what to order because of the sheer magnitude of magnificent choices. We settled on crostini with burrata, prosciutto and black truffles. It was sensational. We followed that with Carpaccio for me; one of my favorite meals that I rarely miss a chance of having a good version of and this place delivered. Robin ordered the veal which I had never seen done like this. They took a veal chop, smashed it down to the thickness of a cutlet and then breaded and fried it like a veal cutlet with the bone attached. Delicious, albeit a bit weird looking. We shared that along with finely roasted potatoes and some green beans.   A carafe of the house red and we were well satiated and ready for our play.

Brilliant Traces at the Lounge Theater in Hollywood, is a two character play set in a remote cabin in Alaska where a man lives in solitude shattered by this runaway bride from Arizona who gets cold feet and then places those feet on the gas pedal of her car and drives 3000 miles only to get stuck in a massive white out snow storm near his cabin.   They spar, they circle each other, they tell each other their secrets and their pain. At the end she falls, he catches her. The End. There was some cliché inevitability to this and I think in the hands of less competent actors, it would have been tedious, but these two were fun to watch. Her lunacy was endearing even when she jumped up and down and screamed. You rooted for him to find happiness again from the start. They did and so did we. This play cost us a whopping $18.

Los Angeles is a great arts town and if you learn to navigate it well, you can see so much great theater and art for so small a price. Well that’s the end to my whirling dervish, fear of being bored, weekend. Have a happy week and go see something LIVE. It is so good for you!

 

Rock and Roll Fable… Revisited

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

All humans have a tendency to revisionist history. The reasons we do are vast and personal. We often rewrite history to mask some pain long ago or increase the memory of that pain. Sometimes we do it so that things we wished had happened now appear to have or vice versa.   It all depends on where we stand on the precipice looking back.   The thing I rewrite my history about the most is my writing. Since I’ve been writing in earnest only recently, my perch to my past pen has been that I have never shown anyone my writing before. That’s not exactly true. When I began writing as a teenager, it was only poems, albeit bad ones.   I often heard music when I wrote, but I’m tone deaf and can’t carry a tune, so at times those verses fell somewhere between a poem and a lyric. I never could get the song structure quite correct even after reading the Craft of Songwriting. Many of their lengths were very short and they all stayed firmly in the “poem I will show no one” realm. If I pull back the curtain of my revisionist history, I will see that I did show those poems to another person back then.   I was about 18 at the time and showed them to a guy I was sort of hanging with in 1975. He read a few and said, I think you are suicidal and I think you failed reading comprehension, was my reply. I was stunned by his reaction. I had never entertained a suicidal thought in my young teenage life.   How could my writing be so misconstrued, I thought.   His critique did nothing to inspire any writerly confidence, I can tell you that much. He ended up being the first and only one for several decades that I showed my writing to until the writing slowed to a crawl and prose was added in bits and pieces later on.   Even then I was just as scared of showing that side of my thoughts to anyone. I had gone through an entire marriage without then husband even knowing I wrote.

Today, that revisionist history of mine about showing people my writing in the past got altered a bit again.   I found a piece of prose I wrote somewhere between 1991-92, I think.  It has hand written grammatical corrections by the person I wrote it about. So I suppose one can infer that I actually showed my musician friend the piece I wrote at the time, tongue in cheek, about my frustration with my stint as his agent of sorts briefly back then.   I took the lark upon myself to send out promo packages to record labels for him. He is a singer/songwriter and had two self issued cassettes with his band and a host of other songs   This was the days of a glossy folder and even glossier photograph with a three song cassette stuck to the middle of said folder. There were no CDs yet released; no songs were being dropped, just a letter on my MBI International letterhead and a lot of cold calling to Artists & Repertoire guys at the record labels. I actually got through every now and then. Timing is always everything and it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. I did this for about a year perhaps, complete with one of the very first cell phones. It was larger than my handbag just about. The idea was, since I had a real job working for Customs on Terminal Island, I would get one of these new fangled cell phones so I could have a business number and I could take it to work with me everyday and not miss a phone call from the record labels. Good idea, huh? Except what I didn’t know when I got the phone was that my interior office had bunker like walls and no windows and back then cell service didn’t penetrate those kinds of walls.  It was a fun foray into the business of music, nevertheless.

I try not to revise my history too much. But we all do it. We all find it annoying and irritating when others do it, especially if we were witnesses to that history now revised. I like most of my history now viewed through a six-decade rear view mirror, even the parts that I didn’t like at the time. They provide a cherished patina and a protection now. So without revising the history at all of this piece of writing from long ago, I give you Rock and Roll Fable in its original form. No corrections, no revisions. History as it ought to be. True for the time.