NEXT DOOR

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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…

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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

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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.

Keef, Dr. Marlena and The Upstage

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So much for my writing 1000 words a day if I want to be a real writer. Here goes another shot. Full disclosure. I am doing this on an insomniapnea personal best of two and a half hours sleep. Bed by midnight, up by 2:30am, no off switch to brain for the rest of the night. So I figured I would just do what most people do at that hour of the night, browse Keith Richard’s Instagram page. No idea how I even got there, but it’s got the cute name of Officialkeef. I’ll admit it has been quite a while since I have seen Keef, but that “no more drinking” policy is about 20 years too late if you ask me. I know, I know, it’s the iconic Keith Richards; well he still looks like hell and boy what a page he has. Do we really want our music/movie icons to be taking bad selfie videos of themselves saying Happy New Year in their underwear, for God’s sake?   And then there is the video of him letting that annoying daughter of his interview him. That’s a secret he should have kept. What I did find really cool is a picture of his granddaughter, Ella Richards, wearing her grandmother Anita Pallenberg’s clothes in a Vogue ad. So all was not lost by this complete waste of my sleep time.

I am pretty sure I wasn’t woken up at 2am by a text from my friend, Sandi, who is in Amsterdam or Belgium right now. They both look the same to me. It was to tell me she had set off the alarm on her audio headset on some tour by touching a door. At least that’s what my 2am brain registered.   Not only does she need adult supervision, but she also needs one of those nifty watches with the different time zones on it.  So that just got me wondering, why on earth would audio headsets have alarms on them anyway?   Are people in museums known to go over and steal them off other people’s head? Now you see why I couldn’t get back to sleep. Those are questions that need to be pondered immediately.

Maybe I should also get one of those time zone watches for my nephew, Joey, in New York. At about 3am he came in with a text to thank me for the birthday text I had sent him three hours ago. May 29 is the favorite birth date of my family apparently, two nephews and a niece born on that day. Niece Gabriella turned 21 today. As she was celebrating in the bar last night at the stroke of midnight NYC time, I suggested she may want to burn that fake Maine license she’s been sporting for the past few years. Not one to waste a good forgery, she will be donating it to another deserving underage imbiber.

Why is my phone even on at 2am, you ask? Well, in the event there is ever an emergency in that garage/music studio my son has going all night long, I would be available. Last night around 10, I got an urgent, come here listen to this. It was his second rap song. I love it!! Great beat, you can dance to it and I don’t understand a word you are singing, which is exactly how I like my rap music. At midnight, another rap star in the making showed up to add his vocals to said song because as Max has explained to me over and over, music is not made in daylight. He has a point; well not until you are old like Keef anyway. Or maybe I stayed awake to make sure Max didn’t make off with the black Dodge Charger with a Hemi engine that the car rental place gave me yesterday while Hyundai is servicing my car, which by the way I no longer endorse as the best car company. In case you were running out to get one. I haven’t driven a car that fast since Mikey’s 1969 454 Chevelle with a Hurst stick shift. And for good reason. Max, however, was smitten at first shift. I find it irritating to have a car with built in gears that shift on it’s own. Either make it manual and give me a clutch or make it an automatic and stop the up and up down crap. And that little adventure of going to the dealership to make an appointment rather than calling ended up being a three hour time suck fest since they decided to keep my car right then and there.

All this after my lovely morning at Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write Salon. I hadn’t been for years, but her nice request, OK, she can twist an arm with the best of them, sent me back there yesterday morning. Her musical guest was supposed to be Bernard Fowler who I had no idea even existed until yesterday as a background singer for the Stones for 30 years.   I’m detecting a theme here. Anyway, he never showed and so she got a friend of hers to be the musical guest. Apparently, this man wrote 100 songs for the Nickelodeon show Chalk Zone, again never heard of it. When I mentioned this to my older son, Marco, at dinner, however, he told me he watched this show all the time as a kid. What?? Another glaring example of my less that stellar mothering. How old were you, I demanded? I don’t know, he says, maybe 10? O good, at least that’s an age where you could watch TV without me turning it on for you. Sheesh, had you been like 5 watching it, I would have been horrified that I did not know. He just shakes his head and says “you’re weird”.   To which I give him my stock reply- weird mothers build kids with character or is it kids that are characters. The latter, I believe, applies in this house. Right after that lovely man singing, the writing guest, meaning you had to have published a book and be famous, was none other than Dr. Marlena Evans from Days of Our Lives. She was stunningly beautiful in an eerier Dorian Gray kind of way. She was hawking, I mean selling, two books; one a little cookbook and the other on her beauty secrets. Her talk was lovely and she read from a children’s book she also wrote for her two boys. Next up was another actor from the show whose name I can’t remember or pronounce who also wrote a celebrity cookbook, I think. I had to go, unfortunately and didn’t see his presentation. Vicki’s salon is very intimate. It’s in her living room and the books on sale by the guests are in the kitchen. After Deirdre Hall’s turn I said goodbye to her and bought her cookbook. Her beauty tips book would be wasted on me, I told her. She laughed and we took a selfie. Most of my selfies are of me and my activity partner/BFF Sandi. Dr. Marlena was a nice stand in yesterday, since Sandi is in Europe with her husband setting off audio tape alarms in museums right now.

Night fell with the need to see the one night only movie; Asbury Park; Riot Redemption, Rock and Roll. Why this would only be shown two nights is anyone’s guess unless they are going right to TV, which is supremely annoying. In any event, what a great documentary. My favorite was the story of the Upstage, an after hours no liquor, jam session place for teenage musicians and their followers to go at 3am after the bars closed. Bruce and Little Steven and Southside Johnny all cut their musical teeth there. Tom Potter was a hairdresser with a hairdresser wife who also had a band and so they got this space up a couple of flight of stairs, painted some glo paint on the walls, installed about a dozen amps and speakers so the kids didn’t have to lug gear up all those flights, charged a buck fifty and musical magic was made there every night for three years or so. The after part of the movie last night was a reunion of about 17 musicians, including Bruce, Little Stevie and Southside Johnny, David Sancious and a host of others, who used to jam as teenagers in the club for a concert at the Asbury Park Convention Center for the premier of this movie. What a treat this three-song jam session was that included their own versions of Lucille and Johnny B Goode.   This story warmed my musical soul last night, especially since today across the street from the original Upstage location is a place called Lakehouse, that provides musical education to kids. The main band of about five kids aged around 12 years old or so got to play with Bruce and company at this concert as well.

Bruce and Stevie’s narrative throughout the movie was just plain awesome. Humble and pure of musical spirit, just like their talent.   We’ve seen Bruce and company in their journey through their success years, but to see them all as teenagers at the very earliest part of their journey was fascinating. Not all the teenagers who jammed all those years made it.   Bruce was mentioned right off the bat as the one to watch. No surprise there. True artists are born not made, but it still takes some smiling of the gods of fortune on you to get there. It was terrific to see these ‘old timers’ now just wailing away on their instruments with pure joy to be together and reminisce about their youthful beginning. The Upstage, you can tell, was one of those places where the vibe was instant, largely due to the owners, their vision and their spirit and their place in Asbury Park history. So there you have it. I made my thousand words and then some.

ellahall1Dr. Marlenahall 3

Happy Les Miz Mother’s Day

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Eight years ago, my friend Kim insisted on taking my two sons, Marco and Max, and I to the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables at the Ahmanson theater in Los Angeles, whether we liked it or not. I was sort of curious about the play as I used to see Kim and various members of her family go to all sorts of Les Miz productions over the years, including ones done in a high school auditorium. We went that night at her treat with husband Tony and her kids, AJ and Alexa.   I was transformed and transfixed. Never had a play touched so deeply with music so searing it was as if it wrote its songs on your soul. Max was nine at the time and pierced as well by this production.

At Max’s insistence, we had to do the customary backstage door wait for his coveted cast member autograph. Adult Cosette came out and Max was having none of it. Can you please see if little Cosette can come out, I asked her? Max had been smitten to say the least. She was gracious enough to honor our request and out came the precious, young Cosette. Max got her autograph. At home that night he looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. Two years later, we were sitting on the sofa one night with various technology on our laps, when Max said, “She answered”. Who answered, I asked. Cosette. She answered my Facebook message. The actress thanked him for his kind words of praise of her performance. She explained she had been busy touring with the play all this time and apologized for answering so late. There was an outright grin on his face from that one.

Kim had given me her Mom’s 25th anniversary CD to listen to and Max and I spent a few years riding around blasting the soundtrack and singing badly along, well me anyway. He can at least carry a tune. One night coming home by myself from a less than safe looking part of town from a football game I had to leave Max at, I decided that if I blast the Les Miz score really loud out of my car amidst the bass booming boom boxes of my fellow travelers, I was pretty sure no one would bother me. It worked.

The 25th anniversary performance in Los Angeles was a short-lived event; as big plays are want to do here. I promised Max at the time, that if Les Miz ever came back to Broadway in a new production, we would be there to see it. And that’s how I ended up taking about 13 family and friends to see the new Broadway production a few years ago.   And what a treat to see it with the West End’s own Alfie Boe.

We all test the sensibilities of people, whether overtly or covertly, according to some inner litmus test, whether we are conscious of it or not. For many years, Les Miz was this test for me. I was thrilled to see my niece, Eliza, love the play and the music as much as we did this night.   After my discovery of the play through my dear friend, I discovered it was the favorite of another dear friend of mine. No wonder, I thought. It’s Marjorie.   Fast forward a few years and there I was on the isle of Guernsey with another Les Miz-er, who gladly stormed Victor Hugo’s house, under construction and not to be visited this time, so she can snap a few pictures for us. Sandi only left when the loud and frenzied French woman asked her to. A good friend she is.

Tonight, it’s Mother’s Day 2019 and that Broadway production is now on tour and so for the third time I will get to see this mother of all musicals. The best sound track ever. Sorry, Alexander, it just is. I will see it tonight with another dear friend, Patty, who rearranged her Mother’s Day to accompany me. Happy Mother’s Day to my Les Miserables moms, Kim, Marjorie, Sandi and Patty and to my Les Miz kids; Max, AJ, Alexa and Eliza.

A Day in the Life of a Realer…Or Planting a Lukas Garden

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While the story I am about to tell you will garner all sorts of accolades about my generosity and kindness and blah blah blah, the reason it all came about is solely due to my finely honed laziness. Sometimes we just have to stay home. Sometimes we don’t have to be at everything. Sometimes we just have to stick close to our adult kids whether they like it or need it or not. This long planned trip to Austin Texas with a friend to see a Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real concert with the Avett Brothers thrown in for good measure just took an uneasy turn. And those, my intuition always tells me, are always for the good.

I love Lukas. He is an extraordinary singer/songwriter but more than that, he has an energy and aura on stage that is unmatched. I came across him about three years ago in a chance Facebook video. Where else does anyone our age get news today? He was doing his dad, Willie’s, You Were Always on My Mind, which I always manage to confuse with Andy Hill’s, Still Very Much on My Mind. It was from 2013 on a cruise ship in the lounge with a couple of old timers, one on the piano and the other on trumpet. Not a formal show, just a late night hang, that is still one of the most breathtaking musical things I have ever seen. I posted it on my FB page. Fast forward a month and a few friends of mine are raving over him. Well, irritated, I asked them, where the hell had they been since I posted him over a month ago. We started an FB messenger chat and within an hour, I had tickets for the four of us to see him play in a small club in Sacramento in July. There were no other solo shows closer to us, meaning just Lukas and his band. I had no interest in seeing Willie, nor do I ever go to all day music festivals in the dirt. I am too damn old for that. I need comfortable seats. We flew to Sac, saw the show, met him afterwards and got pictures with him. We had a great night out with girls who I had just met a year or two before. Lukas, by this time, had added another show in October at the Fonda Theater right in our backyard in Los Angeles. So we went to that as well and signed up a few more Lukas Ladies to go with us. Both shows were spectacular and reasonably priced.   And then that annoying re-make of A Star is Born happens and Lukas pretty much takes off. This February, his $30 ticket at the Troubadour went for close to $480 bucks at first. I was so mad. I wrote his booking agent and asked, what the hell were you thinking letting the scalpers get all the tickets. Why on earth didn’t we get a fan pre-sale at least? He wrote me back a very nice email sort of apologizing.

And that is how I came to buy two tickets to see him this Friday, May 10 in a place called the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Blauvelts, Texas outside of Austin. Now mind you this is not the name of the town, it is actually New Braunfels but for some damn reason this addled brain of mine refuses to accept that fact.   I’ve long since stopped asking my mind how it works. My friend has a son that lives there and so the plan was for us to go visit him and his wife and then see the show. She has never seen Lukas; so initiating a new Lukas Lady was going to be fun. Besides it was cheaper to go to Texas than the Troubadour at that point. We had two GA (general admission for the non concert goers among us) tickets, which I was sure I could use once the knee problem got better. It didn’t and so last week I picked up two more preferred seat tickets so that I could be guaranteed a seat as I would never make a four hour standing only show. I could have gone to the Troubadour in Los Angeles twice at this point.

I now had four tickets to get rid of. I hate seeing tickets go to waste. The idea though this morning, of the incredible hassle of actually selling these tickets to people in another state was more than this lazy Lukas lady could stand. About four days ago, I had joined a new Facebook page Lukas had created for fans only called the Realers after his band. I decided I would sell these tickets for karma bucks instead of cash bucks. I would see what happens and so I posted this:

“Stuff happens in life and I always like to put karma bucks in my bank. I can’t go to the Whitewater Lukas show in New Blaunfels Texas after all, so I just want to give my tickets away. I have 2 GA tickets. Private message me. I also had 2 preferred seating but I got a message on those. They are all email tickets so I can email them to you. Just send me some video! Love Maddie! I’ll have to wait to see our Boy when he comes back to LA!”

And then I met Brandee Rockett. Now mind you, when she first sent me a message, I was a little skeptical of that name. No offense, Brandee, but it’s a great burlesque name. Brandee is a 38 year old mom to a 17 year old boy who lives in Austin and is in the process of moving to Denver. Brandee is a thyroid cancer survivor and a huge Lukas fan.   She so wanted to see him close to her house but medical bills made it a luxury she can’t afford right now. So what if I’m running my own Make A Wish program. This Friday, Brandee and her 17-year-old son will be seeing Lukas and the Avett Brothers. When you start your day with a message from a perfect stranger that says (Brandee has given me permission to reprint her words):

“Thanks for making a difference in my life. I saw this concert was 30 minutes from my home and was so sad (at first) that I couldn’t attend. My husband and I used to attend concerts on our date nights. One every 6 to 8 weeks and would be planned months ahead. All of that stopped with the cost of cancer. And I mean not just financially. So thank you so very much for this. I am so grateful to see him near my hometown and one of my all time favorite venues before I move. It’s like an acknowledgement of reclaiming my life. That’s how much it means to me. It means everything”

I’ll let you guess how many tears flowed down my face reading this. The power of music. The power of gratitude. The power of laziness. Well it is I, of course, and I turned Brandee on to my blog site and so I made another reader. What is that, ten of you now? She liked the first thing she read. And that is enough pay back for this writer wanna be.

The next set of tickets were the two preferred seating ones. I had received a message first from a 61-year-old gentleman who just had knee replacement surgery two months ago and wanted to take the new knee out for a concert spin. How perfect was he for the tickets I had to buy because of my bad knees? At the same time, I had also received an email from a lovely lady who is a TV producer for an Austin show called Support Live Music. I wondered about her and why she couldn’t just get comp tickets. She even offered a shout out on her TV show for what I was doing. We chatted a bit and then I thought well maybe I should just split the tickets up and give one to Robin A, the knee guy, and the other one to her. I wrote Robin back a message and asked if he wanted one ticket. What he wrote back earned him both. He said he was grateful and all and he would love to see Lukas, as he was a big fan and had never seen him, but he could not go without his wife. Wow, that is love! I would have dropped my husband like a bad habit to go see Lukas with an offer like I made.  So now Mr. and Mrs. Robin A will get to see Lukas for the first time and Robin will have lots of time to read my blog since he is still recuperating. It didn’t hurt that Robin is a huge Beto fan either, per his Facebook page I snooped around on.

I told the TV producer why the tickets went to the knee replacement gent and wife and she understood and loved the story. I asked why she needed tickets as she told me she works with Lukas’ people when he releases new videos. What she said would warm the hearts of all my musician friends. She said she never asks for comp tickets. She pays for them herself. The saying at her TV show is “ Pay the Cover, Tip the Band and Buy the Merch!” Now that’s a girl after my own heart!! And she ended her last message to me with ‘just love you and you are funny, too’! So I do what I do best. I sent her to the MY BACK PORCH page and to Midnight Missives and Musings to read me.

I racked up a nice chunk of karma bucks this morning, all before 10:30. It allows me to be a little bad. I like it. Can I afford this all? Hell no!! Will I get crap from certain people about me wasting my money? Hell yes!! Do I care what they think? Hell no!! I don’t get my religion from a bible or a pew or my high from a pill or a powder. I get it from walking around and thinking of interesting things to do and see what happens. The joy I experienced today, not to mention picking up three new readers of my writing and maybe more since I also posted my blog site on Lukas’ fan page, is better than any drug or organized religion on the planet. And maybe, just maybe, it lightens things a bit for those I love the most to hear this. Well, must go, just heard Lukas is playing the Fillmore in San Francisco at the end of the month! Who’s in?

 

 

 

Home Is Where….

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According to Mr. Webster, a noun is a person, a place or a thing. I posit that a home can be all three. Inside the bricks and mortars of our youth, midlife and later and greater years, it holds the people we love and sometimes don’t. It is the place we make our memories in, good and bad. A home holds the things and dreams we create our lives with.

What happens when that home is threatened? In late 2017, fires devastated my city. Not quite a new occurrence for Southern California, but usually they occur in the hills and canyons and crevices where the populace is a bit less dense, or at least less dense by Los Angeles standards. The first week of December saw a raging fire close to Bel Air and the Skirball Center. When an early Monday morning greets the already beleaguered LA commuters with the closure of the 405 Freeway from the Santa Monica Freeway to the 101, it is as surreally serious as a brushfire can get. Couple that with the raging fires in Ventura a day ahead and another in the Sylmar region and we have our very own version of Dante’s Inferno without the pithy repartee.

Some 100,000 people had to flee their homes at a moment’s notice. Some had to remain quietly at their doorstep for hours on end in suspense wondering whether they too would have to flee the flames. It got me thinking, what in that house should go with you and what should stay at a time like this? What becomes important in those first few minutes? The documents that will keep the bureaucracies at bay of course like the passport, the birth cert, the bank account and a marriage license or two as needed. Photographs would seem to be the next most grabbable item, I suspect.   Memories really are what you are grabbing. But what happens if, as my friends did, you sit there for hours on end waiting to see if the evacuation ever comes?   Do the priorities change?   You have the time to keep looking around and grab just one more item like the souvenir of a vacation long gone or a painting that you fell in love with. When the car is full, then what? Do you keep trying to fill it or do you at some point say enough? Over the course of those hours of wondering how much of your home you can possibly save, does the importance of the trappings, the furnishings, and the chachkies become irrelevant? Does a painting mean no more or no less than a lamp? Does it become clear that you cannot save an entire lifetime in one small trunk of a car? And is it in that moment when a house is no longer the entity you thought it was? Does it become clear in that moment that the spirit, the love, the hate, the dinners, the tears, the Christmas mornings and Halloween nights are what made that place a home and not the carpet, the couch, the wallpaper or the fireplace? Are you then comfortable in knowing that no matter what happens to that edifice you can and you will create a home again albeit inside four brand new walls.

The threat to the home in this case is a very real tangible and possibly imminent fire. What is it like, though, when a home is altered not by environmental threat but rather torn asunder by the very people who built it in the first place?  What is it like for each member of the house when the two principals must part in acrimony and lack of love? My house undergoes such transformation now as the divorce finalized by summer sees the winter’s move of my former husband.

There are often pockets in any house that belong just to one of the inhabitants. For some men a garage, for others a den.  Women seem to gravitate to the kitchen for obvious reasons or perhaps an office. In our case his domain was his garage. A place so filled with remnants of his tinkering and building and carpentry and love of tools that a car has never seen the inside of that structure. For days we watch with fascination as every single item accumulated for 25 years is looked at, wondered about, examined and then either deemed worthy of the trip up north to his new home or relegated to the mounting scrap heap. The thought goes through this mind of why this or that was not thrown out years ago. This thought so clearly speaks to the fundamental differences that could not be reconciled for 27 years until the stagnation of that failure could not be endured any longer.   On the one side of the marital bed, she who could not stand an item of clutter and often had to buy the same thing discarded at a yard sale the very next day. On the other side, he who could not part with one scrap of wood or nail discarded on the floor. What a chasm they caused all those years.   But that garage was part of the home built for all those years. No matter the reason, to see the dismantling of it is to feel the sadness of the loss of that quiet corner where he sought refuge for so many years. What about his sons? What do they feel to see the place so long identified with their father disappear tool by tool, plank by plank, jar by jar? No other room inside this house will see a change quite like this garage will. What will be left? What will this permanent change do to this home? Will there be a sigh of relief that the suffering of two people woefully wrong for each other is finally over? Will something take its place in there that will mend some of the broken hearts left over? Or will that room be irrevocably changed forever? Will nothing in there ever feel right again? Will that part of the house never be a home again to the inhabitants that remain? Will it take a brand new set of inhabitants to make it a home again? There are no answers. For now it will have to suffice to be brave enough to ask the questions. At our advanced marital ages, the dissolution of a lifetime is not something easily done. It takes a type of courage or weakness that not many will subject themselves to.   There are those that look around that house of pain they have created and never see a way to leave it. They look around their home as my friends and many others had to do in the days of the fire and ask what would they take if they left this place? The answer for most is “I don’t know.” They could not possibly decide what to take and so they never leave no matter what. They live their days without joy, without love, without happiness because the decision of what to take would bring them to their knees and it’s a risk they are not willing to take. I took the risk. I must now wait to see if it was worth it. I must now see if it is possible to build a home again or if we are simply left with the shell that is a house.

 

Mind Out of Time

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How is time measured when advancing in the years?  Is it truly so different than the timepiece of youth?  I feel these days that time is a finite commodity, no longer the infinite pendulum of early adulthood.  But is that true?  Do we seek to fill the minutes of the mind to ward off the end of those minutes?  Do we do it as our last and best chance at leaving…what?  A memory to someone or no one at all, an indelible mark on society or none at all?

It seems my sons and their peers never seem to find something “to do” and I can never seem to find something “not to do”.   We come from a less standard generational approach. We are two generations apart, a result of  my late in life entry into motherhood.  Is it the fact they feel like time is always on their side that lends them to less of a need to fill all the minutes of their minds on a constant basis? Was I the same in my youth?  Is boredom a necessary byproduct of the expanse of youth drenched time?   Do they see no end to it and so they brush stroke the minutes in at a leisurely pace?   Perhaps it is and perhaps it should be.  What if that boundless space is interrupted with a grief or two?  Does the color of mortality color the time of their mind permanently or does it merely form a shadow?  I believe it  can coexist in youth in an exquisite way with the shadow providing a brilliant silvery shimmer around the edges of the minutes of the mind for a very long time.

Is economics a factor as a hindrance or a help to the management of the minutes of the mind? I have no solid guess.  I think back to my own very literal misspent youth and my less than large wallet certainly tempered my desires at times- at others not at all.  But what if they had the means, would they go out and about or is the lack of  things to do at their age the culprit?  Does a thing need to be of a certain caliber for it to even be considered?  Is my measurement and yardstick of the amount of mind minutes that need to be filled an unfair comparison for their very vast amount at this time in their lives?   I suspect the answer is no to the former often and yes to the latter always.

What about immortality? Does the race against the mind clock truly guarantee us another week, a month, a year?  I asked my last living paternal relative at 97 years a few weeks ago: what is your secret?  Keep moving, she laughed, just keep moving.  Sage and ironic advice.  My father and his relatives, most over the age of 80, all had their mental states in perfect tact right up to the day they passed.  Their mobility, though, left a lot to be desired.  Legs and knees and ankles didn’t take the passage of time too well.  Walkers and canes for some, sitting a lot for others.  This particular relative employs her very smart tripod cane and off she goes. A casino here, a son visit there.   Is that where my newfound love of motion at all costs comes from?  Is that why, when I do stay home, the walls seem to enclose me as if in a premature tomb? Or is it simply my mind’s need to fill the minutes as best I can, as long as I can.

Where does the penchant for long term planning come from, I wonder?  Do I think that having a concert ticket for five months hence guarantees the grim reaper does not visit, as if a concert ticket is akin to the garlic around the neck of a prospective vampire’s prey?  Yet, I do, at times, seek the tickets forfeited by an untimely demise of a patron’s relative on the day of the show if I chose not to make this one a bargain with eternity.  I don’t wish them severe sorrow, perhaps a beloved great grandparent whose funeral they must attend on the night of said concert.  It could happen and it has.

I peel and peek back a dozen years at my inability to plan anything in advance of the next several hours. I thought this was a clear and concise result of the trauma endured from the medical condition of my then spouse. But was it?  Or was this just a normal passage in the mind out of time sequence of one’s life.  Youthful immortality was no longer at play to delay the filling of all those days’ hours and the mind’s minutes.  Time as a finite commodity really had not set in as yet.  So perhaps this was a simple transition of the mind’s adjustment to the days when you know for sure there is a true and real expiration date.

Perspective,  the compass that points the direction to how someone will attend to the sunset minutes of the mind that comes with a certain age. There are those that will simply be still and allow the minutes to drain on their own like so much sand in the hourglass without being able to grasp not even a grain.  I am not one of them. I want to touch and feel and squeeze and smile at every one of those grains as they pass through.  The perspective is the energy source to do so. Nothing more. Nothing less. Not a bank account; I am bombarded with lots of free things to see and do and I do and see.  Not excellent health; I drag a painful body part with me now and again as the pain in my brain from sitting idly in the suffocating silence is much much worse.

While the evaporation of the suffocation born of the silence of hostility brought a measure of comfort, its replacement with the fixated asphyxiation of the silence of a vacuum still leaves a measure of discomfort.  Do I fill the hours of the day and the minutes of the mind to flee the walls caving in?  Yes, but I am careful not to fill the silence again too soon so as to guard against a new silence turning hostile once more.  I prefer instead to draw outside the lines of the minutes of the mind; to set no bounds, no expectations, no results, no achievements, no rebuttals or rebukes.  I seek to simply fill the remaining minutes of the mind with the color of contentment.

 

January 2019…Adult Still Swimming

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January 24, 2019

I cannot believe that nice little old gentleman with the almost Speedos that shows up every day to swim around the same time I do at the Y, said to me today, “You swim like a dog”.  “I used to do that seven years ago when I started”, he added.  Really, Mister? So I suppose this is one of those times where practice does not make perfect.  I’ve been at this for ten months as you can see by my post below of last March.  Off and on. More on that off. That applies both to my swimming and the weight.  Yes, those stubborn, “I’m going on that damn vacation with you “ pounds won out and I had to take them to Italy with me. I was not happy.   On the bright side, the fascist foot pain disappeared on exactly November 6 while watching Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theater.   Lucky me, it went right from my right foot to my right knee. A pain so severe when I got up from the chair to leave, I had to drag my leg along behind me a la Tiny Tim Cratchet to the car. Why? Why do you suppose the universe has kept me from walking like a Labor Day lad on Jerry’s telethon for a year now? The one thing that was my sure fire weight loss weapon for almost four years- my first thing in the morning daily 45 minutes walk no matter where I was in the world.  I have added now recently a 20 minute chair exercise. At least I get some upper weights workout.  But I miss the daily walking more than anything. It was my best time for writing think.  I would come home from the walks and go immediately to the computer to begin a piece.    Muses come in all shapes and sizes and that was mine.  I miss it a lot.

I have been to doctor pillar and post and no one is closer to figuring it out. It’s not gout or rheumatism or arthritis or any other “ism” or itis they can come up with. I have had every blood test known to man including bubonic plague at my request. Nothing. MRIs and X rays to the volume of I could produce my own slide show set to music. Nothing. The pain moves around like a demented game of hide and seek. One minute in my ankle. The next in a knee.

I’ve done holistic chiropractors, acupuncturists, and traditional physical therapy. The only thing left is an exorcist or a witch doctor, neither of which is out of my realm of possibility. But I chug along; I paced myself with an afternoon siesta every day in Barcelona. My travel partner expressed amazement at what we fit in with a bum leg. She would be too exhausted to travel with me on two good legs, she said Pain to me is an opponent that simply will not win. I will go over it, under it and around it if I need to, but I am NOT sitting around waiting for them to find some cure for this. I truly believe it’s the result of putting on near 30 pounds in 14 months, plain and simple. And so I keep at it. Sometimes it’s two steps back and one step forward, literally but I keep at it. I will overcome. And so to my lovely little old swim mate, I say ‘woof, woof’.

From March 28, 2018…..

A thousand words before I sleep. That’s the plan to keep this writerly muscle exercised, as my flipping fascist foot is not allowing any other type of exercise these days. I refuse to take one sixth of me to Italy this summer. I just am not but without the requisite daily movement in the way of a walk each morning, it is so difficult to lose it. Until such time as this heel pain heals, I am now going to give a daily adult swim a shot at the local YMCA. I hate public pools or any public water for that matter. My entire swimming career has been spent in my friend’s pool next door.   But since I cannot walk, Zumba, hop, skip or jump right now, the Y is the only wet game in town. First though, I had to find one of those cute swim caps so my very expensive dyed hair doesn’t turn a lovely shade of Trump-orange. I stopped just short of the pink, yellow and orange flowered one.   It is a public pool after all.

What I do to get from one end of this very long pool to the other can only loosely be called swimming. I never learned how to properly nor do I want to, frankly. I move my arms and legs in some fashion that seems to propel me just fine from end to end. I don’t understand the concept of putting your face in the water when you are swimming on top of the water. That to me is then just the same as diving way down into the water. I never took swim lessons. My mother barely let us near the water as kids, and I managed to do the same to my kids. We are just not ocean people. A pool where you can get out when you want irrespective of any moon-tide relationship and no sharks is good enough for this type of swimming. My kids never wanted swim lessons. Self taught they are in said pool next door. I have to remind them of their lack of formal training whenever they tell me they are going to the beach. Don’t go in the water, I caution, you really can’t swim. Never took a lesson, remember.   Not a clue if they listen when they actually get there.

The other time consuming thing about public pools I now need to address on a daily basis is things floating in the pool that don’t belong there. Now it is more likely that young children make these deposits rather than the two old gentlemen and water Zumba gold crowd I encounter each day, but still the thought crosses my mind.   I don’t like to go late in the day. I prefer very first thing in the morning so as to reduce the chances of pool pee accidents by my pool peers.   But I will persevere damn it! No other way to exercise for now.   This morning was interesting. As I was flailing from one end of the pool to the other some fire alarm sounding thing went off. I looked at the guy next to me and figured we don’t need to go anywhere. Best place to be in case of a fire, right? He agreed. Off I doggie paddled to contemplate how bad this chlorine is going to be for me on a daily basis.

I am also so not a ‘gym’ person. All my exercise was done at home. The first day I bring my towel, car key and hit the locker room only to stare at the locker for a few minutes and wonder what the odds are of me putting my stuff in here with no lock and someone coming along to try and use the very same locker. I figure 50-50. Ok I know there aren’t only two lockers in there but I still calculated it as very high.  So I just took my towel and sweatshirt and pants and threw them all on the bleacher bench near the pool and hoped the nice lifeguard wouldn’t yell at me for making a mess or  leaving my flip flops right near the edge of the pool.  I can’t stand walking barefoot and I could only imagine what kind of foot disease you could get from walking around a public pool.   So that’s what I was doing with my clothes and then today I notice all these nice hooks at the other end of the pool and that people hung their bags on them. That was interesting. I could pack my stuff in a bag, carry it in, put my clothes in it while I swim. Then take them out and then and then… I was exhausted just thinking about it, so no bag. I’ll just keep throwing my clothes and keys on the bleacher and hope no one trips over the flip flops.

It’s quiet. I hate the sound of quiet. I know most people love it; so relaxing, so peaceful, so dead. Sons are gone up north to visit their father and even the dog has gone with them. The two Japanese students must live on a farm in Tokoyama cause I have never seen kids go to bed that early.  I get jetlag but wow. They barely make it through dinner at 6, then a shower then in bed by 7. It’s a great hosting job. So the house is completely silent right now.   I suppose there are those that enjoy this. Not me. It is spooky. That’s what it is. You don’t hear the sounds of a creaking floor or the refrigerator hum or the house breathe when it is filled with talking. It’s like a constant pulsating effect all around you. I don’t like it much. Perhaps because it is so foreign to me as I have not lived alone, well ever really. I see no point in starting now, especially with a flipping fascist foot that will render me incapable of fending off any monsters under the bed or in the closet.

The oddest thing about this week is not having a soul to tell my comings and goings to. Even if it was just the dog at home, I would tell him to behave that I was going out for a while.   I find myself thinking I have to get back soon so I can- then stop myself and realize I don’t have to get back to do anything for anyone actually. Nor do I have to tell anyone where I am going. But then what happens if I don’t return. There is no one with ground zero information for where to start looking.   See this is what happens when it’s this quiet. The mind wanders and you go creeping quietly behind it on tiptoe with a flashlight and a prayer.   No, give me noise or give me death. Pretty much how it will end up.   My sons will come home and five minutes later I will be looking for this quiet. I don’t really want to find it but look for it I will again am sure.   Well that was 1187 words, so I suppose it is time for sleep as long as the quiet doesn’t keep me awake.  It has been known to happen.  When I moved to California from the Bronx, I drove cross country with a friend of mine.   One night we had to stop in a motel in some town outside Lincoln Nebraska because of a big basketball game or something that made it impossible to get a hotel room in the city.   It was late at night, the innkeeper answered the door in a robe and curlers and gave us a room.   It was the quietest I had ever heard in my life and it scared me silly.  I made my friend push the dresser in front of the door as I was sure we could be killed in the middle of the night in this quiet and out in the middle of nowhere.   The Bronx with the sirens going all night was no problem of course to sleep through.  And sleep now I must and to all a good night.

Merriless Merry Christmas

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Christmas doesn’t have to be merry. It just doesn’t. It can be annoying or sad or irksome or just a plain colossal mess of forced gaiety the likes of which no other holiday spurts forth. It depends a lot on your current lot in life, your attitude, your temperament real or imagined, your patience, your perspective, your relatives and your dead. There is no Christmas cookie cutter one-size fits all mood that anyone should be required to don at this particular time of the year. The half naked Christmas tree sitting in my living room for the better part of a week will attest to my less than festive mood this year. Don’t be afraid of your Christmasless feelings. As I said this week to a friend stopped by, “You can see by the lack of Christmas decorations that there is no husband nor daughters who reside here.” And that’s just fine with me right now, both the lack of the former and the latter.

Christmas, like it or not, belongs to children. It is through their eyes of wonder and belief that the spirit rekindles in adults.   O there are those childless adults, whether by want or circumstance, who manage to keep the magic for all their lives intact with a continuity not affected by the changes of offspring and steered by the lifelong habit of no Christmas transitions in their lives. My view, however, is through the prism of parenthood. It wasn’t always. I disliked Christmas in my teens and for a long time after. Longtime family quarrel ended the time with the paternal family closest to us. Maternal side was oceans away.   The first breaking away from the entire holiday time spent with my immediate family to share some part of the holiday with a boyfriend’s, fiancé’s, eventual husband’s family was not always easy or particularly merry either.   It took my children to truly reignite the proverbial Yule log of my heart. I wanted to give them the best and brightest and the most present-laden holiday I could possibly muster.   And I most certainly went over board many a year with them in that department.

In the early days we would alternate our Christmases between the grandparents, as many families are want to do. Harder though for us who don’t live near either set to pull off a proper Christmas for our kids in someone else’s home and state, for that matter. It was Christmas in New York one year with my family and Sacramento the next with his. I was a fond and fiendish customer of online shopping from its inception, looked at with fear by those who could not understand me actually giving my credit card information to the Internet. I had devised a system for my older son during these first gypsy Christmases of flying here and driving there. I would order it all online from Toys R Us. I would have it delivered to our current Christmas destination, see what he liked on Christmas Day, return it all on December 26 before leaving for home and then rebuy the ones he liked the best upon our arrival back in Los Angeles. This kept the schlepping of stuff through airports and freeways to a minimum. Looking at old photographs he has wondered why a particular present in the picture on Christmas morn ceased to be in the picture of his memory any time thereafter.

In later years and with another child in tow, I shifted the California Christmases south as it was easier for the childless adult relatives to travel than I with kids and also since the gifts got bigger.   I loved those Christmases at my home. But did I really show it at the time or did the disturbance of the image of parental perfection keep me from allowing my boys to put the ornaments on the tree willy-nilly? Was the fear of my unhappiness colored by the fear of breaking ornaments? Did I bark orders rather than extend kind smiles? Was the stress of making sure my kids’ Christmases were perfect detonating the success of it all? I don’t know. I have a don’t ask; don’t tell policy on all that. Eventually, we cut out the New York Christmases altogether. The gaggle of grandkids increased. The maintenance of present equality no more easily maintained. It was just too difficult as the rearing of sibling rivalry’s less than pretty head increased each year. Best to keep the Christmas competition distance, I thought.   I often wondered what life would be life if Christmas were just another day that a family got together for, automatically as families who live in close proximity often do. Perhaps one day I shall know that with my own sons, but familial histories do repeat themselves despite our best intentions. What we know, good or bad, is what we do, like it or not. It takes a sea change of courage to change the course of one’s disposition.

The children grow up and grow out of the Christmases you know. With late teenagers and young adults there is this nether land of holiday. Couple that with a recent divorce and it amplifies the state. Add in a dash of family quarrel and the recipe for Christmas is no longer as sweet as those past. Kids at this age, or at least mine, are somewhat into Christmas and somewhat not. It takes the forging of new relationships with girlfriends, fiancés and eventually wives to invent new Christmases. The transition period is most difficult, I think. As example, I am a firm believer in the Christmas tree as a living thing and did the lonely, childless schlepp to the lot and dragged the damn thing home atop my car, tied there by a few pubescent relatives of the owner, judging by their less than confident countenances as they tied the knots. I had no cause to be assured the tree would survive the trip. It does and I do and I ask the older son to take it off the car and bring it in, only to be met by “why don’t we have a fake tree?” The withering look I gave him was worthy of any post holiday withering tree. And this tree, as if it knew exactly what my state of spirit was, leaned quite a bit into the wall. I never had a crooked tree in my time of being at the helm of the family Christmas. I could not believe the tilt and so I called the lot and asked the owner to come fix the darn thing. He did and he didn’t. A social media post and a friend suggestion of a name for the poor dear and so Ilean the Leaning Tower of Christmas tree was christened. A fitting fit to my less than fitting spirit. Three days gone by and Ilean, still lit and naked, crookedly stands. Although this state is one many of us aspire to from time to time, I suspect. We do have a new ornament now adorning her, brought by said naming friend who visited last night. It is half elf -half Santa, the most appropriate of the transornaments, washing the hair of a hare. Nothing quite screams Christmas like the shampooing of a rabbit’s head. A short lull in my action a few days later, saw the accompaniment of more ornaments to the Santa Elf’s delight. With each one, a fond and distant memory floats; a memory we do not know we are making when first we hang that ornament. From my mother, Nonna Alda, there hangs the yearly Hallmark offering and from me, the silver and gold of Things Remembered.

This tree seeking effort all took place after I suggested to younger son, that perhaps this year we should start a new tradition of a New Year’s tree and presents opened under such on New Year’s day. Rather than traipse the lots of trees and spend a king’s ransom on one, we can simply await the days after Christmas when there will be a bounty of selections on the various curbs around our house to choose from. He looked at me with eyes so rolled and brows so raised that formed the thought; my real mother must be around here somewhere!

The lighting of the lights was another path to Christmases gone by and I tread lightly with this one to keep the forced gaiety from lighting us up this year. A task always done by husband and shared with younger son was not something I wanted to command my son to continue. I love twinkly lights. So does he. But I have no way of truly gauging what the memory of this will conjure up in his heart and mind this second Christmas going it alone. I left it strictly up to him this year and conveyed my peace with light or dark and left the decision to him rather than issue an edict that there must be Christmas lights or else.   He chose the lights, my boy, and contrarian spirit that he is and the definition of reverse psychology itself, he adorned our yard with more lights than we had ever seen in previous days.

I try to keep the apathy at bay as best I can on days the apathy does come. Society says no sadness allowed on Christmas day or thereabouts. No melancholy wonder at where one’s journey took them in the past year. No dwelling on people no longer here. No dwelling on those that are but wearing different cloaks. No wondering where you will be next Christmas. No wondering who you will be next Christmas. A jaunt through a jumble of memories past and a march through the holiday present is all I can muster this year at times. But as the holiday nears and the ornaments now shimmer on Ilean’s leaning branches, the spirit rekindles and by Christmas Eve, the eggnog will be flowing, the gifts wrapped and ready for the morn, the melancholy will dissipate among the pleasure, the pageantry and the purpose of it all. I don’t do sadness well nor long and that is a gift I now treasure.  And so from merriless to Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.