Friday, June 29, 2007

Why is it . . . .

. . . that whenever I turn on a TV, it's commercial time? Even with 485 channels?

. . . that airlines serve snacks before drinks? Sure, snacks are quicker to hand out, but folks are parched after sitting on the runway for an hour-and-a-half due to flight delays and tossing them a bag of Sunchips just makes matters worse.

. . . that I always get on the "local" elevator that hits every floor before getting to mine? I suspect I have my own personal bratty kid (the opposite of a guardian angel) that precedes me and punches all the buttons.
. . . that Bush and Cheney haven't been impeached yet?
. . . that no matter what I do, I can't get rid of my pot belly?
. . . that I can't stand Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis, but I'm OK with Matt Damon and George Clooney?
. . . that banks withdraw money and fees immediately but put a 7-day hold on deposits?
. . . that my brain and my mouth don't seem to work in conjunction with each other?
. . . Blogger won't let me Edit Html, thereby making the spacing wonky?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Living on Pacific Time

I always feel kinda lost and out of touch when I'm on the West Coast. Time-freak, news-junkie that I be, the thought of having to put up with a 3-hour delay from the happenin' news-generating epicenters of New York and Washington DC (not to mention, Atlanta, GA!), just unnerves me.

Yeah, I know news happens in the Pacific Time Zone. Like all the Paris Hilton/Lindsey Lohan stuff. Or another live-from-the-news-chopper car chase through some seedy part of Los Angeles. But, c'mon, let's face it. Real news is an East Coast thing. (I know I'll get indignant outcries from Peter the Other, not to mention my own sister and my sixth grade teacher. Never mind - I stand my ground, people.)

So whenever I'm here, I know that I'm 3 hours behind real life. Aaargh! I mean, the 6:30pm national news is a joke in Schwartzenfornia, right? Why bother? The East Coast saw that stuff 3 hours ago. Yup, that very same telecast. Three hours ago. Ca-ray-zy, man!

I fit much better in the wound-too-tight, grey flannel suit, busy-as-Grand-Central-Station East Coast world. You know New York. The place where news happens. When it's supposed to. Eastern Time.

And New York had a big power outage today! Shoot! The entire Lex Ave line (the 4, 5, and 6, baby - my own personal subway) was down for a whole chunk of the day. Man, I miss all the fun.

OK. Must. Chill. Out. I'm in California, after all.

And now a word from steerage . . .

Miserable flight to Los Angeles yesterday. The guy in front of me felt it was perfectly OK to travel with his head in my lap the whole way. Go figure. His seat reclined so far back that my head was less than a foot from his head. I politely asked him if he could move his seat up a bit, but he just looked at me and didn't move an inch. So I kneed him and bumped the back of his seat for 5 solid hours.

Now, guys, I love y’all, but it does seem to be the menfolk who feel it’s their God-given right to recline as far as possible – even in the cheap-seats of coach – for air travel. A steerage seat in economy class ain’t your personal Barcolounger, Bub. Be aware of the poor schlub stuck behind your reclining ass before you tilt back 90 degrees. I’m guessin’ that 3-4 inches wouldn’t make much difference to your snoozing’ comfort, but it makes all the difference in the world to the person behind you trying to get a little work done on a laptop.

I felt like tapping Mr. Recline-O on the top of the head and asking if he’d spell-check my work. He was closer to it than I was. “Hey, buddy, does that sentence look right to you? Oh, and by the way. You’re going a little thin on top, and you have two cavities on the lower right.”

And the movie? The Astronaut Farmer. No. Seriously.

Here endeth the daily travel bitch session.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I've Got A Secret

Something big happened this morning but I can’t tell you what it is. The only reason I’m blogging about it is that I don’t want to forget this red letter day. It involves a phone call and a big surprise for my nearest and dearest. But, sorry. Can’t tell you what it is right now.

I will tell you what didn’t happen, though:
I didn’t win the lottery. Damn!
I didn’t hear from a long lost boyfriend. (I don’t think I have any long lost boyfriends, come to think of it.)
The Queen isn’t bestowing any honors (honours) upon me. I’ll have to wait a little longer to become a Dame.

But, truly, when the cat’s out of the bag, you’ll be the first (more or less) to know.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How about a little wine with that book?

In honor of my story being published in last year's much-celebrated Southern anthology, Muscadine Lines, my friends surprised me with a selection of honest-to-goodness muscadine wines - a white, a red, and a blush.

For those of you unfamiliar with muscadines, well, I feel sorry for you. Muscadines are bigger than grapes and have a tougher skin. They also have a - what? - smokier, more robust taste than grapes. The wine, by the way, was just wonderful, and I'm not normally fond of sweet wines. But these taste so much like the dear muscadine that I thoroughly enjoyed the liquified version.

Try to find some muscadines. Then buy a copy of Muscadine Lines. Then buy some muscadine wine. The more wine you drink, the better the stories and poems, eh?

Magic Carpet Ride, or Three Old Ladies on a Jungle Gym

The most emotional moment of my reunion weekend in Chattanooga involved a visit to our old elementary school.

Henry L. Barger was a baby-boom school extraordinaire. Built in 1955 or 56. new classrooms had to be added in 1958 to accommodate us all. My first-grade was a make-shift room carved out of the lobby and the teachers' lounge; we didn't have hard walls, just a big divider curtain. By the time we arrived for second grade, there were 10-12 new rooms added to the building. And - bam! - just like that, the education baby boom was off and running.

Anyway, like my old homestead, Barger is in great disrepair. This was clearly evident, as we pulled into the back driveway of the school and decided to have a walk-around. Lots of ugly classroom trailers and junk stacked up against the windows. Ugh! It had been such a lovely example of 1950s modernist school architecture - lots of light and windows.

But there in the distance, back in the farthest reaches of the playground was - could it be? Yes! Our ancient playground equipment! We were lucky enough to have been the tots to break the stuff in, back when it was new, sturdy gun-metal gray - the old slide, the "hand-walkers" - one large, one smaller, and the ever-popular "magic carpet." Well, that's what we called it, anyway. It was a grid of bars in the shape of, well, a magic carpet.

That magic carpet was the scene of many flips and stunts of derring-do. We prided ourselves on the number of blisters we got on our hand. The school nurse had to paint Mercurochrome faces on our little hands to cover those blisters.

The stunts also led to several trips to the emergency room to sew up split lips and head wounds. But it never crossed anyone's mind to sue the school or teachers for negligence. Ah, those were the days.

I did get a bit misty when I touched the bars of the magic carpet for the first time in 45+ years the other afternoon. What joy that funny piece of metal gave us during countless recess periods!

And it's still there. Keeping all the stories of all the children to itself. It may no longer be a clean, sturdy structure, but even under chipped yellow paint, it will always loom large in our childhood history. Our version of The Giving Tree, I suppose. A real, honest-to-goodness magic carpet. (And it didn't collapse under our weight, either.)

This house is not a home

But once upon a time it was. It had neat, light gray slate shingles and a well-kept, tree-shaded yard. I know that for a fact because it was my childhood home. The doors - front and back - were always open to friends and family.

While I was in Chattanooga with my friends last weekend, we spent time touring the old 'hood. That's when I snapped this picture of 114 South Moore Road. It came as no surprise to see it so rundown. I was by there ten or twelve years ago, and it was in sad shape then. The place bears little resemblance to the place where I grew up.

That front walk saw many a game of "Red Light/Green Light," "Mother May I," and hopscotch. There were planters with petunias and geraniums on the front porch in the summer, and a nice front door, lovingly decorated at Christmas.

I remember a house with lots of rooms and spaces to rest or read or run through or have a bowl of Campbell's soup and a baloney sandwich in. I'm sure those rooms would seem tiny now. Still, they were big enough to provide welcoming space for a family of six and all the comings and goings that take place in a family that size.

One of the rooms upstairs - the stairs were narrow and steep - had a bookcase that pulled out to reveal a secret "room." Actually, it wasn't a room at all, but just a small storage space where my brother David hid his Playboy magazines. (Little sisters and their friends are good at finding things like that.)

The floors of the house weren't level, even when we lived there. I could open up the doors between the den in the back and my parents' room in the front, lace up my roller skates, and just roll from the back room to the front of the house without any effort on my part. Zzzzzyyup - downhill all the way!

In addition to the rabbit-warren of rooms inside, it offered great side and back yards outside. Plenty of room to run off energy, grow a garden, walk a fence, climb a mulberry tree, have birthday parties, or play on the swings and whirlygig.

But what you need to know is that the ramshackle, ugly house in the picture, was a home. A lovely, clean, homey home. You just can't go home again, I reckon.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee . . .

OK, not really. I was born in the valley town of Chattanooga, but I have been at a conference on Monteagle for the past few days. No wireless internet, needless to say. Aargh.

Finishing up here and will be picked up by good friend Susan on her way from Franklin to Chattanooga for our annual girlfriends' weekend. Or as Kate calls it "The Old Ladies Slumber Party."

I'll try to post over the next couple of days. Try to stay out of trouble until I return, hm?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On the sidewalks of New York

. . . So there I was, minding my own business, walking to the 116th Street subway station, when I felt three quick squeezes on my rear-end. I wheeled around - left hook ready to pop - when I saw the only person near enough to do such an ass-grab was a neatly uniformed school boy of about 12. Dark slacks, neat white shirt, horn-rimmed glasses - a scrawny little nerdy thing with his head down, trying to look innocent.

Well, I reeled in my left hook, and yelled "Hey!"

A girl walking behind me said "He seriously grabbed your butt!"

"And he's just a little kid!" sez I. We laughed as we made our way through the turnstiles.

"Well, I guess I'll take it as a compliment. If he'd been any older, though, I'd've slammed him."

Ah, the sidewalks of New York!

At lunchtime, I went out in search of a few things for my upcoming trip to Tennessee. New York's always in a rush - fine with me - but lunchtime is especially hectic. While walking down the sidewalk, the crowd had to slow down as two out-of-town business guys tried to figure out which way they needed to go.

I heard one ask the other, "So which way is First Avenue?"

Veering around them, not missing a beat, I pointed and said "Thataway!"

As they crossed Lexington to head toward First, one of the guys shouted to me: "I love you!"

"Love ya' back," shouted I and kept going.

So I've gotten a butt-grab from a 12-year-old and an "I love you" from the Out-of-Towners. Every day, an adventure!

I've noticed that these little happenings come in threes. Two down, one to go. What else awaits me today on the sidewalks of New York?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spoolie Queen

Google "spoolies" and guess who's Number 1 on the search engine? Um, yeah, that'd be Shorty PJs. Lord, who died and made me Spoolie Queen?

My posts about the vile little rubber hair curlers here and here, plus the Spoolies mention in my blog description, have somehow launched me into the stratosphere of bad-hair-grooming-ideas fame. The Spoolies/Noxema post is far and away the most popular page on my blog.

Oh, the irony! Spoolies (and Toni home perms) were the absolute bane of my young life. Why, those curly, fried-hair days live on in countless photos and home movies so that I can never, ever forget what a total dweeb I was. Aaaargh! (But I'm totally blaming Mother for the whole thing.) While other little girls of my era sported pony-tails and braids, I looked like I'd spent all my free time with my finger in a light socket. Thanks, Toni. Thanks, Spoolies.

On the other hand, I feel kinda bad that I don't have much information to pass on. Obviously, folks are dying to know about 'em, and there's just not that much out there or people would visit Wikipedia/Spoolies instead of Shorty.

I'm seriously thinking about making up a whole history and mythology for the little critters, so that no one will be disappointed when they click on my blog for the scoop. My Spoolie wheels are turning, even as I post . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2007

We called him Daddy

Daddy answered to several names, depending on which ring of the closeness circle you were in.

His name was Newell Clayton, but family members called him Clayton or Uncle Clayton (though when cousin Ann's daughter Julie was little, she called him "Playton"). Mother called him Clayt, though she often referred to him as Daddy, as mothers and daddies sometimes do with the other member of the team.

Daddy's circle of friends, however, called him Newell. This always confused me a bit, since his own parents, siblings and the rest of the clan called him Clayton. I don't know if that was because Newell was his first name and friends assumed that was what he was called, or what. Still, he'd've had to introduce himself as Newell when meeting someone for the first time in order for them to latch on to that name, right? I wonder why he used Newell for friends and Clayton for family. Wish I'd asked him.

Business acquaintances called him N.C. I heard him introduce himself as N.C. many times - it always sounded official and important. N.C. Frazier.

All well and good, those many names - Clayton, Clayt, Newell, N.C. But we called him the best name. We called him Daddy.

Here was a man who dared to venture forth from Chattanooga, Tennessee to California on a 3-week vacation with his wife and 4 children in 1959 in a station wagon that he'd rigged up a Rube Goldberg air-conditioning system. How brave can a guy get?

Here was a man who was loved by his children's friends, and why not? With a houseful of girls on a Friday night, he'd stop by the den to ask if we wanted anything special, then dart off to the grocery store to fulfill our food-whims. Always jolly and in a good mood, even after a hard week's work. The door was always open.

Here was a man who faithfully attended PTA meetings (though grumbled about it) and church (though he got to miss much of the service because his duty was to count the offering and take it to the bank) and school concerts. Support for whatever project was unwavering.

Here was a man who delighted in vegetable and flower gardens. Whenever I see or smell zinnias and marigolds and fresh tomatoes, it brings back days of helping (though probably more like hindering) Daddy in the garden when I was little.

Well. Call him what you will - N.C., Newell, or Clayton/Playton. It's on Father's Day that we remember him as Daddy.

Just thought I should warn you . . .

. . . watch out for any 666's that may crop up. And, for goodness' sake, don't take one if somebody tries to give it to you!

A walk through Times Square can be a religious experience.

An Evening of Magical Thinking

After the past 14-day week, I decided to reward myself with a night on Broadway Friday night. The show was free of charge, thanks to a generous gift certificate given to me last year by my Atlanta girlfriends right before my big move to NYC. (Best gift ever, let me say.)

Well, I opted for Vanessa Redgrave in Joan Didion's one-woman play "The Year of Magical Thinking," based on Didion's book about the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne in 2003. Who could pass up sitting Orchestra Row B, aisle seat - about 15 feet from the stage? You need to sit close to watch a master at work.

This tale of death and remembrance and all the things we mortals do to stave off bad things drew me in immediately. I could relate to Didion's practice of "magical thinking" - "If I do thus-and-so this particular way/time/place then [insert bad think here] won't happen/[insert good thing here] will happen."

Yes, it's a primitive ritual ("If we sacrifice this virgin, then the gods will favor us"), but that doesn't prevent the belief that I can keep my Kate safe as long as I save her last message on my voicemail. (Once she leaves a new message, I erase the previous one. I mean, let's not go overboard here.) Or doing X-Y-Z in a particular order when I arrive at work "ensures" a trouble-free day. How silly is that? But I'm not tempting fate to change it. Magical thinking.

Back to the performance. Redgrave sucks you right in. She seems to direct things right at YOU as she scans the audience. The telling of this tale of loss - not only of her husband, but of her daughter as well - touches on everything we've felt (for those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one) or everything we fear and know we'll feel when we do lose someone. The disbelief. The confusion. The big old emptiness inside. And Vanessa Redgrave makes you feel it, too.

Didion wrote it. Redgrave performed it. Magical thinking.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Simma' Down!

Life is too tense and stressful these days. And for A-type personalities like myself, crank the stress-o-meter up a few more notches.

The other day when I was stranded on Staten Island waiting for a bus to take me to the ferry that would take me back to Manhattan, I truly did try my best to put the things out of my control (like bus times/ferry times/weather) to the bottom of the stack and pull up the Pollyanna thankful-things (nice warm sunshine, good lunch, family and friends). As Cheri Oteri used to say on Saturday Night Live: Simma' down!

Over the years we've lost a lot of things that kept us in a state of euphoria, or at least on a slow boil (thus, simmer down).

For example, I would like to campaign for the return of the mimeograph. C'mon, friends, the purply-blue ink on wet paper that we buried our faces in as soon as the teacher passed out math quizzes was how teachers maintained classroom control. We were all high on mimeograph ink. Talk about sucking the stress out of a situation! As Bill Bryson wrote in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid:

"Of all the tragic losses since the 1960s, mimeograph paper may be the greatest. With its rapturously fragrant, sweetly aromatic pale blue ink, mimeograph paper was literally intoxicating. Two deep drafts of a freshly run-off mimeograph worksheet and I would be the education system’s willing slave for up to seven hours."

Once mimeograph morphed to odorless Xerox, classroom behavior changed radically. Those of us educated in neatly-rowed classrooms, with 2 15-minute recess periods, and one or two long whiffs of mimeograph ink several times a day were way less crazed than kiddies today. In fact, there are days when I think, gee, if I could just sit with a mimeograph social studies test covering my face for 20-30 minutes, I could seriously get on with the work of the day. Calm. Cool. A little out of it from the purple ink.

Other things that might cause euphoria and relieve stress that are no longer in fashion: Hula Hoops, Fizzies in tall colorful aluminum cups (though, probably, a leading cause of Boomer Alzheimer's), The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and using a mixture of baby oil and iodine as suntan lotion. Ahhh, just feel the tension rolling off your shoulders. Makes you want to run off and change your name to Thalia Menninger!

Now, simma' down! It's (finally) Friday!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Louie-Louie Life Lesson

No single experience in my life comes anywhere near the mental fear and physical trembling associated with The Brainerd Jr. High School Louie-Louie Incident of 1964

As soon as The Kingsmen's version of the song started getting radio airplay, the rumor exploded that the words to the song were dirty-dirty-dirty. Even 43 years later no one seems to know where the rumor originated, though the thing spread like wildfire across the country. Talk about a meme! Some radio stations even banned the song based on this crazy accusation.

OK picture it: sweet, conservative, Peter Pan-collared, Weejun-wearing 7th graders in Chattanooga, Tennessee, copying and distributing the words to the rumored version during Mr. Sylar's music class at a rate of 10-12 copies every 5 minutes (depending on how many of us sweetie-pies were doing the copying). Xerox had nothing on us. (Was there a Xerox in 1964?)

Who started the lyrics around the class to begin with? Who knows? (No, not me - where would I get such a thing??) But everybody wanted their own personal copy, even though we didn't know what many of the words meant. It was a kind of initiation into soon-to-be teenagehood, and we were all on board.

Until Susan Hicks' mother discovered a copy of the lyrics. I'm boldly using Susan Hicks' real name because she was a rat fink - we all thought she showed the words to her mother to get the rest of the 7th grade class into trouble - and deserves a little real-life blog-scorn. (I'll repent later, I'm sure.)

Well, just guess what came next?

Hoards of us were marched into Mr. Bible's office (yes, the principal with the overly-moralistic moniker) in our Villager dresses and with our John Romaine pocketbooks to face the complete shock and disdain of the school's main authority figure. And the scorn of the school secretary, to boot, who just sat there "tsk-tsking" and shaking her head. What a lost generation we were! (I bet she didn't know what the words meant, either.)

Of course, we got our little talking-to, then Mr. Bible said in his slow Southern drawl, "Well, I haven't decided whether to call your parents about this or not." Damn! How low! Either you're gonna do it or not, Sir, but don't make us live in limbo indefinitely about this! But he did.

Our thinking was that the only way we'd truly know if our parents had been called was if we reaped their wrath. And waiting for that expected wrath was unbearable. Couldn't eat. Couldn't sleep. Lots of praying. Volunteering for extra chores. Diligent homework-doing. Complete terror.

I was in one big knot for about 2 weeks. And when I hadn't seen a sad, disappointed look come across Mother's face by then, I figured I was in the clear. Never heard a word from my parents on the subject. I can't help but think if Mr. Bible had called them, I would have for darn sure heard about it - can't imagine Mother would've let something like that slide. Still . . .

But whenever I hear Louie-Louie today, it makes me feel just fine. Because nothing will ever come close to the experience of dodging that bullet, I tell ya'. Wheeeeeeewwwww!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

'Bye, Original Science Guy

Well, gee, Mr. Wizard's gone. He died yesterday, one month shy of his 90th birthday.

You do have to be of a certain age to remember his television show back in the 1950s and 60s, though I understand he went high-tech on Nickelodeon in the 80s. Mr. Wizard, aka Don Herbert, demonstrated all sorts of cool science experiments using everyday objects.

"You'll need an empty pickle jar, a teaspoon of baking soda, 3 sheets of toilet paper, and a glass of water . . . " Off you'd run to gather the stuff to see if you, too, could create a cocoon for a caterpillar. OK, that may not be a real experiment, but you get the gist of what Mr. Wizard was all about.

No fancy graphics, effects, or exploding sets. No jumping around in wild costumes. Just a guy that looked like a regular dad sort-of-guy that showed you how to do neat-o science based projects.

Thanks to Mr. Wizard (and Captain Kangaroo), I learned to hoard things like toilet paper tubes, tin foil, and mayonnaise jars. Hey, you never know when you could make it rain or produce some other useful thing.

Good-bye, Mr. Wizard. Guess you know all the answers now.

Shouldn't it be next week already?

Usually, the busier you are, the faster time flies. And then, there are those weird, time-warpy periods when time just stops. Head down, nose to the grindstone, feet pedaling as fast as you can, you finally look up and - damn! - you're right where you started from.

Well, welcome to my time-warp. Working long hours, having to stay perky and knowledgeable (and don't we all need a rest from that sometimes?), running from meeting to meeting - none of this is particularly unique to my job on any given day. But for some reason all of my working-perky-running has had the effect of slowing time this week.

It's only Wednesday? This Wednesday? Surely, it's next Wednesday already!

OK. Head back down, nose back to the grindstone, feet on pedals . . .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't mention it.

Deciding on just the right blog-post topic is a tricky business. Why I choose one thing over another, well, I'm not quite sure. But here are a few things that flitted into my head - then right out again - for blog-topics over the past couple of days. Consider yourself spared:
  • I dreamed about the Eiffel Tower two nights in a row over the weekend. All this talk about "Paris" is manifesting itself in odd ways.
  • The logo for the 2012 Olympic Games in London? Oh. Dear. Ever since I read that comment about it looking like Lisa Simpson doing, um . . . never mind.
  • Battle of the Tonys (Soprano vs. Broadway awards) - guess which one I watched?
  • Day trip to Staten Island. Hm. Let's see. Oh. The ferry trip over and back was nice.
  • Last weekend's Puerto Rican street fair. I skipped the Ricky Martin parade, by the way.
Saved us both some time, eh?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oh, What a Beautful (Birthday) Morning!

Today would've been Daddy's 87th birthday. I know that next week is Father's Day, but I felt I wanted to do a little tribute to him today, as well.

I write a lot about Mother. She was such a character that she makes for good (and loving) post-fodder. Daddy was more low-key. Unlike Mother, he didn't go around spouting Bible/Shakespeare verses, but he did have some fond speech interjections, like "Oh my aching back" and "Love you little, love you big, love you like a little pig."

He was more family-famous for breaking into song occasionally, though his - ahem! - singing voice came in for a lot of family ridicule. "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!," "This Old House," "Bushel and a Peck," "Suwanee River," and "Hey, Good Lookin'" were his all-time favorites, and whenever I hear any one of them now, I think of my daddy.

He was a lover of history and the literature of his youth, with a special affection for Robert Louis Stevenson. He must have learned A Child's Garden of Verses early on, because he could quote great swaths of some of the poems: "But every night I go abroad, afar into the land of Nod," "The friendly cow all red and white I love with all my heart," and "Now with my little gun I crawl all in the dark along the wall." ( I know that last one sounds dangerous, but it's just a little kid pretending before bedtime, while the dull old adults just sit around and read.) He could also launch into Longfellow with "Barefoot boy with cheeks of tan, blessings on thee, little man."

Daddy evidently excelled in Latin when he was in high school and always chided me for not taking it, feeling that it was an important foundation for someone who loved to write. Well, nobody took Latin when I was in high school (very uncool), but he was proud that granddaughter Kate did carry on the tradition when she reached her sophomore year. And yes, I do regret not taking Latin now.

Daddy loved us all like crazy and was always proud to have us tag along on his jaunts to Stone's Hardware or the Gulf station (Help Big Bro! I have completely forgotten the name of the gas-station guy; I can see his face as plain as day, though. Riley? Was that it?), where we'd get a treat of a Grapette soda. And he did all the grocery shopping; Mother hated grocery shopping and taught me that chore was a man's job. We chirruns were more than willing to pile into the car to help him out at the Red Food Store (which didn't sell red food exclusively, by the way). And by "help him out," I mean to coax him into buying Fritos and Sprite and the latest trendy cereal. Such a big food push-over!

Both my parents worked (outside the home, I mean). At home, Mother had the after-work day-jobs (all meals, laundry, general evening discipline), and Daddy had the night ones. He was the one who helped us get to sleep if we were finding it hard ("Your toes are going to sleep . . . Your knees are going to sleep. . ."), and he was the one who got up in the middle of the night if one of us got sick. The system seemed to work pretty well. There was never any doubt that the two of them were on the same team.

Diabetes and arthritis (which he called "Old Arthur") and rheumatiz got him down in his final years. But the real blow was the death of my brother David of pancreatic cancer in 1990. It tore him up that he couldn't protect one of us from something like that. So pain - all sorts - made him cranky and un-Daddy-like at the end. But none of us forgot the real guy who loved us. He died in 1999.

So Happy 87th Birthday, Newell Clayton Frazier. You were a great daddy, and you are sorely missed.

(The pictures? Daddy as a young sailor in the early 1940s, and a generational picture - Daddy with his mother, daughter, and granddaughter, 1985.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Celluloid Skyline

Very cool exhibit in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station, courtesy of my old favorite Turner Classic Movies. Celluloid Skyline, from a book of the same name by James Sanders, features all the ways in which the City of New York has starred in movies over the years - from inspiring the skyline of Oz in that Wizard movie to the gritty ugly stuff of 70's realism.

There were the expected exhibits and lots of screens with movie clips, but several New York painted backdrops were on display, as well. Absolute heaven for a combo movie-lover/New York fan! One other good thing: it's free!

Skyline backdrop - a popular photo-op stop.

Stock Times Square backdrop footage from the 1940s

Backdrop of Penn Station from The Clock
(Judy Garland and Robert Walker)

Backdrop of United Nations interior in North By Northwest
(Hitchcock couldn't get permission to shoot inside the UN)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

SpaHa Sunset

This evening's view from my armchair (minus the mini-blinds).
Television just can't compete.

Forget 56, I'm really 40!

Um, this might be a little tricky if you don't live in New York. But go ahead and try it. Pretend you live here. Create an alternate life. See how old you are in your New York fantasy world.

This is me:

My New York age is 40

This New York age puts you into a middle category between young and old (but not "middle age" per se). Be proud. You've got a nice balance between going out hard-core and staying in. You care about culture but also like some quiet nights. Keep it up, but think about expanding your horizons in the other directions. Head to Studio B or Anthology Film Archives for the first time, or finally check out the Village Vanguard or Elaine's for a dose of old-school NYC.

What's your New York age? Take the Time Out New York quiz and find out!

Summer of Love, Part 1

Much is being made of all the 40th anniversaries swirling around this summer. The 6-Day Arab-Israeli War. Race riots in Detroit, Newark, and Washington DC. The release of Sgt. Pepper's. The Summer of Love. It was a hot old summer, evidently - full of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (released in 1966, foreshadowing the year to come, I reckon).

Most of that, however, was off my 16-year-old self-involved radar screen (except for the music part). I don't think I found out about that 6-Day war until years later. Truly. Because I spent most of the summer of 1967 bouncing between my aunt Nell's apartment in Orlando and my friend Emily's house in St. Pete. For us, the Summer of Love consisted of long days by the pool or on the beach, late afternoons scaring ourselves silly watching "Dark Shadows" and re-runs of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and relaxed evenings at the movies or watching TV, falling into bed after "The Tonight Show." Totally Gidget.

Things were a little more carefree for us when we were with Nell, because she worked all day, and as long as we kept things neat and did her ironing (that's what I did while we were watching afternoon TV - didn't mind a bit, really), we were free to lay out by the pool as long as we wanted. Heat. Water. Baby oil and iodine. Radio. A snack once in a while. How good could life get? Completely self-absorbed. Or boy-absorbed. Or Sean Connery-absorbed. Wars and riots just didn't touch us that summer.

We had a different schedule when we were in St. Pete. We had to fit into a family of five, and Emily's mother didn't work. We did a lot more house-cleaning and chores there, but we were rewarded with trips to the beach. Chores were a small price to pay for a day on the beach. Heat. Water. Baby oil and iodine. Radio. Snacks. Boys. Ahh, the good life. What riots? War? Where?

A sickeningly joyous middle-class 16-year-old American experience in light of all the turmoil of that 1967 summer. But I can still feel the glory of the heat and water, of clinging to girlfriend and little sister during the scary Hitchcock moments, of wonderful meals and mindless, funny conversations. Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

You say ji-ro, I say yee-roh

Another food-inspired blog post. (Guess what I had for lunch?)

How do you pronounce that lovely Greek sandwich of lamb, lettuce, tomato, cucumber sauce on pita? You know, a gyro? I added a picture for those of you sadly unfamiliar with the treat.

I've been eating them for years, and in Atlanta, it's pronouced "yee-roh." Anyone who orders a "ji-ro"(long "i") is considered a no-nothing hick. We snicker at their no-nothingness. (In a polite, Southern way, of course.)

But here in New York? Everyone - even the sellers of gyros - pronouces the word like the hicks in Atlanta. Hmm. I know I'm trying to fit in here, but pronouncing it "ji-ro" is just wrong. I mean, ask any Greek - see Zorba, left. (Funny little satire on the controversy here.)

So how do you say it? I promise not to snicker. Well, not so's you can see me . . .

New York Stories

We're in the middle of a two-week orientation for new missionaries here at the Church Center (these are not Poisonwood Bible types, so get that out of your mind). Yesterday, the newbies were divided into groups of 3 or 4 (across age, gender, geographical lines) and sent forth into big, bad Manhattan on a sort of scavenger hunt. Each was given a list of locations to visit - from Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem to Times Square, Little India, and Chinatown - and instructed to bring back proof they'd actually found the places on the list.

It was an exercise in navigating unfamiliar territory - and yes, while different from the territory to be faced in Northern Uganda or Honduras, Manhattan can be as alien as it gets if you're not familiar with the place. These folks were on their own, with subway/bus maps and fresh MTA cards to help them on their way.

We kept our fingers crossed that all would show up by the 6pm deadline at the designated fabulous Chinese restaurant near Trinity Wall Street, and lo and behold! they did. One group was about 15 minutes late, but none the worse for wear, so there you go.

During dinnertime conversation the stories of New York started pouring out - negotiating the subway (missed/wrong stops), the food (Katz's Deli of When Harry Met Sally fame was a favorite), the characters (the Bell Lady in Little India, the Naked Cowboy in Times Square), the sheer number of people on the sidewalks. But every person - every one - said that the biggest surprise was how friendly and helpful the people of New York are.

New York City denizens get a bad rap about being unfriendly. I've never found New Yorkers unfriendly or threatening. If anything, they're overly-jolly and helpful to a fault. You don't have to ask for directions - just pause on a sidewalk or subway platform, and someone invariably asks "Do you need help? Where are you trying to go?" And this was how it was for the folks on yesterday's adventure. People offered help - the groups rarely had to ask.

I guess too many people get their New York images from The French Connection, Midnight Cowboy, and The Out-of-Towners. And I have to admit, I stayed clear of the city during the 70s and 80s, so perhaps the place really was Scary-Town during those years. But I've always found New Yorkers - whatever race/creed/color/national origin - friendly (for the most part) and helpful. And catalysts for the most wonderful New York stories.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Pizza Dilemma

I'm not all that keen on pizza. I don't hate it, but if I have to waste Italian calories, I'd rather do it with a glob of pasta or luscious cannoli. But, see, I live in The Pizza Capital of the World right now (don't gimme any lip, Chicago!), so I feel some kind of obligation to nip in to one of the 42,000 pizza dives here in New York once in a while.

But the whole thing just confuses me. I've finally figured out the difference between regular and Sicilian, and that to eat a slice of "regular," you fold it lengthwise and go at it. But the varieties and toppings are overwhelming. Neapolitan, Margherita, rustica, romana, and plain ol' cheese. And which "Ray's" is the original, famous one? Just too much pressure at lunchtime! Plus, as I said, I'm not that keen on the stuff.

Still, it's filling and cheap, so I just need to get over it. I'll never be a real New Yorker until I become a pizza connoisseur.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Just in Time

Is wasting time actually time well spent? An article in the New York Times the other day really struck a chord with me. I remember when I was a producer/writer at Turner Broadcasting, co-workers would often find me lying on the floor tossing a rubber ball or bean bag up and down, staring into space. What a work-shirker! But that apparent time-wasting was a necessary part of the creative process for me. Goofing around on the floor or mindlessly searching the internet or working a crossword puzzle is how I prime the creative pump. Ideas click in somehow, someway during time-wasting. And as the NYT article points out, the more hours we work, the more hours we need to "waste." Think I'll print this article and post it on my office door.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it was 40 years ago (yesterday) that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. Forty years! Yikes! Really? Forty? Fair enough. Sometimes it feels like 10 and sometimes 100. Time is such a weird thing. (And "When I'm 64" ain't that far away anymore. Another "wow.") Well, I don't care how old it is, the music still makes me smile.

Do you still wear a watch? I notice more and more people don't, mainly because they're so cool that they just pull out their Blackberries or cell phones to check the time. I can't imagine not having a watch on my wrist and feel bereft if for some reason I'm not wearing one. And watches are just lovely bits of jewelry-mechanisms. Do I wear a fancy one? Nah. Just a Timex Indiglo (I like to see it light up when I'm in a movie theatre). Guess I'm not very cool. OK, well, I am, but just not on the time-thing.