Happy Hour: Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room

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It was 1984 and in some Orwellian counter-plan, I worked for a large apparel company on the 33rd floor in a building that looked like all the others,  just below Times Square. My job was just dreadful. It was laborious, stressful, with surmounting pressures, as I was charged with developing sales and marketing strategies for a soon-to-be launched new line of men’s sportswear. I was alertly at my desk each weekday at 7am and still there, each night at 7pm.

I usually took a thirty minute lunch but spent it at my desk frenetically paying bills or catching up on phone calls. If I craved a smoke, such an indulgence required a long wait for the elevator, a long descent, and finally a walk around to the side of the building. I chose to puff in secret in the men’s room … which was actually rather safe from detection.

The only other male employee on the entire floor was the designer whose goods I would soon be hawking. We’d often meet up there with our coffee and trade horror tales of being the only men in such a reverse world.The still men’s room became a haven to us both. And, we both smoked menthols.

We could escape innuendo, harassment, and (I at least) was able to forget the suggestion my boss was always making: that perhaps I bed the Saks, Bloomies, or Burdines buyer to guarantee a larger opening order. Although I became quite proficient at my job, I was quickly despising the moral and karmic decline it seemed to represent.

One October morning, I left my building in time to catch the train downtown … with enough time to get coffee. Right as the subway entrance at 72nd Street came within view, I turned right and just started walking up Broadway to 75th, then over toward Central Park, and was heading back toward 72nd Street … when I finally decided. I was taking a personal day and just chill. I had been in New York for six weeks and had yet to really take advantage of many amenities, save hot dogs and pizza. That day, which I had labelled “today”was actually becoming that day.

I returned to 89 West 72nd (my humble prewar building, with my apartment, a 14th floor walk-up!) and made the fateful call. Relieved, I put on my trusty fatigues and boots and headed out for a brisk walk and to survey my options. Before long, I was at Amsterdam Ave & 84th Street and noticed several people walking hurriedly down the steps into the infamous Bike Stop.

The Bike Stop was your typical Manhattan dive: ancient, wood-paneled, and filled with the smoke and ghosts of fifty years. I peaked in and was shocked. It was just past eight and it was packed!
I had stepped right into the Late Shift’s Happiest of Hours. 

There most have been over a hundred people squeezed between the bar tab and billiards tables: some in suits, others in jeans, others in clothing I had never actually seen in daylight. The woman at the bar fixed me a spicy Bloody Mary with extra, extra everything … and I pulled out my cigarettes.

An attractive woman (although with only one eye), she solicited a smoke, I offered, and soon we were exchanging stories. She was a retired circus performer who had brought her savings to the city and rented a small flat in the Bronx. Her friends all had similar and eclectic stories. I was already fascinated.

And on my second Bloody Mary, when the memorable turn of the morn transpired, I eased over toward the jukebox, inserting several bills. When“Romancing the Stone” (D-23) erupted into the air (Eddy Grant was a favorite of mine that autumn), I started tapping my fingers on that antique music machine. I was lost in the music, the energy, the oddity of the moment. At that point, he came over.
     

Yes, HE did.

He was my height, with long blond locks, and rather quirkily garbed. I remember he was wearing a chartreuse beret because he took it off, walked over and introduced himself. “My name is Hans.” The two of us spied a table, quickly seated ourselves, and spent the next few hours in discovery and flirtation. He was originally from Toronto, had been in NYC for ten years, and restored paintings at the Metropolitan. And he was the combined embodiment of strapping, fetching, and Bohemian. Craving lunch, among other things, I suggested we get a bite to eat.

As we strolled down Amsterdam Ave, laughing and gesturing with abandon, Hans asked if I had plans for the afternoon and if I were up to an excursion. Of course, I said yes, remembering at once I might only awaken to find myself at my desk near Times Square, once again peddling men’s sportswear. We hailed a cab and headed to Mercer Street.

Within minutes, he was unlocking his door to his studio, above a bookshop across from what is now the Mercer Hotel. As Hans started to push the door open, I at once glimpsed what was to be the splendor of the day. The studio was huge, at least by Manhattan standards, with eighteen foot ceilings, and an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. And the Venetian-plastered walls were filled with incredible and varied images … some impressionist, some abstract, others given to realism of still lives and portraiture.

Easels were placed at every turn, except for the area in the corner where a small and worn seating group nestled. I was overwhelmed with the beauty, the room’s grandeur, and the incredible spirit.

For the next few hours, we snacked on various cheeses and fruits (from his atypically artsy icebox!) and sipped champagne. And the ever-so-increasingly intriguing Hans gave me my first lesson in restoring paintings, as he meticulously detailed the various freelance projects he was undertaking.

In what seemed to be minutes, it was soon dark and I needed to head back toward Columbus Circle and prepare for the coming workday. We exchanged reluctant goodbyes, made plans for the weekend, and he took my hand, walking me to the corner to hail a cab.

The next morning, I was at my desk at 7AM, coffee steaming … my coworkers only beginning to slowly file onto the 33rd floor. Tommy (the designer and my eager partner in crimes of tar and nicotine) came over suggesting we have a smoke before the day’s pace reached the critical overdrive state. I held the door open for my friend and, as he passed through, I offered: “I realize your intent but do you think your name is the easiest to market and remember?”

His name had become quite a difficult sell and I was naturally curious. “I just can’t see Tommy Hilfiger as a branded line of clothing.” 

He beamed with his confidence and vision radiating from his broad smile. I knew at once we were going to make it work. I returned the smile. As long as all these women didn’t beat us down too severely! We extinguished our cigarettes and returned to our desks.

All I could think about was Hans and his steady paintbrush. And, of course, how glad I was that I had finally moved to New York, now that I was indeed tasting it. I stopped referring to my job as heinous that morning.

That “artistic holiday” had made a world of difference, as did “D-23” and that peek into the Bike Stop.

(Image: “Toaster Bar” by Randis Albion.)

Wienies From ‘Round the World: May I Suggest a Wine?

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“Wienies from around the world,” that’s what we fondly christened the dish back in 1984. I was living in Kenmore Square in Boston; it was a balmy Sunday night; and I had a dozen rather eclectic friends coming over to comment, cheer, and make merry as we watched the Summer Games of the XXIII Olympiad. My apartment was rather tiny with a modest galley kitchen so my preparation had to be well thought-out and executed or else I would’ve met anarchy of sorts … long before we even gathered to eat dinner.

After contemplating countless possible menus, I opted for my own variation of an American classic, one that surely would be savored but would suggest high camp and my trademark whimsy. I took classic “beans & franks” and added twists, customizing it for the Olympics and my own eccentric brand of “flavor!”

As I marketed, I had an epiphany: why not assemble hot dogs and sausages from different countries to create an Olympic-worthy international meal. Little did I realize that, in doing so, I would ultimately add two hours to my shopping time as I had to go to three different grocery stores! Oh, how I adore making the simple more complicated!
However, by 5:00PM, I was ready to commence the prep work and assembly:

I sautéed Polish kielbasa, Italian Summer sausages, spicy Thai sausages, Bavarian Bratwurst, ever-so-kosher Hebrew National Franks, and a traditional & local favorite, Fenway Franks! Slicing & mixing them, I finally arranged them in the bottom of a huge lasagna pan, trying not to be too anal in my placement.

I then took several large cans of Boston baked beans (“when in Rome …”) and added sautéed Vidalia onions, fresh chervil, and diced jalapenos, spooning the mixture on top of the meats to create a second layer.
Taking a pound of country slab bacon, I fried it, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it over the beans. Remember, my friends, it WAS 1984 and bacon was yet to become the enemy!
I finished off my preparation by drizzling honey over the bacon, the dish now ready for “simple insertion” into my small oven for baking. 
(“Insertion” and “aperture” were my two favorite words that year! They were often in heavy rotation.)
Later that evening, my buddies came over; we tasted several merlots (several indeed); and cheered indeed as history was being made at the Los Angeles Summer games. At that very point at which we started to “become starch-depleted” (read: “buzzed!”), I announced to all that dinner was awaiting spooning and consumption: “In honor of the occasion, tonight we will be dining on the slightly elegant wienies from around the world!” 
Of course, everyone guffawed and chuckled. I was far too reserved and proper to ever serve such a creation! I smiled because I knew that I had branded the dish my very own (with my own styling) and they would soon discover I wasn’t joking.
Naturally, the meal was a huge hit. I say this not out of cockiness, but rather: if it hadn’t been, I would never have posted about it!
A quarter-century has passed and I have now made the dish a dozen times, usually for a campy, relatively low-brow fête of sorts. It never fails! People laugh and then enjoy it, rather satisfied, as it can be ever so comforting and laden with all-things-bad! There was one notable exception, however.
The anti-Christ was once appalled at the mere suggestion of this offering, requesting a cassoulet instead. His pretention amused and annoyed me for, in so many ways, it is basically the same thing. I might’ve responded to his insistence at the time by making ironic use of “aperture” … but I am certain I was thinking “a**hole”!
Little did I know that our personal apocalypse would start thus, and in the kitchen even. He was foolish this way: that was where, in so many ways, I kept all of my artillery and maintained the upper hand!

Trading Beaver

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that I hated the game of “Beaver” when I was a child. Perhaps, words such as “detest” and “heinous” would be more apt. In the 60′s, whenever my family went on the obligatory summer road trips, it became increasingly difficult for my parents to occupy me. Somehow, and at least for a while, they were indeed able to engage me in some activity to both pass the time and to quiet me so that they could talk quietly of adult matters.

By age eight, the notion of spotting certain autos for sport seemed pointless, boring, and far too unchallenging. “Beaver” was no longer relevant. My father turned to quizzing my proficiency in Spelling, as I was indeed a competitive and budding perfectionisto. The more focused he became in stumping me, the more determined I was to rise to the challenge. (The Daughters of Charity at St Pius X would’ve been be so proud, had they only known that I had a life prior to my transferring!)

After three or four hours of such “gaming,” my father would inevitably grow exasperated, unable to continue, and desperate for either quiet or conversation. He would almost reveal his impatience when he’d finally suggest: “why don’t you amuse yourself for a while. Your mother and I need to discuss some things.”

Stumped the first time, I pondered my options. I couldn’t read because reading (while in a moving car) was frowned upon back then: it was widely thought that such an activity would result in headaches or nausea. Drawing was out of the question because it was impossible to maintain a steady hand.

Frustrated, I propped my head against the window, peered out, and contemplated my next activity. I saw at once the magnificence of the billowy, layered clouds against the light teal sky, and was just as quickly mesmerized. I had never before noticed their complexity and dreamy nature. I was drawn in. The longer I studied these clouds, the more I detected them moving and would see outlines of clouds forming new shapes.

Such was how my nebular kingdom was at once created. I would try intently to identify each cloud formation (and its many peaks and puffs) and assign it a secular counterpart: Majestic castles with grand spires and drawbridges. Glimmering oceans with diving fairies and nymphs. Ancient hollowed trees with elves scurrying about.

I thus could easily dream away the remainder of the trip lost in my own worlds … without bothering my parents or getting restless.
Years passed and, on subsequent and similar journeys, my fantasies grew more complex and visual … especially as my own yearnings and experiences grew. It was always my highlight of the drive.

Of course, in respect and deference to my father, we did always begin future trips with our own spelling bee, ultimately learning to keep it under an hour’s time. And by age eleven or so, we moved on to geography: state capitals, foreign capitals, even ultimately reciting all fifty states. However, after an hour or so, I’d gently retreat into my own game of “clouds passing by!”

Naturally it wasn’t terribly long before I possessed the many keys to my freedom. I became my own driver and the virtual master thus of my entire domain … at least in my imagination.

And I never had to play “Beaver” while I, instead, became proficient in both spelling and geography. (I won the statewide bee when I was in fourth grade, thank you!)

It was at this very early age that my mind and fantasy fused so effectively and became my favorite mode of transportation.

(Image: “Prettiest Star” by Timothy Cummings.)

A Matter of Taste

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Although I dream in technicolor and live on a healthy diet of metaphors and allegory, I still have a tendency to label everything from emotions to foods to household appliances. Fortunately my vocabulary is such that I am always able to distinguish between the most subtle and oblique of the Universe’s minutia. Well, almost always. If I stumble upon a fumble or bumble, I simply file it away in that storage closet that is my subconscious.

This “over the top” and almost excessive presentation of fruit (at its most symmetrical) represents creativity at both its most fertile and patient. The painstakingly execution of a mélange of this grandeur almost defies definition and can betray its intent. Is it a mammoth centerpiece, constructed to “whet the wow”? Is it a work of art that is doomed to quickly deconstruct? Is it a source of the healthiest of soirée nibbles? Is it a fruity “welcome” basket gone awry? Perhaps it is simply a modern cornucopia with myriad purposes, yet to be fulfilled.

For my appreciation, I am relieved that I only have a photographed image. If I were to cruise by this artful mass, I’d surely start plucking blueberries and kiwi. I’d pass on the pineapple altogether. And I’d seek a spoon, or similar utensil, to delve into a succulent grapefruit.

I am certain, as Chiquita and DelMonte are my witnesses, I’d begin rearranging and adapting the design to conceal gaps and preserve impact.

 

“Taste every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully. Temperance is wickedness.”

Removing the Mask

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“I wept not, so to stone within I grew.” 

(Dante Alighieri)

As midnight looms, the pusses are already lost in their Tuesday night dream of just another day, and I ponder this fourth day reprieve for a week’s end not yet over. We’ve stretched the gamut from dreaded grief to grievous dread and have, frankly, grown quite weary. Ah, the juice of a holiday awaits and I am parched for the sip.

The last few days have not been easy, not that many ever are. Five days have passed since Dr Rose gave me the news, with a schedule of “issues” to ready myself for my pending heart transplant. Jon’s preparation is equally as daunting, just different. Emoting doesn’t always come easy for that long and silver-haired bard of Marklewood. I embrace him, talk of the better days, and mindfully keep him from spiraling for too long. And I talk away the tears. (Yes, You’ve got to pay your dues, if you want to sing the blues.”

Jon has joined the pusses under the carefully layered pile of odd bed linens: cheetah-pattern fleece sheets, crisp white matelasse coverlet, and russet silk duvet. He will soon drift off and the upstairs will once again be still. My mask can at last be retired, and I can softly weep, as to not wake the gasping sorrow that took all day to quell.

I do that a lot on these spring days: keep my feelings under lock so that I can be the cheerful cruise director. I eagerly work at applying that shield of optimism, so successfully that I often fool even myself that “all is well” in this never-ending tragedy.

So, as I look ahead to my procedural “event,” I will breathe an honest air and release that waiting cry. My soul will once again attest to my humanity and weakness, and I will cry … for Jon, his friend, and the pusses who trust that I indeed know best.

When tomorrow’s dawn finally awakens my body, I shall once again re-face my spirit. I shall make the day happy, rejoicing that the world around us has come to a stop. Henry and I will judiciously maneuver the creaky stairs to fetch Jon’s juice and breakfast, and Jon’s sun will rise.

Henry is the ever proper companion puss for he remembers all of my tears. Perhaps, he wears his own mask of sorts. Or maybe he simply craves a treat.

(Image: “Man With Magnolias” by Steven Kenny, 2013.)

 

Conjugations and Declensions in Mixed Company

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I was such a nerd in middle school. In fact, at my lunch table of like-minded bookish pubescents, I was admittedly the obsessive and seemingly hopeless one. If my algebra teacher assigned all the odd-numbered problems for homework, I would eagerly complete all the “evens” as such completion gave me joy. In social studies, all of my reports and papers had embellishments in the margins and calligraphed, illustrated title pages. Naturally in Phys Ed, whenever teams were selected, I was usually one of the last ones to be chosen, although my height gave me a reluctant advantage.

Of course in ninth grade, my fortunes changed a bit. Prior to that year, I had gone through two full years with the same two dozen students as classmates. Although my grade had perhaps five hundred students, I had been classified as an achiever, tagged as “gifted”, and grouped with other students who took their studies seriously. It made for an insulated educational experience, but heightened the extent of many friendships.

But in ninth grade, we finally had choices. I opted to take a second foreign language instead of civics, industrial arts, or other such niche courses. My parents had suggested that I take Latin, which I already knew that I would savor. Of course, I held out for a while so that they might try to bribe me into registering for it.

When classes began, I was suddenly in a class with students I hadn’t known for years, except for perhaps ten random individuals. My world had at once become slightly more diverse, at least in ability, outlook, and demeanor. The younger “me” might’ve been terrified or perhaps anxious at such a change but the more world-wise fourteen year old that I had become was titillated by the prospects of engaging in declensions in mixed company.

By mid-year, I was beginning to loosen up quite a bit. No longer did I obsessively wear button down shirts, khakis, and sweater vests. I started saying hello to people I didn’t know, greeting most everyone I encountered. And I ventured out to different lunch tables and, often, invited non-bookish, non-nerdy acquaintances to join me at my regular table.

At some point I even asked a girl out on a date. Well, it seemed like a date back then in that it took weeks to bolster myself to make the phone call. She said “yes” and, although my father had to chauffeur us, the afterglow invigorated my stride for many weeks. Of course, the fact that we went to the theater (and enjoyed the road production of “Cabaret”) should have given me pause and fodder for other questions. But as we Southerners offer in such situations: “that don’t make no never mind!”

And Latin? It was grand. My teacher Mrs. Whitlock was glamorous, rigorous in her academic prodding, and full of beaming and disarming smiles. That was the class in which I learned the value of humor at unexpected if not inopportune moments … as I often mumbled witticisms and off-handed commentary to a growing audience. That was where I first met Puella.

Of course, that was not her real name although it was indeed given … by me. Puella was one of those vocabulary words that, simply by pronunciation, can make adolescents guffaw, akin to “boni” (or “heinous”). Puella sat next to me and, by second semester, we were good friends and she was forever branded “Pooella Sue!” Her friendship alone taught me the value of not always being so serious, and to trust my instincts. Often the most important relationships are seeded from outside our comfort zone.

The year ended much too quickly, and everyone’s thoughts turned to high school and the adventures ahead. I registered for latin II, but knew that more change than the obvious was in-store. Busing plans had finally been enacted and many classmates would be going to different schools. But I was braced for the unknown with a carefully culled confidence.

That August, I registered for my classes. Most of my friends were there, including Pooella Sue. And, while I wasn’t paying close attention, I had morphed into a new persona. I was a young Bolshevik, sporting longish hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, and Danish army pants.

My middle school “lunch table” cronies and I disbanded and forsook our tradition: we were now able to leave campus at lunchtime. It at once was a time of new worries, new strategies, and new adventures in Latin.

 

(Image: “Study for Self Portrait as the World” by Julie Heffernan, 2008.)

Awaiting the Besiege by Another Summer Plague

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“Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers. Yours has the suffering been. The memory shall be ours (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

As Memorial Day nears, this year’s Summer plague has given neither warning nor sign. For eleven such seasons, I have made the hinterlands of outer Raleighwood my home, comfortably living with Jon in this ancient barn, surrounded by even older pine woods. Each June, however, we are besieged by freakish swarms of unlikely invaders. While my Catholic schoolboy days are long forgotten, those Old Testament verses yet linger and caption well these modern menaces of such Biblical proportion.

I came to Marklewood in the spring of 2002, unaware of what would become the bane of the dog days: green tree frogs. I had never lived out in the country before and knew not what to expect, assuming such creatures perhaps simply defied gravity with their vertical leaps. By late June, though, I was well familiar with both their song and the harmony they create with the seemingly more discriminating cricket. Each night at dusk, the air was filled with amphibian chirps, drowning the playful meows and Jon’s and my attempts at conversation on the swing. Alas, by September, their numbers indeed dwindled, along with my annoyance. That is, until I brought my hanging baskets of “string-of-pearls” and “Wandering Jew” inside for the colder nights ahead. About a week later, stowaway tree frogs frolicked in the sun-room and throughout the house, wreaking havoc among the vigilant indoor pusses. Chaos ensued, resulting in toppled and broken porcelains … and unresolved stress and regret.

The following year, once Memorial Day came around, I thought ahead to a dry September: “I shall scrutinize any house plants before returning them to the indoors!” Naturally, the joke was on me. The frogs never seemed so galvanized in force that summer. Instead, we had the dreaded and surprisingly persistent inch worms. They’d turn up in unusual crannies in the garden: on the seats of wrought iron benches, on the handles of trash receptacles, and strategically surrounding ash trays. However, it was the ones that dared to venture inside the house that were the most adept at “goat-getting”!

Those slowly slithering critters came in through the spigots, after what must’ve been an arduous journey from the outdoor pipes and well. The kitchen sink, of course, was the obvious port of entry. However, they’d often emerge from the bathroom faucets, both sink and tub, including those on the second floor. For what seemed like an eternity but, in fact, was two months, I’d each day constantly run hot water from all spigotry. I hoped to make the pipes impassable and, at the very least, grossly uncomfortable. I not once remembered the lyrics to any silly and applicable children’s song. And then the cooling winds of Autumn came and they were gone. I brought my baskets inside after careful inspection and found no sign of tree frogs traveling “incognito”.

The summer of 2004 was wet and rainy and relatively quiet. They tree frogs were timid in their numbers and the inch worms must have found it bearable to remain outdoors. Unfortunately, the horrors ahead were worse than I could have ever imagined. Slugs were everywhere. Their destruction in gardens is legendary and our experience proved no exception. Worse, however, was the phenomenon I had never noticed until one cool evening in late June.

I was sitting on the front stoop, listening to tunes on my ipod and enjoying a smoke. A new litter of kittens was making merry at my feet, and I stretched my arms wide and up, brushing my hands against the side of the house. I felt a cool, moist gelatinous substance and turned. And screamed. Literally, hundreds of tiny slugs were scaling the house. I ran inside, surely yelling at Jon in some incomprehensible panic, rushing to scrub my tainted hands. Let’s just say that we had that very slug issue all summer long. One never gets used to it, although I referred to the yucky sight as the “attack of the zombie slugs” since they moved in that Romero pace of cinematic notoriety.

Over the last decade, the extent of such plagues have run the gamut from the obvious to the absurd. There have been cicadas, June bugs, flying roaches, and certainly creatures that are undetectable by human eye. I have learned to accept such bothersome storms of the Animal Kingdom’s smaller subjects. I temper my courage with humor.

The greatest test was two years ago. It was the year of the Lady Bug, thousands of them … everywhere. Wait! It was more aptly: tens of thousands of them. And I am quoting in purposely conservative estimates. I would open my car door, only to have swarms of them seek refuge in the taupe leather of the upholstery. I would sit in the garden swing and they would fly behind my spectacles. They would often cover the entire North side of the house. Those of you who are mustering sweet childhood memories, believe me. Such insects never heed nursery rhyme wisdom nor do they “fly away home!”

This year, however, I am prepared. I have my sprays, my brooms, and an extra long garden hose. But I have no idea what to expect. At some point, though, I shall certainly reminisce of Sr Edward Patricia’s Old Testament class. I could’ve sworn I paid better attention back then.

     I am patiently waiting for the year of the butterfly.

(Image: “Phare” by Denis Dubois, 2013.)

Lauren DiCoccia: Crewel and Unusual

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San Francisco artist Lauren DiCoccio takes the centuries old and almost obsessive technique and, in contrast, uses the New York Times as a background. Often she will take a photograph, selectively outlining and shading with vibrant hues, creating an unusual, measure into a static surrealism. DiCoccio has certainly isolated her niche and, by both chance and intent, develops her own language. The stray and dangling threads add a certain charmness as well as an ingenuity that straddles the worlds of both tradition and “edge”.

“My work investigates the physical beauty of common mass-produced objects as they approach obsolescence. Ubiquitous items of day-to-day life (the newspaper, 35mm slide, or hard-cover book, for example) are quickly becoming cultural artifacts as these media change modes due to technology and the hope for a less wasteful lifestyle. Approaching sculpture, painting, and tedious handicraft with an air of lightness, I aim to remind viewers of the importance of our relationships with these simple but intimate objects of everyday life and to provoke a pang of nostalgia for their familiar physicality.” (Lauren DiCioccio)

DiCioccio received her B.A. at Colgate University and is represented by Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco.

Hurray for Dollywood, Wafts, and Clever Pusses

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Alas, in a world smitten with chaos and sorrow, how sublime the last of May’s Saturdays can be!
The world’s timepiece stops for the weekend. The clouds waft in the heavens. And in the woods, the pusses frolic with the winged daredevils, who taunt them with their airborne shenanigans.

Of course, the squirrels of Marklewood are simply “less gifted” and yet unaware of their disadvantage and fate. Then again, there is rarely a feline “underdog” to be found anywhere in these piney hinterlands, if indeed such a mythical character exists! Before such tailed rodents threw their first aim at Yorick, they were doomed to failure. That enterprising marmalade puss has considered taking his collection of squirrel tails and creating a smaller version of the Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett coonskin hats. The savvy and dignified Kitty Carlisle has suggested that they put them on consignment at Dollywood along with decorative plastic tubs filled  with Henry’s favorite, but eclectic, roasted chicken salad.

That, my friends, is a sign of restored equilibrium here in the hinterlands. At least such is likely when the sun glistens so and time stands still.

Jon is eating dinner, albeit like a reluctant field mouse … drifting off into dreambits and feigning a listen to NPR. Every hour or so, he checks on the tiny abandoned kittens that he seems to have adopted: Karen Black and Delores Gray. Naturally, one is black; the other, solid steel gray.
I , however, smile and remember what life was like before, confident that it will return in an even grander form!

 

(Image by Lizbeth Zwerger.)

Silent Flapping

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It is indeed that hour before dawn that we seem to be our most intimate with the Universe. Stillness cloaks us in the knowledge that our globe has stopped at least until sunrise. The blooms on the heartiest of sunflowers yawn as if to beg for another hour’s sleep. And that blasted cell phone is yet dormant.

     A May sunrise is indeed glorious, but its anticipation is more precious. It is a charm, tentatively set in a bracelet of stolen mornings. Appreciated for that day, it is soon forgotten in a moment of wee-ness. The unspoiled air fills our lungs. The unsung melody gently rouses the lonely heart, as the quietness fades into the light of a new day.
     My world is still a-slumber, begging still for more. The only stir is the bird that time has to taught to flap its wings in anonymity.
     I am that bird.
(Image: “Strange Flowers Blossom” by Tino Rodriguez, 2004.)
By the way, “Silent Flapping” is not a Mike + the Mechanics tune.

Beet Red and Tickled Pink

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I find the concept of receiving flowers, especially from an admirer, embarrassing, awkward, and often horrifying. Admittedly, however, there have been three times in my life that I have been such a recipient; and each time has been noteworthy as far as romance goes. Of course, that is usually the intent of the sender. Granted, I have sent my mother, sister, and nieces grand and eclectic arrangements. But within the boundaries of my ancient and traditional sentiment, as a man it still seems odd.

The first time was romantic and quite unexpected. It was the summer of 1984 and I had just been transferred to Boston. I had been in the city no more than two weeks, opening a new Godiva store at Copley Place, and was mesmerized by the many facets that define Beantown. On one such Sunday night, it was humid with an unpleasant stillness in the air. I joined some friends at Paradise, a quirky dive at Kendall Square in Cambridge. I always enjoyed the jaded, faded, and smoky ambience … complete with beehived, middle-aged barmaids who were as savvy as they were sassy.

     Just as I noticed it was getting too late to continue rationalizing the increasingly challenging juggle of martini and cue stick, a dapper, muscular blond and bearded man walked over to me. (I tend to get more descriptive as I become titillated, my friends.) Ned (yes, Ned) asked if he could buy me a drink, which naturally the clock prevented me from accepting. We exchanged pleasantries, glances, and efficient flirtations when my friends starting nagging me to wrap it up. It was time to depart and, unless I wanted to walk alone across the bridge back to Boston, I needed to say goodnight right then.
     Neither one of us could find a pen to exchange phone numbers so we simply said our speedy goodbye, facing the night’s disappointment head-on. For the entire drive home and well into the wee hours, I berated myself for being so unprepared and chastised Master Fate for his dalliance of cruelty.
     The next day I went into work at noon (as I had scheduled myself to close that night), I noticed on the counter a huge bouquet of crimson stargazers dotted with a few pink ones. The card read: “You mentioned Godiva. I hope this isn’t presumptuous. Dinner this Friday at seven?” I was beet red and tickled pink as I started fantasizing of what the following weekend might hold in store.
     I won’t bore you, my friends, with any of the tedious or lurid details, let it suffice that Master Fate had more twist s and tricks up his imperial sleeve. Ned lived in Springfield at the opposite end of the state and I, living in Boston, had no auto. By the time we had worked out a rhythm and had smoothed out the logistic hurdles, Godiva transferred me to New York. The two month flirtation had become simply an exercise in restraint, hurdles, and determination.
     A quarter century later, I recall more of the splendid floral arrangement and less of Ned. Except that I learned to always have a writing utensil handy.
     As for the other two times I received flowers, one was when I was working for an extremely conservative firm in Washington and a persistent, somewhat dramatic (read flamboyant) suitor sent me a huge bouquet of lipstick-red Anthuria, perhaps thirty stems in a definite Revlon shade. Each bloom did indeed look like a “little boy flower”, at full and pubescent attention, perhaps to taunt me. That exchange never led to much more than a polite thank you and many weeks of denial.
     The last time I received such flowers was from the anti-Christ after a nasty Albee-esque argument that had lasted for days and terrified the entire Lorcum Lane corridor. I choose not to elaborate further about this bouquet of solemn nondescript red roses … except to mention that they were as forgettable as the sender, at least in retrospect.
     There you have it, my brief history of receiving either floral arrangements or the superbly elegant box of freshly cut “long-stems”. My beloved, Dr Markle, is always one to buck a trend or eschew conformity. In 2002, he brought me a effulgent potted hydrangea, the perfect gift for a first date. More than a decade later, it majestically flanks the front stoop.
(Image: from a series by Theodor Gyger.)

Dr Jon: Marklewood’s Heart Whisperer

 

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The pusses and I are remodeling Tartuffe’s Folly, as Jon cheers us on and supplies us with the appropriate victuals and libations. The progress seems a bit slow, however, at least in securing readership and subscribers. Please let me know if you have ideas to share. And either register or subscribe.

Currently, as we seek appropriate and artful furnishings, we’re struggling to take advantage of visual options. I am confident that Tartuffe’s Folly will be fully resurrected. Hopefully, it will soon surpass the former site’s readership of over 420,000 hits (over a 2 1/2 year period). You are certainly aware of my impatience and obsession, so please don’t take it personally if I am irritable, distant, or hyper. Yes, I am in pursuit of more effective medications.

By now, you are surely aware that I’ve had several serious cardio “events.” Both in February 2011 and August 2012, my heart suffered a several drop in its function evaluations. After the last attack, my heart was functioning below 25% and has dropped to just 16% over the past eight months since. Yes, Dr Rose told me today and I whisper: “you need to immediately file for disability and then secure Medicaid. It is time for a heart transplant.”

     “Yikes. Egads. And Damn.” Jon will have to play nursemaid for me as I convalesce. For now, I just want to find the ball steadily and quickly rolling at Wake Heart and Vascular. For once, though, I shouldn’t focus on the future but, instead, remain in the present. A heart transplant. Geesh!

The recuperation period will demand that Jon be the caregiver, for a reversal of roles. As is the Marklewood tradition, the Twelve Erstwhile and Apostolic Pusses are assembling a soundtrack for that future date. But don’t expect any tune that might be construed as trite, crass, grossly over-played, or just dated:

“Heart Attack” (Olivia N-J), “Achy Breaky Heart” (B.R. Cyrus), “Heartless” (Heart), or even “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” (BeeGees) I admit that an instrumental might be a little more apropos.

 

 “Misery loves company but she will never foot the bill.” 

(Images above by visionary San Francisco artist Andrew Batcheller.)

Good Night, Mary Ellen. Good Night, Miss M

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It was my senior year in high school. I sat in the second desk in the fifth row in a rather sassy and self-assured AP English class. Our instructor, Miss M, was insistent that we be versed in oratory, so she insisted further that we constantly read aloud: narratives, ballads of olde, and excerpts from the classics. Without fail or exception, I was always one of the select few called upon to deliver.

It was not that I was without the inclination or the talent. The child of a writer and an oft public speaker, I was well aware of the impact of pauses, intonation, and the general drama of the “read.” After all, I had such home tutelage since I was in “kindergarten for the disgustingly precocious!”

My timber was extremely deep with a mature resonance, having gone through “the transition” of voice at age ten or so. Those teenage years were cursed in that friends’ mothers always obsessed over my sexy speech … which drew even more attention to my bookishness and reserved ways. I was always afraid that I was becoming a novelty but, as high school unfolded, I soon realized that such a mixed gift was simply one of so MANY, many issues.

But I digress.

Early in the initial quarter of my senior year, Miss M insisted that I read aloud a lengthy passage from the “Faerie Queene” and was unrelenting, urging me to continue. When the class drew to a close, I welcomed such relief.Mmy classmates sighed, noting the ease at which I had read. Of course, I was embarrassed: neither wanting to be a focus of such a discussion nor be complimented and possibly mocked. And then the “coup de grace”: Tena F. added “oh, you sound so much like Johnboy when you read, Mark!” You should note, my friends, that this was in the prime of “The Waltons” era.

Horrors!

Not only was I destined to be my English class’ reluctant lector, but I sensed it would escalate with increased regularity. And I would be yet forced to humbly tolerate being likened to a television character … one that I found obnoxiously principled and , moreover, from a show I found sappy and predictable. Needless to say, I read aloud twice a week usually for a half hour for two semesters; graduated; and never looked back.

That is, until years later, when doing a voice over for some commercials. Overall, it was a dreadful experience: I was rather nervous and fidgety. Would I merit their interest and belief in my ability? Would I effectively create a vocal allure for this sixty second spot, one that felt like hours but lapsed in mere moments?  What would my friends and neighbors think?

My thoughts turned to the ever-stern, but prodding Miss M and my thirty or so discriminating classmates. Hell, I conquered a much tougher audience than this small studio! We wrapped up the recording session shortly thereafter and the director turned to me and matter-of-factly said:
 “That was great, Mark, very professional. And your delivery reminded me of that narrator on that old TV show, “The Waltons!” What was his name? Oh yes. Johnboy!”

Oh, the pangs in life are cloyingly bittersweet!

(Image: “No.358” by David Dalla Venezia, 2003.)

Too Young: To Go to the Ball

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I have created a monster.

After innocently posting an item regarding Loretta Young and her oft-maligned late 50’s TV show, I have been deluged with messages regarding glamour vixens, opera length evening gloves, lorgnettes, strands of pearls, and, oddly enough, red dresses. Enough already! Life is far more complicated than “stream of consciousness” accessorizing.

It’s a new world, both human & robotic, fueled by the revenge of the soul-less animal. Does this mean that the androids are the ones that are actually “going to the ball?” Are we, in fact, the ones left holding the glass slipper? I await Data. And still hold tightly to my fading memories of Miss Young.
(Image: “Exodus” by Ray Caesar.)