Whether ‘Tis Nobler to Save Heather’s Feathers

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I have always had conflicted feelings about holidays, such as today’s. They naturally rekindled all of those delightful family get-togethers at which either no one talked at all or everyone yelled. Those of us who might be under age 17 could rarely manage to sneak a cocktail. (‘Dis functional?) There was never anything interesting on television except for parades, football games, and variety specials hosted by folks with names such as Vikki, Andy, Steve and Eydie, Lawrence, and the like. I never quite wrapped my oddly-cultivated perspective of the world around why that Thursday was never ideal for a PBS special on Egyptology, an all day marathon of Bea Lillie, Mildred Dunnock,  or Estelle Winwood films, or anything else “normal.”

As I grew older and into my own sense of sensibilities and sensations, I also started participating in the vicious sport of competitive party-throwing. Thanksgiving, however, was a mid-level holiday: a nightmare for young amateurs, too rigid for seasoned pros. Most hosts prepared the fairly similar menu year after year. Yes, Aunt Barbara had loved the lamb chops, Brussels sprouts stuffed with Gruyère, and the saffron crème brûlées. Yet, she couldn’t resist her own slightly Southern and most passive aggressive “digestif”: “But I do so love a proper turkey. The day is just incomplete without it, unless of course the chef doesn’t know a snood from a dewlap!” By the time I was thirty-something, the joy had been sucked out of a holiday turkey, except for the early ’90’s when deep-fried birds offered an actual trend.

Needless to say: I have spent almost half of my life attempting to prepare exotic and fabulous alternatives to these culinary traditions. Needless to say: I have learned to carefully select both my battles and my month. Similarly, I yielded my favorite fashion color and my penchant for baggy turtlenecks.

My battle seemed fruitless and surely doomed until I met Jon and became confident that, yet again, the winding lane to cohabitation would be both paved and short. Although Jon loves. No, make that “really loves.” Actually, it should read: Jon is near tears and speechlessness when he sees a roasted turkey, cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. Of course, if forced to eat the cranberry item, I prefer the ground type made with fresh oranges and cranberries. Jon prefers the gelatinous type that is capable of neither melting nor becoming anybody’s sauce. Pumpkin pies simply annoy me and have done so since I went to St Thomas More Elementary in Chapel Hill. Let my epitaph read: “There is no Punkin. There is no Sammich. And Now There’s No Me!”

I digress in not returning sooner to explaining the Thanksgiving miracle that is Jon. Although he’s a card-carrying member of the traditional, he’s usually willing to experiment and trust my broader food knowledge. Plus, he loves me slightly more than turkeys, so I win by a hair. For the last decade, I have been able to show him firsthand several plausible options. One year, however, I acquiesced. Our dinner group included five men, all unemployed; and four women, my employed sister and her three daughters. I had selfish reasons though. I had a Southern hankerin’ for my favorite stuffing: cornmeal, spinach, mushrooms, sausage, Vidalias, and fresh fennel.

Usually, whenever I purchase a turkey, it is in the spring or summer. We opt for a free range one that we hope had a relatively stress-free and fulfilling life … and that it was given intravenous valium or copious morphine before it was killed, plucked, and trussed. And that it wasn’t dressed inappropriately for the occasion.

Finally, most of you know that I have a bad habit of naming random things. Our most recent automobiles here at Marklewood were Nigel and Ian. My iPods have been Leopolds I, II, & III. The downstairs vacuum is Emmanuelle. The upstairs canister model is Emmanuelle II. The Two Rubies are my prized non-blooming and mammoth begonias.

And since 1992, whenever I did happen to prepare a turkey, I named it Heather. Heather rhymes with feather so it provides a good segue for jolly banter. Since that’d be such an odd choice for a turkey, I chuckle instantly, knowing that one might expect a Blossom, Amelia, or even a Fern before a “Heather”.

The Novembers in which I prepare a roasted duck, leg of lamb, prime rib, Cornish hens, or even a pasta, I always think to myself: “Heather escaped another one!”

That Heather! She’s got it going on … for a turkey with the right type of meal ticket.

 

(Happy Thanksgiving from Mark, Jon, and all the rescued pusses at Marklewood. Heather finds it safer to reside in Holly Springs.)

A Baroque Bakcheia: Reserve Through Preserve

The concept of dressing the nude human form with a veritable feast is, today, neither avant garde nor risqué. At least that would be the likely response in the milieux of editorial, design, and conceptual photography. What I find interesting here is the restraint and almost somber reserve that the Berlin-based artist, Helen Sobiralski, has shown. The bodies are sensual but brooding and a trifle sexless. The elegantly and Baroquely styled tableaux still manage to avoid excess or even indulgence, a different scenario from over three decades ago.

Of course, the current topic at Marklewood is Thanksgiving. As I daydreamed this afternoon, as I usually do these days of waiting, my thoughts turned to sexy, indulgent, and creative holiday meals. Had I ever survived one? At 57, I have surely aged out of any likeliness of such karma. After a great deal of regular smiling and irregular heartbeats, I figured that 1978-80 would be the only years that I would’ve had the necessary opportunity, inclination, and stamina as well as be in an adventuresome relationship with a like-driven person. I had lived with a woman during those years and, although we had many libidinous, bacchanal, and excessive evenings, we split every “Turkey Day” in half. Her mother and my mother both lived in Greensboro and were both musing of grandchildren, I think.

In any case, by the time we finally unlocked our front door and collapsed on the sofa, we were fully sated. Any carnal romp would have to wait until Friday morning. Naturally, ’78-’80 would be the years that one would often find photographic studies that would have influenced Sobiralski on a grandiose level. There would, however, be a few major differences. The nudity would be frontal if not exploitive … embracing shock value. The bodies, then, would be covered with such a lavish smörgåsbord of delicacies and basics as if serving as the catering table for a three hundred person cocktail buffet. Nipples and navels would become delightful surprises, on a par with those offered by Cracker Jack and various cereals.

Hmmm. Perhaps I missed out on the dinner, but did make it to the cocktail party. The details are foggy. No! It wasn’t the Absinthe.

‘Twas Brillig: Learning to Gyre and Gimble Before My Buddies

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Hal and Margy were such the odd couple. Married and career-driven, both working on Capitol Hill, my parental units (as I often referred to them in the late 70’s) followed quite different paths with child-rearing than their natures might suggest. Bless those unassuming, well-intended, masters of of all things literal and French, the Coneheads, for the name.

My father, already a twice published author of poetry books, expected me to develop any appreciation of prose through either osmosis or spontaneous creation. My mother, on the other hand, would read poetry to me each night at bedtime, a rather unusual habit for such a reserved and brooding woman.

Margy would tuck me in most nights by eight and read from her favorite poets: Milne, Frost, Carroll, and many, many others. I assume that her purpose was two-fold: to eventually instill a fondness for the lyric and melody of poetry, as well as to lull me to sleep from the patter. It seemed to work on both counts.

By age ten, I was reading poetry all the time, usually alone and still at eight o’clock, as my parents were unusually strict with my bedtime. When I had privacy and was so bold, I would attempt my own versions of poetry, but never chose to share them with anyone, including imaginary friends. Such friends can be the harshest of critics for they know no boundaries … and can keep you up long past bedtime.

My mother’s favorite poem to read was etched into my conscious from years of recital. It was one of those Robert Frost chestnuts. Margy loved the simplicity of his prose and the integration of nature imagery. Hal, of course, had introduced my mother and me to his actual “living, breathing, and direct” self when I was yet in kindergarten … kindling what would become her lifetime appreciation of his words.

I met many accomplished writers through my father, yet it was my mother who taught me to read and write when I was in pre-school. Again, I think my father just assumed I would wake up one morning, having had some literate epiphany of language, and then join my peers in preschool. Most of those memories are now muddled with the years: some details lost and others, well-hidden.

I do, however, remember that one poem that best epitomizes those years and reminds me of my mother and the framed photograph of my father with Mr. Frost. It was memorized long before my seventh grade English teacher assigned such as homework. My mother would often repeat prose and such that she had to commit to memory as a young girl in Washington. I just assumed there’d be a day, not unlike today, that I’d without forethought or provocation, I’d break out in a latter-day “mash-up” of Milne’s “Disobedience” and Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”.

This is the point at which my smile becomes an unflattering chortle, a fact that I can so conveniently deny. It’s funny how selective memories come and go when we most need them to do such. At eight each night, my thoughts still automatically direct toward bedtime, regardless as to when I will eventually “commune” with my pillow. It just takes me a long, long time these days to ready my soul for slumber. Of course, my body is always prepared for what my mind can never do: that is, to blissfully put the world on hold, while I recharge and just sleep.

Miles to go, my friends. I have miles to go.

(Image: “Untitled” by Marion Peck.)

Cocktails, Claws, and Flying Fur: A Favorite Film

As I am an avowed aficionado of the film, it was always assumed that Henry would eventually grow fond of the 1962 classic “Walk on the Wild Side.” Mind you, I was never able to see the film until I was a teenager, as prostitution, lesbianism, alcoholism, (and many other mid-century “isms”) were neither simple to gently explain nor within a six year old’s ken. Yet, by the time I was an adult, I could: quote much of the dialogue, had studied the curricula vitae of the cast, and had aged out of both the “closet” as well as any temperance league. Such melodramatic gems as this one and, to a lesser extent, almost anything written by Fannie Hurst offered a caché of divine camp, best accompanied by a martini. The lovely Capucine, brooding Laurence Harvey, the ever-nubile Jane Fonda, and a rather butch Miss Barbara Stanwyck all seasoned Nelson Algren’s 1956 novel with a relative buffet of sleaze, tawdry gratuitousness, and excess. Time has aged the film quite well, but sadly not its players. Perhaps, a moment of silence is warranted.

But I digress. Today’s afternoon chat involved my marmalade puss Henry and not any justification or merits of a cinematic potboiler.

Henry, it seems, is extremely fond of the magnificent “titles” that introduce the B&W movie. Its slinking and brassy theme scores a single lens focus of a provocative black cat as it maneuvers pipes, tires, and the backstreet crags. The black cat perfectly lures us in and is never properly acknowledged for its performance although, as with Beatrice Straight in her Oscar-winning turn, it is only in a fast three minute segment. Henry places the unnamed cat among his small group of the uncredited “best of the best” feline film performances of the 20th and 21st centuries along with: the wonderfully featured Pyewacket (“Bell, Book, and Candle”), Cat (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s“), and Mr. Bigglesworth (“Austin Powers“). He has heard a great deal about the purr-fect delivery and charm of Modigliana (“Feral TV“) but has never had access to any footage.

During a break from his grooming  this afternoon, Henry confided that he hails from a long line of thespians. Modesty and lack of either Pounce or catnip, however, keep them from bestowing accolades in some back alley, unlike some of the folk he’s noticed were penciled into my address book.

This weekend, Henry and I are planning to view “Back Street”, of course not the Susan Hayward remake. Who knows? “Madame X” might follow.

His fondness for “Walk on the Wild Side” is nonetheless special and ironic. He had read an old Bosley Crowther review that mentioned that most of the scenes take place in a New Orleans “cathouse”, which Henry assumed was likely similar to Dr Markle’s Finishing School for Wayward and Erstwhile Pusses. He now knows better.

Center Stage in Life’s Reality Show

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Life’s endless tales of backstage drama are filled with unexpected divas and unrequited back-up singers. For every Eve Harrington that rings a doorbell, some co-dependent trio is primed with their retro “doowah-diddies” and string of warbled “yas”! Some folks give away their “fifteen minutes” while others usurp any chance of glory that, by right, should be another’s.

And yet a silent multitude may walk through the years as if cast in the chorus of a “revival” in need of a backer. I, of course, am doomed to oversell, under commit, and wait quietly in a tattered armchair, off-stage, and in a pile of discarded and forgotten props.

Naturally, I am a starry-eyed optimist who clutches tightly his dreams, as if to share them, at once, makes him more vulnerable and, in fact, less innocent. I look at others who have their garden hose in hand and yet forced a bloom with an artist’s envy. While I laud the artist who creates and culls, I applaud those who are poised and savvy, and able to extend their integrity to self-promotion. Egads. I am fifty-seven and still processing and fine-tuning my aspirations. I still spend many a balmy evening playing out the many “what ifs” that haunt me.

I do, though, offer my own consolation. How sad it would be to peak at age twenty, quickly watching the stopwatch crack at the fifteen minute mark? That person might spend several lifetimes caught in a quagmire of denouement, melancholy, and fading nostalgia. Perhaps, it’s indeed healthier, if not preferable, to spend the years honing skills and polishing one’s own voice of authenticity. And grooming that “fifteen minutes” for a time when the Universe finally deems ready for such a dream’s debut.

The key is two-fold: nurture an intimate hope and never allow the naysayers access to your script.

And, every once in an indigo sunset, visualize yourself stepping front stage and center, breaking into rapturous song. The Universe has always been a backer, albeit a silent one, dear friend. It is indeed time for the program.

Yes, the lights flash in anticipation of a grand overture, at least so Pfluffer (Marklewood’s own “theater” puss) assures me.

(Image: “El Gigante” by Femke Hiemstra, 2010.)

Whispered Confessions by a Maid of Dishonor

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If there is indeed a utopia to be found, surely it features among its endless litany of precious perks: perpetually glistening windows, self-vacuuming needlepoint rugs, and laundry that reverts to being “breezy” fresh, neatly pressed, and folded and yet put away. Sadly, here in the hinterlands, there is neither utopia nor hope of its discovery. The noble and almighty “Gods of Household Missions” taunt Jon and me.

Maytag, Hoover, and Windex are merely powerless muses who remind us that the overly exaggerated “Twelve Labors of Hercules” were actually “seven” one time obstacles. Of course, this was back in an era when historians were less persnickety about details and image, and more concerned about scaring the masses into submission … not unlike FOX News, the Westboro Baptist Church, nor that Coulter person.

True, we at Marklewood take our household missions seriously, constantly in fear of wrath of the housecleaning deities. But we amply mist our humble house with denial and burn the obligatory candles of neglect. We have become modern “maids of dishonor”.

We leave our spectacles bedside, so as to render us unable to scrutinize any dust. Pfluffer does, however, always manage to scrawl some cryptic message on the television screen with his “swiffer-esque” paws. I imagine he’s critiquing either litterbox maintenance or streaks on his otherwise shiny food bowl.

With five indoor pusses, it is always both safe and prudent to assume that at least one is napping. Obsessive worrier that I am, I fear waking them from a recuperative or healthy slumber … with the ugly and intrusive mumblings and moans of Velvet, our venerable vacuum.

Now that my beloved is retired, he is determined to catch up and thus stay ahead with laundry, although he is befuddled by the concept of sorting. He expertly cleans the lint trap as well as the dryer’s ductwork that “exhales” its hot, pungent breath into the nandina out back. He measures, wrings, and fluffs with a master’s finesse, but stops just short of folding. Clean clothing and linens are now a-mound on our guest bed, with shirts casually hanging from the posters. I am the real culprit as I prefer t-shirts, boxers, socks, and towels to be folded in a precise and consistent manner. Unsuspecting eyes have indeed caught me re-folding polo shirts and then re-stacking and “colorizing” them. Oy.

Although my most satisfying dreams involve both greater closet space and an “easier to maintain” Marklewood, I am a pragmatist … at least on a Monday. At the start of a week, I am easily teeming with resolve and vows.

But avoidance, denial, neglect, and habit play a mean game of Bridge, and I feel forever trumped. I suspect that should you drop by for a tall iced coffee and tasty puffed pillow cookie, you might find the downstairs lighting more ambient than expected. Velvet will be alone and likely up to no good in the linen closet. The guest bedroom door will be tightly shut. And Sam will be sound asleep in my favorite chair, safeguarding the television screen from Pfluffer’s scribbles and dreaming of his own version of Utopia.

(Image: “Messenger” by Ray Caesar, 2004.)

The Ultimate Bloom of Errant Buds

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Alas and alack!

Six months of subletting an infernal prison cell of economic device are finally over. Nigel, our Jeep, is now home after a transplant of his own: a bright and shiny new, but not quite virginal, engine. For almost four months, Jon and I were without wheels, depending on the kindness of Laurie (whom I call “Monica”), Deb (whom everyone calls “Cricket” and has done so since she was a Feminist kindergartner), Janet (who, first and foremost, will always embrace her rocker chick persona), and Scott (Monica’s partner who does indeed have a “separate, but equal” identity of his own).

After an excruciating wait of 158 days, my application for disability compensation was approved. On a sunny and breezy October 25, I received a letter outlining all the pertinent dates, requisites, and caveats. The very next day I was informed that, yes, I indeed qualified for “emergency” Social Security assistance. The modest amount would at least keep my dresser bowl filled with coinage, while awaiting the “disability” decision. Jon and I both wrongly assumed that, since I am scheduled for a heart transplant, that my application would be speedily processed. At least that pressure has been eased.

Finally last Sunday, as I surveyed the seasonal atrophy of foliage, I spotted three gardenia blossoms on our ten foot tall July-peaking “tree”. I smiled, apologized for all my colorful cursings of the Universe, and expressed my gratitude for such  a poignant and fragrant sign.  Jon and I then enjoyed a celebratory bowl of ice cream, as I settled in for another episode of my beloved “The Walking Dead”!

Now I can fully appreciate autumn’s majesty.

Huzzah! Huzzah!

(Image: “Sleepless Blossom” by Stephen Mackey.)

Have Another Girl Scout Cookie, Tish

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When this photograph finally made its way to my already teeming, yet over-organized desktop, my mind began its usual twirl. My imagination was spiraling into the ever fertile territory of internet searches, including both secondary and tertiary tiers. Of late, I have surfed the exotic finds yielded from image surfing with French, German, and Russian keywords (and to a slightly lesser degree: Spanish, Mandarin, and Japanese). This instance was indeed predictable; once I determined the image’s source, I allowed my inner skeptic to demand three or four double-checks. Egads!

At first,I assumed it was a gallery in some bizarre Southern consignment, ice cream, and styling establishment. Surely, it was nowhere near an interstate highway or a Starbuck’s Coffee. I allowed the pinky hues, gilt case-goods, and the clear embrace of taxidermy to stir my almost fully repressed lean to regional generalization. In any case, there was one certainty: the photograph was staged and shot in the sixties.

There was an unplaceable familiarity of the image. At first, I said only to myself: “Well, that’s what happens when, after a night of downing potent bourbon highballs, two or more gay men attempt to create an ambience, similar to that of a Tony Duquette design.” As I rolled my eyes and shrugged, with no one to catch my bitchiness, I chastised myself for such blatantly judgmental stereotyping and profiling. Mind you, the next day the rarely used Southernism “Bubba Queen” repeatedly reared itself in follow-up self dialogues.

Eventually I realized which I am sure you knew instantly: it is the entrance and parlor (or parlour, if you are British or a Southern Bubba Queen) of the home of Morticia and Gomez Addams and their kooky, spooky brood. The color “still” photograph was an outtake from ABC’s “The Addams Family” (1964-66), the iconic B&W television series. The bear and the staircase should’ve led me to quick association. I had watched the show while I was in grade school as well as later in the 70’s and 80’s, when it was broadcast in heavy syndication.

Now, I shall fondly visualize Cleopatra, the flesh-eating plant, as I feed my nostalgic fury with quotable Addams soundbites. I suspect, come midnight’s strike, I shall be voraciously processing Addams trivia, video clips, and cast member factoids. Yes, I shall celebrate Carolyn Jones all day tomorrow, as Wednesday is “woeful.” She passed away three decades ago at age 53.  She and Hedy Lamarr were my first celebrity crushes, as well as the doomed Brandon DeWilde.

Morticia: “Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc.”: “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.”

Morticia: “Thing, you’re a handful!”

Girl Scout: “Is this made from real lemons?”
Wednesday: “Yes.”
Girl Scout: “I only like all-natural foods and beverages, organically grown, with no preservatives. Are you sure they’re real lemons?”
Pugsley: “Yes.”
Girl Scout: “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll buy a cup if you buy a box of my delicious Girl Scout cookies. Do we have a deal?”
Wednesday: “Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”

Gomez: “I would die for her. I would kill for her. Either way, what bliss.”

Morticia: “Last night, you were unhinged. You were like some desperate, howling demon. You frightened me. Do it again!”

Franke’s Rococo Tableaux Amid Sea Ruins

The 365 ft. Greek freighter S.S. Stavronikita was stripped and sunk in the clear waters of Barbados in 1978, years after a fire rendered it no longer seaworthy. Austrian artist and photographer Andreas Franke has found the site both a formidable backdrop to several clever studies as well as a fascinating microcosm of underwater colonies of sea wipts, both soft and hard corals, sponges and gorgoncans. The masts and upper cabins are usually swarmed with Sargent Majors, Tangs, Blue-Green Chromis and the lurking and patient Red Hinds. Other fish that easily frequent such an exotic and undisturbed reef include: Barracudas, Mackerels, and turtles.

The mysterious and beautiful wreckage both compel and wonderfully juxtapose Franke’s gorgeous textiles, teeming food spreads, and the impeccable narratives. Known for his meticulously detailed, provocative and inventive settings, his intent with the Stavronikita project was to style romantic and lavish Rococo vignettes against the oddly pastoral and overtly harmonious and symbiotic reef world. He effortlessly combines his underwater shots with studio pictorials, creating fresh and unexplored visuals.

The indulgent lifestyles of 18th century nobility and aristocracy can be quite fascinating although the excesses and entitlements often incur criticism if not disdain, especially in modern society. I love reading about the expansion of 18th and 19th cultures and lifestyles. Henry and I can both step away from any socio-political demand for “correctness.” In that way, we file what we’ve learned alongside our fascinations with extinct flora and fauna, Egypt and the pharaoh legends, whales and walruses, and the sensationalism of pop culture  throughout time. I might add that Henry can barely sit still when envisioning fine cheeses, fish, and exquisite fabric to buffer and ease his recline.

He is a silly puss!

http://www.thesinkingworld.com