First Snow of the Last Decade

Vladimir_Kush_Página_07 It snowed. Let me start again. It finally snowed enough to lightly blanket the landscape, the jeep, and whatever view we might’ve had of the horizon. Of course, that blanket was more lacy and dainty than usually necessary. Every conversation or broadcast report began with the obligatory “it’s so pretty” strained by that long-awaited sigh of relief. Despite the repeated forecast for 6″-8″, it might’ve been as much as two inches.

Eleven years have passed since there has been enough accumulation for us to merit either comment or record. That snowfall is memorable for two reasons: we went ten days without electricity and, once thawed, we purchased a generator. Since that day, we have not had a need to start the damn thing up and modestly electrify Marklewood. Our hopes to ever get our money out of it indeed melted into homeowner’s oblivion last summer. The generator was purloined. Somewhere in the more remote annals of the heavens, one of the sassier angels had lit a rich, aromatic stogie and was having an ironic laugh at the bumbling side of humanity, specifically us.

Fortunately, neither Jon nor I had reason to go out today. If we had had to, however, Jon would’ve risen to the occasion. (He reminds the pusses and me frequently that he spent many winters in Michigan.) Instead, we made the most of our view, which went unspoiled all day. Perhaps, it was only two inches of snowfall but it could have passed for more … at least if you squinted and had a few shots of the seasonal Goldschläger or Jägermeister.

We’ll probably not tell Pfluffer about the snow. He’s such a nosy puss. Having never seen the “white stuff” before, it might be a lot for him to bear. It will indeed be better upon his return home for Jon and him to share some Popeye’s chicken nuggets and a strawberry Ensure.

I’ll continue to day dream.

(Image: “Ripples on the Ocean” by Vladimir Kush, 2009.)

Pfluffer Joins Sick List: Meow-ch

Tonight, Pfluffer is spending the first of seven nights at his primary care doctor’s “short stay” facility here in the hinterlands. Two self-inflicted “hot” spots on his hind legs have become exacerbated by his missed jumps, unfortunate falls, and his extreme and ever-increasing OCD attention to the two spots. His low point came this past weekend when attempting to jump onto a bookcase next to my desk, he landed on papers, slid and lost his footing, and sprained something somewhere.

Later that day, he was yelping pitifully and dragging himself by his from paws. Jon spent the rest of the weekend carrying Pfluffer to and from the litter box and fetching him special foods. Naturally, he only wanted Ensure, strawberry-flavored no less. I kept visualizing Pfluffer in some grand woolen robe on the terrace at some late 19th century European health sanitarium. This fantasy was cast with Basil Rathbone as the veterinarian, Elsa Lanchester as his assistant, with Estelle Winwood and Coral Browne as the bickering sisters who constantly nurse libations and write checks, with provocative dialogue such as: “How precious.” or “Is she ill?”

There is little doubt that Jon will toss and turn all night. Pfluffer has been by his side almost constantly since he retired early in 2008. When Jon travels or is in the hospital, Pfluffer stays in the sunroom and howls all night. I suspect Jon might just do the same, except that he has medications that might help.

As for Pfluffer, I hope he is on a tranquilizer. Jon and I are the only human types of people that he knows. He also will have trouble using a public urinal or litter-like facility in view of the staff. As it is, he already prefers to go in the dark when no one is around and he can face the wall.

I know that Jon will want to go visit each day: brush Pfluffer’s long blond fur, take him some Ensure, perhaps read to him, or discuss this changing world. Unfortunately, there is little space to accommodate guests. There is no coffee shop. There are neither internet connections (of any kind) nor televisions for patients’ use.

So we’re sad tonight, experiencing a little of what our indoor cats go through when Jon and I are away from Marklewood. We pray for Pfluffer’s speedy recovery. He is an important and vital member of this quirky family. And he holds Jon’s Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Henry will vehemently deny it but I caught him praying to the Cat Angels while the Jeopardy theme was playing this evening.

A Jocular Embrace Of Art Nouveau

Munich’s “Fliegende Blätter”, one of Germany’s humorist journals was published weekly from 1845-1944, also served as a vehicle for many caricaturists and artists. Perhaps, one of the most interesting is illustrator Adolf Reinheimer about whom very little is known except that he also collaborated with several children’s authors in creating some of the most stylistically designed books of the early 20th century.

It is Reinheimer’s 25 contributions from 1901-04 to the “Blätter”, however, that has indeed harnessed my imagination for this arctic weekend and subsequently launched several internet projects. The almost cartoon-like drawings are created in an adept Art Nouveau style while, at the same time, almost gently lampooning said form. While under scrutiny, the images are humorous, if not bawdy or silly. From a slight distance, they exemplify some of the trademark characteristics that Art Nouveau brought to the world, only without rich colors.

I shall keep you posted should I come across any tidbits of Herr Reinheimer’s life and career, or examples of his work in color.

(Thank you to John Coulthart, of the magnificent Atelier Coulthart, for planting planting the seeds for this post.)

Check In, Check Out: Check, Please!

Twenty years ago or thereabouts, the anti-Christ and I had taken the Metroliner to New York for a weekend of reckless shopping, indulgent dining, and the obligatory theater-going. Our train was late so, upon checking into the Algonquin Hotel (pre-restoration, I might add), we went directly to the Martin Beck Theater to see Tommy Tune’s musical wonderpiece, “Grand Hotel.”

The show was enthralling, with terrific and complex music, dazzling performances, and “over the top” and bold staging. I sat eagerly as David Carroll, Lilliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Jane Krakowski, and the under-appreciated Michael Jeter all hoofed, serenaded, and spun glorious magic. The show ended far too quickly. There we were, at 11:00PM, hungry and ready to journey ANYwhere as long as sustenance (at that point both victuals and cocktails) would be imminent.

We settled on Café Des Artistes, in my old neighborhood as it was reliably comfortable and creative, befitting its monicker. The anti-Christ and I not once talked, even to share our impressions of “Grand Hotel.” He was focused already on the eventual bill for the weekend’s escapades. I, however, was replaying Jeter’s show-stealing scene where he toasts friendship and dances a giddy Charleston. And reliving Krakowski’s poignancy, as well as her powerful voice, as an unwed and pregnant German secretary. (This was before her hilarious turn on “Ally McBeal” which ignited her fan base.) And savoring the moments with Miss Montevecchi as the aging ballerina, searching for a “last, stolen chance” to find romance.

Dinner came and went rather quickly. I was barely into my “encore” of Act I, when the check came. My five course “asparagus and mushroom” feast had yet to gain its just attention as I finally put down my fork.

We hailed a cab and, as the anti-Christ reached inside, I realized at once that I was not ready nor was I joining him.

I caught a separate taxi and headed to “Marie’s Crisis”, my old Grove Street haunt in the West Village. Quite the dive and a walk-down, BELOW one of the 729 Ray’s Pizza eateries in NYC! It was a rustic piano bar where usually only natives partook and one could occasionally meet a theateroso.

I met one such luminary that night, well, kinda-sorta. I spied Stephen Sondheim standing next to the piano, boisterously singing with his cronies. Naturally and star-struck, I positioned myself next to him when he, at once, leaned over and politely suggested that my smoking was inappropriate to such a moment. Yes, I was humiliated, horrified, but oddly flattered. Of course I cared, but not about him nor his pretenses.

But that brush-off meant I could focus on my true intent of that stop. I could continue my fantasy to reliving Mr. Tune’s Act II, and then commence my own final reviews of the event and its dazzle. That was such an evening that I needed it to last forever. My night was finally off to a “grand” beginning.

It ended when I finally returned to the hotel, and the anti-Christ with his apocalyptic mumblings.

(Note: I have no clue why the proprietors of Marie’s Crisis claim its status as a cafe as it only serves pretzels and garnishes.)

(Image: “Prissy” by Vicky Knowles, 2012.)

Dalí’s Illustrated Tome of Witty Recipes and Tasty Prose

“Les Dîners de Gala”, the opulent cookbook that Salvador Dalí conceived and executed, pays homage to legendary Parisian traditions, chefs, and restaurants. His words hint to the yet-to-fully explode modernist approach to the art and fashion in food preparation and presentation. His illustrations at once pay tribute to classic French 19th c. “gastronomique stylistes extraordinaire” Urbain Dubois and Émile Bernard.

The 1971 gem consists of 136 eclectic, impractical, and sumptuous recipes within twelve equally as odd chapters/categories:
Les caprices pincés princiers
Les cannibalismes de l’automne
Les suprêmes de malaises lilliputiens
Les entre-plats sodomisés
Les spoutniks astiqués d’asticots statistiques
Les panaches panachés
Les chairs monarchiques
Les montres molles ½ sommeil
L’atavisme dés oxyribonucléique
Les “je mange GALA”
Les pios nonoches
Les délices petits martyrs

These titles ironically tie everything together as if Dalí were sharing an amusing intimacy.

Additionally, fifty-five of the individual recipes were illustrated in color, twenty-one of which were created and shared by much-ballyhooed chefs from Lasserre, La Tour d’Argent, Maxim’s, and Le Buffet de la Gare de Lyon, and other noteworthy and famed restaurants.

Naturally, as is true with most anything that involves Dalí and either his spoken or written word, it is always quotable, if not sometimes perversely:
“Do not forget that a woodcock, ‘flambée’ in strong alcohol, served in its own excrements, as is the custom in the best of Parisian restaurants, will always remain for me in that serious art that is gastronomy, the most delicate symbol of true civilization.”

Or that which is a Marklewood credo:
“I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular…”

I eagerly anticipate his “Wines of Gala” (1977) which, like the afore-mentioned, I can neither find nor afford. It is similarly outrageous and a connoisseur’s compendium of art, reference, and prose. Henry joins in my sigh, but knows not what that means.

(“Les Dîners de Gala” by Salvador Dalí, 1971.)

Don’t Mess Around With Gym

I was in Sr Mary Joseph’s fifth grade class when I first encountered the activity of which I had denied any previous ponder. It was a blustery October morning when the lanky blond gentleman first introduced himself: “Hello, boys. I am your new Phys Ed instructor, Mr Loflin. Steve Loflin.”

The nine of us looked at each other, some excited about the prospect of team sports, others (such as myself) terrified of the unknown. In my world, sports had always meant kickball, dodgeball, or bike racing. Of course, I knew better than to hinge my hopes on the familiar. It was indeed the very day that I was to begin my miserable failure in football, basketball, and baseball.

Conceptually, I had always attempted to understand this triumvirate of television sports. Baseball made sense; I just couldn’t hit the ball. Basketball had too many rules for me to process. And football completely escaped my ten year old “need for reason” when it came to scoring, penalties, and strategies. I had always been a competitive, driven lad and, as Coach Loflin distributed our new grey jersey gym clothes, I suddenly realized that the nuances would be far-reaching.

For the next two years, the nine of us changed into our uniforms, printed with a proud and somewhat daunting “St Pius X”. We twice weekly completed a regimen of calisthenics which was followed with whatever team sports that nine of us could realistically play. Because there were so few boys in my class, we had to all constantly play, never treated to a break on a sideline. We’d sweat, get filthy, and occasionally bleed. I also had always detested getting dirty so that “gym” actually pushed my limits into new territory.

When I completed sixth grade, I was relieved to be soon attending a “less stern” and oh-so-very public junior high school, although that optimism was short-lived. I was still markedly lacking in the fundamentals of school athletics, except for the universal celebration of a clean, pristine, and fresh uniform. Class size was somewhere near 35 and comprised of strangers, most of whom were far less sheltered and behaved as we Catholic school refugees. We had to shower en masse, and I learned to swear, albeit only among my peers, and usually after some wicked “towel” prank.

Seventh grade unfolded as you might have expected, my friends, especially if you witnessed firsthand my frequent agony. For five days a week, it was always the same. And for each nine week grading period, I received a B. It became the bane of my meager twelve year old existence and the taint of my otherwise unblemished report card.

That summer passed quickly. I turned thirteen, and got braces. On the first day of classes, I could barely control my glee, except for Phys Ed. As we gathered, my heart sank as I realized I’d be interacting with yet an entirely new group of boys. I was already visualizing the taunts, the names, and the disapproving looks, when the door opened. In walked Coach Loflin. He introduced himself, distributed our blue and white uniforms, and lectured us on his expectations. I knew I was doomed for another year, just shy of straight A’s.

The year went quickly, even eighth period with Coach Loflin. Although I hated Phys Ed, I wasn’t the worst in the class and, every once in a muddy track field, we’d engage in something fun: such as track, soccer, or that bizarre derivative “crab soccer”. Coach always referred to me as Mr Sieber, referring to my classmates with only their surnames. And when report cards were distributed, I finally received straight A’s, including my personal “Holy Grail” of eighth period. I was shocked but rushed home nonetheless. I found out the next day that my cronies had all gotten B’s and C’s, and that Mr Loflin was considered a tough grader.

My luck continued throughout that year and into the next, as he was my ninth grade gym instructor as well. I never enjoyed physical education but I learned to overcome the dread, at least of gym. The following year, I’d be enrolled in an even larger school, with an entirely new set of issues and fears.

Years passed, I finished my studies and went out into the real world, forging friendships with like-minded Bohemian types. When I was in my mid-twenties, my boyfriend and I were to join my “crazy”and exuberant friend Jackie and her husband whom I had never met. We had planned to go out for dinner, unsure of whether we’d make it to a dance club since the other couple was about fifteen years older. I answered my doorbell and laughed at the irony and unexpected sight. Yes, Jackie was married to Coach Loflin, although he now preferred “Steve”.

We had a great time, enjoyed a few cocktails, and “laughed ourselves silly!” By the time we asked for our check, we were all spent and well-poised for a drive home. As we stood in the parking lot, rallying for a final moment’s banter, I found myself finally asking him about the grades when I was in junior high school. He stumbled at first but admitted that I was one of the few boys who always acknowledged the feats of others … or reassured them when they fell short. (That, and my uniform was always laundered!)

I’ve since lost touch with Steve, Jackie, and even that nameless boyfriend. Sometimes when I smile, I am visualizing the world as I viewed it back then, the erosion of pubescent fears, and how Coach Loflin brought a few pleasurable moments and laughs to Phys Ed.

Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve much rather been in my Latin class with Mrs Foster, embracing the art of rapid declension. Years later, when Latin crept into my conversation or writings, it seemed yet another layer of that pubescent insulation. It was the whole “Gym thing” that had actually set me free.

(Image: “After School” by Catrin Welz-Stein.)

Le Langage Des Couleurs: Starting With Burnt Sienna

I was in kindergarten, Chapel Hill’s Little Red School House, when my parents gave me my first “big” box of sixty-four Crayola crayons. The starter box with oversized versions in relatively uninspiring jewel tones had long been outgrown and sentenced to spend its last years in a cruel purgatory known by human types as a moldy basement.

The classic larger assortment had intrigued me for many reasons not the least of which were the poetic names and the emphasis on hues and saturation. Of course, once I learned what “Burnt Sienna” indeed was, it became a favorite for years. Let’s just say that it at least piqued my curiosity until I abandoned crayons for pastels and colored pencils.

It was not long before I responded to colors quite emotionally and craved both uniqueness and newness in my selections. Cornflower, Periwinkle, and Cerulean blues sold me on the merits of blue and shone proudly on my own revised personal color spectrum. Years later, when Crayola fans would discover this Smith & Binney commonality, the conversation always eventually turned to favorite color. Mine was always “Burnt Sienna.”

I have adult friends who still color, as do I. We live within a different vocabulary, however, that is better at creating those illusions of maturity and age. We also cherish privacy.

Some recently rejected crayon names: Daddy Drinks (taupe), Thorazine (mauve), Foster Home (gray), Batman Is My Only Friend (black), Violent Stepbrother (maroon), I Want to Kiss Boys (also mauve). Several of these might might scar the unsuspecting crayon-user or, for that matter, an innocent waylaid reader and blog surfer.

Flexing Petals: Boy Flowers and Their Naughty Bits

A rugged, manly flower with thinning petals … now that’s an odd sight worth relishing for the moment. True, our gardens teem with majestic irises, dainty violets, and the oft thorny and sassy rose. Those images, however, are all rather feminine, as we trademark such beauty and elegance so. The garden pusses desperately mask the hormonal indecision with copious infusions of ‘Miracle Grow” to end the cycle of one season perennials .

Rare is the “boy flower” except for the Anthurium, which is so nicknamed for its athletic and proud “spathe” and “spadix” (botanists surely refer to them as Floral naughty bits!) projecting a rather phallic image.

Imagine at once discovering, rejoicing, and protecting such a rare anomaly of flora and delighting in its uniqueness! Nope. It’d never happen.

At best, we’d innocently and swiftly snip its stalk; isolate it in a pristine budvase; and watch this “freak” of nature slowly wither.

That just may be why the alpha flower smokes and drinks.

(Image: “A Mimpish Squinny” by Abigail Rorer, 2007.)

What Hump?

Hump Day. I hadn’t heard reference to that naughty, innuendo-laden term in many a year until soon after my first few days in casual flirtation with Facebook. Now, each Wednesday, I see myriad status updates make mention thus. Some are meant and met with regret; others with stress, relief, or reluctant exuberance. In any case, the intent is usually harmless and reaps little more than a sigh.

Some folks who either work the “odd” week or seek any work at all, feel a sympathetic hump. Others diligently use it as both goal and benchmark. What of those worker bees who work a ten day stretch? Do they feel a mightier hump?

Similarly, do those self-disciplined folk that work a “two day on, one day off” schedule enjoy a rhythmic pattern of quick and intermittent humps? Does such a “hump” become standard and thus less enjoyable? Does frequency indeed lend contempt? And what if Gregorian calenders had Bactrian midweeks?

Do we vacation, break, and retire from the hump altogether? Or simply giggle as we reminisce of the humps of our youth? What of those individuals who work part-time? Do they experience “Humpus Interruptus”?

Take the “rhetorical” hump. Such a euphemism of yore confounds me. I wallow in such endless questions with the only knowledge that of uncertainty.

I best shun the familiar hump and set my sights on Thursday. Scarlet and the Cure would both nod in agreement. These are simply days. Although we are unable to toast the “mid-week” in unison, we all collectively share in the experience that is “tomorrow”!

Save the “humping” for the wondrous creatures of the planet’s noble Animal Kingdom. They know divisions of neither time nor week, but seem to appreciate well the Art of the Hump!

(Note to Virginia: Please overlook those silly television commercials. The camel’s nobility long predates that of humanity.)

(Image: “Trick the Camel” by Suliman-Almawash, 2011.)

New Voices, Old Acquaintances, and Cups of Kindness



Tonight, I eke my last minute greeting and shared wishes from my recently acquired rhythmic imagination. My typing, IV pump, and phone are now all in transcendental sync as I now savor the moment and learn the fear of a “rush”.
May all of you have a stellar 2014, with all the trimmings, dividends, and karmic joys that follow suit.

May we appreciate each other. May we be kind even in those awkward and challenging situations. May we embrace the positive. And if the Universe should one day feel that we are due some sort of miracle, please let it be that politicians across the globe become filled with a new sense of humanity.

As for this past year, after this evening, let us never mention 2013 again.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”
(T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”, 1943.)