Surreal Estate Dabbling: Celebrating Understatement

Understatement is always relevant and, here in the hinterlands, stands alone in such a residence.

For a soul who is nourished by the Universe’s full buffet of colors, the garden is moved indoors. This cottage “imaginaire et pittoresque” would be surrounded and well-guarded by a sentry of ancient oaks, pines, and fruited walnut trees. In a mossy glade just off the stoop, there is a weathered wrought iron table on which the pusses sleep and, under which, they hide.

It thunders and threatens rain. The acreage is now vacant, ready for the next time that the palette is in hand. Marklewood is creaking just a little too often on these late summer days. Our minds are tricksters just waiting for us to our guard to the wind.

The threat is no longer idle.

While the Universe pounds our roof into submission, I survey the clutter and dust, shaking my head. I know that Jon and I are just two more budding “hoarders without borders”.

Henry rubs against my leg until I lift him to my chest. He purrs and, in Cat-onese, confidently suggests: “It is indeed time to call Mini Maids by Miss Haversham!”

Those savvy pusses!

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A Nod to Pink Freud: For Hedy and Jeanne

I have never been much of a pink person. It always seemed to be the standard-bearer of the pastel milieu, rarely given to emotional and expressive “hue” responses. Pink was always subtly forced upon young girls as the cloak of femininity from pre-school to pubescence. And I saw very little of the color in my home, except for a large mid-century painting that hung in my parents’ bedroom as long as they remained coupled.

Nevertheless, I have always been a color-driven person, surrounding myself with rich shades of eggplant, cornflower blue, chartreuse, Chinese red, and persimmon. This has only intensified with maturity, as the only color phobia is that of a monochromatic white, grey, or black environment.

As an exercise to prove myself once foolish and judgmental, I have scoured and pored through the back alleys, dusty portmanteaux, and obscure foreign digital sites … in search of shades and images of pink that I fancy. What has resulted is a collection of ephemera, photographs, and “art” that would either look terrific at Marklewood or that I might (just the teeniest bit) covet.

Raspberry, fuchsia, sanguine, rose, and the many other pinky hues all have a place in our spectrum. I shall resist any further condemnation, scoff, or sigh when faced with pink, in concern that I shall once again be red-faced or blush.

Note: some of these images may have very little pink, but what they do have seems to dominate the feel, and is often quite shady.

Another Pill to Swallow

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This afternoon, Jon and I fetched Pfluffer from his favorite day-trip destination, the Lake Wheeler Veterinary Hospital. He has had a slightly undignified and thoroughly bothersome condition since last December. We also take him every Tuesday for a check-up and a “dressing” change. He has twice spent a week there as both a cranky boarder and quite vocal patient. It has been over eight months and his back heels have yet to fully heal.

Today, we find out that he will need to take a certain medication in daily orally-administered pill form. Henry is curled up by the desk laughing at me. He then asked: “Do you know anyone who has attempted to give a cat a suppository? I would guess not.”

So, in the final health census here at Marklewood, we now have three “creatures” that should be on a “disability” status of sorts. Of course, Jon actually instead opted to retire early, although his condition was acute at the time.

We are all, however, quite positive and upbeat, except for the flaring maladies. Fortunately, Jon and I have never both been concurrently too ill to care for the other if the situation requires a caregiver. Knock on wood, in this case, walnut!

Life certainly IS funny, only more so in hindsight or subtle nostalgia. It’s all good as long as the concern has been left in a flurry of our dust and exhaust.

Jon, Pfluffer, and I remain your humble and impatient patients.

(Vintage postcard by Alfred Mainzer.)

Dropping the Corsage: The Blushing Blokes Blue Moon Cotillion

We rarely dust off our formal wear these days, as we avoid such mindless pageantry and indulgent fanfare. No longer do we scurry and primp until we’re breathless with anticipated tokens of approval. No longer do we endure the twisted, yanked, and rolling satin cummerbund. No longer do we fear the grass stains of unbridled pleasure and the spill of convivial bonds. Details of immodest fundraisers, provocative balls, and black-tied galas are distant memories, both ripe for the recall and poised for the punchline.

Such an evening was never held at Marklewood. This dreamy cottage is yet a venue designed for two souls and their mated inspirations. While the pusses may have their moments on the runway and their turns on the dance floor, Jon and I choose to revel in a private pomp. We dream. We reminisce. We laugh. And together we toast our former selves, randy yet noble, from the comfort of well-appointed twin arm chairs.

Before the yellow damask fades and the azure brocade unravels, however, we present to you this year’s crop of reluctant debutantes, representing the hinterlands and, if you will, the sandbox. While the Blushing Blokes Blue Moon Cotillion may be the nonsensical result of innocent nostalgia gone awry, it nonetheless yet gives us reason to make merry, reflect, and fan our ”glowing” faces.

Please enjoy these augmented and embellished portraits, and keep your dance card handy, my friends. Embrace the frolic.

Grass stains indeed!

The Cousin of Gratuitous Humbleness

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“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
(Cecil Beaton’s wise words, at least to a Bohemian, imaginative, and unbridled man of 58)

That certainly sums up my own credo, in 25 words or more. I’ve lived in seven large cities, traveled quite a bit, and been fortunate enough to enjoy over 40 Broadway productions. Of course, I am now retired on disability and destined to be broke for perpetuity. I can no longer be behind a automobile wheel because, with no forewarning, I get dizzy and disoriented. I also lose my concentration mid-sentence and have a memory that becomes more spotted every day.

I’ve also had both the honor and pleasure to become friends with more than a few quirky individuals. They continue to enrich my understanding of the Universe, share their experiences, and nurture me as if I were family.

I am quite blessed and thankful.

(Image: Photograph of Lilyan Tashman & Cecil Beaton, 1930.)

Never Hoarders Without Borders

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This afternoon while Jon was trying to nap and Pfluffer was trying more steadfastly to keep him awake, I went outside. I haven’t spent much time outside this summer, in attempt to not aggravate any of the symptoms I am facing.

It would be rather unpleasant if I were to fall while Jon was on a mission to Target. I’d likely just “stay put” since I falter when standing and would need assistance just to get up and brush pine needles off my robe. Today though was different.

I was craving the quietness of outside, here in the hinterlands. My soul needed recharging. My aura had become tarnished. And the time had come for me to take back at least a semblance of control in managing my health. Perhaps it was the garden angels that lured me outside like sirens of the pines. I sat down at the table that, for over a decade, had been my private smoking lounge.  My intent was to meditate a bit and, later, watch the five new kittens frolic.

Sitting outside, though, doomed me from the start. My thoughts drifted toward the challenge of packing, should we move. The more I obsessed about the inevitable details, the more rigid and arched my body became.

At that point, I visualized all of our “stuff”, collected over many lifetimes. I began mentally noting all of the collections that would require special handling and care. Of course, I eventually made partial lists of said “stuff”, but left them all to my memory so I could prolong any denial and avoid a commitment.

Neither Dr Markle nor I are “Hoarders Without Borders” but we share healthy penchants for porcelains, books, and regional pottery. The following includes probably 2% of what we’ll eventually face:

One hundred and seven undoubtedly “special” mugs and coffee cups, nineteen Majolica pitchers, thirty-five candle sticks, and my fifty-two 19th C. figural humidors. My calm and determined other half collects Frankoma, currently numbering well over three hundred pieces. Similarly, Henry and I have a weakness for Roseville, especially the Pine Cone and Luffa series.

Together we own huge quantities of over six patterns of dishes including Queensware, Vietri, Fiesta, and Singapore Bird. Most of the pieces are in the storage room; we only have four kitchen cabinets and about 175 sq/ft of counter-space. Did I mention Jon’s prized casserole dishes crafted by local potters? Or my nine cookie jars? The list could go on almost ad infinitem.

I best include the over 2,000 books, 1000 Christmas ornaments, 23 different medications, and an eclectic mix of original art, lithographs, and emotionally-charged photographs. The Twelve Noble and Apostolic Pusses of Marklewood currently number ten, five of which are plump, active, and extremely friendly kitties. The indoor clowder, that is perhaps a little heavy on the pride side, includes Pfluffer, Henry, Claudja (named for disc diva Ms Barry) and Hermione, as in Gingold.

By that point I grew quite weary of and melancholy with the entire notion of relocating … anywhere. Yawning and stretching, taking a nap seemed ideal. Fortunally both Jon and Pfluffer were sound asleep. (Or, as we say here in the deeper annals of the South: “That don’t make no never mind!”)

As I carefully with full, yet slow precision made my way to the front stoop, I hummed “I’ve Got a Little List.”  Thank you, KoKo. Incidentally, Mitchell Butel, of “Avenue Q”,with Sydney’s Opera Australia sings the most engaging version albeit with a few changed lyrics. The inclusion of both modern Pop references and society’s quirks balances the operetta’s awkward political incorrectness.

My best advice these days to young adults is a passionate “Do not collect. Do not collect. Do not collect!” I’ll repeat if necessary.

Hey Pimps, It’s Hard Out There For a Puss, Too!

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These deprogramming seminars for feral pusses has really gotten depressing and counterproductive. They watch cultist television documentaries, leaving them desperate, having been robbed of hope, and isolated from their loving families. And without cable TV. Beamer, Tweedle, Yorick, Kitty Carlisle, and Lady Eve just finished orientation on “How to Lead Your Dinner into the next decade.”

They eat only dried food. The new militant owner is very against meat, fish, and anything killed for support like: birds, squirrels, snakes, and rodentia. The concept of looking ahead to a diet of fiber and vegetables, only creates more introspective and craving for: chicken, bacon, fish residue, leftover pork, any casseroles, and of course ice cream, if doled sparingly.

Meanwhile this group of Hookers, as in playing hockey, watchings tide find its neap and await its neap. They still hide their hopes that fresh water fish will come to them in somehow or another undisclosed escape like stowaways in a dinghy or unsecured power boat. I doubt they have yet to realize that ice cream, peas, Roquefort dressing, and hamburger remnants and bits of aging meat and fat “are not beamed” to the tonier clubs.

But they will quickly learn that whatever prompts them to slum the muckier and sleazier holes of port will only toughen their catty demeanor. Some starry-eyed toms and mollies hear and trust the reports: an urban diet of diseased minnow or elderly catfish and the “promised roam” of institutional life await some refined, urban dogs. They quickly scurried under the brush to confer.

They best pack their things and head home to those netherlands of Outer Raleighwood, which are bountiful and safe. The will realize soon enough that the Potomac River will be their first challenge.

Perhaps, the Sparrow, Peacocks, and even Yellow Finches best unionize or, at least, securely pool their resources.
The times for a pussy, they are a-changing, Mr Dylan.

“The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of his tail.” -Rabindranath Tagore

Yes, A Birth Notice: The Tails of August

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The other day, the tortoise shell Lady Eve presented a litter of five gray, black, and striped kittens. This is her “farewell” litter as she has retired from birthing and plans to: hang out with the other mollies, wear “comfortable shoes”, and hunt cardinals for sport.

I would have shared this morsel earlier had it not been for my denial. We now have even more cats to feed, protect, and neuter. At least they remain outside and keep Marklewood free of snakes, certain insects, and mice. Although they miss our ancient pines, the squirrels seem to have all moved down the road to a safe and wooded area next to the Bait Shop.

Some of you may wonder if we have named the little ones yet. I fear not. Once christened, they seem to stay forever.
There is one, the litter’s runt, to which Jon and I have both become attached. He enjoys the company of humans, unlike hid mother. This striped tom definitely needs a name, if only to ease our many references to him during the day.

The collaboration of both history and prudence reminds us try to resist any clever, precious, or exotic names. Beamer, Kitty Carlisle, and Yorick are all full-time residents at Marklewood solely because one of us gave in and named them. For some reason, a name makes them feel warmer and fuzzier … and less likely to roam.

Dr Jon and I considered Titus, Hairy Potter, Simon, Tristan, Ned, Sysiphus (Sissy), Tweedle, Otto, Cabot, and a few even sillier names for a kitten.  Potential nicknames: how’d they sound if shouted out or shortened, as well as their appropriateness for Marklewood.

There was a time when we allowed a name to simply evolve. Eve was originally Eve Harrington.  Over an arctic winter, Henry went on to the nicknames, Hank to Hanky to Yankee Doodle to Doodle. I often call Pfluffer “Marie”, as in a surname (not a girl’s given name), after Ann Marie and Lou Marie from the sixties’ situation comedy “That Girl”.

That can be, however, risky.  If allowed to “evolve”, appropriate 21st c. names can quickly become the likes of Spot and Snowball. When we once turned our heads to a paralyzing snowfall with a  food & beverage shortage, Rhett became Jet,  which “in a few degrees” of free association was, finally, Blackie.

As of this evening, the two leaders are Otto and Tweedle. Barring either some outrageous fortune or unforeseen mission, we’ll likely make a decision while we are savoring that first morning  cup of coffee.

Don’t fuss if it changes a few times before his Cat Mitzvah.

(Image: “Dressed Cats with Baby Kittens”, postcard #4731 by Alfred Mainzer.)

Avoiding The Forbidden or Low-Hanging


When I was in primary school at St Thomas More Elementary, in Chapel Hill, I fortunately loved fruit. A snack was always waiting on my desk upon my arrival home, a plate with both a cookie and either a pear, banana, or apple. Its intent was essentially a parental “loss leader” to encourage me to do my homework before going outside to play. My friends all went to public school, except my friend Damian, so we usually hurried so we could catch-up and trade tales of nuns and “other teacher” types.

That routine continued until we moved to Greensboro. I was ten years old and couldn’t fathom why exactly Hal, Margy, Polly, and I had to relocate. Why were the nuns at St Pius X so strict and serious? I avoid using the word “unfriendly” as I have memory of that “pointer” stick punishment that Sr Mary Patrick relished dispensing.

It was also about this time that Polly started kindergarten. The same snack routine fell into place, except for the new choice of oranges, Polly’s favorite. Naturally, being older, I was more flexible and able to understand the concept of compromise. Hal and Margy would later discover that I was also well-versed in the art of “choosing my own battles!”

My sister loved oranges of all types: Valencias, Navel oranges, Clementines, Tangerines, and a few years yet, “Blood” oranges. After one year of my quiet acquiescence, I discovered the beauty and thrill of grapefruit. Grapefruit became my favorite choice of both fruit and juice, remaining so until my 30’s.

About that time, it was pointed out to me that the ultimate sour “nectar” conflicted with my medication. Disappointed, I basically experimented for the next two decades. Blackberries, Carambola, plums, Kiwi, and peaches, they all gave me joy. On the other hand, citrus fruits essentially piggy-backed with the grapefruit and left my daily regimen. I neither appreciated nor understood the exotic pineapple until a few years ago after I retired.

Now it seems that I have become so set in my eccentric ways I rarely veer from habit. Usually, watermelon, blueberries, and pineapple are the only fruits that can be found in the Marklewood refrigerator save juices.

“Who ever saw that one coming?” It was similar to most “change” in daily life these days: it just occurred without either my knowledge or approval.

Did I mention that I dislike any cooked fruit? That includes: jams, jellies, and pies. And I detest and have never understood the creation of raisons, enjoying them only in animated form..

Yes, I realize this musing may be stretching its relevance to accompany the interesting anthropomorphic Au Bon Marché trade cards above. Let’s just say that I appreciated those past fruits of choice … surreptitiously, quietly, or vicariously.

Vegetables? I have actually enjoyed them all since my toddler years, even the oft maligned broccoli, cauliflower, and okra. However, I passionately dislike rutabagas, snow peas, and beets.

I digress. Actually, that was true before I even began to scribble these humble words.

(Images: “Fruits Animé”, Series #28, Bon Marché c.1900-1905.)

Summer’s Glorious Peltate Nasturtia

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We love nasturtiums here at Marklewood, but have long-abandoned any hope of maintaining their seasonal glory past the early “Dog Days”. July’s swelter can twist the healthiest of trailing blooms into a writhing braid of viney carnage. Nonetheless, their flat, peltate leaves fascinate Henry and me, as does the perfect palette that a generic multicolor may yield. The nasturtium is always ornamental, often herbal, and sometimes edible.

They give me great joy when they cascade from the rims of weathered aquamarine villa pots that adorn our back stoop.

This year, however, circumstances prevent me from undertaking my usual and obsessive gardening. Yet the yard is a lush oasis of leafy grandeur and effulgent underbrush. The hydrangea are weighted with “Carolina” blue pons. My most cherished of houseplants, the ancient begonias Ruby and Ruby Too, continue to thrive with the former now flaunting a four foot span.

The tea-roses that survived Jon’s marathon 2010 hospital stay continue to proudly appoint a distant birdbath. And lavender impatiens trail down the front of a gargantuan pine that guards our humble home, maintaining vigilant sentry a mere eight feet from our door.

What we need is more color. What I want is a tray of nasturtiums. I need to dig my hands into the pungent potting soils if part of some communal seeding ritual. Nature beckons.

Alas. A lone artist rendering must suffice until the next Spring planting season. I am already “feeling” it and plotting placement of such  understated, yet elegant cress.

Ah, yes. I can visualize at once that fetching “Viennese Teardrop”, Luise Rainer, in some long-misplaced cinematic chestnut. She wears tattered gardening gloves, a sensible smock, and a beam of satisfaction: “The nasturtia are in bloom again.”

Fie! I couldn’t resist the obvious, Miss Hepburn. Your days lie ahead.

(Image: “The Season’s Last Nasturtiums” by Janet Laura Scott.)

Sunday Raises Its Hand

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How can a life be, in fact, still with the buzzing chaos that surrounds us?  On some Sundays, even those dizzying dreads must queue for attention here at Marklewood. We search even the nightstand drawers in the downstairs guest room for a playbill that transports us, a yellowed photograph that revives a lost moment, or an orphaned and ringless key. And on Sundays like today, we desperately seek a divine and layered chord bridging the chirps, the drizzle, and the creaks.

Denial must middle child to the elder Worry and much younger Avoidance, at least in terms of Jungian “birth order” disorder. A well-secured doormat contain the bickers and spars while the shrill screams, weighty gasps, and muffled sobs indeed escape. They wist through a keyhole or climb up to the transom and leap.

There never seems to be an answer, only new and more immediate questions. We juggle, toss, and bury. And by midday, start the rummage.

Of course, such a “still life” is never altogether fruitless. There is always an unbruised and luscious morsel to be yet discovered, plump with both nectar and ripe hope.

Perhaps that’s why I savor symmetry and season it with metaphors. And do so on such a rainy Sunday like today, admitted in my truest sot to voce.

(Image: “Still Life With Ego” by Samuel Bak, 2003.)

Das Rattentöchterlein Japanisches Märchen 1903

The formality of title relieves the tension of the topic.

I am not particularly fond of rats and have only, fortunately, encountered one such creature face to face. Almost twenty years ago, my friend Bruce was renovating a large, very weathered farmhouse in the central part of the city. The proud three-story house was one of the few that stood alone in that day, it had six bedrooms and gorgeous, appointed details. Having just moved back to D.C., I became one of his unlikely group of tenants, as daily I had flashbacks of undergraduate transgressions.

The neighborhood was convenient, attractive,  and quiet, at least for the district. Of course, we had neighbors. On one side, although it was definitely occupied, I never caught a glimpse of the residents and tried to stay clear of assumptions.

On the right lived an elderly gentleman who owned at least a dozen dogs, ranging in size from Pomeranians to Rottweilers. Some were hunting dogs. Others were “working” dogs. They were all brethren in their loud, aggressive, and extremely ill-mannered habits. Whenever one of us brought home fried chicken, for instance, we’d need to smuggle it from the car, else we incur a riotous canine attack. Even so, we scurried to our front door.

Months later, the neighbor died and the city took charge of the house, removing the extremely hungry dogs and clearing the house’s neglected and over-filled interior. The property was finally quiet all the time.

That is, until the workmen became very enthusiastic and had removed most of the remaining trash and debris. One afternoon, I was casually looking out my window and saw dozens of rats running from the house. (I can’t bring myself to say “hundreds.”) Stampede might be the appropriate term in any case.

That night, after watching the Academy Awards,  I went downstairs to phone my friend Vicky. I felt it mandatory for us to share opinions on Sally Field’s acceptance speech. After a half hour of delicious cattiness, I threw a soft drink can into the trash. Out jumped a huge rat that quickly disappeared into the annals of the house. I abruptly ended the phone call and hurried upstairs to inform the others. We all were then suspicious, worried, and a bit on edge.

Once back in my room, I took duct tape and tried to seal all the doors around their frame. I had remembered how rats can squeeze through small openings and how they might mess with my aura that night. I never slept but did get to work very early, “later” that morning. Michael, Chip, Tom, and I were quite relieved when Bruce told us that evening that exterminators had resolved the issue.

I promptly asked to see the receipt.

(This set of trade cards advertised the Leibig Extract of Meat Company, and was printed in 1903.)

Holiday Raids, Regrets, and, Sadly, No Reynolds Wrap

Most_Disturbing_Manipulated_Images_Ever__5Barry had always flown the six continuous shuttle taxis between Albany and Springfield. The airborne noise had finally eked his compliance. His days of fighting someone else’s ever-so-veiled pointed banter, alas, have found closure. At age 51, Barry was tipping his pilot’s cap one last time. His anxieties as an underplayed carrier, after-midnight errand boy, and a mute, blind, and deaf witness were humming their swan song.

His restless days worrying about the endless many projects requiring signatures and initials on court bound papers were dwindling: Barry’s replacement, his roommate Nippy, was to begin at 8am Monday and by week’s end, he’d be in Antigua nursing premium Mai-Tais and gorging on Rock Point oysters and Bay lump crab meet. He’d be alone but, at age 51.

Nonetheless the week passed in a healing, rejuvenating atmosphere. Except for the curiosity that was quickly building over Miss Smoot-Steins assurance that she’d redeem the roundtrip weekend ticket he had left for her. Between “romps”, they were to fantasize about the many parts to their redemptive stance. Again postponed yearnings had been stirring in both Barry and Deana’s loins. A pungent and greasy unfulfillment cloaked Barry’s ode and attempts be cheerful. His “Finger Lake” resilience had melted.

Curious and “stood up”, and numbed Barry unlocked the door to the emptiness of Albany, his dusty pre-War flat, and his yet unnamed puss who was nearly five. He fed the puss and turned on the television to catch his favorite shows. He walked into the the kitchen, recalling all the goodies he’d had roasted before his departure. Deana wanted to box the hot oil sesame noodles and take them home.

She left shortly thereafter, forgetting some of the tightly boxed “to-go” goodies. Barry searched the icebox hoping to stumble upon a marinading head roast he had been hungry for all week long. There on the top shelf squeezed between the spring mustards and 2% milk was a platter with a human head resting upon its optical center. What a perfect Sunday treat for Barry and Nippy to share if not devour!

Barry had realized that the head was uncovered and unprotected, naked on a chipped yet colorful Meisen platter, which Barry unearthed only on holidays. Anger and fury seized and redirected the words he was spewing: “Damnation. Let’s just go to Dairy Queen, Crackle Barrel, or even Denny’s. I’ll leave the tray outside. Perhaps the cats, dogs, coyotes, and raccoons will find satisfaction in the unexpected feast.

Nippy and Barry arrived home just after 10pm, unable to sip tea, inhale some amyl nitrate, or even slowly savor ons genteel and dainty peppermint truffle.

The outdoor brood, however, was still on the front lawn … nibbleless and still well-groomed from Barry’s attention that morning, Barry was facing another sad cranial roast, perhaps his last.

Nippy reached into the 50lb bag of Royal Canine food … healthy, easy to digest, and a rare opportunity to feel appointed, anointed, and sprung from the “jointed!” He dished a huge, if not “Pelican State” helping into their bow.

Barry quietly stormed inside — SLAMMING and bolting the door. (I readied for bed where I’d pray to the muse of syntax and spelling and nibble some Lorna Doones.)