Up, Up, and Away: The Menu’s Small Print

It’s 6:45 am. I’m running on empty, yet raring to go.

The nurses are no longer urging me to at least try to get some sleep. Perhaps later.

Right now I might just indulge myself and order a mid-century, farmer’s breakfast: two fried eggs, sausage, grits, rye toast with cream cheese, and an iced coffee. Yes, the hospital permits such decadent items, on the rare “pre-transplant” occasion.

Then, for the rest of the day, I’ll just feel as though I’m living within the context of a Fifth Dimension songbook.

Of course, I may struggle to stay awake for tonight’s Downton Abbey finale.

Bowie Memories : Aurally-Speaking

The week’s unfold was certainly unexpected. The world recklessly flew by. The future, however, still has yet to play any cards. And iconic David Bowie passed away. He died. In an instant.

Most of us had no warning. We probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. On Monday, from our mental replays to internet videos, images, commentary, and his often-pioneering, often landmark music, our world became a forum for all things Bowie.

“All the Young Dudes” “A Space Oddity” “Young Americans” “Blue Jean”

My post-puberty life was sound-tracked with Bowie gems.

Henry earlier reminded me of a lighter reference he and I shared in our most respectful of master-pet whispers. Like Robert Palmer and Bryan Ferry, he also aged into a distinguished, elegant, and almost “matinée” music idol. Unlike those two, however, Bowie consistently always reinvented himself and pushed his relevance.

He transcended any mortal discourse on sexuality and predilections. David Bowie became “Every Man” to so many, many people throughout the past half-century of music-listening history.

We will all miss him. And shed a tear.

Rest in Peace and Beauty, Mr Bowie.

He left us when we weren’t looking. We’re never looking.

Lyrical and Listless


Ever since I was in middle school, I have entertained myself on the coldest of December evenings by tabulating my year-end list of favorite music tracks of that year. Tidily kept in a rarely-opened drawer, the tallies have, for the most part, required a degree of culling. For an obsessive music aficionado as myself, narrowing the number to even a hundred has been challenging.

In recent years, however, I have been hard-pressed to advance beyond any brainstorm. Rarely have there been more than a few dozen songs that “trip this trigger” of mine, albeit tarnished, yet not impaired. And this year, I dare say: I’d be hard-pressed to submit a paltry “top ten” … with either generosity of criteria or a bartender’s pour. For us music mavens of Marklewood, 2010 has been an exceedingly dismal year.

Some folks might offer that one’s interest in popular music and such silly private cataloguing might diminish with maturity. I assure you, however, that my passions have never subsided. I still follow new releases fervently, read “Billboard” regularly, and follow music trends throughout the world. Yet, as I sit and jot, only a few chart entries come to mind with little coaxing.

True, there have been some stellar offerings by Martina and the Diamonds, Chris Garneau, Antony & the Johnsons, among others. But overall, this year of music has left me uninspired and therefore “listless”. I have dutifully and enthusiastically maintained my tradition since 1968. This year, however, I may just as well leave that drawer undisturbed, with hopes for a better new year.

I have, however, found myself drifting away into the past worlds of AM radio, eight tracks, cassettes, and vinyl. Visuals from my life’s sound-tracking have kept me jotting, racing, smiling, and fumbling with my ipod, Leopold II. (Many of you may remember that I tend to name appliances, electronica, cars, and plants.)

After a few hours of sifting through memories, playlists, and the statistical data that is a by-product of obsessive cataloguing, I have come up with my boldest list yet: my ten favorite songs of the past half-century. I offer them now, in no particular order, if for any reason to prove a point. When Jon and I listen to music, he often hears me exclaim: “oh, that’s one of my favorites!” and replies with: “oh, you have thousands of favorite songs!”

“Sebastian” (Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel), “How it Ends” (DeVotchKa), “The Road to Hell” (Chris Rea), “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera” (Keith West). “Love Lies Bleeding” (Elton John) … those are the easy choices. They are complex pastiches of layered melodies, vocals, and lyrics. They, my friends, arouse the aforementioned “trigger”.

There would certainly be a few dance tracks: “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” (Deborah Cox), “Con te Partiro” (Donna Summer), and “Another Night” (Real McCoy). There have been myriad titles that, in a previous phase of life, might have made the cut but they have been sadly played to death either on my trusty walkman or on some classic FM station, back when radio stations were a more viable option. I need never hear “Bad Girls” or “I Will Survive” again. That phenomenon might explain my fondness for cover songs or at least my willingness to give them a listen.

The final two are Al Stewart’s “On the Border” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line”, usually not the hits that one mentions first when discussing those two artists. Their arrangements, however, are pop perfection and stray a bit from the norm at their time of recording.

True, there are no Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Timi Yuro, Electric Light Orchestra, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or Fine Young Cannibals entries on this most miniscule of lists. I assure you that they each had at least one hit that hovers near the top, “bubbling under” as it were. In fact, I dare say there are several hundred that could be my “number eleven”. Unfortunately for my list, although fortunately for you, this has been an exercise on narrowing my wide expanse of “likes” to a few choice tunes … just to prove a point to myself and, perhaps, Jon.

I will though offer my fairly honorable and humble mention of those Fab Four musical moments, although I have been “Beatled” since puberty and have thus acquired a reluctant immunity. Paul’s “Another Day” and “Band on the Run”, John’s “#9 Dream”, Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy”, and George’s “What is Life?” … all of these 45’s rocked my adolescence and were retired from play, after months of maniacal overplay. Mary Hopkin, that virtuous and nubile Apple maiden, caught my fancy for the clever beat with her version of “Goodbye”, which I have yet to retire, some four decades since acquisition.

I appreciate your indulgence on this chilly wintry night. I know the perfect CD to soundtrack my moment and would be more than willing to serve as your late night deejay. Chances are you’d be surprised at the selections. Jon, though, would remind you that such an invitation should be extended with a warning. Perhaps that is why he, without fail, makes certain that I have the most up-to-date headsets. Some obsessions are best enjoyed alone.

(Image: “The Little Prince” by Bin Lee)

Oh Loretta, Even Dainty Claws Will Harm Your Gowns!

As I am certain you have always expected, Loretta Young is an icon for our household’s impressionable young pusses: Hermione, Claudja, and Dylis.
The two litter-mates are now seasoned five-year olds that love a Christmas only Dudley could offer. It goes without adding: the’d much prefer a food dish that could only be maintained by Professor Wutheridge.

On the other paw, Dylis is the product of an unholy assignation of our outdoor calico molly and a spry roving tom, surely sewing his oats. While both mother and daughter sleep under our house, the father marks his territory somewhere down the road.

As Marklewood is in the Hinterlands of Outer Raleigh, appropriate suitors for the naïve Dylis are rare. Her father, meanwhile meows with a Roger Miller-esque caterwaul. With my beloved’s tutelage, Dylis’s polite demeanor conceals well the behavior of a four month old kitten.

I fully expect her to soon greet us with a confident “mjau”, albeit with a genteel drawl.

As you might’ve predicted the late Miss Young was always a favorite of ours. I stretched my arm deep into my cache of musings and tried my hardest to tie a cat tale with her rather technicolor portrait.

Don’t you know it? Her fondness was for dogs: miniature poodles, French pugs, and Spaniels of many breeds. I suspect there were always a few dubious birds who sought refuge and a “Safe Cage” from their stalkers.

(Photograph of Loretta Young by the legendary Horst P. Horst, 1941.)

Can’t Trust That Day (Nor those Pensées Sauvages)

Yes it was after Dean’s warbled moment, “You’re always saying pansy things”, that Henry and I gave up and, thus, released any previous enjoyment of TNT’s “Supernatural”!

But we still have appreciate the fragile, seemingly youthful, and weather-sturdy flower. Besides: it reminds me of 60s childhood.

Monday mornings can often be dangerous (and usually indulgent).
Yet they still warrant a hopeful hum. “How could you leave and not take me?” Come on, Henry. Silly Mark! Silly Mark!

(Image: Illustration from Franz Pocci’s wonderful “Viola Tri-Color”, 1876.)

Whispers in the Crisper: A Perfectionist’s Self-Defense

I have spent the greater part of my life either trapped in the throes of my own perfectionism or indeed wallowing in the wake of those who seem to embrace (if not celebrate) imperfection. Unfortunately, the latter scenario has included lovers, partners, friends, co-workers and perhaps a parent or two. Finicky, obsessive, anally retentive, neat-freaky, compulsive, persnickety … all have been often used to describe me; and not always with fondness of intent and kindness in delivery. Sadly, admittedly, and voiced only in a whisper, I can no longer recall much of my earliest years or else my first mention of “greater part” would certainly be upgraded to “entire”.

Of course, my own analysis bears quite different results. I insist vehemently, although most often in private, that such tidiness is pragmatic, time efficient, and thrifty. A well-organized refrigerator yields fewer jars of moldy green olives; avoids cartons of expired milk; and is never stocked with unnecessary and duplicate, if not triplicate, jars of tasty coarse mustard.

When it is categorized, colorized, and tidily otherwise merchandised, there is little chance that any of its chilly contents will ever turn up as “long lost” or forgotten. In any preferred case, there is significant financial and, consequently, time savings. Further, grocery lists become near obsolete as one becomes more in tune with what is “on hand” just by peeking inside to note gaps or, as in my case, by a quick mental visualization.

The same organization process is true with closets, desk drawers, medicine cabinetry, nightstands, even glove compartments. Less time is required to locate most anything, unless of course one has a partner or spouse, as I do, who subscribes to the other school of thought. Understandably, now that I am fifty-five, it is no longer a preference but, instead, a way of life. It is the endless back-tracking in the behaviors of a “non-believer” that indeed waste time and money. Yet, those non-believers never change. They simply scoff and chuckle at what they call “neurosis” at what I, and my fellow enthusiasts, would simply call correct procedure. Oy.

As a designer both in inclination and by trade, I might plead the aesthetic value of my perfectionism. Bookcases are less-cluttered, with their contents always clustered by type and age, and alined by size and thickness. A three-hundred year old leather-bound manuscript simply isn’t placed beside a paperback copy of “Exodus”. A self-help tome might have issue with sharing real estate with a naughty Chatterly, in spite of its orientation and amorous leanings. And certainly some books and texts serve best from an unmarked and well-secreted box.

Kitchen cabinets are simply more appealing, dramatic, and (YES) efficient if glassware is arranged carefully by type and spices are alphabetized. T-shirt drawers are much more attractive if the t-shirts are all folded the same, correct way … and stacked in deference to color and degree of formality. Even the interior of a dishwasher is less of an eyesore if all the dishes are turned in the same direction and the flatware is separated by type and purpose, with sterling never permitted to co-mingle with stainless. As a child, I interpreted the phrase “like little soldiers” as a badge of honor, worthy of a warm and fuzzy moment.

I think you get my point, my friends, and agree that I plead a worthy argument. Of course, it is a losing one and always has been … at least in my humble world. It surely seems so even with my dear Jon, who consistently makes every effort to give me joy and to acquiesce wherever appropriate, worthwhile, and beneficial. He would argue that it really doesn’t matter where in the icebox that foodstuffs are indeed placed. I counter that world order is compromised if sodas are in the crisper or if condiments are askew.

But I do so detest the shallow argument and now see an alternative wisdom in a revised pragmatism. Now that time passes at such a whipping pace, I now through caution to the wind, label-makers be damned. I shall spend my last few (hopefully) decades just enjoying my life and my loves, though “cringe” may yet become a future “mot du jour”!

However, I shall have no explanation should I revert to ways of my childhood. Those memories seem now forever lost, and no witnesses remain who can attest to my youthful predispositions. I can only pray that my inclinations for such resolve are indeed innate … as I no longer have a back-up plan in place.


(Images by Alex Gross)