The Fresh Producers: That’s My Watermelon

imageToday was such a perfect August day, one of Lou Reed perfection. At least I think so. It’s been many years since such a Marklewood Sunday peeked at us from the East. And then, upon a positive evaluation, the day opened its eyes from the squint.

My sister Polly and I had a good, old-fashioned “Shelling for Jesus” day.  We shelled two pounds of field peas, cooked them, and took note. We sautéed onions, added a package of my most favorite spicy sausage, and slowly combined the field peas.

You have absolutely no idea, Oh Gentle Reader and Generous Chef. All but a cupful fied into a hand-crafted turquoise tureen. There is a-plenty.

For the rest of the afternoon, we organized and prepped all the produce that easily filled two shelves: squash, honeydews, canteloups, peaches, berries. Polly sliced two watermelons into manageable pieces on which a melon freak might get a little crazy.

For my part, I made a simple scored-cucumber salad with vidalias and balsamic vinegar. My sister cooked ten ears of corn and then sliced the kernels right into some storage piece.

I sliced fresh jalapeños and stirred the slices into two cups of my favorite mayonaise. For those of you who do not live in the US, let me forewarn you. Southerners, if not consumers from all of the continental sbouncerstates, enjoy a rite of passage into culinary adulthood. Most folks seem to have lifelong selections for their “favorite” non-boutique mayonaise, ketchup, mustard, cola. In my case, a nosy guest might find Hellman’s, Heinz, Guldens, and Pepsi.

While there are many, many soft drinks with both many variations and fields of fans, I’m afraid that such a summit would never be a calm, civil display via Roberts Rules or behemoth bouncers.

I swear on the memories of Boar & Castle Drive In, years of transgression therapies have been unproductive. The best kitchen controls are high, broil, and anarchy-fueled domestic dictatorships.

By 5:30 pm, all the produce was washed, sliced, and bagged. Wherever appropriate foods were cooked, we secured the perfect size storage tureens.

We chatted, planned another such afternoon, and just passed away these suggestive dog days. No time had passed in the five years since we had a healthy interrupted visit.

I was so ready. I was so hungry. Eating healthily is its own revenge, eh Emily?

May your dreams tonight be as sweet as fresh Candor peaches!

Shalom. Bon apetit.

(Image: by Kevin Sloan.)

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A Rainbow Wrapped in a Sigh

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Yesterday was a cerulean day that became the sum of exceptional and precious moments:

I had another great hour with my rarely-mentioned therapist. Where Drs. Chase and Hoffman had failed years ago, she succeeds every other Thursday. With neither pretense nor pretext, we simply talk.

My life appears woven from tattered, faded strips of a Persian blue Fortuny silk with some moth-eaten chartreuse Dupioni. Like many of the Universe’s twists and turns, a trade discount does a metaphor proud.

My sister and I swapped stories from Life’s grand “tea party”, with at least a few bites of both earned and learned leftover scones of carefully portioned nostalgia. We talked of the sins of our parents — the ones that we inevitably repeat. And we imagined life in our doting 80’s. As if!

Finally, there were many, many random laughs. My Tom Bergeron pick would be when I was chatting with a dear friend. Ben Carson’s name came up. With no hesitation, I responded:

“Republican, African-American, Johns Hopkins educated, Detroit physician in 2015! What was God thinking?” The party is over; it’s now a raft of fools, as it were.

Lastly, I had a manly salad with blue cheese dressing for dinner, neither of which I can have post-transplant. It’s an unfortunate trifecta of bacteria, virus, and mold issues.

And now? I want candy. Pink candy smelling of clove and tasting of midnight.

Henry indeed loves his wee hour music references. Yes. Such a puss has his Bow Wow Wows. He’s the Candy Man and he certainly can!

(Image: “La Houppa” by R. Choppy, 1926.)

That Typical First Date Sigh

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Like many of my wide-eyed peers, the late 60’s saw both my innocence lost and an awareness found. The drama of partisan politics, an inevitable move toward late night television viewing, and a Dion tune all changed my freshly stuccoed kingdom of escapism and awareness.

The world was indeed spinning around us and I wanted in. But those topics are poised fodder for future posts, but their mention sets a stage, albeit tenuous.

I was in Sr Mary Patrick’s sixth grade class at St Pius X Catholic School. I felt rather grown-up and my parents seemed to think so. It was finally time for me to ponder the “magical mystery” world of dating.

For three nights of sitting next to the phone, I was still unable to dial the seventh number. My father teased me. My sister giggled as she spied from the doorway.

I did it. I took a deep breath, sat back, and prayed she would answer the phone quickly. She, of course, didn’t. But alas, at least she finally did.

To protect her anonymity, some 46 years later, I will not reveal her name for she may be on Facebook. It is far more genteel to refrain from discussing such matters. Her initials, however, were the reverse of mine, SMcD.

My, how the sharing of details can lead to prosaic digression.

Anyway, Oh Patient Reader, I asked SMcD if she’d like to go to a movie the upcoming Saturday. She agreed without pause. On the other hand, she was caught off guard, of that I am certain. The lesson was to lead with spontaneity whenever possible.

Too much planning and notice often get lost in some neurotic and muddled puddle of anticipation, excuses, and uncertainty. Perhaps wavering, ambivalence or ennui follow. Beats me, Gentle Reader. I was only eleven years old.

That Saturday, my father dropped me off at my friend’s house in Fisher Park. The once opulent movie theater was only blocks away. We could simply stroll at some prepubescent pace. But we didn’t.

I was too excited. We had tickets to see “Yellow Submarine” and I was in my version of a frenzy.

The film was thrilling. The rapid cuts of color, music, song, and images were exhilarating. We had buttered popcorn and Cherry Cokes.

As we were exiting the theater and chattering away, the wind blew some particle of dust into my eye. I couldn’t get it out. Further, I was one of those repressed types that clamps down quickly on his/her eyelids. We kept walking so I could better conceal my frustration and panic. I had an idea.

Lane’s Drugstore was a nearby. We could get ice cream there. More to the point, the Pharmacist, Mr Stang, was certain to have a solution.

He rummaged through several drawers and emerged from underneath some cabinetry. Victory was, perhaps, mine. He brought over an eyewash. I had never heard of such a product but was approaching desperation. I prayed that the culprit would just disappear quickly and I could regain my composure.

Folowing Mr Stangs instructions, I raised the small cup to my eye to essentially rinse my cornea. However, I probably had no idea what a cornea really was.

I felt a chill, swooned a bit, and fainted … just steps away from the soda fountain. A silly sense of doom and embarrassment killed my appetite but I had a cone anyway. It would’ve been rude to allow SMcD to feel self conscious.

Over the next few hours, I walked her home and then to my father’s office where he was working and waiting for me to stop by. Hal’s Limousine Service seemed to always pull-up to the curb for a heavy tariff.

I scurried to my room to sulk a bit and examine my eye. With neither notice nor awareness as to when it actually happened, the fleck was flicked.

I turned on my radio and grabbed a book, planning to read for a bit before dinner. Recklessly and dramatically jumping onto the bed, I landed in the center with waning springs.

Peeking inside, I jumped for joy INTERNALLY. The “Yellow Submarine” album and a Heath bar were well-concealed in a bag. My mother was a pro at her rather consistent Saturday regime of shopping and errands. And I usually accompanied her.

For the rest of the day, save for dinner, the Beatles tunes filled the airwaves … from my room to my sister’s. Over to my parents’. And down the hallway to the rest of the house. One could probably hear a resounding “we all live in a …!” from outside the garage, if not beyond.

But I didn’t care. I had a new Beatles LP; my eyes were speckless but gleaming; and I had stepped across a soon-to-be teenaged milestone.

I had successfully completed my first date.

(Image: “Meat Train” by Mark Ryden, 2000.)

Skipping Along Moon River’s Banks

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I love women. As a gay man, I might foolishly offer generalizations seemingly due the “fairer” sex. Wiser, more compassionate, fairer, kinder, more loyal, less uptight, more nurturing … Hell, they present a more appropriate creativity with the palette that is “style”.

Of course, all of that is seeded from childhood when we first realize that the mother/son or father/daughter paradigms are correct: both primal and essential to survival.

Most menfolk are attracted to a certain type of woman. In my case, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly is sublime and non pareil. The resulting ideal is bold, yet innocent.

Without my trademark “gilding the lily”, probably another 748 adjectives apply, as most of us have pondered this several times.

The Universe has indulged me often. As an adult, I’ve worked with Liana H, Anna K, Julie H, and Carol H just to point out a few.

Liana and I worked together in Washington, DC. One day she came in wearing a smart Chanelish suit, wig, and pillbox hat. It was the only subject of conversation for days. I think most of us would like to have such confidence in paying homage.

Sixteen- year old Julie was an employee in Chicago. She treated all of life as a genre of art. And she was its impresario-in-waiting. I was 28 and considered taking her to my 10th high school reunion. I cautiously passed on the event, not wanting to even lightly spark mention of the inappropriateness of the age difference. She was, however, quite game.

The other two are from my days in Greensboro. Anna was stunning and, oddly, exotic for a doe-eyed, pierced, and Southern “ginger-ette”. During a horrific time of my life, she was the only person I felt could handle the rawness of exposing her innocence to the sadness, grief, panic, and total uncertainty that defined my world in 2001.

My partner was rapidly deteriorating from Progressive Multi-Focal Leukoencephalopathy or PML. Please google it. It is far too difficult to verbalize and explain the disease and its rapid spiral into anguish.

Anna brought smiles and compassion to a still household paralyzed with the anticipation of death.

Lastly, Carol is the epitome of a Bohemian, intrepid, and kind grandmotherly photographer. I shall be brief.

In the late 90’s, she took a rather extensive body of artful nude pictures of me. Actually, I was “nekkid”. In one shot my jeans were bunched at my ankles while I wore a mushroom-brown fedora. It was titillating, well for me. There wasn’t the slightest reveal of genitalia. We did, though, exhaust ways of draping a duvet without adventuring into a lurid and unseemly nadir.

But I obsess.

What started as a goofy albeit private moment of “Georgy Girl” flashbacks took a shower, dressed in something sensible and Head-like, and turned on Liam, my iPod. Of course, such MP3 players all aim to mature into moderately flashy and trendy timepiece.

The playlist was a “no brainer”: gems from the Zombies, Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground, the Poppy Family, Timi Yuro, and the Ronettes. Add four or five classic Led Zeppelin and the Who tunes and select shuffle. Then pay homage to inspired M.R. covers by Katie Melua, the Honey Trees, Elton John, and the Birds & the Bees.

Such a late afternoon soundtrack would lead to Mancini mayhem of the Mid-Century ilk.

Holly would’ve loved it. With Cat soundly lap napping.

(Image: “Curved Light of the Night” by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, 1932.)

An Infant Hums “Stonecutters Cut it on Stone”

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Wednesday has always been my least favorite weekday, rooted in a summer swelter that rushed my parents from enjoying “Carousel” at Chapel Hill’s Varsity Theater, back in ’56. My mother spent the next full day in flailing labor. Then at a moment past midnight, I finally emerged, dazed and confused, and overwhelmed with questions. “Who are these skinny people?” “Why am I still naked?” And “What ever happened to that suddenly charming, misunderstood, and freakishly kindred baby that first appeared on screen as Hal and Margy were scurrying down the aisle?”

I was born at 12:01 on a Wednesday, a day that no two people were ever able to recount with the same details and zeal. My mother, an excruciatingly reserved, demure, and proper woman of twenty-five, endured 27 hours of labor without so much as an unkind word or expletive.

My father, a confident and boldly dramatic man, likely slipped into endless German ravings and commentary, as I’d later find that he did whenever he got just a little too excited. By Saturday, we were quietly at home as I enjoyed my new crib and new-found privacy. I imagine that very day would’ve been a far more appropriate day to enter the world.

Yet I was born on an uneventful midweek day, Wednesday. Over the next fifty-eight years, I would endure almost 3,000 of them. All of the momentous chestnuts of my life have been on other days: weddings, funerals, graduations, parties, great first dates, lousy first dates, and Casey Kasem’s “American Top Forty” radio show. Wednesday was always a day on which I was cramming my energies into finishing a school project, staying late at work to meet a deadline, or compulsively planning the most elaborate of details for a dinner party.

I can’t really recall any particular Wednesday, although with prodding and time, I might. There was one particular one, back in 1993, on which I went to sleep on a Tuesday and awakened on a Thursday. That medically-supervised and morphine enhanced stay in the hospital was, I am certain, blissful for both my sub-conscious and alter ego. They never, however, addressed such an admission.

So here I sit, on yet another Wednesday at my ever comfortable and increasingly dusty desk. The day has naturally been uneventful, although my “To Do” list is teeming with unfinished household missions. Surely, there will be nothing on television this evening to pique my interest. Every time there is indeed a compelling program that airs on Wednesday, it is promptly cancelled by the network; case in point: “Pushing Daisies”.

Mind you, I am being neither negative nor a fatalist, just an observant pragmatist. Wednesdays are, in my humble estimation, the best of “bridge” days. They link Tuesday to Thursday, both of which are days that are infinitely more interesting with historically more attractive TV viewing options.

I am, however, now fifty-eight. Time seems to pass, unravel, or tick away rather quickly, so Wednesdays are no longer consumed with dread. “Carousel”, however, is! For quite a while it was my parent’s favorite film as it was linked to the birth of their first-born.

At age ten, when I finally first viewed it, I suggested that my parents had indeed exited the theater too quickly that night to escape the film’s idiocy, dripping sweetness, and insipid ploys. They rolled their eyes, as they often did that year, and Hal sang “My Boy Mark” in German, gently adapting Mr. Hammerstein’s original lyrics. I’ll always remember that night as my parents and I all laughed but for different reasons. Of course, it was a Friday night.

Turnabout is fair play, but Wednesdays still “suck apples through a chain link fence!”

Do I rank the days of the week? You bet I do!

In any case, Gentle Reader, I am listening to the Real Tuesday Weld on an otherwise uneventful day. I will close my eyes tonight at bedtime with modest hopes of greeting the day known as Friday when I next awaken.

(Image: “Royal Bath” by Martin Wittfooth, 2012.)

We Never Really Know the Same Motherly Spirit

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Only a few minutes remain in this Mothers’ Day. Sunday night at Marklewood will then be steered via automatic pilot for “wee hour” television viewing. “Eastenders” on PBS is usually the one casualty and therefore saved for later in the week.

True, it’s a mindless soap that fell into excruciatingly repetitive story lines long before ABC’s Susan Lucci was halfway through her string of Daytime Emmy nods.

Back on track: There have been only a handful of mothers whose life, love, and profound nurturing I celebrate: my grandmothers, Dorothy and Paula, my mother Margaret, and my sister Paula. My grandmothers, however, weren’t necessarily of the equal opportunity variety.

The older Paula doted on my father, denying any real acknowledgment of my sister’s and my accomplishments. Dorothy, on the other hand, treated me as if I were the only male in her family, which was essentially true.

Conversely, she viewed my sister as too much of a rebel and was mortified that my sister converted. I never saw my grandmother go to church nor heard her even utter the name of one. She did remain well-versed in the traditions of parental martyrs.

Dorothy encouraged me to follow my instincts and heart. She consistently nagged my mother and my sister, often in a hateful, “Queen Bee-esque” manner. Yet, she allowed me the privilege of manhood or, for that matter, adulthood.

My sister Paula, whom I still call Polly, broke traditions from both family sides. She raised her three daughters with little help, unyielding in her sacrifice or devotion. She was perhaps the only supermom I ever knew.

But Mothers’ Day belongs to Margaret. Her graveside memorial was held on Mothers’ Day 1991. And to me, she was always perfect: kind, attentive, encouraging, and proud of her children. She’d celebrate the day with a couple of Manhattans. I’m certain that Angels are permitted to drink alcohol, though probably not a whiskey cocktail.

Alas! The “Eastenders” theme is queuing and Peggy is back with her misguided maternal small-mindedness. She was the blonde who romped with Benny Hill and then eased into small screen bitchiness. Nonetheless, Henry has wished her a Happy Mothers’ Day. If he so much as hears that voice, he is quick to jump onto the bed and actually watch the program (or at least go through the motions!)

That puss is such a devoted fan.

(Image: “Mothers” by Seymour Chwaste, Pushpin Graphics #64, 1976.)

Thank God I’m a City Boy!

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This afternoon on the way home from our separate physical therapy sessions, a familiar tune started playing on some erstwhile Sirius radio station. With neither thought nor realization, the lyrics stated rolling off my mind’s tongue. I know better than to ever sing aloud in front of another person or, especially, myself.

Trust me. Freedom from such torturous screeching is well worth the tolerance of a weak, if not awful metaphor. Jon had not even an inkling of what I was thinking, nor was he aware of his bliss.

Surprisingly, I remained a stanza ahead of the radio and missed ne’r a beat nor a lyric. The song was clearly etched into my sub-conscious. Its title and the chanteuse’s name, however, both escaped me.

Anxiously, I remained a rather still passenger. I know better than to ask Jon a “music trivia” question. Hell, he couldn’t even identify a Madonna hit, let alone have success with this pop singer.

I’d like to blame my heart’s ejection fraction for my loss. Nonetheless, it could have simply been an unprompted mid-dotage moment. The song reminded me of my teenage years so my assumption was that it scored on Billboard in the early 70’s.

The disc jockey’s voice grew and I stopped just short of breathing. I had been reliving an Anne Murray song.

It was plain but complex: an unlikely, in fact unlinked, song was toward the middle of my life’s ever-evolving soundtrack.

There’s that dreaded rub. Was I becoming my parents? Would I start humming “The Last Farewell” or some Tony Orlando and Dawn tune?

Yikes. Remembering that familiar sound bite scared me right into a Casey Kasem stupor. I “reached the stars” just like he always urged his passionate listeners.

Unfortunately, At least for the time being, I did not “spread my tiny wings and fly away.”

I was far too busy reciting to myself a new mantra: I will not sing along nor aloud to any John Denver song. Let Wolfman Jack bear witness.

That is, unless my senses are “filled up”.

(Image: “Working as One” by Chris Buzelli, 2015.)

Come On In, Dear Boy. Have a Cigar Box

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Each year, on and around Labor Day, it was again time to shop prudently for school supplies. Those of you who were obsessive pre-pubescent scholars know well that rush. A shot of some euphoric, sublime, and self-organizational adrenaline would take hold of one’s entire being. Margy, the aforesaid mother in my silly musings, and I would go on a cigar box hunt.

The discarded boxes were covered on all sides with some great lithographic illustration, often depicting two people sharing an old Havana moment. The heavy cardboard boxes came in all different sizes, of course on the smallish side. And they were perfect for storing pens, pencils, quills if you must. One might also hide a small toy or memento inside.

It was indeed a treasure box hunt. We made the rounds asking tobacco merchants if they had any “obsolete” Macanudo, Padrón, or Oliva containers. Ultimately, our search was usually rewarded with a gem, albeit with a lingering, sweet tobacco fragrance.

I would always select a spare box … just in case a replacement was in order. In the event of torrential rain or unseemly acts of playground aggression, I’d be back in business as soon as I got home and grabbed a YooHoo. Being prepared in such a way is one of the 1,047 invaluable tenets that the daunting Daughters of Charity at St Pius X preached.

And I survived. Once as I completed Freshman Orientation at UNC, I quickly welcomed redemption, rehabilitation, and recovery from my many years of parochial school and lessons of self-deprecation.

Oddly, that cigar box “rush” continued to come around every Labor Day, until I was 25 or so. Of course, I kept all of those obsessive urges in check. I best appear well-acclimated to adulthood.

Flash forward. Flash forward through my years with the anti-Christ. Flash forward through my dalliance with the Icelandic twenty-something. Flash forward through those enriching years with Michael … and his last year of deteriorating. Somewhere, I started smoking cigars.

As I would peruse the vast selection, I realized that the tobacco purveyor would have many, many glorious boxes. They were ideal for storing sewing accoutrements, receipts, batteries, and of course pens, pencils, quills if you must.

A cigar box is also perfect to store all those moments of memories that are too burdensome to carry around all day.

There is one such box on my desk, hidden behind my monitor Miranda. Yes, I do still name every appliance or electronic “thing-a-mabob” under the tin roof here at Marklewood.

That’s where I hide my quills from the pusses when they’re on one of their frequent, naughty, and curious escapades of “not-so-careful” rambunction.

Thank you, Pink Floyd.

Note to Yellow Pages: My Fingers Need to Sit Down

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Alas! My more poetic moods seem to have sadly morphed into late night silliness.

I miss Tom Snyder and Dick Cavett, and their oddly provocative, but long-gone night owl fodder. The latter always gave me motive to sneak out of my bedroom at such an hour. My father was always sound asleep on the very serious nailhead trimmed leather sofa and down for the count.

Time has fought me that “Law & Order: SVU” and “Criminal Minds” are not the solutions to my inability to sleep. However, my over-extended neuropathetic fingers are exhausted and indeed pathetic. They are weary of the keyboard.

Lord, DON’T I miss spontaneity, drive … and the ample energy and time for both!

The only prompt looming for me to wistfully retire is the possibility of my beloved scolding me.

(Image: “Jean Cocteau dans son Atelier,” by Moïse Kisling, 1916.)

I Bow in Belated Thanks, Miss Gore

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I realize that on a day when the first sign of winter’s bite is only moments away, I am flitting from one spritely spring ort of floral eye candy to rather romantic classicist ones, and back again. The cycle is broken only when I stop to fetch iced coffee or the equally chilled tea.

Such behavior hardly belies my longing but yet betrays my reason. As long as I breathe, although potentially voiceless, it’s my party. And yes, I’ll cry. That is, if I want to.

The Universe is indeed remarkable. On such a gray and bleak Tuesday, my beloved and I are content and well fed. Slowly, we’re devising a strategy to re-enter the world of the alive and living. The outlook, approach, and the song itself might be influenced by those of my friends: Victoria, Janet, Lynn, Twilla, Anthony, Nancy, Marty, Deb, Dr Bob, and of course, that zany but dear friend Andrew.

Mary L. is perhaps my oldest friend, since we were both sixteen, impressionable, and oh so pure. I was, however, the one with a driver’s license and the ability to calm the beast, the crazy Dr H. We chat quite often and talk of the imminent time when I can finally leave Raleigh to visit.

I suspect we’ll be singing the likes of “Grey Seal” and “Love Lies Bleeding” until the wee-est of hours. My lips are sealed should we get the least bit nostalgic about antics, misbehavior, and good old silliness. I mention her because she is my strongest and most direct bridge to my teenage years, those much later ones with Michael, and the many I spent pondering the questionable bliss of Greensboro.

Naturally, the only person with whom I have had a more enduring relationship is my sister. True, every once in an indigo sunset, we take breathers and take an emotional break. Trust me when I admit the depth of our intensities seems without equal.

While the two of us are both obsessive, Polly is the more conservative. That was primarily because of the long pangs of cheery parenting. My lifestyle, in contrast, allows me to be more liberal in many of my views and in my overall style.

However, I am certain that since 1980, we have supported the same candidates in every political race. We both recycle paper towels. And we both use one glass or mug and rewash it and reuse it, rather than filling the dishwashing at an excruciating rate. Our food and wine tastes are also quite similar.

We differ substantially on our aesthetics of art, music, interior design, and pop culture.

I mention Polly, Tartuffe’s small circle of folks who inspire me, and others for one reason. I am most appreciative of and humbled by of all of your kindnesses. While the skies may get worse before the clouds indeed part, I will someday soon be able to put more effort into “us”.

Your words, prayers, and kindnesses keep my beloved’s and my faith in the Universe well-bolstered. At the moment, my voice is strained. Conversation is almost out of the realm of reasonable questions. But that won’t be forever.

Lastly, I mention two relatives, in fact ones that I only met at the Sieber/Neuberger Family Reunion during the swelter of July 2008. My cousin Damian is the non-judgmental archivist, family historian, communications maven, and support guru.

In a different vein, his sister Eve is almost like a long lost friend. We often talk for hours about the arts, contradicting family secrets, and her life in Shreveport and mine in Raleigh. In other words, if we and our spouses went to the beach, she and I would never be at a loss for words, recipes, or a proper Pinot Noir. (I don’t mean just any old beach either!)

May you all have songbirds, warm breezes, and those errant blooms, the ever-drowsy jonquils and crocuses.

(Image: “The Angel of the Birds” by František Dvořák aka Franz Dvorak, 1910.)

Lyrical and Listless

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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)

Sock it to Me!

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When I was a young boy, my Great Aunt Ruth always gave us extremely well-planned Christmas gifts. She was thoughtful, extravagant, and knew how to combine whimsy with practicality. Except with my father.

She gave him a box of socks from Garfinkel’s every year, until the resounding pangs of marital dissolution echoed throughout our house. His holiday was no longer her concern.

I was just thinking, as I gazed out the sunroom window and into the darkness: the gift of hosiery actually sounds very nice.

Hear that, Henry?

Do Be a Don’t Bee

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Yes. At some point in the 70’s and generally and quite officially ending in the early 80’s, I partook of the occasional reefer. Dope. Pot. Grass. Ganja. Weed. School Supplies. Even the all too clinical Marijuana. Reminiscing about such misbehavior may still coax a smile and the the very rare chuckle.

However, I shall not rationalize my actions by offering that:
I was a young adult, given to experimentation (which is true!).
It was more acceptable “way back then” (which it was!).
Many of the harmful effects had yet to be publicly isolated (and they hadn’t!).
Society as a whole was far less health-aware (uh huh, no DUH!). And …
The 60’s were but a few pages back in the history books and we as a culture were still collectively curious and open to transcendent exploration!

All of that seemed to adequately justify my choices back then but let it suffice to say that I alone made such a decision, wholly without pressure, but assuredly with expectation.
As I recall such carefree tokes and thus embarking on a spiral with a counter-culture, I travel down so many well-trodden paths. I almost simultaneously and in some unseemly unconscious stream, my happy memories start to challenge any justification or excuse. Pot’ll do that, you know!

What interests me most today is the concept of the munch: not the snack that the word today might signify, but rather the hybrid of uncontrollable food craving and the snack that satisfies that urge. Most of you have probably felt such an intense hunger that a single item, combination, preparation suddenly seemed so glorious and satisfying. Often, such munchies might include foods that were otherwise disliked, abhorred, or even vilified. That is, if not for being stoned, primed with appetite, and a wee bit pixillated.

So I ask you, comrades, what unusual munchies were you at such weak moments given to sample? Was there anything in particular that whet your hunger when and if you similarly partook of said weed?

Admittedly, during most of that era, I was a struggling young adult. As seniors in college, my roommate and I would often prepare Bermuda onion and grilled cheese sandwiches. Once my cupboard was at its barest, yielding only “Raspberry Figurines”, which ultimately and surprisingly were delicious and somewhat tantalizing. Rula Lenska would’ve been proud of our discriminating taste!

When 49, my mother smoked pot her one and only time and experienced the miracle that is Pepperidge Farm’s coconut cake. She devoured the better part of it. Folks that knew her back then would’ve been shocked not from the fact that she actually “got high”, but more so in the knowledge that she was so very petite and possibly anorexic. Her senses returned the next day. The younger man that she had been seeing and his little bag were but a memory. Years later, however, that cake became legendary within intimate family circles as we referred to it as the Great Cake Awakening of 1981.

I am further convinced that it was indeed the creation of many a noble munchie that has led to widely accepted menu items. Take for example deep-fried pickles! Need I say more or offer any explanation thus whatsoever?

So I beseech you to seize the moment to clear the cookie sheet of any haunting crumbs of memories. Share with us your favorite or most unusual munchie. None of us will judge, but we will always smile. I am rather certain that a few of you will become rather ravenous and filled with “ideas”! For some, such nostalgia may be even recent.

“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” (Carl Sagan)

Acquiescing to My Scrappy Alter Ego

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When I was a junior in college, I wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper,  “Cullom’s Escapades”. It chronicled various and fictional weekend jaunts at neighboring party schools. The oft lampooned “institutions of higher imbibing” were always “out of town”, so that Cullom could supposedly maintain a chaste reputation at his own alma mater. Further, the pretense was in the first person so the piece usually read like a humorous journal.

Towards the end of the year, my interest in the paper was waning, as was that of the entire student body. The paper had dwindled to, at best, four pages and the editing was embarrassingly sloppy and unprofessional. It drove me to rhetorical distraction! The assistant editor was certainly to guide the paper to a similar destiny, should he be selected to man the helm for the coming year. Cullom could simply not bear the brunt of the entire rag!

At that point, after quiet soul-searching, I opted to lobby for the editorship myself, assuring all concerned that, in my creative and rather anal manner, the paper could be returned to its glory of previous years.

Needless to say, I was chosen as the new editor-in-chief. This post would be moot if otherwise, eh my friends? I had grand ideas, terrific visuals, and unyielding enthusiasm. What I lacked, however, was any staff to speak of … except for a few souls who were sadly accustomed to misspelled words, skewed layout, and very little substance. Save “Cullom’s Escapades”, of course.

I decided, after fruitless canvassing, to make a go of it — solo!

I wrote a dozen or so news articles, two rather lengthy features, and scores of letters to the editor … and added the obligatory news service entries. In doing so, I created fictional bylines with fictional names to create the illusion of a rather large staff. Then on layout night, the trusty three or four carry-overs and I did mock-ups for the entire twelve page newspaper. After my associates adjourned, I proofread every item for my own assurance that all details were letter-perfect and all visuals were perfectly aligned.

When the paper was released that Tuesday, students were shocked by the sheer thickness of the paper, as well as the edgier new banner and graphics. I walked through the cafeteria, noticing probably half the students curiously perusing, turning pages, and naturally laughing with my friend, Cullom.

We repeated the formula for the next four weeks with marked improvements each week. The paper grew to twenty pages and circulation had doubled as we were running out on Tuesdays usually by midday. As I had hoped, other students started dropping by during the week to sign up as reporters and to follow leads. Others showed up on Sunday nights, when we did “mock-ups”. Before I knew it and ahead of my personal projections, we had assembled a staff of about thirty-five.

I eventually retired the fictional staff, though not all at once. Letters to the editor were bountiful. I was able to spend my time focusing on more artistic endeavors, managing staff, and (most importantly) tending to Cullom’s affairs which had taken quite the back seat.

He was more than anxious for a weekend getaway. A football game, a few parties, and several St Pauli Girls were definitely in order. Cullom needed desperately to be naughty, as did I!

Note: Mine is a secret that has been well kept for nigh of some thirty odd years. I must admit: it has been a difficult one to escape as just the mention of the word “font” floods my conscience with memories. Cullom has thus been revealed at last!

(Image: “Portrait of Mil Mascaras Victor” by David Gremard Romero, 2005.)