A Good Day, Good Friday


Were tomorrow Friday, my thoughts might be somewhat more relevant and my posting, timely. I apologize for my internal clock which has newly changed batteries and yet seems to be skipping beats to make a point.

The best of Friday felicitations from the sandbox, my friends. For some of you, tomorrow is a reflective holy day, a solemn step toward pending joy.

For others, the day becomes a euphemism as the start of a process, an ultimate new beginning, a resurrection if you will. For most of us, it will be a Good Friday indeed … regardless of its definition or intent.

And for an unlucky few, the day becomes unfortunate and simply a day of thus-pegged and rather pixilated irony.

However you may interpret, plan, or simply allow your day to unfold, may it be what you want it to be. And, more importantly, what ever you NEED it to be.

One lone Friday is but one day. 
I will spend my day in my own manner. I shall pay silent homage to Easters past and those folk who anxiously laid my foundation, and its many subsequent refurbishes.

Henry and I will revel in the brilliant relationships that grace my life today.
 It is those connections that fuel my soul, give me hope, and define my humanity. They also keep me stocked in sweet iced tea, okra pickles, and fresh pineapple.

My soul, my hope, and my humanity (as I humbly understand them) are going to make the most of the day and I shall call it a good Friday.

There is no such measure of time that is “JUST” a day. All days have measure and worth. Believe that!

What ya think, Lillian? Dark chocolate “peanut butter” truffles? Fruit-shaped marzipan? Jelly Bellies?

Doctor’s orders!

(Image: “The Last Supper” by Adam Lister, 2014.)

Come On In, Dear Boy. Have a Cigar Box


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

jean-cocteau-dans-son-atelier 1916 Moïse Kisling

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

The angel of the birds (1910) oil on canvas 106.7 x 203.2 cm

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


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!


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?

The Artist’s Mother: Perfect Arrangements

I can’t really remember when I first realized the concept of color. Presumably it was before or during kindergarten at Chapel Hill’s Little Red School. The nuances, hues, and complexities of colors followed.

The following year, we learned the color charts and became experts on primary colors.To my excitement, my mother bought me a bigger and better box of Crayolas. Perhaps, it held 18 crayons, maybe not. My memories of those years are safely locked away in a desk drawer, keeping at bay the more curious pusses. Naturally, I misplaced the key.

My point is that I had moved up some unspoken notch, improved a skill, or experienced a minor rite of passage. In Mrs Sawyer’s first grade class, I kept a cigar box in which I hid “whatever size or how many ever” of crayons.

One spring day, my mother was preparing to take me to school, a newly built Catholic school, with actual nuns, and potential uniforms. As she grabbed her keys, I studied her eye-catching blouse.

The color was odd and one of which I was unfamiliar. As she turned the ignition, I blurted my query and quickly paused. I never, ever blurted as a child. It was unmannerly, rude, and unaccepted in a parochial school such as St Thomas More. My parents expected that also. That, my friends, is an entirely different tale, one of familial dysfunction and oppression.

My mother never noticed my unseemly enthusiasm. She just started talking and talking about nuances, hues, prisms, and the infinite number of colors in the spectrum. Of course, she worded it differently as I am prone to embellish. We soon came upon the red brick structure. I finally had to ask: “But what color is your shirt?”

She quickly corrected my use of shirt and replied a reserved, yet warm: “chartreuse”. Finally. It took almost fifteen minutes to get an answer.

“Chartreuse, hmmm” I thought. It quickly became my favorite color, although I couldn’t pronounce the word for at least a year. That yellowish green color was wonderful and exotic and special. And it was at once my color.

I soon (if soon can describe two years later) graduated to a bigger box, the overwhelming but altogether satisfying “64” count one. I searched for chartreuse but never found it. I did, however, find “Cornflower Blue” and “Burnt Sienna”. My look of puzzlement faded away in a quick blush. It had a pencil sharpener.

I am now more than a half century older. Those days are long gone. Chartreuse, though, is still my favorite color. I always notice it first, if it was indeed on the fabric wall, home furnishings, liqueur bottles, or paintings. The last I use as a “catch all”! I detest the word “artwork”. It’s bland, unemotional, and wholly without direction or purpose.

Please. Gentle Reader, forgive me for squeezing illustration, sculpture, watercolors, oils, and the like into one tiny, limited, and now teeming word. I will say three Holy Marys. And I will surely recall Sr Jane Raphael’s serious and intimidating glances during our studies for First Holy Communion.

Sr Jane married the parish priest two years later, by which time Hal, Margy, Polly, and I had moved to Greensboro. There, it would be Srs Mary Joseph and Mary Fitzpatrick that would show me the greater range of modern “nunnery” and the like.

Go ahead and ask me.

Truthfully? Yes, I still always smile and look for chartreuse and cornflower blue. The temptation then wakes up and I lull it back into blissful oblivion.

Alas. I have not purchased crayons, in any size package, since the mid-70’s. That would’ve been for my sister.

(Images: “Arrangement in Green and Black, Portraits of the Photographer’s Mother” by Aline Smithson.)

A Peculiar and Zoloftig Metamorphosis

I do not know what stars ascended or whose prayers were cited, but I awakened yesterday feeling terrific. Beyond that actually. I was energetic, lucid, and motivated. Hmmm. The agony of my pinched nerve was already beginning to subside. Frankly, if I had closed my eyes and allowed my imagination its passage, I’d probably guess it was back when I worked with Evelyn and Chrysanthemum (actually Nancy and Chris) in the most surprisingly stressful business of interior design.

We were all, as they sometimes say in the deepest of Southern annals, “decoratizers” back then. Jon and I were both happy, healthy, financially secure, and extremely employed.

And so it goes. And so it went.

Saturday morning, I didn’t feel like “the guy that lives down that long drive and needs a heart transplant.” I started to actually count my blessings, albeit it on only one hand, the one not communing with my pinched nerve. My dreams had been vivid and emotional with my mother and grandmother, the key players.

For a few moments after I opened my eyes and stared down that darned alarm clock, the two women seemed real and not a memory’s folly. I had to grieve all over again for them, but was still invigorated from the “visit” as it were. In the oddly offered “one word”, I was happy.

As I took my many morning medications, my Zoloft stood out. Yet it had never really had much effect on me. 200mg of “not much at all!”

I had still not pinpointed the Universe’s purpose for my mood. It couldn’t be random, nor could I be getting well. It was time for my morning iced coffee with the rest of the day free to ponder.

My voice has been stronger lately and not the strained prolonged squeak it has been. It was, for a weekend, indeed effortless to talk. I so took advantage of my vocal enigma and talked with a few close friends, my sister, and my cousin (who was two years older than my mother). Catching up is always revitalizing, except for the repetition of pertinent health news.

It was time for a call to my friend Laurie, who recently followed a job to Albany. I was anxious to express and share my jubilation about the recent District Court ruling, making same-sex marriage legal in North Carolina. It was inevitable. The various counties already had the proper forms and our conservative governor announced his plan to respect the judge’s decision.

Of course. the elections are a month away and he might think he can still convince enough democrats to defect. Although that “ship of fools”, I believe, raised its rusty anchor and embarked on its doomed Kathy Lee holiday two years ago. Is it naughty and unkind of me to suggest a convoy of dinghies. “10-4, Good Buddies!” 

My friend Andrew and I had had a month of unfulfilling phone tag … until Friday. After a few minutes of exchanging both questions and answers, we were both ranting. About the upcoming elections. And the state of the Mid-East. And the horrific beheadings. And the inconsistencies from state to state. And how we were each trying to resolve family issues (regarding the ultimate death of a loved one). And, finally, how we had spent well over thirty minutes in heated discussion. The last being quite an inappropriate state for a mid-evening.

My conversation with Polly was particularly satisfying. I knew, when her daughters were 1, 3, and 5, that it would probably be a two-decade wait before she’d be able to have a lengthy conversation. Although they were usually well-intended, interruptions were endless. Friday night, the wait ended and we caught up, both committed to try to resolve any lingering family dysfunction. (Please note earlier reference to both the deaths and the funerals of loved ones.) It was time for me to assign to her a perkier, yet tasteful ringtone.

By ten o’clock Saturday morning: I had emptied the dishwasher, filed all of my papers, and other oft-skipped missions. Normally, any one of these activities would squeeze the breath out of me. But there I was, subconsciously putzing around downstairs while my ponderances were passengers on LaLa Land’s “local”.

I actually gave up trying to make sense of my mood. Perhaps, it was best to neither tempt fate nor make sense out of that which can never be sensible.

Oh, my. I love my iced coffee. In the past few years my java consumption has dwindled from ten or more cups to just one, if any.

The outside cats were gathering at the the double glass doors, pawing the glass. One was climbing a screen to the roof. Little Yorick and the growing Beamer, however, waited patiently for me to deliver their AM victuals. The others reminded me of zombies.

And that, Gentle Readers, reminded me that the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” is to be on AMC Sunday night. That made me smile (In a Chicago or even Cockney Rebel manner).

A stint on Facebook was imminent.

I continue to feel robust, perky, lucid, and motivated.

(Images: by Colleen Parker.)

A Poet’s Scowl: Sunday in the Park with Pound

When I was a wee lad on the precocious side of three, I thought the world was warm and fuzzy, and confined to my family’s modest apartment on Capitol Hill. That was the Summer that I met the very man named Ezra Pound and realized that fuzzy also meant gruff and slightly dismissive.

The controversial and politically abhorrent poet joined my family for an afternoon picnic in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Sadly, such recollections are yet fuzzy, faint, and somewhat lonely. I am the sole survivor of that turn-of-events that balmy June day.

My parents, Hal and Margy, were aged 28 and 27; while the ancient Mr. Pound was 73, if not a century. He was likely the oldest creature I had ever met up to that point. That would have been true if not for the National Zoo’s tortoises, which were surely better behaved and mannered.

The torment from his many years at St. Elizabeth’s still haunted Pound, monopolizing his conversation, and preoccupying the day. After a feast of homemade pimento cheese sandwiches, I frolicked at creek’s edge, while my seniors were lost in some transcendent and inspired deconstruction of the world’s ills. As I became bored and increasingly frustrated, my pre-school innocence gave way to my first chronicled incident of public misbehavior:

I walked up to the all too serious and cantankerous Pound and started tossing pebbles at him, disrupting the intense and profound conversation. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although the afternoon’s aura was thus broken. And fortunately, my mother had her Brownie camera and seized the photo opportunity, several if not many times.

As I grew older, I became increasingly mortified by my actions and their intent. My mother found the memory “more and more” ever-so precious. And my father included the anecdote in his private collection of Mark’s Most Embarrassing Moments. I presume Mr. Pound never gave me a second thought, at least not without an expletive and a gesture worthy of such a learned expatriate.

I am now 58. I haven’t ventured outside on a picnic since a grand family reunion in 2008. However, I still get aroused by the mere sight of homemade pimento cheese. I haven’t thrown too many stones, beyond the rhetorical, in decades. And I cherish still those yellowed and wrinkled photographs of that afternoon, now made fuzzy by both time’s scrub and life’s labors.

Lost and found, and forever seeking answers,
that pre-schooler trapped within!

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

Adults can certainly appreciate those teenage twists that accentuate puberty … even when two such “seniors” are an overly-driven mother and an uncle who is always at stand-by to offer a morsel from advice’s coffer.

Such was the case when one of my nieces returned from her first session of sleep-away camp some seven or eight years ago. For the sake of family unity and preservation of future holidays, I shall not mention which exact niece. Although I will admit she is married now and living blissfully in Boston.

The thirteen-year old had been gone for three weeks and, upon entering her familiar and familial domain, rushed to her room crying. Not just crying, mind you. She was sobbing uncontrollably. My sister (said girl’s mother) ran after her, intent on determining the issue, assessing the situation, and restoring order.

“Oh mother! It’s simply awful! I feel so guilty, but I have to … “ She stopped short in fear of shocking and offending her mother. “I can’t tell you. You’ll be so disappointed in me.” Even with her mother’s reassuring prod, the girl was unable to confess the reality of her troubles.

Later that morning, my niece emerged from her room, again sobbing but seemingly with more control. “Mother, I just have to tell you. If I don’t, it will haunt me forever.” Her eyes were puffy, her face flushed with anxiety and apprehension. “Oh, I can’t. It’s simply that horrible!” She ran back to her room and locked the door behind her. Her bold tears echoed throughout the house.

This scenario repeated four or five times over the next few hours. Certainly my sister’s fears were building to a crescendo. Had my niece consumed the forbidden alcohol? Had she partaken of a destructive cigarette? Or, worse yet, smoked the fabled marijuana? (Something neither her mother nor uncle would ever have done, despite their having come of age in the increasingly “un-groovy” 1970’s.)

Had she given in to carnal curiosity and teenage lust? Of course, my sister’s greatest fear was that whatever troubled my young niece involved perhaps a combination of all, creating a most regrettable trifecta.

My sister herself lit a calming smoke, poured a glass of wine, and began contemplating her next step. How could she at once reassure the girl, restore order, and re-ravel the teenage bliss of innocence (that surely had fallen awry)?

Just as my sister lifted her wine glass, my niece timidly peaked through the door. “Mother, I have to tell you. I just have to. That’s the only way the pain will go away!” My sister took a full and calculating breath as the girl continued, still trembling but numbed from all the crying.

“Mother, I shaved my legs and I am so sorry!”

Herself reassured, my sister hugged her daughter tight, relieved that the girl was yet a child of pubescent virtue. Saddened that she was absent at such a passage’s rite, she was nonetheless relieved that, once again, her worst parental fears had been averted.

“Honey, I have a terrific moisturizer. Let’s go upstairs.”

An hour or so later, my sister phoned me: “Mark, you won’t believe the afternoon I just had!” I could hear her exhale, could tell she was smoking, and
anticipated a “Life’s Semi-Precious Moments” tale.

Naturally with three teenage daughters, such afternoons of torment and anxiety were soon to become more frequent for her. With the angst-ridden whimpers of a teenage girl, “camp” thus became another four-letter word to be dreaded.

(Image: “Midnight! or The Fashionable Apartment”, Georges Barbier, 1920.)

A Belated Appreciation of Clowns & Their Antics


By age seven, I had tired of most Halloween traditions. The circus always bored me. And those silly physical comedies (such as “The Three Stooges”, “Little Rascals”, and “Laurel & Hardy”) seemed excruciatingly foreign. The word “Slapstick” alone now prods my disdain for the chaos, irreverence, the assured cacophony. I barely even appreciated any Saturday morning cartoons, except for perhaps “Mighty Mouse” and “Fractured Fairy Tales”. I interpreted those media acmes as reflecting cautionary, allegorical, and rife with symbolism. Yes, I was the epitome of a mid-century nerd, a bookworm, and surely the last one in my class to understand the importance and power of humor.

Of course, now that I am in my fifties (and forever tempted to look back in both regret and resolve), I have finally and safely discovered the types of humor and their forums that “stir both my loins and imagination”. And while I would fail miserably if charged with the mission, I respect those whose calling it is to entertain, rouse, cheer, and distract.

God bless the mirth makers who, in these difficult times, help us to insulate and safeguard our hopes. On certain gloomy and desolate Tuesdays, I am convinced that the impact of the noble clown can be quite profound.

The opportunity to make use of the word “cacophony” has finally presented itself. Perhaps, I owe Mrs Whitlock a heartfelt “thank you”. I should certainly add an apology for any under breath mumblings I made in my 9th grade English class.

Perhaps, Mrs Whitlock felt the same way: she was a realtor shortly thereafter. Her image on “For Sale” signs around Greensboro kept my memories of her alive and steady.

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more cheer than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.
Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.
Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.
And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”


(Image: “The Birdking” by Naoto Hattori.)

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.)

“What Hump?”: Another Time-Trodden Puzzlement

A mere whisper of humps jams the already heavily trodden corridor of even further nostalgia that is thus prompted for an evening stroll. Kings and camels. One not-so-scary “scary movie” henchman and our Dear Aunt Ruth. And, of course, a moist and playful libidinous romp. As one gets older and vacillates on the continuum of maturity, that game of “Vocabulary” takes on different meanings, rules, and objectives. I tend to visualize these days in great detail and color, like those of a huge and masterful mural.

Naturally, my academic persona which once took deep breaths and challenged lions might recall Richard III and the many amusing film interpretations I’ve seen over the years. The Richard Dreyfus “pretty in pink” and lisping Dick 3 was altogether irreverent but still evokes a howl whenever I watch the “Goodbye Girl”. It’s been over three decades and I can still see him crossing stage right, dragging his leg, with that huge hump on his back, all while he tries to famously negotiate a horse in barter.

Camels, like a cup of Darjeeling’s finest, require little explanation. Mostly, we ask one lone query: one hump or two?

1974’s “Young Frankenstein” spoofed Mary Shelley’s classic at every turn. In the Marklewood Hall of Fame for Outstanding Denial, surely Marty Feldman would be a first round honoree for his performance as Igor, the hooded and jovial lab assistant. “What hump?” became a two word sentence that could make someone giggle, if they had seen the film.

Such was the case a few years later, at my Aunt Ruth’s funeral in Washington, D.C. My mother, sister, grandmother, cousin (Aunt Ruth’s daughter), and I were in the limousine on the long drive to Cedar Hill cemetery. Though she never mentioned it, Aunt Ruth had a rather profound hump on her back dating back over half a century. (We had always assumed it was from the habit of stooping to minimize her breasts as was the custom in provincial late 19th century Michigan.)

Polly kept whispering “What hump? What hump?” attempting to goad me, but naturally I had to suppress my unexpected amusement instead. Then, out of the blue, Polly thew a question out to all of us: “How did she sleep on her back? In fact, how is Aunt Ruth upright in the coffin without falling over?”

Thank God, at that point, we had just arrived at Cedar Hill and its snow-painted landscape. Polly and I would return to the subject alone, without any of the others, that evening at “Mr Henry’s”. We discussed such logistics for several hours.

As for the carnal humps, again I believe we all understand them and have enjoyed them, perhaps even on a frequent basis. If that window has indeed closed and the draperies unfortunately drawn, may your memories be full and satisfying … at least enough to cause a little congestion in your imagination.

And please. Do not. Ever. Mention. That Black-Eyed Peas song. 2005.

(Image: “The Theatrical Atlas” by George Cruikshank, 1814.)

Come Out. Come Out Wherever You Are.

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.” (Rollo May)

I suspect just about everyone has to come out in one way or another, as we grow into our adult skin and assert our sense of self worth and identity. Often, but not always, we test the waters, as we aren’t quite certain yet what price, if any, we want to pay for such liberation of spirit. I had two such major epiphanies in my life, the first being the almighty and temporarily defining one of my “announcing” my sexuality, my gayness. The second was the much longer process of embracing my artistic leanings, thus releasing the most enduring of my familial restraints.

As a teenager, I frankly didn’t think too much about sex, except for my curiosity as to why I had no real urges. I simply thought that one day I would wake up and just be overwhelmed with libidinous yearnings. I was obsessed with academics and extra-curricular activities until well into college, when at last that day came to be. I was in the second semester of my freshman year at UNC and I started noticing that men (and women) were returning my notice with bold flirtation and titillating innuendo. My libido was teetering on the cusp of arousal. And by spring break, my virginity was cast to the warm Chapel Hill winds by a swarthy Norwegian graduate student who spoke little English.

I found myself gravitating towards artsy, Bohemian types and slowly separating myself from my high school chums. I was neither afraid per se of my sexuality nor for that matter very conflicted. However, co-dependent people-pleaser that I was so deftly trained to be, the terror of rejections lead me to remove any such threat. By the following year, I had a cohesive group of cronies who were either gay or at least fully supportive. I also had a large group of associates from whom I kept that secret, thereby creating a double life. Eventually those associates diminished into acquaintances, eventually becoming just lost names in a dusty address book.

The only family member that was privy to my “alternative lifestyle”, which is veiled 70’s jargon for homosexuality, was my sister Polly. In 1979, the two of us had joined my mother’s family in Washington, DC, for my Great Aunt Ruth’s funeral. One night, the two of us decided to brave the icy roads and go to Georgetown for cocktails. There we were in Mr. Henry’s enjoying libations, made the sweeter for her as she was only seventeen and didn’t even need to offer her fake ID. After the scripted fidget and stammer, I finally told her that I was gay. She knowingly chided me that she and her friends had been debating that possibility for years. Of course, Polly would be the easiest to approach of my immediate family.

At age 24, having finally moved to Washington, it was indeed time to end the parental part of the madness. My mother and I had gone out to dinner in Georgetown and were enjoying martinis when I just blurted: “I need to tell you something.” Her reaction was surprisingly mixed. She smiled reassuringly as if she had been anticipating such a revelation for a while. Yet, her trademark composure was likely compromised because I chose a crowded outdoor café, by the C & O Canal, as the venue. She grabbed my hand and simply offered: “you don’t need to continue. I know.” From that evening, until she died unexpectedly a decade later, my mother was usually actively involved in my personal life, including the melodramatic bad break-ups, like that with the anti-Christ.

Six months later, my father was in town to give a speech and, yes, we met for dinner again in Georgetown, this time at a more reserved eatery. We casually discussed politics and, at some point near dessert, I grabbed the appropriate segue and just told him. He was shocked, dismayed, and started to argue my assertion, suggesting that, in my mid-twenties, it was perhaps a phase. I was floored by his refusal to accept me; he had always been the ultimate in liberal civil rights leaders, spewing freedom prose for as long as I had a memory. Yet, with me, he slipped into some deeply-seeded Catholic guilt trip that blind-sided me and eventually sabotaged our relationship, at least until recently.

By that time, most of my remaining high school ties had essentially become soiled, knotted, or lost at sea. I had confided in one close friend later when we were college seniors. His outrage scared the hell out of me, and kept me from ever confronting anyone else, except for when events made it obvious. Ironically, I ran into him when we were in our mid-thirties and he, too, had finally come out and never acknowledged his rejection of me. Over the years, most people seemed to just know … either through gossip or assumption. No one seemed to really care, at least in my presence. We were all more concerned with paychecks, insurance, and health issues. And I am more than certain that a few cronies from my teenage years were always a bit envious that I had a freedom that their choices denied them.

Tonight I have been pondering that fateful dinner with my mother; my reminiscences have thus swirled since before sunset threw seeds from the wintry sky. It might have been the Rick Wakeman album I was tracking; or the rather long phone conversation with probably the one friend from high school with whom I have had the longest continual relationship; or the moist December air that begs for night dreams. But tonight I was thinking about the “coming out” part of my journey. It was a lifetime ago, yet that universally-shared process still makes my tears swell.

I haven’t been down that rhetorical road nor dined in Georgetown for many, many years.

(Image: “A World Apart” by Daniel Merriam, 2013.)