Monday, May 27, 2013

A Hoboken Connection

My novel begins in Hoboken in the early 20th Century. The place fascinated me all the time I lived in Hoboken and I simply had to include it. That Was Tomorrow is the story of a young schoolteacher who moves to a remote utopian enclave, but her story begins in the Castle Point section of Hoboken, where she was born into the Upper Crust. There are scenes in which she walks through the city, works in a settlement house, and talks things over with her parents as she plans her life.

"The book didn't really come to life until the Hoboken scenes," my daughter said after reading the proofs. If she's right it's because I had strong positive feelings about Hoboken in those days even though I only learned about them from the Hoboken Museum.

My heroine needs to break from her protective, overbearing parents, and the trappings of wealth. It's fortunate for her that her grandfather, who ran a retail shop in old Hoboken, left her enough in a trust fund that she could pursue her dream of changing the world and being a "New Woman" of 1921. To learn more about the book, it's now available at amazon and also at my website Finding Fairhope.

Check out the reviews on amazon--and if you've read it, please contribute one of your own. It's a Hoboken book as well as a "Fairhope" book. Mostly it's a historical fantasy based on time and place.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Leaving Myself in Hoboken

Washington Street, June 2007
I came to Hoboken just exactly five years ago and am in the process of packing up my things to leave in a week. This is not an easy move; I'm not going away mad or even without regret. It's a very endearing town, easy to fit into, easy to love, and not a bit easy to leave. My five years here have been very productive. I've written two books, made a number of friends, gained a vantage point on New Jersey and New York City, and grown in ways I never expected.

I didn't know what to expect when I arrived. I had taken one look when surveying the New York City area, found it affordable and not without a small-town charm and a scruffy, tough reputation. I felt comfortable with its outsider vibe, its survival instinct, its lopsided, striving charm. I liked walking on the streets amid old couples, young hotshots, couples speaking languages ranging from French to Russian and what sounded like Polish, in addition to the more predictable Spanish and Italian. I liked writing a blog about my daily experiences, and having comments appear from total strangers who shared their memories of bygone Hoboken. Some of them I met in person, some I never did but remain vividly real to me in their comments here. I invite you to read the early posts and meet a younger Mary Lois, instructed by generations of people born and raised in Hoboken and eager to impart their knowledge to a newcomer.

I'll miss a number of things. I already miss when Carlo's was a local bakery, a place you could drop in for a fresh canolli, a box of cookies, or a cake to take to a dinner party. I miss the people I met early and seldom see now, just because life has somehow come between us. A few great restaurants have come and gone since I first set foot in Hoboken. A few places and things remain--the two hardware stores I know on Washington Street, run by old born-n-raised-in-Hoboken guys; the Garden Street Liquor Store, which is on Park Street. I only went to that liquor store one time, but if you go to the link you'll see why it was memorable. I'll miss the views of the New York skyline, particularly the Empire State Building. I'll miss the campus of Stevens, with its rich Hoboken history--and the public  library and the train terminal, both beautiful examples of 19th century Victorian architecture. I'll miss the trees on streets like Bloomfield and Garden, O'Neill's wonderful burgers, the Hoboken Historical Museum and the opportunity missed to work on a project getting a statue of Frank Sinatra in town. I'll miss Danny Aiello, running lines with a friend as he ate spaghetti at Tutta Pasta (and I'll miss that spinach course!). I'll miss the battery of doctors and dentists who have shored up my body as I totter into old age.

I never saw the Fabian Theater, now a CVS. I never had ice cream at Abel's or saw a flock of pigeons fly out of a piano at the high school assembly. I never met Mr. Stover, the onetime principal of that institution.  I never heard the crystal voice of little Jimmy Roselli, singing in church. I learned about all of them on this blog. If you want nostalgia, go to my blog posts in 2008 and 2009, as the colorful life of old Hoboken is recounted again and again by my blog readers.

I'll probably do that from time to time--revisit this blog and think of the Hoboken period of my life. But I've no time for it today. I've got organizing and packing to do and planning for the rest of my days. Please follow up by finding my new blog about my new life, and comment there and here if you want to keep in touch. I love writing for you, and am pleased you're still reading.

Friday, November 2, 2012

High Water in Hoboken

We didn’t know what to expect, except there would be flooding, maybe as bad as Irene flooded Hoboken last year. In that one, water filled the back yard, like a swamp pond, and the basement was at least four feet deep in it. I had to replace the new water heater I had had installed the year before, and the building’s boiler needed replacement parts to provide heat for the cold coming soon.

But this year we had a major storm to deal with. A historical anomaly—a huge water event in the ocean combining with a snowstorm and cold front heading our way from the West. The little building has three young guys in it, plus one wife, one infant girl, and me. All the men are able-bodied, young and savvy, and super-committed to save the little building and avert the problems we had dealt with the previous big storm.

Hoboken is notoriously flood-prone, the lower part of town in particular. Built on landfill, it is dangerously soggy and vulnerable. I was especially pleased to get a ground-floor apartment when I bought my condo three years ago. I had been renting walk-ups and being trapped on a high floor was getting to me. In Irene I lost a lot of stuff I liked by leaving it in the basement, but this time I knew better. I hadn’t taken all of it out, but was careful to get everything I really wanted to keep.

Hurricane Sandy started slowly enough around four PM. I’ve lived some 40 years, off and on, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, where hurricanes are frequent and do not bother us natives much. I watched Sandy bring familiar wind and rain, listened to the howling, whistling gales outside, and considered it pretty much normal. At about 9 P.M. the flood started. A water rush of unprecedented proportions, it was as if the Hudson were in a big hurry to take over Hoboken, and maybe take it away. The back yard was filled higher than it had been with Irene, and water from Madison Street threatened to overflow the stoop and whoosh onto the first floor, engulfing my condo and destroying my last few favorite things.

But it didn’t. It stopped at the top step. We looked on in awe at the perilous river that was now our street. In an instant the electricity went out and cries went up in unison from apartments in all the buildings nearby. It was still raining, the wind was still blowing, but the unfathomable thing was all that water. People had parked their cars in the street, and now they were buried in water up to the tops of their tires. Some alarms went off.

I knew there was to be no sleeping that night. Mark, Adam, and Cliff joined together, talking of the pump and working against the possibility of devastation to come, but there was nothing to be done. It would take more than a sump pump to clean our basement, and that wouldn’t work without electricity anyway.

I took a sleeping pill and hit the sack. It was a dark, noisy and frightening night, even for an old hand like me. I’d skipped Irene last year and had never endured a flood before.

Here’s the obvious part of being in a flood. You can’t get out of your house. You look at water in the back, water in the front, and you are helpless to do anything but wait. Your life changes, like the family of Otto Frank. You are trapped, stranded—but at least in our case there weren’t any Nazis outside looking for us. The charge in your computer runs out; your cell phone is unusable. You are incommunicado and people are trying to reach you. You have messages on your cell, “I just saw Hoboken on CNN and I’m worried about you.” You are in a new subgroup—Sandy survivors. And you can’t tell anybody about it.

Mark had a battery pack. Tuesday I depleted it with charging my cell phone and by using my laptop where I went on Facebook to announce that I was fine. I sent a few emails. Tuesday night we banded together at Mark and Mandy’s, with the baby who didn’t notice a thing. We ate each other’s food, drank a little, and talked a lot, all by candlelight and all with a sense of emergency and relief that we survived.

Wednesday Mark, Mandy and the baby left for a place in Pennsylvania, largely untouched by the storm, to be with Mark’s parents and have some electricity. The flood was subsiding, slowly, and by the end of the day it was possible to walk around a little until you reached the corner of the block, where there were still high waters. People were walking around, talking to neighbors they never knew before, and the inevitable feeling of shared pain and panic bonded us all.

Night came early, with only candles, a little portable radio turned to WNYC, my Kindle, and whatever I could find to eat.

Thursday I began hearing about places where cell phones could be charged. Apparently Hudson Street hadn’t lost power, and residents there were dangling power strips from extension cords in front of their homes to share their electricity. I took my phone, my laptop, and my Kindle, all with charger cords, in that direction and discovered people gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Church on the corner of 4th and Hudson. Everybody was nice, convivial, offering outlets on the front steps, but I went inside where it was warm and made myself comfortable in a pew while all my electronics were charging. I was surrounded by people with b-n-r accents, telling old Hoboken stories, so I felt cozy and happy.

But I couldn’t tolerate another isolated night, not if I could help it. I had an idea: Newark Airport was open—why not take a taxi there and just get on the next plane wherever it may be going? I could go anywhere there was a motel, with my laptop and cell phone, and charge everything up so I could get back in touch with my virtual world. I could get a nice warm shower and watch a little television. Sounded like a plan, but not a very practical one.

A better idea, if power was not restored by noon today (Friday), I would get on a bus to the Port Authority and take a trip to visit my daughter and family in Kingston. There I could get a shower, have lights and Internet, and also look around a little for my future home. I was able to contact Alison and discover they not only have power, the storm barely hit the area. And they were eager for me to visit!

I probably don’t have to tell you I followed Plan B. I am comfortable tonight away from the stress of low food supplies, no electricity, no contact with the outside world. I survived and feel perfectly okay. I love so much about Hoboken, but this time I was glad to leave. Being wanted is a nice feeling.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Goodbye to Hoboken and All That

Watch out, friends, I’m about to change my life again.

Some people move a lot, some people stay a lot. I’m in the former group. I moved to Hoboken as transition overtook me in my little hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, five years ago. My mother was in a nursing home and had only a few months left, my husband had died six years earlier. I was looking at a town so transformed I hardly knew if I even liked it. I felt surrounded by death and knew that this was not the place I wanted to be when it happened.

After leaving Fairhope, I found myself in Hoboken.  I liked its motley, multi-culti, multi-generational vibe, the fragrance of Italian food on its sidewalks, its elegant 19th century architecture and its atmosphere of a small town that was practically a neighborhood of Manhattan itself, and but eight minutes from the Christopher Street stop on the PATH train. I was in New Jersey, but so close to New York I could see its skyline across the river and be there in time for the matinee of cinema or play.

Writing this blog made me visible to people who lived near. I got invited to lunch, to parties, to obscure events like the preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats and the Heirloom Tomato Festival. I saw contests of Frank Sinatra imitators and went to a Hoboken High production of Guys and Dolls. I auditioned for a play about the old “Flora Dora Girls” of Hoboken and landed the role of narrator. I love the town; a vibrant, dynamic, and colorful combination of youth and age, old and new. I invested in a little condo on the lower western side.

From where I lived I was a 40-minute (if the track were slow that day) trip to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, get a bus to Kingston, where my daughter and two grandsons live and be there in two hours. I made the trip about once a month for five years. Both my grandsons were able, on several occasions, to get on a bus in Kingston, which I met at the Port Authority, and join me for a Broadway matinee.

I spent a month or two in Fairhope every winter and wrote two books about the town from Hoboken. Much of my time as I was finding myself in Hoboken was spent in my own mind, mulling over my life and feeling good about being 72 years old and still able to do the things I wanted. I thought a great deal about Fairhope itself, as I remembered it from childhood, and tried to reconcile those memories with its reality of today.

Things began to change. A pain in my knee made it difficult to walk. The journey to the A & P, and to the bus, and to the PATH train was becoming more difficult. That Was Tomorrow, my novel about Fairhope, in eBook format, hadn’t sold well and clearly would never catch on in Fairhope although it had received good response from local reviewers. There was no more Fairhope in my life, and less Hoboken. Arthritis then grabbed my the other knee in a viselike grip as well.

A few weeks ago my daughter said, “You know, Mom, I just saw the cutest little house in Kingston that you would love…” Without thinking, I said, “Kingston? I don’t think I could live in Kingston. If I were going to live around here, I’d look in New Paltz.”

This was a new idea for both of us, really. On the many bus trips to Kingston I’d eyed New Paltz through the window—a quaint college town with cottages and shops lining the streets. A feeling of old and young together. Activities, a library, surely a historical committee or two. It’s the kind of town you drive through and think, “I could be happy here.” I realized I’d had that thought many times in five years.

Now my life is changing again. Both knees are in pain, and there are new pains and complaints to come. I’m “young-old” but will be “old-old” before I know it, and I’m pretty much alone in Hoboken. Much as I like the place, I haven’t put down roots. My thoughts and dreams take place in Fairhope—but those Fairhope dreams are fewer these days. The past that was Fairhope is losing its power over me.

My eldest grandson is in college at SUNY Albany, and he says, “Sure, I’d like you to live in New Paltz.” I wrote most of this blog post on a bus back to the Port Authority from Kingston—Alison and I drove to Albany yesterday and took him to lunch. His brother Andy, too, says he’d love to have me living nearby. I’m thinking about our visits in a new way.

There is much to do to make this happen. It may come as a shock to those who stay put, but moves like this have stimulated, motivated, and jostled me (in a good way) all my life. I used to move every few years, always thinking it was the last time, and not truly thinking ahead in Hoboken. I’ll have to sell a condo, buy a car, and make all the plans for a move. I’ll have to see doctors, dentists, and get my piles of papers, cartons of collections, and sort my stuff once again.

Hoboken is a beautiful place, a kind of secret place for me, a place I found myself and will never forget once this is all done. Maybe I’ll write a book about it. It will definitely be a part of me forever. Upstate New York looks like a pleasant next step.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Movie Jag

The last few weeks I've been exploring new movies, the kind of offbeat indie fare that doesn't make it to the nearby cineplexes in Jersey City and Hoboken. It means seeking out the titles that intrigued me but I couldn't find locally, checking time and venue in the city, and organizing myself to take the PATH train to New York in time to catch the most available ones on my list. I saw three excellent little films, two of which I recommend to all, and one which made me queasy but ultimately I am coming to appreciate. I'll restrain myself from spoilers in these little mini-reviews.

The first was a French number called Intouchable, a title which baffles me, but I'm sure it means something in French that is not quite translatable so the producers just decided to retain in the original language. They probably don't know that it is not only untranslatable to English, it is also pretty much unpronounceable and most Americans will just say it as it looks--which renders it really much less accessible than the movie is. Unlike A.O. Scott I don't see this as a movie about class differences or the concept of the Noble Savage. It is a movie about men who come to love and depend on each other in the most improbable circumstances. Scott described the protagonist as an uptight rich guy--that's amusing because he's not uptight psychologically. He is physically paralyzed, which is a different thing altogether. He had once been a bit of a free spirit, but is broken by a terrible accident in which he lost the love of his life. He would never have hired such a clearly marginal rebel as a caregiver had he been an uptight personality.
The acting by both Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy is superb; the story has a few twists; the soundtrack is perfect, and throughout the movie the viewer hopes all will end well. I won't even give the ending, but will say that these characters buoy the audience throughout the process. There is an actor here, M. Sy, I hope to see again in many films. Highly recommended.

Then I saw a little gem called Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is a unique, homemade-looking movie, introducing us to a way of life we never dreamed of. The people are living so far below the poverty line they have descended into a magical underworld, a nether place we could not have imagined and yet almost hope exists. They are outside the realm of our minds, living on an island so flood prone it is known as The Bathtub.

There is a father and his six-year-old daughter he calls Hushpuppy, the two of them facing life and death and drifting in ignorance and myth, and calling on the magic within them to ward off the demons and dilemmas they struggle against. The director used non-actors in all the roles, and it pays off here in bringing a gritty, unpretty reality to a bold and unexpected mythology. Little Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, if they become movie stars and act in hundreds of films in their lives, will never be better than they were as Hushpuppy and Wink.

Killer Joe was not what I expected. I mean, that's a killer title, and Matthew McConaghey is my kind of guy, usually. I like his swagger, his nasal voice, his native diffidence and poise. Okay, he's playing a gun for hire, a hit man, we've seen a lot of them in the movies and sometimes they're kind of cute. Not so here.
McConaghey is pure menace, as evil a sadist as Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear--a rattlesnake who will bite anything, and does. Thomas Haden Church is excellent at appearing to be dumber than dirt, and he stretches that ability to its outer limits here. There are laughs in Killer Joe, not a lot of them and they aren't warm fuzzy laughs, they are just carefully placed in the script to relieve some of the tension that underscores this dark, violent film. There was nobody to like in this movie, but the actors, including Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, and Juno Temple, made us believe, for a few moments anyway, that this crew of reprobates were almost worth saving. If you have a strong stomach and don't mind blood, gore, rape, molestation and murder, it's a pretty good movie.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Book Is Launched

An eBook, at any rate. I've got reviews in the local newspapers in the Fairhope, Alabama, area, where much of That Was Tomorrow takes place, and am awaiting a surge of sales on my website and at the Internet retail sources like amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Vook. Yes, I said Vook. Check it out.

That Was Tomorrow is a historical novel. Most of the story takes place in the remote reformist enclave of Fairhope, a real place that seems very unreal today, but it begins in Hoboken with a poor-little-rich-girl heroine raised on upper Hudson Street in the early 1900s. She escapes through a helpful and loving aunt who raises her with her rambunctious family, is educated in Quaker schools, and decides to become an educator herself.

This takes her to the Alabama town where a unique form of education is being practiced, and where she thrives and considers life as a New Woman of the 20th century.

The book has been on amazon dot com since the end of April, and was reviewed there by 11 people so far. The following reviews include some of those and others from the publications I mentioned.

Timbes knows of a secret place, and once she gets her wagon rolling, she carries us there with grace and intimate charm…a strange yet familiar world is here for the taking.
That Was Tomorrow drops itself squarely in the middle of Fairhope’s golden era. It is the 1920s…via narrative fiction, Timbes has lifted this world from the dust of time and holds it up for us to inspect to the best of our abilities. We are allowed into the town via its unconventional ferries and dirt-road main streets. We are invited into its leading hotels and community gathering points. She lets us wander through the classrooms and sit with the children as they are taught by the Organic Method. We are treated to an intimate and personal account of life as it existed nearly a century ago in a place now accessible by car but almost impossible to find again in the mind.

While this is Timbes’ first novel, it is her third book on Fairhope. She is herself a graduate of The Organic School, and she served as the curator for the Marietta Johnson Museum in Fairhope. She grew up in Fairhope, left for the world at large, and came back. And left again. Educated in the same place and manner she describes, she has cultivated a precise and careful prose uncommon in popular fiction. Her nuanced, period tone carries us easily backward to the innocence and charm and guileless rhythms of 1920s Fairhope. Her fiction is lively and ambitious. That Was Tomorrow is a historical novel, so her literary license comes with some restrictions. Yet she seamlessly twines Fairhope’s known personages into her own creations, allowing the reader to speculate beyond the range of straight fiction.

Although her descriptions of seemingly insignificant details such as the layout of a cottage, the flora on a specific street, the intricacies of a folk dance, or the plot line of a stage play can be viewed as overly worked, they actually carry the true substance of her effort. It is precisely through this detailed reconstruction of the daily lives of the citizens, the teachers, and the students that we find ourselves ultimately swimming far, far below the surface of the Fairhope we can drive through today. And when we surface, is it our eyes that are changed, or has tony, flip-happy Fairhope once again become full of thinkers and artists and bons vivants? Read; then decide. It’s certainly nice to think so.

For anyone wanting a realistic portrayal of yesterday’s sleepy South, a more informed connection to modern Fairhope, or a working re-enactment of Marietta Johnson’s Organic Education philosophy, Timbes’ book is a clear choice. She escorts us into the cliffs and gullies, the dirt and the shine, the people and the place, and the village on the bay that was a utopia for the taking. Jump in. Mobile Bay hasn’t felt this good in decades.
                                                                Rex Anderson, Mobile Press Register

It's hard to believe that there was once a time in this country, between the Last Great War and the inevitable onset of the next one, when there existed utopian communities across America, testing shared principles of civic idealism, personal actualization and the common good. And it's harder to believe that one of the more interesting was located in the Red State of Alabama, in the coastal community of Fairhope. In That Was Tomorrow, Mary Lois Timbes brings the improbable to life, complete with complete with believable, flesh and blood characters all living out their hopes and dreams in a concretely described, lush Southern setting. Take a trip to Fairhope. You will not only discover a progressive community of the past, but also what is finest in the American character. believable, flesh and blood characters all living out their hopes and dreams in a concretely described, lush Southern setting. Take a trip to Fairhope. You will not only discover a progressive community of the past, but also what is finest in the American character.                                                           
                                      Jonathan Odell, Author, The View From Delphi, The Healing

Historical fiction is a much abused genre. Too often fascinating people and events are treated like museum pieces - fragile, silent, and dead.

That Was Tomorrow avoids these pitfalls, giving us a vivid portrait of a time and place in history filled with colors, scents, sounds, and a strong sense of the future.

Along with heroine Amelia, we explore the turn-of-the-century Utopian experiment known as Fairhope, getting to know the colony's eccentric citizens, their habits, their politics, their fears, and their dreams. It is a coffee-fueled, romance-filled, full-sensory trip back to a dynamic time in a very unique place - and is well worth the visit.

                     Michele Feltman Strider, Author Homecoming, Hometown

The character depictions in Fairhope, some fictional and others not, are the highlights of That Was Tomorrow, together with the details of the activities such as folk dancing and singing that occupied such a central place in the Fairhope school. Having written on Fairhope before (A Fair Hope of Heaven and Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree), Timbes hits her stride in the telling of these tales…That Was Tomorrow is a very good read, well-written, nicely laid out and gives just enough coverage to the somewhat raffish character of the colony in those early days to underline the point that, in a very unprogressive state, a flower grew and flourished.
                                                                              Ralph E. Thayer, The Fairhope Courier

If your appetite is whetted--and I hope it is--go to my website for more details and buttons where you can order the book directly from me or from any of the sources. Or go to your favorite online book retailer (i.e., amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or Vook. Yes, I said Vook) and search for That Was Tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Way We Thought We Were

A friend of mine once explained his breakup with a beautiful young woman from Iowa, "She saw the movie Annie Hall when she was a teenager and decided then and there she was going to be like Annie Hall and move to New York and seduce a witty Jewish guy like Woody Allen. After she moved in she discovered I was Jewish only on my father's side and was no Woody Allen. It was all downhill after that."

In the early days of the Internet I got interested in chat rooms. Now, of course, I use Facebook as a virtual time sink for semi-personal relations, but back then I had a lot of fun in a chat room of my own I called The Algonquin Round Table. I had fancied that the name would attract wits and wags from all over the country who knew about Dorothy Parker and the denizens of the so-called round table of the 1920s. For the better part of a year I kept it going, but I all too often I had to explain what the original round table was and try to keep the conversational patter at a level that would invite wisecracks and witty comments. People did come in as alter egos and one young woman dubbed herself Holly Golightly (I know it's the wrong period, but she was allowed in in the spirit of the game. She had seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and obviously it struck a chord with her). 

To make this long story short, she attracted one of the young men in my vicious circle so much that one weekend he hopped a plane from Denver, where he lived, to meet her in Seattle, where she lived. The visit was a fiasco. I don't know the details, but I suspect he was expecting Audrey Hepburn to greet him as much as she expected George Peppard to step off that plane.

Maybe it's common for adolescent girls to latch on to a particular image of someone they see in the movies to define their expectations of the next phase of their life. What then, I asked myself, did I see myself as? The answer came to me right away.

I was Leslie Caron as Lili, naive, hopeful, a little tacky, but oh so charming and elfin and young, young, young, like a kindergartner let loose among the grownups and choosing to play with the puppets. I loved that movie. I remember bawling out loud at it. I think I was it. And part of me still is. Do you know who you thought you were? How did that work out?