Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ready for Lift-Off, Almost

November 29, 2007

Almost everything is packed now. I'm sitting in a house littered with the last few things to be dealt with -- about 20 little stacks of papers, clothes, fabrics and knicknacks. In the next hours I'll do the necessary dealing and send them off to New Jersey.

The last few days have been surreal, watching the stacks grow smaller and once again taking each item one by one and deciding whether or not I'll need it in this new phase of my life. Yesterday the three women I went to grammar school with (and with whom I've lunched roughly once a month for some 19 years) had a good-bye cup of tea with me at a delightfully funky beach house. Luckily it's still warm here and we could go out on a pier and watch the sunset on an almost glassy Mobile Bay.

At some point they asked me what I expected to be doing in my new life. The subject was quickly changed so I was not to ruminate to any great extent on the future I've chosen for myself, so I'll do it here before things get hectic again.

First off, I'm ever so glad the stage hands have ended their strike and I'll be able to attend theatre in New York soon. I wonder if they read Hoboken Now and discovered I was coming. At any rate there is much I want to see, including Kevin Kline as Cyrano if I have to mortgage my grandchildren, and I can see joining any number of discount ticket clubs so that I can beat a direct path to the many theatre experiences in New York and surrounding boroughs. There is a production of Wedekind's Lulu at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and I hope I can catch that.

I'll get back to regular blogging in a week or so, once I've gotten feel for Hoboken and my new neighborhood. I have a couple of book and story ideas in my mind which I may be able to get to soon.

There is a wonderful little historical museum, a pleasant little library, an interesting theatre company or two which I plan to explore and support. There are a number of places to eat that I haven't tried yet and innumerable watering holes I'll have to test.

In short, what I'll be doing in my new life is not going to be all that different from what I've done in the old one. I'll just have surroundings that appeal to me more, and the challenge of immediacy that is the keystone of New York like no other place. People move quicker -- that's going to be a big adjustment after being in slow-paced Alabama for almost 20 years -- and everything goes and comes quickly, as Alice discovered in Wonderland. I'll make friends and contacts, always dealing with the reality that I'm living in a third-floor walkup rather than a 1,900-sq. ft. house with a quarter-acre yard. My neighbors on the floor below cook a lot of Indian food (luckily I love Indian food), and my landlord is an interior designer with a glamorous name.

I have a lot of hope for Hoboken. What I've seen of it promises a compact, bustling (and sometimes confrontational) little city that is almost an extention of a Manhattan neighborhood, although those commited to Hoboken might not like it to be seen as that. I'll be in my apartment for at least a year, and I might be there for many years indeed. Reminded how stressful moving itself is, I'm looking forward to settling in and settling down.

If you can call all the stress of a city settling down. Don't ask me -- New York (and now New Jersey) always felt like home to me. Maybe because it's just like it is in the movies.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Blogs and Old

November 24, 2007

Starting a new blog I feel I should identify myself. I see that some of you are coming to this blog as a result of the shameless plugging and linking I've done at other Hoboken blogs. I'm sure there are a number of curiosity seekers who find Finding Myself just by Googling Frank Sinatra or Hoboken or ice cream sodas.

You must be bemused and/or perplexed. Occasional good turn of phrased or offbeat topic, eh wot? Who am I and what have I written? Should you bookmark this blog and give it a try in the future? You'll find infinite variety in my first blog -- which is still out there -- begun by ruminations about Fairhope, Alabama, the town where I was raised and am in the process of packing to leave. I love Fairhope but need variety in my life. I am ready for Hoboken. I'll be there in a week.

As to some of the interesting topics I've explored on my old blog, here's an index for starters:

Campbell Scott’s sex appeal

Garcia Lorca and the concept of duende

Andy Warhol and Fame as Art (and art as fame)

Irony and Americans

Bobby Darin

Anderson Cooper, Wyatt Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt

The Alpha Male

Questions about God and the Soul

Click on any or all of the above for a little window into some of the topics I might well explore here. If you like Finding Fair Hope, I'm sure you're gonna like Finding Myself in Hoboken too.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks for the Memories Yet Unborn

November 21, 2007

I love rainy Thanksgivings. It rained a little last night and I was hoping for a chilly, rainy day, the kind of day Thanksgiving is supposed to be. I hear that it was like that in Hoboken last week, with a little snow thrown into the mix as well.

Having lived back home in the South for 19 years, I am getting used to a subtle autumn, with trees mostly evergreen, but just a few adding color to our green and sandy world. In the Northeast, where I lived for more than 20 years, seasons were clear-cut: by this time of year the leaves had long since burst into glorious Technicolor and then turned brown on their way to dropping from sight altogether. By Thanksgiving, the only color you'd see would be the grey in the sky and the brown of the leaves on the ground.

I'm in a transition this year. In a week I'll be all packed and ready for my new life back in a cold climate. It will be wintry in Hoboken, no doubt, only to get really cold soon. I must buy more coats and winter clothes. Today I look out at rain and temps in the 70's, with the mercury dropping and maybe a night as cold as 42 degrees. Next week that will probably be the warmest temperature I will see for months.

Thanksgiving, it always seems to me, should be rainy and cold. You hardly have to go outdoors at all, and when you do it is only to be transported to a nice warm room where the smell of turkey and dressing in the oven permeates the air. Down in Lower Alabama we can't expect it to be cold yet, but we can expect those American food smells, and a little rain just makes it cozy.

This year there'll be no turkey. My sister is cooking seafood gumbo just for us, and my brother will be eating turkey somewhere with his wife and her family. I won't miss the bird or the traditional feast -- after all, there will always be turkey and fixin's. There's lots of years for that. The gumbo is comfort food for us, labor-intensive enough (at least for her), and always something to be thankful for.

I've said many goodbyes over the last couple of weeks. I've closed a lot of doors, ever so gently, always leaving the possibility that they will open again. What has carried me forward has been the real and genuine joy that life can change for the better with one move, one decision, one flash of an eye.

I'm thankful for many things this year. Most of all I'm thankful that I am making a big move on my own, because I must, and because I truly want to. What will happen in my new life I can have no way of knowing. I know it will involve writing, it will involve theatre, it may involve a little cooking, and it will definitely involve people. It will engage me in ways that my life here has ceased to do. I still have time left, and I shall spend it as I choose. I am very grateful for the ability to do that. What a life!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Know Where I Can Get A Good Hoboken?

November 20, 2007

One of my tasks when I get moved next week will be to find somebody who knows where I can get a Hoboken. You heard me right -- "get a good Hoboken."

Not that I know exactly what one is. Years ago when my sister became part of a Brooklyn Jewish family -- by marriage -- she learned of the existence of a Broadway, which is, or was, an ice cream soda made of coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup. She introduced me to this delight when I first moved to Manhattan in the early 1960's.

It seems the treat was already becoming rare. Formerly served at corner stores where egg creams were available, the Broadway, and its relative, the Hoboken, were seldom requested even then. Everybody knew about egg creams, but only the really old New Yorkers knew the Broadway. And I don't think anybody knew about the Hoboken.

It was my sister (the shiksa)'s understanding that while a Broadway was made with coffee ice cream and chocolate syrup, the Hoboken was the reverse -- chocolate ice cream with coffee syrup. Recently I looked up Hoboken ice cream soda on the Internet and learned of a concoction with vanilla ice cream and pineapple syrup. That doesn't sound nearly as appetizing to me as chocolate ice cream with coffee syrup.

If there is anybody out there who can tell me where to find a genuine Hoboken, let me know. I'll take it, even with pineapple syrup.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sinatra Fan, Coming Home

November 18, 1007

I’ve never lived in Hoboken, but in some ways moving there seems like coming home.

It didn’t take much for me to connect with the struggling little city when I first found it last spring. I was seeking proximity to Manhattan and a certain ease of lifestyle. I also wanted a sense of history and connection.

Probably the principle connection between me and Hoboken is Frank Sinatra, who was a presence in my life just because of his unavoidable position as rock star (without "rock" as we know it now -- but with a certain sound) for my generation and those that went a little before. Of course I never knew him; I never even saw him in person, but the existence of Frank Sinatra permeated life in the United States for all the decades of my growing up.

From the movies, I remember the youthful Frankie in his sailor suit, in Anchors Aweigh, seeming like a kid not all that much older than I. (I was five.) He was childlike, innocent, and a little goofy. As I grew up I watched Betty Garrett attempt to seduce him in On the Town. By the time I was 12, along came From Here to Eternity, in which Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr stirred my childlike body in unexpected ways as they kissed horizontally on the beach with waves crashing over them; yet I was more at home with Frank as the feisty outsider, Maggio -- who, late in the film brought my tears by dying in Montgomery Clift’s arms.

All during the 1940's, '50's, '60's and 70's, it seemed, on some jukebox somewhere, Sinatra was singing. His voice was the standard by which all popular music voices were measured. Young Eddie Fisher tried to represent my generation, but Sinatra was clearly the model. Vic Damone was smooth but not dangerous. Someone named Matt Monroe sounded eerily like him, and even aped the gestures, the hat, the finger snapping. Bobby Darin had the swagger and came close to the style, and least in up tempo tunes. There were slews of imitators, would-be’s, but Frank Sinatra transcended them all.

As a teenager, I saw him in the movies: The Tender Trap, with its pre-feminist message of girl-gets-swinger-to-settle-down – and one of my favorites, Young At Heart, a sparkling remake – with an irresistibly sappy-happy ending – of the old John Garfield vehicle, Three Sisters, with Frank reprising Garfield’s role as the ne’er-do-well who steals Doris Day from Gig Young. Frank, then in his prime, accomplished this just by being himself – sensitive, hurt, smart and funny, and a shade too vulnerable.

He did the same to you with his singing: he projected heartbreak and hope along with an antic, quicksilver quality that assured you that love was fun too. His insouciant attitude told us growing up was going to be a hell of a ride.

In my teens I bought a Sinatra album: “A Swingin’ Affair,” which has a cover I still look at with wonder -- the same three couples superimposed all over the picture, giving the effect of a crowded room, and Frank looking out into the distance, his hat askew and his grin direct. Friends owned “In the Wee Small Hours” (Frank with cigarette, pensively thinking either of lost loves or loves to come) and “Only the Lonely” (Frank with a touch of clown makeup, still looking attractive albeit wistful).

By the 1960’s, I had “Sinatra fan” written all over me, I suppose. I looked like a conventional girl who had grown up in the 1950’s, and we were pretty much all Sinatra fans. He was the gold standard. Soon I was to start dating a man who, upon our second meeting, arrived at my door with “Strangers in the Night,” which I hadn’t asked for -- except by my looks, I suppose: Sinatra fan.

Frank continued to get into trouble, marrying the wrong women and frolicking with the wrong playmates, but he was doing it his way and I hardly paid attention. I was making my own mistakes by that time.

One afternoon in the 1970’s my nephew Will Friedwald, a precocious adolescent with a few obsessions including comic books and cartoons, dropped in to my Upper West Side (before it was chic) apartment. I had been a little concerned about Will and his comics. The kid was bright and witty, and I felt he was ready for bigger things. Specifically, I had been wanting him to hear the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, so I took this opportunity to expose him to the song “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” as sung by Frank Sinatra on the “Swingin’ Affair” album. It was a casual choice, but it turned out to have great significance.

Will was transported. We laughed at the song, and he made me play it over and over for him. He lay on the floor, trying to commit the words to memory. He left my apartment a changed man. But not in the way I’d anticipated. Instead of becoming an aficionado of the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, he began collecting Sinatra albums, Mel Tormé albums, jazz albums; he also began reading about, writing about, and listening to jazz and singers.

Now Will is a leading expert on popular music, jazz and Frank Sinatra.

And I’ll be seeing a lot more of him now that I’ll be living in Hoboken. The weekend I arrive we’ll celebrate his marriage to the beautiful Pamela Luss, a jazz singer who no doubt has an appreciation for Sinatra.

I expect to get a lot more from Hoboken than Frank Sinatra – but moving there is like visiting the haunts of an old friend. It may be more than a little pretentious to take the screen name Nightstranger, but maybe I can get away with it. I don't think Frank would mind.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Moving Etc.

November 15, 2007

Official moving day is November 30. Today is organization day. My subconscious is preparing for the move be providing me with dreams of confusion in a strange location, lost-on-the-streets scenarios; while my conscious mind is occupied with stuffing cartons with books, clothes, dishes, and the detritis of my life, asking whether I shall really ever need this particular object again.

Why leave where I am? Why Hoboken? I've posted about the upcoming move in a series of reflections on my old blog Finding Fair Hope which started life in early 2006 as an attempt to promote Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, my book about what life was like in Fairhope, Alabama, in the 1950s. Tracing the blog day by day, a reader could discern a gradual disillusionment with the direction the small city was taking, and a decided spike in excitement during a trip to my old stomping ground, New York City, over Christmas of 2006.

This is what I wrote in that earlier post:

A recent blogpost suggested that I am more at home in the Northeast that in Fairhope, and elicited the eternal question, "What exactly are you looking for?"

The eternal answer to that is that at this point in my life it's not that I'm looking for anything except maybe a little positive energy, which I certainly don't find in Fairhope. Fairhope is in flux -- and while I think of myself as capable of flexing with the flux, it becomes clearer and clearer that that particular flow is not going the way I want it to. I spent 18 years in fair hope of trying to stall the inevitable, but I cannot see that my efforts are being effective.

I never thought of retiring to a low-stress area, but in Fairhope my baggage is too heavy. My expectations are, perhaps, a tad too specific; my memories too sacred and my heart on my sleeve. It's not gonna happen. The improvements "they" plan all seem to be innovative ways of tearing out the past...which is the only thing I cherish about the place.

Then I look around in New York City, and, sure enough, it has changed too -- it has beautified and upgraded its marginal neighborhoods, and kept the good parts too. It parades its history while embracing its future. And there is so much stuff going on, always, that the city continues to grow and to glitter with promise. Many of the friends I made when I worked here in the 1960's and '70s are still here, and people in the streets are friendly.

The difference is that in the days I remember New York, you didn't have to be rich to live there. The friends who have stayed lucked into cheap real estate when it was still available, and now they are flush enough, having stuck to jobs until they became careers, and having socked away enough to manage to live comfortably in this extremely luxe atmosphere. Others have found friendly environments within easy commuting distance and split the difference.

That was followed by the travel posts that led me to choose Hoboken, NJ, as the place I wanted to be. You'll find more of this as this blog takes on a life of its own.

Welcome aboard!