Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Year on "Finding Myself"

My friend Nan has a blog on which she discusses books, cooking, and life on a farm. A recent post introduced a meme--and, after some instruction from my Facebook friends--I'm an expert on memes, but I still don't know why this is a meme. It's more like a game. The idea is to take the first line of a post from every month of your blog over the last year. I went over mine and picked the first post of every month, and here they are.

January 1: I just love those montages of world events they put on tv at the end of every year, even the inevitable memorials to those well-known people we lost during the year. A year later, and I'm still talking about this. Guess I will always love those things.

February: Saturday afternoon the odd little bell-chime sounded telling me I had a text message on what I laughingly call my cell phone. This one was about my struggle with the new electronics, trying to learn how to text (and pretty much failing).

March: I've written two books about my home town, the utopian single tax community of Fairhope, Alabama. Shameless promotion of a third book that never was published.

April: I wasn't going to tell you this, but this is the month I'm gonna reinvent myself. Ah, that was a good month. I changed the way I eat, from fatty and lots of meat to mostly plant-based protein. Didn't lose any weight, but changed my cholesterol and feel much better.

May: Around the new year, New York Times contributor Stanley Fish published a column called the Ten Best American Movies. This post included my own choice of Ten Best Movies, which included none of Fish's favorites.

June: Two Months After Re-Invention (title) That title was come upon hopefully, after I received my borrowed Flip videocam in the mail. Here I took videos of myself showing that the weight was redistributed, but still there. I was enjoying posting videos of everything about this time.
July: It may not look like much from the outside, but with a little help from me, the condo on the first floor of this 1900 row house in Hoboken's old "downtown" neighborhood, is about to do its part in rescuing the sagging U.S. economy. I had made an offer on my new condo!

August: I watched "The Next Food Network Star" followed by "The Next Home & Garden Network Star" last night. My reviews of two of my favorite reality shows on television.

September: The beautiful Madonna Dei Martiri is the centerpiece of Hoboken's biggest, most Italian festival every year in September. Describing Hoboken's Italian festa.October: Good Old Biggie's (title) Looking south from my new condo on Madison Street you can see the local landmark.

November: All of a sudden the world changed, and it changed again. Back to electronics--this time recounting the history of the computer.

December: I expected it to be much colder when I got off the airplane. Returning to Hoboken after a trip home to Alabama, I attempt to describe the culture shock.

The meme provides a snapshot of blogposts of last year, not selected for their merit. It is interesting to me that the first day of every month almost nothing of interest happened. The blog posts do not even seem to reflect a cross-section of the kinds of things that happened to me. They were simply the first posts of each month. If your interest is piqued, however, you can find the posts in their entirety, and many others (better ones, just by browsing the lists at the top of the blog. I hope you found this blog in the past year, and that you'll stay with us for another. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reflections on the Passing of a Year

New years set us thinking. Some people actually make a list of resolutions and have every intention of following them. I have never known any such person, but they exist, at least in our mythology. Saying you're going to lose 20 pounds does not count as a New Year's resolution, at least not in my book, since I've been doing that at least twice a year for the last 30. Keeping to any resolution is not something we do very well.

What we do do very well is look over the incidents of the outgoing year, with major television networks editing news clippings reminding us of the way we were in the past year, to say nothing of who died and what news events altered our times. We add to that our own personal achievements and awareness of losses, put them all in a box in our minds, and probably think of them very seldom as time goes by. Not that that's a bad thing. We must move forward.

This year was a sour one by most accounts. Hopes built up by a sterling new president were dashed as we had to face, with him, the reality of the job he was presented with. We found ourselves viewing everything that happened in 2009 through the lens of a looming economic downturn. I'm old enough to have seen these come and go, but many of today's wealthy are not, and to them the drop in finances was unfathomable and perhaps unacceptable. An unknown monster in the background was a kindly-looking old man named Bernie Madoff, who became a symbol of excess and corruption. It is not a visage we would like to encounter again. Suddenly Obama's picks for his financial team looked suspect, and we are not likely to know their true mettle until we can view their work in retrospect; all we can do is hope it's not too late. By the same token, all of the people surrounding the president seem somehow tainted and the mindless hope of his inauguration day is darkened if not crushed.

The capture of a terrorist in an airplane on our home ground is an ominous note upon which to end such a year. The more we learn about this, the more alarmed we become. It will be difficult for a State of the Union address to stimulate such a disquieted populace. We all know if anyone can do it, Barack Obama is the man--but I cannot think, with the 24-hour-news pundits in line to parse that speech, that he will achieve his goal with it. We have become jaded enough that the fact he can give a soaring speech is no longer viewed with awe by many.

It was a year of failed pranks--the balloon parents and the gate crashers come to mind. It was a year of failed deception--the governor of South Carolina and former politician John Edwards come to mind. It was a year of dashed illusions--Tiger Woods comes to mind.

Michael Jackson died suddenly. Walter Cronkite and Edward Kennedy were taken by illness. Jennifer Jones, Ricardo Montalban, Karl Malden, Pat Hingle and Brittany Murphy were also among those who left us this year. We were once again struck by the fleeting quality of life itself, and challenged to make our own mark while we could, which is what reflecting on the passing of a year is really about. I don't know what I'll do next year, but I am certain it will be a better year than the one we've just suffered through together.

I've been invited to a little New Year's Eve party, and that reminds me that the last one I went to was in ushering in the dreaded year 2000--remember when we thought the computers of the world might crash and throw all into blithering oblivion? This year's get together will be simpler, as we happily bid farewell to a year in which it seemed the news never got better. We'll toast the birth of 2010 with a glass of champagne and I have no doubt we'll all feel that it will be happier than the year we're leaving behind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Pies of Christmas

Apple pie is appearing here and there in my life these days. My daughter is an expert baker of them, and Christmas with her and her family promises that I'll get a couple of chances to taste them. I have my own recipe; she has hers. My favorite was baked by the cook employed by a family friend in Alabama years ago. It had a lattice top, and seemed to us the perfect ratio of cinnamon to brown sugar. I find that in the North people are less likely to use quite enough of either for my taste, but I've spent a lifetime trying to duplicate that one I had so many years ago.

My favorite apple pie story came from Jim Adshead, my husband who died nine years ago. He was a G.I. in World War II, fighting in France and harbored in farmhouses, basements and barns with his buddies when the need arose. It must have been Christmas of 1944 that the guys were being sheltered by a sympathetic French farm family.

They were roused by the family with joyous cries in French that it was Christmas Day, and, although none of the boys could speak French, they knew they were being invited to the family's only day of celebration for years. It was a hungry and grateful group that joined the family to see the pride of the best feast they could scrape up, which was an apple pie. They could tell the mother, who was the cook, had prepared it especially for them, knowing that apple pie was an American favorite. They were thrilled to get any food at all, but the apple pie they were served was certainly not like any they'd ever seen in the States.

When Jim first told me the story he said it was a pathetic excuse for an apple pie, obviously made from dried apples and very little sugar--much less cinnamon, butter, or the spices they expected from an apple pie. But the boys were so touched by the gesture, and their hearts so warmed by the work involved, that they were effusive in their thanks and their gratitude for home-baked food was genuine and heartfelt.

Some forty years later Jim and I were living in Geneva and we were often exposed to the French version of apple pie. He then realized that this was the pie he was served that Christmas Day so long before--not, as it had appeared, made with dried apples, but the thinly sliced, artistically arranged, apples as preferred by the French, cooked with very little sugar and coated with apricot jam as a glaze. It's a pie, but it ain't American apple pie.

The French also make a tasty caramelized apple pie known as tarte tatin, which is tastier (if you like caramel) and made by browning the sugar in the pan, placing a crust on top, and then reversing the whole product using very deft hands. I've made it, just to see if I could, but the fact is I like to taste a bit of cinnamon in my apple pie.

And I did find a way to get just the right crunch of caramel on the lattice top of a pie not unlike that Alabama pie of years ago: You dot all the holes in the lattice with butter and sprinkle the top of the pie liberally with white sugar. The butter will melt and the sugar will brown and crisp--and the pie will be sweet enough for any Christmas guest you may have, even a barn full of half-starved G.I.'s.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hoboken at Christmas, 2009

One of the things I love about living in the Northeast is the genuine change of seasons. This is difficult for many to understand, as they move to Florida as soon as they possibly can, and claim not to miss the cold weather for an instant.

It's not that I like cold weather, mind you. I'm told it's 20 degrees at the moment and that the high for today will be 30. I do have to go out--I have a doctor's appointment at 11:30--or otherwise I might just opt for staying in the cozy apartment all day. As it is, I've got that long walk to Washington Street, and while I'm there I might as well go to the bank and pick up some groceries. I'll wear lots of layers and duck into a warm building if necessary on my travels.

Everybody from Fairhope sympathizes with me about the cold weather. But this kind of cold adds to the feeling of Christmas, with God throwing in a few snow flurries as if for punctuation. Hoboken is dressed for the holidays, and for once I'm glad Frank Sinatra made so many Christmas albums--his gentle voice is piped into businesses all over town. I may pop into Albini's Pharmacy, a beautifully wood-paneled remnant of bygone days, just to hear its selection of Sinatra seasonal numbers. (I'll buy something innocuous to justify my visit.)

There is a sign at Our Lady of Grace Church that there will be a program of carols next weekend. The lights are up everywhere, and the A & P has its Christmas music piped in. Yesterday I was stopped in my tracks there listening to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," trying to decide if that really could have been Barbra Streisand, giving a restrained rendition for once. Anybody know if there is a singer with a similar voice who just sings the song and doesn't try to impress us with her acting virtuosity at the same time? Celine Dion? Susan Boyle? (That would be a great CD--Susan Boyle's Christmas!)

Week after next I'll travel to upstate New York to visit the daughter and grandsons for the actual holiday. In the meantime, I'm gettin more Christmas than I expected. I picked up a little bourbon and rum and made my own egg nog from scratch yesterday, and I keep thinking I brought fresh pecans back from Alabama and just might use them in something delicious.

A little Christmas is doing me good. I like that it's cold at this time of year. There is no snow on the ground here, and the puddles from a few days ago have dried up so there's no ice to worry about. There might be snow by the big day, and there is certain to be in Kingston, but, whether or not, Christmas is in the air. The gentlemen are merry and the nights are silent. The heart is full. Have a drink of egg nog--not prepackaged, please--and sing a song of the season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New Book About Fairhope

Paul Gaston at the Organic School Centennial, 2007

Paul Gaston is about so much more than Fairhope that I must introduce him to you. Sure, he was born and raised there, and his grandfather founded the town in 1894, but he went on to become an eminent scholar, professor, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the state of Virginia.

It's possible I write too much about Fairhope here, and should leave that to my blog Finding Fair Hope. But I just read Paul's book Coming of Age in Utopia and I can't say enough about it in enough places. I knew his family, (his mother taught me to type in the School of Organic Education), but by then Paul was already off in the larger world, achieving and working to change things in the South. I didn't get to know the man until about eight years ago when he was on one of his visits to Fairhope. I've given parties for him and his wife, heard more and more Fairhope stories from him every time we meet--and enjoyed his company always. He is my favorite lecturer--I've heard him speak a lot of times, and I've read most of his books.

Paul was a teacher of Southern History at the University of Virginia. He's retired now and has been working on his memoir for years. At last it's published, and you can read my review of it on the link provided above (just click on the blue letters that spell "Finding Fair Hope"). It includes a section about growing up in Fairhope, but its best stories are about his work at U Va. It has so many anecdotes, about his high school girl friends, his days at Swarthmore and in the Army, his courtship of the beautiful Mary, his nine-year-old son meeting Martin Luther King, his experience with the first sit-in in Charlottesville, and his commitment to opening the minds of tradition-bound Southerners who attended his classes.

He has lived an admirable life, and he is a man worthy of more books. I have no doubt that he'll produce a few himself. In the meantime, he has written one of the most interesting autobiographical works you'll find.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Me and Orson Welles--and Me

There are quite a few of us left who are fascinated by Orson Welles--his life and times, his persona, his work. When I saw reviews of the new film Me and Orson Welles, which basically said that they got it right this time, I knew I had to see it. With nothing special to do yesterday, I looked it up and found that it was playing at a few of New York's elegant little art cinemas, so I impulsively planned to go see it. I emailed a very New York friend, of my vintage, and also an aficionado of old-style theatre and films, and asked him to join me at the 3:40 showing.

Yesterday was one of those star-crossed days when nothing quite goes as planned. I didn't hear from the friend and figured he was too busy to check his email, but set off to the cinema palace on the Upper West Side where it was showing. The Light Rail was slow in coming, and then when I took the PATH train I had miscalculated and got on a "B" train when I probably should have found an "A;" that is to say, when I emerged from the subway I was on the wrong side of town and it was already showtime.

I still haven't quite gotten the hang of Manhattan yet. Maybe it's because I've been out of town for two weeks and my circuits are overloaded with information about Lower Alabama; maybe it's because they've changed some of the train routes since I lived here 20 years ago, or maybe--but probably not--it's just that my aging brain is not as quick at processing information, and after 20 years of not thinking about the map of New York City the medulla oblongata has shut down that valve.

I was discouraged coming out of that train near Rockefeller Center instead of near Lincoln Center, but I knew where I was, and after a rather harrowing train ride and walks through various subway stations, I just wanted to come home to Hoboken, by bus. That meant walking through Times Square and seeing all the happy people buying tickets to plays, the lights on the marquees, and all the hustle and bustle of the beginning of Christmas season in New York. My bus ride home was a relief.

Today I woke up wanting to try again. I got an email from the New York friend that he'd received my email in Chicago where he is visiting a sick friend, but that he'd seen the movie and loved it.

So I sorted out things at home and set off for a different cinema palace, which I was certain I could find, in the West Village. I decided to walk to the PATH train, and, timing that walk, discovered I made as good time on foot as I had yesterday on the Light Rail getting to the subway. Maybe better. I felt pretty good, because I knew that I would be only one stop from the movie. I did my homework and looked at maps of how to find it once I got out of the train--this may sound unnecessary, but the Village is a tangle of short, elegant streets peppered with interesting shops and romantic restaurants. It's easy to get distracted and lose your way.

It was raining today, and pretty cold, and the walk was much farther than I expected. At one point I asked an attractive young man where the Angelika was and he just shrugged; I then asked a pretty girl and she said, "Turn left at the next corner and then it's about ten blocks."

"Ten?" I must have looked askance.

"Well, maybe seven," she said. As I walked on I soon realized she was just trying to let me down easy--it was going to be ten blocks more.

That's one of the things I've gotten used to here, walking long distances to get where I need to go. I didn't do that last week when I was in Alabama; I was in a rented car. Walking is much better for my cardiovascular system.

Now I've gone off on a tangent. I was going to write a review of the movie. I'll have to encapsulate it by saying this: Me and Orson Welles is a trip back in time, to another place, another world really, when live theatre was grand and everyone was larger than life. Christian McKay, playing Orson Welles, had the man down to a tee but for the mellifluous voice that Welles used so theatrically even in small talk. MacKay has a fine voice, and all his mannerisms are very Welles-like, so I suppose this is carping. There are wonderful characterizations of other real people too, like John Houseman and Joseph Cotten, and it's a great escape to feel that you're back in the day when these people were young and vibrant.

Coming out of the movie, the rain was turning to snow. I had the long walk back to the subway, and all I could think about was that I was going to make myself some hot chocolate when I got home, and put some of the fresh mozzarella I bought at Fiore's yesterday on toast with some tomato sauce to rig something like a pizza for supper. Rather than walk all the way from the PATH station home, I took the Light Rail and got home and tucked into my comfort food, thinking about Orson Welles and his cohorts and the magic of the production of Julius Caesar in 1937 at the old Mercury Theater.

That's one thing about living in Hoboken--you're never far away from magic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finding Fair Hoboken

I expected it to be much colder when I got off the airplane. Had gotten used to the temps in the high 60's and low 70's in Fairhope, but ten degrees colder was not too painful. I tried to use the two flights and the time in the airports to regroup and get my mind in gear to trade Fairhope for fair Hoboken, but shaking off the culture shock and mentally processing the transfer was not automatic.

Cristina picked me up at the Newark airport and I chattered like a magpie about my feelings about Fairhope and my experiences there, but my ears were a bit plugged from the pressure on the planes and I hardly knew what I was saying.

When I got home all I could think about was picking up a plate of takeout pasta from Biggie's. Standing there in the queue help me with re-entry into my new hometown; I was surrounded by people I would never see in Fairhope, and I felt welcomed and impatient to try the broccoli rabe with sausages. Biggie told me for future reference that if I call and place the order they'll have it when I get there. Pasta is cooked to order. I'll remember that. The comfort food was much appreciated--and I have enough left over for at least two more meals.

I'll get back in my regular routine of trips to the gym, errands around town, walking everywhere, and get back in the swing of life here in no time. I'm planning a snowbird visit for the month of February in Fairhope. Christmas with Alison and the boys in Kingston, NY.

Back to normal. Back to Hoboken. It may not be the topic for a dynamic blog post, but it's good to be back. Wait til we see what happens next.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Fair Hope for Hoboken (Reposted)

On Tuesday, December 1, I'll leave my old home in Fairhope and return to my new one in Hoboken. This is coincidental, as it was on December 1, 2007, that I moved (more or less permanently) from Fairhope to Hoboken the first time. Much of my adjustment in the two years has been in dealing with the differences and the situations that were much the same in my life in both places.

I posted the following in May of 2008:

My last post inspired a friend to write comparing Hoboken and its preoccupation with Sinatra to Fairhope, my last domain, and its preoccupation with the school that was at the center of the town’s attraction in generations past.

Probably the only similarity is me.

I spent a lot of energy in Fairhope working to preserve its heritage – both at the Organic School and in the history of the little utopian colony itself. Now that I’m in strange surroundings I’m most comfortable around the town’s historical neighborhoods and learning of its favorite sons and its old institutions, some removed and some restored.

This correspondent sees it as basking in the glory of others, even though the others are long gone. Maybe so. I suspect it’s just a different type of brain at work -- mine, mine being surrounded with memories and sometimes all but drowning in them. My home town, Fairhope, is facing its future by destroying its past and building new monuments. Hoboken, on the other hand, has retained much of its past while being open to the new where there is a buck to be made. There’s a difference, and to me the difference is in Hoboken’s favor.

We all have to live in the present and work toward the future. I’m told there is a lot of turnover in the population of Hoboken, and there is rampant political controversy in its conversion from an immigrant community to a bedroom for Manhattan. I could get involved in some of that after having visited the Open House at the Neumann Leathers Warehouse, now a rabbit warren of artists’ studios down by the river. Neumann Leathers is slated to be taken over for development, and there are many, including me, who hope that won’t happen to this unique haven for real artists. A fair hope for Hoboken, but probably there is no stopping the project.

However, Hoboken is no more obsessed with Frank Sinatra than Fairhope is with the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. On the other hand, these are both pet projects of mine, and I enjoy sharing their good points with the world. Glorying in the past? I don’t see it that way. Certainly both locations are moving forward at a dizzying clip. It’s me who’s determined to keep the past alive.

“Maybe it's time for each of these locations to make their own glory; after all, ghosts don't last forever,” writes my friend. I counter with this – they are making their own glory on their own, and I am making mine in my own modest way. It just happens that one of my pleasures in life is poring over old pictures, talking to people about the way things were, and reflecting on what is good about the past and the present. The future will take care of itself.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finding Myself in Fairhope

I've been here for over a week, thinking of Hoboken a lot, but dealing with issues that relate more to my past than to my present and/or future. I found myself too emotionally tangled up to write about anything, but this morning the dam burst and I put down my feelings and thoughts on my other blog. You might be interested in learning why I've been silent here for over a week: Click here to read of my travels.

I'll be back in Hoboken late Tuesday night. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be thinking good thoughts about Christmas and the new year.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Mini-Book-Tour in Warmer Climes

I'll leave Hoboken Tuesday (November 17) for the launch of my book The Fair Hope of Heaven in paperback. Enterprising readers may have already ordered it from in that format, but I held back its general release to the Fairhope reading public until now. It was first published in hard cover in January, and I went to Fairhope at that time to get it into the local indie bookstore. It will retail for a mere $16.95 in paperback, as against $26.95 for the hard cover.

I've written a lot about the book on this blog, and on my other blog "Finding Fair Hope," and on my website. It seems much of my life is devoted--when not finding myself in Hoboken--to finding Fairhope, a little burg in transition from a utopian single tax colony to a burgeoning tourist and retirement city on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama.

Even though the book has the words "fair" and "hope" in the title, I never thought of it as a book about the town of Fairhope until market forces--read that to mean publishers--informed me that it was. I thought it was about the way history and events transform people and places, reflecting on this through my memories of a unique childhood in the kind of nonconformist environment that Fairhope, Alabama, offered in the middle of the 20th Century. I included character sketches of people I knew, thinking for all the world that I had created a new Lake Wobegon Days, and, although knowing it would appeal to others who shared the memories, I felt that my book was universal in scope. Part of me would still like to believe that--but the reaction from publishers was that it was charming but limited to readers in Fairhope. I hope sales of the soft cover may still prove me right.

So I'll get on the plane Tuesday and plan to visit old friends and see the new construction in the town where I spent much of my life. I'll investigate the possibility of taking control of the old family homestead. I'll have Thanksgiving with a couple I've known for at least 60 years, with their friends and relations. I'll see family and classmates and people I worked closely with before I moved to Hoboken in December 2007. I'm no longer distraught at how many of the old building and funky cottages have been destroyed and replaced. Like a newcomer, I'll be refreshed by balmy weather and sunsets on Mobile Bay.

From The Fair Hope of Heaven: "The coastline of Mobile Bay with sunset views is just one part of the equation. Its calming effect cannot be denied, and the transcendent, everlasting quality of that particular body of water and its constant gentle motion is a source of comfort and serenity to all who live anywhere near it."

I look forward to this trip. Indeed I do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Didn't Get the Memo

Don't look now, but language, always alive and evolving, has substituted new words for old for no reason. Most of these words and figures of speech have been around for years now, but bit by bit they've gone from being my own pet peeves to being the only way to say a thing. I don't know when, I don't know why--but I'm relearning how to speak colloquial American English.

It seems that we are all expected to use the word in quotes instead of the word it replaced:

When did a category become a “genre”?

When did a sidewalk become a “hardscape”?

When did a political stand become a political “stance”?

When did the populace become “folks”?

When did problems become “issues”?

When did lemon rind become “lemon zest”?

When did the woods become a “green belt”?

When did God become a “meme”?

When did “said” become “was like”?

When did reframing the question become "pushback"?

Maybe you can add a few others you've noted, particularly from television commentators. I don't want to be the only one pushing the envelope here (by the way, what envelope?).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Future Is So Yesterday

All of a sudden the world changed, and it changed again. Events, inventions, personalities, and attitudes have made these changes look not only inevitable, but easy. I'm here to tell you, they weren't.

Above you see a picture of the first computer, a thing called Univac, as it appeared in 1957. It was known as an electronic brain, and great things were predicted for it. Corporations gradually embraced the new technology, but a life with personal computers was undreamed of. We were told in a book called Future Shock that someday we would love them--women could put their recipes on them, and we could record the cocktails our friends preferred for parties we were planning. Nobody really had any idea of how the invasion of technology was truly going to affect our lives.

The world of the future was assumed to be something like the cartoon world of an animated television show in 1962 called "The Jetsons," involving a family with a personal robot to do housecleaning and a vehicle that flew them from planet to planet. Telephones with screens were assumed to be just around the corner, and indeed the technology to produce them was available, but the public demand didn't exist and the idea was seen to be an invasion of privacy.

Nobody thought of cell phones, Google, faxes, scanners. When I walk around the city now--or anywhere in the world--almost everybody I pass seems to be talking to himself (with almost imperceptible earbuds and wires connecting him to somebody off in the distance), or talking into a little device smaller than a deck of cards. First came pagers, which we carried about in our pockets, and which went off at inopportune times and required a quick exit, "I gotta go!" as soon as we saw the message. Cell phones perform the same service, although you can exit without actually leaving the premises. You just say, "Sorry, I gotta take this," and sit there gabbing away about business deals or laundry lists, or whatever is more important than courtesy to the person you're talking with.

I've written posts here about people who've changed the world as we know it. My recent one saying that about Michael Jackson raised some hackles. I tried to say that he taught us to dance in a different way, and he made us want to dance. Earlier I admitted that Julia Child had taught us to view food, wine, and cooking in a different way. I have written that Barack Obama, with his steady hand and brilliant mind, has transformed the Presidency and rendered the pundits all but ineffective. He may have also changed the way the world views people of mixed races. I do not say that these people did anything more than change the world that we knew, woke it up to new experiences, and made it more interesting to deal with. To compare them with their predecessors is to miss the point. They weren't present when the world changed this time.

I'm something of a nostalgia nut and spend a lot of time writing about the way things used to be. I've written two books about the utopian village of Fairhope, Alabama, where I grew up and learned to appreciate the eccentric and the wise. There are things about the world of today that I may never accept, but I celebrate the changes that elevate our quality of life and challenge our personal ability to change. I don't expect many to see everything the way I do; I've learned that that is not possible no matter how brilliantly I think I've explained it. I just am glad that you've joined me on this journey of finding myself--whether or not you're in Hoboken.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Was It

He was an extraordinary performer, a child prodigy grown to middle age, a transformative pop culture figure who died too young. Like most of us, he was compelled to examine his legacy, and Michael Jackson did it in public with This Is It, the farewell tour concert that he didn't complete. Luckily, there was 100 hours of footage of the rehearsals, and luckily for all of us that footage has been edited and put together into a riveting film that celebrates the life of the enigmatic genius that the eternal boy had become. We see him in rehearsal, holding back a little ("I have to conserve my voice..."), being coddled and revered ("Hold the rail, Michael!" as he's being introduced to the cherrypicker), being the exacting artist and director, and then, best of all, performing. There are charming notes as when they are discussing movements with him and he says, "That's the one the stewardesses do--I love that one, I absolutely love that one!", and that ride in the cherry-picker when he's carefully told, "This is the medium one, you'll be going much higher," and he responds quietly, "You know not to say that to me."

In the film we see a magnificent performer, the consummate professional, working carefully to perfect the show that is never to be. There is something inherently tragic at the same time that the movie is triumphant: Michael Jackson onstage is all that he was ever portrayed to be, and more. He is gentle and tentative offstage as he is commanding, powerful and exciting onstage. I was in a theater with about 25 other people, scattered about all through the house, and there was spontaneous applause at many times during the show. Sometimes we made inadvertantant noises--groans, hoots, and sighs. I left the theatre behind two overweight young black women, and I heard one remark to the other, "I wish I had at least met him."

I actually did meet Michael Jackson once. It was after his Jackson Five days but years before Thriller. He sported a big Afro and wore a denim leisure suit. We were at a performance by The Dance Theatre of Harlem, and he was literally hanging back against a wall at intermission. I took the program over to him and he autographed it to my daughter. He spoke very softly and seemed almost embarrassed to be asked for his autograph. I am thrilled to think of that evening now, and to know that I still own that program.

It's hard to think of what the intervening years did to him, but there he is for all to see in This Is It, busting dance moves that he invented and that caused Fred Astaire to call him "the greatest dancer of the century." He was more than a phenomenon. He literally changed the world of dance and turned the world into dancers. He will never leave us, yet he left us cruelly too soon.

If you don't believe me, go see the movie.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Second Street Stop

My picture of autumn coming to Hoboken prompted a question from Italian Connie, who grew up in Hoboken in the 1950's and now lives in Florida. She hadn't heard about the New Jersey Light Rail train, with its stops at Hoboken Terminal, Second St. and Ninth St. That's it above, over on the tracks right against the cliff at Hoboken's west border.
I've found the little trains very convenient to my new home. Smooth, sleek and clean, they seem to take no time to reach their destinations. In pleasant weather, when one is not in a particular hurry it's possible actually to enjoy the wait before a train arrives to spirit you to the Pavonia Newport Mall in Jersey City or the 12-minute ride to the Hoboken terminal to get to a PATH train to the city.

Passing time in my wait, I have noticed etched in the glass blocks, little snippets of poetry. One day in a rather long wait I read the whole wall, all of a piece, and discovered it was commissioned as a public poetry project by the New Jersey Transit Commission's arts committee. It was written by Marina Temkina, and is available in a book published by Ugly Duckling Press.

Reading the poem while waiting for a train on a beautiful day is a soothing experience, rather like absorbing the affirmations you write to yourself, or reading love notes from a new partner. I'm pleased to live where something like this just seems to appear, for no reason other than to brighten my day.

I hope it does the same for yours.

You Are My Solar Battery

Are you waiting for a train?
Take a minute-long vacation

You’re a part of the solar system
Recharge your batteries

You are a part of the universe
Of people navigating the earth

Sun makes us global
Planets and people commute

Look at the stars
They don’t have

In a spaceship you’re about to get in
Look up at earth
People are your constellations

The time’s coming when somebody over there,
In the universe, will be looking at you

What is the position of the planet earth
When the Milky Way is parallel
To the Hudson River?

When coming and leaving
Notice this poem moving down the track
To greet you

The old moon
The new moon
The growing moon
The half-moon
Commuting moon

Are you a local traveler? Global? Local? Universal?
A dream traveler?—me too

I am one of you: speeding in life,
Sometimes wishing to stop, to change,
To go on slowly

Sky, the shrine of all faiths,
Meditates on peace and love,
On your heavenly body

Commuting between lines of this poem
Sometimes takes a long time

You’re at the Second Street stop,
Between the hill and the river,
Under the stars’ scattered sugar

My desires, like stars,
Are big and small

You’re my solar battery
You’re my sugar cloud
You’re my living psalm

You’re my rising sun
You’re my green tree
You’re my country

You’re my snow, my rain,
You’re my train,
My early morning, my long day

The punctuation (and lack of it), the choice of images, the gentle rhythms of this poem seem to take us on a ride, help us through the stress of everyday business--and promise a nice trip. I like it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tour of My New Apartment

Just what you've been waiting for:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wife Swap and Balloon Madness

I got hooked on Wife Swap long after its original incarnation in the UK. (I admit I never knew of its origins until it was on ABC last year, and never watched it until it appeared on cable during the day. The concept of swapping wives confused me and I didn't find it interesting until I saw the way it worked.)

Long-story-short: Once I understood that families were chosen for their contrast and the mothers each spent two weeks with the other family, usually hoping to educate and reform the home into which they were placed, I was curious. Not that I would consider this show remotely related to reality, it bought home to me that there is a very wide range of behavior that fits in the realm of normal. The traded wife is required to follow the "rules" of the family as outlined for her in a notebook by the real wife for the first week, and the second week she imposes her rules on her "new" family. Almost always the first reaction of the wife upon reading her instructions is the same, "These people are insane!"

I watch Wife Swap from time to time, and did indeed view the episode featuring the Heene family whose lost balloon caused such a sensation yesterday.

The show brings us families of clowns, families of magicians, families who worship pagan gods--always pairing them with overachieving sports and academic type families, or obsessive families pursuing what they think is the American dream. It is always a wake-up call for both houses, particularly the husbands. When I saw the Heene family all I really remember is thinking, "Storm chasers? Who the hell chases storms?" On the other hand, they were far from the most unusual family I'd seen in the mix. I wish I'd been paying more attention.

I'm sure the Heene episode will get more play now that they have had the drama of the lost weather balloon or whatever it was. The nation watched in fear that one of the Heene children (a boy with the new-age name of Falcon) might be in the balloon or, worse, might have fallen from it in a horrendous accident. As it turned out, we are all relieved and now more than a little interested in what makes this particular family unit function.

For a total escape from your mundane reality, I recommend catching Wife Swap sometime around noon on cable. You never know what will turn up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seen in Hoboken: Autumn

I happened to have the camera with me the other day when walking toward the Light Rail. The trees are not in full fall fury yet, but there are a few here and there that are turning. Old b-n-r's who don't live in Hoboken any more will be amazed at where I took this picture: The corner of Second and Jackson streets. All new buildings, and many new trees since the old days, eh?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Retirement Plan: Read Some Books

I can hardly remember when I wasn’t retired. My career as a paid public relations executive came to an end in 1988 when I moved from New York to my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, at the time of my husband’s retirement from the E.I.Du Pont De Nemours company.

We had enough in his retirement package for me to go from full-time work to whatever I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was begin a professional theatre company in conjunction with Actors’ Equity Association, the actors’ union, and I did that. I launched the venture with some money I got from a real estate sale—planning a big party at Grand Hotel, with a dance band and scenes from plays we might be doing in our first season.

Jubilee Fish Theatre ran for about seven years, and then I decided to retire. The trouble with doing work you love is that you never get a day off—and I still was pouring my own money into the theatre. So after seven seasons I pulled the trigger and shut it down.

I had some free time at last, and had long before vowed if I ever did have time on my hands I’d start reading all the great books I’d missed in my life. I had quite a backlog, and wanted to give the classics a shot—so I started with Don Quixote. It was a tough slog, but I knew if I were to make good on my lifelong promise to myself, I must finish it.

I found much delightful in this heavy, deep tome, and many surprises. The characters leapt off the dusty pages and embraced me. I absolutely fell for Sancho Panza, the well-intentioned sidekick who was promised his own island when the Don found his fortune, but instead his adventures tended to involve such activities as being tossed in a blanket in a scruffy inn in the middle of nowhere—a humiliation that would haunt him forever. As I read, I discovered the Don to be not a noble seeker of truth so much as a violent old loon, tilting at windmills because of his illusion that they were monsters. I learned much from reading this book from beginning to end, and one of the things I learned was that most people haven’t read it. I try not to call their attention to that when discussing the book with them.

My sister, an avid and omniverous reader of the classics, suggested I go to Great Expectations next. She said early in life she had been advised to read the best works of a great writer first, and then you’ll be hooked and read his or her whole oeuvre. I loved Great Expectations, but aside from A Christmas Carol, I haven’t read more of Dickens.

I went forward to Edith Wharton. I bought a wonderful collection of her stories, introduced exquisitely by Gore Vidal. In his ruminations about the redoubtable Mrs. Wharton, he wrote, “I can only say that I envy anyone reading for the first time The Age of Innocence…” and I felt he wrote those words for me. Imagine--being envied by Gore Vidal. I was transfixed by The Age of Innocence, and the “Old New York” stories. The only one I didn’t read was Ethan Frome, the one required high school book that is outside the main drift of Wharton anyway. I still may get to it. I do know the story; I’ve seen dramatizations.

I will say here that one of the advantages to reading at advanced age is that so many people read so much when they are far too young to understand it. The American educational system operates on the misguided notion that the quantity of books one reads is an indication of one’s intelligence. I can see no reason, for example, to force The Catcher in the Rye on pre-teenagers, as is done in so many schools nowadays. It is a book about an adolescent identity crisis and can only be grasped by those who have that behind them. When I was in college, this book was presented as a radical alternative selection by an English teacher, and he was much maligned by his superiors for introducing it to us innocents in those days. Where my friends and I devoured it, I cannot imagine that even a few years earlier it would have made any sense to us at all.

What of all the book clubs? They proliferate in my town. There are literally dozens of them, some theme-based, some eclectic—but they did not approach reading the way that I wanted to at that point. I had lost time to make up, and except for an occasional diversion, I was not going to be sidetracked into reading something as a social activity. I think the book clubs are wonderful, but never really wanted to be part of one. East of Eden was a compelling book that I picked up after hearing that it was on Oprah’s Book Club list. I felt that it qualified as something of a classic because of its author, John Steinbeck. It is an excellent read, thoroughly worthy of anybody's reading list, and I was glad to have found it.

After reading, I got into writing more. I discovered the Internet and put up a couple of blogs. I published a couple of books. I relocated and redirected my energies.

Now I’m past the first phase of retirement reading. Not that I read everything I wanted to, or everything I should have, during that time. I’m not settled into my new digs yet, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll read next. There is a wealth of literature calling me. And a wealth of friends urging me to write something more profound, more challenging, more universal. Something that might make me rich and famous. That is not my goal—I’m retired from all that. I never stopped reading, but I put the classics on hold. Now I’m beginning to hear them calling me again.

Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorite books.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good Old Biggie's

Looking south from my new condo on Madison Street you can see the local landmark. Whenever I mention my new address to a Hoboken b-n-r, he/she lights up and says, "Biggie's!"

Biggies grew from a pushcart in the mid-1940's to a full-fledged diner today, featuring great, sloppy sandwiches, raw and fried clams, hamburgers, and for a few diehards, real Italian comfort food.I had lunch at Biggie's Tuesday with a couple of Hoboken b-n-r's, (that means, "born and raised in Hoboken" to you who are not in the know). We saw a nice older man--meaning older than us, which is indeed pretty old--eating something like greens out of a bowl. Carolyn's husband Rich said, "That man over there is eating something you'd love," to his wife. When Brother, the son of Biggie, and now the heir apparent to the title of "Biggie," came by our table, we asked what the man was eating. "Brocolli rabe," he said. "We make it with sausage."

I sighed that I had done the predictable by ordering fried clams. The others at the table had done the more Hoboken thing and ordered "Italian hot dogs," which are sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers--and a sausage-and-pepper sandwich, which is just a little different.

Today I had a phone call from Connie, who was one who had ordered a hot dog yesterday. I told her I was going to try the brocolli rabe the next time. I have never been a fan of brocolli rabe--I find it bitter--and Connie said, "I always add fresh lemon juice. If you don't do that it will be bitter."

This triggered a long conversation about how Italians cook vegetables, the dependency on fresh lemon juice for vegetables (I have to have lemon juice on my spinach), and other food notes. She said she adds olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to everything from cauliflower to escarole. I realized I had been missing this offhand swapping of recipes and kitchen ideas.

I'm looking to meet others who love to talk about food and cooking. If you live in Hoboken and have ideas on the subject, get in touch with me. I'll cook up a little something for us someday soon.

I posted an original version of the above on my food blog yesterday, and got some interesting cooking tips in a comment from Dennis Maloney. Check it out, and let me know if you know of a cooking class or club in Hoboken, or if you just like to talk food and cooking.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mind-Blowing Movie Moments

I had in mind writing a blog post about those unforgettable little moments in movies--looks in the eyes of the actors, inflections that changed the meanings, as when Humphrey Bogart says, "Here's looking at you, kid," in Casablanca, instead of the way the remark is usually said, before downing a shot of some strong drink, "Here's lookin' atcha,"--little unforgettable glitches in big unforgettable movies.

I posted on my "status" on Facebook for suggestions of movies that had unforgettable moments. What I got were comments of a wide range of sometimes life-altering scenes that my readers wanted recorded.

This, from Jonathan Odell: "There is a scene in Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet in 1968 when there is a nude shot of Romeo's backside. I remember thinking for the first time in my life, "Oh, my God, I'm gay!"

I'll have to counter that with the dance scene from Picnic that Bobby Slezak (and Dennis Maloney) saw ten years earlier, confirming the opposite to their adolescent hormones. Slezak has sent it to me on YouTube but I still don't get it. Love the music but the heavy-handed clap-dance, and the dance itself just doesn't move me the way the kiss on the beach in From Here To Eternity did. To Slezak the beach scene only reminded him that that damn sand gets in everything.

Back to scenes that do work. Jo Ann Breland Lord loved the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy stepped out of the dull little sepia-toned house into the Technicolor world of Oz. Steve McCants will never forget Harry Dean Stanton singing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" in Cool Hand Luke. Lissane Lake suggested this from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: "Can I move? I'm better when I move." (I don't recall that one at all.) Ronald Hill offered this, "My major lasting memory was seeing Fantasia when I was 5 or 6 and going home and drawing animated scenes on big sheets of kraft paper. The impact of the creative work of that movie still resounds today. So many modern artists were inspired by the concepts in Fantasia."

I originally had in mind moments like these: "I can eat 50 eggs," from Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Or young Jack Lemmon, the hapless employee in The Apartment being persuaded by his boss (Fred MacMurray) to let him join the other executives using his apartment for daytime sexual assignations, "Four bad apples, five--"

Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?

Doris Day, Young at Heart, after a kiss on the cheek from Frank Sinatra: “Kinda weak for a week’s thought, wasn’t it?”

Marilyn Monroe, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, viewing her stateroom on an ocean liner: “It’s just like a real room, isn’t it?”

Diane Keaton, in her adorable, impeccably sloppy Ralph Lauren wardrobe in Annie Hall, “La di dah, la di dah”

James Dean, Giant: “My well come in big, Bick…I’m rich. I’m a rich ‘un.”

Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront: “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley..”

And unforgettable movie endings: Joe E. Brown, in Some Like It Hot, "Nobody's perfect." Or Brandon de Wilde, at seeing his hero ride away in the movie, Shane, "Come back, Shane!"

And Henry Fonda, in Grapes of Wrath, “I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.”

Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Bette Davis, Now Voyager: “Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

This one also suggested to me by Steve McCants, from The Searchers: John Wayne deposits Natalie Wood on the doorstep, with no words but the music of “Ride Away” sung in the background. The picture, framed by the farmstead doorway and bookending the film with the shot from the opening of the movie, constitutes one of the best endings ever.

I'm sure you have more ideas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Ya Gotta See

I've got most of my stuff put away (now if I can only remember where!), and just had to start taking pictures! I know it's cluttered still, but it's my clutter and the apartment will probably never be much cleaner.Here's what you see as soon as you walk in the door. No, that's not two identical lamps, there is a mirror there, see? Some of you will recognize that lamp which has followed me from Lower Alabama.And here's a good look at the kitchen now that most of the dishes, pots and pans and tchotchkes have been put away.Found a place for the good old Pottery Barn white buffet, in the kitchen this time, and the little primitive Jim Adshead and I bought in Switzerland. Did I say I put all the tchotchkes away? Well, a few belong out in the open.Long as I've been eschewing granite countertops (don't say it--"hard on the teeth!") and dual-fuel ranges, now I've got 'em both. They came with the apartment. Getting used to it--setting china down v-e-r-y carefully, and it is fun to have those extra BTU's on the cooktop!That oversized sectional turns my undersized living room into a conversation pit, and my artwork turns it into a gallery. But I think I like it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mom and Pop and a Dream of Sharks

Robert Spector, a friend of mine from an earlier incarnation as a reporter for the now-defunct Daily News Record, has a new book out called The Mom and Pop Store/How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving. Robert, in a way, is a product of such a store (you might say he's a son of mom-and-pop), and he has a successful career as a retail consultant and motivational speaker. His other books include The Nordstrom Way and Category Killers.

Through the blog post linked above, I reconnected with Robert, who has a website with video excerpts from some of his talks to retailers. In these, he is revealed as articulate and charming, and somewhat in love with the retail business itself, if done right. He excels in pinpointing the features that mark the difference between success and failure in the business; it is his contention that one of the hallmarks of a good retail business plan is a sincere commitment to customer service. In other words, something like the way it works in a small, old-fashioned mom-and-pop store.

His new book is more than a guide for retailers. It is a memoir, a trip across the country examining with affection the workings of a slew of independent neighborhood shops. I'm only on page 25, and I find myself marvelling at his ability to transport the reader to the atmosphere of the little homegrown store, not unlike the many stores we set foot in many times a day in Hoboken.

Karen Long, writing in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, seemed to enjoy the book while criticizing it for not giving details on why such stores survive or telling retailers how they can make this knowledge of success work for them. To me, it was as plain as the nose on Robert's face, and permeates his attitude toward retailing: Caring about your customers and working hard pays off in the long and short run. In mom-and-pop stores, (as well as in Nordstrom's) America has a perfect example of the best in retail philosophy. And his book is a good read even if the running of a store is not your main focus in life.

Robert had a booksigning in New York the day before I moved. I hadn't seen him in 30-odd years, and I was interested in getting a look at his book and handing him a copy of my own, so I dropped what I was doing, which as you well know by now was packing, and took the PATH train to 23rd St. to the elegant gift store on the second floor of the New London Pharmacy, which is one of the stores mentioned in the book. There was Robert, after all these years, resplendent as the only man in the room in a bright red shirt, greeting old friends from high school, his family, Michael Brummer from Hobby's Delicatessen in Newark (an establishment mentioned in the book)--with a #5 sandwich in a brown paper bag--and about a hundred other people, eager to greet him and get a copy or two of the book.

It was Jewish old-home week, with visitors talking about their test scores in high school and how proud they were of Robert. I spent some time discussing grandchildren with a very pretty high school friend of his who is about to have her first.

After the booksigning I came home and packed a little more. Then I watched a new show called "Shark Tank" on tv, which has nothing to do with Jaws, but is a so-called “reality” show about entrepreneurs who ask multimillionaires for funds to take their goofy businesses to the next level. I got rather engrossed in the kind of schemes that get funded and the remarks by the gazillionaires, etc. If any of the supplicants has a winning idea, the gazillionaire indicates his approval by saying, "I'm in!"

I give the show another month or two but doubt it will have a full season, but I was intrigued with it on that particular night.

Then I went to sleep and dreamed that I was one of the gazillionaires and Robert and a few of my favorite other Jewish friends were supplicating us rich guys for funds to establish a Jewish theme park. They were all so nice and happy, and as a gazillionaire I felt strongly that they had a great business idea. I said, “I’ve never heard of a Jewish theme park before—I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’m in!” and they all hugged and laughed and rejoiced.

I emailed Robert about the dream and he said it would make a good short story. The whole adventure is a good short story, or at least a good long blog post. Now that you've reached the end, I hope you're interested in checking out the book. I've written a review of it on

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lovin' the Mess

It's a work in progress, an unholy mess, but as time goes by I'm beginning to like it.

I thought my state-of-the-art kitchen deserved a classy new coffeemaker. It came with its own coffee. The selection of about 20 premeasured cuplets only included with the apparatues only held one that seemed like it might taste like coffee (the others were "hazelnut" and "melange Nantucket"). Unfortunately it was weak and tasteless. This needs work.The livingroom is overcrowded with oversized pieces and needs a mastermind to rethink my first plan. At least the tv works. A gerry-rigged temporary solution to the privacy and streetlight problem in the bedroom.But there is already an inviting place to sleep and dream of when it will all be neat and beautiful. I'm always happy to climb in.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Getting Myself Together

This isn't going to be easy. How do I let you know my mental state without belaboring the obvious or sounding like a whiner? How do I post one more time about moving from one location to another and make it interesting to someone who hasn't moved in 30 years and has no intention of doing so? I'll just forge ahead.

I am now relocated to a tiny space in what I shall refer to as the Lower West Side of Hoboken, decidedly, even by Old Hoboken standards (which refer to downtown as West rather than the more logical South), downtown. In a way you could call it Old Town, but it is not the oldest section of town. More on that in a minute.

I want to dwell on the word tiny for a moment. Technically, this isn't much smaller than my most recent former apartment. True, I lost a little space in the livingroom when a closet was added for a washer-dryer which I don't yet have. I moved to Hoboken from a medium-sized house (about 2,000 square feet) in Lower Alabama. My first abode here was a rental on the third floor of a row house on Hudson Street, really the old and elegant section of Hoboken. There was a lot I loved about that place--spacious rooms, lots of light, a view of the sunset over Jersey City from the kitchen, and over 800 sq. ft. of space with an unusual amount of big closets. However, there was no laundry facility in the building, the stairs were steep, shaky, and winding, and it was a real drag getting to and from the nearest wee washee. The kitchen was inadequate and the bathroom just barely had floor space to set foot in. I lived there almost a year and moved to a better space, this time on the fourth floor (even higher! but that's Hoboken), in a converted tenement on Willow Ave. It was well designed and had huge built-in bookcases and lots of cabinets to tuck away my many cartons full of stuff from my former life. There was a laundry room in the basement. However, within a year I just couldn't take that hike up the stairs three or four times a day. I yearned to buy a place, and I had money from the house I'd sold.

I decided on this place fast. It's overpriced, but full of charm and very well updated. It is about the same size as the Willow Street place, but there is little to no storage. The neighborhood is like a whole different town, and I just love exploring different towns. I made the commitment; I made my offer, put down my money, and closed the deal on Monday. Yesterday I moved in.

Now here I sit, facing reality. I must get rid of some furniture and books. I must get to work unpacking and making decisions. I must not let the daunting task(s) throw me at this point; I haven't even had breakfast yet. I left food in the refrigerator at the other place--I have none here. Last night I drank a split of champagne and thought about it, and fell asleep at 9:30. My alarm went off by mistake at midnight and that shook me up, not rested, and in a strange place full of unpacked carton and bulging with furniture. I'm on the ground floor--a big thrill, but you do hear some street noises in the night, including garbage trucks.

A week ago I was ecstatic about the move. Today is my comeuppance; my day of reckoning. In a month I'll be settled and the place will look as good to me as it did empty (better, in fact, as it will be gleaming with my favorite things). But give me time. I ain't there yet. I ain't even here yet.

Friday, September 11, 2009

One Who Moves

Word from the lawyer is that the closing on my condo will take place Monday. Word from the mover is that he can get the guys here to haul my stuff to the new place Wednesday. In the meantime, here I go again, getting ready for a move.

That's my apartment on the bottom floor, with the window on the street. It's in a neighborhood that is like being in another small town--friendly, full of color, history and character and a mood all its own. Hoboken, it seems, is many small towns in one.

There are people who are content to stay put, and people who move. I'm in the latter category. I lived in Manhattan for some 14 years twenty years ago and during that time I lived in five apartments. Then I lived in Geneva for six years--in the same apartment--and moved back and lived in Wilmington, (two apartments in three years) then back to New York for a couple of years (two apartments) and then I retired home to Alabama for 18 years during which I lived in six different abodes. There was a legitimate (in my mind) reason for each and every move, and I can remember loving almost every place I lived.

I keep saying, "This is the last home I'll have before Assisted Living," but I keep moving to the next one and saying that again. This time, I've bought a condo and I really mean it--but then I always really mean it. I know I love Hoboken, and feel sure that I can be comfortable in the new nabe. It's a few blocks from the house in which Hoboken's most famous son--I hesitate to say "favorite"--Frank Sinatra, was born. My apartment is just two doors away from a local hangout famous for clams, and the fragrance of frying food is never far away. Around the corner is a chocolate shop and a cozy little restaurant or two. I'm close to the Light Rail train and a nice brisk hike from the PATH trains to NYC. My friend Cristina lives just blocks away in a classy new high-rise. I'm on the ground floor and will have access to the back yard and will probably put some chairs out at the front gate where I can watch the passers-by. Maybe some lions, like over on Hudson Street, and a couple of big potted plants or flower boxes.

In the meantime, comes moving day. I can't keep nattering on here; I've got to get packed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Socially Networking

A few months ago I began getting emails, "Laura Quackenbush wants you to be her friend on Facebook," and more of the same. I didn't know what it meant. These were coming from people I hardly knew and from what I knew of Facebook, I didn't wanna do it.

Then Googling a friend I'd lost track of, the only mention of her was that she was on Facebook. I enrolled; contacted her; we exchanged email addresses, and I seldom checked out Facebook at all. I built a list of 12 friends. It seemed that all they did was take quizzes about their "actual age," and what heroine of a Victorian novel they "were." Once in a while somebody sent me a virtual bouquet of flowers or a drink. I didn't get it. I took the quiz, "What punctuation mark are you?" even though I knew what the answer was gonna be. And it was. I'm a semicolon.

Over time I began to visit other people's pages and a whole vista opened up to me. A guy I know had posted some of his beautiful photographs of his children rollicking with Mobile Bay in the background. I saw the comments from his friends and got a picture of the tapestry of his whole life. I saw that he had 50 friends on Facebook. Then I decided to look up some people I hadn't seen in 30 years and see if they were on Facebook too. Some were. I added them to my friends list. I began getting clever posts every day. It was like a blog, but briefer and some of the comments compelled me to "befriend" the people making the comments. My friends list expanded. My Facebook experience took on a life of its own. A minor addiction was taking hold.

I've noticed that people come and go on Facebook. For a time there will be a blizzard of comments and "status" statements, then they fade away. It's a game of which one grows tired. I haven't yet. I'm there about ten times a day, checking to see if anyone has posted something I should know about. It's like an overview of people you've known at different points in your life. It's fun, it's user-friendly, and it seems to me a perfect game for a retiree with time on his or her hands. Like me.

My grandson Andy, who'll be 12 in a couple of weeks, takes all the quizzes. One he set up and sent to me was "How Well Do You Know Andy?" and he had all kinds of questions about who his favorite soccer players were, etc. His message to me was, "If you miss any of these, I'll kill you." I wrote back that he shouldn't kill me, after all, I'm his grandmother. I missed most of them, but it was an unfair test. I know Andy pretty well. Social networks can only go so far.

On balance, I'm still in the claws of Facebook. In a few months my interest will probably fade as everyone else's does, but I recommend it as a experiment if you're looking for something to do. It will give you little insights into the lives and thinking of people you have known and loved for years, as well as those you didn't know so much.

Twitter is a different story. I'm on it too, and I tweet there some five or six times a day. I still don't have the key, though; I can't imagine what it's for or what I'm getting from it. It's just part of my OCD, I guess, gotta hang in there--maybe it'll mean something someday. It's social networking, after all. Who I'm networking with, besides a few friends from the blog and total strangers who are reading my tweets for no reason I can discern, I admit I don't know. Maybe I'm famous (to some 40 people who have no idea who I am). Twitter tells me I have followers. Maybe I'm a guru. Or maybe I'm just tweeting in the wind.

A blog is better than either of these, but both of them are way easier.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

You Young People

That's a little hard for me to say because it required admitting that young people are "others" and I am, to put it humorously, a geezer. I bemoan that a generation is already grown up that doesn't remember what a phone booth was, or know what it was like to live in a house without a television set, or expected to share the family car which was not new.
I saw a movie on Turner Classics that was released in 1942, with a spirited if somewhat psycho Bette Davis in it, ranting about, causing trouble for everybody. In This Our Life turned out to be an engrossing saga of two sisters named Stanley and Roy. Maybe they were crazy because their parents gave them boys' names and they never felt quite right about it. Anyway, Bette was really the off-the-wall one; Roy was played by the elegant Olivia de Havilland, who had to tolerate the whims of Stanley way beyond the natural call of sisterhood--starting from the beginning of the movie when Stanley decided to run off with Roy's husband (Dennis Morgan) and leave her own fiancé (George Brent) in the lurch.

Bette was pitch-perfect in the role of a headstrong sociopath who teased, cajoled, or charmed exactly what she wanted away from whoever had it, and never looked back. When she did look back, it seemed to her that people were always blaming her in a way she couldn't understand.

Somewhere early in the movie somebody (I think it was the delightful old rich uncle Charles Coburn, who adores Stanley) says, "Well, that's just the way modern young people are--they think they deserve whatever they want, and they just take it."

When I heard the line, I was struck that it was written in the early 1940's. Quite likely it was in the Pulitzer-prize-winning book by Ellen Glasgow from which the movie was taken. The movie presents an interesting transition time in history, with a civil rights side story, and a very complex network of human relations. Certainly it was not the first time somebody attributed all the coming ills of life on the younger generation, nor the last. That it was as blatantly easy in 1942 to see that things were changing as it was in the 1960's or it is today is not surprising. Around the turn of the 19th century, the many inventions and the alarming new music dubbed "ragtime" had the geezers wringing their hands.

It's one of the advantages of getting old--you can absent yourself from the middle of things and let a different generation take the heat.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Festa of the Year

The beautiful Madonna Dei Martiri is the centerpiece of Hoboken's biggest, most Italian festival every year in September. She is housed at the charming church of St. Francis, 380 Jefferson Street, and on Saturday of the four-day celebration she is covered with gold and brought out the door of the church in a tradition borrowed from an 800-year old one in Italy. Schoolgirls in white precede her, and the weighty statue
is carried through the streets by some very strong and dedicated men of the church, to be put on a barge at Pier 1 in Hoboken. The festa begins September 10 and the procession takes place on September 12.

In the meantime, music and food from Hoboken's many purveyors, not all Italian, but most--including cannoli, sausage and peppers, pizza, (and contests for eating all kinds of food), will be offered on Sinatra Drive beginning September 10.

I'm hesitant to print a schedule, mostly because I don't really understand the one in front of me (Where do these events take place? What time? Somebody please tell the Italians to make these things clear if they want the rest of us to attend!)

I have no doubt my readers will set me straight in plenty of time for the event. I went last year and it was beautiful. I have no doubt it will be again--and again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Open Letter to Barbara Walters

I've just finished reading your autobiography, Audition. I know, it's been out there a couple of years, but now I've gotten around to it and can only tell you I admire the book and its author more than you can know.It's hard to imagine what it's like to have become an institution in one's own lifetime, but with your adventures and your ability to distill them for us, there's really almost no other way I can look at you.

I am of an age which placed me in a position to watch your early days first hand ("Live!") on the Today show, when you may have been green but I was way greener. I observed the world as it changed around us while you were in the middle. Through you I got to hear a lot of people say things they probably wished they could take back a minute later, and they said those things to you. Then you went forward to others who jumped through hoops for you and may have regretted it. Your relentless questions revealed the reality of many a bogus blowhard and yet you never intruded your own opinions even when you might have wanted to. In Audition, you take us backstage a little, to some of the history you witnessed and even made just by being on the scene--always keeping it chatty, personal, and interesting.

It must be hard for young people to comprehend how difficult it was to do what you did because you were a woman. Men owned the power jobs; and they fought like hell to keep it that way even when you were closing in on them. Some of that atmosphere comes through in your honest telling of the stories you covered, although you never whine. Indeed, your rise coincided with the Women's Movement though you didn't overtly align yourself with it. You simply achieved, in spite of all the odds against you, and the Movement itself benefited from the need for network news to have at least one token female in the high echelons. You were superb at what you did, and your book is a fascinating retelling of many tales along the way.

Dear Ms. Walters, you candidly tell of what it is like to be Barbara Walters, of the forces that helped create you and the childhood insecurities that still push you to keep ahead of the game. With a fabled entrepreneurial father who was mostly absent and always less than available to you--engaged as he was on the up-and-down rollercoaster of nightclub show business--you grew up resilient but always fearful that the splendid job you had might not be there tomorrow. Your mother spent her life preoccupied with your learning-disabled sister.

So you chose television, and the very insecurity of the field may have been the spur you needed. You got the big interviews, bigger as your career moved forward, and nobody knew how hard some of the men in the business made it or how complicated your personal life was. Now, with Audition, we have some idea. Reading it is like getting an aisle seat to history and getting to know a classy woman who knows what to tell and how to tell it.

I'm inspired by your life and pleased with your book. I hope you continue to prosper (I hate to mention you've got a milestone birthday coming up), and that you'll continue to share your experiences so openly both in print and on the broadcast media!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hearing Hoboken

I’ve never mentioned this, but people in Hoboken share a certain kind of voice. Women and men, maybe children too. The main characteristic of this is that they talk louder than other people. Oh, yes, they have a distinctive accent—similar to Jersey City and even Brooklyn. But they all seem to assume that the rest of the world is hard of hearing. Even in ordinary conversation, their voices carry across the room. Sometimes I think they should all go on the stage.

When you do an accent for the theatre, you begin with voice placement. The Hoboken voice is husky, coming from the throat,
rather than the head or chest. The t’s and d’s are spoken in the front of the mouth, hissing through the teeth. “Th,” of course, is pronouced like a “d” in any other dialect (dis for this). I met a really nice Hoboken native a couple of weeks ago, a lady who runs a long-standing chocolate shop in the old Italian section of town, which will be my new neighborhood. The voice was a bellow—deep as a man’s, and very loud. Otherwise, she was an attractive, nice lady. Something about that booming voice was very endearing.

Yesterday I was in the Garden Wine and Liquor Store, which is not on Garden but rather one block over on Park. I had been told to drop by there months ago by Slezak, a regular reader and commenter here. He told me the people who run Garden Liquor know him from the old days and they are great people. I’ve been meaning to check it out, but didn’t get around to it until yesterday, because I was passing by, and know that liquor stores usually are very generous with cartons when you are planning to move. It is a small store, but astonishingly well stocked with wines and every conceivable kind of liquor. A fat old dog lay on the floor and observed me, but the man behind the counter ducked out as soon as I came in, leaving me to browse and await his return. The dog regarded me suspiciously, apparently checking that I didn’t leave with anything valuable.

When the man behind the counter returned, he proceeded to ring up my order, a bottle of pinot grigio. He asked if he could do anything else for me.

I engaged him in a conversation, and his loud voice blew me away. It was okay, I’ve lived in Hoboken for a year and a half now, and this vocal volume is his badge of authenticity. I almost said, “Do you think I’m deaf?” but of course I didn’t. I must say this about him also—he was very virile, attractive, oh, hell, I admit it. He was sexy, with graying hair and brown, Italian-looking eyes. And the voice didn’t hurt a bit. Such reactions crop up, even at my age. Don’t you dare laugh. But I was on a quest here, so forget I said that.

What I wanted to know was if the store occasionally had cartons to give to people who are moving. We had a good chat about that—with him telling me some days they had a hundred, some days, not so much. Then he said this wonderful Hoboken thing.

“Why don’t you place a delivery order and ask for extra cartons?”

“A big order, you mean.”

“No, whatever you want. A bottle of wine, whatever. Just tell us you want a few extra cartons. Then you don’t have to carry them all the way home.”

I love the Garden Wine and Liquor Store. You should check the reviews. You’ll find a heap of comments from satisfied customers, with nobody mentioning the voice or accent of the owner.

I’m going to go by personally and pick up cartons from now until I move. I may have some wine delivered too. I’m sure the delivery boy is the grandson of the man behind the counter. What do you bet he’s got that Hoboken voice too?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life Is a Yard Sale

Okay, maybe life isn't a yard sale, but I liked the sound of that when I posted on my other blog Finding Fair Hope in March of 2007. This was originally written from the vantage point of southern Alabama, when I was reorganizing my stuff and learning to edit the detritus that I had accumulated over the years. We don't call them "yard sales" at all in Hoboken, we call them gate sales, as they are held in front of the house, on the sidewalk, at the gate.

I've been thinking about doing a gate sale since the meat grinder incident of a couple of weeks ago, but I don't think I'll get around to it since I'm probably moving before the end of next week.

This is what I posted two years ago:

I just organized a nice big yard sale yesterday and sold about $200 worth of stuff I needed to get rid of, including three chairs, some pots and pans, and lots of old dishes. The leftovers are sitting on my front porch waiting for me to take them off to the Thrift Shop as a donation.

Sometimes you just look at your stuff and you say, "Why?" which may be one of the ways life is a yard sale. Somebody gave you something you didn't really love, but your love for the giver caused you to hold on to the object. Years went by and the giver went out of your life but the object stayed. For a while it was nice to have a reminder..."I'll never forget that afternoon when you gave me this little teapot," or, "That costume jewelry was my mother's," or "I'm glad that bastard is out of my life, but at least I still have this wine-bottle-holder." In time the memory fades, or perhaps sours, and the object becomes just one more item in a carton of unused stuff in the garage. When yard sale time comes, the whole box goes on the market.

Some items remain in the storage locker of your life, no matter how many yard sales you have. You take them out every time and decide you're not ready to cut them out. But eventually almost every little thing has to go.

My sister and I have the big one to plan when we finally clean out our mother's house for the last time. Do we keep the rose plates our grandmother treasured, even though we never even knew our grandmother? Already we've begun dividing the mementos Mama always called "family pieces." Some of them we actually want to hold onto. Some are almost a guilt trip. For the final analysis we'll call in a professional estate planner who will tell us if any of the things is really worth anything, and then we'll decide which to keep and which to part with.

When the yard sale is in progress, buyers always haggle to get your prices down, and you have to be prepared for that. They always begin to show up at least two hours before the appointed time of the sale, to get you off guard and possibly to get the price lowered for the best items. We learned yesterday not to allow any early viewers; you must have time to put a sale plan into action. And when somebody makes an offer of a dollar for something you have put at $10 tag on, it's useless to say, "But I paid $50 for that!" Either go down to eight, or forget it. It doesn't matter how much you originally paid for anything. After the sale, it's going to the thrift shop or to the dump anyway.

After a little practice, giving a yard sale gets to be fun, like life. Know what to expect, get over your sentimental attachments, and put your stuff out on a table. Then see what happens.