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.