Sunday, November 25, 2012

Leaving Myself in Hoboken

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

High Water in Hoboken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Goodbye to Hoboken and All That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Movie Jag

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Book Is Launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     Michele Feltman Strider, Author Homecoming, Hometown

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

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Way We Thought We Were

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Amelia of Hoboken

That Was Tomorrow, a first novel that has begun life as an e-book and may eventually be published under my own imprint, has a Hoboken history and is not autobiographical but does deal with some situations that have happened in my own life. 

I began the book in Hoboken, where my leading character was born. I would take young Amelia King through a privileged childhood with a nanny from hell, a repressed woman with so many hangups that little Amelia’s only refuge was in a game that involved torturing her teddy bear in order to save him.

Amelia was born in the late 1890s into what was known in Hoboken as the upper crust—the moneyed families who inhabited the mansions of Castle Terrace and Hudson Street. I gave her a sympathetic grandfather who happened to run a prosperous business, a dry goods store on Washington Street, and a father who was a doctor with alcohol and drinking problems. Her mother was the daughter of the hardworking Irish couple--the eldest, prettiest daughter, somewhat inhibited and socially insecure. This backstory became a bit convoluted as I had a beloved aunt rescue Amelia from the cold-hearted mother and the evil nanny and take her to live with her family of four boisterous children in Philadelphia. Amelia was enrolled with her cousins in progressive Quaker school, and she decided early on that she wanted to be a schoolteacher herself.

I sent Amelia off to Mt. Holyoke, which is where the model for this character, Grace Rotzel, actually did matriculate. I kept almost nothing of Miss Rotzel’s character in my creation of Amelia, as I knew so little of what she was like. I didn't think about it, but through this character I was able to work out some of the problems of my own young womanhood and make this one work better than mine had. Amelia was to become, by her own choice, a “new woman” of the 20th century and carve out a life for herself outside Hoboken, starting with a trip to the utopian community of Fairhope, Alabama, to study with the visionary educator Marietta Johnson. Like Grace Rotzel, she would spend most of the 1920s in Fairhope, working under Mrs. Johnson, and ultimately leave it to start a similar school in Rose Valley, PA. 

One Hoboken chapter takes Amelia on a walk from the train terminal to her family home on Hudson Street to announce to her parents her decision to move to a faraway community to study the new approach to education among a community of reformers. In my own life the parallel was a discussion between me and my father, many decades after Amelia's awakening, about my wish to become an actress and drop out of college to go to acting school. By the time I came to the last draft of That Was Tomorrow, the chapter of the father's alcoholic rehabilitation was no longer in the novel. My father was hardly the model for Dr. King, but the scene certainly took me back to the moments gathering the strength to tell him of my plans. (In my own case, Daddy suggested I live at home and save money for the school myself, and I did just that, working as a copy girl at the Mobile Press Register for almost a year. I didn't go to the American Academy of Dramatic Art after all; at the end of the year I chose to get married instead.)

Most of the Hoboken stories had to be omitted to focus the book on Amelia herself and the life she creates. The kindly grandfather who left Amelia enough money to allow her to pursue her dream of teaching school in the remote, earth-changing village, is reduced to a few mentions. Descriptions of early Hoboken were edited out, some of them fanciful anyway (I had created a singing shoeshine boy hanging around the terminal, based on stories of the revered Italian singer Jimmy Roselli who actually lived in Hoboken a generation later; I reluctantly cut this character out of my novel for space.) There is affection for old Hoboken in my narrative, even though I never experienced it. Every step I take in Hoboken informs me and sends me into a reverie about the history of the city, and I hope That Was Tomorrow has enough of Hoboken in it to be of interest to those who live or visit here now. The e-book is available on amazon or from my website at E-books are the wave of the future, and you don't even need an ereader. They can be downloaded right onto your computer.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dinner With Margaret

Margaret called me a few days ago--a voice from the past. I was embarrassed that I hadn't gotten in touch with her since my move. At that point I'd expected to be seeing a lot of her, and no doubt I would have if I had just informed her that I had moved to Hoboken.

I knew her in college, oh those many years ago, and got in touch with her when I was househunting and had all but decided on Hoboken. I remember asking her if people in Manhattan were still as reluctant to venture off the island and see their friends in New Jersey as they were when I lived in the city in the 1960s and 70s. She assured me that there were plenty of people in the city who went off the island all the time. Luckily, she was partly right about that. On the other hand, I still find some resistance when I try to pull those entrenched New Yorkers out of their nests. Some don't  even venture out of their neighborhood (say, the Starbuck's at W. 92nd St.) very often at all.

But I was remiss in ignoring Margaret. I had a good long natter with her about living in New York when we had dinner in 2007. We talked about our college days and about Jerry Newell, our mutual friend from the art department, a unique and extremely entertaining person who lived larger than life and who left us in death some ten years before. Margaret was on the periphery of my life in those days, but was very close to Jerry and we both missed her terribly.

I remember when an upperclassman commented about Margaret that she had the face of a Modigliani, hence the reproduction here. She had a long, strangely beautiful face, glorious, flowing, honeycolored hair, and a tendency to be in the background, observing everything. She was very scholarly and made perfect grades. She could whip out a Dorothy Parker epigram when she felt it was needed, and, like me, she was fascinated by Jerry's wit and boldness.

It was Jerry we had in common. Maybe that was why I hadn't contacted her; the association was and is still a little painful. But Margaret received the alumni bulletin that had my name and phone number, and she called to see if I'd like to join her in an art opening Thursday. I realized I could and that I wanted to, so I met her at the gallery on 21st Street and 11th Avenue and we went to dinner afterwards. She suggested a nice restaurant on 10th just off 23rd, which had good food but was noisy and crowded as New York restaurants tend to be these days. It wouldn't bother me except that such places require screaming, especially if your companion is 70 or older, may have some hearing impairment, and you have a lot to talk about.

What we talked about, mostly, was our college days and the people we remembered. I went to that school for only one year; Margaret had stayed on and graduated, so she had acquired a larger following, which included many faculty members. She reeled off names of some of the people she had kept contact with, including my old English 101 teacher, Walter Coppedge. She had spoken to him on the phone recently.

"You ought to get in touch with him," Margaret said above the din of shrieking 30somethings accustomed to eating in the midst of clamor and chaos. Mr. Coppedge was one of those people who ignited me and set me on the road to writing. I remembered his class vividly. He taught us how to read Shakespeare, drilling down on all those light/dark, moon/sun, day/night images of Romeo and Juliet, and arranging a showing of Olivier's sterling film of Henry V at what he called the "local cinema palace." Coppedge was working toward his Ph.D at Oxford and affected an overlay of a British accent on top of his Rosedale, Mississippi cadence. It worked.

My best memory of this professor, however, was when I selected as a topic for my weekly essay, "What I Really Want from Life." My friends in the dorm were more than skeptical. This was a tall order. I was sure I could do it, and sat down and whipped off a rather snappy, as I recall, three-page, handwritten on lined paper, treatise on wanting a glamorous life which included the requisite husband and 2.3 children plus the ability to be my best self at many endeavors. I remember that the prose flowed rather easily, but when I turned it in I had no thought that the essay itself would change my life.

Mr. Coppedge was a rather cynical man at that point. He knew he was meant for better things that teaching mediocre minds at an obscure little college in Alabama. He was discouraged because he hadn’t been granted his doctorate from Oxford. He was hard on us. But at the beginning of the class, he said, “Miss Timbes, will you meet with me briefly after class?” My girl friends turned their heads to look at me; I didn’t know what to expect that he’d say. Had I gone too far, reached too high?

After an anxious class, Mr. Coppedge said to me in the hall, “ I’ve been having a rather bad time since I got back here. I haven’t seen much of interest in this class. I’ve been thinking I may have made a mistake to come back to teach. I had come to dread the reading of the weekly essays. I sat in my home going through piles and piles of absolute drivel , and suddenly I came upon your theme!”  At last he took a breath and tried to think of what to say to me. 

 “You can write.”

 He handed me back the paper, with a 94 grade on it, no blue-pencil marks on the margins, and simply the comment, “Damnation! You can write!” scrawled at the bottom. At the top was an A-.

From then on, my fate was sealed. 

The day after dinner with Margaret I inscribed a copy of The Fair Hope of Heaven to Mr. Coppedge, wrote him a fan letter, and put them all in the mail to the address I found for him on the Internet. I also directed him to my website and gave him my home address and phone number. I hope he gets in touch with me. Most of all, I hope he likes my book.

And yes, I'm looking forward to many more dinners with Margaret.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Return To Hoboken

A few weeks ago I was visiting my daughter in Kingston, NY, and she told me about a cute little Craftsman-style house nearby that looked like something I'd like to live in. Once in a while, visiting her, I think maybe I would like to live a little closer. To get to her and my grandsons I have to catch a #126 bus from Hoboken to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York before I take the two-hour bus ride to Kingston. The bus from Hoboken to the city is a short ride--20 minutes tops--but sometimes I have to wait half an hour for that bus to come. Plus, it's a fifteen-minute (walking briskly) trek from my apartment to the bus stop. When the weather is bad I wonder whether it's worth it.

But Kingston? There are lots of things I like about it. It has a historical section. It has a few good restaurants. And Alison, her ex-husband, her two sons, and her current significant other are all there and they have a lot of friends. On the other hand, it's a good two hours to the city, more like 2 1/2, and it is pretty much a distant outpost. I said, surprising even myself, "I don't want to move to Kingston. New Paltz, maybe."

I've written before about the adjustment to Hoboken after having lived 20 years back in my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. I missed the Northeast and Hoboken was as close to the NYC I remembered from living there in the late 1960s through the 1970s. It has the best of New York, with easy access to the city, and the easy going vibe of a small town. An example of this happened just this morning at the A & P. When the groceries piled up I realized I didn't have the cash for it so I opened my credit card wallet to pull out my bank card and discovered it wasn't there! All the usual things ran through my mind, but first off I thought I had probably left the card in the machine at the bank when I took out cash two days ago. I couldn't picture a thief in Hoboken stealing my card, but ran through the litany of things I must do in case that happened.

I paid for my groceries with my American Express card, grabbed my heavier-than-expected plastic bags of groceries and headed toward home. As my anxiety grew I decided the best way to alleviate the situation would be to go five blocks out of my way to the bank first. On the way, I remembered the time, soon after moving to Hoboken, when I left my wallet with my credit cards on the counter at the post office on Washington Street at 8th. When I realized where it was, I hurried back and the lady behind the glass said she'd seen it, checked out my address, and put it in an envelope for the mailperson to deliver to me! I wrote a blog post about that. You bet I did. This time, I hoped that the bank was as friendly as the post office.

I went up to the window at the bank, which, luckily, was open until 3 P.M. on Saturdays. I explained the situation to the teller and she said, "Let's go have a look."

She asked my name, and when I said "Mary Lois" she said, "We have it." I guess I'm the only Mary Lois in Hoboken, and also I'm the only person who lost an ITM card two days ago, and everybody in the bank was waiting for me to miss it.

My heavy packages felt much lighter on the way home. Hoboken is a nice town in every sense of the word. And it's a town I feel at home in and am in no hurry to leave. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Band and Me

This is not going to be another obituary for Levon Helm. If you want to read such, the absolute gold standard for obituaries, chock full of stories about Levon Helm, was in the New York Times. Read it here.

This triggered my own memories of The Band, Bob Dylan, and a time in New York when I was young. No, I wasn't a folk groupie, or a Woodstock alumna, or even a starry-eyed kid waiting for Bob Dylan's next record. I was in my late 20s, an actress working at temp secretary jobs in New York. I was married to an actor, Jim Vann, and we were both Dylan fans and idealistic folk music fans. We were just a little older than Dylan's demographic, but we loved hippies and thought of them as an exotic new species on the horizon. We thought they were the hope of the world. We were almost the only people we knew who didn't smoke pot or experiment in the drug scene.

I had a temporary assignment as secretary to an executive in a little music company. This was a mainstream company, classy offices, upscale address. All I did was a little steno and typing, and it was only for a couple of weeks. It was on Madison Avenue, I believe, maybe up in the 50s. I wouldn't know the man I was working for if he walked in the door today, but I can remember this: He was related to the Gershwins, and he was trying to persuade one of the daughters to give him the rights to record some of the brothers' recently discovered music. This would have been a huge get for him as the very young head of a small New York company. He was enthusiastic to the point of obsession about the prospect of making it big in the business. When he learned a bit about my musical tastes, he told me about this great new sound, the band who used to be Bob Dylan's backup, who had rehearsed in a pink house in a remote town near Woodstock. He waved the album "Music from the Big Pink" at me, played some of it on his fabulous sound system, and after work I went out and bought the album.

The music was like nothing we'd heard before--and we had heard a lot of Bob Dylan, so we had heard some strange stuff. It was hard to think of these guys as a backup band for anybody, their sound was so unique. I'll never forget it booming at me on those huge speakers in that office. Years later my brother, who had been at the University of Alabama at the time, told me that The Band had been booked to play at one of the fraternity dances the night before the big game with Auburn. He said they blew the audience away by focusing on their job, playing their kind of music, and at the end the leader--my brother said it was "the one with the big head"--simply said,"Good night. Hope y'all win your ball game." This was a departure at the University of Alabama, where the bands know all the dances are partly football pep rallies (indeed, it might be argued that most of university life is a big football rally). It is expected that, if not playing "Stars Fell on Alabama," at least most of the night will be devoted to local chauvinism. The Band had a different agenda.

I still have one vinyl and one CD of The Band. The music doesn't sound a bit strange or revolutionary to me anymore. It was part of an era, a shred of hope against all odds, combining sounds of the past and an uncertain present with the defiant throb of the future. The era has ended. We have all moved on in spite of ourselves. The music pulls us back and slings us against the walls once more, but more gently now, as if the walls were nothing but a distant memory.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm forced to let go of old friends. It's not easy to do, and sometimes, as in a particularly well-written obituary, I'm drawn back to a place and time I had almost forgotten, and I have to do it again. Let it go; let it be. Rest in peace, Big Pink.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hoboken Taps Its Feet

The scene is a church hall in Hoboken, New Jersey, where a former Broadway dancer is instructing a modestly talented class in the art of tap dancing. Each of the class members came for a different reason, most of which we learn during the course of the evening as we watch them magically become almost good--and we are pulling for them every minute.

Hudson Theatre Ensemble's production of Stepping Out by Richard Harris warms the heart and sets toes to tapping as it takes the audience through a labyrinth of frustrated hearts and semi-broken lives, all looking for an escape through tap dancing. As is to be expected from this excellent troupe, under the direction of Laurie Brongo, the play is fun and crisply performed.

Cristina Marie plays Mavis, the catalyst as dance teacher, who is sympathetic and wise even though she is going through a crisis of her own in her real life. Marie is a dynamite actress and dancer, coaching the clumsy and talented alike. Somehow we know all along she's going to get the best out of all of them. The script is predictable although it contains many little side trips and not a few unsolved mysteries and unresolved conflicts. But never mind about that. Life is better if you dance, isn't it?

The cast is interesting and each plays his and her own story at a professional level while admitting that if life wasn't so bad outside they wouldn't be here trying to tap dance. Even the pianist is frustrated about something, although it's less clear what. Dinah Gravel plays her quite seriously, with a bit of a sarcastic edge. I would have liked to have seen her really playing the piano, but I guess that's too much to ask. She had the role nailed, even with piped in music.

Florence Pape is always a joy to watch onstage, and the audience loved her as Vera, the bossy control freak to whom tap dancing is an escapist pastime. Other characters have more serious problems, like Emma Peele whose husband beats her and who gets a powerful dramatic scene that brought the role into sharp focus. Gregory Nye played the only male in the class with a studied unease that made his inept dancing appear to be good acting. In some cases I couldn't tell--and in this show it didn't matter.

The house was packed on opening night, and the air conditioning was faulty, which was a bother. Pacing could have been picked up in the first act, but that will all be worked out by the next performance, I'm sure. Stepping Out will run Saturday at 8 P.M., Sunday at 3 P.M., and next weekend Friday and Saturday evenings and a final matinee Sunday, April 22 at 3. Hudson Theatre Ensemble perfoms at the Hudson School, 601 Park Avenue. Go--and enjoy the show!

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Un-Bucket Un-Lists

Sometimes I think I'm just plain ornery because I seem to avoid things that everybody else really wants to do. I decided to make a list of them just to show myself what a contrarian I am. This is not a bucket list of things I would like to do, it's a list of things I don't care if I never do no matter how close I come to getting the chance.

Things I had the opportunity to do but didn’t and don’t regret:

1. Visit the Eiffel Tower.

2. See a production of an Andrew Lloyd Weber show.

3. Go to Disney World.

4. Sit through a symphony.

5. Go skiing in the Alps.

6. Go to a rock concert.

These are wonderful projects, things that anybody should want to do I suppose, but for the life of me I don't really want to do any of them. Before I began to feel bad about myself I decided to make another list, a list of things I'm pleased to say I have done and have treasured memories of.

Things I have done that make me happy to think about:

1. Read all of Don Quixote.

2. Visited Stonehenge.

3. Walked through Roman ruins in Switzerland.

4. Saw Ralph Bellamy in Sunrise at Campobello, Andy Griffin in No Time for Sergeants, Jack Lemmon in Tribute, John Lithgow in M. Butterfly, Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac, Ian McKellan in Wild Honey, Jane Fonda in 33 Variations, Sutton Foster in Anything Goes, Bernadette Peters in A Little Night Music and Follies, Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking, and the original production of The Book of Mormon.

5. Heard jazz at Tivoli Gardens.

6. Chatted with Ellis Larkins at the Carnegie Tavern.

7. Had cocktails with Ralph Bellamy and his wife.

8. Watched the fireworks at the annual Fête de Genève from a friend's balcony.

9. Learned to use a computer.

10. Wrote a novel.

11. Saw JFK in person on the Senate floor.

12. Started two theatre companies.

13. Dined at Lutece, Taillevent, and Commander’s Palace (when Emeril Lagasse was chef).

14. Shook Jacqueline Kennedy’s soft hand at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

15. Visited Rome and London by myself.

16. Flew to Paris for a weekend with a lover I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

17. Interviewed two American Ambassadors to Switzerland.

18. Started three blogs.

19. Raised a beautiful daughter who is one of my favorite people in the world.

20. Created a character called "Grandmama" for two really special young men.

So it's mostly coming down on the plus side of the ledger. I'm not finished yet, not by a long shot, but as I started on the lists the good stuff kept coming to me. I can continue the lists, but let me suggest something to you, my reader: Make a list or two of your own, and share them with us on the comment page here. I'd love to hear what you've done in your life, what you've avoided doing, and which you're proudest of.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tom Pelphrey's Rainbow

I had heard there was soon to be a Broadway musical about Judy Garland. Why not, thinks I, we're so busy deifying actresses who can impersonate Marilyn Monroe and others of the era, and Judy is so accessible to the impersonator--ho hum. Little did I know.

I picked up the review (if you can pick up an Internet posting) in the New York Times this morning of End of the Rainbow and was astonished to see a review that was nothing short of a rave from Ben Brantley. This is the paper of record for the theatre, and Brantley is a respected and articulate critic.

I'm reading along, about how beautifully the play is written, how astonishing is the leading lady's (Tracie Bennett) performance, and I hit upon a familiar Hoboken name: Tom Pelphrey. He is playing Micky Deans, Garland's husband during her final slide into drug-induced, hysteria-laced darkness. Brantley says he is perfectly cast. This means he's done quite a job--going toe-to-toe with a dynamite actress playing the role of a beloved dragon--and he's made the shadowy part of an also-ran type guy into a remarkably living, memorable character.

I first heard of Tom Pelphrey when he appeared in a one-man show in Hoboken called My Italy Story. My Hoboken theatre friends were blown away by his performance. It had run for only one or two performances in Hoboken, but I made it a point to catch it when it moved to The Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village. Tom peopled the stage with characters and held the audience in the palm of his hand as he described a young Italian American's journey to the village where his family lived in the hills of Italy. I came away somehow convinced that it was Tom's own story, that he was the one who had written it and was just relating his adventures in a vivid way. I look at the flyer I was given and see that it clearly names a playwright, Joseph Gallo, and identifies Pelphrey as an actor playing a role. He doesn't even have an Italian name.

I'm thrilled for Tom. I'm thrilled that the play is good. And I'm thrilled to be back in Hoboken, where a trip to a Broadway play is just minutes away. I'm hoping to see this one.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Remembering Howard Kissel

It is with enormous sadness that I report the contents of an email this morning informing me of the death of Howard Kissel, whom I have known since the late 1960s, and whose friendship I've cherished from the start. He was brilliant, funny, and a unique man. I saw him develop from a newcomer fresh from Milwaukee and dreaming of a career in the glamorous part of New York--the New York he and I knew from movies and plays--to an eminence gris who was very much a part of that world.

Howard came to visit me in Hoboken in late 2008, when I had relocated here after returning to my hometown in Alabama for almost 20 years. This is the blog post he wrote about that visit, appearing in the New York Daily News January 8, 2009.

Tuesday I took a journey that lasted barely 15 minutes but brought me into a totally different world.

Boarding a Jersey Transit bus at Port Authority, following the directions given me by my friend Mary Lois Adshead, in a quarter of an hour I found myself in downtown Hoboken, a place that until then had only been a name.

I knew its history -- it gave us Frank Sinatra and "On the Waterfront" -- but I had no sense of it as a place. I have known Mary Lois for over 40 years -- we worked together at Fairchild Publications in the late '60s, a quiet time in New York, when the city was thought to be headed for self-destruction.

We toiled in an old building on 13th Street just east of Fifth Avenue, which did not even have air conditioning. In the summer if the Temperature Humidity Index reached 80 and you had finished your work you could go home earlly. The one good thing was that we got, after only a year of employment, three weeks of vacation.

In those days Fairchild was still a family-owned business. (It would later be acquired by Capital Cities, ABC and finally Disney, which sold it to Conde Nast a few years ago.) Its best known publication was Women's Wear Daily. Mary Lois and I worked for what was the original Fairchild publication, Daily News Record, which had been started as a general business paper at the turn of the century Chicago World's Fair. As businesses grew in importance -- like women's ready-to-wear -- separate papers would be spun off DNR. A few months ago DNR became a weekly page in WWD.

When I was there DNR covered men's fashions and textiles. My career began writing about hosiery and underwear. Then I was given work clothes, soon pants, then sport jackets and eventually all of sportswear. I remember telling a source about one of these shifts (perhaps the addition of sport jackets to my other responsibilities.) "I hope this is not just a lateral move," he said, by way of congratulation.

I was indeed an intrepid reporter and in my coverage of work clothes I even ventured to the East Village, a bar called Slug's in the Far East (in the '60s that meant East 4th Street between Avenues B and C, dangerous territory in those days.) There I heard the not yet known Sun Ra and interviewed him the next day.

I wish I could remember who had recommended him -- I did not have many hip friends in those days. All things considered, I do not have many hip friends all these years later, which is why it seems so remarkable that I could have known about Sun Ra. The main thing I remember about out interview was that he costumed his Arkestra (his coinage) in fabrics from a store called Paterson Silks, around the corner from m office on Union Square.

As work clothes editor, I also did a tongue-in-cheek review of the latest Sears, Roebuck catalogue, for which I was chastised by my editor, Blll Taffin, one of the few bosses in my long career for whom I had unreserved respect and affection. Once a year he and I would go to lunch with executives from Sears. Whenever we ordered a round of drinks and someone said, 'Cheers,' one of the executives would say, with an impish grin, "And Roebuck!"

Mary Lois covered textiles. At the time she was married to an actor of the avant-garde variety, Jim Vann. He had a young daughter roughly the same age as Mary Lois's Alison. (I remember that when Alison saw her first Afghan she asked, "Mommy, is that dog wearing a costume?") Weekends with Jim's ex-spouse the girls were taken to avant-garde performance spaces. At some point they were taken to see a play in a Broadway theater and were enraptured by the spectacle of the curtain.

Mary Lois left Fairchild well before I did. At one point she married an executive with DuPont and spent several years in Geneva, Switzerland. A dozen years ago, when she had moved back to her home town, Fairhope Alabama, she invited me to direct Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosenzweig" at the semi-professional theater she ran, the Jubilee Fish Theater, three of the happiest weeks of my life.

A year ago she returned to this vicinity and settled in Hoboken, about which she blogs on "Finding Myself in Hoboken." She has also written a history of Fairhope, a Utopian community, called  The Fair Hope of Heaven.

She suggested we meet Tuesday at an old German restaurant called Helmer's, a block from the bus stop. It had the Spartan charm of working class taverns of a century ago. It also had an excellent steak sandwich with very thin slices of steak and gravy topped by perfect home fried potatoes. I wish there were a place in New York where you could get perfect home fried potatoes.

Mary Lois also invited Jerry and Kathy Anderson to join us. It is a sign of how naive the times were that dating between employees was forbidden but Jerry and Kathy had ignored the ban. When they decided to get married they had to tell one of the supervisors about it so they could take simultaneous three week vacations for their honeymoon. All this had to be kept secret, but their last day before getting hitched somehow the word got out. We tortured them mercilessly but they refused to come clean. Jerry continued to work in the men's wear industry, most recently as director of the Men's Tie Foundation, which recently disbanded. Neither of us, I regret to say, wore a tie to lunch.

One test of true friendship is that time is erased within seconds when you see someone with whom you were once truly close. I think of my four years at DNR as the darkest, longest part of my life, but there was deep camaraderie among the inmates, and our reunion could not have been warmer or more festive.

After lunch we wandered through the streets of Hoboken to have dessert at Mary Lois's apartment, a few short blocks away. The architecture resembled that of Brooklyn more than that of Manhattan, and there were a few buildings glittering enough to be on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland.

Mary Lois has been delighted to find that longtime citizens of Hoboken have a deep understanding of their history, which they share with her on her blog. She had learned, for example, that Helmer's had been destroyed in a fire a few years ago but was restored to its original state from photographs. It is more authentic now than it was before the fire.

The discovery of a getaway, free from the cares of Manhattan, just across the river, has contributed enormously to my mental well-being as we begin a difficult new year.


I'm pretty sure Howard didn't believe in heaven any more than I do, but today I keep visualizing him there, making the acquaintance of his heroes in music and in the theatre. How happy they are to meet him--and, well, he is in heaven.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Changing A Life

I'm about to do it again, but in a small way.

Four years ago I totally changed my life by making a move from Alabama, where I was born and raised, to the New York City area, where I have felt the most at home in my life. I lived in Hoboken for one solid year before I decided to revisit the South again, first for two weeks, and then for the month of February. Then last year I went home in January for a month. When I got back to Hoboken it was still bitter winter--blizzards and freezing temps--and that weather lasted until the end of March. I decided to do the smart thing and take the months of February and March in southern Alabama from then on.

And then came the winter of 2011-12, astonishingly pleasant and mild. A freak snowfall came on October 1, but melted away, and the rest of the season we've had no brutally cold days or nights (or, if it was below freezing at night, I slept through it in my cozy little place).

Never mind. The plans have been made. The cottage has been reserved, a rental car requested, and old friends have been told of my imminent arrival Feb 1. Now I have to get out of my New Jersey state of mind and into my Alabama one. There is more than jet lag involved. I'm not ready for some football, although no doubt there will be some, nor many of the other activities that I know I'll run into no matter how I try to escape. I'll take some books, I'll visit with some friends, and maybe have a surprise or two. I'll be changing my life, but only for two months, after all.

It won't be all that cold there--but thank goodness it won't be summer-hot either. Azaleas and wisteria will bloom. The bay will softly welcome me with its constant sound track of gentle waves. There will be sea food and grits. There will be comfort and smiles. Everybody will tell me how happy they are. The people who hate me just will avoid me and I will see many admirers and supporters. I shall avoid controversy. I shall stay on my diet. I shall continue to visit the gym four days a week.

And I'll bask in pretty days and pleasant weather. I'll see a local play or two and join a group of friends at the movies. I'll gab and gossip over lunches of salad and have the occasional cup of tea with family members.

And I'll start posting on my other blog soon--I hope you'll join me there. I'll be in Hoboken until Feb 1 and maybe run into you before I go. If not, I'll see you in April, when the flowers are in bloom and there is little chance of a blizzard.