Getting snippy

Veronica cuts my hair now. Snip, snip, snip with a scissors instead of bzap, bzap, bzap like my previous clipper happy gent, He never listened. Veronica listens. I have Lois to thank for this. She tired of hearing me complain about each new unhappy haircut, and suggested I try the Lather Lounge which she frequents. … Continue reading “Getting snippy”

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Veronica cuts my hair now. Snip, snip, snip with a scissors instead of bzap, bzap, bzap like my previous clipper happy gent, He never listened. Veronica listens. I have Lois to thank for this. She tired of hearing me complain about each new unhappy haircut, and suggested I try The Lather Lounge which she frequents. One visit and I was sold.

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Veronica doesn’t just cut my hair, though she does that beautifully. She shampoos it afterward, lest a stray snippet sully her artistry. Then she gives me a head massage. Then a neck massage. Now, I should explain, when a massage crosses my path, I am like a dog with a squirrel, distracted beyond all reason, lost in a magical world of touch, ready to be sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Lucky for me that Mr. Clippercraft didn’t know that, or I might have endured the outrages he perpetrated on my locks a while longer.

The Lather Lounge has recently moved a few doors down and today was my first visit to the new location. I was pleased to see that the large, glamorous, black and white photos of old Hollywood stars, resplendent with their crowning glory seductively coiffed, had made the trip. The implication being, of course, come here and we’ll make you look like this. Four such portraits regale the stark white walls: Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and, most dazzling of all, Veronica Lake. When I learned that Lynn, the owner, was in search of a fifth, I suggested Lauren Bacall. “Who is that?” asked Veronica. I felt 100 years old.

Veronica is young, I’d guess in her early twenties. She’s bubbly and easy to talk to, but it was clear from the start that our cultural references had little overlap. Still, she loves movies, and . . . Lauren Bacall? I set about to explain. I told her how, at nineteen, Bacall met Bogart on her first film, how they fell in love on the set, how their chemistry was so charged that audiences demanded they be paired for three more movies. And I told her about Bacall’s long, heavenly hair.

To Have And Have Not

Before I left, I borrowed a post-it and wrote down the titles of To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, which I assured her confidently that she’d enjoy. Veronica had one more question, “That was Henry Bogart?” Did I say I felt 100 years old? Make that a million.

Walking the track – or – those old San Rocco Blues

It’s impossible – it always will be – to walk the track at Fitness Pointe and not remember all the times John and I did that together. Twenty-nine laps were about two miles, and that’s what we’d do. We’d pick a topic, find an example starting with A for the first lap, go all the way through the alphabet and back to C and we’d be done.

We didn’t race, though at first it seemed so because John was faster than I, and I panted to keep up. Our best time was thirty-nine minutes, our bench mark as to how well we had done. In John’s last year or so, we were nowhere near that, and it was I who had to slow down. Often, he’d have to sit out a few laps, and, as I passed him, I’d edge over into the fast lane so one of us could call out the next alphabetical example. The change in him was drastic and disturbing, but still, he kept on. It was not something we could bear to discuss.

Now, when I walk the track, as I did today, my ears have sprouted buds. I stride to the random sounds of some 20,000 pieces on my Ipod. It’s an old one. The new models lack the space to accommodate my library of jazz, classical, musicals, film scores, big bands, little bands, pop, opera, and a bit of rock. I never know what will pop up next, and I enjoy the surprises. Twelve tunes – less if there’s a movement from a symphony or a concerto – and I’m done.

Once in a while, I’m almost stopped in my tracks by something bittersweet because of what it meant to John and me. That happened yesterday. It was a cut from the album Music from San Rocco.

San Rocco is a church in Venice, and I remember exactly what we were doing the night we first heard the piece. We were doing what we loved to do in Venice, trying to get lost. We strolled aimlessly along the Grand Canal in the moonlight, and as we neared San Rocco, the loveliest strains floated out to us from the church.

Drawn inside, we found a rehearsal in progress and took an empty pew. The most beautiful music imaginable, at once rousing and calming, caromed off the walls and vaulted ceiling and enveloped us. I moved close to John and pressed my arm against his. He pressed back. Hardly a PDA, but while we sat there, we were a single person – a sublimely happy one.

Yesterday, as I walked the track, it all came back in vivid detail.  Thank God for memories.

Music to my ears

I’ve put this off because I wanted to do it justice, but gardening and the intrusion of events, (and, I’m afraid, congenital laziness), have rendered this shamelessly overdue. I appreciate, more than I can say, those of you who keep checking this site to see if I am still at it. I am.

Over a year ago, I saw that the Chicago Symphony would be playing several of my favorite pieces, in an evening of music of Spain and South America. I didn’t want to miss it and called Ann immediately (with few exceptions, she shares my taste in music). She ordered tickets and, in the normal course of events, that would have been that. This spring, however, the course of events was far from normal.

CSO went on strike, and I was sympathetic. I learned as a teacher there are times when a decent wage and working conditions have to be fought for. Chicago, for over a century, has been home to one of the finest – often the finest – musical organizations in the country. Its world class artistry is beyond dispute, something of which a troubled city can be proud, and deserving of financial support.

That said, I began to chew my nails as the shadow of the work stoppage spread out, swallowing events for which I had tickets: a jazz concert, then another, and then what would have been the debut of Caitano Veloso, an artist I’d been longing to see. Darkness edged closer and closer to the last of my planned evenings. Ann and I checked the papers daily, commiserating over bleak prospects.

The strike was settled just in time. I sat behind Ann, fifth row center which afforded an intimate view of the performers. I find it exhilarating to watch this array of gifted lips and fingers, poised to pluck and bow and breathe life to the instruments they hold, glinting in this well lit hall. I’m fascinated by the differing ways in which they wait out a passage that doesn’t require them. One handsome violinist kept brushing back a shock of the most enviable hair, when he wasn’t smiling at a pretty Asian colleague. They seemed to share a private joke. There were players of all ages and ethnicities, each of whom, with talent and grit, had survived the pitiless winnowing process that leads to a chair in this splendid company. This was a stage full of masters, with me close enough to see whose brows had beads of sweat.

The conductor, Giancarlo Guerrero, was new to me, as were his methods. He’d pounce, like a tiger, directing with his entire body, his elbows, his shoulders, his hips. Then he’d go absolutely still, save for the subtle dancing of his eloquent fingers. Had you watched him through sound proof glass, you’d still have a strong sense of what the orchestra was up to.

The program tore off like a bullet train, four dances from Ginastera’s Estancia, some propulsively rapid fire, some hauntingly ethereal, all exquisitely realized. Guerrero is a passionate conductor, well suited to this music, fervent, but also crisp and precise, utterly in control. Nothing was blurred, always a danger with pieces as heady as this.

Latin rhythms, classically rendered, have the power to transport me to a state of blissful excitement. So it was with the second offering, a particular favorite of mine, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. You know some of it, even if you think you don’t. Miles Davis celebrated it in his Sketches of Spain. I’ve heard this concerto countless times, but the soloist, Pablo Sainz Villegas, made it his own, each phrase newly minted.

Villegas was also quite something to behold. Smoldering dark eyes and an impish smile, curly jet black hair, a muscled torso ready to burst through his formal garb. He settled in, caressing his guitar like a paramour, raising one foot to rest on a tiny stool. I’ll abandon this description before I make a total fool of myself. Suffice to say, Ann and a friend of hers suggested we pool our resources and adopt him.

After a wild and deserved standing ovation, he played an encore, somehow turning his guitar into an entire orchestra, complete with drum rolls. We eagerly await his return.

Intermission was followed by another favorite piece, Chabrier’s Espana. It doesn’t take a Spaniard to evoke Spain. The French have done quite handsomely by it, as witness Debussy and Ravel. Often, even at a good concert, my mind will drift off pleasantly for a moment or two. Not this evening; my attention was riveted to the music at hand.

The final work, Astor Piazzola’s Sinfonia Buenos Aires, had three tough acts to follow. I like Piazzola, but on first hearing, this struck me as tango on steroids. It didn’t matter. I stumbled out onto Michigan Avenue dazed and gratified to have heard what I’d heard and seen what I’d seen.

Memorializing

Eons ago, Memorial Day was distinct from what used to be called Armistice Day. On the former, we trekked out to Oak Hill Cemetery to make sure the family grave sites were presentable, and bedeck them with flowers, whether or not those beneath the headstones had served in the military. While the adults weeded and spruced, my brother, our cousins and I would take our time fetching water, dawdling to read the tombstones of strangers and speculate about the lives of those below. We trod gingerly, fearful of giving offense to the departed with a misstep. When little Allen, the youngest, would break into a run, I’d snatch him up and transport him to less sacred ground. He seemed to enjoy it.

What’s left of the family assembled here Monday with a few close friends. I needed to do a bit of entertaining. With the help of Luke, I had planted, trimmed, weeded and mulched the garden within an inch of its leafy life in hopes of holding the gathering outdoors. Fountains were splashing, wind chimes tinkled, cushions were set out and tables scrubbed. Birds chirped and sunlight bathed it all. For half an hour.

Then, the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and birds and guests fled the downpour. Only Tim, our chef laureate, remained outside to bravely grill where others feared to tread. On this day, I like to eat American, and amongst us we had contrived an ample board: plump hot dogs, hamburger, Polish sausage, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, two kinds of potato salad, deviled eggs, potato chips, homemade pickles, nuts, blueberry jello whip, lemon cake, chocolate cake, cherry pie and ice cream. We’d been run indoors, but we wouldn’t starve.

We carried our plates to the parlor and settled in to gorge and reminisce. Then, everyone’s phones went off at once. Tornado alerts were sounding. Safety minded Ann urged us to seek shelter in the basement. I continued to munch my buttery corncob while it was warm (well, according to the warning, I had ten minutes before the worst reached Munster).

We broke up into three groups of varying degrees of cool. Least cool, but most sensible, were Ann and Lois, in the basement. Medium cool were Steve, Johnnie, Donna and I on the landing stairs, far from any windows. Most cool, or perhaps most idiotic, were Tim and John P. who stayed in the many windowed parlor. At one point, they even went outside.

As we waited to hear an all clear, Johnnie, who sat behind me on the steps, massaged my back and neck. I was happy as a clam, thinking, if this is how it all ends, I couldn’t choose a dearer cast for the final scene.

Popcorn spillers

I know it’s possible to watch a movie without an elephantine tub of popcorn on your lap. And I’m sure it’s advisable. It’s a rare flic, though, at which I don’t order “regular and responsible” and then do the free upgrade to the  “World ends tonight megabucket.”  I didn’t a week or so ago, not out of deference to the seriousness of the film, Tolkein, but because there simply wasn’t time.

Jeff wanted to see Avengers: Endgame, but I had promised Tim I’d save that for him, so we settled on Tolkein. Happily, it’s closer to Masterpiece than Hallmark, but it’s clear they’ve met. The story covers Tolkein’s quite interesting youth, and tiptoes right up to the creation of The Hobbit. Flashbacks and present day are tossed into the blender so much in fashion at the moment. Heaven forfend that we be subjected to linear plot development. Still, I took pleasure in the romance, and even more in the cameraderie of T. and his college chums, which is quite touching. It is also smartly cast and shot. The scenes in World War I trenches are hokey, with much effort to make him look a plaster saint. You won’t regret seeing it, but good luck finding it anywhere. That particular Friday night, there were but six of us in the theater.

It had formidable competition. Avengers was only in the second of its midas touch weekends. Tim and I caught up with that one in its third week and the house was still packed. I enjoyed it thoroughly but there’s not much point in my going into why. If by now you haven’t seen it at least once, you are most likely firmly purposed against ever doing so. Had to have popcorn this time, but found it best not to drink much, It’s as long as Gone with the Wind, and no intermission. Not a single loose end, and there are hundreds, was left untied. It certainly didn’t drag, however. The enormous cast were all given their moments, many of them quite sentimental. There were snuffles all around when young Spiderman, confused and newly resurrected, is babbling a mile a minute, only to be hugged, fiercely and unironically by Iron Man. It helped to watch it in IMAX, but this thing would have popped whatever the medium.

Last weekend, more Tim and more popcorn at Long Shot. It’s a raunchy rom-com with a preposterous premise, the pairing of the ever luminous Charlize Theron, and the ever shaggy Seth Rogen. It works, as much as it needs to, because the disparate leads are such watchable pros. Tim and I found it impossible to get through the low pratfalls and steamy shenanigans without the occasional chuckle, or more likely, snort. A day later, I had a delayed reaction, when the double entendre of the title dawned on me. I should have known. No possibility for cringe making humor will ever escape Seth Rogen, the highest paid wanker in cinema.

A death in the family

Overstatement, to be sure, but that’s what it’s felt like all day since I learned of her passing. At 97, it was time, even for me to let her go, but having her still here was one of the props that kept me steady, or what now passes for it. One by one, time kicks them out from under us, and for me, as props go, she was load bearing.

Doris Mary Kappelhoff was my contribution to our family’s pop culture. Later on, Steve would introduce us to Elvis, but in 1948, at eleven, I bombarded the Kingsmills with my enthusiasm for my “discovery,” Doris Day. I’d been seduced by a still in Photoplay from Romance on the High Seas, her first movie, and I never really recovered.

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My allowance was depleted, annihilated, to make sure the family could hear each new record she made, over and over. A fifteen minute radio program on WCFL played her discs at dinnertime, and I would brook no conversations at table while it was on. I was, to be sure, a swoony little pain in the collective Kingsmill butt.

The following year, for my birthday, I was given the funds to take Fabian Bednarski, a playmate from across the street, downtown to a couple of movies. The movies were duds (I still remember them: a pair of dreary remakes, Bird of Paradise and The Thirteenth Letter), and Fabian couldn’t resist crowing that on his birthday, he’d been taken to three movies downtown. Fabe was like that. The nicest thing about the day was when we fooled around in an arcade in the IC station. We squeezed into a booth and took goofy pictures, stood on foot massaging machines, got our fortune told by another machine, and made tin bracelets that would spell anything you punched out. Mine said “LOYAL DORIS DAY FAN” Fabian scoffed and sniggered. He really was a world class scoffer and sniggerer. But he was wrong. I have been loyal. Seventy years on, I still have that bracelet.

It’s been easy. There is a delicate intimacy to her ballads, especially early on, that no one else approaches, with the possible exception of Peggy Lee, and not even Lee is as ethereally quiet as Day. “Again” is a perfect example, or “Imagination,” or any track from the “You’re My Thrill” album. She could have been a jazz singer as her sides  with Harry James attest. And in her second film, My Dream is Yours, her whirlwind rendition of “Canadian Capers” edges into scat. My ipod contains every recording she ever made, even the wretched novelty trash forced on her by Mitch Miller and Marty Melcher. I didn’t delete them while she lived. Perhaps she’d want me to now. Left to her own devices, her taste was impeccable.

Every New Year’s Eve, John and I would watch the festive Romance on the High Seas. If anything is played in my memory when I’m gone, let it be her version of “It’s Magic.” One night, on our anniversary, as John and I  cruised down the Nile, I crooned another song from that film to him, as we stood by ourselves at the rail in the moonlight, “It’s You or No One.”

One year, when I’d given up movies for lent (Yes, imagine!) I rationalized that it wouldn’t be cheating if I saw Guilty of Treason, the film about Cardinal Mindzhenty which the nuns were pushing at us. It was on a double bill at the Avalon with Young Man with a Horn, and wouldn’t it be wasteful, as long as I was there, not to sit through that too? Again? By that point, I was so head over heels that I’d have braved the gates of Hell for a good Doris Day movie, and in those days, there was no other kind.

A few years later, when she’d had enough of Warner Brothers and made Love Me or Leave Me at MGM, I remember thinking how proud I was of her. She was no longer just an engaging performer but had become an extremely resourceful actress. She was rooked that year out of an Oscar nomination. She wouldn’t have won; no one was going to stop Magnani in The Rose Tattoo, but she was certainly the equal of MGM’s other two musical bio-pixies, both nominated, Susan Hayward in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody.

No entertainer has given me as much on going pleasure in my life as Doris Day. Sweet rest, and many thanks, Miss D.

 

Wet feet -part 3: Lemurs, Alpacas, and Bears, oh my!

The remainder of the trip was spent largely on the rewarding campus of Duke University, where April teaches. Lois and I would head out about 9:30 each day to wait for Becky’s arrival. A shaded bench was designated for smokers (this is tobacco country). To reach it, we had to thread our way around five gleaming Harleys, some jet black, others fire engine red, and all beautiful. Their owners, at least those we met, were burly but polite to a degree that would have brought a smile to Miss Manners. On the day they departed, one of them carried a half consumed bottle of Jack Daniels and stashed it behind him for easy access. Very quietly, I said to Lois, “That can’t be legal.” “Who’s going to stop him.?” she replied. It wouldn’t be me. I’ve never fancied knuckle sandwiches.

Becky would drive us to Elmo’s diner, a place so popular there was always a wait. April said it was no great shakes for dinner, but fine for breakfast. I agreed. Bagels and lox, pancakes, and crispy bacon is my definition of fine for breakfast. Little Archer thought so too. He could munch contentedly on his stack of chocolate chip pancakes while eyeing the occasional kiddie meltdown at another table. Then, he’d fix us with a knowing smile, as if to say, “See, aren’t I being good?” And yes, he was.

The gardens at Duke are so lush, extensive, and artfully laid out that we didn’t get through all of them. The heat was partly to blame. By the time it hit 90, Lois and I had begun to flag, but it was a feast for the eyes throughout. The chapel, really more of a cathedral, is a towering space of intricately wrought wood, stone, and stained glass. Several of the Duke family donors are depicted in white marble, lying under sheets whose draping folds are like music (it kills me when such softness is achieved in marble). These benefactors slumber in suits, ties, and presumably, shoes. I could never nap that way, certainly not for eternity.

While in the chapel, we encountered a most informative, and highly irreverent wedding planner who could have done stand up. No question went unanswered, and when we inquired whether he was there every day, he said, “Yes, nightly. I recommend the veal.” Just before we left, he said, “How did someone like you hook up with these glamorous ladies? They’ve got their shades on, they’re chewing gum. Howja do it?” Perhaps you had to be there, but he slayed me.

Saturday evening, April took us to Dos Perros, a Mexican spot with an imaginative menu. One especially tasty hors d’ouvre was a creamy dip with brussel sprouts and chorizo. We walked supper off and April surprised us with an unforgettable tour of 21c Museum and Hotel. I’d never seen anything like it. For starters, you can hatch heists in an old bank vault, surrounded by a narrow chamber whose mirrors create truly mystifying effects. I went through it, April had already done so, and it narrowed and narrowed until I was so thoroughly wedged in that I feared the humiliation of being stuck. I took a deep breath and made it out, but it was a near thing. The art galleries there were full of powerful and exciting pieces, like a large American flag made up of painted toy soldiers. I’d happily go back to this unique treasury of the unexpected.

Sunday, the children joined us back at Duke to tour the nature conservancy. They were useful guides, especially in the butterfly and bug areas. I was enchanted to wander about surrounded by butterflies roaming free, lunching on plants and fruit. One breathtaking blue beauty was as big as my open hand.

There is a train ride, through a forest filled with dinosaurs. April asked Archer whom he wanted to sit with, me or Lois, and I cheated, pulling a teary face. He proved an excellent and knowledgeable companion. Then we walked through the stomping grounds of lemurs, Madagascar spider turtles, alpacas, and bears. I’d never seen an alpaca. I knew they weren’t imaginary because Mitch brags about his alpaca suit in A Streetcar Named Desire. Though real, they are somewhat magical, like little black camels whose necks seem capable of 360 degree turns.

There were bears too, and newly hatched, tiny ducklings, but best of all were the endangered red wolves, one of whom had just birthed a litter of six. They are quite rare, and North Carolina has most of them. For some reason, the males start going blind after seven years or so, but this is being vigorously researched for a cure. The adults rested from our vigorous trek, alternately watching the boys sail boats in a large pool, and dig for dinosaur bones.

Our last supper was at an upscale Indian restaurant, Viceroy, where the boys found little to their liking. They were bribed to behave with the promise of a visit to an excellent ice cream parlor called simply, the Parlor. I asked about a smart deco building in the distance, and April and Steffan explained it was the Durham hotel whose rooftop views of the city warranted a visit. It did indeed.

And then it was over. Extended hugging back at the hotel, packing, and to bed. On the plane next morning, a woman caught Lois’ eye and signaled to inquire whether the window seat next to her was free. They hit it off immediately, so much so that I couldn’t have gotten a word in for the entire flight. It didn’t matter. My ear plugs were in, and I was well entertained with unworked puzzles, memories of North Carolina, and thoughts of home.