Sunday, April 18, 2010

Haunted/Dusty beach roads

I grew up on the Jersey shore, and I never met anyone named Guido.

I ignored the MTV show until it was reviewed in no less a publication than The New York Times, then I checked it out. The less said, the better. But this is not a "when I was a girl" rant: rather, a valentine.

We lived in a Springsteen song, though we didn't know it, my friends and I, bopping down the beach with the radio. We swam and sunned (baby oil-and-iodine melanoma poster girls) and picked up seashells and boys. We rode the Tilt-A-Whirl and cruised the Asbury Park circuit in huge American gas-guzzlers (made sure we cleaned out the bottle caps and rolling papers), listening to The Nightbird on FM radio. We played skeeball in the Casino and heard a lot of good music in cheap little seaside bars, and we thought life was soft summer nights and, always, the sound of the waves.

I grew up, moved away, and only then realized how unique my youth had been. I am forever grateful for my Jersey Shore, and on warm, hazy mornings here in the Poconos I still think, for a moment, that I smell salt in the air. So raise a bottle of Rolling Rock to the shades of sixteen-year-old girls with sunburned noses and their boys with sand in their cutoffs and fresh draft cards. We're still here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

John Edwards/Rielle Hunter

Rich and powerful men "cat around " because they can. John Edwards having a mistress came as no surprise to me. His getting her pregnant did, as did her going through with the pregnancy and birth: more and more evidence and a ticking political time bomb. But I thought, "Who are we to judge?" and not just because I liked his politics but because there were very stressful extenuating circumstances in the family. Mrs. Edwards was being treated for terminal cancer as her husband campaigned, with her blessing, for the presidency. There are pretty grim statistics about men leaving cancer-stricken wives, so I could see how darkness and the death-hour could drive a man to take temporary comfort from a young, willing woman.

I am certain that losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a human being. Everyone knows that the Edwardses' teenage son was killed in a car wreck, and to me this puts them, and all who have lost a child, on a separate moral plane, another planet even, because I cannot, I will not, imagine that. Maybe that loss was behind the pregnancy, another chance at life, after one death in the family and another one coming.

For what it's worth, my judging-not stops with Ms. Hunter's recent interviews. "Johnny," as she calls her paramour, could not be honest with his wife because he knew "he would be pummeled." He can open his heart to Miss Rielle because " I won't abuse him." She goes on with the usual bimbo shtick about the proper way to treat a man. I guess Mrs. Edwards didn't know how to do that between funerals, the campaign trail, and chemo.

Rielle Hunter needs a good tight bitch-slap and Johnny should be shot. What kind of a man allows his mistress to trash his bereaved, dying wife and the mother of his children in front of the world? This is more tasteless than "South Park."

I am left to conclude that Mr. Edwards is just one more immature, entitled pretty-boy with his brain in his zipper.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010


One morning when I was twenty-two and living in Rochester, N.Y, I was twirling the radio dial and heard a poet asking, "Who put the malt into the sea?" I have been a National Public Radio listener ever since.

For decades, I have prepared dinner while listening, and so NPR became part of the children's lives, too. All three of them remember the sun going down, the furnace kicking on, the smell of cooking, and the theme music to "All Things Considered." Younger Son, as a baby, thought that the radiators played that song, and Older Son still gets a Pavlovian hunger reflex when he hears it.

When Older Son was about four, a radio commentator was talking about the meaning of life as my child ate with his hands out of sheer spite. I tried to re-direct, not give it the dignity of a response, all that educated parent stuff, but when he made eye-contact and flashed a possum-eatin' grin I lost it and yelled, "Use your spoon!" just as the radio sage did the big reveal. I'll always wonder what I missed, unless, in some Zen koan way, the meaning of life is...use your spoon.

One rainy September evening when Daughter was about six, we were making chocolate chip cookies together when we heard that Dr. Seuss had died, and my little girl solemnly suggested we dedicate the cookies to his memory. He would probably like chip, two chip. Years later, when she was in high school, she was upstairs in her room while I was in the kitchen listening to Gene Simmons of "Kiss" being intolerably rude to Terry Gross on "Fresh Air." I was thinking, "I cannot believe this!" when Daughter came down the stairs saying, "Can you believe this jerk?" She'd had NPR on in her room!

I think my favorite NPR night was Terry Gross interviewing Tom Jones. Younger Son is a comic genius, and the retro, concert panty-throwing mystique of Tom Jones set him off. He imitated interviewer and guest: "Now, Mr. Jones, you are a rather ridiculous man, wouldn't you say so?" (Welsh accent) " I suppose I would, m'love." Ms. Gross played some old recordings, and the wailing vocals and 1970 brass struck YS as hilarious. Mr. Jones told about how he'd actually passed out in the recording studio from the force and duration of the last note of the Bond theme "Thunderball." Ms. Gross cued it up. We listened, thunderstruck (get it?) to the first few bars of what may be the most ridiculous song ever written, and then a sing-along erupted, louder and louder, until that last phrase: "And he fights (bahm bahm bahm bahm bahm!)/ Like Thunder/ (huge intake of breath) / BAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!"

"Thunderball" is now a thing in our house and the centerpiece of Younger Son's Bond Theme set that he keeps on his iPod for holidays.

I'll bet you thought NPR was just The News.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Don't mature!"

"Mature people do all the shitwork!" is what the middle-aged man in a two-year-old's body shouts to a group of children in Jules Feiffer's "Tantrum."

I've just finished cleaning the refrigerator. I contemplate the psychology of shitwork.

The refrigerator took a long time to clean and was very unpleasant because two other adults live in this house and neither of them cleans the refrigerator. It would not occur to them because they have always lived in a household in which a wife or mother cleaned it before it became a biohazard. If I asked them to clean the refrigerator, they would make excuses, stall, and finally do a poor job of it. Yet we are family (blood and meshpocha) and we love each other.

I know all about teaching people how to treat you. I've never had a problem being vocal about not wanting to do all the cleaning and I tried to teach the children when they were growing up to be communitarian and responsible. It is hard! It is hard because shitwork sucks and there is something in people that will do almost anything to get out of it. We used to own slaves, and we still designate classes of people to do the shitwork.

But in the is corrosive.

Over the years, I have reasoned with my family, and I have had emotional outbursts. Nothing has ever made them pull their weight in maintaining our home. Of course, any dog, if beaten enough, will stay off the couch, but this is where I falter. I do not want to be head Dog Beater with the people I love (I am speaking of adults and kids old enough). Where is their responsibility? They love me, but shitwork sucks and society has until recently been structured so that the wife/mother does it. I've met all kinds of resistance, from blank-eyed stonewalling to various excuses. One that stands out in my memory is, "The kitchen is clean by male standards!" delivered with a sidelong grin, translated, "I gave it a half-assed swipe and you'll have to finish it and when you complain I'll make Martha Stewart jokes and use it as an excuse not to make any more attempts." Second prize: "I can't remember when it's Wednesday (garbage) night." Honorable mention: "I just don't see the mess." Those are not adult attitudes.

My loved ones don't mean to hurt me. Unconsciously, they simply don't believe they should have to do shitwork. They would hate a dirty home: I've never heard anyone say, "I love the smell of catbox in the morning!" I have had to make a unilateral effort to make them understand that their failure to clean up after themselves is unfair to me, and I haven't done well. Dog-beating isn't my thing.

Daughter once said I had "an out-moded, feminist perspective." Could be. But her boyfriend cleans. He cleans up after himself, and he cleans their apartment, bathroom and all, without being asked, and properly. So she has more Time, which is what life is made of. And she isn't living with chronic resentment. Maybe it's a legacy of those outmoded feminists. Maybe it's maturity. Either way, I'm happy for her!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Still here

I am away from my home for a bit. Family stuff. Blogging from iPhone not as much fun. I will return soon!

Monday, January 25, 2010

In the Red Room

This is called a clerestory window. It's sole function is to admit light. It was buried under horrifying 1970's paneling, five layers of wallpaper, plaster, and something resembling chicken wire. I knew it was there because it was visible from outside.

Younger Son had just turned eighteen when we bought this house, and suddenly he was filled with decorating ideas. This was unexpected to say the least. He decided that the living room should be red, because it is warm and the room is the heart of the house. I was resistant, but Younger Son persisted, going with me to the paint store to get chips, to see how the color would look with the leather couch. The shade needed to be warm, with yellow undertones, not blue. He convinced me, and we chose Benjamin Moore Spanish Red. It complements the leather, and brings out the texture of the horsehair plaster walls.

YS wasn't finished. He had a plan.

"Now," he said, "We need a big, Baptist church ceiling fan

"Um... okay."

Who was this kid?

He called his friends, whom he was supposed to meet, and said he'd be late because he was going to Lowe's to help his mother choose a ceiling fan. This seemed to be cool with teen age boys. We found the perfect fan for YS's design ( gotta call it that!) for a British Raj gentleman's club. At the time, we had batik curtains, a rattan lounge chair, and a dhurrie on the floor. It all came together, and Younger Son is unfazed by his new talent. Maybe it was there all along and he never had occasion to use it. Now I consult him before doing anything to the house!

For another time: the story of the demolition of the living room and
Wm. the Brit's installation of the ceiling fan! For now, some good times in the Red Room!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Look what I found!

I would love this lady for the axe-wielding Kewpie alone, but look at her Christmas list!

This is my clothesline...

...on a spring day. I live in an old neighborhood that still has decades old clothesline poles in many yards (I 've always wanted to photograph them, empty, in winter when they look like strange metal sculptures). I love the way the clothes, especially the whites, look in the sun and wind. So does Older Son, the poet. Daughter makes fun of it and complains about "nubby towels," but when she was little she made dolls out of my clothespins. They wore tinfoil outfits.

I even love the act of hanging clothes on the line. I carry the basket out to the back porch in the morning sun, and I can feel the warm air, smell the flowers and take in the beauty of simple old city backyards. Mine is a very retro contraption: a pulley line from the pillar on the back porch to a metal crosspiece on the other side of the yard.

This simple (as well as good for the environment) pleasure is endangered in some places. Some communities' zoning laws prohibit clotheslines! But there is resistance, and even a documentary!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lo and behold!

I found some pictures! And yes, Gus knows he shouldn't be on the table.

California dreamin'

When we bought our 1920 house, it had suffered years of indignities. I am loving restoring it, but the kitchen is my favorite. There were TWO dropped ceilings and many layers of linoleum and asphalt tile (made w/ real asphalt, as I found out when I ripped it up myself). I had a picture in my head of a kitchen in a Northern California bungalow ( I have never been there), so I set out to make it real.

Daughter and I picked out sage green subway tiles for the backsplash and cream and sage marbled tile for the countertop. I got a lovely, deep, bisque-colored sink from Need Plumbing, and found a contractor to do the work, including putting in the two big windows over the sink. Did the painting myself (Benjamin Moore Indian White, on a serious discount for being the favorite waitress of the paint store owner!). Removed the cabinet doors, sanded, primed, and painted (Indian white on top and sage on bottom), and Older Son replaced the old hardware with new white porcelain ones from Pottery Barn. He even had to customize a couple of hinges with a hacksaw! Nice men from Cole Wood Floors blasted through the asphalt to reveal long-leaf yellow pine, which I Waterloxed because I don't like polyurethane. The color of the wood deepens with exposure to UV light!

So here we are. My camera went wonky after the first picture, but I will post more another day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting to know my family

This is an example of Older Son's sense of humour. Those fancy-pants private schools were worth every nickel!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kinder, kuche, kirche

The German school day has always ended at lunchtime! This makes working outside the home difficult for mothers, and the birthrate in Germany is very low. The situation is slowly changing, but there is societal opposition to mothers working. Modern Europe!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The content of our character

In honor of Dr. King, the incredible Boston Children's Chorus gives its biggest concert of the year on his birthday. Look, listen:

Look at that!

Welcome to EBR! Long ago, I was riding in my high-school boyfriend's car, pointing out the moon, a mailbox, an appletree, when he yelled, "You watch everything but the road!"

I haven't crashed yet!