Saturday, January 30, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: “Over the River”

“Over the River,” The High Llamas

Number 2 in a new series, this instrumental is like mainlining emotion, sad and sweet, tho some jerk on Amazon called it “kitschy.”

Is that a bird I heard? Yes, yes, a little brown one dressed in houndstooth decoupage, wandering forlornly through a crackly film strip on the wintry day his best friend moved away… On the path he finds a stray piece of yarn, rusty orange like a secret patch on a magical calico cat, leading him home.

True fact: This song is played by a quintet of chickadees who talked incessantly during the recording, their blip-chirps and tweet-beats perching like arpeggios on the sheet music they pretended to follow.

Oh yes, I’ve used this song here before.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: "Rock And Roll"

One of my goals for 2016 is to write more in my little blog, so I’m gonna make it as easy as possible on myself—twice a month I will write 88 words or less, kinda poem-y, about a song that is stuck in my head and bones and brain forever. Like you know how each one of our cells is a room with its own world going on inside it? Well, there’s a turntable in one of the rooms, with a stack of scratchy 45s that get played over and over. In this series, I'll share what’s in my stack : )

"Rock And Roll," The Velvet Underground

The guitars! They’re like the morning sun shining on icicles…glittering shards from a half-frozen lake served up in a cup by a bearded lady. Wait and the light hits right, again and again…and you feel so good, so good.


And then, when you’re not expecting it, Lou takes a breath and lets Foghorn Leghorn’s big-hearted funky, junkie cousin step up to the mike and feel that “fine, fine” music….

When people ask, “Stones or Beatles,” sometimes I say Kinks, and maybe what I really mean is Velvets.

P.S. Here it is:

And P.S.S. This song showed up on this blog once before.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Holy Crap

Two Thursdays ago I dumped the entire contents of the litter box down the toilet. I know you’re not supposed to do that, even if you use “flushable” litter like I do—but it was like I’d lost my mind, and some weird cosmic cesspool seemed to be calling the litter home. I can still hear the whoosh of the walnut-shell pellets leaping into the bowl like spawning salmon.

The toilet immediately started overflowing, and I ran to the kitchen to get a plastic container in order to bail out the water, which I threw into the sink. When I got close to the bottom, I took a wire hanger and pushed it as far as I could down the snakey maze of the bowl’s innards. Encountering no clumps or clogs, I stubbornly, blindly pulled a Pollyanna and…

I flushed again.

At this point things went from suck to blow, the pellet and poo stew reappearing from the depths of the bowl and sloshing at my toes. I slid into the nearest available shoes—my beloved copper Birkenstocks—and gloriously surrendered to my own idiocy, making things worse with each progressively bad decision I made. First smooth move, ex-lax: I bailed out water and backed-up pellets into the sink. Second smooth move, ex-lax: When the sink got too full, I moved to the bathtub, which already had been slow to drain over the past few weeks.

Finally, with the toilet clogged and both the sink and the bathtub refusing to drain, I surrendered.

“I’m an idiot,” I told the after-hours emergency plumbers in a shaky voice.  “Please help.”  At this point Sal was yelling at me that he had to go to the bathroom, while Ira was scratching at the empty litterbox—neither of them gave a sh*t (c’mon, I had to write that!). While I waited for the plumbers, I bailed as much of the standing water as I could. But there was no place left to put it, right?! Wrong—not when you’re as foolishly, muleishly resourceful as I am…so I flung it out the window, hoping to God since it was pouring out that no one else had their window open.

The plumbers—it took two, huge and beer-bellied—brought a giant snake with them, and some motorized thing that whirred and sucked when turned on. I went to ask them some questions and apologize, and they ignored me. One walked by and rolled his eyes, muttering “Ridiculous!” right as he passed me, while the other stood in the middle of the living room looking at his phone, dripping water on the floor. Who knew plumbers were so passive-aggressive?!

I don’t know if anything like this has happened to you, but there’s something so…infantalizing…about your toilet overflowing, a primal shame of getting caught with your pants down. So when I heard them say, “Look at this, we gotta get a picture of this,” galumphing around in the tub to take photos of the supposedly 5 pounds of sludge that had been stopping it up, I couldn’t even look at them. They slammed out the door, threatening to charge me twice.

The next day, though, I was oddly rejuvenated, flushing freely and fearlessly. It had been a wake-up call—if those rude oafs who spend their days cleaning up shit think I’M disgusting…. !!! Histrionic much? Sure, but if I was going to panic, I better go all out, and it better be for a good reason. I had a sense this could be about a lot more than kitty litter—what do you want to flush away so that no one  can ever see? 

It’s true—on a surface-y kind of level, I suspect I may be a slob. I’ve seen cat hair in the refrigerator, and I have a drawer that sometimes doesn’t open because of the wires and cables and ear buds I’ve shoved in to it.  Some people may be fine with that, but I have a low trash threshhold--visual clutter is very anxiety-making for me.

Since then, I’ve been hanging up my coat instead of throwing it over the chair. Seeing what’s hiding in the corners. Recycling clothing items I don’t wear that someone else might. And I consider it healthy for my ego that the day after the Big Flush, I felt a blooming, belated rage at those plumbing oafs. I’m just really trying to get my sh*t together.

P.S. I did lose my copper Birks in the battle.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little, You Do Know

I was one of those dreamy kids, the kind that don't really exist anymore, mostly because of the Internet and because moms would totally get crap for letting their children do, well…nothing. Each hour spent looking for four-leaf clovers I swear made room for something new in my head, like the imagination is this giant hole only you can dig for yourself, its adult size determined by how much space you can shovel into place by the time you are, say, 12…

I walked to the library every week and carried home my loot--goopy Nancy Drew, bad dream-making Alfred Hitchcock. I talked to the flowers in the backyard, scared to touch the bleeding hearts, lightly fingering the churchy Queen Anne's lace… I danced to my sister's terrible records (for hours!), drew ladies in ruffly, bustle-y dresses, raided the bathroom cabinet and mixed up concoctions in the sink, explaining to the television audience (the one behind the mirror, of course) exactly how to combine the ingredients.

I remember clearly one Saturday afternoon in late winter, when I took my red, white and blue basketball (cue up the Harlem Globetrotters theme song) and walked up the road and through the field to the basketball court at Most Holy Trinity to practice by myself. We had just formed our first girls' basketball team, and I was the center. I was 11 and there was nothing I couldn't do--keep up with the boys during sprints in gym class, hit triples during our lunchtime baseball games, get 100s on my tests, write, sing and perform my entry in the school song contest (to the tune of "Camptown Races," the only other song besides "Jingle Bells" I could play on the guitar)… So on that March day, I was full with potential, like the forsythia buds that my mom had brought into the house to force-bloom. As I looked up at the net I had this vague feeling that things were going to get complicated in the distant future, but in that moment, at least as far as I could see ahead of me, the world was kind and mine.

I'm pretty sure that's a basic rule to live by if you're a kitten like Ira, and I would do anything to keep his life--and that of his big brothers, Lorenzo and Derrick--that way, always. Dogs and cats have that pureness and sureness I get really fierce about protecting, because it seems like even kids have to let it go sooner and sooner… and somebody has to have it or we're all screwed.

At 13 weeks old, he reminds me that with every day dawns a whole new world, and there he is waiting for the sun. The first time he met Derrick and Lorenzo, he launched himself at them like a rocket, a kitty Odysseus finding his long-lost friends. (They reciprocated…a month later.) When he's hanging out on his cat tree or perched on the foot of the bed and sees me walk by, he gets so excited that the force of his wee-kitteh happiness knocks him off balance, and I am forever making sure he doesn't fall. He can't quite yet contain his meows either--I'll say his name softly, Ira, Ira, Ira, and he does this redonkulous bobble-head thingie, his whiskers start wiggling and only then does the meow come, like it's something he's still figuring out the choreography for… Can you imagine if you got that happy to be recognized, when they called your name at, say, jury duty, or when you're next  in line in the post office?

When Derrick showed his little bro how to play Bathtub (Cat A jumps in bathtub and uses magical kitty powers to make sure Cat B, who may be otherwise engaged in another room, knows the game is about to commence; when Cat B approaches, Cat A leaps out of the bathtub; Cat B chases Cat A), they played this every morning for a week. Then one day Ira tried to initiate the game while there was water in the tub.

Well…nothing much happened. He tumbled into water that went up to his little chocolate-brown cat spats and zoomed right out, galloping through the house in celebration. The next day he was back in the tub, watching the faucet drip.  I was too scared to try out for basketball in high school, and now I think I sing so badly I'm embarrassed to do karaoke (tho I practice it in the bathtub--I could probably do "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," if they even have that one.)

Ira knows, in his tiny cat head, that it's not about how it's done, it's simply that it's done. And if you carry on as though good things will happen (like your big brothers love you even though you steal food and treats out of their bowls and push them off the prime real estate), maybe good things will happen. That people love you more the worse you sing karaoke, that it's the best feeling ever when someone's happy to see you, and that the world is big and you are small but not.

Incidentally, the MHT girls basketball team played just one game. We won, but I wasn't in it because I'd broken my finger the day before.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Letter to My Dad on Father's Day

Dear Dad,

I'm sorry I can't be there to give you black licorice, Superman socks and a pair of Groucho Marx glasses (you looked so good in them!), but I wanted to tell you these 8 things I love about you.

1.) You respect everyone...
No matter who it is, you always look at someone and nod at them in acknowledgment when you pass by. I think of this every day when I get on the elevator in my apartment building and feel someone avoiding my eyes. We walk through each other like there's no one else there, even when we're inches away. It's what we do.

But then I see that gentle, expectant look on your face when you greet someone you may or may not know. Doesn't matter--it's the same look. (I've caught you doing it to the neighbors' dogs, which makes me love you even more.). So I think of you and say "Good night" or "Have a good day"  when I get off the elevator. I kinda mumble so they may think I'm talking to myself, but I promise to keep working on it.

2)…even commonly mispronounced words
Yup, you're one of the few people I know who actually says the second "e" in vegetable and the "a" in comfortable, showing me not to overlook the little things in life. And let's not get started on "berserk!"

3) You don't talk trash about people.
It occurred to me the last time I saw you that you don't say bad stuff about ANYONE.    I think the worst I've heard you say is that someone's a "freeloader" or a "wise guy," but with all that practice, it's like you probably couldn't even insult someone if you tried.

I think this means I have to forgive you for writing that really nice letter to George Bush. : )

4) You have great skin.
93 and STILL NO WRINKLES! Seriously, folks. I think it's directly related to #3. And maybe #7.

5) You still do whatever it takes to make us feel at ease.

Oh, Dad. I know it upsets you when you can't remember things.  First of all, it doesn't matter--everybody forgets stuff. And second of all, I'm on to you. I see how you make jokes to make us feel better about it, and how you keep finding new ways to anchor yourself in the present. You'll talk about the cardinal-red flowers that have just started to bloom, or the birds who have visited our backyard that day. That's what a good dad does, and you're only getting better with age.

6) You taught me how to tie a tie, shine my shoes and keep score at a baseball game.
All of these things take a little extra time and care. And darned if I don't know a 6-4-3 double play when I see one.

7) You have ice cream every day and always give IHOP a little treat during dinner (and lunch, and, well, probably breakfast, too).
Life is to be enjoyed. Why not with caramel sauce and maraschino cherries?

8) You have great taste in women.
Barbara told me that she recently found you looking at the beautiful photograph hanging near the fireplace of you and mom on your 50th wedding anniversary. "She was such a good person," Barbara heard you say out loud. Yeah, you're right about that : )

Enjoy your day. Can you feel the big hug I'm sending you?

Daughter #5, Kid #6
(Hair still pink)

P.S. Meet you back here next Father's Day for 8 more reasons!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Either Aura

Warning! Unicorn Alert: This post contains content that has not been scientifically proven. Aura photography! Spirit guides!  Oh, and a Fresh Prince of Bel Air video…

This March I had a picture of my aura taken during a visit to Kripalu Institute. I'm pretty sure it employs Kirlian photography, named for the electrical engineer who discovered the technique, which he believed to depict a life force or energy field surrounding living things. The sweet photographer Heidi set up this tripped-out, willy-wonky, Wizard of Oz-y contraption, and I had to put my palms into hand-shaped panels with little electrode-y points for the finger tips. I normally don't like having my photo taken because my nose tends to come out looking like it has its own zip code, but this was one photo in which you just couldn't hide…

Although I had a stray thought that it'd come out rotting and covered in black mold, I was surprised-but-not-surprised at that pop and snap of beany green. [Note: This is a photo of my photo I took with an iPhone, and you can't really see everything I'm gonna write about. Hopefully you get the general gist.]  According to the handout clipped to the photo, the colors on the subject's left (what you see on the right in the photo) represent the vibration coming into your being. The colors on the right are the energies being expressed, what others most likely see and feel. And the color over the subject's head is the color that best describes that person. According to the handout:

Primarily Green Photos: These individuals are strongly connected to the heart chakra and are most often balanced, giving people…The keywords here are love and service.... Green in a photo may also be an an indication of a growth opportunity or change, and is a good indication of a positive state of overall health. Green individuals will show a tendency to periodic burnout caused by their unceasing engagement in trying to help others and right the wrongs of the world. Being connected to the source of Perfect Love, they don't realize their own limitations and push this to the extreme point where they save little for their own needs.  (Acck, just rereading this, I don't like that last sentence--there are few things worse than someone who is stingy with herself!).

Along with the green I got a little bit of Oy G. Biv going on, with those fruit stripes of orange ("childlike, playful, creative, living life from the gut") and yellow ("cerebral and intellectual, with strong abilities in logic and number-based thought processes"). Uh, not sure about that last one…tell that to all the people I ask to check my calculations 'cause I've forgotten how to subtract..I panic and overcompensate when it comes time to cross out a zero and carry the 1. And I'm so beyond grateful for that juicy grape of "inspiration from things divine" to my left.

And the 6 green dots? [Gaak, you can't see them in my photo.] Those are spirit guides. Heidi said that 6 was on the high side, and I think I know why. This was taken right when I was coming out of a period of deep mourning when my mom died, so I needed all the help I could get. One of those is my mom for sure, and Bing and Paloma, and my mom's mom, too. I didn't know her well, but my Grandma was a kindred spirit. She used to sneak out of the house to go dancing when she was young, and knew there was nothing that chocolate couldn't fix.

Science will tell you that what's captured on film is the corona discharge (I think that can be simplified to "electrical field") between the object photographed and the high-voltage plate used in the photography set-up. And even more Boring Bettys will tell you that the actual colors are impacted by stuff like oils, sweat, bacteria and ionizing contaminants. No way, just… no way. The secret of one's spiritual state cannot come down to what kind of deodorant you wear. (Though I have to state here those crystal rocks don't work too well.)

P.S. I asked Heidi if she'd taken any aura photographs of animals. Yes, she said, a German shepherd. He had to stand on his hind legs and put his paws on the hand sensors. The photo came out all purple--for an individual "very closely tied to a high level of spirituality, those who tend of carry a lot of natural healing ability and may feel they are on a special mission for the benefit of humanity at large." I got chills when Heidi told me he was a service dog.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Letter to My Mom on the Occasion of Her Birthday

 My mom would have been 89 on April 16. I had a few things I wanted to share with her.

 Dear Mom,

I miss writing to you. I'm so glad that I saved all the letters you sent when I was in college and during my semester in Greece, those years when I was a bit of a jerk. I recently came across one that included your response when I told you we had a maid. In retrospect, I think they just didn't want college kids trashing their nice Athens apartments, but it did seem over the top at the time. "If you were a patriotic American, " you wrote, "you would clean your own tub and mess to show how disciplined and clean we are--thoughtful, etc. And all it takes is a clean tub!"

Hmm…I honestly can't remember if I cleaned the tub or not. But it couldn't have been that dirty because we had to do our laundry in the tub, so it was like I was multitasking. And you'll be happy to know I spent a good hour cleaning my bathroom in honor of your birthday on Thursday--Brillo, two kinds of cleansers, grout brush, on my hands and knees for some major scrubbing action. I'm definitely disciplined but clean is a bit harder--I found some cat hair in the refrigerator the other day.

Remember when you wore that bright orange vinyl raincoat to pick me up after school, and I would get so mad at you because I thought it was so hideous and tragically out-of-style that I was embarrassed to be seen with you?! I am really sorry about that. As it turns out, I just got the most amazing orange spring coat. I originally ordered it in brown, but I knew that was the wrong decision the minute I clicked the "place order" button. I tried to convince myself that brown goes better with everything, and since I wear a lot of black, an orange coat would be too much like Halloween, but I finally switched the order at the last minute.

We looked for a photograph of you wearing the orange coat but we couldn't find one--we did, however, find this photo of me on the orange couch that Sears sent by mistake.

I never knew that the Sears customer service guy who placed the order pleaded with you and Dad not to tell his manager that he ordered orange instead of beige, since he'd screwed up a lot and was worried he'd be fired.

Barbara has been urging me to take something of yours, so on Saturday I guiltily snagged what I consider to be the best thing of all--one of your heart-shaped cake pans.

I can't even imagine how many layer cakes and brownies you made in this pan, how many birthdays, bake sales, just because-es! There were still some crumbs stuck to it, and Merry and I liked holding it knowing that you had too, so many times. I remember standing at my sink about 5 years ago smelling delicious brownies baking in the oven out of nowhere (believe me, no one on my floor makes brownies), not a chocolate chip in sight, and then finding out you were home in East Hampton making some for me. And they say brownies don't travel well.


P.S. I also took 2 mason jars you probably used for either pickles or strawberry jam, because I want to make pickled cabbage. Fermented vegetables are the new thing, so you and your sauerkraut have been ahead of the curve for awhile.

Here's one I think you'll like. I heartily endorse this sentiment: