Live Updates from the Ghetto

When Dale and David visited last March I had a punch list of about five projects I wanted to finish the week before they arrived. As we approach the year anniversary I’m still working on them. My new motto is “everything takes forever.” Which I believe was a 1940’s B movie starring Linda Darnell.

Case in point is the kitchen table cum island (not to be confused with other cum islands in the apartment.) Readers will remember how proud I was when I figured out how to build a table two years ago. Equally as memorable was the mediocre result. So the first of October I went to Ikea to purchase a cabinet base to begin a rebuild of my fantasy island.

The project was intended to take a week. We’re now at six and counting. This week alone I’ve spent three days trying to affix grosgrain ribbon onto half-round molding. Will it ever end, Linda?

I think it will, the finish line is in sight. With every project I complete another pile disappears and the place becomes more navigable. After three years I’m ready for this to be over. And maybe finally have friends here to see it. It’s been so isolating. I am a rock, I am an island.

Under construction

Consumed with home decor lately I’ve let other facets of life slide. Like blogging. But when I read this morning about the President condemning Nancy Pelosi’s district as a dangerous and disgusting slum, I felt I must lay down the three-in-one trowel and dust off the keyboard. You just don’t talk about my Congresswoman that way, Agent Orange.

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself but I live in a senior community where that is considered a prized characteristic. Ms. Pelosi has always been good to me.

The first time I contacted her office was regarding the abominable postal service on Jones Street. Things like the postman returning a flat rate envelope I was sending for more postage. When I asked why it would cost more if it’s flat rate, he motioned his hand over the tyvek envelope that, admittedly was bulging at the seams with a sweater inside, and said “it’s not flat.”

Pelosi’s Office put me in touch with a specialist at my local station and I had a private line to USPS innards. I contacted her a couple of more times and then there was nothing for a few years. What sealed the deal was that during that lapse I received an email from her office stating “we haven’t heard from you in awhile, remember we’re here to help.” Someone proactively interested in my problems? She’s got my vote.

Junkyard find meets mother of the bride.

Although the President’s slum smack is intended to conjure up images of hallway rat traps and stray gun shots, we must update the stereotype for the Trumpian Era. I am on the lowest rung of income when you consider a liveable salary in the City is considered to be $150K. And by virtue of lottery luck I do live in subsidized housing whose architectural heritage protected 15 foot wide halls are kept pristine and sparkling. But in a City where there’s something in the air keeping the birth rate down (men’s legs), I never have and probably never will feel threatened.

Slum life is not without its hardships, however. No one will ever know the sacrifices I made to scrimp and save for a $50 piece of fabric to line the $10 lamp hood fixture I found at the junkyard. (The fabric, by the way, is a baby blue shot with silver Italian bubble wrap organza.)

Finally, I must admire how the Speaker remained patient throughout the impeachment frenzy. She waited until she got her smoking you-know-what. When it comes to politics, anything he can do she can do better.

Forever Linda

Big Men Have a Big Faith

When I was in junior high I was still a believer. I thought celebrities were a super-human breed with god-like abilities. It didn’t matter if they were two-time Oscar winners or a panelist on a game show, being on television made them stars.

That was my first impression of Elaine when I saw her on the local station’s version of GE College Bowl. It was a Sunday afternoon show that pitted teams from Fort Wayne schools against each other. They were quizzed on areas of general knowledge. Elaine represented Elmhurst, the high school I would enroll in the following year.

She had a hip look that set her apart from the other contestants and an expression of intense concentration listening to the questions. She seemed much more composed than the others, even during the frantic moments of the incredibly fierce lightening round.

At my first day of band practice that Fall, I was surprised to see Elaine in the second chair of the clarinet section. The mechanics of how our friendship formed that year escape me but by Spring we were signing each other’s Anlibrum yearbook. Part of her inscription to me included: “At the beginning of the year I wondered who the cute new French Horn player was. And now I know.” My powers to underwhelm have always been immense.

On my trip to Fort Wayne recently I stopped in Chicago to see Elaine and her husband Ted. We reminisced about the typing class we took because we thought it would help us with college papers. It did. We even remembered some of the drills (see title above).

And we continued the ongoing discussion of whether the Band Director, Mr. Myers, was gay. Elaine contends he wasn’t because he had a wife and two children.  I told her most international courts threw that one out years ago.

My iron-clad reasoning centered on his persistence in having us perform overtures and medleys from Broadway musicals. And how he would make annual trips to New York then come back peeing his pants over the latest smash hit he’d seen. An admission like that will still get a man the Chair in Alabama.

One of the soothing places I like to get to in my head is the autumnal feel of the outdoor scenes in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Elaine and Ted live in Evanston where that feeling abounds in spades.

So much so that Halloween seems to be the most important holiday of the year. Houses are decked in orange lights and over-the-top lawn displays of skeletons and ghouls. In front of one particularly involved tableau defunct I said it had to be the home of two gay men. Elaine’s son replied, “nah, it’s just an old married couple.”

On Sunday we went to the Block Museum to see its show Pop America, 1965-1975. When my hosts first suggested we go, I’d never thought of there being a Pop movement in other Western Hemisphere countries. To me Pop Art was a send-up of US Commercialism laden with urban wit, camp and irony. How could that translate in less affluent cultures?

Seeing the show made me realize that Pop is really about the mundane imagery of everyday life. In the US it just happens that everything is over-commercialized. In other countries the subject matter comes from religious and political propoganda, fashion trends, sports teams and bottle caps.

Whereas the American Pop Artists used a spontaneous slap-dash style, the images in this show had a restrained and elegant feel to them.

Afterwards we regrouped at the Smiley Brewery to discuss the show over Belgian Mussels and a flight of Texas/Kentucky BBQ. The Pop era had us comparing notes on our counterculture days and common experiences we shared. Like the whole earth bread baking phase we went through.

Elaine got tongue-tied saying she had also participated in that “bed breaking” trend. We laughed as we awaited the judges’ ruling that it was, indeed, an acceptable answer.

Is it any wonder we’ve been friends since high school?

Beanie Babies

Patriots Update

I realize that not every blog post is a keeper but in the interest of establishing a continuum of life I don’t delete. In the rich tapestry that is blogging you sometimes have to accept the barnyard burlap warp with the Venetian silk weft.

Such was the case with my Super Bowl entry from last winter. I must have been drunk, high or both when I wrote that. Still I am proud that I captured the essence of the sleaze-bag owner Robert Kraft three weeks before his Orchids of Asia arrest, The new shade on my kitchen island is not called Nostradamus for nothing.

The genius of the New England organization is that it eats, drinks, sleeps and thinks football 24/7. And it starts at the top. A Patriot insider recently leaked a new trick play to me devised by the distinguished owner himself.

Distinguished is a relative term in the NFL. When you consider that at the NFL’s inception George Halas and Wellington Mara won their teams at the poker table, Kraft might qualify for sainthood. Then there’s former Rams owner Georgia Frontiere who assumed ownership of her franchise after taking her first husband for a “swim.” He never returned.  China Doll frolics pale in comparison.

Little Bob isn’t sure if he devised the play while being massaged or if it came later when he was thrown into solitary after being bitched out to a Jamaican drug lord for a couple of hours. My guess is that it was on the table because the name of the top secret play is “Full Release.”

The play is designed for two tight ends to use snake-hip movements that momentarily beguile the tackles before boring down the field as hard as is humanly possible. This is a parallel thrust to the two wide-outs who are a few yards ahead because they have done the same thing without the greasy reptilian moves.

With all the receivers down field (ergo the code name FR) the quarterback is like a condom-less dick–completely unprotected. The success or failure of the play is centered on his head. For an instant he feels like nothing else in the universe matters.

It is essential for the quarterback to slide out of the pocket and quickly pull the trigger. He sometimes feels like he has no other choice. Giselle says this not an issue for Tom, it’s almost second nature for him.

The other key element is that, after crossing the threshold of inevitability, the quarterback must almost intuitively spot his opening and unload. Again, Mrs. B says Tommy never misses the sweet spot.

This play will not be seen until the playoffs. But the Patriots are so confident of its success they are already choreographing excessive demonstration moves. Nick Kyrgios is consulting on the celebratory, fan appreciation dance.

Go Pats! Pound it home!! And look for Tom Brady on the January cover of Oops! The Magazine for Premature Ejaculators.

Another Happy Ending for the Patriots


Westminster’s Best in Cement. Billy’s latest collectible obsession

“Oh god, it’s him again,” the snotty voice says in an aside to someone else, “I can get rid of him quickly.”   A second later there’s a feeble, “hello?”

That’s the way my 87-year-old friend Billy answers the phone when I’m in Fort Wayne. He’s using state-of-the-art caller id technology to let his friends know exactly how he feels about them.

A replica of Billy’s torso (allegedly) with concrete canines in situ.

I’m on the banks of the Wabash this week visiting friends and family in Indiana. Highlights of the week include sleepovers with the kids (being taught chess by a five-year-old is a trip), and anytime I spend with Billy. Which I do daily.

Despite his snobby phone demeanor, Billy has always been open to anything. It makes him fun to hang out with. His ken for the offbeat led to the discovery of the Quiet Corner near Churubusco.

What did he do now?

Busco, to the locals, is a bedroom community of 1000 located approximately 15 miles northwest of Fort Wayne.  It is surrounded by cornfields and Amish pastures that provide a pervasive waft of aromatic manure that is breathtaking.

Amongst the corn and the poop, Billy found a tea house surrounded by emptiness. It is octagonal shaped with a central dinning room for light, homemade lunches. For the dessert (or, more accurately, pie) course, one takes their coffee onto the screened-in porch and is served in a rocking chair.  You gaze directly into a wooded stand of forest 15 feet away. Rock me baby, rock me all night long.

Back in the day

Billy is one of the few friends who’s ever said they’ve found me to be a calming influence. So we feel right at home in Busco.  If it weren’t for the oppressive Christianity that is everywhere.

There are bible verses inscribed in the molding, atop the furniture, framed on the walls, included in the menu, posted on the lawn–you can’t fucking get away from them. The gift shop is nothing but.

Which brings us to the strange dance of denial that goes on between Christians and gays in the heartland. In the abstract we’re reviled. In the now, we’re loved–as long as we don’t bring the subject up.

For gays, the price of admission to the wonderful strangeness of places like Quiet Corner is to keep your mouth shut. It’s not the ideal solution but it works. For now. It obviously should not continue but we’ll have to pass that torch on to a new generation.

This trip we squared the country mile for about 45 minutes searching for our little piece of nothingness. There are no posted signs. When we finally happened on it we found, to our dismay, it was closed. Hopefully just for the season.

Billy refused to get out of the car to sit for a portrait. We settled instead for a selfie from the front seat of our Buick 6.

I’ve been charming older women since my days at Cantara Street Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley. I had my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Leventhal, wrapped around my little finger. I’m beginning to worry, however, this skill will atrophy. There aren’t too many left who fall into that demographic.

The talent was in full force on our first visit to the Quiet Corner seven years ago. As Billy and I entered the tea house that day, we were met by four elderly women on their way out. Brimming with excitement after their big adventure, one asked if I would mind taking their picture. Of course I wouldn’t.

When I handed the camera back to her, she thanked me repeatedly then added, “there will be jewels in your crown.”

How she knew about my pageant work I’ll never know.

Drive-by photo shooting.

Little Green Apples

Invitation to my benefit for the Library.

I don’t know why I stopped reading books after being an avid reader all of my life. But I did. It began the year I was in Palm Springs,

The obvious excuse is language had become superfluous in the suburbs. I rarely had a serious conversation with anyone. But that can’t be it. I continued my blog, words were as important as ever. It was just a loss of discipline and desire.

Brian once told me he could tell when I’d been reading because I was more interesting to be around. My apologies to everyone for being such a bore these last couple of years.

I’m fortunate to have three women friends who were all born the last week of November 1949. Each reads voraciously. They keep encouraging me to get back on that pony and ride.

Something got a hold of me last Saturday. I went online to renew my library card then tried to download a book. It failed so I walked to the library and checked one out. I left with James Brown squealing in my head. “I’m back! I’m back! I’m back!”

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed getting lost in the stacks and the daydreams provoked by unknown titles. It’s one place where I’m never aware of time. I paid homage to Mark & Charley’s mural in the Hormel reading room. Then to the enigmatic B inscribed on the donor board’s long list of names. “Get up offa that thing, and feel the new vibration!”

It’s too soon to proclaim victory but I took home Four Seasons in Rome, read it, then returned it Thursday. “I-like-it! I-like-it! I-like-it!”

The catalyst was a trip to Napa the previous week to see one of the three horsewomen of the bibliotheca, Linda.  We hadn’t been together since Noreen’s cranberries. I had given her the Last Riots that day. That’s when you read someone the act one final time.

Actually, never in a million years would I presume to talk to a friend like that.  But there’s a subtle subtext here that the world revolves around me. Someday the holy fathers and red hot mamas of the Catholic Church will be using this blog to evaluate me for sainthood, I keep the drumbeat going.

Linda was in dire straights that Thanksgiving and now not so much. She deserves all of the credit.

Beckoning donors to come hither.

The morning of this visit I wanted to take her something. I came up with a gift that was a little bit Rose Kennedy (the things children make themselves mean the most) with a dash of Elizabeth II (framed portrait of me anyone?) The photo is me sporting a look that’s just a little bit south of Till Eulenspeigel. It’s from our Budapest trip. The sentiment recalls Linda’s time in Indiana eight years ago.

Her return flight that summer was at 6 a.m. from the Indianapolis airport. 3 hours from my condo. The day before we took a trip to the architectural wonder that is Columbus, IN. That was followed by lunch and a quick tour of the campus in Bloomington. Then we headed to our hotel in the capital city.

We missed our turnoff but could see where we were going. Indianapolis is on a grid. Anyone with a sense of direction can navigate it. That, of course, doesn’t factor in dead ends, portions of the infrastructure untouched since the Taft Administration or hellacious thunderstorms.

Our hotel was in a stand of high-rises looming directly north. We were gaining on them as daylight savings was suddenly occluded by black storm clouds. We zigzagged through the old industrial section near Eli Lilly.

The steady pelt we’d driven through instantly became a gully-washer. The narrow brick-paved street’s clogged drains could not handle the torrents being dumped on it.  A huge pool rapidly grew in front of us as we watched an approaching car barely get through. I didn’t chance it.

At that moment I realized even boring mid-west flatlands can have slight inclines. We made a sharp left into a tiny parking lot that was empty. All of its water was draining into the newly formed Lake Naptown.

The answer is always patience but I didn’t have forty days or nights. Linda was unusually quiet as we watched the water rise above the bottoms of car doors in the street.

There was an opening in the opposite corner of the lot away from the standing water. It was between a derelict building and a concrete parking block. If we could squeeze through then go over the sidewalk we could escape via an adjacent street.

One slight miscalculation. We got out of the lot but only after feeling two dramatic thuds on the passenger side. The wheels had traversed the concrete block. On higher ground, it was a straight shot to the hotel’s cocktail lounge. The second round came rather quickly that evening.

As I retell these stories involving friends, I’m hearing that experiences I thought were just another day in the life were, for them, ones of white-knuckled terror.

A Tear in Every Room

When I saw David last week he said, “everybody in town is talking about your prostate.” Why shouldn’t they be? Most of them have played with it.

I did not want to turn my blog into a cancer gazette. Since the word is out, however, the hectoring for more details has started. I owe at least one follow-up.

Today I visited the land of a thousand turbans, the Kaiser Radiation Center. I discussed treatment options with the urologist.

The hour long appointment started out awkwardly. As he went into his spiel his eyes were on the ceiling. Occasionally he’d glance at me but then he’d go back to counting the pinpoints in the tiles as he talked. When he got to the Gleason score I put my foot down.

His explanation was one only a comedian like Jackie could appreciate. There are 3:4’s that are sometimes referred to as 3+4’s. These are not to be confused with 4:3’s (no mention if there was a corresponding 4+3 or maybe 4-3.) Although they both add up to seven there are good sevens and bad sevens. What you have to do is factor in…..

I asked him to please stop. I told him I felt like the victim of a shell game, never in a million years could I follow him or guess the right answer. Which may have been his point, neither could he.

After that exchange we saw eye-to-eye and the options became clearer. Everything about my case is borderline (including sanity). It’s acceptable to watch and monitor. If or when things become worse, the less invasive form of radiation would be the initial treatment.

He said the drawback to this approach is that after a couple of years of having a blood test every three months, it gets to be a drag and guys stopped following up. I assured him the choice between a life of pissing and shitting myself and not being able to get it up versus the ennui of a quarterly blood draw was enough to motivate me.

In addition to the early stages of cancer I have strains of other things coursing through my body. Namely personal vanity. To support one of his arguments the doctor said, “but we usually see this in guys much older than you, in their late 60’s.” You can’t get any later than 69.

I really do need to lay off the Estee Lauder Anti-Aging Emulsion. It’s complicating treatment protocols.

To occupy my time with all this going on I did what I do best. I took on a project that I have no experience with or talent for: sewing pillow covers.

For over a year I’ve coveted this remarkable French mirrored vinyl from Mood Fabrics. I was never quite sure of what I’d do with it and at almost $50 a yard it was too pricey to experiment with.

Then in June it showed up at my discount fabric outlet for $23.  Jesus spoke to me: “pull the trigger, motherfucker, shit or get off the pot.”

I went online and assembled the foam, pillow protector, and interfacing. They are all of the finest quality from China’s Amazon Province. Then I went up to Cliff’s to buy the metallic thread.

There’s been a learning curve. Things like you can’t sew the gussets together if you expect the pillow to slide in. But I’m getting there.

Normally I would wait to show the finished result. But I wanted to document that I have not been sitting idly by while waiting on the Obamacare Death Panel, The Hon. Sarah Palin, Regional Chair, to rule on my case.

Hit it Tammy.

Shantih Shantih Shantih

She could have been Mrs. Eliot.

The mention of the Maharani and Paris in the last post reminded me of India and the friend I made, Elaine Wolfson. One of her tales was prefaced by casually asking, “you remember Maxim’s back room on Friday nights, don’t you? All the maharajahs in their finest?”

I would have been 8 years old at the time plus I’ve never been to Maxim’s. I said no so she continued on with whatever story she was telling.

We met on a three week architectural tour of India sponsored by the University of Miami Art Museum. There were 20 in the group, 3 from San Francisco, the rest from Florida. They included museum sponsors and donors like Elaine.

The Miami crowd stuck together and to a person didn’t care for Mrs. Wolfson. They thought she was a bitch.

There must have been some deep background behind that opinion because I didn’t notice anything terribly offensive. She was remote and self contained but that doesn’t warrant bete noire status. She’d sit at the front of the bus by herself not seeming to care if anyone sat with her or not. Over the first several days I slowly began to interact with her.

I’ve had a life-long penchant for making difficult people my friends. You have to pick your spots, it doesn’t always work. But sometimes you can sense when a determined effort might pay off.  I’ve found if you waste time obsessing on the prickly surface of these sorts you often miss out on the luscious creamy centers

One day someone asked me why I let Elaine speak to me the way she did. She was nervously watching me load her suitcase onto the bus when he heard her say something.

She was in her late 70’s, I was 30 years her junior. I was concentrating on helping her so what she said or how she said it didn’t register. It’s like toddlers who hate their mommies. Something needs attention that has no relation to what they’re saying.

Rollin’ on the Ganges. With Judy from the Miami Art Museum crowd.

As she and I became more friendly, others in the group took note. At breakfast one traveling companion said I’d been so kind to go buy Elaine water the day before in the blistering Jaipur sun. Without thinking I responded, “it was either that or mouth-to-mouth.”

My end of the table erupted with laughter.  I had slain the beast.

But I hadn’t intended for it to sound cruel. I really thought if she didn’t get something she would faint. She wasn’t at breakfast but she laughed too when I told her later.

The Miami crowd dismissed Elaine as a pretentious snob. But she wasn’t pretending. She’d lived it. She wasn’t softening her ways to please those who thought in superficial stereotypes.

On the train to Varanasi she told me stories of working in Manhattan as a hand model in the 1930’s. She would often travel to Connecticut for the weekends.

On one trip an attractive man sat next to her. He was very flirtatious and aggressive. He tried to convince her to get off at his stop with him. She was about to agree but at the last minute changed her mind. After the gentleman departed she realized it was T.S. Eliot.

Elaine wasn’t bothered by long silences in a conversation. I think she enjoyed them. She did, however, have the ability to end those silences quite abruptly. Once, out of the blue, it was, “do you ever drink alone?”

With my buddy at the Red Fort.

The highlight for most of the tour group was the roadside jewelry store we visited. The hen party descended on the joint in a cackling heat. Elaine found a seat and lit up a cigarette.

I did a brisk walk through the gallery to see the display then returned to the settee to sit next to her.  She turned to me saying, “I just don’t understand why women go so gaga over jewelry. They act so foolishly. It must be insecurity.”

Eventually she took a turn through the place. She was back quickly, none of the jewelry interested her. Elaine was at the stage of life where she was giving her pieces to her family and her maid. She didn’t need more bounty.

She did mention a tiny landscape in precious stones the size of an index card. The miniature mise en scene had caught my eye too. We talked about how beautiful but impractical it was. The $38,000 price tag didn’t phase her so we went to examine it again. She decided against it. It would be just another thing to give away.

We visited on the day that would have been my Grandmother’s 100th birthday.

The last time I saw Elaine was in the Delhi airport lounge at 1:00 a.m. We were waiting for our respective flights home. When I stood up to leave she extended her hand. To kiss it would have been affected. To shake it, pedestrian. So I held it for a few seconds.

In her low, smokey voice she said grandly, “Come to Coral Gables,”