Friday, December 29, 2006

Year-End Cleanup

December 29

I love this time of year, when all the news outlets remind us of the events that set the year apart from all others -- the little pop culture stories about who broke up with whom, who had a baby or a big wedding in a castle in Italy, or a big pirate movie, or a big meltdown in front of everybody, revealing his long-suppressed prejudices. We're also reminded of the long-beloved icons who passed away to the firmament of our memory.

We're also sent a barrage of email with humorous trivia, such as this one. The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

This list of the winners from 2005 must have been moldering in somebody's email inbox for a good year now, but it is still funny and worth sharing:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in
the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

And I'll include one more for a certain banana who lives in California and seems to enjoy this type of thing particularly:

11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

God Bless Us Every One!

December 27

Images of a warm Christmas in upstate New York flood my mind as I reflect on the past two weeks. I am ensconced back at home in Fairhope, with temps in the 50's already and predicted to go to the 60's by the end of the day, remaining pleasant for at least a week. When anybody in New York, alarmed at the prospect of global warming, complained about the high temperatures and lack of snow, I just said, "I brought this weather with me!" And it looks as if it was probably a very mild Christmas here too.

I'll remember the excitement of the visit in the city, the fun of walking to a play one night (the soon-to-close delight named How To Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes), the new-to-me neighborhood called "The Ironbound" in Newark, and the hectic days of baking cookies with Alison and frantically buying gifts for the boys. Most of all I'll remember the grandsons at this age -- Elias turning 12 on December 23, and feasting at the Chinese restaurant with his friend Jonah; and Andy, growing tall and beautiful, now age 9, working on learning to play "Heart and Soul" with me on the piano.

I'll remember all their faces in the candlelight, and all the loving gestures and spontaneous hugs from those complex and lovable boys, and thinking, so many times, in the words of Charles Dickens at Christmastime, "God bless us every one!"

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Low-Key Christmas

December 23

It’s quiet and rainy here in the Northeast. I am in a small city, near Woodstock, Albany, and other distant outposts of New York City. There is a cluster of villages with quaint names like Stone Ridge, High Falls, Rhinebeck, and Ashoken very near. It is where my daughter and her two sons live, and where I usually spend Christmas.

I expected a blanket of snow on the ground, as in other years, but it will not be so this year. That’s okay; I grew up in Fairhope, without a glimmer of hope for a white Christmas, and I’ve seen more of them white than not by now, I would reckon. It is abnormally warm for this time of year up here, but that makes it very like a Christmas in Lower Alabama.

Christmas itself will be low key. The youngest child is now cognizant of the reality of Santa Claus and seems to be okay with it. My co-mother-in-law, a victim of Altzheimer’s, has left us just a month ago. Previous Christmases she had two live-in caretakers who had become part of the extended family and added great cheer to all seasons. This year they have moved to be nearer their own families.

There are lights everywhere, and Christmas trees in both the houses we live in. The son-in-law, an exemplary ex-husband, is taking the responsibility of Christmas dinner on himself, with help from me, Alison, and varied friends they will be inviting. We have all done a lot of shopping in the last couple of days, and wrapped some presents.

This is the time of year for raucous merriment, entertaining, and well-wishing, but it doesn’t always work that way. The year is ending, and new things are on the horizon. We can but anticipate the state of the world by this time next year, and what 2007 will bring. We have only a fair hope that it will be a good, happy year, but we know that this one drawing to a close has meant sad transitions for all of us in this family.

That brings soul-weariness and bodily exhaustion to the holiday season, but Christmas is nothing if not about joy, love, and hope – all of which we are holding close this particular rainy Christmas season.

Today is my oldest grandson's 12th birthday, and we are all going to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.

All things are not merry, but by definition Christmas must be. Here’s to you and your wonderful families – and wishes for a good time on Christmas day and lots of excellent adventures in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fair Hope on Wheels

December 20

Here I am on my second week of vacation, thinking about what makes Fairhope Fairhope and not wishing for an instant I were there. I'm in upstate New York, anticipating a cold front, hoping for a little snow and thinking about Christmas.

A recent blogpost suggested that I am more at home in the Northeast that in Fairhope, and elicited the eternal question, "What exactly are you looking for?"

The eternal answer to that is that at this point in my life it's not that I'm looking for anything except maybe a little positive energy, which I certainly don't find in Fairhope. Fairhope is in flux -- and while I think of myself as capable of flexing with the flux, it becomes clearer and clearer that that particular flow is not going the way I want it to. I spent 18 years in fair hope of trying to stall the inevitable, but I cannot see that my efforts are being effective.

I never thought of retiring to a low-stress area, but in Fairhope my baggage is too heavy. My expectations are, perhaps, a tad too specific; my memories too sacred and my heart on my sleeve. It's not gonna happen. The improvements "they" plan all seem to be innovative ways of tearing out the past...which is the only thing I cherish about the place.

Then I look around in New York City, and, sure enough, it has changed too -- it has beautified and upgraded its marginal neighborhoods, and kept the good parts too. It parades its history while embracing its future. And there is so much stuff going on, always, that the city continues to grow and to glitter with promise. Many of the friends I made when I worked here in the 1960's and '70s are still here, and people in the streets are friendly.

The difference is that in the days I remember New York, you didn't have to be rich to live there. The friends who have stayed lucked into cheap real estate when it was still available, and now they are flush enough, having stuck to jobs until they became careers, and having socked away enough to manage to live comfortably in this extremely luxe atmosphere. Others have found friendly environments within easy commuting distance and split the difference.

Well, in a few years maybe I'll be rich. At least enough to plan the move nearer to the place that I really call home.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reviewing New Jersey

December 18

After a frenzied and happy three days and two nights in Manhattan, I took off for two days and a night in New Jersey, staying with friends in the Ironbound, a Portuguese neighborhood in Newark.

I was in for treats, literally, with intellectual foodie friends who took me to some delightful eateries and regaled me with stories of their adventures since I had seen them last in 2001. They were the couple with whom I was visiting in Los Angeles in September of that year; it was at their house where I heard the news of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I had left them at that time in a flash, with that awful homeward impulse of having to get there before something even more unthinkable might happen.

We had a lot to catch up on. They wanted to know about my trip home and I gave them the story in detail, much as I did on this blog. We talked of many things and walked the street of Newark and Jersey City and went in whenever we saw a sign that said "Open House." I even found a darling little apartment for sale, which, if it had been in another location I would have been sorely tempted to buy.

My mind snapped somewhere on the Manhattan leg of the journey. I began thinking, "Fairhope is not going to get any better -- when I move, why don't I move back here?" I couldn't get this notion off my mind, and as a matter of fact it's still there. I had been thinking I could take ten more years in Fairhope, but after the mind-shift I realized I probably won't have to wait that long.

Money is always an object, and New Jersey is nowhere near as expensive as Manhattan. The Ironbound is only $1.75 (Senior price) and at 17-minute train ride from Penn Station. Is it for me? I don't know. But my friend owns a little apartment that she rents out and she has suggested that she'd rent it to me while I decide.

Travel broadens one. Sometimes it stretches the mind. Sometimes we end up moving where we just went as a visitor. That's what brought so many new people to Fairhope. It may well be what takes one of them out.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Travel Blog, Day 3

December 16

Yesterday was busy and exhilarating…punctuated by jackhammers, honks from taxi horns, and the music of secular Xmas piped into every restaurant and building lobby. (I called it “Xmas” rather than “Christmas” to sound secular, even though “X” is an ancient symbol for Christ, like the fish. Just wanted you to know I know that.)

Weather unseasonably seasonable for New York at this time of the year. Makes it easier getting around, but boy did I pack the wrong clothes! All it means is a suitcase of heavy sweaters, scarfs, etc., but they’ll all be used before the trip is over. Cold is on the way -- and I'm on my way upstate tomorrow.

I got quite familiar with the inside of Starbuck’s. Went at least four times and was worried about all that coffee so the last time I ordered green tea, which was cheap and is supposed to be good for you. The visits were precipitated by need to use the facilities (not the bathroom but the Wireless Internet Connection. My laptop informed me that I could get ONE DAY FREE for only $9.95 if I signed up for the special. How $9.95 is free when the one at the airport is only $6.65 (and doesn't claim to be free) I don’t know but there you have it.

Got to know this neighborhood pretty well. It is not what it was when I lived up on the West Side in the 1970’s or down in the Village in the mid-80’s. New York has cleaned up. New buildings. Scaffolding on all the old ones. Money seems to be pouring in. There are expensive designer shops a few blocks away no matter where you are in the city.

Visited an old friend who looks as young as ever and lives in a classy apartment down in the Wall Street area. She tells me the financial district is the next new thing, the only even vaguely affordable neighborhood in town. Well, in New York everything is the next new thing, life revolves around always being in the know and ahead of the trend. We walked around the stock exchange neighborhood, including the Fulton Fish Market, which is being upgraded and will be the next new thing. She got me a discount ticket for an adorable off-Broadway musical that is slated to close soon. It was breathtaking -- the energy and talent on that stage, the wonderful timely script, and the whole new theatre complex called the New Stage Theater or something like that. All underground, like a little Cineplex only not so cheesy, little 100-seat houses, all with interesting odd little plays and musicals.

My friend says the city is enjoying kind of a boom. She says that after 9/11 the city poured tons of money into upgrading certain depressed areas and seeing that attractions abounded all over town. It looks it. And wonder of wonders, it worked. New York is in an up cycle -- come soon and see for yourself. In ten years it might be quite different.

Here I am hogging a seat at Starbuck's (which I'm growing to despise, actually) as a huge crowd has moved in and is waiting in line. I thought Saturday there would not be a rush hour.

One more day in this town and then I'm off to beautiful downtown Newark!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Travel Blog, Day Two

December 15

Driving to the airport yesterday I was euphoric. The weather was mild in Lower Alabama, already in the 60's, and promised to be pleasant in New York when I got there. Traffic was light on the expressway, and I thought, "If the rest of the trip goes this well, I'm a lucky person."

Then I remembered that things are seldom what you expect. Then I thought, things never work out exactly how you expect, but if you hang on, they usually turn out even better than you expected.

When I got to the airport I found out my flight had been delayed for 40 minutes. It might not make the connection to the next leg of the flight. So the booking agent put me on "backup standby" for the next flight that would have an opening, which would be at 7 P.M. That's fine, I thought, but I have a date for dinner in New York, and if I don't leave Charlotte until 7 P.M. I won't get to La Guardia until 8:30 and won't get into the city until 9:30 at least! As I sat in the Mobile airport and saw the first flight delayed another hour, my hopes for the dinner date were dashed. Tempers were short at the gate. Everybody was on a cell phone making irate phone calls. I didn't have the phone number of my old friend who was expecting me, but I knew the airport was wireless and decided to whip out my laptop and email him, and to email the hotel to tell them I'd be a late arrival.

This was the first time I'd ever traveled with a laptop. Okay, call me a dinosaur; I don't use the new technology to its best advantage. I do own a cell phone, and in fact, for a change, had it in my purse. But I didn't have phone numbers of everyone because I hadn't anticipated this change in flight plans. Get this: I have flown on about two million flights and never had this happen. Now that I have, maybe I'll be prepared. But it probably won't happen again.

When we landed in Charlotte I knew I had missed the first flight. But I ran to the gate, which was probably about a mile away in that airport, and read that there was indeed a flight to NYC boarding at that very minute. It was at yet another gate, however, about another mile away, and don't forget I'm carrying a leather coat on my arm, two books, a purse and a carry bag packed as tightly as it could be. But I got to the gate before the plane took off and the boarding agent looked at my ticket and said, "Just go in there and grab the empty seat!" There were two couples in line, but they wouldn't separate, so I went ahead.

My seat was between a sleeping man and a pretty girl on the aisle, who had had as harrowing as day as mine, apparently, because she and her friend across the aisle, another beauty, were squealing in drunken revelry at everything that happened, and talking about their ordeals in traveling that day. It was a more comfortable flight than the first, and I just felt lucky to have a seat. I hoped that my checked bag had miraculously found the same airplane.

After about fifteen minutes in the air, the sleeping man woke up and we had a very intense and stimulating conversation about a lot of things. He would be traveling on to Vermont, but we had a wonderful talk. He even likes Adam Sander. I didn't ask him about Anderson Cooper.

We said a hasty goodbye when we disembarked, and I got my bag (Yes!) from the carousel and got into a big comfy cab and picked up my cell phone and actually got Howard's phone number from information and called him. Unfortunately he was sick in bed, and couldn't make dinner, but I was excited to be in New York again, and knew we'd probably be able to connect today.

The hotel is a real find, well located and tiny, but like a big city hotel anywhere, clean and neat and look at me, posting on the blog from the room because it's wireless. Had a lovely meal at a little French place last night and now it's time to go around the corner and have a deli breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns and then spend the day doing New York and maybe catch a show tonite.

Things seldom if ever work out exactly as you expect, no matter how tightly you plan. But isn't it nice when they work out even better?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Travel Blog

December 14

All packed and ready for my trip to New York. Traveling is different from year to year; this year I'll take my laptop along (last Christmas I didn't even have a laptop) and post on the blog. In 20 minutes I've got to jump in the car and drive to the airport to get there at least an hour early and have my bags double checked, shoes examined, and the little bag of 3 oz. liquids approved for takeoff.

Inevitably I'll find I forget one or two crucial things. I tend to underpack, but I still bring along clothes that I don't wear.

About Noon the Same Day

I've been sitting at the Mobile Airport for two hours and ten minutes; the flight has been delayed and will not leave for another 45 minutes. It's because of fog. Nobody to get mad at, except everybody. My plan was to meet an old friend for dinner tonight and now it looks like I won't get in until close to midnight. Well, you can always get food in New York City...but you sometimes have to eat alone. Just getting there is the problem now. I'll have about five hours in the airport in Charlotte after we get off the ground here.

In the meantime I figured I'd use my handy dandy little laptop to send emails to the hotel and the friend, so I signed up for a single-use Internet access at $6.95. It seems to work for everything but mail. I wish my friend read my blog, because I can write a blog but I can't let him know.

I didn't think of getting his office phone number to telephone and let him know of the problem. I've got a notebook full of NYC phone numbers, but not that one.

It's going to be a good trip, but it's not getting off to a good start. Now I wish I had a few more days in New York.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Good Bad Movies

December 12

I don't know what makes bad movies good, but I'm pretty sure what makes good movies bad -- trying too hard. You get a profound idea (or steal it from a book) and decide you can make a profound movie out of it. You heap layer upon layer of profundity on it and the whole thing collapses of its own weight. But you are convinced that you have made a good movie, and you find a few people who agree with you and pretty soon it's Oscar time and winning one -- far from convincing you that the awards system is wrong -- convinces you that you are profound.

But if you set out to produce a little romantic love story with some quirky, human characters, and if you're an actor who was kind of third-line Saturday Night Live a few years back, you're not only not going to get respect, but you're up for ridicule for trying and you're out of the profundity sweepstakes. Never mind, you might make a lot of movies and a lot of money and have adoring fans ranging from eight year olds to their 66-year-old grandmother.

I had seen Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live and found him mildly amusing. I was aware he had gone into movies and was beginning to build a following, mostly of little boys, who enjoyed the gross-out factor as much as he did. Then I heard a review on Siskel and Ebert (I think it was still Siskel then) of a movie he made called Punch Drunk, recommending it and recommending that Adam Sandler follow his inclination to do more serious movies.

Now I wouldn't have bothered with The Wedding Singer or Mr. Deeds, but I became an Adam Sandler fan based on that film. From there I went to Spanglish and Big Daddy, both of which won my heart, largely because they were such a good fit for this appealing actor.

The other night The Wedding Singer was on television, and I decided to watch it. I don't have to tell you it is a bad movie, mauldlin and stereotypical. I am indifferent to Drew Barrymore, but she turns out to be a good foil for my boy, and I am probably wrong about her. Here's the thing of it: I liked this bad movie, for all the reasons a lamebrain or adolescent (or both) is supposed to. It is sentimental and romantic, and there is Adam Sandler, looking weird but somehow being a nice boy, giving singing lessons to old ladies and helping a little boy who made the mistake of drinking at a wedding with the all-important lesson of how to heave and not to drink again.

Once many years ago someone accused me of being romantic. I said then what I say now, I am not one bit romantic. Here's exactly what I am: Cynical and sentimental. That said, I take heart from the likes of Adam Sandler.

That's all for today...from your sentimental cynic movie critic.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dire and Deteriorating

December 7

After 9/11/01 I stopped being a self-styled expert on politics. Before that date I wrote letters to the editor about all things political, criticizing the government about every little thing that irritated me, and feeling that doing so was my patriotic duty. When those towers went down I was immediately made aware that no matter how smart I thought I was, there was stuff going on at the political level that I knew nothing about and wouldn't have been able to fix even if I tried.

I live in a very "red" state. I am surrounded by people who not only vote exclusively Republican, but also don't want to hear any ideas that do not support the official stance of the party. The Lexuses in this neighborhood (Fairhope and environs) almost all bear simple black square stickers that state only "W." I didn't hear much objection to our entry into Iraq, or the substitution of Saddam Hussein for Usama bin Laden, or the re-election of the same pitiful, misguided, ill-prepared man to carry our country deeper into the mire he'd created, at his side the most hypocritical, formidable, angry, incompetent right hand man ever to occupy the office of vice president, apparently putting all the worst advice he could think of into the ear of a man who so desperately needed good advice.

I'm old enough to remember Vietnam pretty vividly. We wanted to support our country but the idea used to be -- thanks to World War II -- that that was because our country was the good guys. After Vietnam some of us felt that being good wasn't good enough to make us the policemen of the world.

The outpouring of support for the Iraq war was a carryover for our guilt about Vietnam; another exercise to prove yet again that since we're so nice, the world will thank us for our intervention. What the Middle East needed was to be more like us. That, of course, was the last thing the Middle East wanted.

The Vietnam war was so despised by Americans that by the time it came to an end, returning troops were spat on in our streets. The Iraq war, in order to erase the memory of that, produced for every critical remark about the war itself an accompanying word of pride in our men and women carrying it out. Catch-22 for yet another military conflict.

Today the blogs are spinning with opinion about the Iraq Commission report on the dire and deteriorating conditions in that country. Such a firm, informed statement will have to be dealt with by this President and Vice President. Whether either of them is up to the job remains to be seen; they have shown little aptitude for clear thinking or creative solutions to anything so far in this abysmal Presidency.

I fell for John Kerry when he first appeared on the Dick Cavett Show after returning from Vietnam and reported the disgraces he had witnessed. I was euphoric after his first debate with George W. Bush; he was so clearly the man who could get us out of this debacle, perhaps even before it was too late, perhaps at the expense of his own popularity. But he was a victim of a viscious campaign (one thing the Bush people are extremely good at) and is now disliked in his own party, because parties exist by winning and the Democrats see him only as a loser. I hope his voice will be heard again and that he will avoid trying to tell jokes -- ever -- and may be useful in the amelioration of a situation that can only be seen as a blot on the history of our country.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Coal Bear County, Alabama

December 3

Never mind that comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his name cole-behr, as in French, and the county in which Helen Keller was born and raised is pronounced colburt -- the name's the same and in it he or his people saw an opportunity for a joke.

They approached officials of Colbert County, Alabama, with this idea -- the Colbert Report (pronounced "rappoar" to similate the faux French of "cole-behr") would feature the opening of The Stephen Colbert Museum in downtown Tuscumbia and close it the next day. The premise was that Stephen Cole-behr assumes the county is named for him. All in good fun. Some of the sensitive people of the area were a little skeptical that their town was going to be the butt of a big-city joke. They needn't have been.

The character Stephen Colbert portrays is pompous, conceited, Conservative politically and not a little stupid -- in short, the kind of person I tend to avoid in life. But his lampoon is so perfectly tuned that he can be fun to watch, and the "museum" segments fell into this category.

The people of Tuscumbia, Alabama, went along with the joke and acquitted themselves well, providing an interview with their affable mayor, a parade by the high school band, a visit with an earnest Helen Keller Museum employe, and a scene from the local amateur theatre's production of The Miracle Worker. Paul Dinello, the actor portraying a Colbert Report assistant named Tad, made an ass of himself trying to tell Helen Keller jokes at the museum and succeeding in stealing the pump Annie Sullivan used to teach young Helen to speak, displaying it at the Colbert Museum.

The Colbert Report managed to milk the joke for three days, and it was remarkably funny to the end. Stephen himself never went to Alabama (he was too busy), but appeared in a pre-recorded message. The shows will probably appear for years on re-runs, so I won't give away the reason that the Museum closed as suddenly as it opened, but I'll say this: the last laugh goes the young actress portraying Helen Keller beating on the door of the Museum to get in and being turned down. "Tad" tells her, "Sorry. We're closed." She says, "I know! I just want my pump back." and storms away in a charming, little-girl huff.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A New Leaf

December 2

I’ve gotten a lot from blogging. There was a point at which I was sailing along, posting on the blog every day – inspired to voice opinions on everything from my favorite movie star to the existence of a man who could have been responsible for the works of Shakespeare,to the meaning of god, to the significance of Andy Warhol and to the family of Anderson Cooper.

Then one day I realized I was burned out. It just didn’t make sense to me any more, creating little essays, pleading for comments and then just not being interested in the responses that came. It was getting me crazy.

I posted that I was ending the blog, but I didn’t end it. That was kind of crazy too, but this way I had control. I could write if I felt like it, but I was relieved of the compulsion to put something out there every morning as early as I could. (At its peak, the act of posting early in the morning was cathartic and helped clear my brain for the day. By the time it had become a drag I didn’t know what I would write about or why, or whether it was worth the effort.)

Which brings me to now. Last week, being roughly a month off the blog, I began writing a book. It was an idea that had been circling my brain – a book not about Fairhope or anything connected to it, a smart, funny, commercial book about one thing I was beginning to understand, aging. I would use some material from some of my blog posts and articles I had written in the past, put it together as a chronicle of someone living as full a life as possible in her sixties. I mentioned this to a friend whose brain I respect, and even told her the idea for the title. She said she thought it sounded great and that the thing to do is write a few chapters and an outline, including the target reader, the potential demographic numbers based on research, and present it to an agent who would see if she (or he) could sell it. Here’s the kicker – I had forgotten that this friend had had a book published several years ago which did rather well in its field. She said if I would do the preliminary work, she would see that her agent read it!

You don’t have to be a famous writer to know that getting a reputable agent to read your book is half the battle.

With all this behind me, plus the aerobic mental exercise of having written a daily blog for about ten months, I started writing last weekend and words were coming fast. I was liking what I was doing. I had to make myself stop Sunday night, promising to get back to it today, read it cold, and try to shape up what I have to get it ready to be read by a professional. If she thinks it unworthy then I am spared the difficulty of finishing a book that nobody wants to publish and few would read, as in the late lamented When We Had the Sky.

And if the agent likes it, friends, if she likes it, she submits it to publishers and if one of them likes it, they say yes, get this woman to finish this, and they even give me a little money to assure that I will allow them to publish it.

Just like a real writer. So today I shall look it over and start rewriting the chapters. It has to be the absolute best I can do.

I’m glad I learned – in part from blogging – how to buckle down and shape this thing up. Wish me luck.