Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On a Clear Day You Can See New Jersey

September 26, 2007

I can see it all now.

Yesterday it was a bit murky, being that there is no traffic in the real estate market in Fairhope these days, and I have not heard from my broker how he can rework my account so that I have income instead of what is laughingly referred to as growth. I checked the real estate listings in Hoboken daily and it looked moreso than somewhat iffy that I'd be able to afford the monthly rent on a spacious apartment with charm and a view of the Empire State Building. Especially if my house didn't sell.

I had hit a wall. I was discouraged. It didn't seem too bright to try to rent out this house and still have to pay taxes on it and taxes on the income I made from it, plus the maintenance of shoring it up and making repairs as necessary. I felt stuck; I felt trapped.

So I thought, what part of this equation can I change? What part can I keep? What must I keep? What I realized was that Hoboken, despite its intrinsically humorous name, is one of the jewels of New Jersey. It is the center of new growth, of young and upscale new residents (who work in Manhattan), of old charm and new money. Rents therefore are higher than its neighboring cities -- you pay for those views, those parks, that short commute to the city.

So I started browsing Craigslist New Jersey for rentals in neighboring Jersey City Heights, Weehawken and Union. All of these places are just a jump on the train from Hoboken, and some are almost as close to Manhattan as Hoboken is. What I found is that the rents are more in line with what I can afford and I could get more space for the money. I have walked those streets and found them very pleasant. They didn't compare in charm and convenience (and happiness-vibe) to Hoboken, but they were close enough. Okay, some of the pictures are downright depressing -- but all of them aren't. Some are knockouts.

I can see it all now. A year from now I'm comfortably situated in a quaint apartment somewhere, walking tree-lined streets after buying some groceries at Montclair's Whole Foods or the Portuguese supermarket in the Ironbound of Newark. I'm sitting on a bench in a park across from my apartment. An elderly lady sits down next to me and we look at the view of the Manhattan skyline. We are having a gentle chat about the neighborhood and the history of the city where I'm living, be it Hoboken, Jersey City, whatever.

She says to me, "All you new people are the same, you know. You move to a place because you find it quaint, and then you tear down what's there and replace it with something modern. You should have seen this town 50 years ago. It was really special then."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Slap of Reality

September 25, 2007

My decision to relocate from Fairhope was a long time coming. I look back at posts on this blog over the last 12 months and can see it coming, ever so slightly. My good intentions of informing the newcomers to Fairhope of the history of the place began to slide about a year ago, as I saw that not only were they not interested, most of them were happy believing that it was their job to improve this little village by bringing it up to date with all the amenities they had left behind in other towns and cities.

Their idea of preserving Fairhope's heritage consisted of protesting the construction of a Wal-Mart just outside the city limits or waving placards in front of the building that once was a high school and has long since been outgrown as a public school kindergarten.

I had a hard time talking with these people. I have come to see Fairhope as a Rorschach test for people looking for something. They see in Fairhope what they want to see, and if it's not there they talk each other into building it, from an almost-unused bike trail to a pretentious and unneeded library. They are hostile to the Single Tax Corporation, which was Fairhope's own raison d'etre, and indifferent to the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, which was once Fairhope's principle attraction. They have removed the funky little cottages which gave Fairhope its unique, patchwork charm, and the city is now awash in huge, expensive-looking houses that show nothing of period or taste.

A brush with New York City last winter was all I needed to make up my mind to leave. I am well aware that the world, as well as little Fairhope, has changed. But New York has changed in many ways for the better; it is cleaner, safer, more beautiful and more livable, even though it's too expensive. I got to thinking -- "How can I get back here, where I can find the kind of people I like and the kind of vital situations that I miss?"

How, indeed. I have a house which I hoped would sell quickly. It is one of a kind, a treasure of "old" Fairhope, on a lovely double lot convenient to the center of town and to the bay. It has been on the market since the first of July and has been seen by two people. The first pronounced the rooms too small, and the second pronounced the price too high. As of this morning, I've dropped the price once more and am willing to go lower if that will mean anything.

My plan is to move to Hoboken, the little jewel of a town that's just ten minutes from the West Village, my favorite section of Manhattan. Hoboken, the town with the amusing name, has a great deal that appeals to me -- old neighborhoods, a historical society, a lively night life and good eating places, to say nothing of delis and street fairs. What it also has, unfortunately for me, is high rents, and the fixed income that I can barely make it on in Lower Alabama will not do it for me up in the high-tax, high maintenance Northeast, particularly if I'm counting on getting on the train to Manhattan to keep up with the latest art shows, plays, and watering holes.

I'm discouraged today, but not to say depressed. I've talked with my broker about rearranging my IRA investments to provide dividend income until my house sells, and I've told my realtor to drop the price again. The Fairhope reality there just is no traffic in the real estate market at this time, and a hell of a lot of inventory. I'm probably not going to make any money to speak of on the house, but owning a property in a distant location makes no sense. I've got to unload it as fast as I can.

My realtor tells me not to extrapolate doom and gloom from the current real estate situation here, as is the wont of the financial pundits who are having a field day doing just that. As the weather gets better, there are always more people "discovering" Fairhope, and deciding to move here and improve it. I just hope some of them appreciate a particular Craftsman cottage and have a little money in their pockets.

In the meantime, I can simply downsize my dream. I don't have to live in Manhattan; I don't have to live in Hoboken either. To meet my needs I could find a bigger apartment in adjacent locales like Paulus Hook in Jersey City, or even Weehawken. I would consider something in the Ironbound of Newark, which has a special ring to it and is almost as convenient to the city as Hoboken. George Clooney wrecked his bike in Weehawken last week; if I had been living on the same street I would have a story to tell.

While my heart was set on Hoboken, all of the above have more appeal to me than the Fairhope of today. As my realtor said to me, all I have to do is be patient.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Second 50 Years

September 23, 2007

I was 48 when I moved back to Fairhope from New York City. I remember the feeling of exhilaration I had -- it was like having a chance to start over from where I had begun! I was fond of saying I was looking forward to my second 50 years, at the same time hoping I would know better than to make the same mistakes as I had made in the first.

I'm 17 years into my second 50 now. It's like being 17 again, having stumbled a time or two, having achieved a thing or two, and deciding, just as I did when I was very young, that New York was where I'd rather be than anywhere in the world. I've watched Fairhope itself change before my eyes from a sleepy village on the verge of growth to the upscale, socially-upwardly-mobile (and maybe that "mobile" should be capitalized) enclave it now unabashedly is. It has lost all but a trace of its reformist heritage; it has replaced the bohemians with the artistically pretentious. One or two real artists live here, but they are surrounded by self-congratulatory arrivistes who proclaim the ambience of Fairhope to be elegant and beautiful.

I have really lived in this town. My best friends are affluent enough to take long trips and some have second homes in other parts of the country. But I lived here. I committed myself to the betterment of the community by founding an artistic venture (the ill-fated Jubilee Fish Theatre), joining in an effort at historical preservation (defeated), participating in community theatre (hardly my finest hour), and working to shore up the unique school that was one of Fairhope's original, earth-shaking visionary institutions. I wrote a book of stories of the Fairhope I remembered from the 1950's.

All the while I have grown increasingly despairing of conveying the message to the newcomers who have taken over the town -- the message, "Okay, you love it here. Then don't remove its reason for being." To my right and my left the cottages have been demolished and replaced by oversized, empty houses, void of charm and even life. Most are owned by empty nesters whose dream, apparently, is to run a hotel for grandchildren -- or perhaps to impress each other. I don't know. I don't get a whole lot from these people, but they seem to view Fairhope as a generic little town upon which they can impose their own image of Norman Rockwell's America. They do not care to know that there was something real here before they came to replace it with the phony.

I wrote a post a few months ago about the way time was whizzing by as I prepare to depart for the Northeast. I used the word "whizzing" and the search engines sent me a few (probably 11-year-old males) looking for information on "whizzing." I used the term in its old-fashioned comic book sense, that is to say, "speeding." Time has indeed sped by as I prepare for my next chapter, whether or not I use up the whole 50 years. I'll relocate to quaint Hoboken (don't laugh), which is a ten-minute commute to Manhattan, small enough to be manageable, and considerably cheaper than the Big Apple.

In two weeks the school will celebrate its Centennial with a reunion -- see the post below -- and before the end of the year I'll have organized my finances in order to make my move. It doesn't look as if there'll be buyers for the Captain's House, so I may try to rent it for a year or two, until the real estate market awakens here. I only hope I don't have to tear it down and sell the place as two vacant lots, but I'm considering that possibility. Nobody moving to Fairhope seems to want an old house, and there is plenty of new construction.

I have a good feeling about my next 50 years. I'm still in good physical condition and all the things I love most are in New York City. I have a few friends left there, and the city looks great. I like the vibe in Hoboken. It has a historical museum (and a very interesting history to boot), a yearly Italian Festival, lots of music, restaurants and night life. I don't expect to be hanging out in the bars, but it's fun knowing they're there (and I'll bet there are some great AA meetings!). And I'll be able to get into the city for matinees, street fairs, concerts, and movies that never come to this area. I may not even own a television set.

I'm going to sell off most of my furniture and rent a one bedroom apartment -- maybe a studio apartment for a time. I'll buy what fits, and what I need. I'll downsize; I'll have a couple of monster yard sales and give away most of my clothes.

I'm going to have a different life. I hope I don't make the same mistakes I did in the first 50 years.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Return of the Natives

September 21, 2007

The Bell Building, Built 1904, First home of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education

In a Utopian community itself barely 106 years old, it’s not many an institution that can claim to have thrived for 100 years, surviving two world wars, an economic depression, the death of its founder, and years of struggle for its own place in the education sun.

The Marietta Johnson School, a.k.a. the Organic School, is such an institution in Fairhope. Founded by visionary educator Marietta Johnson, the school is poised for a reunion which will celebrate its one hundredth year of continous operation. Visitors, including graduates and former students from all over the country, are expected to convene here October 5-7 to reunite with old friends, check out the activities at the school, and learn some of the many stories their classmates have to tell.

The school was founded as one of the first progressive schools in the nation, and it has never closed its doors although it has endured financial crises, leadership shifts, petty disputes a certain amount of negative publicity throughout its lifetime. The negatives now in the past, the school is going forward this year with increased enrollment and an alumni base eager to help secure its future.

People are expected to begin arriving for the Centennial Reunion as early as Thursday morning from Massachusetts, Arizona, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and many locations in Alabama. Organizers say the pre-registration of graduates living in the Fairhope area is surprisingly low, but expected to be up to 200 by the time the events begin.

The Centennial Reunion will include an Open House at the school’s new campus on Marietta Drive (east of Section St.) at Pecan Avenue. At this, the buildings will be open and students will show visitors what a day in the life of the school is like. Current students will be assisted by graduates who are now of high school and college age, armed with videocams to record stories related to them by some of the older alums. This battery of roving reporters will add to the afternoon fun, which will include a pottery demonstration by Organic graduate and well-known local potter Tom Jones, a cake walk, and the graduates will enjoy a folk dance party Saturday night.

Beginning with Registration at 4 P.M. Friday, the old campus of the school -- now Faulkner Community College -- will be abuzz with activities including talks by Dr. Paul Gaston, Maggie Mosteller-Timbes, and Leslie Mulcahy, Director of the School. Being a graduate of the the school myself, I will probably be very visible on the scene and have a word or two to say to the assembled myself.

Events are open to the public and may serve to help inform the new Fairhope of its heritage. At least that's my hope, and a fair hope it is.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What Made Fairhope Fairhope?

September 15, 2007

Marietta Johnson in 1938

There is an ongoing parlor game in Fairhope about "what makes Fairhope Fairhope." I know I used the name a lot of times in that brief sentence, but I did it because I had to. Fairhope is nothing if not self-obsessed, particularly the new people who've moved in to what they consider a magical little town that seems to have appeared just to provide them with a sense of wonder.

But the elements that came together to create what may appear to be a thriving little Disneyland town are really quite different. Fairhope was once a reformist enclave which has now been all but swallowed up by a modernity gone very wrong. Its last shreds of idealism, the Single Tax Colony and the School of Organic Education, are hanging by slim threads indeed.

The importance of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education to the development of Fairhope as a colony of artists, intellectuals and reformers cannot be measured. In its early days, at least half the families of Fairhope had children in the school, which added to the village’s cachet of individuality and self-actualization.

Organic Education is education designed for the whole organism – body, mind, and spirit. Behind the theory is the knowledge that children love to learn and therefore school should be a pleasure to them. This is an extreme departure from traditional education; though begun as a demonstration school in Fairhope one hundred years ago, it is as extraodinary today as it was when the school was founded.

Marietta Johnson, a teacher in the normal school system in Minnesota, discovered Fairhope through fellow Minnesotans who were interested in Single Tax. She was newly married to a farmer and carpenter who was described as “a tall, handsome Swede” by those who remembered him some fifty years later.

Franklin and Marietta Johnson made their first trip to Fairhope in December of 1903, leaving St. Paul in the middle of a snowstorm and arriving in the kind of beautiful weather so often found in Fairhope in early winter. Ardent devotees of the Single Tax theory, they were enchanted with the town and hoped to buy and work a farm nearby. However, destiny had other plans for the couple.

The Fairhope of the early 1900’s was decidedly different from the city it is today. With a population hovering between 300 and 400, the town had been founded to demonstrate the validity of Henry George’s theory. Still a small enclave – only reached by boat – Fairhope had no paved roads, no automobiles yet, and a struggling but idealistic economy. In spite of its out-of-the-way location, little Fairhope was acquiring a reputation as an excellent resort area for intellectuals from the Northeast, the Midwest, and California.

Fairhope’s citizens were interested in new ideas from all quarters. At the dawn of the 20th Century, they believed great things were about to happen, and they also believed Fairhope to be the ideal location to demonstrate the efficacy of new ideas. Many of the Utopians who founded Fairhope, including E.B. Gaston himself, had children of school age and were interested in new ideas about education.

Marietta Johnson, trained as an elementary school teacher, had long been studying the new disciplines of Early Childhood Development and Child Psychology. She dreamed of a school that would be geared to the stages of development of the child rather than the old approach of forcing the child to fit the school system. In those days it was revolutionary to assume that children are radically different from adults – and it was even more unthinkable to imagine that their natural curiosity results in a natural joy in learning. The more she talked to people in Fairhope, the more inspired she became that she was on the right track in starting a school to benefit the revolutionary attitude of Fairhope.

She was obsessed with education, and her enthusiasm led her to believe that everyone who heard her theory would understand and agree. She was convinced that a demonstration school in Fairhope would reform the whole school system in America and the world.

Mrs. Johnson reinvented herself once she moved to Fairhope permanently – and she was 42 years old at the time. With zeal for her educational philosophy, she became a spellbinding lecturer, an accomplished fund-raiser, and a trainer of teachers who flocked to Fairhope to the school from all over the country. Mrs. Johnson and E.B. Gaston became friends and colleagues in proselytizing for both Fairhope and the school, and he and his wife enrolled all four of their children there.

Mrs. Johnson’s approach to education was as profound as it was simple. She knew that children learn as they play, and she felt that play was one of the most important ways a child could learn. While offering the traditional academic curriculum along with its program of activities in the fresh air, music, art, and handwork, the school did not hold one study as more important than another. The Organic School did not grade its children or have periodic tests or examinations. There were no dress codes. The artistic and crafts courses were required. Liberal use was made of Fairhope’s natural resources in the education of the children. Field trips to the gullies, the beach and activities outside on the beautiful 10-acre campus (now the home of Faulkner Community College) were part of the learning experience.

Children acted out the Greek myths on their hikes to the gullies. They came barefooted to school and climbed trees at recess. They sat outdoors for classes. In other words, they loved going to school. It was basic to Mrs. Johnson’s theory that this atmosphere offers an ideal situation for learning.

Today you meet many people from “old” Fairhope who will regale you with information they learned at the Organic School. The school – founded on the theory that hands-on projects are the best way to learn any skill – peopled Fairhope with generations who could build houses, throw pots, dance, paint pictures, write stories. Among their number are also doctors, lawyers, educators, military men, as well as entrepreneurs in the business world and practitioners of the arts.

In the 1920’s, the Marietta Johnson School was a magnet for the community. Its existence changed the history of Fairhope. In the process, one child at a time, the Marietta Johnson School has been at the heart of what makes Fairhope and its people unique. Those who supported the school, and the children who attended it, had (and still have) sincerity, innocence, and an eagerness for learning – their whole lives long. It’s the Fairhope attitude, and, more to the point, it’s the attitude of Organic Education.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Once Upon a Time in Fairhope

September 13, 2007

Edward J. Kearney, Sam Guncler in I Hate Hamlet

One of the prospects that enticed me to move back to Fairhope from New York in 1988 was that I could start another theatre company, as I had in Switzerland with the American community group we called the Little Theatre of Geneva. Fairhope seemed a good location for the first Equity theater in the southern part of the state, due to the huge success of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, first in Anniston and then in Montgomery, where it sat, and still does, in the middle of a 40-acre tract of land and a physical plant that cost something like $50 million.

If people from Fairhope would drive nearly three hours to see Shakespeare, I reckoned, would they not go across town to see a little Neil Simon, Noel Coward or Tennessee Williams? The Grand Hotel offered us space in the loft of their golf club, and I used the sale of a little scrap of land as seed money to create my theatre.

I named the company the Jubilee Fish Theatre, in an attempt to be, as I stated in the flyer, "imaginative, innovative -- and fun!" My husband tried his best to talk me out of the name, but the locals enjoyed it. Someone from Fairhope (perhaps me) will explain to you sometime what is meant by jubilee fish, but anyway I liked saying we were the only company in the world with that name. It definitely wasn't pretentious, and it definitely set us apart.

The first season consisted of four plays: A.R. Gurney's The Middle Ages, The Price, by Arthur Miller, The Deadly Game, and Somerset Maugham's The Circle. I scouted Montgomery for some of my first actors, including the dynamic young man named John Preston, who went on to become a favorite at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, playing, among other roles, an unforgettable Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. I made contact with Lewis Chambers, a New York agent who sent some of his stable of actors to me, and we worked for years together, with him supplying me with appropriate members of the actors' union for my plays.

We did such new plays like Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest, pictured here with Jed Dickson, Martina Vidmar, backed by a cast of onlookers including Carter Inskeep, Sarah Benz Phillips, Mary Margaret Thomas (mostly hidden), and Tina Hightower. At the end of that production one of my regular audience members took me aside and asked plaintively, "Why do you keep doing these comedies that are so sad?"

It was kind of a trademark at Jubilee Fish Theatre, comedies that had some sadness, or serious plays that had some laughs. I had to keep the casts small because of the space in that loft, and I never made a cent at my chosen profession, but kept pouring my own money in to keep it going. At the end of nine years I was losing about as much as I did on that first event that launched the company. My daughter was in New York City and pregnant with my first grandson. The theatre no longer seemed a viable profession, at least not for me.

So I moved on, and have now boxed all the memorabilia I can find into cartons for packing. In researching this, I found I had kept alarmingly little, and vital bits of information about my casts and my seasons seem to have been discarded over time, and over the recent purge of papers as I pack up to move. You can't keep everything, but there are moments in one's own once-upon-a-time when remnants of past projects will light up your heart. Just thinking about the days of Jubilee Fish Theatre make me a little happy, like a comedy tinged with sad moments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years Ago

September 11, 2007

A few months ago I was in New York City, a city still bruised by the terrible events of six years ago when a few deranged types, led by a fanatic, chose to take the lives of over 3,000 innocent people for no reason other than that they were Americans. In my walks around the city, I would pass firehouses with plaques commemmorating the brave men from their ranks who had given their lives in the effort to save lives. We are too close to it to comprehend the vastness of this wound to our nation and to one of the greatest cities in the world, but everyone says we are on our way to healing.

The families who lost their loved ones are still in shock, but trying, as mourning families must, to find a path to take in order to move on. The city's mayor, the very competent Michael R. Bloomberg, has done a great deal to rebuild the city and take it forward in spite of the crucible his constituents have endured.

In September, 2001, I was a different person, in a very different place for where I sit today. This is what I wrote in my blog a year ago:

I was on the first real vacation I had taken in years, beginning with a trip to Northern California for the big outdoor art show in Sausalito over the Labor Day weekend. My stepdaughter Amy had a booth at the show, and I went with her and her husband Phil to stay in a sweet little in in San Rafael. During that leg of the trip I had managed to hook up with an old boyfriend, himself also single again, in San Francisco. He took me on a wondrous tour of the nighttime city -- wandering into haunts in Chinatown, catching the music in a great jazz club, and eating cioppino at a garlicky little restaurant.

I then went for a week with a friend I had known in junior high at the Organic School and had not seen since. Neil and her husband Neal -- yes, that's their names -- turned out to be delightful grownups, gourmets, nonconformists, and living in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. They only had one car and they had no television set. They had a charming little storybook cottage with no pets except for the feral cats who lived in the backyard. Neil and I had been having one of the nice catching-up visits that old friends sometimes are lucky enough to experience. I was scheduled to fly back home through Pensacola on September 13.

On this morning five years ago Neil came in to wake me up at about six a.m. L.A. time. She told me of the terrible situation in New York. Remember, we had no tv to watch; she and Neal were listening to the radio. Then their friends began calling, realizing that they didn't have a television set, and thinking that would be the only way to learn about what was happening. Neal had worked at the World Trade Center only a few years before; he was beside himself with worry about friends. Neil and I worried about our own safety, and I knew there was no way I was going to fly back home in two days. But I wanted to get out of Los Angeles as soon as I could. Neil assured me that she had a sixth sense about these things and didn't think Los Angeles was going to be hit. Never mind that, no airport felt safe; I had to get home somehow.

Someone suggested the bus. Nothing sounded safer than a Greyhound Bus at that time, the big old lumbering behemoths that used to take me from Fairhope to Mobile on a Saturday afternoon to watch a movie. I knew it was going to be a hell of a ride from Los Angeles to Lower Alabama, but I cancelled the plane tickets and went to the bus station. Neil and I looked around and the little station looked clean and all but empty. This was going to be rather nice. I'd just get off when I got weary and find a nearby motel and get on the next bus going east when I got up in the morning.

Of course it was not that pat. The first bus from the clean little station took me to the main bus terminal in Los Angeles, which was teeming with humanity, and scared humanity at that. Luckily I had lived for 14 years in Manhattan and knew how to finesse myself to the head of a line while all the rest milled around looking confused. I felt a little guilty doing that, but not much. I knew to pack a small carry bag with enough stuff to get me through three nights and check the big bag straight on through to Mobile. I got a decent seat and stayed on the first miserable bus for an hour or two and got off when it got dark, at Blythe, on the California border. I spent the night at a really cheap hotel, as if I weren't scared enough, had breakfast at daybreak at a nearby McDonald's, and watched a glorious sunrise on the next bus. And so it went. This was followed by a tour of the Great American West, looking at sunrises and flags. Once a kid in uniform got on and sat next to me. I said to him "What are we going to do?" and he said, "Make a parking lot out of 'em." Bless his heart, I thought, he has no idea.

I went through Arizona and New Mexico, and then came Texas. Neil had packed a little food for me, and a bottle of water. She lent me two books to get my mind off things. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Liars' Club. Ya Ya worked best, because in its way it spoke of home, and supportive women, and an unrealistically competent heroine. I climbed into that book and stayed there the whole trip; I never did finish The Liars' Club, a far better book.

I stayed on the bus, sleeping through Texas, rather than prolonging the trip at that point. I did enjoy seeing familiar Southern scenery in Louisiana, marshes, bayous, and Spanish moss. I was getting toward home. I spent the night in a nice town, had one of the best breakfasts in my life, I'll think of the town soon. Most of it was washed away in Katrina, but those people at the breakfast restaurant are still there; I know they are.

It was a sobering trip. I was glad to be home. People wonder what has changed now that everybody is saying that the world has changed. This is it: I have. The props were knocked out from under me and I am not the same person that went to that art show and heard jazz in San Francisco. Everything I do is tinged with the knowledge that this should not have happened, and that it happened because of mistakes our leaders had made, mistakes for which our country is responsible.

Unfortunately, since that day the mistakes have been compounded over and over until there is no credibility for our country's existence anywhere in the world. Those who say we need to wage more wars, do it better, stay the course, are just rationalizing the original error of our ways. There will be no way out in my lifetime, and no hysterical behavior on anybody's part is going to change a thing. All I can do is live my own life, keeping some distance in my heart from the country that raised me to trust it. Even the village that raised this child has become a place I don't recognize. If I can make my own space better by doing my best, all I can do is hope that it will have some effect on the betterment of others. That's fair enough.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Halfway to Hoboken

September 7, 2007

I just read a news story from the New York Times webpage: 11 Arrested in New Jersey Corruption Inquiry. Blogger Craig from the Hoboken page of writes, "How many of them are from Hoboken?" and claims to have breathed a sigh of relief (perhaps tinged with surprise) that the answer was, "None."

The news story, however, is quite an eye-opener for someone accustomed to the good-old-boy Southern brand of political one-hand-washes-the-other, bumblingness of the local city council. This is big time, movie level stuff. In Fairhope, the meetings behind closed doors are more likely to be about plans to finagle land away from the city to build a new library or extend a bike trail. We get excited about it on both sides -- and amazingly I was decided opposed to both those projects -- but nobody gets whacked and the big bucks do not disappear.

Fairhope is committed to adorableness. That seems to be what is drawing the new people in and keeping them. They don't care about history; they care about ambiance, which can mean anything from theme restaurants to retaining the dilapidated old school building that faces the new kiddie park. Mothers marched for this a year ago, with banners reading "Save the K-1 Center," and when they learned it would not be demolished (or were told so) but remain a school, they were placated and pronounced themselves victorious. That would be easier than to accept that the deal was done years before their march when the area was negotiated by the University of South Alabama to be a part of its Fairhope branch. These are the same people who marched to protect Fairhope from wicked WalMart -- another failed project because it was too little, and way too late. The efforts to "Keep Fairhope Fairhope" always win, because it's one thing that cannot be refuted. Whatever Fairhope becomes, it will still be Fairhope. Even I can't argue about that.

I'm going to move to a grittier town, no doubt about that. While Fairhope celebrates its pelicans tonight, Hoboken's Italian Festival is in full swing. This means Italian food, bands, jubilation and a lot of noise, scraps and scrapes and general disorder all over the streets. If you live anywhere near the action, it may be difficult to sleep. But you are living near the action, and that's the price you pay. I wish I were there already.

An open house for realtors will be held here on Tuesday. It's fall, sort of (temps in the high 80's, at least 10 degrees lower in Hoboke), and the real estate market is supposed to pick up any time.

Sooner or later, one way or the other, I shall make the move. It becomes increasingly more difficult to focus on what I love about Fairhope, when my heart has been stolen by a feisty little Yankee town, ten minutes from Manhattan.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Political Curmudgeoning

September 6, 2007

I had Jay Leno on last night, tuning in just after the beginning of the monologue. Couple of Larry Craig jokes, a riff on Brad Pitt's stalker, then the announcement that the guest would be Fred Thompson, so I grabbed for the remote and searched for something interesting.

I was aware that Thompson would be declaring his candidacy this week, but not here, not now. Wouldn't have crossed my mind, even though Schwartzenegger used Leno's show for the announcement of his run for Governor of California. You expect it from Arnold -- he has been a talk show guy since his steroid days on early Merv Griffin -- but, when a debate is held by the Republicans on the same night, to come on Jay Leno to do an end run around your own party seems a bit callous. Seems Thompson's handlers used to work for Schwartzenegger.

And I'm not sorry I missed the announcement. Usually something of a political junkie, I cannot warm to this particular candidate, as I described in an earlier post. If he can beat Hillary Clinton, more power to him, but as far as I'm concerned their contest will be one of Lilliputians who will fight to say less with more air time than ever before in history. I guess you might call it a beauty contest, and Thompson may come out prettier. I shall probably seek a Third Party to vote for -- too bad Bloomberg has ruled himself out. But Ralph Nader is always lurking in the wings, waiting for another chance for an entrance.

I have become a curmudgeon. If it wasn't clear by my boycott of President Clinton's opportune hawking of his new book on Today and The Larry King Show yesterday, the switch to Danny De Vito on David Letterman rather than watch the dull Thompson (not withstanding the fact that it didn't occur to me it would be his first bid for the Presidential nod) should make it clear.

I am never a bellweather of things to come in politics. I seldom pick the winning candidate, and usually go for the one who says the most to me. This year none of those I find interesting have the chance of a snowball in hell of making it past the first primaries. My lack of interest in either leading candidate probably indicates that it's going to be a exciting year, with a great deal of joy on both sides. To me, it's just that the world has truly dumbed down.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Marrying a Gay

September 4, 2007

In the recent flurry of publicity about homosexual men brought down from high places, the figure in every scenario who always appears most enigmatic seems to be that woman by his side. How could she not know? What kind of person could she be?

I had lunch with my friend Carol, one of the most Southern of my acquaintances, a couple of years ago and the subject of how our generation of women had almost no choice but to marry by the time we were 20. She and I had both done so, and neither marriage survived very long.

Carol mentioned a friend who had also married very young, tried to make the marriage work against all odds -- discovering, after some years, that her husband was homosexual. Carol said, "I don't know what it is about us in the South, so many of our first husbands turned out to be gay. My first husband was gay too."

This brought me up short. I seldom discussed this matter, but this time I wanted to. Because I was also one of those young women who married a homosexual in the 1960's.

I said, "Gay guys were the type of man our mothers approved of. Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes. Nice, sensitive, presentable. And what did we know?"

What, indeed. I had been very sheltered, even as I pursued a career in the theatre. I knew Tommy to be gentle, offbeat and witty; I knew him to be seeing a psychiatrist; I knew he came from a small, conventional Alabama town, yet was a fan of the arts, especially grand opera. But, although he was attractive to the gays in my theatre group in New Orleans, they, like I, assumed him to be straight.

When we moved to Atlanta I worked for a while in Emory University's hospital as an aide in the psychiatric unit. This was a huge learning experience for me as I was required to confront some of my own psychology both through work with patients there and through relationships that developed from the intense closeness of the psychiatric assistants to each other as well as to superiors on the medical staff.

There was a favorite patient who was a history professor at the college. He was brilliant and had a warm personality. He also was suicidal and paranoid, a married man with a tendency toward homosexuality. This duality was a revelation to me; he clearly loved his wife and hated himself for not being able to be true to her. She and he were trying to work things out. I could not help but wonder what life would be like with a husband who was a homosexual.

In those days homosexuality was defined as a mental illness, considered to be caused (or at least exacerbated) by a dysfunctional family of origin situation -- probably an aggressive mother and a passive father. I noted that Tommy had both, but still could not connect our sexual problems with anything but my inability to be irresistible. We had a child to whom he was devoted. It seemed to me he liked everything about being married except me. And, to give him credit, a great deal of that was my fault. Or at least the fault of my ignorance and my built-in denial system, and the insecurity that led me, like Princess Diana years later, to expect a fairy-tale outcome to a match that went unexamined. Just being married was supposed to provide the answers to everything.

How little I knew of relationships, least of all that most complicated one of long-term romance between a man and a woman. It never occurred to me that a marriage was to be negotiated--carved out over time to suit its individual participants and their complexity. Hillary Clinton, the survivor of one of the most confusing marriages of recent memory, opines that no one understands a marriage except the two people in it.

And how little any of us understand the homosexual male psyche, particularly when he is driven underground by a strict sense of propriety and the need to be accepted in society. The Larry Craig case is compelling because it is so paradoxical. Even though Senator Craig denies that he is homosexual, and even though he has professed to despise the very act, he was undoubtably caught in some extraordinary behavior in an airport men's room if he is not pretty hip to the gay pickup scene. His denial and subsequent anger is only a part of the already distorted and sad story.

But wives like Dina Matos McGreevey (wife of the gay former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey) and Suzanne Craig were probably blindsided because they thought the problem had something to do with them. Ms. McGreevey is particularly bitter, as a wife would be if her husband suddenly dropped her with no warning and emerged with a glamorous trophy wife, callously negating the life he had lived with her. Mr. McGreevey was playing a role and, probably unknowingly, used her as an accessory in the picture of normalcy he was desperately trying to present to voters.

Mrs. Craig has yet to be heard from, but I'm fairly certain my case was different from both of these. I did not leave my husband because he was gay; in fact it was many years before I actually faced that fact. He moved to San Francisco on business and I refused to go. The divorce was final over a year later. My daughter grew up with doubts about her own lovability because of his apparent rejection -- which had a great deal more to do with me than it did with her. She and I didn't figure out what her father's real problem was until she was grown and visited him from time to time. He and I lost all contact, although I did everything in my power to refrain from negative talk about him. As to the clues about his sexuality, I had pushed them all to the back of my mind, steadfastly holding on to the belief that it couldn't have been so.

In college, Alison took a semester off to be with her father after he was diagnosed with AIDS. She has never reconciled her conflicting feelings about him. Now that I think of it, neither have I. He effectively cut the two of us out of his life as he became another person. When he died in the early 1980's, he and I had not spoken for over 15 years.

It was a different world, and I was a different woman. If I had known what I now do, and had not been so very young and inexperienced -- and if the world had been more broadminded in those days -- I might have had the courage to negotiate a better marriage and a more comfortable life for my daughter. All of that is useless conjecture now. My first husband and I went very separate ways, as, is usual in such cases, it was the child who suffered the most. That she is now a mother, and a good one, is a sign that some people can overcome the bleakest childhoods to live normal lives with an expanded consciousness and a loving heart.

I empathize with those women who try to make the most of a bad deal all around. I have hopes for Larry Craig, and for Suzanne, but they are only fair hopes -- their problem is only now beginning to find its name.