Yes, I Was a Fanilow (Kelly, this one’s for you)

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I first heard the term “Fanilow” from the 2003 Will & Grace television episode in which Will tries to hide from his friends while he stands in line for tickets to a Barry Manilow Christmas concert.

 

I hadn’t thought about Barry Manilow in years. I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to the Will & Grace episode either, except my sister Ellen called me to tell me she thought I’d get a kick out of the episode.

Why? Because I must confess, I was at one time a Fanilow. A devoted one. Okay, I was a teenager in the 70s. It’s somewhat explainable, but I don’t talk about it unless someone else brings it up. And now it’s out in the open.

Bob and I are in beautiful downtown Burbank, California for a couple of days.

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My “bestest ever” friend from high school, Kelly, lives down here. We don’t get to see each other very often, so I welcomed the chance to hitch a ride down I-5 to spend a day with her. At dinner with Bob she happened to say, innocently enough, “Did Gen tell you about how much she loved Barry Manilow?” I looked down. Bob looked at me with an amused expression. And my secret was revealed.

keep calm

 

It started with Mandy. It’s pretty much always been about Mandy. I didn’t even kow until I started writing this, Barry didn’t even write Mandy! I was so sure he had. Illusion destroyed. I listened to that song on the 8-track tape player in our living room in the house we lived in then in Gardnerville, Nevada, in the Carson Valley, over and over.

 

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Carson Valley, Nevada

 

Oh, how I loved that song. I sang my heart out. I can still belt out those lyrics from memory.

 

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Tell all, you say. The ultimate story takes place in March of 1977. Newly popular comedian Billy Crystal, made famous from the spoof television show Soap, was Barry’s opening act for a show at the Sahara Tahoe resort and casino. I HAD to go.

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Seriously. I HAD to go. I would DIE if I didn’t go. South Lake Tahoe is not far from Gardnerville, but it seemed worlds away at that time when I was pining for a chance to go to the show.

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Remember, I hadn’t yet turned 16, I didn’t drive, I didn’t have money, and it seemed IMPOSSIBLE that I would get to go. I pinned a picture of Barry on my wall and moped. If you have ever been or raised a teenaged girl, you know how expertly they pine and mope.

I don’t know what my mother did, but she did what it took, and lo and behold, we were going to the show. Five of us, in fact: my mother and her husband Van, me, and my friends Kelly and Michelle.

The only transportation we had was Van’s tiny Datsun pickup truck. I don’t use the term tiny lightly. Two people could “comfortably” ride in the cab of that truck. Not 5. Somehow we did it. It was very crowded, dangerous, and I am sure illegal. But we were determined.

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My mother made my dress. It looked something like the dress here in the lower left. This was a special occasion, remember. It was March in Tahoe; I was very cold.

super 70s

We went to the dinner show, seated at a table in the very back. I am sure Mom and Van smoked the entire time. They could do that legally then. There were maybe 3 dinner options; we all chose the least expensive–Salisbury steak. Salisbury steak is not steak. Nothing near being steak. It’s basically a hamburger patty in mushroom gravy. Chefs at fine restaurants do not make Salisbury steak. I knew it from frozen TV dinners.

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A girl we knew in school, a girl from a family with money, arrived at the show with her friends. They had a table up front. They more than likely ordered something other than Salisbury steak. I didn’t care. Van probably had a few drinks (and then drove the overcrowded little truck back down the mountain to Gardnerville). I don’t remember how bad the food or how scary the ride. This was about Barry.

barry at piano

Bily Crystal was, to me then, surprisingly vulgar. Lots of jokes about feminine hygiene products. Not funny. Just get him off the stage and on to Barry, people! It was wonderful, all a blur to me now. But I was happy. We made it home. I switched my crush over to Andy Gibb eventually. And then Daryl Hall, who I still have a thing for.

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Andy Gibb
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Daryl Hall

Life went on. The 70s moved on to the 80s, etc. Barry is 73 now, married to his long-secret love of 39 years, his manager Garry Kief.

 

barry and hubby

 

Now that he’s publicly out, I don’t think anyone is at all surprised. Even me, his former Number 1 Fan.

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But some things never change, like the wonderful feeling of being the company of a good friend. This time with Kelly has been the best; it’s just like we are those 15 year old girls all of those years ago, getting ready to go to a show. True friends are really what it’s all about.

friends

Love you, Kelly.

 

 

Literary Pets (Cats Who Write Murder Mysteries)

There is a real cat credited as a writer of murder mysteries–Sneaky Pie Brown, who pens the Mrs. Murphy mysteries with her human, Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is a crime-solving cat who works with a Corgi partner, in case you thought she was a human Miss Marple type.

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Sneaky Pie Brown with Rita Mae Brown.

I think cats would make natural murder mystery writers. There always seems to be an implied “I could kill you but I won’t” message underlying the looks many cats give us humans, and sometimes dogs, and sometimes other cats.

You know this cat is not thinking good thoughts about you.

There is a book about this, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

book

 

Maybe that’s what started me on playing the game, what author would that animal be? Or maybe it was that time I went to a reading and book signing by the author T. C. Boyle and thought he looked like a Borzoi. It turns out that Boyle, author of one of my favorite books, The Tortilla Curtain, is actually partial to the dreadlocked Puli, which is pretty cool.

 

Puli dogs
Puli dogs

Tortilla

 

I’ve only done this with dogs and cats so far, but I am sure you can play it with any type of animal if you can match up their personality, looks, and likely literary style with a human author.

My own companion animals were pretty easy to match up.

Sara, my 19-year old brown tabby cat, would clearly be one of the classic older ladies of the English murder mystery genre. Perhaps Agatha Christie, but I think really of a writer who had a bit more edge, like Ruth Rendell. Much darker things happen in Rendell’s books than Christie’s, and even thought Sara is an affectionate cat, she is a cat, and was also quite a hunter in her day.

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Dame Agatha Christie, creator of the aforementioned Miss Marple.
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Dame Ruth Rendell, author of dark mysteries under her own name, and psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

Misty, our 6-year old Turkish Angora who was rescued from kitty death row, where she was placed for having a personality disorder that made her “unadoptable”, would be a perfect Gillian Flynn,  author of the disturbing books Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Misty is beautiful, but beware what lurks in that brain. I call her the Ferocious Beauty for good reason!

Scary, each and every one of them.

Marble, the new kid on the block, is hip and eccentric and a little wild, so I am picking Dave Eggers for him. Maybe Eggers, perhaps best known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a dog guy. I don’t know, but Marble would be a good hipster author who can be funny and profound and will always do things a little differently. And sometimes follows you around like a dog.

And then there is Einstein. Einstein is not named for his staggering genius, but for his unruly fur. I think he should be a humorist, and I know Dave Barry likes dogs because he has written about them frequently. And his bangs hang in his face, like Einstein’s.

Of course, I have to delve into memories of pets past as well. Our dearly beloved Ben, the classic orange tabby with a heart of gold, would be Calvin Trillin, winner of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He’s a classic himself.

Then there is the dynamic dog duo, Bingo and Sadie. Bingo was a ham, always taking credit for Sadie’s work. She was a lovable free-spirit.  If we took them to the beach and threw sticks in the water, Sadie would swim out to retrieve them, but as soon as she got to shore, Bingo would grab them from her and run over all proud for having supposedly retrieved them himself. Obviously, to me, they are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Bingo, left, with Sadie.
F. Scott with Zelda.

I can go on like this for hours. Now I’ve started matching up animals at the shelter with their literary doppelgängers.

When I first saw Mordecai the mastiff, his stateliness made me think of Charles Dickens, the venerable author of so many icons of English literature. But I have revised my opinion lately to thinking he is really John Steinbeck, the venerable author of so many icons of American literature. Steinbeck, by the way, wrote a lovely book about his Standard Poodle Charley.

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Mordecai

When I saw scrappy little dachshund mix Facebook, I immediately thought of Alexander McCall Smith, prolific author of the series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Scotland Street. He has an infectious personality and his books are light and fun.

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I picked David Foster Wallace for Joey, mostly because for some reason he just looks like he’d write some of my favorite essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Joey will not follow in DFW’s footsteps in terms of early, self-inflicted death. Joey will live to be a grumpy old man cat with a sense of humor.

Joey

 

 

 

I’ll just do one more. Like I said, I could do this for hours. I read a lot, and I see a lot of animals in the course of my day.

Another of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I don’t know why it took me a little while to realize she would be my recent foster cat Merida. There is a sweetness to Tyler’s books, along with a faint melancholy, and always a theme of family and relationships. Merida is a sweetheart, had a rough start in life, is looking for her forever family, and could easily be the central character in a Tyler book if Tyler wrote books about cats.

Maybe some day I’ll actually write and publish a book. I hope so. I have a great author photo ready to go–I look serious and moody.

And then maybe someone will pair me up with my animal doppelgänger. I’m hoping for a sleek, dignified beauty, like an Irish Setter.

But I won’t be surprised if it is a roly poly kitten, either.

Meow!

So Far Away (I love you, Carole King)

Not so long ago, I went with my buddy Debra to watch the recent film of Carole King performing her groundbreaking Tapestry album at Hyde Park in London in 2016.

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Tapestry (1971) was on repeat play on the turntable in my sisters’ room when we were growing up. I have strong and fond memories of the music.

Tapestry

Debra, inviting me to go, remarked that I seemed like the type who would love Carole King. She was right.

The Hyde Park concert was amazing enough to watch as a film. It must have been magical to be there. First of all, Hyde Park in London. I’ve never been but it looks lovely in photos.

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Hyde Park, London

A huge and congenial crowd is in attendance, singing along with Carole and clearly connecting to her music, whether as a remembrance of a time past or as younger, newer listeners struck by the emotion and angst of the songs.

Tapestry itself is such a classic, every song a gem (except maybe Smackwater Jack, but I loved it when I was 10 and I still like to sing along with it). This is the list of songs on Tapestry:

  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • So Far Away
  • It’s Too Late
  • Home Again
  • Beautiful
  • Way Over Yonder
  • You’ve Got a Friend
  • Where You Lead
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Tapestry
  • Natural Woman

You’ve heard them all. I’ve sung them all. It’s a legendary work of art. But what I’ve noticed a month after seeing the film is that the one song that won’t leave me is So Far Away.

 

There’s so much about this song that keeps it on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and prone to nostalgia. The lyrics themselves provoke a sense of loneliness, time slipping away, a need for connection and love and friendship.

so far away

lyrics

I’ve been thinking of the notion of far away. It can be distance, it can be time, it can be a mental state. My sisters and my brothers are distance away–3,000 miles give or take. That’s far. Too far. My mother is time away; when I say time I mean earlier days and memories, not a discrete amount of time that can be traversed. She died in August, 2009. But I dream of her frequently and miss her every day. And then someone can be sitting right next to you and be far away, lost in thought, in another world, with you but not with you. I am sometimes that person who is far away, dreamy and distant.

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I wake up with So Far Away playing in my head. I will be listening to my audiobook of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and up will pop So Far Away. That is fitting in its way. If you know Anna’s story, she was ostracized by friends and family and the larger society, not allowed to see her beloved son. She was right there, but made to seem far away, even to herself. Spoiler alert–Anna’s story doesn’t end well. We need family, friends, connection.

anna

“One more song about moving along the highway can’t say much of anything that’s new.” So true. And it’s predominantly men who sing those moving on down the highway songs. The Allman Brothers and Ramblin’ Man as well as Midnight Rider. The Grateful Dead and Truckin’.  Ricky Nelson and Travelin’ Man. (And what’s with the dropped letter g, by the way?) Steve Miller took it to the skies with Jet Airliner. Steppenwolf and Born to be Wild. Pretty much anything from Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska (which I love).

 

 

Was it a coincidence that about 95% of the audience in the movie theater the night we went was female, of a certain age, and we all sang along? But it was So Far Away that had me wiping a tear from my eye. I can think of one other song that has this effect on me–James Taylor’s Shower the People (1976).

 

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Letting the people that you love know that you love them–it seems so simple yet it can be so difficult. It’s the subject of many a novel, play, movie. We carry such inner turmoil around showing love. Yet we crave love ourselves. James Taylor is a guy that gets it.

Again, not a coincidence that James Taylor and Carole King have a history going back more than 40 years, including him performing backing vocals on Tapestry. In addition to his own songs, he’s performed (and made famous) many of King’s songs, such as You’ve Got a Friend.

 

James has his own Highway Song; it seems to be a male rite of passage. Women want to seek out and befriend, men want to get moving along/away.

 

When I was younger, my ex-husband’s response to strife was to suggest we move. During our 20+ years of marriage, we lived in too many apartments and houses to count in several different towns, including Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, Vacaville, Winters, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield, and Napa in California. I think what he really wanted was to move on without me. Now, with Bob, we’ve lived in this same house for the 13 years we’ve been together. It’s a nice feeling to be at home! Yes, he travels, but I always know he’ll be back, and be happy to be back. He’s never so far away that I can’t reach him.

Come visit us sometime; it would be so fine to see your face at our door. As long as you aren’t allergic to dogs and cats. They help make this place home, too.

 

 

Little Shit Goes to Vegas

During the infamous summer of 1972, our cross-country traveling family ended up in Las Vegas for a few days. This was in 1972; Las Vegas was NOT a family destination. It was a seedy place. Celebrity chefs hadn’t flocked there yet. I haven’t been back to Vegas (although I spent a lot of time in the Carson Valley), but I imagine it’s quite the scene these days. Not my scene, then or now.

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Las Vegas in 1972.

I did not like Las Vegas much. Except for Circus Circus, which was new and fun back in 1972. The 3 of us kids were left unsupervised to wander around Circus Circus, which didn’t do us any harm, although maybe wasn’t one of my mother’s better parenting decisions. This excerpt from the memoir contains several questionable parenting decisions.

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Circus Circus in Las Vegas, 1972.

This episode revolves around a stay at Caesar’s Palace. The 1972 version, not the modern one.

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Caesar’s Palace, circa 1970.
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Caesar’s Palace today.

If you aren’t familiar with Totie Fields (1930-1978), she was a stand-up comic (then called a comedienne), the rare female in the male-dominated field of the 1960s and 1970s. Tame by today’s standards, she was pretty raucous for her time.

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And then there’s John Davidson. Born in 1941, he’s been an actor, singer, and game show host. My sister Ellen thought he was dreamy.

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The two of them performed a show in August, 1972, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We were there. Apologies to my siblings for any unintentional fictionalizing of the truth, but this is actually how I remember the story. Was 16 (almost 17) year old Ellen really served champagne? The laws were probably looser back then, but there were also a lot of big tips (bribes) to staff that made this entire event even happen. I’m sure I didn’t know the term maitre d’hotel at age 10 (almost 11), but I did hear the term that sounded like “maytra dee” a lot and I knew who that was. Maybe Totie was the opener for John; usually the comic is first up before the singer. Whatever. Here we go; what happened in Vegas isn’t staying there!

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

For a change, we make an early start. Not that there is anything to do at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

            “What year do they think it is in Utah, anyway?” grumbles Van. “It’s 1972, not Prohibition. They could serve a man a drink in the restaurant, damn it.”

            It’s a long, silent drive into Las Vegas. I thought it was hot in Texas, but this is crazy.

            “I’m afraid the old girl is going to overheat, and we’re almost out of gas. Gonna try coasting and see if that gets us closer.”

            Van hates to buy gas, so we are always on the verge of running out. Mom keeps suggesting he fill up the tank when we stop, but he hates not just the buying of the gas but the paying for it, so he won’t buy a full tank. I might only be a ten-year old Little Shit, as I am constantly reminded, but I can see this makes absolutely no sense at all, but then, neither does referring to the station wagon as The Old Girl.

            He navigates down the “strip” as he calls the main road into Las Vegas. It seems to be all 24-hour coffee shops and gaudily lit hotel casinos. On opposite sides of the street, competing signs for the Flamingo and Caesar’s are lit up even though the bright sunlight seems to defeat the purpose. The marque for Caesar’s advertises its big show: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Ellen perks up in the back seat. She has a crush on singer John Davidson. I know who Totie Fields is from watching Johnny Carson late at night with Mom when neither of us can sleep.

            Van decides on Caesar’s. It must be a gesture to Ellen; she can say she stayed at the same hotel where John Davidson is performing. He follows the drive to the front and he and Mom go in to get us rooms.

            “Maybe you’ll see John Davidson in the hallway and he’ll talk to you,” Steve teases Ellen. We wait in the car in the unbearable heat, all the windows open and fanning ourselves with magazines and comic books.

            Mom and Van finally emerge and get back in the car.

            “He said to drive around back,” Mom explains as Van puts the car in drive. We head around back to a stark, black asphalt parking lot the size of a football field and a rectangular white cinderblock building separate from the hotel. We have rooms in the addition. It looks like the prisons on television shows. There are even bars on the windows of the ground floor rooms.

            Van hands us the key to the room the 3 of us share. It’s next to the room where the Coke machine and overworked ice machine generate constant noise and even more heat. He and Mom are on the second floor. At least they aren’t next door to us. Small favors.

            The room is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Even the Bumbleberry Inn was nicer than this. Awful red bedspreads on the two beds, nothing to disguise the white cinderblock walls. The television is chained to the dresser. At least there is a television. And air conditioning, though it struggles to provide any cooling effect in the bright white room.

            After showering and changing into our “nice clothes” (my green print dress that Mom made and is way too hot, the dreaded white socks, and patent leather Mary Janes), we head to the hotel. The asphalt is hot and sticky in the shimmering heat. What are we going to do in a casino? As soon as we enter, a scary looking man in a red suit comes over.

            “These two can’t go onto the floor.” He nods his head toward me and Steve. “How old is the young lady?”

            Ellen seems pleased to be asked. But when she says she’s 16, he shakes his head. “No, she can’t go on the floor either.”

            The floor is a loud, crowded, place I don’t want to go anyway. Tired looking cocktail waitresses circle with trays of free drinks, slot machines make a constant high-pitched jangling noise, and it’s hard to tell if it’s day or night. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovers over the huge space.

            “They can stay at the edge, and they can go in the buffet or the gift shop.”

            Van pulls out his wallet and begrudgingly hands Ellen some money.

            “Y’all go on the buffet. We’ll come find you there in an hour.”

            Ellen sighs, but the word “buffet” has Steve’s attention. All-you-can eat buffets with no parental supervision are this summer’s most exciting discovery for him. The Grand Canyon and the Alamo had been cool, but to his 14-year old appetite, unlimited access to food trumps everything. I just want to go somewhere cool and quiet, but I am not sure that exists here.

              It’s been a lot longer than an hour, but that’s to be expected. Steve is still exploring the Mexican section of the vast buffet. Ellen picks at the salad she’s pieced together. We call it big weird salad. You put whatever sounds good on the plate with some lettuce and put salad dressing on top. I have opted for the dessert section. I fix myself a cup of milky coffee. Mom lets me have it sometimes, and since no one’s paying attention to what I am doing, I go for it. I wish I’d brought a book. But there are lots of interesting people to watch.

            Finally, close to 10 p.m., Mom and Van weave their way over to where we sit.

            “Come on, kids, we’ve got a surprise.”

            Uh oh. Van and surprises are usually a bad combination.

            We follow them through a maze of loud crowded rooms and up the stairs to a lobby leading to huge, elaborately carved doors. The big, lighted sign on the door reads “Caesar’s is proud to present: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Two shows nightly.” The lobby is crowded as is every other space in the hotel. We follow Van like ducklings to the maitre d’hotel stand by the door. Van says something in the man’s ear and I see them shake hands, a tiny edge of a green bill showing in Van’s hand.

            “Come on,” he says, looking at us, and we follow him and the maitre d’hotel without comment, unusual in itself, into the show room, and sit at a big round table next to a railing overlooking the stage.

            “Enjoy the show, ladies and gentlemen.” The maitre d’hotel walks away with his head high. How much money did Van give him? He must have won at whatever gambling game he’s been playing. Ellen, dumbstruck, looks like she’s forgotten how to breathe. Steve looks at the sign on the table: “Four drink minimum.”

            The waiter comes over for our order, and points to the sign. Van orders “7 and 7” and Mom has the same. It’s a disgusting combination of brown liquor and sweet 7-Up. I much prefer Sprite, plain, icy right out of the bottle. Sometimes, depending on where we are, the bartender puts a maraschino cherry in the glass, and Van will immediately toss his on his napkin in disgust. If he’s not paying attention, Mom lets me suck on the cherries, the odd, smoky, bitter taste of the whiskey and the sweet sticky cherry somehow pleasant in my mouth. It reminds me of the rum balls we had once from the bakery on Cheshire Bridge Road where Mom used to go for salt-rising bread and cheese straws.

            Van slips more money to the waiter, who nods his head. He comes back with 4 of each adult drink, 4 Cokes each for me and my brother, and 4 glasses of champagne for my underage sister. The 4 Cokes sit in front of me, ice melting and glasses sweating. Should I drink them one at a time, or take sips down the row of glasses, keeping the levels all the same until they are gone?

            Thankfully the air conditioning in here actually has some effect on the desert heat, and keeps the cigarette smoke from suffocating us. The lights dim and everyone stops talking. Ellen squirms in her seat, and switches with Steve so she is next to the rail and a few inches closer to the stage. John Davidson is on first, the opener for the more famous Totie Fields. I pay more attention to the levels in my Coke glasses than to what he’s singing. Ellen sways in her seat to the music and sips champagne. She looks so grown up, it scares me a little.

            During the intermission, Van disappears. Mom chatters with Ellen about how good the first half of the show was. Ellen is starting to giggle, and her cheeks are rosy and glowing. Van reappears, a mysterious smile on his face. He looks pleased with himself. More surprises?

            The lights dim again, and Totie Fields comes out to great applause. She is a small, round woman with large, elaborate hair. She alternates between songs and jokes, none of which I understand, but I can tell that Ellen and Steve are embarrassed. At one point she grabs one of her breasts and says, “What is this, chopped liver?” Everyone laughs. We are the only children in the room, and now I realize why.

             It’s finally over.

            “Can we leave now?” I whisper to Ellen, but she doesn’t hear me.

            Van is still in his seat, with that self-satisfied look on his face. The maitre d’hotel finds us. He hands cocktail napkins to Ellen and Steve. Ellen squeals and wobbles on her high heels. “To Ellen, thanks for coming to the show. Love, John Davidson” is in black ink on the slightly crumpled napkin.

            Steve’s face turns bright red and he tries to shove the napkin he’s been handed into his pocket.

            “What is it?” I grab at his hand and try to pull it away so I can see. “Steve, I hear you are a big fan. Love you, Totie Fields.”

            Van cracks up; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him laugh so genuinely and joyfully before. I think my brother is going to cry. Van has temporarily won over Ellen but humiliated Steve. I am not sure which makes him happier.

Maple-Bourbon-Cocktail-www.jellytoastblog.com-1-of-4

 

Genie buffet
The Genie Buffet at the Aladdin Hotel Las Vegas, circa 1970.

It’s hard to believe this was 45 years ago this summer. Mom and Van are both gone, as is Totie Fields. John Davidson is a senior citizen, but at 76 still active in stage musical productions.

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John Davidson, 2016.

I get mail from AARP now. But in my mind I’m still that girl called Little Shit.

Nevada Gen
Me in the winter of 1973 in Gardnerville, Nevada.

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The word soup in Thomas Wolfe’s refrigerator

If you have ever met me or read my blog, you know that I am not a tall person. And I’m okay with that. Thomas Wolfe, on the other hand, was not a small person. I assume he was okay with that. Tall people come across with a sense of authority and power to us shorties. I am 5′ 0″. Wolfe was 6′ 6″.

Tom and me
Due to budget constraints, the “life size” Wolfe is only 6′ 0″. The actual life size me is 5′ 0″. Add 6 more inches difference. He was really tall; just sayin’.

 

I’ve always kind of known about Thomas Wolfe, mostly from the book title You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously in 1940) and the romanticized view of Southern writers that an avid reader who spent her childhood in Georgia can’t escape.

EGcoverCan'tGoHome

 

After watching the film Genius, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer A. Scott Berg book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978)  and writing about it, I have continued reading and researching into the life of Thomas Wolfe.

 

I loved the film, but after my recent sojourn to Indianapolis for the 39th Annual Meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society, I have even more questions. (And I’m buying yet more books. Running out of places to put them all!).

 

What was interesting to me is that so many dedicated Wolfe scholars and readers had some negative reactions to the film, which we watched together at the Indianapolis Public Library as a part of the weekend. Author Berg, on the other hand, who spoke to us to a standing ovation at our closing banquet, was pleased with the film. And I still love it.

 

genius poster

 

 

One of the complaints from the group about the film was the casting of Jude Law as Wolfe. Law, in my opinion, did a wonderful job, but he’s not anywhere close to 6′ 6″ and 250 plus pounds. But what actor would be close to that without being some former wrestler or football player of dubious acting ability? Law is better looking than Wolfe, but it’s a movie. I can look past that!

tom and jude

 

The book had been considered for films for many years, according to Berg. At one time, Paul Newman was slated to play Max Perkins. And at another, Tim Robbins wanted to play Wolfe. That I can see, in his younger days.

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A young Tim Robbins, who is 6′ 5″.

One thing to keep in mind is that the film is based on a book about Max Perkins, the editor who wrangled with Wolfe and served as a father figure to him in many ways. In the book, next on my to-read list, Perkin’s relationships with 2 of his other writers, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are also featured. It’s not a biography of Wolfe.

perkins writers

In speaking about the casting of Jude Law, Berg said that in the interviews he did for the Perkins book, it was mentioned that when Wolfe first appeared in Perkins’s doorway at Scribner’s, Perkins saw, in his mind, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Berg sees Shelley in Law’s countenance. Of course, we don’t have photos of Shelley to get an accurate idea, but there are portraits.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

My imagination was totally captured by the images in the film of Wolfe writing as fast he could, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk, sheets of paper flying through the air as he filled them with words. I imagine the inside of his head as a swirling word soup. Mine often is like that, but my word soup tends to stay soupy and muddled, whereas Wolfe was able to put the words into such beautiful creations. If we were working in a restaurant, I would be the dishwasher and Wolfe would be the executive chef, the genius who I admire and emulate. Or maybe Wolfe would be the Chef de Cuisine, doing the work of making the delicious soup, and Perkins would be the executive chef, at the pass making sure the plates are perfect before they go out.

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Word soup ingredients.

 

This leads to the burning question, can a refrigerator be used as a desk? Remember that Wolfe was 6′ 6″ tall. A typical 1920s-1930s refrigerator was probably just over 5″.

 

You can buy such a vintage refrigerator today if you think it will help you become a writer.

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Being who I am, I had to test this out. My home refrigerator is 5′ 10″ tall. For me to use it as a desk, I have to stand on the kitchen counter next to it.

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No worries; I sanitized the counter after I was done.

 

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At 6′ 6″, Wolfe could probably even use a modern day refrigerator as a desk if he really wanted to. It wouldn’t be a good ergonomic choice.

 

One of my favorite papers presented at the meeting was by Paula Gallant Eckard of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She is the author of the recently published Thomas Wolfe and Lost Children in Southern Literature (2016).

 

There is a common thread of a sense of “lostness” in much Southern literature, especially in regard to children. Eckard discussed, among other contemporary writers, Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster, 1987) and Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011).

 

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Other highlights: the charming performance by the Indiana University Kokomo Players of “Wolfe’s Wanderlust: Scenes and Music from His Life and Fiction”

and the amazing table centerpieces created for the banquet, each based on a theme in Wolfe’s life.

 

Everyone I met was warm and welcoming. I arrived a bit anxious about going into a meeting of scholars with relatively little knowledge. I needn’t have been. They are all eager to share Wolfe with the world and bring him back into the canon of American literature alongside his contemporaries Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He died so young; who knows what legacy he might have left behind.

Speaking of young, the first person I encountered going to register for the conference was my new friend Savannah Wade, from Asheville, North Carolina. Pay attention to that name, she has a bright future ahead of her. I was so impressed with her varied interests and thirst for knowledge. When I was 23 years old, I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to get on a Greyhound bus alone and head to an unknown city to meet with anyone! I felt so grown up doing this at age 55. Savannah, now, I can picture writing a work of genius using a refrigerator as a desk. And I can see that she has ways with word soup that I can only dream of.

Savannah
Savannah

And now I must go and dust off the top of my refrigerator. It’s the first time I’ve seen the top of it in a while!

The banjo moves up on my life list

I hate the term bucket list. You might as well say, “I’m going to die any day now. What to do?” I’d rather say, “Life is a mystery. What would I like to do?” Bucket list sounds so final. Life list sounds open and celebratory.

 

For the longest time, going up in a hot air balloon was a feature on my list. I lived for a while in Napa, where hot air ballooning is a major activity. But no one I know would go up with me. I know too many people who are afraid of heights. And I was afraid of going alone. So I still haven’t done it. I would hear that sound of the air whoshing up into the balloons as they drifted over my house near the Napa River. Taking my coffee out on the deck, I’d stand in my pajamas and wave longingly at the tourists in the balloons as they drifted by.

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I signed up for a watercolor painting class and the first thing I painted was a hot air balloon.

balloon painting

I’ve read Around the World in 80 Days more than once. Of course, there isn’t a hot air balloon in the book, but thanks to the film version, I can’t think of the story without a hot air balloon.

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I still have hot air balloon dreams. Maybe over Paris! Paris was also a long-time life list item. And in 2014 I finally got there! Was it everything I dreamed it would be? Mais oui! Certainement! I’ll brush up my bad high school French and go back anytime. Given my name and French heritage, you’d think I’d have speaking French in the bag, but alas, languages don’t necessarily pass down in families once they assimilate to the United States. So I was really An American in Paris:

 

For a few years now, I’ve said I want to learn to play the banjo. I see banjos at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (the flea market) now and again, but they always look pretty beat up, and I never have the courage to haggle with the dealers since I know absolutely nothing about banjos.

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I don’t know why I love them, but I do. Recently, we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. What a beautiful place! I worked for years in museums, and I was quite impressed with the displays, collections, volunteers, everything! They even have a conservation lab, which was my first foray into museum work.

 

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Some of my favorite displays at the museum were the Americana, Bluegrass, and Banjo sections. Banjos! In a museum! I felt vindicated in my banjo love.

Since, I have come to find out there is an American Banjo Museum and American Banjo Hall of Fame. Woo hoo! Now I have a reason to go to Oklahoma City. Some of the illustrious inductees include Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin. There are women in the hall of fame too: Debbie Schreyer, Helen Baker, Georgette Twain (love that name) among others.

 

Last night, in one of my weird, mixed up dreams, I bought a banjo. The main theme of the dream was that I was trying to board a ferry into San Francisco. It was an ordeal. I had to go through a labyrinthian mall to buy a ticket. And while wandering lost through the mall, I saw the world’s most beautiful banjo. I had to have it. I bought it. And in nonsensical dream style, instead of putting the banjo in a case for me, the salesclerk carefully and elaborately wrapped it in brown paper and string, like the gorgeous and mysterious Christmas present.

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The dream banjo didn’t look like this; not quite so fancy. More Danish Modern meets banjo. This is Gibson’s Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe.

The banjo often doesn’t get a lot of respect. Mark Twain (any relation to Georgette?) said something about a true gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t. But I don’t care. I’ve had a crush on Steve Martin since the 1970s. Then, when I was in high school, the banjo was part of his comedy schtick. Now he’s a respected, Grammy winning musician with his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers. And he’s still funny.

 

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Can I learn to play this late in life? The question is more, will I follow my dream. There’s even a Dummies book for me.

banjo for dummies

 

I challenge myself to follow this one. I made it to Paris. Maybe soon you’ll see me in the sky, in a hot air balloon, picking on a banjo and having a great old time.

 

 

Mary Pickford, the Girl with the Curls (and the cat, and the cool Google doodle)

I don’t usually pay attention to the ever-changing Google doodle. I don’t always get it, not being all that culturally hip, and I am often on a Google mission that keeps me from lingering on the home page. April 8 was a day on which I did linger. I was attracted to the blue background, the vintage female figure with the movie camera, and of course, the cat on the figure’s shoulder.

Mary Google

Who was the woman, a woman I immediately wanted to be? I clicked. April 8 would have been Mary Pickford’s 125th birthday. I realized I knew very little about Mary Pickford. I had a vague idea of her being a silent-film era damsel in distress, an early cinematic American Sweetheart. But she was so much more than that.

Here is the Google blurb:

 

    • Lights, camera, action! Today’s doodle honors the “Queen of the Movies,” Mary Pickford. An actress, a film director, and a producer, Mary Pickford proved that actors weren’t relegated to careers in front of the camera. She co-founded the film studio United Artists and was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

      Before she became one of the most powerful women who has ever worked in Hollywood, she was “the girl with the curls,” and one of the most beloved stars of the silent film era. She appeared in as many as 50 films per year, and eventually negotiated wages that were equal to half of each of her films’ profits. She went on to demand full creative and financial control of her films, a feat still unheard of to this day.  

      She used her stardom to bring awareness to causes close to her heart. She sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, created the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and revolutionized the film industry by giving independent film producers a way to distribute their films outside the studio system. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in Coquette (1929), and an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1976.

      Today, we pay tribute to Mary Pickford’s enterprising leadership on what would be her 125th birthday.

      MaryPickford

      Born in 1892 in Toronto as Gladys Marie Smith, she began in a traveling theater company at age 7, with her family, and was known as Baby Gladys Smith.

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      In 1908, a producer gave her the name Mary Pickford, changing her middle name Marie to Mary, and using her mother’s maiden name, Pickford. She appeared in her first film in 1909. 

      It was her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917 that finally gave her the fame and fortune that she built on to become the Queen of Hollywood.

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      This is from her first talking picture, and the one for which she won an Oscar, Coquette (1929). She is said to have been dismayed at hearing the sound of her own voice.

       

      In her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow (1955), she wrote that as a young girl in Toronto, she would buy a single rose and eat the petals, believing the beauty, color, and perfume would become part of her.

      book cover

       

      rose petals

       

      Here she is in 1976 receiving her honorary Oscar; I was dismayed at the zebra skin rug in the foyer at her home Pickfair, but more on that in a bit. It’s a bit sad to watch but remember she is 84 years old in the video clip.

       

 

Pickfair, the estate where she lived in Beverly Hills until her death in 1979, was a gift to her from second husband Douglas Fairbanks.

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Sadly, so-called actress Pia Zadora (“Who?” I can hear you ask) razed the house in 1990, having purchased it in 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Russ. In its place, she build a “Venetian-style palazzo”, eventually claiming after much criticism that she did so because the house was haunted, not by the ghost of Mary but by one of Douglas Fairbanks’ mistresses. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in a public statement after hearing that the house had been destroyed, “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.” In its heyday, Pickfair was second only to the White House in American house fame.

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Pia Zadora, literal home wrecker.

Zadora sold the “palazzo” (17 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms) in 2006 to Korean businessman Cory Hong. It was listed for sale again in 2008, with an asking price of $60 million.

Despite the zebra skin rug, which seems much more Pia Zadora than Mary Pickford to me, made me think about Ms. Pickford and animals. Many images of her include animals, particularly dogs and cats, but also rabbits and birds.

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Of course this one is my favorite.

I wonder, even though in some images I found she is wearing fur, if that is also of the era (like the zebra skin rug), and if she was in fact an animal lover. I feel she might be a kindred spirit.

She was a trailblazer, and even today not many women have the creative control and power she had.

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American woman finally get the right to vote in 1920. Canadian women first received the right in 1916 in Manitoba. The last Canadian province on board was Quebec in 1940.

 

 

I’m never going to be an actress or a director or a producer or any kind of “powerhouse”, but I admire Mary’s determination and seeming sweetness. I’ll have to read more about her. In addition to her autobiography, there are quite a few books about that early era of Hollywood and the people who made it happen. The one I am going to look for is Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (2007) by Eileen Whitfield.

amazon book cover

 

In the meantime, this will have to suffice as my homage to Mary Pickford and women like her: strong, determined, and happy to have a cat climbing on her shoulders.

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Peace and hugs from me and little Chiclet, foster kitten extraordinaire.

P. S. Please support me in my fundraiser for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. My goal is fairly modest. Mary would approve.

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Grumpy Old Men (or, A Man Called Ove, or Get Off My Lawn!)

Okay, maybe this image of Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski from the movie Gran Torino (2008) is a little extreme. But we almost all of us know the “get off my lawn guy”. Heck, sometimes these days I am the get off my lawn guy!

Maybe Homer Simpson is a better example, although I am sure there are Walt Kowalskis in the world.

 

When I was a kid on Dyson Drive in Atlanta, it was Colonel James G. Bogle. I am sure he was a nice man. He lived a long life (1915-2010), and I hope a happy one. Our family spent many evenings at the home of his family. His daughter, Alice, a few years older than me, had a wonderful bedroom filled with the most spectacular array of toys and games. I was allowed to play in there. According to my sisters, Alice also had all the best Barbie stuff. Col. Bogle kept up a miniature train wonderland in his basement. But I was afraid of him, and we all knew not to step on his lawn

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Colonel James G. Bogle

Once, when I was in about 2nd grade, there was a hurricane warning issued, and the school decided to send us all home. It was getting really dark outside, and it was kind of exciting. My mother was at work, and couldn’t come get me. We only lived a block away from the school, but I wasn’t allowed to just walk home. So Col. Bogle came to pick me up and walk me home. I remember being frozen in place, afraid to go with him, and afraid of the coming storm. What’s a scared little girl to do? Looking back on it, it breaks my heart to think of how he must have felt seeing my fear. I wish I could apologize, or have a redo, and slip my hand in his and walk down the street happily missing an afternoon of school.

 

hands

 

I just finished reading the book A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved this book, and loved the main character Ove. The book is at times funny, at others sad. Ove can be frustrating. But it’s made me think about the stories of grumpy old men and how they came to be who they are.

ove book

I first proposed reading A Man Called Ove to my neighborhood book group after it was suggested to me by one of my animal shelter buddies (and one of my favorite volunteers). My book group declined; they had mostly all read it already and one guest (not a member, just visiting) said she didn’t like it, finding grumpy Ove tedious. Hmmm. Makes me wonder if she is the Grumpy Old Woman version of the get off my lawn guy. (Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up the book group for the time being due to schedule conflicts. But I made some great friends and received so much encouragement from my fellow bookies regarding my school and career decisions.)

The book is from Swedish author Fredrik Backman, and has since been made into a film.

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Author Fredrik Backman

 

Ove_Final_Poster.jpg

 

 

You’ll notice there is a cat featured on both the book cover and the movie poster. Maybe that’s partly why I love this book and I love Ove. The cat does play a central role in showing us Ove’s lovable side. And he does have one.

Ove cat.jpg

I can’t wait to watch this movie!

Speaking of movies, there was the Grumpy Old Men movie (1993) and the sequel, Grumpier Old Men.

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Two of my favorite grumpy old men,  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, both now deceased.

 

And there was Harry and Tonto back in the day (1974), another lovable grumpy old guy with a cat.

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Art Carney played Harry.

 

Another great grumpy old guy who has a story we learn (and I cried over) and comes to find a new life is Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Edward Asner, in the Pixar animated film Up. This time it’s a dog, named Dug, not a cat. Kids and animals are often the way to the heart of the grump.

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Carl, finally smiling, with Russell and Dug.

 

One of my particular favorites is Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982), not necessarily grump, but a handful with a back story.

 

The point is, everyone has a story. Ove’s story was the loss of his beloved wife Sonja, the only person who ever seemed to accept him for who he was.

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Ove meets Sonja, a ray of sunshine and the love of his life.

 

The story is often one of loss and loneliness. I write a lot about kindness toward animals, but I also worry that we aren’t kind enough to each other. Bullying in any form is not okay, and often mistreatment of animals and of people go hand in hand. Whether it is your neighborhood Grumpy Old Man or Crazy Cat Lady, show some compassion. Like Ove with Parvaneh and her family, they might come to mean the world to you.

 

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Ove eventually becomes a grandfather figure for Parvaneh’s daughters.

 

Peace and hugs.

Beauty secrets of the vegan stars (or wannabe stars)

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I worry about the products I buy and whether they are cruelty-free. Do celebrities, especially the animal-loving ones, pay attention to what they have their staff buy for them? First, I wanted to find out who some of these beautiful vegan celebrities might be; I know many beautiful vegans who aren’t famous, but the world seems to want celebrity to give something credibility. So here are some famous, beautiful vegans. (Note: My definition of beauty includes inner qualities, not just the outer ones.)

 

 

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Classic beauty Michelle Pfeiffer, age 57 in this photo, credits her youthful glow to her vegan diet.

 

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49-year old vegan Pamela Anderson, often featured scantily clad in PETA campaigns (not my style, but they do garner attention).

 

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Actress Emily Deschanel.

 

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Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus: no longer a couple, but both still vegan as far as I can ascertain, and both still beautiful!

 

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Actor and animal rights activist Joaquin Phoenix.

 

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Actor Tobey Maguire.

 

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Actress Jessica Chastain.
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Actress Anne Hathaway.
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Figure skater Meagan Duhamel.
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Actor and activist Peter Dinklage.

 

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Environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore went vegan in 2014.

 

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moby

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Singer Morrissey.

 

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U2 lead singer and humanitarian Bono, with his wife Alison, went vegan in 2016.

 

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Lisa Simpson. Technically a cartoon character, but a pretty smart one.

 

So how do they maintain this beauty and stick to their vegan ideals? There are cruelty-free products out there; one just has to look. Look for symbols from organizations like the Leaping Bunny or get the Cruelty Cutter app from the Beagle Freedom Project. With the app, you can scan the barcode on a product and find out whether it is cruelty free before you purchase.

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The good companies.

 

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Some other good companies.

 

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DON’T BUY THESE PRODUCTS!

 

A good source for information is the Vegan Beauty Review.

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This led me to the thought of how I could make my own, since DIY is always more fun than buying something. I often have a bowl of okara, the ground soy beans left from making soy milk (see The milk of human kindness (is non-dairy) in  the refrigerator, and I’ve been trying to find ways to utilize it. I sometimes add it to soups and stews and even baked goods as a protein boost.

okara
Rich in protein, but will it make my skin glow?

 

In the directions that came with the soy milk maker, there is a recipe for an okara facial mask. The recipe uses honey, which is not a vegan product. I gave it a try, mixing the okara with some agave as a binder instead of honey, and a little Vitamin E oil in place of the various essential oils recommended, since I didn’t have any of those. It actually did make my skin feel soft and smooth after I rinsed it off.

 

What are some other simple, do at home (with things you probably already have) vegan beauty recipes? One good source is the DIY Home page of the blog Vegans Have Superpowers. I am not volunteeering to do the banana facial mask; just sayin’. If you have things at home like apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, oats, sea salt, baking soda, olive oil, and essential oils, among others, you can make your own skin-care and hair-care products.

The editor of The Vegan Beauty Review, Sunny Subramanian, has a book with co-author Chrystle Fiedler, The Compassionate Chick’s Guide to DIY Beauty. I just ordered my copy.

book

 

Don’t want to make your own products but want to try some fun and different products from a variety of cruelty-free manufacturers? You can subscribe to the monthly Petit Vour cruelty-free/vegan PV Beauty Box.

Nerd that I am, I also find smart people really sexy. You think being vegan is stupid? Just ask these people.

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And then there’s me, kinda cute, kinda smart, and kinda silly, but not doing too badly at age 55. I’ll never be a star, but I do what I can to lead an ethical and compassionate life, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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Peace and hugs.