Bright lights, long shadows, and mementos

Memento:  something that serves to warn or remind; also: a souvenir.

bracelets

When I looked up memento on Merriam Webster, I wasn’t expecting the word “warning” to be a part of the definition. But given the reason I looked it up, it’s actually apt to include warning in my thoughts. Then I looked up memento mori, thinking of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and the story Memento Mori (Jonathan Nolan, published 2001). “A reminder of mortality.” Yikes. Even more appropriate. I followed up with memento vivere (a popular tattoo according to the internet): in Latin, remember that you must live; a reminder of life, a reminder of the pleasure of living.

memento poster3 Ryan

 

Christpher and Jonathan Nolan
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan came up with the story and proposed it to Christopher as an idea for a script. Jonathan’s original story was published after the movie was released.

 

I read a line in a book I just started, Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (2017):

But such a bright light casts long, dark shadows.

George’s narrator is speaking of his friend Nathan, but it made me think of a dear friend of my own.

 

Late last year, a friend of mine took her own life.  She was a bubbly, enthusiastic, cheerful person. So many of us were stunned that her bright light hid such dark shadows. Pain, despair. She was always helpful to everyone else, but left her own needs secret from us.

She befriended me and my dog Einstein when we were new in the neighborhood and feeling friendless. She and her Friday dog invited us on walks and playdates. We both joined a neighborhood book club. We went out together to concerts and restaurants. I didn’t see her regularly or often, but when I did, I always felt comfortable (hard for an introvert) and had a good time. She had the most amazing smile and dimples. Laughter came easily. She really was a bright light.

Just last weekend her family held an estate sale at her house down the street from me. I briefly thought of going in and picking up some memento of my friend. I couldn’t do it. I drove past on my way to work and kept going. Partly, it seemed ghoulish, going to a sale at her house and going through her things to buy something. I decided I’d prefer to remember her one of the times we went out together, for tacos at Xolo and then a Damien Rice concert at the Fox Theater on April 23, 2015.

 

 

I had bought 2 tickets, hoping I’d find someone to go with me. Trying to be a “glass half full” kind of person and hoping for the best, I posted that I had an extra ticket. She was the first to respond. She wasn’t sure she knew who Damien Rice was, but it wasn’t just about a free ticket. She wanted to do something with me; it felt genuine. We met at Xolo, had a great meal and caught up. At the Fox, I had splurged on not terrible tickets. We goofed around taking photos of the giant Hindu-deity figures that flank the stage.

We chatted with the people in the seats on either side of us. We were mesmerized by Markéta Irglová, who opened for Damien and also sang backup on a few of his songs. She recognized a few of Damien’s songs. It was a great night.

marketa.jpg
Markéta Irglová

 

Life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other often. She changed jobs, worked a lot of extra hours. I changed jobs twice. My schedule shifted to weekends and evenings. We liked each other’s Facebook posts. She was always the first to respond when dog Einstein posted on his Facebook page (he can be quite witty). At some point, she wasn’t responding any more. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

Another mutual friend messaged me, asking if I’d heard the news. She was gone. I went to the service, cried with her friends and family, wished I’d noticed something was wrong. We all asked what we could have done. Maybe that’s the memento I carry forward–an awareness of suicide prevention and the ending of the silence around suicide. As well as the notions of memento mori and memento vivere: remembering our own mortality and embracing life.

end the silence

 

My mother passed away in 2009. I have several mementos of her, but one of my favorites and maybe one of the silliest to an outsider is her beloved cookbook, Noted Cookery: Favorite Recipes from Friends of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1969).

Noted Cookery

It’s hard to explain how much this cookbook meant to my mother and the sentimental value it possesses for me and my siblings. We still cook some of her flagged recipes from it, as they are old family favorites and standards at family gatherings. They aren’t vegan, so I don’t indulge anymore, but I still have fond memories of helping mom make the Broccoli Puff or the Hello Dolly bars (aka 7-layer magic bars).

 

The cookbook, one of those fundraiser efforts of recipes submitted by various community members, was a Christmas gift to my mother from her sister Isabelle and her family in 1970, part of the reason for its importance to Mom.

Noted Cookery signed

 

As kids, we were fascinated by the list of contributors, some of whom we had heard of and I still don’t know what their connection to the Dallas Symphony was (but it doesn’t really matter; they generously contributed). Mrs. Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Favorite Lemon Pie) and Danny Kaye (Chicken with Peppers) were notable among them. Later, I saw names that I had come to recognize: actress Loretta Young (Bride’s Delight), opera great Leontyne Price (Crabmeat Imperial), Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Pedernales Chili), Mrs. Ross H. Perot (Crabmeat Aspic Salad and Mocha-Nut Tortoni), Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Sweet Potatoes Supreme and Orange Sparkle Cookies), Mrs. Richard Nixon (Apricot Nut Bread), violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (Birchermuesli), actress Greer Garson (English Trifle).

 

Don’t discount that lemon pie. Bob Hope lived to be 100, and Dolores Hope to 102. And Danny Kaye is said to have loved to cook and to have been quite a good one. Food writer Ruth Reichl, in a piece she wrote after Kaye’s death in 1987:

“It may be the sense of timing he developed as a comedian, or the balance he learned in music. It may be the generosity of somebody who gave so much of his time to charity. Or the sheer gusto of the baseball lover (you should have heard his discourse on hot dogs). Or maybe it was the much-vaunted hand-eye coordination that made his cooking so incredible. But there was something more.

Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.”

danny cooking

 

Some of the recipes in Noted Cookery horrified us. Hot Citrus Fruit Salad? No thanks! Same to the equally horrific Hot Pineapple Salad on the same page. Blech.

Hot Citrus Fruit Salad
Make and consume at your own risk.

 

Others we loved, partly for the names. Johnny Bozzini, You Asked For It. Remember, it was 1970 and these recipes ddidn’t seem quite as odd as they do to at least me now. Lots of canned soups and weird things in jars.

 

The cookbook was lost in a house fire in 1987. Mom managed to save the page with her beloved sister’s inscription, but the rest of the cookbook was a charred lump. She put the remnant in a plastic bag and made the recipes she loved best from memory. Years later, around 2004, I was volunteering at a library fundraising book sale. I always look at the cookbooks for hidden gems. There it was, sitting on the shelf, easily recognizable to me with its ochre yellow cover. For fifty cents. I grabbed it, feeling the sense of excitement I might have felt finding a rare first edition of Catcher in the Rye. I managed not to spill the proverbial beans on my weekly phone call with mom, awaiting the look on her face at the surprise when I gave her the book. My next visit, I presented the book. I don’t remember if she cried. More than likely she did. We cry easily in my family; tears of happiness as well as tears of sorrow. We sat down and perused the old recipes. A trip down memory lane. She put bookmarks in at the old favorites, even though she knew the recipes by heart.

When she passed away a few years later, we were going through her things. Somehow that cookbook had taken on an even greater significance for me after having reunited her with it. It’s a memento of her and our earlier family life that I treasure. It sits with my other cookbooks, rarely used but often fondly brought out just to look and remember.

Not so long ago, my sister Ellen texted me that she was making one of the old favorites from what we call the Dallas cookbook: Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Back in 1970, tortilla chips were an exotic thing in Atlanta, so Mom made the recipe with Fritos instead. I’m trying to figure out a way I can veganize this recipe just for fun.

IMG_2251
Not one, but two cans of soup.

 

If you are feeling hungry and inspired to cook, you too can have this gem of a cookcook. I just found it listed on eBay for $5.95. Better idea, think back to a cherished memory and a memento that you can treasure the way I treasure the nostalgic memory of a family, safe and happy, laughing and enjoying a meal together, or the memory of a dear friend who made me feel special.

Memento vivere.  Remember to live.

memento vivere

Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…

earworms

I have what is arguably one of the stupidest pop songs EVER written lodged so firmly in my brain right now that I am on the verge of scheduling myself for brain surgery to have that place where earworms go and NEVER DIE surgically removed.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-7-36-26-am
Looks like earworms were particularly bad in the late 1940s.

By earworm, I mean the “musical” kind, not the kind on The Twilight Zone that really eat your brain.

twilight-zone

Right now, I’d rather have that kind. Because then I might finally have SILENCE from the insipidness that is the song Midnight at the Oasis (David Nichtern, 1972, performed ENDLESSLY by Maria Muldaur).

album

In case you are lucky enough never to have heard this song:

Midnight at the Oasis

Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows painting our faces
Traces of romance in our heads
Heaven’s holding a half-moon
Shining just for us
Let’s slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust
Come on, Cactus is our friend
He’ll point out the way
Come on, till the evening ends
Till the evening ends
You don’t have to answer
There’s no need to speak
I’ll be your belly dancer, prancer
And you can be my sheik

I know your Daddy’s a sultan
A nomad known to all
With fifty girls to attend him, they all send him
Jump at his beck and call
But you won’t need no harem, honey
When I’m by your side
And you won’t need no camel, no no
When I take you for a ride
Come on, Cactus is our friend
He’ll point out the way
Come on, till the evening ends
Till the evening ends
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Got shadows painting our faces
And traces of romance in our heads

No, it’s not Shakespeare, it’s not T.S. Eliot, it’s not Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. It’s not even Dr. Suess. It’s just BAD. No offense, David Nichtern. And I am sure you and Maria Muldaur did quite well from this song. Can you invest the money in a cure for earworms, PLEASE?

nichtern
David Nichtern, probably a perfectly nice man, but I will never forgive him.

I have NO IDEA why this song has been on an endless loop in my head for 4 long days (and sleepless nights). It is not on the playlist on any of my devices, except for the hard drive that is my tormented brain. I am happy to share:

This is one of the images that came up when I Googled “friendly cactus”; it makes me laugh. That’s good.

friendly

I don’t listen to the radio much at all anymore. My listening of choice for drives longer than 5 minutes is whatever audiobook I have going. Currently, it is book two of The Hunger Games. If there is a connection, I have no idea what it might be.

hunger-games-book

If I do listen to the radio, at home it’s more likely to be NPR and in the car, the dial is set to, I hate to admit it, I Heart 80s.

80s

I am much more of a 10,000 Maniacs girl than an anything-1973 girl.

maniacs

My gift to you:

Yes, there was good music in 1973 (Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, Dr. John, Pink Floyd…). But I was 12 years old in 1973. The music I remember is more like Tony Orlando and Dawn, Helen Reddy, Karen and Richard Carpenter. And Maria Muldaur and her blasted camels and friendly cacti.

dawn_feat_tony_orlando-tie_a_yellow_ribbon_round_the_ole_oak_tree_s_1

The earworm phenomenon can happen with music you love, yes. But that gets to be its own kind of torment. The last time this happened to me in a really bad way was with the beautiful Damien Rice song The Blower’s Daughter (aka I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You).

The Blower’s Daughter (Damien Rice, 2001)

And so it is
Just like you said it would be
Life goes easy on me
Most of the time
And so it is
The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky

I can’t take my eyes off of you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes off of you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes

And so it is
Just like you said it should be
We’ll both forget the breeze
Most of the time
And so it is
The colder water
The blower’s daughter
The pupil in denial

I can’t take my eyes off of you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes off of you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes off you
I can’t take my eyes

Did I say that I loathe you?
Did I say that I want to
Leave it all behind?

I can’t take my mind off of you
I can’t take my mind off you
I can’t take my mind off of you
I can’t take my mind off you
I can’t take my mind off you
I can’t take my mind
My mind, my mind
‘Til I find somebody new

Please listen; click here:

I already had a thing for Damien Rice and was playing O (on CD, it was back in the day of ancient technology like compact discs) a lot.

damien_rice_o_album_cover

damien
I love a good brooding singer-songwriter.

Then in 2004 I saw the movie Closer. Supposedly the stars of the movie are Julia Roberts and Jude Law. But I think the movie belongs to Clive Owen and, most of all, Natalie Portman. She broke my heart in that movie.

closer-better

The opening scene:

haunted me for days. And the beautiful song lodged itself quite snugly in the deep, dark part of my brain where earworms live and it would not shut up. I started to worry about my mental health. I started to hate Damien Rice. Not really, but I would’ve liked some peace. I didn’t get any sleep. But at least it’s a good song!

Now, Midnight at the Oasis. It is not a good song. I have tried replacing the earworm with another, but no worm so far has been able to defeat it. In the arm-wrestling contest (if worms had arms), Maria Muldaur beats Damien Rice every time. I need an intervention.

So I am going to bring in the heavy hitters. First up, Todd Rundgren. Here:

he is in a 1973 clip performing Hello, It’s Me (1968, released in 1972), one of my favorites and one whose earworminess I can attest to.

helloitsme_rundgren

Hello it’s me,
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time,
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong,
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long,
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine.

Seeing you, or seeing anything as much as I do you,
I take for granted that you’re always there,
I take for granted that you just don’t care,
Sometimes I can’t help seeing all the way through.

It’s important to me
That you know you are free,
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me.
Think of me,
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I should.

It’s important to me
That you know you are free,
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me.
Think of me,
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I should.
Sometimes I thought it wasn’t so bad.
Sometimes I thought it wasn’t so bad.
Sometimes I thought it wasn’t so bad.

Maybe Todd can finally bring Maria down off the throne. If not, I guess I’ll just ride my camel off into the desert, like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, toward that oasis with the friendly cactus.

Peter O'Toole In 'Lawrence Of Arabia'
Peter O’Toole with his camel in a scene from the film ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’, 1962. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)