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THE DOG DAYS ARE UPON US ! Yoga Bitches, My Expensive Soap Fetish and a Frozen Pet

| July 12, 2014 | Comments (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My not posting a blog these past ten months has led some of my readers to inquire, gingerly, whether I have lost my writer’s juice or if I am simply losing my mind. I will not address either of these  conditions, deflecting such accusations with Elaine Stritch’s famous croak, “I’m still here!”

So let’s get down to business !

This past winter was grim. Not because of the weather which was globally-warmed mild or due to ill health. Quite the contrary; I have never felt better and I don’t think I shoveled snow more than three times between December and March. But sad events were in the air on East 140th Street. First, there was my Puerto Rican friend, Jorge, and his dead dog. Jorge is an animal lover with a kindness and devotion that surpasses any human’s love for pets that I have ever seen. He has, in his tiny basement apartment, nine cats and eight dogs. I might add that the apartment is spotless clean and nary a whiff of “pet store funk” hits the visitor’s nostrils when one visits him. About a year ago, when he was walking his rat-killing Yorkies (those tiny dogs have the BIGGEST teeth) one evening, he spotted a mangy mutt careening down the street in a dis-oriented manner. Risking attack by a rabid dog, Jorge rescued the poor creature and brought her home. It turns out that Linda (he gave her that name) was blind and deaf, hence the unusual, unbalanced behavior. Linda became a beloved fixture in Jorge’s household, integrating well with his large animal family. A lovely survivor, a real canine Helen Keller, her sense of smell and talent for body contact allowed her to know that she was loved. Never has a fiercely wagging tail conveyed so much joy and emotion as did Linda’s. But, in the middle of winter Linda passed away. Jorge always buries his  deceased pets in a grassy meadow in Pelham Bay Park. The problem with Linda’s interment was that the ground was frozen solid and hard as concrete. What do do? Grief stricken, Jorge wrapped Linda in a beautiful batik sarong I had given him and placed her gently in the back seat of his car. He then turned on the air-conditioner and drove the streets of the South Bronx for hours with tears in his eyes as snow fell and ice formed on his windshield, Linda cool and nearly embalmed in the rear of the vehicle.

Several weeks later, the temperatures still hovering near freezing, I passed my neighbor Margie’s house. Bundled and wailing on the stoop was 85 year-old Margie. rocking back and forth clutching herself, moaning “Mijo, Mijo !” Her beloved husband of 60 years had gone to his Maker and in typical South Bronx fashion, all of  life’s joys and sadnesses were playing out on Margie’s stoop, the public arena for our emotions in this community. Struck by this pathetic scene, I stopped to inquire what was wrong and Margie through her sobs and tears said something to me that, filtered through my bad hearing, came across as “My dog died.” When I tried to comfort her assuring her that after a proper period of mourning she could get another pet, her neighbor, who has disliked me since I moved to the block  sixteen years ago, hissed at me, “Stupid, her HUSBAND just died !”  Two days before I had seen Roberto, her meek husband, walking their dog, Oreo. Stunned, I stood speechless, seized by the sad but moronically comic aspect of the encounter and burst into what was a crazed combination of laughter and tears. Margie was so shocked by my reaction that her sadness left her for a moment as she gazed on me, this mad creature, her neighbor.

Now that Spring has sprung and passed into Summer,  Winter’s woes seem a bit more distant though they still haunt me when shadows lengthen as summer’s twilight descends. Margie has been evacuated to a nursing home in Virginia and her lovely, well-tended brownstone consumed in a tangle of liens and legal complications; squatters have taken over the property. Another step backward for our struggling block.

No doubt these events have pushed me into a pattern of emotionally compensating behavior. One of my unusual actions is the purchase of expensive soap. I mean really pricey soap. Let me explain. In the trendy SOHO neighborhood of New York City is a perfumery called Santa Maria di Novella. It is the American branch of the venerable Florentine institution of the same name, purveyor of fine scents and potions to the nobility of Italy for centuries (casa fondata en 1612!). Housed in a fortress-like pile on Lafayette Street, the shop is presided over by an intense Roman lady clad totally in black who weighs 95 pounds, if that. She is wearing at least that same amount of weight in heavy jewelry. Her conversation and body language are so animated and delightfully out of control that she is apt to do what she did to me – grab my whole cheek with her fingers and practically lift me off the ground. I am hooked and totally powerless and Gabriela knows it in an instant. That’s why, when I express interest in soap, she leads me to a dark corner of the store, and with a slightly loony smile on her face lifts a little box, it must be three by four inches in dimension, and brings it to the level of my nose. The odor is more than mesmerizing. It is a trip back in time. A mingle of musk, sweat, cloves and other delicate strains – have your ever smelt iris  – that plunk me down in Florence four hundred years ago, where courtiers come to see and be seen, to do and be undone. When I recover sufficiently from my time travel, I tell Gabriela, ” I will take it” and she smiles knowingly to herself. “This one is in my power” is going through her mind,  her immense bracelets clanking as she rings up $57 for my tiny bar of soap. Now when I go to the gym, I skip the exercise and have what some of us call an “executive work-out.” It consists of a 30-minute shower with my Renaissance bar of soap. I lather and rinse so many times that I positively reek with Santa Maria di Novella when I hit the streets. On the crowded subway people give me glances and I know they are thinking as they whiff my body odor, ” Now there’s a real gentleman!”

Pet peeves always come last and my “peeve du jour” is people practicing yoga and meditation who, under their rama lama ding-dong peace and love surface, are basically nasty pieces of work and split personality, uptight shits. The peerless author Ruth Pravar Jhabala has skewered them beautifully and repeatedly in her writing; now let me add my two cents. Three examples will suffice, I hope, to put these whey-faced, tight-lipped, humorless creatures in their place. One “friend”, whom I have now down-graded to “an acquaintance” is an ashram regular and carries a sanskrit name, Bodhi Jaya. A perpetual half-smile is always plastered on his face. He recently queued  six hours to get a hug from Amma, she of generous corporal proportions who travels the world hugging people. In an online conversation with Bodhi, I apparently, and unwittingly, incurred his displeasure with an innocent question that caused him to lash out at me and tell me I was “passive-aggressive.”  Not being familiar with the term, but sensing it had an ominous tone to it, I hurried to Google, only to be informed that I had a “psychological disorder.”  The only way to cleanse myself was to rush to the gym for an extended Santa Maria di Novella purging. Let me tell you folks, that little $57, three-ounce rectangle from the Italian Middle Ages was worth EVERY penny I paid for it. And you thought I was a crazy spendthrift ! Another ashram regular whom I have known for decades and from whose tongue I have suffered periodic lashings if his bubble is disturbed, recently invited a mutual friend who was in an advanced state of decline from Parkinson’s Disease to come to his ashram for an attempt at being cured or at least to experience palliative relief from this condition. The ashram environment was indeed severe and spartan and our stricken friend could not hold up. For one thing, Parkinson’s victims cannot perspire adequately and the ashram with its hundred degree heat and no air-conditioning was oppressive and unbearable; indeed life-threatening. His host’s reaction was impatience and anger (are these advanced practitioners supposed to experience such negative emotions?) and told our ill friend that he was not following the program and was being stubborn ! So much for loving kindness and understanding ! Finally, a third acquaintance who is also a card-carrying ashram member, repeatedly talked to me about a woman he had been traveling with, one Anne Lamotte. When I innocently asked him “WHO is Anne Lamotte?”, he snapped at me saying, “She is MORE famous than YOU !” Apparently this woman is a writer of some repute who has gained critical acclaim for her writing about the travails of being an upper middle-class person in Orange County California. What is famous ? I would much rather be infamous !

So on that note, Dear Readers, I am back on these pages after nearly a year in the wilderness. I hope my next post will not be similarly delayed and that I can afford to keep buying Santa Maria di Novella ! Namaste, You Yoga Bitches ! Get some expensive soap. And I won’t tell you what you can do with it !

 

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IT’S A 21ST CENTURY BETTE DAVIS ! Love Those Electronic Cigarettes…. and The Play She Smokes ‘Em In !

| August 9, 2013 | Comments (0)

Bette Davis = Cigarettes. Plain and simple. That’s the way I have always seen her, through her weeds. Her signature smoke, ofcoure, was the double light-up in “Now, Voyager” when her leading man, Paul Henreid, put the match to a pair of fags and slowly passed one to Bette as he gazed into her huge peepers. Their collective in-hales and ex-hales were so copious and so totally compelling, filling the screen with clouds of smoke to the point of near-fade-out, that my burning desire to see them kiss was lost in the ecstasy of movie’s most romantic smoke-break.

I wonder if any Davis afficionado has ever done a serious study of her on-screen “smoke time”, an analysis of “smoke-minutes”, a ratio, say, where 20:120 describes the number of cancer sticks – 20 – consumed in film real time – 120 minutes. In this case, Bette would be smoking  one butt every six minutes which seems to be an under-count if you watch “All About Eve”  where she never seems to be without a cigarette, often chain-smoking as she argues with Gary Merrill (wait till you hear what she says about HIM in “Me and  Jezebel “!).

But I do digress. I only mention cigarettes because this wonderful play about Bette’s “one or two nights in Connecticut” features our diva puffing away on – hold your breath, fans – an e-cigarette ! Yes, I said it ! Bette Davis is smoking electronic cigarettes. I’m still wracking my brain for the right “mots justes” that Bette would employ to describe this hi-tech travesty !

Oh, did I mention the name of the play in question? Yes I did, but let me say it again : “Me and Jezebel” now playing at  the Snapple Theater Center at 210 West 50th Street.

The plot, a true story, revolves around Liz Fuller’s invitation – at Davis’s suggestion ! – to put the star up for a night or two during a New York City hotel strike. The two nights stretch into a week, then two weeks, then on and on as the Fullers’ famous guest becomes increasingly demanding and impossible, but somehow  ever more charming and endearing, especially to Liz’s seven year-old son who clings to Davis’s every word and even begins to imitate her.

Most remarkable and probably a first in the theater is the person of Elizabeth Fuller, the author of the book “Me and Jezebel” on which the play is based. Fuller not only wrote the book about Davis’s famous stay with her, but she actually stars, along with the inimitable Kelly Moore as Davis, in the play. This is straight from the horse’s mouth, if I may mix a metaphor. Liz Fuller lends a highly believable vitality to her role because every word she says is true and she lived it herself !

There are only three performances a week of this not-to-be-missed play, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 PM and Saturday at 5 PM. I rather liked the idiosyncratic timing of Saturday at 5 PM. You’re out of the theater before 7 PM with the whole evening before you.

“Me and Jezebel”  appeals to all audiences. It has something for young and old, gay and straight. It is camp and funny, but also has its serious, compassionate side that shows us, above all, that this famous “monstre sacre” was a dear person. If you don’t believe me, get yourself over to the Snapple Theater and see for yourself !

 

 

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THE BRIDGE IS LONGER, THE PROMENADE’S SHORTER…OR IS IT MY MEMORY THAT’S FALLEN OFF THE BRIDGE ?

| May 14, 2013 | Comments (0)

I sit in a small plaza to the right of New York City’s delicately facaded 18th century City Hall, gazing through newly verdant tree boughs at the old building’s elegant, almost fragile columns. Its cream-colored entrance has the look of a sleepy mansion  on a plantation in the Old South. One half- expects liveried black servants to appear on the verandah bearing silver cups of mint juleps. In New York City ? Well, why not ? In those days Lower Manhattan was farm land and slavery was alive and well in New Amsterdam.

But this is 2013, not 1785, and the African-Americans I see are not chatteled servants, but strapping, shirtless youths, their sweaty, ebony skin glistening in the late afternoon sun as they stride back and forth over the plaza’s cobble stones, shouting and waving their long arms, working the gathering crowd of what seem to be mostly European tourists, beckoning them to close in and watch the show.  Several plastic buckets are placed strategically on the periphery of the performance space for the dollar bills that are expected to be donated in appreciation of the act that follows. Music is churned out over a pair of huge speakers as the performers  begin their warm-up which promises a demonstration of physical stunts and break-dancing, mid-air flips and leaps over horizontal poles.

To pass the time, I watch idly for a few minutes, then lose interest as the thickening crowd of on-lookers blocks my view. Even if I could see what the dancers were up to, I probably wouldn’t watch. If I’ve seen one of these park performances, I’ve seen a hundred and they’re all the same – not much of an act, mostly just  shouting and revving-up the crowd, then a few seconds of mid-air flips and ground spins and it’s over, then the hat is passed  for you  to show your monetary love  for this amazing talent. More enthusiasm and energy than choreographic brilliance, I’d say.

I settle into the hard, wooden bones of the  old bench and open the book I’m reading, delighting in the breaths of cool breeze and hot afternoon sun that are the gifts of early May. Suddenly I am consumed with hunger pangs and glance around for nearby street vendors who might satisfy my craving. None are in sight except a lone pushcart managed by a middle-aged Arab. He is selling pretzels and rubbery hotdogs. I decide to wait even though I am near-hypo-glycemic.

Then deus ex-machina-like, my partner arrives bearing a bag of greasy goodies from MacDonald’s.  We had agreed earlier to meet here when he invited me to join him for a walk across Brooklyn Bridge and an exploration of Brooklyn Heights. My partner has an uncanny skill for doing the right thing at the right time, in this case showing up with edibles. We tear into the lumps of limp Chicken MacNuggets and I tell him this is the best feast I have ever had in my entire life. And it’s true ! Is there anything better than really humble fare when you are famished ?

As we chomp away, I look up at the Brooklyn Bridge in the near distance. It is partly obscured by plastic construction curtains and the footpath across it is grid-locked with pedestrians fighting with cyclists some of whom have uncouth manners: “Get the fuck outta my bike lane!” I thought bike riders were gentle vegetarians who spoke softly and practiced yoga. The regal lady is not at her best today.

Not like the last time I saw her up close on a warm July night  fifty years earlier. It was 1973 or thereabouts and I was with a young man. I no longer remember his name. He was a ballet dancer, a red-head. We met in the Village in a ticket line for  a free performance, one of those outdoor shows  directed by Joseph Papp that made him famous. A  Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, I think, up-dated with frisbies being tossed and rock music throbbing.

After the show and a coffee, the red-headed dancer invites me back to his place and we decide to walk there crossing the bridge to Brooklyn Heights where he lives in an apartment with a group of lesbians in what sounds like a commune. He describes one of the women as a kind of Den Mother who looks after everybody and even does his laundry for him.

That night the bridge was quiet and unpopulated. Mournful tug boat horns pierced the air that carried the industrial smells of factories lining the water front; very intense, very noir. The next morning shortly after dawn, I walk back across the bridge, happy and exhausted, my legs weak after a night of love-making.

Now half a century later my partner and I ascend the ramp onto the bridge, alternately slowed by plodders ahead of us and pushed by anxious power walkers to our rear. My partner, younger and stronger than I am, walks ahead and loses me. He looks back with frowning brows as if to say, “Old man, hurry up!” Later in a  Brooklyn Heights cafe we have a coffee and  several  times I ask him to repeat himself when he speaks. He looks at me and tells me, ” I think it’s time for you to get a hearing aid !” Probably true, but it’s not what I want to hear on this sunny afternoon when my head is full of half century-old memories of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on a romantic night when I was 25.

We leave Henry Street and walk to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Lower Manhattan rising before us. The  Promenade is much smaller than I recall; it seems tiny. Several portable latrines lend an unwelcome stench. The atmosphere is gone; the special setting that made me joyful and sad at the same time, that feeling of wanting to kill myelf and live forever that I experienced the first time I was there when I was 25. Had I changed or was the place different ?

My partner gets impatient and asks why we are wasting our time here. He is from another culture and wouldn’t understand that the ghosts of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were in the air and I could hear Marilyn whispering to him, their brownstone just behind us. I rise slowly from the bench where we are sitting and smile sadly at him.

Like a beloved old hand-me-down childhood bicycle or a trusty, tattered tweed jacket whose elbows have gone threadbare, I wonder if our loving relationship of more than three decades was not showing wear and tear. I smile again, then choke back a tear. My partner, ever alert to my moods, asks me, “What’s wrong with you !  Why are you sad ?” Still smiling, I reply, ” Oh no. I’m not sad. It’s just that this place is so romantic.” Well, that was true, at least fifty years ago.

 

 

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A FIELD’S FAREWELL

| April 3, 2013 | Comments (0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Another photo from my  visit to the country last weekend  continues to resonate, causing me to write this sad verse.)

 

It’s quiet.

Winter’s over.

Hunters with their pop-pop rifles

No longer tramp my acres,

Their dogs straining and  yapping.

My ground is hard,

Not yet ready for

The gnawing plow

That will chew my soil

For hay planting.

And corn-raising.

These two hundred years

I have been harvested,

Giving grain and food

To those who woo me.

Old wagon tracks

Cut  across me

Like a lovely necklace.

If you listen carefully

You can  hear

The squeak of  wheels

From long ago.

I was a fertile provider

Before Lincoln gave

His Gettysburg address.

In my prime,

Indians crouched in trees

by the creek near our farm.

Yesterday I was visited

By serious men in suits

With clip boards.

They measured me,

And there was a shake of hands.

I heard from my neighbor,

The grapevine

That I will be sold and

The farm will  no longer be

A farm.

Those men mentioned

The word “shopping center.”

They said I would make

A perfect parking lot.

One hundred cars could fit

On the gentle grass

That covers me.

But how can I breathe

If I am covered with asphalt ?

So I bid you farewell.

You may laugh

When I say,  “It’s been grand

Being a field.”

But it’s true.

There’s nothing better

Than being a field.

Goodbye.

 

 

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AN AGING BARN

| April 1, 2013 | Comments (0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend we went to our old friend’s farm in upstate New York. He is  92 years old and the farm  and its buildings date from the 18th century. I love our visits to Dunn Farm on Browns Road. This Easter Sunday the late afternoon light was especially mesmerizing as  sun and shadow fell on  one of the barns. We took some photos and on returning to the City I looked at the pictures and was struck by the poetic, almost “human”  nature of the old structure. Writing to a friend in France, I sent him this verse about the old barn.

 

LAMENTATION D’UNE VIEILLE GRANGE

Je dors dans un déjeuner de soleil

D’un après-midi  décroissant.

Mes murs fragiles s’ébranlent quand le vent souffle

Et a l’ interieur ou autre fois des petits poulains gambadaient

Il n’y a que grains de paille dansants.

Pour combien de temps

Puis-je rester encore debout?

Mon maquillage se fane

Et mon corps est peu pulpeux.

Jadis j’étais bien belle

Très, trés séduisante…..

Mais maintenant

Personne ne veut danser avec moi….”

 

TRANSLATION

 

AN OLD BARN’S LAMENT

I bask in the late afternoon sun

And my fragile walls shudder

When the wind blows.

Inside colts once gamboled,

But now only straw dust dances.

How much longer

Can I stand?

My make-up is fading

And my body is no longer shapely.

Once I was beautiful

And very seductive,

But now nobody

Wants to dance with me.

 

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