Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moving Out

To my readers (you know who you are),

I'm going to be shutting things down here for the indefinite future, but fear not! I will be writing the same sorts of things (i.e. whatever I feel like writing about) over at the Albany Times Union and you are welcome (and encouraged) to read my blog there.

Not much more to say except: Who needs a house out in Hackensack?

I'll catch you on the other side.


Monday, June 25, 2012


When I was a kid, the big unspoken secret in my building was that you and a neighbor could talk to each other on the building’s intercom, thus saving the trouble (and expense) of actually using the telephone. Every now and then, I would simply press the “Listen” button on the intercom in our apartment and more often than not would catch a conversation between two of my neighbors already in progress. You’d think that this would be exciting for someone like me, who thrilled at any type of eavesdropping, but of course it was always the most mundane type of conversation that two old ladies might have on a building’s intercom system.

There was a couple in the building, friends with my mother and stepfather, who had no children (this was always remarked upon by my mother), but had a pet rabbit named “Blondie” who roamed their apartment like a cat, but was, as rabbits are, skittish and unfriendly. The man was a sometime musician and apparently had played with the band The Left Banke whose one hit was “Walk Away Renee” in 1966. My mother had a habit of befriending minor musicians.

When I was in eighth grade, we moved to a building that was much smaller, and I got to know our neighbors pretty well. There is so much to say about our next door neighbor “Lacy” (name changed for no good reason) that I’m afraid I will never do her justice. First off, rumor had it that her family was connected to the mob in some way, which is the vague way everyone refers to this kind of thing. Second of all, she had a sometime job as the receptionist at an auto body shop, but for the most part her job was dating numerous men, some married, some not, who made sure she lived a fairly nice life. She was a little bit older than my mother and her daughter was a little bit older than me. Somehow we all became friends.

When Lacy was getting ready to go out, and her own daughter was not home, she would call me on the phone to help her zip her jeans. And I’d step out of our apartment and go next door to hers, where the door would be left open for me. She would be lying on her back in her bed (which was actually a fold-out couch in the living room) with her jeans on but unzipped. It always looked like an impossible job. There was her slightly round belly and the open zipper of her jeans that somehow had to get closed. She would have a pair of pliers nearby and it was my job to use the pliers to zip her jeans up while she sucked in her belly as much as she could. Somehow it always worked. There were times when I would stay and watch her put on her makeup, which she did at her dining room table, and took at least an hour. You knew she was finally done when she would paint on the tiny black beauty mark on her cheek. If her hands were completely occupied, she’d ask me to light a cigarette for her. I was twelve years old.

I used to spend hours and hours at Lacy’s apartment even though I found her daughter totally boring. She wasn’t the brightest of kids and she didn’t have much of an understanding of what was going on in her mother’s life. Most of the time Lacy spent lying in bed, smoking and talking on the phone, surrounded by her three adoring cats. She would usually be wearing some sort of negligee, no matter what time of day it was. At some point, she had her apartment completely redone and many of the walls had been turned into floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She would talk to you while watching herself in the mirror.

I don’t remember the last time I saw Lacy, but I think it was when I was in college. Apparently one final gesture of her richest and oldest boyfriend was to buy her a condo in Florida and off she went. It is so easy to picture her now, sitting on a lounge chair at some pool, talking on the phone and smoking, her overly tan skin nearly matching the orangey foundation she used copiously on her face. I totally admired Lacy when I was younger. I hope she still paints on that beauty mark.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Special Request Show

The content of this post is based on random requests, which of course means I have to dedicate it to my former college radio show co-host and great friend SZ, who, if you know her, you pretty much also know that your goal in life is to write or say something funny just to hear her marvelous laugh.

I might as well start out with candy. Some of the candy we ate as kids was straight up disgusting. Remember those wax bottles full of colored liquid? And wax lips, which you could eat? Maybe? And pixie sticks, which was just colored sugar in a straw that you could pour into your mouth and something my friend brought in her lunch every single day, which made me jealous beyond belief. And naturally this leads me to circus peanuts, which no one has actually ever tasted, since they have no taste, but everyone can tell you they have the exact texture of Styrofoam. I knew they were orange, of course, but I discovered, after doing a little research, that they are considered “marshmallow candy.” Also this: “In 1963, General Mills vice president John Holahan inventively discovered that Circus Peanuts shavings yielded a tasty enhancement to his breakfast cereal.” I like to picture the steps that led to this inventive discovery.

Speaking of inventive discoveries, let’s move on to the Manson Family, which I never found as interesting as most people did, even though you’d think I would if you know me at all. But due to my fascination with the American presidents I am somewhat interested in Squeaky Fromme who attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford. Though to be honest, I’d rather write about the assassination attempt on Ford’s life just three weeks later by Sara Jane Moore (not of the Manson Family). And that story is particularly interesting because of Oliver Sipple, the ex-Marine who saved Ford’s life and whose own life changed overnight when he became a hero. Sipple was active in San Francisco’s gay community, but had not come out to his family or his employer. Gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, who knew Sipple, allegedly said that this would be a great opportunity to show that gay people could be heroes. I mean, who could blame him. Sipple asked the press not to mention that he was gay, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported it anyway. Sipple was then hounded by the media and Sipple’s parents back in Detroit were harassed by their neighbors and soon became estranged from their son. Sipple tried to sue the Chronicle for invasion of privacy, but the case was dismissed in 1984. Sipple’s health deteriorated due in part from the PTSD (or “shell shock” as it was known then) he suffered in Vietnam, and he ultimately died of pneumonia in 1989, at the age of 47. For me, this case brings up a whole bunch of interesting issues, including what happens to people who get instant fame (Sipple admitted a number of times of how he was sorry he grabbed Moore’s arm as she fired the gun meant for Gerald Ford, who notably did not invite Sipple to the White House, but rather sent him a short thank-you letter) and what constitutes the private details of a person’s life when he or she becomes a public news story.

But where was I? Oh right, Charles Manson. I only recently learned that the Beach Boys recorded one of Manson's songs, which appeared on the B-side of their 20/20 album. Manson really believed that he had a musical career in his future and was deeply disappointed when it did not pan out.

Which leads me right to The Clash. Back while we were waiting for the Internet to be invented, my friend Christina found a book in the library that actually included the lyrics to all of The Clash’s songs. She had made us both xeroxed copies of the lyrics and we pored over these pages together as though we were reading treasure maps. “Ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl!” we shouted. Slowly all the mysteries were being revealed. We had, together and on our own, watched the movie “Rude Boy” probably a dozen times, with our favorite scene being the one in which Joe Strummer washes his t-shirt in a hotel room rink. It’s not a good movie, by any means, except for the concert footage, but if you were a girl of a certain age it could certainly make you all swoony. I should admit here that the first Clash album I bought was “Combat Rock.” People, I had no idea.

(Brief interlude while I listen to the song “Jimmy Jazz” which is decidedly not off that album.)

Here is probably all you need to know about unicorns: “The famous traveler, Marco Polo, agreed the unicorn was only tamable by maidens, but when he wrote about the unicorn he'd been shown, he described it like this: ‘Scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant's. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead. They have a head like a wild boar's. They spend their time wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at.’ It has since been realized Marco Polo was describing a rhinoceros.”

Here is a picture of a double rainbow that I took last month. Pretty.

Speaking of rainbows, take note that vintage “Mork and Mindy” rainbow suspenders are available on ebay, which is something of a relief.

Which, oddly enough, leads me to when and how kids grow out of their meanness, and unfortunately I have no answer for this at all. And I'd like to take this opportunity to forgive a certain boy who teased me for, of all things, being flat chested (I was freaking 12 years old in eighth grade!) who when I reminded him recently of this had no memory of it at all.

Good night!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Rules Are There Ain't No Rules

“Is that all it takes, 15 minutes?”

That line from the movie Grease was one of many that would perplex me for years. I was 8 years old when the film first came out and like every single person I knew I was going to the theater and seeing that movie over and over again and yet the sexual innuendo throughout was so over my head that huge chunks of dialogue would just fly by without my even knowing. And yet nothing could stop me. The impact of that film on my life cannot be underestimated. Sometime over the course of my obsession, I begged my mother to buy me the “fotonovel” of Grease, which was like a comic book that used stills from the movie, and until it actually arrived in the mail I truly had nightmares that it would arrive damaged in some way.

Though if you were around when that movie came out, you’d have to agree that its impact was a collective one. You couldn’t go anywhere that summer without encountering a group of kids with their arms around each other singing “We Go Together.” My friends and I acted out scenes from the movie with our Barbie dolls. If you did not know the lyrics to every single song, even the one that Stockard Channing sings towards the end of the movie, you were something of a loser.

But what exactly were we getting out of Grease? If for whatever reason you never saw the movie (loser), here’s the plot: It’s the 1950s. Danny and Sandy meet on some California beach the summer before senior year of high school, they fall in love, she tells him she has to go back to Australia, but then on the first day of school, there she is. Danny is a greaser and Sandy is hopelessly devoted to him, but also totally uncool, despite hanging around with the Pink Ladies, a group of sometimes mean girls, who, if you look closely, are all about 30 years old. After a whole bunch of misunderstandings at a drive-in, the school dance, a car race, Sandy proves she truly loves Danny by wearing a skintight black leather jumpsuit and high heels. Everyone sings “We Go Together” and Sandy and Danny drive off into the sky.

What I’m leaving out here is all the singing and dancing everyone was always doing in the 1950s! This is what made the movie such a hit, of course. Who could forget the song “Greased Lightning” with the line: “You know that I ain’t bragging, she’s a real pussy wagon.” Or even better: “The chicks’ll cream for greased lightning.” I remember singing along to these lyrics as a child, totally clueless. From this movie I learned the terms “knocked up” and what it means to “put out,” though I’m not sure I entirely got the context of either. I noticed, bewildered, that adults in the audience laughed every single time Marty said her last name was Maraschino: "You know, as in cherry."

And yet it was that singing and dancing that kept bringing us back. I recall one time seeing the movie with my mother and some of my friends, walking out of the theater, and then simply turning around and walking right back in to see it again. No one’s parents had any objection to this movie, clearly, though I was not allowed to see Saturday Night Fever, even when the PG version of it was released. The curious message of the ending, when Sandy dresses like a slut (I’m using this word with all due respect) in order to win the man of her dreams, was never questioned. In fact, I seriously imagined that I would be wearing that exact outfit someday since that was clearly the ideal of womanhood. Our John Travolta-loving parents brought us to this movie over and over again. Do you see what I’m getting at? There is something so hilariously innocent and also disturbing about this, which is probably a good way to define the late 1970s, if you think about it. And jeez, maybe it's time I got that leather jumpsuit already.