Thursday, December 29, 2011

Do You Love Me Now That It's 2012?

Michael's holiday Butter Ball Turkey at the beach
    What is your theme song for the new year? Have you chosen one yet? You need a theme song. You need to choose a song you know all the words to, so that when you are happy, like the way you feel at the beach on a stunning clear day, you can sing your song loud and well into the wild surf. When you’re in a rough spot, say sitting in the dentist office waiting room, for your turn in the chair of certain torture, you can hum it to yourself, or whistle it into the dark when you walk past the cemetery.
    What will you do with next year's turkey leftovers? That’s a question I need to answer before Thanksgiving, 2012, which is just around the corner. What will we do with those damned turkey leftovers? I need a recipe to completely disguise that funky turkey flavor. My husband, who always seeks out the biggest turkey in the store, and fancies himself to be an expert at holiday turkey preparation, says “Yuck” when I begin turning the holiday turkey carcass into turkey soup.
    “Can you at least find another name for it?” he asks. “Country turkey chowder? Bistro turkey bisque?”
    Is this the year you join the gym and get into shape? My friends just bought a gym and say this past week has been the most lucrative one yet. People with flaccid muscles and sagging self images are lining up to sign on for a year of self-improvement. The year ahead will be different from the one behind, they hope.
Why can't every night be New Year's Eve?
    What about money? The Internet news is warning of a very rough economy in the year ahead. I can’t imagine things getting any worse, but, according to those in the know, they may. I am thinking of cutting out the land line phone, and canceling the Comcast cable TV. But Michael needs the news. “It’s an election year!” he says. Cut out the land line? Crazy talk! Sometimes, he argues, you need a land line, to send a FAX. And so, we stand at the ready for any and all avenues of communication, from the Macintosh or the Kindle or the iPhone. We also pay accordingly and absurdly.
    Like most people we have considered eliminating meat from our diet as a money saving measure. But replacing meat and chicken with fish and vegetables yields no real reduction in the grocery bill. Vegetarian cooking relies on esoteric stuff, like miso, grapeseed oil, and pricey spices, like saffron and imported curry powders. Organic ain’t economic. 
    Aside from the myth of the economy of the vegetarian diet, my spouse and I have other food issues. Michael, who is inclined to remain trim no matter how horrifically fatty his diet, grew up in South Carolina eating streak ‘o lean basted vegetables, buttery grits, and chicken-fried everything smothered in gravy. He tries to be a good sport, but finds little satisfaction in a hearty bowl of beans and brown rice. He accuses me often of using too much apple cider vinegar in my cooking, which in Nova Scotia, my home base, is about as exotic as it gets in most thrifty households. Will the battle of tastes reach a truce in 2012? So far, I’m losing badly. I was a vegetarian when I met this man, 25 years ago. Nowadays, to my utter disgust, my mouth waters at the thought of a fatty ribeye steak sizzling on the grill.
    We have agreed to stop buying bacon. A small, but important, victory. Our friends, the same ones who now own a gym, are eating turkey bacon these days. I cannot go there. Not now. Maybe never. I prefer to keep turkey in its place. And I’m certain turkey bacon costs more than pig bacon.
    I recently told my son that I’d decided to make a conscious effort not to talk so much in the new year. Instead, I explained, I want to try very hard to listen to what other people have to say, which is truly difficult for me to do. Frankly, I’d rather do the talking, or at least lead the conversation, manage the direction and the flow.
    “Mom,” Miguel said, “Do you really think you can change your personality at this point in your life? Why not work on a goal you might reasonably expect to accomplish?”
    He’s right. It’s too late for me to stop talking. I can quit eating sweets. I can give up bacon. I can give up the “Housewives of -- name the city --” on Bravo TV. I can quit trying to reinvent uses for leftover turkey. But I certainly can’t shut up, any more than I can stop singing or dancing, or needing to be loved.
    So here, with heartfelt thanks to the fabulous Contours, is my own personal anthem for 2012. Call me if you would like to discuss my choice. We'll talk . . . uh, I'll talk.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis"
At Christmastime a songwriter dreams of writing a Christmastime hit, a yuletide standard, with an eternity of holiday seasons ahead and a lifetime of regular perennial hit royalty checks. Think of Mel Torme’s "Christmas Song." You know it: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . .  .”  or Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.”  How about "Blue Christmas?"  “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you . . . " sung by Elvis, the king. These are the songs that make their creators well, which in country music talk is another way of saying flush with cash.
   My husband, who with his Nashville partner, Dave Lindsey, has written a currently number one hit on the bluegrass charts, is yet to pen his yuletide standard. But he’s still trying. Michael is an intellectual sort of songwriter. He doesn’t sit around strumming a guitar and trying words on for size like a regular sort of songwriter. He studies the business of songs, their structure, their power and their writers, like a stock broker studies the market. His research has turned up a fascinating array of facts and figures, many of which lend themselves to interesting conversation, none of which have made us particularly well. Yet.
Noshville Cafe, Nashville

   A couple of months ago we were having breakfast at the Noshville Cafe in Nashville, trying to remember the words to The Lovin Spoonful’s song “Nashville Cats,” which was parodied by Bob Weinstein into the very funny “Noshville Katz.” To pursue such trivia means never to be bored with your longtime companion. There is a portrait of Judy Garland on the wall at the Noshville and Michael was reminded that he’d just read that Hugh Martin, the writer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” had recently died at the age of 96, which means he had a nice long run of being well. Then Michael said that the original words to the song were so dark that Garland refused to sing them in the film “Meet Me In St. Louis.” The words were modified for the film. When the great Frank Sinatra got around to performing the song, he too, found the words depressing and asked Martin to further modify the next to the final line. Martin did. Instead of, "we'll have to muddle through somehow" it goes “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” Today, it’s the modified version we hear, not the original, written during the era of the Second World War.
The Lovin' Spoonful
    As Michael and I were attempting to recall the words to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” our waiter came ‘round to refill our coffee cups. Overhearing our conversation he volunteered, “Do you want the revised edition of the song, or the original words that Garland refused to sing because they were too depressing?” Those Nashville Cats!
    So now, for your edification, here are the original words to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
                                                    But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
                                                   From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.
                                                   So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

    As we do indeed muddle along, somehow, the original words seem to ring true again. That line about living in New York? Truly tragic. Have you checked the weather up there lately?
    Besides lots of lively conversation about music, there’s another benefit to living with a songwriter, his head ever aswarm with song lyrics, past, present and future. He is oh so pie-eyed optimistic. He expects everything to turn out all right. Yesterday, for example, he bought a pound of chestnuts, paying homage to Mel Torme’s suggestion of the same roasting on an open fire. No, we don’t have a fireplace. And how the hell do you get those chestnuts out of their hard little shells? Did you know there’s both an outer and an inner shell on chestnuts? All of these small details are beside the point for Michael, whose heart is light, his troubles always out of sight. We have chestnuts. We have palm trees and sunny skies. We’re gonna have ourselves a Merry Little Christmas.

Paste the link below in your browser to see Judy Garland sing the movie version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Easy Come, Easy Go. My Recycled Life

The find of the day on my last day at Secondhand Sam's.
Vintage. Terra cotta. Divine.
Tis the season to be jolly, but how jolly can I be as the glorious era of Secondhand Sam’s, Key West’s most grandiose thrift shop, dwindles down to its inevitable, lost-their-lease, demise?  What will our island's legion of thrifters do with those long, hot afternoons of summer we once spent in sweet and meditative joy examining each and every cast-aside object sadly outgrown its purpose for someone? For many years Sam’s has inhabited a cavernous warehouse, that previously housed a carpeting business, across the street from where the infamous Key West Dog Track once operated. Lots of “once was” and “used to be” places on the island these days . . . Now, the dog track is history and at Sam’s the ancient showrooms are busy with activity, as workers scurry about, shoving furniture and massive bins and boxes full of every imaginable thing, into better merchandising position for last chance bargain shoppers. Some items are destined for the warehouse’s loading platform, where they are lifted onto trucks headed for who knows where. And then it happens again; the stuff someone once wanted is no longer useful to its newest owners.  It’s doubly unwanted.
Elmira Leto, Executive Director of Samuel’s House.
Money raised at Secondhand Sam’s goes there.
Shopper Maggie told me she doesn’t read much. These
books are for her mom, Callie Morehouse, a private chef,
who reads anything non-fiction. “What will we do without
this place?” Callie said.

The fact that you are unlikely to find something sensational for the man in your life on the racks at a secondhand store had lead me to understand that men do not recycle their clothes. They wear them until they fall apart.  Or they forget them on the bus.  Or until the rats shred them. Or, like my husband, they store them in dusty drawers or closets for the remainder of the owner’s natural life, awaiting that one special event — a trip to Alaska perhaps? — when they will become useful again.
Ashleigh waitresses at Jack Flat’s and shops at Secondhand Sam’s.  Just look at the selection!!! She and her bud Jennifer were shopping for ugly sweaters. I didn’t ask why.
Hair design genius Jackie Gray, a devout Saturday morning yard sale maven, models her double-purposed, hand-stitched Christmas tree skirt. She wore it to host her Christmas party. After the party, it went back beneath the tree.

    The younger people in my life are far too impatient to dedicate long hours to treasure hunting in thrift shops. They have not lived long enough to appreciate that secondhand clothes are fully engaged, washed, dried, survivors of wear and tear. Sturdy. That’s one reason to love recycled clothes. They’ve stood the test of time. No more heartbreaking “it shrunk in the wash” moments for this recycler. My clothes are mature, seasoned. And if they take themselves too seriously, expect special treatment, they go into my ever-present recycling bin and back to the thrift shop. 
Recycling fan Mary Pfund re-purposed her family’s warehouse
in Key West as her home and studio. One of her customers
abandoned a storage unit full of awning material, canvas and
vinyl. On her trusty sewing machine, which she bought second-hand twenty five years ago, she makes these Key West boat bags, sturdy enough to outlive us all.
Musician Dan Simpson posted the following on Facebook Wednesday morning:

I'm doing sound for Fantazimo – A Jolly Ole Burlesque Odyssey @ TSKW (a great show BTW), and need a suit, at least a jacket and tie. Yes, I have never worn one in KW (since 1978), so I figger it's a good occasion to bust one out. I also don't want to spend a whole lot, so I'll look at the good old Salvation Army, maybe Ross... any other suggestions? Actually, I'm envisioning a Miami Vice style... HAR! Styling Gel?!Not much to work with :) Hopefully I'll remember the ol' tie knot...

Dan posted the picture above with this on Wednesday afternoon:

RE: Suit Quest. Second Hand Sam’s comes through.
    Many years ago my roommate Eileen bought a secondhand lamp to use in her room at my house. She left it here when she moved. And here it stayed, for several decades. About a year ago my super-organizer friend Tina and I did a massive purge of my house, making several hefty deliveries to Secondhand Sam’s. Among the give-aways was Eileen’s lamp. Several weeks later another friend, Jane, feathering her own temporary nest in Key West, told me about a great lamp she’d purchased at Sam’s. “I think I know that lamp,” I told her. Sure enough, it was Eileen’s lamp, which had lived with me here for the past 25 years. Jane moved up to Sebring, to her boyfriend’s house there, and took the lamp. Then she broke up with that boyfriend and returned to Key West. When she relocated to Colorado to care for her ailing mother, she stored a stash of items in my loft to await her return to the island. Among those things, yes, Eileen’s lamp.
    I paid my final visit to Secondhand Sam’s yesterday. I shopped for many hours. I spent $18. Among other treasures, I bought a vintage suede jacket for 50 cents. From the moment I laid eyes on it I knew we were destined to be together forever — or at least until it needs to be dry-cleaned.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Bound Woman

The other day Michael and I walked over to the cemetery for a look at my favorite grave marker, the Bound Woman. She marks the burial place of Archibald John Sheldon Yates, who lived between 1911 and 1966, a time that covers some very interesting history. His wife put that marker on his grave, and I’ve never stopped wondering why. What does it mean? Michael thinks it’s obvious. The man who died was a woman trapped inside the body of a man. Online somewhere I read that this statue of a naked woman, her hands tied behind her back, is an effigy of his wife. Did Yates sculpt this piece? I don’t think that’s the case. His wife, buried next to him, died after he did. So she made the decision to use this stark portrait of stifled beauty.
    The bound woman, whose body is youthfully graceful, appears to be in distress, pushing against the constraints of her bonds. Her face, in a searching grimace, is worn with sun and time as she gazes into the wide, blue sky above the rooftops of Old Town.
    What will we do with our bodies when we die? There’s no more room at the Key West Cemetery, that’s for sure. And yet walking among the stones and markers and pictures and quotations, you have to wonder what you’d have written on your monument, were there room here for you. “She Quit Smoking” was the epitaph I thought of for myself for many years, as it was, for a long time, the most difficult achievement of my life. Lately, the most remarkable thing I’ve done is get through cancer. But “She Survived Cancer” would seem silly on a grave. Maybe “She Survived Cancer  — For a While.”
    I had a childhood friend named Janet. We lived in the same little New England town; our families attended the same church. It was an old church, with a hillside of ancient graves, some of them dating back to the 1600s. We loved wandering through that cemetery, noting dates, babies buried next to their parents, sometimes whole families, fallen victims to some epidemic, born before the age of antibiotics. Heartbreaking. Some stones marked the graves of soldiers who’d fought and died in the American Revolution. Some in the Civil War. Some names we knew, their descendants lived among us. It was a special thing between Janet and me, a way of passing a brilliant autumn or spring day. Then Janet died. I went to her funeral but I am sad to say I don’t know where she is buried. So shocking was her death, at the time the last thing I wanted to imagine was her beautiful young body buried in the earth. But now I wonder where her grave is. I would like to visit it. And yes, place flowers on it. Or a poem.
Austin Griffin was born Nov. 23, 1864. His bride, Tina, was born June 22, 1862. They died the same day - Sunday, Oct. 6, 1907.  Austin shot his estranged wife, and then swallowed a bottle of carbolic acid, surviving Tina by one hour.  So they're buried under one stone? Who made that decision? Who would want to spend eternity next to a guy who murdered you?
Janet's senior prom picture May 11,1968, was also her 18th birthday.
    At the Key West Cemetery there is a famous grave of a husband and wife, Austin and Tina Griffin — their story a grizzly one, of murder and suicide. Janet also died by her own hand, a victim of a virulent form of insanity that came out of nowhere and drove her out of her mind. When I read about Hemingway’s final days, his steadfast determination to kill himself, I think of Janet, because that’s the way she was at the end, too. Determined, her brilliant and wonderful mind tattered by madness.
    I think of Janet when I hear Ravel’s "Pavane for a Dead Princess," so sad, and yet hopeful at the same time. I will always think of Janet when I read haiku or see a particularly evocative watercolor painting, because Janet was an artist and a poet, too. But lately I’ve begun to understand why that Key West monument speaks to me so profoundly. In my heart, and in my mind, Janet’s memory is just like that Bound Woman, warming in the sun, alone with the dead and her unfathomable secrets.