Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Off Balance

Quick update 10/9/14: The house will not be torn down. It's going to be moved. Post to follow. :)

It's the scent in the air—of one season encroaching on another. The heavy quilt goes back on the bed. Sidewalks and driveways become obstacle courses laden with acorn landmines, some whole, some blasted to pieces by omniscient squirrels. It's impossible to walk without making something crunch. The tree tips and leaf points are burnished bronze, brass, copper, showing more metal than earth in the angling sun.  It all seems too soon, too soon.

Yet the cicadas, who have been unnaturally quiet all summer, finally, frantically decide to sing. What can they know that squirrels and trees and leaves do not? That a delayed song is better than none at all?

Something is amiss.

A house is coming down. A fixture in the neighborhood. Prairie style, Japanese influences. Not Wright's—an associate's. One of those come-hither houses you walk by and wonder about—what it's like inside, what its secrets are, if you could live there.

A couple of years ago, it was for sale. And, even though you never had any interest in buying it, you had to satisfy your curiosity and explore. What you found within made you wish you could buy it—a balcony in a central living space resembling an organ loft, rooms with alcoves and twisted hallways, hardwood trim. These were details that made you overlook the dulled tile and shabby fixtures in the bathrooms, the old appliances and chipped counters in the kitchen. There had to be hardwood under that flooring. It could be torn off, the tar paper beneath stripped away. What mattered was the structure, the foundation. It was sound. It would withstand work on its rooms.

But, of course, yours was a fantasy. One that was easily entertained on a walk through a dream. And you left the house hoping it would fall into the hands of someone with endless energy and funds, someone who would see its beauty, its potential. Someone who would love it.

Then, one day, the "For Sale" sign disappeared. And you were happy. In an area where small, sweet, perfectly good homes were being torn down to make way for monstrosities, at least one escaped destruction. At least one was deemed valuable.

For a while.

Because now it has been condemned. A fence isolates it, the way fences always do before demolition. And this time, the signs do not invite. The property does not beckon. It weeps.

To the cicadas' furious accompaniment. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guest Post: Jerry Lewis by Sherri Rabinowitz

For those of us who grew up in the '50's and '60's, Labor Day will forever be associated with Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Today's guest, Sherri Rabinowitz, offers a loving and nostalgic post about her memories of the man, his telethon, and his work.

So, in honor of the approaching holiday, It's my pleasure to offer: 
Jerry Lewis: He is part of the fabric of my life…
by Sherri Rabinowitz
Jerry Lewis has always been rather special to me. When I was a child,  I remember seeing him in Cinderfella. I loved that movie. We also saw the telethon in my home every year. I would watch it Sunday night 'til my folks made me go to bed, then wake up early on Labor Day to see what was happening and if he made his goal that year.

I had gotten up really early one Labor Day morning when I was about 8 years old and called the telethon, I told the lady I wanted to give my whole savings, which was five dollars. I was really proud of myself. The lady on the phone could tell I was a child so she asked me to get my Mommy.

So I jumped on my parents bed and said I had Jerry Lewis on the phone. My two sleepy parents looked at me like I was crazy. My Dad said, “Jerry Lewis is on the phone?” “Well one of his ladies.” I answered.

My folks just stared at me, but my Dad picked up the phone by his bed and said very carefully, “Hello?” The lady, who was working the telethon explained what happened. My dad’s big blue eyes got watery, he called me over with his hand. I crawled over and was pulled into a one-armed hug. He said, “Yes, put down her donation and add a $20.00 donation from our family.” He explained to my Mom that I had donated all my money and she hugged me too. I felt very special.

My next Jerry encounter was several years later. I always watched the telethon, including when Frank Sinatra brought Jerry and Dean Martin back together. My Mom was so excited because she had watched them live when they were together. Back in the day, when my Mom was a teenager, they used to have a show with the stars of a movie before the movie. You could spend all day in the theater, watching it over and over again with a picnic lunch and snacks.

Apparently my Mom and her friend with their picnic lunches grabbed the stars' attention. Jerry called out to them asking for part of their lunch. They became a part of my Mom’s memory forever so she was excited when my brother was a part of a bowl-a-thon for Muscular Dystrophy and the Man himself was going to be here.

I was about 15 years old, and stood watching my brother bowl with my family.  After the first line was over for the bowlers, Jerry took a mike and did one of his amazing comedy routines. We all laughed and applauded then I went to the ladies room. When I came out I saw the poster child.  I love kids so I chatted with her about her school, and Jerry. Suddenly someone was tickling my ribs. Thinking it was my Dad,  I was going to slap him on the arm. But about half way around I realized it was Jerry.

He had a huge smile and said, “Didn’t mean to scare you.” I explained I thought he was my Dad, because my Dad used to tickle me like that. He nodded and then asked me about school, and my brother’s bowling. We also talked to the little girl. It was a really great five minutes. I never forgot it.

I have now seen every movie he made, and really have supported his cause all my life. So it was with great sadness when he left the Labor Day telethon forever. It broke my heart.
 I was excited to watch him on PBS this weekend though in his special, “An Evening With Jerry Lewis; Live from Las Vegas.” Jerry is now 87 years old so I was very curious about him headlining a show at his age. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. He still has it! He is still current and funny. No curse words or shock comedy. He was just purely funny, just as I remembered him. He remembered his life with pictures, films and routines. There were surprise guests and it was really amazing. If you get a chance to watch it on PBS, I recommend it. I also recommend watching his old movies, yes even the ones in black and white because The Errand Boy is a true classic.

He is a special man, who brings special memories. Cheers Jerry.
About Sherri:
Sherri has been writing since she was a small child. She was inspired by Ray Bradbury and Agatha Christie. She had always loved writing but has had to make a living in a varied number of ways. She worked as an actress, a travel agent and in several forms of customer service. Her passion though has always been writing. She loves and enjoys both reading and writing fan fiction. Fantasy Time Inc. was nominated for The Global eBook Award!
Visit Sherri's blog

Monday, August 25, 2014


I have never been able to grow African Violets.

Or, rather, I should say that I have never been able to keep them alive.

Once a year I walk by shelves of these lovely, colorful plants at the grocery store, bring one or two home, and within a month they are dead.

This year, staying true to a futile tradition, I picked out a sweet purple and white variety and placed it in my kitchen window hoping it would like the southern exposure.

Within a couple of weeks, its blooms dropped off, and I resigned myself to another failure.

But then, a week later, I noticed, within its velvet leaves, buds.

I turned the plant to the sun, made sure it had adequate moisture to draw into its roots, and praised it like a fool.

We've had good luck with that exposure, and the long garden bed that borders our exterior southern wall.

Bearded irises bloom there, along with variegated hostas, tulips, daffodils, and clematis, which has overgrown its original trellis, and reached out for new territory. Next year, we will have to provide it with a second.

When we first moved into the house, our neighbors said, "Plant what you love most along that wall. Everything thrives there." And to prove it, they supplied a few of the iris bulbs from their garden.

Along the way, we've had to thin out a few plants, and remove a blue spruce that had tripled in size and blocked part of our driveway.

We were sure there was something magical about that wall, beyond the sunlight.

And then one year, one of our sewer lines blocked up and had to be rodded out.

Since the only access to that particular line is in our basement, the men dragged their equipment downstairs and got to work.  After a few minutes, I heard the machine noise stop, and one of the men yell, "Lady! Could you come down here?"

He didn't look happy. Neither did his assistant. They were wiping their brows and shaking their heads. "We just hit dirt."

"Ummmm," I said, "That's not good, is it?"

"No. It means the line's broken."

Indeed. A seweroscopy, conducted the next day, revealed that the line had broken under our patio and was dumping raw sewage...where?

Into the garden bed on the south wall.

We've continued to joke about our fertile ground. There's no telling when the line broke, how long it was "nourishing" our plants. But the truth is, years after the line was repaired, everything I plant there mad.

I could say this is due to whatever remains of the constant effluence, but that doesn't explain this new small miracle, which  never had any contact with it.....

Perhaps it is the sun, after all. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: The Whales Know: A Journey Through Mexican California

Title: The Whales Know: A Journey Through Mexican California

Author: Pino Caccuci

Translator: Katherine Gregor

Publisher:  Armchair Traveller at the Bookhaus

Genre: Non-fiction

During a period described as “the the history of relations between our species and Mother Nature,” Italian author Pino Cacucci embarks on a journey through the Baja Peninsula to visit areas which serve as sanctuaries for gray whales. The narrative which unfolds in this compact book is rich with description of towns visited and roads traveled, as well as tales handed down through generations, Mexican and American history, and, of course, details of the author’s experiences with the subjects of his search. The effect these graceful and gentle whales have on him is a profound one, inspiring justifiable anger at a long and shameful whaling history, which, sadly, continues in many parts of the world, along with a deep respect and admiration for all cetaceans. English-speaking readers owe a debt of gratitude to Katherine Gregor for translating Caccuci’s text so beautifully, and to the publisher of this translation. In an era where so many texts have been reduced to pixels, The Whales Know, with its hard, fabric-bound cover, simple, elegant graphics, lack of blurbs and advertising, substantial paper, and satin-ribboned placeholder, is as lovely to touch as it is to read. More than just an “Armchair Traveller,” it is a perfect gift for yourself and the nature-lovers in your life.

Buy The Whales Know

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


He loved dogs.

I write this in past tense because I don't know where he is.  Until recently, he lived in a house, alone, which was as he had always lived. But, today I learned he had been moved to a nursing home. Its name? No one knows. 

We weren't friends. He was one of my teachers. In fact, I didn't really care for him or his class. He was quiet and opaque, aside from the frequent smirks and winks to his entourage of drooling graduate students who were dedicated, it seemed, to preserving his mystique. When I was done with his course, I vowed I wouldn't take any more from him. And I was certain he was out of my life. Good riddance, I said.

But after I was done with the degree, and got married, things changed. I was not just an alum, I was a faculty wife, with all the associations and duties that went along with it.  And because my former teacher and husband were colleagues, there were the inevitable suggestions that we invite him over for dinner.

Which we did.

I remember dreading his arrival, wondering what I was going to say, how he was going to get along with our other guests. He didn't generally socialize outside of the university, and was famous for backing out of invitations he'd accepted...always at the last minute. Yet, he was at our door on time.

And although he was pleasant, he was as tight-lipped in our home as he'd been in class. Without his entourage, he seemed adrift.

My husband served drinks. Our other guests sat near him and tried to engage him in conversation. He politely answered their questions, but didn't offer much. The guests tried harder.

I was ready for a long evening.

And then my husband let the dog back into the house.

She was barely out of puppyhood,  a Jack Russell a friend of a friend had found trying to climb out of a garbage can in alley. We had recently lost a dog, another rescue, to old age, and fell in love with this adorable little pooch instantly. But she was a handful, wired with terrier energy, and still working through behavior problems that came from being abused and abandoned.  She was great with people she knew and trusted, but skittish around strangers. We always warned guests not to approach or handle her without her permission. She had never bitten anyone, but was quick to growl if frightened. 

She did a few laps around the first floor before deciding that the living room was the place to be, and went directly to my former teacher and panted at his feet. 

He burst out laughing.

The dog stood on her hind legs and rested her paws on his thigh, still panting.

He patted her head and offered her a little piece of cheese, which she took politely, and ran to another room to eat. A minute later she was back, tail wagging, mouth open, on her hind legs, yipping at him.

Tears ran down his cheeks.

He had to put his drink down to take out a handkerchief.

The dog reached for his arm. And on and off, throughout the evening, he and our dog entertained each other, and us, as they got acquainted.

Before he left, he thanked us and said he had never had so much fun. It was his birthday, you see—a fact we hadn't known, and this was a perfect way to celebrate it.

I looked at him differently after that, and asked him back many times. Even after the Jack Russell died, he was glad for the invitation.

The last time we shared a meal, a year ago, he had become terribly frail. My husband and I had taken him to lunch, and I had to help him in and out of the car.  His hands shook, and his voice barely rose above a whisper.

He was fading—this odd, guarded, occasionally smug, brilliant, and accomplished man who was once famous, sought-after, revered by his students and colleagues, this man I didn't like. I could say that's the way life is, that's the price of aging, except for the fact that he has more than faded from our lives: he has disappeared.

And that breaks my heart.

We'll continue to look for him, but I hope that wherever he is, there are dogs. He did love them so.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Music and Prose: Holding Back


It's been on my mind lately—what I've thought but haven't said, what I've written and removed.

And I've thought about the lack of it—when I've said too much, or clung, shamefully, to too many words.

I've always been lured by understatement, suggestion, what is left unsaid.  And I've been spellbound by the tense spaces between notes and words, phrases and action.

Listen to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's and Christa Ludwig's exquisitely controlled performances of Mozart's "Porgi Amor" from Marriage of Figaro, and Brahms's "Sapphische Ode".  Both artists exercise tremendous restraint, rein in their instruments to highlight the music's subtlety and spare, quiet beauty.  They understand that when they hold back, the audience listens...

...and sometimes, they forget to breathe....

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