Tuesday, March 29, 2005

a little patio music

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, my weekends had a certain pleasingly slacker, low-tech routine to them.

I'd get up, wash my face and have a couple of cups of strong, black coffee while reading the paper. If the news was good, the morning would be spent in relative peace; if bad the Hubs would be subjected to a well-reasoned if increasingly desperate rant, followed by sighs, more coffee, and a retreat to the comics pages.

Eventually I would rise, slap on some head phones, tune into NPR or maybe a little jazz, and go out onto the patio to paint. I have an old wooden table, left by the previous owners of the house, set up with newspapers, a bunch of old coffee cans full of various mediums and an easel I bought on sale at a craft store.

Sometimes the painting would go well, and I would lose myself for hours in gooey globs of green and rose and the heady mixture of turpentine and linseed oil. Sometimes it would go poorly, and I would lose myself in problems of perspective and scale, (the same problems, it occurrs, that plague in the real world) . Yet even these less successful days never felt wasted, for time spent playing in paint is, for me, time lived completely in the moment, absorbed and absorbing. Focused. Reaching.

Sometime around 4:00, I’d wind down, clean my brushes, take a shower, grab a glass of wine and wander back outside to sit in the Adirondack chair, contemplate the days work, and maybe write in my journal. Nothing smart, poetic or clever, full of bad grammar and awful punctuation, it was just idle musings, maybe a sketch or idea, something that made me laugh. No one came along to comment ~ imagine the shock if they had (Hi! I was just passing through, saw your journal sitting there and decided to read it ~ very nice! Stop by and read mine sometime! I leave it on my dresser at 4037 Maple.) All was peaceful and unremarkable in Patio Land.

Then I got a computer. Before I knew it, I had neither the time nor the inclination to do anything as labor intensive on weekends as to go outside and play; not when I could stay inside, plop down in a comfy chair and stare, dry-eyed and mesmerized, at the seductive white light of the monitor all day. As for writing in a quaint little, handwritten notebook,well; what's the point, really? I rarely go back and read the things; they just pile up on a shelf, or in a drawer somewhere.

(I imagine them being discovered someday by archaeologists, or detectives working the case of my mysterious disappearance ~ who was this brilliant, beautiful and obviously gifted woman who died all alone in this neglected tenement house, surrounded by old newspapers, coffee cans and cats? they'll wonder. Perhaps the lead detective will fall in love with me, like Dana Andrews fell for Gene Tierney in the movie Laura....) But I digress. Besides, if it isn't happening online in 2005, it isn't happening at all.

So last week I bit the bullet ~ went out, cleaned off the forlorn little table ~ or rather persuaded the gallant and only slightly complaining Hubs to do it for me, and a good thing too ~ I don't want to say its been a while, but there was an honest-to-god snake living amongst the debris. Talk about a bad omen.

The session went poorly but heroically I soldiered on. And as I wrote in my low-tech little notebook, I realized how much I missed this ~ sitting quietly on the patio, hearing the breeze rustling the leaves, the sound of laughter and voices drifting in from neighboring yards, the rumble of a distant train. A moment of serenity in the cool and open air. A crow squawked angry protest at an indifferent universe, and reminded me of... me. I sipped my wine and stared at the (so far very bad) painting and understood how much I needed to do this again. To sit. Listen. Be quiet. Be.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

when lefties lose it

Like all clear-thinking liberals, I am convinced that 51% of the American public voted for bush just to antagonize me. The past two elections have all of us on the left feeling bruised, bloodied and unconscionably bullied by our compatriots, and the ensuing depression and impotent rage has us popping more pills than Rush Limbaugh at a PETA protest.

Not surprisingly, many of us are similarly persuaded that all those republican bumper stickers that seem to adorn every single automobile in my quiet suburban and Bill O’ Reilly-fan-infested neighborhood …are put there solely to besmirch our most fervently held beliefs and to question the nature of our emphatic but rational patriotism. Unfortunately, it appears some of us have become quite unhinged by the strain of remaining stoic in the face of all this rampant oppression. From the Associated Press:

Man Blames his road rage on bush bumper sticker

Tampa, Fla -- A man apparently enraged by a Bush-Cheney sticker on a woman's sport utility vehicle chased her for several miles and tried to run her off the road while holding up an anti-bush sign, police said.

"He told our officers that he just got mad at her, so he went after her," said police spokesman Joe Durkin.

Nathan Alan Winkler, 31, was freed on $2000 bail early Wednesday on a charge of aggravated stalking, which carries up to five years in prison.

Winkler could not be reached for comment but his father, John Winkler, said: "I know that he's very anti-Bush. But I don't see him doing anything like that. He's the least aggressive person I know."

Winkler told police he got upset with the woman, 35-year-old Michelle Fernandez, after she made an obscene gesture, Durkin said. Police said that as he chased the woman's vehicle, heheld up a smallsign that read: "Never forget Bush's Illegal War Murdered Thousands in Iraq."

I hear you, Nathan, and I feel your pain. Or I would, if it weren't for all those antidepressants. Why, just the other day I was forced to ride for an excruciating mile or so behind a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser that not only screamed BUSH/CHENEY'04 at me from several locations, but also had a 'Clinton' sticker wherein the 'C' was replaced by the old Soviet hammer and sickle motif (mind you; this was a brand new vehicle ~ when in the name of Ronald Reagan are they going to let it go?). It also boasted a "GOT GOD??" inspirational message and, just for good measure, an admonition to "BOYCOTT THE FRENCH!!" Really? Still? Mon dieu! Talk about holding a grudge.

But Nathan, my man, did I get out of my car and proceed to beat that bozo boldly about the bumper with my fresh baked baguettes and the bottle of Beaujolais I just happened to have under my back seat? No, my fellow angry American, I did not. And do you know why?

Because they were my dinner, that's why! Honestly. What a question. But how clever of you to have a little sign handy to wave crazily at similarly misguided motorists of the opposing lunatic fringe.

My fellow lefties, the answer is clear. We need to take back our country, one bumper sticker at a time. We need to get us more signs. Or more Prozac. Probably both. This is war.

Friday, March 04, 2005

still stylin'

My mom went out to dinner the other night. She had a wonderful time, and it was a joy to hear her sound so happy for the first time in months. She’d had a fall a few weeks ago, always a concern for a 91 year old, and although she’d broken no bones, she’d been in pain and ailing ever since. But this week she went out with my brother, his wife and their two sons to celebrate her grandson’s 14th birthday at a local family style restaurant. There was wine and pasta and a chocolate cake with candles, and to hear my mother tell it, the post- Oscar parties should have been as lively.

“I wore my Chinese Robe!” she told me delightedly.

Mom’s ‘Chinese Robe’ is now her favorite ‘Saturday night date’ outfit. It has a Mandarin collar, wide bell sleeves and a vaguely oriental pattern in fuchsia, cobalt and yellow. She wears it with little flat gold-toned ballet style slip-ons. It’s extremely attractive. But it’s still a robe.

“Mom, now why would you wear a robe out to dinner?” I asked in the manner of a 12 year old girl whose mother has just shown up at a local PTA meeting in acid washed jeans and a hair net.

"I don't care!" she replied firmly. "It's my favorite. It's comfortable. And it looks nice on me."


When she was young, my mother was a dance hostess at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York. She was petite and delicate featured with dark, chestnut colored hair, clear pale skin and sky blue eyes. I have a dress she used to wear, and although I doubt it's from this particular period, it is typical of her style. It's a tomato-red satin crepe de Chine, overlaid in lace of the same color. The collar is wide across the shoulders and narrows to a V at the small of the back. Cut on the bias, it has cap sleeves, a fitted waist and a full skirt ~ the kind that swirls straight out at a dancer's pivot. The kind that twirls for the pure pleasure of it's own sparkling movement. The kind that Ginger used to wear when she danced with Fred for the cameras.

The fabric is sprinkled throughout with the tiniest of rhinestones; when I was young I thought they were diamonds. It still bears the hand sewn label of the private dressmaker my mother used to use in Manhattan. It is easily the most beautiful thing in my closet, and the only garment I have that positively insists to be called a 'frock'. Just slipping into that dress is enough to make one feel like Ava Gardner sashaying into the 21 Club, late for a date with Sinatra; all French perfume and gold hoop earrings, rustling silks and Dom Perignon. Exuding womanly mystique and sex. Unabashed femininity. I love that dress. I've never had the courage to wear it out anywhere, although I tell myself someday I will. The sad little truth is that I haven't got the verve to pull off a dress like that.

But she did. In a dress like that, she was a knockout. In a dress like that, she could slay dragons. The last time she wore it, she told me, she attracted wolf whistles. She put it away and never wore it again. Ladies, even beautiful ones, do not want that kind of attention.


Now this beautiful, stylish woman wears housecoats out to dinner. As she says, she's 90, it's comfortable and it really does look nice on her. So if Britney and Paris can paint the town red in what appears to be their underwear, who am I to say my little mom can't show up at the Olive Garden in her Chinese Robe for a little rose' and a plate of spaghetti? If anyone can make it work, she can.

The last time we out shopping, a lady approached and gently touched my mother on her arm. "My, you have the most beautiful blue eyes!" she exclaimed. Mom looked up from her walker, smiled sweetly and said "Thank you." She looked back at me, crinkled her nose, shrugged her shoulders and smiling, walked on.

Yeah, Ma. I get it. It isn't about the clothes at all. Never was. It's about who's wearing them. And baby, you still got it.

I'd whistle, but I know how much you hate that.