Hug a bridge.
It started with a bottle of great wine.
I used to think that $12 at a wine shop buys a good bottle, and $18 something really great. My unsophisticated palate didn’t warrant further investment. Then we went to Rome and Florence. There I discovered (among other morsels of the sensually-sublime feast that is Italy), the renowned Brunello di Montalcino, the perfect red wine – complex, intense, full-bodied, smoky and ancient. Upon returning to the States, I visited Alex, my favorite wine guy, and said, “I have three words for you: Brunello di Montalcino!”
“You’ve made quite a leap there!” He said with amusement. “The esteemed bottle here starts at $60.”
Uh … I know, right?
So when my generous and loving partner, Joe, came upon a Brunello sale-priced at $39, he snatched it up for us for some unknown future occasion.
Now we are upon it – Thanksgiving 2013! An inspiration for a fall feast that Joe and I are sacredly guarding for ourselves. And not just because we don’t want to share the wine.
Back story: A few years ago Joe and I started spending the holiday away with another couple we enjoy. We’d pick a destination somewhere within a two-hour radius of Washington. One year, it was a modern cabin near Lost River, West Virginia; next a beach shack near Broadkill Beach, Delaware; last time, an A-frame with hot tub overlooking the Shenandoah River.
We all wanted to escape the familial expectations of Thanksgiving, and this was clearly a legitimate out. Then they broke up, and we haven’t found that particular chemistry (and intention) with other friends. In spite of lovely invitations from friends and family, Joe and I decided that what we really want is to retreat by ourselves. Because we are on the “right side of 50,” and we can. We can do whatever the hell we want!
Joe and I have been together since 2004, but we live apart. Exactly one mile apart. It’s perfect for us – at least for now. So the idea of four days together without our usual social schedule is very appealing. And we love to cook together so … what should we make to compliment the Brunello?
Although we both like traditional Thanksgiving dishes, we decided instead to cultivate the Italian theme and create an autumnal Roman-repast. I adore the earthy, fetid wonder of wild mushrooms. So we will make a wild mushroom pasta with the last few ounces of olio di oliva organico we got in a cobbled corner of Florence. A dash of fresh butter, a splash of Marsala wine, and lots of freshly-grated parmesan reggiano. Molto bene!
For the secondi piatti, we will saute fillets of branzino (a wonderful Mediterranean fish) in olive oil, lemon and garlic. Charred brussel sprouts tossed in a light Dijon aioli will round out the main course. Dessert is yet to be determined!
As we’re preparing and cooking to the tunes of John Coltrane or Bobby Blue Bland or Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (what will be my mood??), we’ll be sipping a glass of Prosecco, and whetting our appetites on plump, juicy smoked mussels. Buon Appetito!
This has the potential to be a politically incorrect blog. But here goes: The New York Times reported that mannequins in Venezuela are produced according to the populace’s ideal perception of women. This means oversized bosoms, small waists and palpable hips and buttocks. In fact, in Venezuela, augmentation surgery is openly discussed and accepted, at least by the persons interviewed for the article:
Cosmetic procedures are so fashionable here that a woman with implants is often casually referred to as “an operated woman.” Women freely talk about their surgeries, and mannequin makers jokingly refer to the creations as being “operated” as well.
The article indicated some feminist outcry to the notion that perfect beauty resides in the form of an hourglass. But nothing like what would erupt in the United States should the Playboy model once again emerge as an emblem of the ideal body. I can neither pass judgment nor analyze a culture far removed from mine. But it did start me thinking about depictions of the female form.
When I wander around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I am always entranced by the sculptures depicting women that have been excavated from the ancient burial sites of Greece, Mycenae and Cyprus. Some of these figurines date as far back as 4500 B.C. They are beautiful. Modern art thousands of years ago. I wander from gallery to gallery picking out old favorites, and discovering new ones. In the end, it is obvious – there is nothing new about hips and bosoms.
Actually, the collective unconscious that has sculpted, shall we say mannequins, goes much further back than a mere 5,513 years. Thirty-five thousand years ago, sculptures carved from mammoths’ tusks and limestone, that can only be described as zaftig were being created throughout Europe. They are known as Venus figures. So, when you think about it, the earliest artists ever, those that lived before history had a starting date, depicted their ideal women as voluptuous:
I guess the Venezuelan mannequins can be viewed as simply a bridge to prehistory.
A large brown envelope arrived recently in snail mail from Ashtabula, Ohio. It contained copies of letters I wrote to a young woman named Mary when we were 14. We met in the northeastern Ohio township, and decided to keep in touch when my summer vacation ended.
I found her on Facebook, and we got in touch after four decades. When she realized I’d become a writer, she mentioned my letters in a box in her attic. Would I like copies? What could I have possible said in those letters to a relative stranger 300 miles away? And why would she save them into this millennium?
“They’re about what you’d expect a 14 year old to write about,” she said.
Would I like to meet myself at 14? Not that I could go back and talk some sense into my head, but what I think about those times now and what I was actually saying at the time, well, they’re mountains apart.
I’m sure I was a bad writer. I wrote those letters before I decided to become a writer. Mary does get credit for encouraging me to write about anything and everything. At 5 cents to mail, I guess I wrote a dozen letters.
What were my interests in 1968? I was too young to worry about the draft. I’d just learned to ice skate and dabbled in hockey. I had a fish tank of dubious quality. My fish, when they weren’t eating each other, got white spots and died. Or their tails rotted off. Is that what I wrote about? Was that how I thought I’d impress this future drum majorette?
Mary was friends with Natalie, who lived next door to my best friend, Pete. I only ever met and talked with Mary when she was visiting in Natalie’s yard. A home-made swing hung from a long thick rope tied off at the top of a thick branch of a strong old tree. Sometimes, when no one was around I’d swing on that tree. Other times, the girls might let me push them a time or two.
I take comfort that I was not writing poetry then. It would have been awful, I’m sure. I hate to look at my handwriting in those old letters. My mom called my penmanship chicken scratch. Why couldn’t I write neat and nice like my older sister who put up with me visiting her in Ashtabula my teen summers?
“But, Ma, she writes like a girl!”
It was my sister who got married, and left Jersey for Ashtabula. Her letters home were something we all looked forward to reading. Mother answered those letters. I never wrote to my sister. Why would I? She was old and married! But I think I got the bug from her to write to someone – Mary. And later, others. As these ancient missives resurface I wonder if letter writing as a lost art form should stay lost.
So, what do I do with this envelope of long-lost and forgotten musings? Shall I open it and greet my teenage self? Discover how I chronicled my wonder years?
Or shall I leave it sealed and keep safe whatever memories of those times that still swirl and swell in my grey matter? Sealed forever or open, here’s to Mary, Rhonda and others, too. I’ll always remember you in ink stains and sparkling synapses.
Even at a very early age, I was resigned to the fact that, someday, in the far distant future, I would no longer have a full head of hair. After all, my maternal grandfather was bald, and so the genetic hair-loss link between him and me, I was led to believe, would lead to my own hair loss someday. I also decided, early on, that I would grow my hair as long as I possibly could when the time came around. I suffered through years of ’50s-style crew cuts, until eighth grade, when I was allowed to eschew the crew, and opt for a longer, albeit quite conservative, look.
By the summer before my junior year in high school, the hair got longer. It was a struggle at times. A friend of mine and I got thrown out of the local barber shop because of our looks. (We were soliciting patrons for a Key Club pamphlet!) And my mom issued a veiled threat that she would inform my dad of what my brothers and I were ingesting if I didn’t “get that hair cut!” She was an elementary school teacher at the time, and was getting drug seminars every Friday for a while. Have to admit, I got a hair cut after much consternation and pacing back in forth of that very same barber shop I just mentioned.
My freshmen year of college was spent in Tallahassee, Florida, which still had white and colored drinking fonts out in the open, if not in actual use, and where the upperclassmen informed me and a fellow Northeastern liberal that the locals didn’t cotton much to blacks – and long-hairs. We kind of pooh-poohed all that, until we were stranded one night in a broken-down, borrowed car while returning from a concert in Jacksonville, when the local gendarme took one look at us, and informed us that we were not in his “joorisdickshawn,” and wasn’t likely to be helping us right soon.
As we watched him leave us on the interstate, we knew it would be a long night. And it was. Upon reaching my senior year in college, now back in New Jersey, I had to listen to wise-cracks from folks – like when going to a Jets game at the big Shea, I heard guys say to my dad that it was nice that he was bringing his “daughter” to the game. Or ducking debris tossed at me as I bicycled my way through the Jersey Pinelands on my way to Ortley Beach. Pineys were much like folks in Tallahassee in those days. (They may still be today.)
Sometime later, subtly but surely, my forehead began to recede. But it wasn’t until my late 30s and early 40s, where it all really began to finally go away. Around the age of 50, I finally decided to shave the rest of what was left. I knew the decision was cool, when the 20-something girls I was working with at the time oohed and aahed when I first showed up to work with my newly-liberated dome. I am fortunate to be in an era where shaved heads are quite accepted, although I would not shave my head if I had a full head of hair. I would totally still prefer having all my hair, even though I am quite secure with my head as it is now. Incidentally, I still have a full head of luxurious hair in nearly all my dreams.
This leads me to the loss of hair elsewhere on my body. I have, since puberty, had a good amount of body hair. Mostly arms, legs, and chest. (None to speak of on my back.) Somewhere in my 40s, I started to lose hair on the outside of my shins; calves. No one could explain why this was happening. Nearly everyone, including my primary care doc, theorized it was from wearing jeans, and the seams wore the hair away. Why then, only on the outer calves? No one knew. Then it started disappearing on my thighs. Again no one knew. It wasn’t fair, and I couldn’t blame by grandfather for this one. I will say, I did find a perfect spot on my left calf for a really cool tattoo. Pretty soon my legs will be as hairless as my head. And I just don’t know why. At least no one is making comments about my legs.
But wait, I think I do know where ALL the hair has gone – it’s coming out of my ears and my nose. Sheesh!
I recently opted out of attending my 40th high school reunion. Nobody I knew was going, and I had no desire to make small talk with a bunch of middle-aged strangers. I’m sure those who went wondered, “Will I recognize anyone?” Or more to the point, “Will anyone recognize me?” All of which brings me to the story of Bobby and Mrs. Ruvusky.
When I was 22, I went to see the comic, Bobby Slayton, at a club in San Francisco. While getting a drink at the bar before the show, the comedian approached me and said, “I know you.” I told him I knew him too – he was the headliner, Bobby Slayton. He repeated that he knew me from Mrs. Ruvusky’s Hebrew school class. Didn’t I remember him as the class clown? I admitted that I had no recollection of him, or anything else from 2nd grade. Turns out, he moved after that year, and hadn’t seen me since I was seven. Did I change that little in 15 years?
Fast forward to last December. Bobby Slayton was performing at a local improv club. My husband and I, and two other couples, decided to go. The price was right – no cover and a two-drink minimum. After the show, Bobby was selling his DVD in the lobby. I was nervous that he wouldn’t recognize me after 35 years, but knew I had to take the plunge, and find out. I approached him, and asked him if he knew me? Without skipping a beat he said, “Mrs. Ruvusky’s 2nd grade Hebrew school class.”
Hopefully he’ll recognize me in the nursing home.
Now that we’ve moved to the shore house, and remodeled our home, I’m developing an inferiority complex about our front lawn. About three years ago, we thought we’d spruce up the place, so we put in underground sprinklers and a carpet of sod in the front and back yards. The landscaper tore up the weeds, and rolled out the new grass, like so much dirt-backed broadloom. It was thick, lush, and a deep money green. My yard looked like a golf course.
But almost immediately, crabgrass began to poke through the new turf, first along the seams of the rows of sod, then slowly in the middle too. Apparently, the roots and fragments left behind after the landscaper had cleared the ground were enough to allow the weeds to reassert themselves so that, within a month, my new sod lawn was nearly one-third crabgrass again.
My neighbor across the street, who always had a flawless lawn, had one word of advice:
“Poison,” he said. “Have the landscape guys come once in the spring, and then every few weeks, and spray weed killer on the lawn. No problem.”
Being too frugal to hire a landscaper just to spread death and destruction among the weeds, I bought a jug of granulated broad spectrum weed killer. “Broad spectrum” means it kills lots of different weeds, which is what I needed – who knew what evil weeds lurked under my new sod? And the stuff worked great – I put it down once, and the weeds stayed away for six weeks.
But then they started coming back, so it was time to re-apply. The problem was I’d already sworn, after the first application, that I’d never touch that stuff again. It came with use instructions and warnings as extensive as the Manhattan phone book. The manufacturer advises you to wear a respirator, special impermeable rubber gloves, goggles, long sleeves, long pants tucked into your shoes, and even hair protection when you apply the poison. You’re supposed to avoid working downwind, not breathe the dust, shower promptly afterwards, and launder your work clothes separately from other wash. And you’re to be especially careful not to apply it where pets, water fowl, or small children may come into contact with it.
Isn’t that what lawns are for? Dogs, cats, kids, and those Canadian geese crap-machines? If I followed those instructions, I’d be spreading poison pellets in a parking lot somewhere. And why the hair covering? Is the poison absorbed through hair follicles? Or does it just make your hair hurt?
So I surrendered and stopped applying the poison altogether, and within one season, my lawn returned to being all crabgrass, dandelion, and other weeds unknown. It looks particularly bad now because my next door neighbor has since laid down sod, and he has someone regularly apply weed toxins, so his lawn looks great.
Like me, my across-the-street neighbor was tired of periodically contaminating the area surrounding his house with airborne and water-soluble death dust, but he’s taken an entirely different tack. His new word of advice, like the helpful neighbor in “The Graduate,” is simple: plastics. Specifically, plastic grass.
His lawn is picture perfect every day of the year because it’s Astroturf. The landscapers still come, and blow actual leaves and twigs off the plastic carpet, but it never needs cutting, watering, or chemical nuking. It’s a bold move, but I just can’t see myself buying a petroleum-based lawn covering that, despite the manufacturer’s assurances, is likely to fade, fray, and need replacement within five or 10 years.
We’ve just finished some more renovations, so our front lawn is now mostly dirt. It’s too late in the season to plant grass now, but come spring, the weeds will sprout, the dandelions will bloom, and our yard will look raggedy and scruffy again. My neighbors, I suspect, will secretly curse me for not keeping up appearances. I’ll endure their scorn in the hope that, by boycotting weed killer, I can avoid coming down with those annoying tumors of everything that seem to plague so many people these days.
In the meantime, I’m hoping for lots of snow cover this winter so that, at least for a while, I won’t be ashamed of my front yard.