Wednesday, December 15, 2010


"Further to my letter of October 6, 2010..." (Yawn) "By my computations it appears that all discovery was due..." (Groan) "After a review of your responses..." (Go to hell...Run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes it...sue me - oops too late.) Just once, I'd like to open my mail and read "Congratulations, you've just won the following prize..." It really doesn't matter what I win...the raffle for the church's crazy quilt, tickets to a Barry Manilow concert, the sequel to the "The Story of Cutlery," hair rollers.

The last time I won something I was on a bowling team. I was so terrible at it, so gutter prone, I had the highest handicap in the entire league - maybe in the history of the league. It's been almost thirty years and I might continue to hold that title. I still wince when I recall one rather unfortunate occasion; I let go of the ball as I swung my arm backward nearly wiping out an entire row of bowling housewives on the opposing team who were sitting unaware on the bench. Early on I learned that bowling was a very competitive sport for these ladies, and not just a lark, as it was for me. But until that moment I had not realized it could also be quite dangerous. I made a mental note to look into my homeowners insurance to see if I needed extra coverage for negligent acts.

On the bright side, because I was a lousy bowler I had an amazing handicap. And because I had such an amazing handicap, when it came time to "Bowl For Turkey" just before Thanksgiving, I won the ceramic covered dish shaped like the bird. Likewise, at "The Christmas Bowl" I won the set of three serving trays, in graduated sizes, painted with a Poinsettia motif. That last win was just too much for the long-timers on the league. Some of them were heard to grumble (quite loudly, I might add) that "the lousy bowler" was winning all the prizes, while they - the true bowlers who cared deeply about the sport - were being left in the dust with no prizes to show for their expertise. I don't know if there is a natural correlation or if it was just coincidence, but the best bowlers were usually built rather sturdily. Therefore, I decided to take the road of least resistance and quit the league. A shame, really, since I loved bowling. I bought my own bowling ball with the finger holes drilled specifically to fit me. It was a beautiful twelve-pound blue sparkler; I even went the extra mile and had my initials engraved on it. It had a lovely carrying case as well, also blue. Although bowling shoes are never truly attractive, I was lucky enough to find a pair made by Hush Puppy that might have been mistaken for regular buff-colored loafers if one stood far enough away from them and then squinted really hard to make them blur a little.

I also loved the sound of the bowling alley...the rumbling down the lanes, the crack and kerfuffle of the pins as they dropped (or in my case, the lack of crack and kerfuffle followed by a hollow plunk.) And then there was the movement of the bowlers...the fist pulled back in a jerking motion followed by a "Yes" and a little bow and another jerking fist...maybe a "That's the way...that's it." High fives all around. I didn't have many of those moments either. Mostly, I'd line up my shot, then step - hop - step as I drew my right arm back and followed through and then prayed the ball would stay in the lane. Just one pin, please God in heaven. Most of the time I was able to hit something. But there were no high-fives, no fisted "Yeses." Mostly, it was pretty quiet as I walked back to my place on the bench trying not to look ashamed. But every once in a while I'd line up the shot perfectly, step - hop - step - and I'd remember to keep my thumb pointed to the right and my wrist flat as I executed the release and - bingo. "That's the way...that's it...Yes!" I'd do my chicken dance, and strut back to my place pridefully. But the other members of the league weren't fooled by any of it. They knew dumb luck when they saw it; and, there was still the matter of the handicap. They didn't appreciate some lousy bowler grabbing all the loot. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the dour faces of the league champions, or their gold and silver plastic trophies in the shape of bowling pins, I was the one with the ceramic turkey bowl and Poinsettia serving platters. There was no getting around that!

Since my bowling career ended, I haven't won anything. I'm not much of a sport model; I'm more like an old Packard. When I moved to Savannah, I was asked to join a tennis league. I think I must have looked the part of a "lady-who-tennised." I was thin, and yuppie looking, and lived in a new house, in a nice neighborhood, with children in private school. Ergo, it followed I must also be into tennis, right? Once again, I thought it was all just for fun. I didn't realize they actually expected me to know how to play tennis...or that they expected me to help them win matches. I just figured we'd schlep on over to the tennis courts and bat the ball around and then drink wine. I bought a tennis racket and racket cover and shoes and a visor; but, I didn't figure on a dress code. I think I showed up in jeans and a paint-stained T-shirt that said something like, "I Live To Boogie." In return, I was greeted by ladies in little pristine white skorts with matching tops. Being a fast learner from past events, the morning wasn't over before I told them I thought I was better off bowling.

Still, I would dearly love to win something. And although I don't expect it, I would be lying to you if I didn't admit I would love to win the short story competition next Spring. Unfortunately, I don't think I can rely upon handicapping for an edge over the competition. Just ink, and paper, and a couple of thousand words. Who would have thought it was so difficult. I mean, no balls, no pins, no nets, and no dress code. Now, if I can just come up with something interesting to say, and manage to stay out of the would be lovely to do the chicken dance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'll Give You Stormy Weather

My dad. My dad exuded atmosphere. He came up the hard way in Chicago...went to the College of Hard Knocks you might say...and he didn't take "nothin' from no one." For a tough guy, he sure cried a lot though. He cried when he heard something on the news about a kid being lost, or hurt...or worse. He would be yelling at the television calling the President a sonofabitch one moment; he would be weeping the next. There was a "bastard" who swerved his car to hit his dog Moochie on purpose. He chased the car for blocks. He was going to kill the bastard if he caught him. He was 10, but he was going to kill that bastard if he caught him. Finally, exhausted, he tripped and fell. The bastard got away. Moochie was dead. Dad liked to drink a lot. When he did, he would tell that story. I'd cry over Moochie. Part of me wished Dad would have caught up to that bastard; most of me was glad he didn't.

My dad was a born musician, if it's possible to be born something, and there wasn't an instrument he couldn't play. It didn't matter if it had keys or strings or valves, or if it swung cool or blew hot. He could make that instrument do what it was put on earth to do; he could figure the thing out in his head long before he held it in his hands. He could play music long before he could read music. Like the Sorting Hat might have said, "It was all there - in his head."

He had a band. He was the bandleader and the trumpet player and the band played wherever they could. Back in those early days they played in some pretty seedy bars - for dimes and quarters. He didn't care as long as he was playing music. Besides, seedy bars wouldn't have bothered him. Like I said, he was a pretty tough guy. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, he joined the Army. It doesn't always happen this way, but the Army actually used his talent wisely. He was put in charge of a band that played for the guys stationed in various parts of the world. The conditions were still pretty rough, he'd want you to know. It wasn't a piece of cake and the bombs didn't know not to land on the musicians. The bombs didn't care where they landed.

They played at some USO spots too. The band had a gig in Spokane, Washington - late 1943 or early 1944. Lucky for him, on this particular night it wasn't a seedy bar like he was used to. If it had been, she would never have walked in the door. But she did. She was wearing a dress that came up just above her knees. He was sure happy that girls were saving on cloth and wearing their skirts above their knees. It was all for the war effort, you see. She was wearing a skirt just above her knees, and her hair was pulled up on the sides, and it hung down in the back. It bounced when she walked. She wasn't very big. He figured she couldn't be much taller than 5 feet, and she was petite in figure as well. She came in with her sister, who was much taller. He watched her. He watched as they talked and smiled and were having fun. He could tell she had a small space between her two front teeth and dimples. He knew. Right then. Just like that.

He was handsome - movie star handsome - and he was a little dangerous. She hadn't grown up around dangerous men. She had dated boys, mostly from the farms around her parents' farm. They were all good Catholic boys. She went to a good Catholic girls school. She didn't know any dangerous men. Certainly not dangerous trumpet players. She could tell right from where she stood how blue his eyes were. He was wearing his uniform. She was watching him too. He handed his trumpet to one of the guys in the band, never taking his eyes off her, and stepped down from the stage and walked over to her through the couples dancing to the music.

It happened just like that. Decades later, he told my brother why he never played "Stormy Weather." When my brother told me, I laughed until I thought I'd cry. He had a million stories, my Dad did. Many of them were a tough guy sort of way.

Monday, December 6, 2010

We Need A Little Christmas

My neighbors were out in force this weekend decorating their houses for Christmas. I got the yearly flyer, printed on seasonal green paper, reminding me of (a) the holiday progressive dinner, (b) the tradition "many, many years old" of placing one dozen luminaries in front of each house thereby "creating an unbroken chain of light" throughout the neighborhood on Christmas Eve, and (c) the equally ancient tradition of putting a large red bow on every mailbox.

Last year, my daughter was across the street helping our dear friends place and light their luminary candles at the curb, when Dr. Z exclaimed, "I wish I knew what imbecile thought this one up!" Katharine could hardly contain herself and ran home to tell the imbecile - also known as Mom - what he said. We laughed so hard we nearly knocked over the dinner table. The progressive dinner was also my idea, as were the beribboned mailboxes. Back those "many many years" there were only about 50 houses and I was president of the Homeowners Association. I also started a Fourth of July Parade with bikes and wagons and baby strollers festooned with streamers and balloons and other red, white and blue do-dads and froo-froo. It culminated at the park with a huge picnic and super games like "Dunk The Dads." (Getting enough dads to agree to being dunked was one of the most difficult tasks of my administration). Apparently, as the years rolled on it became more difficult to get people organized; the 4th of July party was dropped. But while it lasted, it was great fun.

But getting back to Christmas. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. I far prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving. In fact, I far prefer just an ordinary day. The beauty of Christmas, and its true meaning, has gotten so lost it has become almost foreign to it. Inevitably, the hawking started even before the trick and treaters came ringing the doorbell. The odious commercials of the Lexus sitting on the driveway with a big red bow attached to the roof run several times an hour. Now, in all fairness, this year's commercials include the suggestion that a lower end automobile, such as a Kia, are also acceptable. You such a bad economy we are allowed to make such concessions.

Thinking through all the Christmases I've lived through, I tried to remember if I have ever ever known someone who woke up on Christmas morning to a Lexus sitting on the driveway with a big red bow attached to its roof? No one came to mind. To whom are these commericals directed, I wonder. Why stop at a Lexus? Why not a private jet, or a swiss chalet, or a rocketship? Why not King Tut's death mask or the Hope Diamond? With expectations as magnanimous as that, what chance does the hand-knitted scarf or the bath gel have, you might ask? If you're lucky, and the people on your gift list are the right sort, the scarf and bath gel will be received with happy joy, and not one of the dear ones will expect a Lexus. I am as lucky as that. Nevertheless, the tinsel is losing its shine and I wish the hawkers and hype-sters would simply leave Christmas alone. Go sell something else.

Well, I really didn't come here to talk about Christmas at all. What I wanted to do was steal a meme from Baker's Daughter, who in turn borrowed it from Litlove. Caterwauling about Christmas was simply a tangent brought about by one of my...

10 Best Friends From Literature:

Mame Dennis, Auntie Mame. Because we all (even a Grinch such as myself)need a little Christmas every now and then - if we're being perfectly honest. Besides, she throws a great party.

Winnie The Pooh, "If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you." No explanation necessary.

Nancy Drew, she solves mysteries and drives a blue roadster convertible. She also has a handsome single father who would be a very cool date...for me!

Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird. Because sometimes you simply need a lawyer you can trust - or a Will that can't be broken.

Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With The Wind. Yes, she is selfish and willful and narcissistic, but she'll always land on her feet. A very practical friend to have.

Jean Valjean, Les Miserables. To remind me of redemption of the soul.

Glinda, The Good Witch Of The South, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. "She knows how to keep young in spite of the many years she's lived." I figured she'd also be able to get me back home should I ever get lost.

Severus Snape, Harry Potter Series. He knows how to yield a mean wand; and, I saw through to his goodness right from the start.

Sir Simon, The Canterville Ghost. Dear, sweet ghost...because he helps us understand "what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both."

Black Beauty, Black Beauty. But not for what he might bring to me. We would explore our little world together. I'd feed him apples and sugar cubes and tell him he is the most beautiful horse that ever lived. He would have a warm place to sleep and sunny fields in which to run. No one would ever abuse him again; I'd make up for all of it and I'd always be ten years old. The same age I was when we first met.

It is hard to limit these friends to ten. Impossible, really. It's like trying to choose a favorite child. But here are the ones that spring immediately to mind. The others will, I pray, forgive me and not keep me up all night demanding to know why they didn't make the cut. They can be a pesky bunch.