Monday, November 29, 2010

Brooklyn bound

My basement tenant is moving to Brooklyn, which, as any 70's Welcome Back, Kotter fan knows, is the 4th largest city in the US...or would be, if it weren't part of NYC. 

Speaking of the 70's, here's a great Brooklyn song, recorded by the Whizz on Capital records in 1973:

Shine a light.....or I'll never get back to Brooklyn

Catchy tune, but I think I'll need more than someone shining a light for me to find Brooklyn. Cars, trains, subways, bridges, tunnels--how do you get to Brooklyn?

According to my son, it's not that hard! From Northern Jersey on public transit, take the NJ transit train, (switch at Secaucus), walk to Herald Square at 34th St., F train for a quick 26 minute ride. Who knew? Driving and parking may be another story all together.

Brooklyn is smaller geographically than Queens, but it's still a big borough (population = 2.5 million) with lots of neighborhoods and miles of shoreline.
Brooklyn neighborhoods

Scott will be hanging with the yuppies in Cobble Hill, northwest Brooklyn, not too many stops from Manhattan. Stray Boots has their office in DUMBO and I'm wondering why they don't consider a Brooklyn scavenger hunt. Consider this:

There's the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Museum, one of the oldest art museums in the US, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Brooklyn Heights.  Brooklyn is the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers who left in 1957 after winning the World Series in 1955 and the future home of the NJ Nets, scheduled to move to the Atlantic Yards in 2012. Many famous people hailed from Brooklyn including TV characters (the Huxtables),sports legends (Jackie Robinson, Vince Lombard), rappers (Jay-Z), Nobel laureates (Milton Freidman), writers (Norman Mailer), poets (Walt Whitman), politicians (Rudy Giuliani), gangsters (Al Capone) and comedians (the 3 Stooges).

I'll have to update Stray Boots, as I discover the sites and neighborhoods!

Monday, November 22, 2010


I was at St.Luke's elementary school when the good sister introduced us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. He was a Victorian Catholic poet (of course!), a Jesuit,  whose works were published in 1918, 29 years after his death. He is heralded by some as one of the first modern poets, inventing his own"sprung" rhythm, a precursor of free verse.

Sister Rose of Lima would be shocked at Wikipedia's casual descriptions of Hopkin's possible bipolar personality disorder and his unresolved anguish over his sexuality, but what I remember of his poem "Pied Beauty" are the brilliant images and the words that sent me scurrying to the dictionary...the brinded cow and the stipple on the trout..  Definitely was an awakening for me to a world of poetry and words that went beyond the strict Catholic school curriculum of the early 60's.

I don't  remember how the class responded, sitting in straight rows, 35 in a class, the girls in white blouses with green jumpers, the boys in white shirts and ties. They were probably collectively bored and puzzled by the way the words tripped up your tongue, by Sister's enthusiasm, by the strange, contrary theme of praising nature that is freckled and imperfect, sweet and sour, adazzle and dim, yet somehow right and wondrous. Do I remember the words because we had to memorize them? Maybe...

But, I'd like to think the phrases of this beautiful poem stuck in my mind because they resonate with the wonders of nature, especially in this season of thanks. And let's face it---what pre-teen could forget a phrase like "rose-moles all in stipple"? (I believe I had some rose-moles of my own that I worried about at the time.) Please read and enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving. (whether you buy into the God part or not).

PIED BEAUTY by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Return of Tuesday Movie Day

Hurray! This week heralded the return of Tuesday Movie Day (TMD)  after a long hiatus. I've made the mistake of booking Tuesday afternoon activities when I know that time should be sacrosanct.

If you're unfamiliar with TMD, here are the origins:

Claridge Cinema circa 2005
Lucky holders of Optimum Online Rewards Card know that  movies are free on Tuesdays at Clearview Cinemas with a simple swipe of your card. I began frequenting Clearview Claridge Cinema in Montclair  two years ago, while I was still working in nearby Nutley. Claridge, the Mecca,  (see picture) is an art theatre, specializing in foreign (love to read those subtitles!) and independent films that are usually not widely disseminated. Okay so I’m a bit of a snob—the kind of person who’s proud to say they’ve seen every movie nominated for Best Foreign Language Film or Best Documentary and who has to sneak into the big tenplex and wear a disguise if they cave and want to see the latest blockbuster. (I have a reputation to protect.)
But Tuesday Movie Day is not just about film reviews, elitism, multiculturalism or distinguishing yourself from the great unwashed, popcorn gorging, Coke guzzling masses.  When I was working, it was the thrill of sneaking out of work at 4 o’clock on Tuesday, rushing into the darkened theatre with four or five other souls and immersing yourself in the moviemaker’s world, all the while elated that you’re playing hooky.  It’s the realization that at least once a week you should do something completely selfish and satisfying and forget about project deadlines, interim milestones, staff meetings, grocery lists, household chores and making dinner as soon as you get home.  It celebrates the spontaneous and simple pleasures and reminds us not to let life pass us by.  It’s your inner child jumping up and down and yelling “Yay, it’s Tuesday Movie Day!”, like you did when you were promised a day at the amusement park or a trip to Carvel’s for an ice cream sundae.   It can be savored alone or shared with a special friend who aspires to the Tuesday Movie Day philosophy.
As you know, I am no longer employed. No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  TMD did not cause me to lose my job. If anything, it probably made me more productive, knowing I had a special 4 PM weekly meeting that could not be missed for any reason.  I was always a focused, disciplined, hard working employee who needed to blow off steam once a week or I’d be a total drudge. Really.  No, I was just a casualty of corporate merger and am now a happy member of the ranks of the unemployed/early retired.

Dulce Candy, Montclair

You would think I have all the time in the world, but somehow I don't. My volunteer work has become my new job and I've resolved for 2011 to put that more in balance.  In the meantime, the holidays are coming which is always problematic for TMD, but  I will persevere and can't wait until next week when my son Eric arrives for a visit.  I may have to introduce him to the joy of TMD (with a stop at the Dulce Candy store next to the theatre for some old time penny candy--maryjanes, BB bats, red licorice shoelaces.)

By the way, the movie this week was Fair Game, the Valerie Plame - Joe Wilson story, a political thriller interweaved with the domestic drama. The title comes from Karl Rove's quote that in the media battle to justify the Iraq war despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, Valerie, an undercover CIA agent, was "fair game."  I admit I was a little tired in the beginning and may have dozed off a tiny bit, but I did get caught up in the action and was angry at George W and company all over again by the time I left.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I get the urge for going...

Saw and spoke to Tom Rush in concert last night at Bergen Community College.  He's an old 60's folkie who introduced many of Joni Mitchell's songs and had a profound influence on James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Garth Brooks among others. I first saw him at Cornell back in 1969 or 70. (He loved being reminded of how long he's been playing and how old he is. ha!)

Just have to share the lyrics to the song, "I get the urge to going," which is so poetic and appropriate for this time of year:

And I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky and gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down winter's closing in...

Beautiful, huh? ... and when we're really facing winter, here's the last verse:

I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
And I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay just another month or so
She's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

The song was written by Joni Mitchell and picked up by WBZ in Boston, where it was a "turntable hit" and got considerable play time before it was finally released as a single.

Here's a you-tube version:

Here's Tom Rush website:

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Legacy of the South

Many people have asked what it felt like to be in the Deep South with its legacy of slavery, racism and segregation.  We Northern liberals can be comfortably condescending when it comes to race relations, but, on the one hand, it didn't feel all that different from home.  After all, we're on the tourist trail, just passing through and not living here. You'd walk into a Starbuck's or a music place and black and white kids waited on you and joked around as co-workers.  Just like the North.

Memphis, outside of the tourist areas, is a very poor city. We were directed by our hotel concierge to take a route to Stax Studios that would avoid the "inner city", but boarded up buildings abounded- not unlike Paterson, Newark or a hundred other cities in the North. 

There was rural poverty, too. Tunica County, MS was the second poorest county in the US a few years ago before the introduction of riverboat gambling, our Big Pink host informed us.  "Now, they're rolling in money and jobs and have low taxes."  Being familiar with Atlantic City, we questioned this rosy economic picture and wondered if Harrah's and Bally's profits really filtered down to the poor folk. On the other hand, we played golf at Tunica National and teed off right before a black league of businessmen- successfully middle class.

Confederate flags still fly and just walking through the civil rights sites and museums is sobering.  We think we live in turbulent times now, until you re-live the struggle and sacrifices people made then.  Visiting the NPS center at Central High School in Little Rock was a moving experience, both when you saw the videos of the nine students enduring harrassment and hatred from the crowds and when you looked around the now all black neighborhood and school and wondered how far we've really come. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis laid out the entire civil rights struggle and provided Martin Luther King's powerful and emotional speeches in the context of the events, as if I was hearing them the first time, not as cliched phrases, but as convictions and calls to action. You realized the enormity of the sacrifices made for basic rights of living and voting, against the irony of the low voter turnouts today.

I'm glad we took this trip, which gave me to time to reflect on our history and renewed my appreciation for what's good about America and sharpened my perspective of what still needs to be accomplished.

Here's the amazing speech that MLK gave on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated:
"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All 50 states

One of Gary's goals is to visit all 50 states, as his parents did, so no surprise that this trip chalked up some new states for us: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and for me-Tennessee.

Memphis sits on the Mississippi, a short ride across the bridge to Arkansas. At first, we were just going to cross over, get out of the car so our feet touched soil and then return. But, is this really in the definition of "visiting" a state? Does that fulfill the rules? (who writes these rules?)

Next thing I knew the trip planner had us driving to Little Rock ( a mere 150 miles -- like driving up to Schenectady) and Hot Springs--why not, it was just a little further.  This was our biggest mileage day--400 miles, but well worth it.

After visiting Little Rock Central High School and Hot Springs National Park, we ended our day back on the Mississippi Delta Trail.

Gary also has a goal of visiting all 393 sites under the National Park system which includes 58 National Parks, 100 National Monuments, as well as National Historic Sites. Not quite sure what the visit tally is on that list, but here are some of the other great places we visited that I haven't mentioned in my previous post:
  • World War II Museum in New Orleans - Why this museum in New Orleans? The Higgins boat, used in D-Day invasion and throughout the Pacific campaign, was a product of New Orleans and based on the shallow, bayou boat design. 
  • Beauvoir, Biloxi, MS - Jefferson Davis' house where he wrote his memoirs. House was damaged extensively in Katrina, but has been restored. Site also includes the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library....and when was he president?! One woman in our tour group asked about the "presidential china."
  • Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail - commemorating the three day voting rights march in 1965 and Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
  • Tuskegee Institute - the agricultural and technical institute founded by Booker T. Washington with George Washington Carver as its most famous professor and researcher.
  • Tuskegee Airmen Museum - at Moton Field - The place where the first all black airmen unit that served in WWII in the still segregated Armed Forces began their training.
  • Horseshoe Bend National Historic Site - where Andrew Jackson massacred the Creek Indians
  • Elvis birthplace in Tupelo - a two room house on the wrong side of the tracks.
  • Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo - preserving the old Natchez trail, where in the 1800's before steam ship travel, the Caintucks (from Kentucky) sent riverboats with goods down the Mississippi and then walked back the Natchez Trace to return North.
  • Shiloh Battlefield - a bloody victory for General Grant over the rebels in a two day battle that marked the beginning of the campaign to secure the railway lines that would eventually split the confederacy
  • Tupelo Battlefield in Corinth, Ms-- Confederates pulled back from Shiloh to Corinth to fight again four months later
  • the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail -  we played 2 of the 15 courses , including Fighting Joe Wheeler Course (named after a Confederate commander) in Muscle Shoals and Grand National in Opelika.
Final thoughts on visiting the Deep South tomorrow...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hey, y'all..we're back

Yes, Ma'am, we're back from the sunny South. You have to love the veneer of Southern civility, hospitality and friendliness, even if it's just a pose for tourists. All those smiles and ma'ams leave you feeling happier and, yes, a bit older. Nothing like a six foot tall bouncer at a blues bar, patting your arm and saying "y'all have a good time now, ma'am" to make you feel like it's seniors night, grannies out on the town.

Gary in a Glenn car.
It was a really fun trip. Gary had cooked up an itinerary (not for the faint-hearted) that mixed golf, history, and music over 1600 miles and 9 days. Luckily, I was the navigator, assisting our British GPS lady who spoke in slightly annoyed, crisp syllables and admonished us often with "recalculating", when we ignored her sometimes goofy advice. 

Gary: "I can see the New Orleans Hilton straight ahead of us." 
Me:  "No, the Voice said to turn right, then left and left again."
Gary: "But that would put us back on the same street!" 

We wised up after that and often relied on our printed out Google directions (old school) or gut feeling.  The best part of navigating is the possibility of the delicious afternoon nap, lulled by the road and a fat lunch of fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (Elvis favorite) after a morning of golf. So much fun to wake up in a new state! I played golf three times, while Gary did five rounds.

In Memphis we visited Sun Records, where Elvis got his start, recording
a speeded up version of an old blues tune: "It's alright, Momma".
Sun Records Studio, Memphis

Elvis impersonator

 Also checked out Stax records, the home of soul and the first label for Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave and many others. 

No trip to Memphis would be complete without the requisite visit to Graceland.

Graceland front entrance

View from living room into music room. Elvis loved the color blue.

Gold records and gold studded jumpsuits

We hit Beale Street on Saturday of Halloween weekend and enjoyed the crazy costumes parading up and down to the sounds of rockin' blues.  Here I am with the Transformer guy, who was hands down most popular:

We thought this guy with a buttoned down collared shirt, black porkpie hat, and religious sign was very creative, posing as a religious fanatic, until he set up his folding stepstool, propped up this sign and quite seriously asked us what we believed about Jesus: Lord, Liar or Lunatic?

I backed slowly away, sure now who was the lunatic, but Gary was already half way down the street, quite fascinated with the turquoise Lady Gaga outfits that several young ladies were sporting even though it was a chilly night for that much skin exposure!  Hmm...sorry no picture snapped on that one.

Our favorite B&B was the Big Pink in Clarksdale, Ms, although the General's Quarters in Shiloh was a close second. The manager of Pink was named Pal Casey and Pal was full of great stories about the owner of the place who had dated Elvis when she was 16, about Morgan Freeman who owned a restaurant and blues club in town and about writer Eudora Welty drinking Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner under the table. "The lady liked her bourbon."  (We stayed in the Eudora Welty room)

More favorites:
Delta Donuts in Clarksdale at the Crossroads (where the Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil and the blues was born). freshly baked, although I swear there was a bit of cigarette ash on my glazed cinnamon twist from our lovely server.

tie between Chris' Famous Hotdogs in Montgomery--Gary had a double chili dog, with Southern fried peach pie for dessert and 16 oz of soda, a free refill and a traveler when we left. Wow-that's 48 oz of soda!


Johnnie's Drive Inn in Tupelo, MS -- I sat by accident in Elvis' booth right under his picture, where I chose the AM cheeseburger (all meat) over the ever popular doughboy (mixed with flour).  Gary had bbq with fried hushpuppies.

Morgan Freeman's Madidi Restaurant in Clarksdale (He didn't make an appearance, so I had to be content with his life size cardboard cutout smiling at me from behind cool shades). 

Favorite museums:
history: National Civil Rights Museum which incorporated Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated and the boarding house across the street from which James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. We spent hours here -comprehensive history of the movement and very affecting video.
music: toss up between Sun and Stax Studios, although we had a very funny guide at Sun. The Smithsonian Rock and Soul museum was also excellent.
most unusual: The Cotton Museum - we were killing time because our flight was delayed, so stumbled upon this history of cotton, set up in the old Cotton Exchange building in Memphis.

Best quotes:
Gary to waitress in Greenville, AL: "What do you mean there's no alcohol served on Sundays?"

Ginny: "How many holes are left to play?!"

Waitress to Gary: "Gravy with that, sir?" 
Gary to waitress: "Yes, ma'am." (He never met a fried food he didn't like starting with beignets in New Orleans and ending with fried pickles in Memphis)

Ginny: "How can this be called history, when we remember living through it?"

more thoughts tomorrow....and Arkansas!