Archive for June, 2009

Baby, Oh, Baby

June 30, 2009

Quick notes before I get to today’s topic: Hurray that Bernie Madoff got the max. He should be under the jail!

Can’t believe the idiots in the publishing world are allowing liar James Frey (See “Freyed Again: Forgeries, Fakes and Other Fabrications”) to write fiction for young adults. At least this time he and his co-author are calling the thing a novel.

Mma Ramotswe is writing a cookbook. (See “Precious on HBO,” January 15). Reading Copy Book Blog reported that proceeds from the sale of the book will support local charities in Botswana, though they probably ought to send most of the money to groups that support healthy eating. The only recipe mentioned is for donuts, which are called “fat cakes” in Botswana.

Now to today’s topic. My friend Amy is having a baby girl at the end of August, and her third (!) shower was yesterday. Such an event offers amazing opportunity to explore a world that I seldom have a chance to visit, and it was beyond eye-opening – more like eye-popping , that is once I got to the store. That ugly weather on Friday turned out to be a whole lot uglier than expected. An F-1 tornado took out probably a score of trees, including one that cleft a house in two in the historic section of Wethersfield. That plus separate storm with doused the rest of us with rain, wind, lightning, and hail felled power lines in a large area around Hartford.

By the time I set out on Saturday afternoon, the traffic lights weren’t working at the end of the exit ramp from the highway, which is a massive 4-way intersection. Then I discovered that all the stores, major and minor, along the route were closed, except for my second favorite, Target. (See, “Shopping Opportunities,”) There were tree branches and leaves on all the road surfaces that didn’t have regular traffic. Of course the store was jammed, since it was the only game in town.

I grabbed a cart that someone had thoughtlessly left in the next parking space and proceeded to the household storage area where I got a big Tupperware “roughneck” container. The theme of the shower was green, as in recycle and conserve. Instead of wrapping I just put all the goodies in the container and put a bow on top. Then I wended my way over to the baby section, where I found

  • a rubber duckie that turns color to tell Mom and Dad when the bath water is too hot
  • a caddie for tiny baby stuff to survive in the dishwasher so “you can spend time chasing the kids around the house instead of chasing stuff around the dishwasher. “
  • clothing in every conceivable size, shape, color – including one piece pj’s with duckie and bunny feet
  • car seats that transform to strollers that transform to swings that transform to high chairs, etc.
  • a huge selection of baby wipes in various scents including none

Picked up a medical kit, two five-packs of onsies, some socks, etc. etc. Then I searched the aisle for diapers and that sort of thing. Turns out they are at the other end of the store, forcing one to walk past the rest of the merchandise. There I found not only diapers but lotion, all-over wash (now replacing separate soap and shampoo) again in various scents or nonsense (yeah, I know), and packs of travel tissues in designer colors.

Decided that Mom needed a gift, too, so on the way home I bought her a bottle of Crown Royal, her beverage of choice for after the baby arrives.

As luck would have it, the Sunday paper had a coupon for $3 off Pampers from Target, so I popped that into the card, which was pink and said, “Oh, you’re having a sweet, cute, little girl. Lucky you.” Inside, the little girl is lying on her back, saying to herself, “I wonder when we get to go shopping?” Perfect for a Mom would move into the nearby Coach outlet store if the opportunity arose. The answer for real is probably some time around the kid’s first birthday, given the amount of stuff she got.

Anyway, the shower was glorious – probably about 60 people – her family, his family, friends from her childhood, friends from the last few years. Perfect food with finger sandwiches, a huge bowl of fruit, broccoli squares, and instead of the traditional cake, a plate of assorted cookies on each table. Amy’s Mom passed around a huge bowl of truffles that tasted like Oreo cookies. So sweet that one required two cups of coffee to make my teeth stop hurting. The meal ended with watermelon ice – courtesy of their friend Ann Vecchito Anderson whose family owns a legendary lemon ice business.

The best presents were the large numbers of books – Goodnight, Moon, of course, and one my permanent favorites, Where the Wild Things Are. Amy seemed genuinely moved that people bought such thoughtful gifts – but she’s a terrific young woman and we all love her.

Michael and Farrah

June 26, 2009

Posting early again because we have some ugly thunderstorms headed this way.

An era ended yesterday with the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

Michael’s came as a total shock because I had watched him grow from an adorable little boy with a cute voice (loved “ABC” and “I’ll Be There”) and amazing dance moves, to a talented song-and-dance showman (the unforgettable moonwalk) with terrific business savvy, to a weirded out accused child molester whose twisted face kept getting whiter and whiter. (He was so much better looking when he was that little brown boy.) And what was with holding the baby over the balcony with a napkin over its face? Thing was, his music just got better (also loved “Billie Jean” and “Man in the Mirror”) – until it stopped.

It’s a real shame that we won’t get to hear music from the concert he was planning when he died.

Even the events leading up to his death are weird: Reports came in that he had been rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest. Then a bit later TMZ, which seems to have great sources, reported that he had died, but no one else was confirming it. (The talking heads classify this sort of news as “Hollywood horse play” and say TMZ should star in this role.) Confirmation followed soon, though. Then things got truly tabloid-y (again) as the rumors started to fly about what caused his heart to stop. A lawyer who may or may not still be affiliated with the Jackson family claims that he has been complaining that Michael was overmedicated. But Brian Oxman has his own problems. As I was getting ready to post this, Jackson’s personal doc was about to talk to the police. And so on and so on.

It’s sad to note that Farrah Fawcett’s end came as no surprise, and with far more class and dignity. She had been terminally ill since 2007 when surgery to remove cancer proved unsuccessful. She used her illness as a way to educate. Her death may also serve as more ammo in the war against alternative treatment, which could be a shame.

Her TV and movie work were never on my radar screen: I never watched “Charlie’s Angels,” nor did I see The Burning Bed or Extremities but I grew to respect her when she said of “Charlie’s Angels,” “When the show got to be No. 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”

RIP Michael and Farrah.

All State

June 25, 2009

Posting early again because we’re headed to dinner.

Five hundred people gathered to honor my sister-in-law last night. Well, not just her, but she got the biggest round of applause because her friends, family and athletic stars were “in the house.”

Sharon Riley received the award as the Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association Outdoor Track and Field All State Girls Outdoor Track and Field Assistant Coach of the Year. Supporting her were her son, her sister and sister’s husband, her brother and brother’s wife (that would be me), two of the athletes who were being recognized. One young lady brought her mother, father and sister. The other, her mother.

The two young ladies received their acknowledgment as well: Whitney Holder was athlete of the year for Class L – that’s large but not huge – for the 200 meter and the long jump. She also won the “open” and the New England Regional Championship for the long jump. Go, Whitney! Taylor Bartolotta took athlete of the year for the javelin. Deb and Sharon are going to miss those two next year.

The Aqua Turf served as the setting. It’s probably the only place in the state that can accommodate that many people. It’s certainly beautiful on the outside pools with fountains adorn both sides of the main entrance, with its approach over a small bridge. Trees shade mammoth impatiens. The scenery encouraged a walk around the grounds. The weather didn’t since we’re still under this sticky, damp, drizzly, cool air mass that the weather people swear will end today.

Inside the Aqua Turf screams, “move ‘em in, move ‘em out.” Besides our room with 500 people, another room of equal size had probably the same number. And two smaller buildings hold probably several hundred more. The parking lots (that’s plural) looked all of central Connecticut and part of Massachusetts had arrived for the evening. The food was mediocre, but started with a fresh salad of mixed greens. They should have left it at that because the rest consisted of a single crouton, a single (underripe) tomato, a cucumber all in a creamy Italian dressing. The roast beef arrived so rare that it almost got up and walked away, with the blood pooling the bottom of the plate. The ubiquitous pasta wore a meat sauce. I asked about vegetarian options and received a well-cooked but quite salty eggplant Parmesan. Dessert was ice cream covered with chocolate sauce. They forgot to serve us coffee.

All in all, however, a successful evening.

History Lesson

June 24, 2009

Posting early because my sister-in-law Sharon Riley is getting assistant coach of the year for the state! Hoorah!

I did not originate this, but it’s certainly worth passing along.

It was the first day of school and a new student named Martinez, the son of a local Mexican restaurateur, entered the fourth grade.

The teacher said, “Let’s begin by reviewing some American history. Who said “Give me Liberty, or give me Death?”

She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Martinez, who had his hand up. “Patrick Henry, 1775.”

“Very good!” Who said “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”?

Again, no response except from Martinez: “Abraham Lincoln, 1863.”

The teacher snapped at the class, “Class, you should be ashamed. Martinez, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you do.”

She heard a loud whisper: “Screw the Mexicans.”

“Who said that?” she demanded.

Martinez put his hand up. “Jim Bowie, 1836.”

At that point, a student in the back said, “I’m gonna puke.”

The teacher glared and asked, “All right! Now, who said that?”

Martinez, again: “George Bush at dinner with the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991.”

Now furious, another student yelled, “Oh yeah? Suck this!”

Martinez jumped out of his chair waving his hand and shouted to the teacher, “Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky, 1997!”

Now with the class almost at mob hysteria someone said, “You little shit. If you say anything else, I’ll kill you.”

Martinez frantically yelled at the top of his voice, “Gary Condit to Chandra Levy 2001.”

The teacher fainted. And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, “Oh shit, we’re in BIG trouble!”

Martinez said, “Saddam Hussein, April 9th 2003!”

Great Music

June 24, 2009

I’ve heard more live music in the last few days than I’ve heard in a year. Cyp followed Thursday’s gig (See “Good Music, Spectacular Extra”) with an even better session on Saturday. Guitar George Baker is a hidden treasure, living in New Haven. He’s been around the music scene for years – having played with The Drifters and Melba Moore, and serving as Marvin Gaye’s musical director.

The man can certainly gig. Backed up by a bass guitar and drums, Baker played and sang blues and jazz – did a great rendition of “Dock of the Bay.” And his instrumental version of “Yesterday” was beyond compare. “Guitar George” is playing all over southern Connecticut this summer, so I may have to hit the road in a couple of weeks and listen to him again. He certainly rocked the house and it was just too bad that buckets of rain kept the crowd small. But we all had a fabulous time anyway. Next time, outside on the patio! It’s a shame that he seems to have recorded only one CD. Mojo Lady is a definite addition to my CD/DVD collection.

Edible Arrangements

June 23, 2009

The review of Saturday’s performance by Guitar George Baker will have to wait as I laud Edible Arrangements.

My friend Thelma brought over one of the arrangements on Friday in celebration of the fifth anniversary of Larry and Liz. Despite what his sisters and his mother say, we really have been married five years. Anyway, we’ve been munching on pineapple, strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew. Each fruit is sweeter and juicier than the next. They included a pineapple cut in the shape of a five. And there were daisies, pineapple with a cantaloupe ball in the middle.

If you haven’t tried it, run, don’t walk to the nearest store or order on line.

Thanks, Thelma!

Good Music, Spectacular Extra

June 20, 2009

A bunch of distractions delayed this entry till today.

A rare treat Thursday night at Cypress Restaurant. The Dayton Rich Band, which is a little bit blues, a little bit country and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll, got a huge boost from jazz vocalist Kitty Kathryn. Kitty has been singing for years in Connecticut, and nationally. She’s jammed with the Professor, Paul Brown, and his group, with whom she cut a CD. She’s been featured on the Hartford Jazz Society’s river cruise, and she performs at venues in and around central Connecticut – but not nearly often enough. It doesn’t look she has any music up on the web, but here’s a link to her myspace page.

Kitty sat in on two numbers with the band and rocked the house, which was packed for a birthday party for the owner’s daughter, and with folks who follow the band. Among the latter group were about 20 music students from Coginchaug High School where guitar player Dean Coutsouridis is the band director. The students arrived en masse wearing yellow T-shirts with numbers and the name of their instrument. Several of the boys opened the dancing with some energetic, if somewhat less than rhythmic, steps. Even though it was pouring rain, they ran around and danced outside on the patio. They seemed to be trying to distract their teacher as much as anything else, but he was too professional and his concentration was too good.

Kitty has been semi-retired for several years but has promised to return to Cyp when the weather improves and she can perform on the patio. In the meantime, she’s supposed to be at Fishbone in a couple of weeks. Will do more of a review then.

Wacky Weather

June 18, 2009

“Severe weather” is forecast for the mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Mississippi valley, Appalachians, northern and southern Plains, upper Mid-West, central Rockies, southeast, with a special mention for the Carolinas. There’s a flood warning for D.C., though that happens pretty regularly. Tornadoes, hail and so forth seem to cover most of the country, except California and New England, where downpours kept up most of the day.

Tornadoes have been landing uncomfortably close to where my cousin lives in Colorado for several weeks now. One headline read, “Here We Go Again.” Then another batch of twisters slammed into Minnesota last night with accompanying hail.

What’s going on here? We in central Connecticut have had only seven days without rain this month, with at least some precip on 26 out of 46 days over the past six weeks. The last time we had a full week without rain was mid-April, which was also the last time we had temps over 90 degrees. Larry said it’s been so damp there’s mold growing on the porch roof, which normally gets full sun. On a regional scale, there have been repeated flight delays at airports from D.C. to Boston, and fog has caused all sorts of car crashes on highways around the area.

I for one am perfectly happy with cool and gray, as the heat gives me a rash and the sun hurts my eyes even with dark sunglasses. But I do pity the farmers whose tomatoes and peppers and other hot weather plants will get water logged and rot on the vine. (But we’ve had a great crop of strawberries and the local lettuce is delish.) Also the folks on the shoreline who depend on tourists won’t be happy because the day-trippers will stay away. Movie theaters should do a good business, as will anyone with indoor entertainment to entertain the people who have rented beach cottages and have too little space for too many people.

What’s the Buzz?

June 17, 2009

Quick hit today as I’ve been occupied with – well, who knows what. Anyway there was much excitement at the hospital yesterday. Everything seemed calm when I arrived but after giving my first Reiki therapy, I went to get some water from the kitchen and discovered the door was closed and there were three large men in “environmental” suits.

What was going on? “Bees” was the answer. They had invaded the kitchen, which is terrifying in a place where people can’t get up quickly – if at all.

Thinking back, I realized that I’d seen several fliers lurking around the upper part of the window but hadn’t thought much about it.

The enviro guys stayed for more than an hour – the supervisor came and went – and when I came back for another glass of water, the door was still shut but the bees seemed to be gone. One of the volunteers said the men had caulked around any possible open space. People were coming in and out of the kitchen, but no one stayed. Several of us discussed the issue and decided those critters were not as one woman put it the “warm, fuzzy, honey-making variety.” I thought they rather looked like yellow jackets but didn’t get close enough to make a positive ID.

When I finally ventured in for my water, I went over to the window and looked out. There must have been 25 or 30 little commandoes buzzing around – and they were pissed! They couldn’t get at their hive any more, would be my guess. And they did look like yellow jackets, though rather on the small side.

Hope all remains calm and peaceful on the inside.

Another Google Grab

June 17, 2009

First, Happy Bloomsday!

The great god Google seems determined to steal from every creative person who walks this earth. I wrote in “Google’s Digital Grab” on Feb. 3 and 5 about its effort to digitize all the books in creation. After howls of protest, the ravening techno-horde backed off and decided to limit itself to “orphan” works and material with expired copyrights. The proposed “agreement” between publishers, the Authors Guild and “do no evil” seems awfully one-sided in Google’s favor. Thank goodness Eric Holder and Co. are on the case.

Now the techno maw is after graphic artists. When Google came calling (its spawn don’t use email?), illustrator Gary Taxali was of course flattered that the company wanted to use his work. He told the New York Times that he asked “What’s the fee?” The answer came back “Nothing.” So Taxali declined and posted a blog entry on Drawger (which seems to have been deleted.) But it can be found here and here.

“Don’t Call Me,” illustrated with universal sign language, complains about companies that insist on using artists’ work gratis.

The piece in yesterday’s Times has drawn supportive comments from illustrators who declined Google’s offer, and one confession from someone who agreed to the use of two pieces from his stock collection, now regrets it and withdrew permission. His comments sparked an ad hominem attack, but the artists who posted otherwise seemed to be in solidarity. And the rest of the world is taking notice. Taxali put up a link to this article.

I will probably never understand why the world expects artists to give away their product. After all no one would ask a plumber, or a grocer, or a landscaper to work gratis – unless they’re Arianna Huffington. My mother battled the same kind of problem, pre-digital age,  throughout her writing life. She complained that the Hartford public school system had copied all of her novella “Miss Muriel” for its students. And an editor, who should have known better, published another of her stories in an anthology without permission. That’s happened again recently with another story, and I’m still trying to figure out how to seek payment. Mother and I both saw pirated copies of Harriet Tubman. And I was dismayed to find that students were using a Xeroxed copy of “In Darkness and Confusion” for a class at another university.

Mother was also asked to speak without a fee or even reimbursement for expenses at colleges and universities where the athletic departments could spend millions on facilities and salaries but the arts received virtually no money. I should note that other schools happily paid her a substantial fee, plus travel expenses.

At least G. asked the artists before grabbing. It violated my mom’s copyright. Its little bots seized pieces of a couple of her novels. When I contacted the company the reply was “We don’t do that.” When I sent the link showing that the grab had happened, the reply was “Ooops.” The offending links came down after a few more contacts. Hounding thieves is not how I want to spend my time, but it’s what she would have wanted. They’ve only done a “limited preview of my first book,” and nothing on the second, so far.

I’m not sure how to respond to the overall failure to pay. But solidarity will make it tougher for the Googles of the world to rip off creative folk.