Sunday, September 30, 2007

yellowed newspaper clipping

My neighbor Ron is someone I would have to describe as an Auto Rights Activist. He has personally saved more old cars from destruction than anyone I have known. Think of him as the antidote to a demolition derby, dragging home wrecks and restoring them to glistening beauty. Usually these cars represent a chapter of his youth, and lead to a story about life with his family in Lubbock, Texas. From the assemblage of veterans on the block, it appears that his family tended to favor Ford products.

For example, one time, Ron showed up with a totally sun baked 1950 Ford sedan. The body and chassis were remarkably intact, but the car simply looked like it had been parked on the sun. This one reminded him of his Grandfather, who had an almost identical car back in Texas in the early sixties. Ron recalled how his Grandmother referred to it as the "little gray Ford". Another time it was a green and white mid-fifties Ford sedan with factory air conditioning, but that one reposed in the driveway for only a short period of time.

Ron's mother Sue passed away recently from cancer. He went back to Lubbock to the little mid-century house he grew up in, only the second house of her adult life, and began the task of sorting through belongings that had been accumulating there since LBJ's first term. Clothes, shoes, books, photographs, papers, catalogues, magazines. Some recent, some not. In the cedar chest were the family papers. His Grandfather's Military Discharge papers were there, along with his Parent's Marriage License, almost every document pertaining to the lives of her four boys, and a yellowed newspaper clipping.

He carefully unfolded the clipping. It was dated September 30, 1957. The headline read "Four Killed on Area Roads". It was published on a Monday and told how four people, three adult women and one nine year old child, were killed the previous day in three separate crashes. There was a black and white photograph of a mangled 1955 Ford sedan. One could not tell the color but Ron knew instinctively that the car was light green. It had belonged to his Aunt Patsy.

Ron does not remember his Aunt Patsy, his father's second-youngest sister. He was only two years old when she died. She was only twenty-seven years old herself. He had grown up keenly aware of her absence. He heard his family talk about her over the years, especially his Grandmother and his Aunt Bobbie. There is a picture of him on his first birthday in her arms. He does not recall this photo being taken.

She has raven black hair, dimpled cheeks, and a big smile. She is a beautiful young woman. He has seen other pictures of her also, including one of her in her casket. Her son Donnie appears in a similar photograph. Ron recalls that he knew better than to ask his Grandmother about those photos. He knew almost nothing about the accident which claimed their lives. His Grandmother was unable to discuss it. According to Aunt Bobbie, Grandmother had to be heavily sedated to even get through the funeral.

From his Aunt Bobbie, he knew that Uncle Tommy, a baker in downtown Lubbock, had worked part of the day that Sunday. His mother had offered to help the young family buy a badly needed bigger house, so Patsy and the kids picked her up at her house in Cone, Northwest of Lubbock, and drove to the bakery downtown to get Tommy. They spent a long afternoon touring and looking at potential new homes.

When the day drew to a close, they dropped his mother off at about 8:30 pm and headed back to Lubbock on Highway 82. It was a busy two lane road and Patsy was driving. Tommy was in the right front, and nine year old Donnie was seated between them in front. In fifties highway etiquette, the eldest got first dibs on the front seat. They were nearing home when a car being driven by a twenty-one year old man from Fort Worth pulled out to pass and hit the green Ford sedan head on.

For the first time, Ron was holding an article which calmly reported a family tragedy. According to the newspaper, Aunt Patsy was thrown through the windshield. Both she and Donnie died at the scene. Tommy suffered broken ribs and other injuries. Their daughter Nancy, age four, and six year old Jack were both in the back seat. Also riding in the car were two of their neighbor's children who had come along for the Sunday drive. They all survived, as did the young man and his girlfriend in the other car. He suffered a broken leg in the crash. Neither car was equipped with seat belts. The newspaper reported that the victims were taken to three different area hospitals. It then went on to detail the other two accidents, duly noting that one of the victims was, in fact, a negro.

Aunt Bobbie offered more detail. She herself had stopped by the bakery that day. She was running errands with her own mother-in-law, Lucille. Lucille was a brassy woman who was often hired by local farmers to find water on their land with a divining rod. She was known to have a sixth sense. She waited in the car while Bobbie ran into the bakery. When Bobbie came back , Lucille cast her eyes on the green 1955 Ford sedan. "That's Patsy's car, isn't it" she asked. "Yes, it is, you've seen it before" Bobbie replied. Lucille said nothing more, but continued to eye it with a troubled expression as Bobbie pulled away.

Ron admitted to me that the green and white 1956 sedan he had purchased began to remind him too much of Aunt Patsy's car. Virtually identical in styling, he believed it was even the same color. That's why it remained in the fleet for such a short time.

Aunt Patsy and Donnie were laid to rest in the family plot next to her father. Her mother joined them there in 1984. Ron's own parents are a couple of rows away in the same cemetery. Uncle Tommy eventually remarried and moved out of state. Ron grew up with only a peripheral awareness of his cousins' existence. Fifty years have gone by. The babies are now middle aged. The smiling young adults are now old, and Patsy's brothers and sisters are joining her one by one. The passage of time does nothing to erase the tragedy of lives cut short on a Sunday night. The newspaper articles are clipped out and placed in the cedar chest where they yellow, but they are not thrown away.

It is all but impossible for us to understand such a loss in the context of its own time. To imagine an era where ladies wore single strands of white pearls and dainty hats, but then could be suddenly thrown through the windshields of pastel colored sedans is beyond our ability to comprehend. It bemoans the limitations of technology at a fixed point in time. And while it may seem to us to be primitive, it was the state of the art at the time. These were just the risks one assumed in daily living. Life changes in an instant, and this fact is as true today as it was in the late summer of 1957. Perhaps that is what makes the memories so precious.

On the nightstand next to Ron's bed, there is a framed photograph of a smiling young woman holding a one year old boy. She has raven black hair and dimples in her cheeks.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

swedes and swish

Twenty-two months after suffering his first stroke, Michael's father Jack passed away peacefully at the age of eighty-nine. His illness was both lengthy and exhausting. We were all rather surprised by his endurance. Among other things, it outlasted my own relationship with Michael which dwindled on a parallel course but expired long before Jack did.

Finally, toward the last few days of summer, he seemed to become unresponsive, his breathing shallow and difficult. The nurse said it appeared that he had suffered another serious stroke. The family was summoned.

They accumulated throughout the day- His wife Gladys, son Michael, and daughters Peg and Patty all crowded into his room along with two of his longtime caregivers. It was not until his daughter Kathleen arrived that he allowed himself to let go. Fifteen minutes after she walked in, he breathed his last. He had waited for her to arrive. She was his favorite.

Draped in black, I found myself at the first Irish Catholic funeral I had attended since the late seventies. I walked into the funeral home and immediately spotted Delphina, one of Michael's closest friends. We approached the sign in table together. On the table were photos of Jack at the care facility with his family. Well, almost. The photos showed his wife and all his children, except Michael. Michael, who for 22 months spent every spare moment with his father, was excluded. I am reminded of why I was not particularly close with his sisters.

Gladys carried her husband's cremains in a silver urn. She was followed into the chapel by her children. Mourners on both sides of the aisle stood and followed her with their eyes as she passed. It was not unlike a wedding except there was no bridal march.

The priest conducting the mass had been acquainted with the family since he had been a child himself. His own father was a boyhood friend of Jack's. He himself had known Jack's parents, Fred and the inimitable Maud, quite well. He shared boyhood stories and observations of not only Jack but also of his parents. It was sweetly touching. There were moments where I could see that Michael, directly in front of me, was softly sobbing. It was very hard for me to see that.

One of the things the priest touched on was the immigrant experience. He talked about how Fred and Maud had both come from the old country to the new, as had many of their friends. It was something they all shared, he said. The Melting Pot. A community welcome extended to all- Irish and Welsh, Swedes and Swish. Yes, he said swish. I looked around the room at all of the blue eyed redheads. Not a sign of swedes, I noted, but with Michael's friends in attendance, certainly no shortage of swish.

At some point, sister Peg elected to narrate the twenty-two months for us in a level of detail that bordered on the excruciating. We learned the names and rotation schedules of all of his caregivers, his favorite routines, the television programs he favored, and even which nurses he developed crushes on. One mourner put his head down on the pew in front of him. The priest sighed loudly as a signal which went unnoticed. We actually began to understand what the seemingly interminable illness had been like. She staggered aimlessly as if wrestling with her grief in the improvised setting of a one woman show.

Finally Peg relinquished her seige and, after a tearful rendition of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling", we accompanied Jack to his final resting place. As it was very near to the chapel, we actually walked behind the hearse where Jack rested on his wife's lap. We read the names on the plaques in the colombarium. I noted an unusal number of plaques, including one for Michael's own brother Chris, whose inscription read "Beloved Brother and Uncle". These men were in their thirties to mid forties. The tragic early days of the plague, I observed. Again, no swedish names were evident.

I left Michael there, with his sisters and his mother. I did not stop by the family home, it did not seem like a place I needed to be. The priest's words stayed with me. I wondered, what things would have been like if the swedes and swish had truly been equally welcome.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

match game 2007

Charles Nelson Reilly. Brett Somers, Betty White. Marcia Wallace. Richard Dawson. Sone of the best comic actors of the 1970's propelled the Match Game to its iconic status.

Thought for the day- if you were the creator of Match Game 2007, who would you choose for the six panelists?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

more brett

I'm still very saddened by the loss of Brett Somers, a lady I never actually ever met. I've been watching her Match Game clips since Saturday, before I was even aware of her passing.

When I was a teenager, I used to rush home from school to watch Match Game Seventy-Whatever. Brett and Charles were omnipresent, Betty White and Richard Dawson nearly as much. These people were my electronic babysitters. I loved their banter and repartee. I think I learned about gay men and their fashion accessory gal pals from watching. In many ways, it was a road map to my future. I guess that's why I'm so saddened. To me and the young men of my generation who were trying to understand who they were, Charles and Brett were a godsend. Drinking, bitchy, irreverent, fabulous, crazy role models. I had the opportunity to thank Charles in person in 1996. He kind of brushed it off, but that was his way, I wish I had gotten the opportunity to thank Brett as well.

The Game Show Network will be airing a Match Game Marathon in honor of Brett this Saturday beginning at 9 am. I'll be glued to the set, the world's oldest 13 year old.

Here's Brett and Charles from 1976:

on the pebbly beach

We went back to the pebbly beach. Four days after our near air disaster, we went back. This time, things went much better. We arranged a different aircraft (big comfy Hawker 700 with an excellent safety record) from a different Air Charter service and even used a different airport. Our cast changed slightly, Ron was freaked out by our prior adventure and decided to stay home and projectile vomit. Tami brought her boyfriend Steve. Myself, Nick, and Ken were the veterans, having just attempted this a few days beforehand.

The new pilot, Joe, was terrific. Ex-military, ex-airline, and ex-cellent. Flew his own plane. With confidence. When I described what had happened, he scoffed. "That wasn't an emergency", he explained. "That was an impaired landing". He strongly implied that we had been terrorized for little reason. We boarded his Hawker 700, a big comfortable plane that Joe owned himself. No lease-back excuses. This guy knew his stuff. "Let's Go Flyin!" he said. And flyin we did go.

Forty five minutes later we were on the ground at the Monterey Jet Center. We were picked up by Kathy, a soccer mom nee chauffeur who earned extra money with the family 'burban in between frequent calls from her son Darryl. Except for being a bit less adept at running roadblocks than our usual driver, she did a great job and we had a lot of fun with her. "This is no time to be frail", Ken admonished as he directed her around sawhorses and past security into Pebble Beach via our secret way. We all shouted "Hello" to Darryl as he phoned in, and made jokes about our other brother Darryl. A few minutes later, and with the aid of last years permits (Tami never throws these things away), we were at the lodge.

It was a beautiful morning at the Pebble Beach Concours. We were overlooking the ocean, the lush green lawn, and the most beautiful cars in the world. It was one year since we were all here showing the Duesenberg on behalf of our departed friend. That was a very emotional day, this year it was much more relaxed. We actually looked at the cars on the field. Ken and I studied Ferraris and Aston Martins.

Tami rushed the Mercedes tent. We would have had access to credentials if we had done a bit more planning, but we didn't need that- we had Tami. She located a VIP pass or five and we spent the afternoon hanging out at Mercedes. We picked up these three nice PR girls in overly slinky dresses (NOT hookers, Michael- that's more your speed than ours) and genuinely had fun hanging out and chatting. People eavesdropped our table, so we invited them to join us. We were even mostly sober. Oh, and we did bump into this Madam we knew from Malibu, but again, she was not a hooker herself.

After the Best of Show was presented, we headed over to Gooding for the auction. Ken had been mentally toying with the idea of a Ferrari to replace the one lost in the Estate battle, and there were four extremely nice and rare ones at the sale. We checked out the cars while the rest of our crew got settled. The PR girls wandered over and sat with us. We got quite a bit of notice, in no small part due to our Harem.

We were on a time limit. Our jet had to be "wheels-up" by 10 pm. Our soccer mom was meeting us at 9:15. There was a highly desired Ferrari late in the sale. We were cutting things close. To cut to the chase, we bid on the car (against my straight ex-boyfriend who was manning the phone bank. Thanks, Garth), won the bid, looked at the car for two minutes, ran out the door and into the 'burban, raced to the airport and were wheels-up at 10:02 pm after a wonderful day where we all enjoyed each other immensely.

That's when we realized that Ken hadn't signed for the car. On a seven figure bid. Oops. We'll take care of that tomorrow. We had a grand time on the pebbly beach.

can o' whoop ass

It was a kinder, gentler time. A time when we naively thought that our president was merely a stumbling illiterate alcoholic. This was before we realized he was Darth Vader and we were trapped in the Evil Empire. I think it was June.

I posted a hilarious Laura Bush parody video by Mandy Steckelberg called "Liberal's Just Another Word for Gay", which ends with the line "Don't make me open a can of Whoop Ass on ya". It became a catch phrase for my friend William. Like the Mommie Dearest screaming matches Ron and I used to have in front of the Drake Hotel, but without the full length fur coat. After all, it's summer.

Anyway, so Will returns from a vacation trip to see family in Florida and presents me with...a can of Whoop Ass. Don't make me open it up, now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Adieu Brett

Saturday night I spent nursing my youtube addiction. I started out by compiling station identifications, then stumbled onto Match Game clips and spent a couple hours watching every one I could find. I watched this show religiously in the 70's and it is just as hilarious and crazy now.

Then Monday I learned that Brett Somers passed away on Saturday. Rest in peace, Brett- you made so many people laugh.

Here she is with Charles Nelson Reilly and country singer Bill Anderson in a hilarious goodbye from 1976.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

wine in the house

She was expected to perform on video. But instead, she showed up and knocked 'em dead. Superb and sparkling, here's La Winehouse live and fabulous at the Mercury Awards. The song, "Love is a Losing Game" could be my personal mantra. Enjoy...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

happy birthday ed

It's wearying for me to be an American in the fall of 2007. For some reason, the destruction of democracy and our decent into fascism upsets me from time to time. Oh, and that illegal war thingy. Sometimes I need to take a break from the republican congressional sex scandals of the day and think back to a kinder, gentler time.

Ah, the fifties- those tailfinned, poodle skirted fifties. How innocent they were.

Fifty years ago today, September 4, 1957, the Russians announced that they had an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that could reach the world. They could attack us in our beds. Sleep well, kids. Did you say your prayers?

Fifty years ago today, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine teen aged black girls were turned away from going to high school- by the National Guard. These fifteen and sixteen year old girls were caught between armed Guardsmen and an angry mob of racists. It started a crisis that resulted in the cancellation of the entire 1958 school year for three Little Rock High Schools and would not be resolved until the fall of 1959 when the schools reopened, integrated.

And last but not least, fifty years ago today, Ford Motor Company introduced its latest line of automobiles. It was the first introduction of a new medium priced American make since the Mercury of 1939, It offered two and four door sedans and hardtops, two and four door wagons, and two convertible models. It was called the Edsel.

At least two of the three turned out okay.

Happy Birthday, Ed.

Um, can I go back to 2007 now?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

back to black

I'm just mad about Amy Winehouse. Crazy for her. I think she's the most delicious vocalist to appear in the last 30 years. An amazing blend of Dinah Washington, Shirley Bassey, Ronnie Spector and just a bit of Elvira. Addicted to almost everything, perhaps that is what gives her sound that Valley of the Dolls edge. A troubled sparrow, please pray that she pulls herself through.

Here is Back to Black, a virtually perfect perfect perfect song in every way. I've noticed that she's absolutely nailed me with this one. This is where I've been living since December. Take a listen.....

Saturday, September 1, 2007

patsy cline imitation

It started with an phone call from Ken. I don't believe he asked "would you like to go with us and nearly end up in a fiery crash?". At least, I think I would have had the good sense to decline. Oh well, sometimes its better not to know.

No, I think I remember now. Ken was taking the rat pack to the Christies party in Monterey to kick off the Concours weekend. We were hoping for a different year than we had experienced in 2006. And we certainly got that.

It started off perfectly- we had a six passenger Premier I jet, less than a year old, waiting for us in Burbank. We brought our own travelling bar and hors d' oeuvres. We had a slight delay while Nick looked for his misplaced ID, but we idled away the time in a hip retro-chic lounge in Toluca lake where the interior lighting is made of 1959 Cadillac tail lamps. Add faux leopard skin and stir. After a quick round, we were off to the jet center.

My first impression of the Premier I is that it was small but luxurious. It had leather seating for six and a small luggage area in the back which we used for cocktail service. Tami and Nick shared Flight Attendant duties, we nicknamed them both "Trixie".

All was well until about 15 minutes out of Monterey. The pilot advised us we were about to descend into the San Jose area. One can imagine this was a surprise. Ken went to ask the pilot what was going on and was told "Sit down, Sir- we're having an emergency". Note to pilots- best to avoid casual usage of this phrase. Can be upsetting.

So we talked amongst ourselves for a few moments, imagining exactly what was wrong with the plane. Shortly before landing, the pilot came on and told us that the flaps on the wings which extend upon landing had malfunctioned and so they had to divert to a longer runway. MUCH longer, it turned out. The tarmac at San Jose was a full 65% longer than Monterey and thus we were able to land safely, although we touched down FAST. Had we attempted Monterey, we probably would have crashed through the party in the hangar and continued onward to the water. Too splashy of an entrance for me.

So there we were on the ground at the San Jose jet center. Safe, thankfully, but an hour from our destination and with a plane that needs repairs. Not the best. Our team sprung into action. Nick began calling flight services, Ron went online to research hotels in case we were stranded, Ken and Dan took a cab to a liquor store and returned with a bottle of decent vodka. Martini in hand, Tami and I retreated to the pilots lounge where a giant TV was tuned to the history channel, which we both enjoy. We were treated to a program about the history of cremation, which considering the evening, we did NOT enjoy. We chilled. Dan went to the gift shop and got each of us a spiffy San Jose Jet Center hat, and a junior stewardess set for Tami. Gift bags. Just like the Oscars.

After two and a half hours of fun, the maintenance crew finished rebooting the plane's computer and pronounced us fit to fly. We rounded up our merry band, and, much wiser about cremation than we had been, boarded for a return to Burbank. Throughout the hour long trip home, we chatted bemusedly about whether the flaps might really work when we got home. Thankfully, they did and we landed normally this time.

Once we got home, we gratefully deplaned and loaded into our waiting cars. It was about that moment that we noticed that we had never actually reached our destination at all. But neither did Patsy Cline. We raised a glass to her.

That night at home I was reading online about the accident record of the Premier I. It seems that so far, two of the six million dollar jets have been totalled in crashes involving the same failure we experienced, causing them to run off of the end of the runway and crash. Imagine Fred Flintstone trying to stop a plane. I shuddered once I read the reports. At least we were together. We were very lucky.

tori tells it

Tori Amos, recorded in June, with lifestyle advise for Lindsay and Paris, although perhaps someone could get word to Britney.

best duesenberg

Two weeks ago, we went back to Pebble Beach for the Concours. We had all been there last year as well. That was a very emotional time.

Last year, John passed away five weeks before the event. One of his favorite cars, a Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan, was already entered in the show for exhibition. His surviving partner Ken made the decision to go ahead and show the car. Longtime friends Tami and Steve came for emotional support. I knew how to drive the car.

When I arrived on Friday, Ken was already in town. He asked if we could go to the Lodge for a drink because he didn't want to go back for the first time without John on show day. We checked in with the show organizers who asked if we wanted to move the car into the judged class, owing to one car having dropped out.

We talked about this over a Martini. There were three Martini stems at our table overlooking what was becoming the show field. One was for John.

Moving the car to judging competition Pebble Beach... with less than 48 hours notice...? "Why not" was my reply- what do we have to lose?

The car had been shipped up to Monterey by our good friend David Gooding and was stored in the Gooding Auction tent. David knew of an excellent detailer named Darryl. A quick conversation explaining our circumstance and he and his crew leaped into action. His crew spent two solid days polishing every tiny surface of the big Duesenberg. The undercarriage, the engine bay, it all shone superbly. We made a friend for life that day. We put the convertible top down, snapped the boot into place, and raised the rear seat windshield. The car looked superbly sporty. We were ready. "How do we look?" Ken asked. "Like a Million Dollars", I blurted out. He looked crestfallen- "That bad?", he replied. We both laughed. It was the first time I had seen him laugh all weekend.

Sunday morning was crisp and perfectly clear. We maneuvered the Duesy into place and polished off the morning dew. By late morning, I put the car through its paces for the judges. They had heard about what had happened and were superbly kind and understanding. It just felt right to have the car on the lawn. We had placed John's picture in a frame leaning against the left rear wheel. This was done so we would not have to tell the story a thousand times. Tami wore a big yellow hat so I could spot her easily. She and Steve took Ken to look at cars. About 1 PM, a gentleman in a blue blazer approached and asked if I was with the Duesenberg. I said I was,and he asked if I would like to follow him. I said I would like that. I called Ken on his cell and told him to get back to the car. We started the J and I pulled her into line a line of stunning classic cars, between two other Duesenbergs in our class.

The Pebble Beach Concours understands the concept of anticipation. The fact that we were in line meant that we had won an award, we just didn't know which award. When our class neared the reviewing stand, the big Duesenbergs were pulled alongside each other bumper to bumper. We were side by side with two lovely cars, a sexy black Speedster and a pale green Convertible Coupe. We were the only convertible sedan in our class.

I looked over at Ken in the passenger seat. He was shaking like a leaf. I told him that considering where we had been five weeks prior, that any outcome was a victory. He agreed, and then the judges gave the nod to the green convertible for third place. I tried to catch the Marshall's eye, but he wouldn't look at me. Just then he gave the nod to the black speedster, and walked up to our car to shake Ken's hand.

We had won best Duesenberg at Pebble Beach.

As soon as we got parked, friends came running. Tami and Steve brought bottles of Champagne for a toast. The tears were not only of happiness. It was a very good day, the first good day in five weeks. But it was very emotional. Looking back, I guess Michael picked up the black hooker to amuse us. He is so very thoughtful.