Happy Valentine’s Day 2017

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Todd and I celebrate Valentine’s Day with manhattans, chocolate eclairs, and radio bars.

I’d never heard of radio bars till we moved to Annapolis and saw them in the baker’s case at Graul’s market. I assumed they were a Southern tradition, or possibly a Baltimore tradition, but the closest I’ve come to finding radio bars online is in an article about a Detroit tradition called “Bumpy Cake.”

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Oh, and did I mention sex?

And, ladies, if you wonder whether your husband or boyfriend’s nipples are sexually sensitve, consider what Cosmo says in “Are Men’s Nipples Sensitive?

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Here’s another Valentine’s Day treat, courtesy of M.U. Y.A. XL on Google Plus.

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(Photo at top from the tumblr shelovesitxo; left radio bar from derryx.com, right from sweets.seriouseats.com; gif from JamesDeangayrollGooglePlus.)

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An interesting review of THE MAN WHO ASKED TO BE KILLED

 

themanmodel2Normally I wouldn’t reproduce Amazon reviews here, but I found this recent one especially interesting.

Others have talked about the plot of this story and I’m not sure if I could recap all the connections if I tried, but I do know I enjoyed every page because of the world I was in when reading. Even though there are dozens of fatalities the tone of the story communicates that it’s okay, the world is still the world, you’re going to be okay because this is your world too and you know these people, just like you know this old dog you meet is going to be taken care of by someone who cares about him. Not that any of the suffering or cruelty is a joke. Gary McCann makes it clear that it isn’t possible to hate the bad guys without hating a little something in yourself. I laughed many times reading this story with the small gestures and observations that made the world of the book my world. The author knows this world well and you can tell he loves it the way it is. The book had to end and I know it had to be tough but I’d like to resuscitate the last woman killed and let her walk off. But I’m not going to hold that against this book.

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Reading to survive

mikealbo I’m pleased to have Mike Albo as a guest on Late Last Night Books http://latelastnightbooks.com/…/mike-albo-gross-time-looki…/ . Mike Albo, MA creative writing, Columbia, authored the novels Hornito, The Underminer (with Heffernan), the novellas The Junket and Spermhood, and the plays Sexotheque, Three Women in Indecision, and The Junket (adapted from his novella). He has written columns and articles in countless sources including The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and The Village Voice. He has also appeared on stage and screen.

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Two Odd Things Said to Me as I Was About to Leave

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“Come here,” said my sister, suffering kidney failure, heart failure, and esophageal cancer. She was calling to Todd and me from the bedroom of her Fullerton (L.A.-area) condo, a bright and airy place, cheerful even in the worst of circumstances. “I want to tell you a story about this bracelet. What do you think of it?” Joy sat in an easy chair by her bed and held a jewelry box on her lap. She lifted a very weak arm–she would fade away in less than two months–so we could see a large charm bracelet on her wrist. Todd and I both said it was pretty.

“It isn’t something I’d ordinarily wear, but I think it’s attractive. Caroline gave it to me.” Caroline, her best friend in the condo building, had been found dead in her apartment, one floor below, six weeks earlier. “The story I want to tell you,” Joy said to us as she eyed the bracelet, “is that I wore this to a doctor’s appointment, and another woman in the waiting room looked at it and said, ‘That’s the ugliest bracelet I’ve even seen.’ Can you imagine saying such a thing to a stranger, to someone you hadn’t said another word to? In a doctor’s waiting room? What’s wrong with some people?”

Much closer to her death, Joy said to me, of the hospital staff and of her roommates’ visitors, “People ask me if I have children, and when I say no, they say, ‘What a shame.'” She stared at me, her eyes asking that same “what’s wrong with people” question. “What do you say in answer?” I asked, sharing her mild amazement. “What can I say? I don’t say anything,”

I will miss the continuation of a lifetime of intimate conversations, some small, some not so small.

IN LOVING MEMORY: JOY SHARON MCCANN HAMILTON, MY SISTER, 1944-2016.

(photo from the 1962 Helios yearbook of Sunny Hills High School)

 

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My Merry Little Christmas, Circa 1964

On the living room couch I fell asleep Christmas night listening to my new Barbra Streisand albumthe stereo volume just loud enough for me to hear with the speakers right by my head. My brother and his wife slept in my room, my parents in theirs, my two younger sisters in theirs, and my older sister and our Aunt Lacy in the room they shared whenever Lacy was with us. All felt right with the world, magical, as it can when you’re young.

I remember that the Streisand album, her third, was advertised that Christmas with the words “give him what he wants,” or words to that effect. The “him” in the ad was a young, sweater-clad man. He surely appealed to me. Even though I didn’t yet understand myself, I understood that something wasn’t quite right about that ad. The typical he didn’t want a Barbra Streisand album; he wanted a subscription to Playboy.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

(Music by Ralph Blane, lyrics by Hugh Martin.)

Published in 1943, the song draws from the war the  tentative note that makes it so compelling. At my present age, knowing the end of the story for my parents, our Aunt Lacy, my sister Joy, my brother’s first wife, and knowing that one of my sisters has suffered from schizophrenia since her late twenties, the line through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow rings as sadly prophetic in my ears as it must have for so many in war-ravaged 1943.

At that magical long ago Christmas in the 1960s, I remember my mother saying Barbra Streisand sang Just in Time too slowly. Mother demonstrated by singing it faster for me, by singing it the way it was written to be sung, she said. She even danced a little while she sang it. A memory to treasure, an ornament stored away in a mental box labelled “Christmas.”

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Two Thanksgiving Wednesdays

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Brookhurst Street wasn’t so busy in the fog as I, a high-school freshman, carried my Bible home from Wednesday evening prayer meeting with my older sister and the church librarian, a young woman with a 10-year-old son and a non-believer husband and a seriously messy house, the cause of occasional screaming arguments between my sister and our mother, also a non-believer, because my sister’s room was always seriously messy, too. “You can spend time working in that church library but you can’t clean your own room!” Mother would scream, eyes bulging, veins popping. These arguments began as aggravated exchanges–snippyness–but escalated into hair-pulling bouts that sent me hiding in my room.

On Thanksgiving Wednesday evening Mother and Aunt Lacy–a meliorating force when sober–were baking pies and getting the turkey and stuffing ready for the oven at dawn (we ate Thanksgiving dinner at noon or one). On these holiday eves Mother didn’t digress to the fact that the house of Alice, the church librarian, was the disaster of our block, of which none of the homes sported more than ill-kept, working-class, little-kids-at-home yard and interior. To be the disaster of our block, one really had to be the Phyllis Diller of house-keeping. (In her stand-up act, comedian Diller complained that the kitchen floor of her neighbor, Mrs. Clean, was so spick-and-span spotless you could eat off it. “You can eat off my floor, too,” Diller said. “Ketchup, mustard, whatever you want, it’s  all there.”)

The trouble with sending your kids to the closest church, the only one they could walk to–a Southern Baptist church–is that your kids, in particular my older sister and I, become “saved” and think you, the parents, are unsaved sinners, since you don’t go to church. Getting my parents “saved” (it never happened; so today Adolph God has them in the concentration camp he calls hell?) was the subtext of my pubescent years. The angst, the necessarily embarrassingly emotional discussions about Jesus, which in the case of my mother and sister escalated into the familiar screaming and hair-pulling, kept my stomach churning.

But youth is like nausea: when you’re nauseated, you vomit and feel new, at least for a while. When you’re young, over a few years of growth you vomit some of the poisonous nonsense you’ve been fed, and feel new. A freshman reinventing myself in the anonymity of 20,000 Cal State Fullerton students, I’d go occasionally to Hollywood–to Grauman’s Chinese Theater or to another movie premier setting–to see a film before it showed elsewhere. As I and a new college acquaintance walked along Hollywood Boulevard, a girl with friends coming toward us stopped and said to me, “You’re the one.” I smiled and said, “The one what?” She stared a minute, laughed, and walked on.

I knew “the one what.” A grocery-bagger I worked with at the East Fullerton Alpha Beta had a van he drove to Hollywood every Saturday night. In a curious mixture of what today we’d call sexual predator and future family man, his life plan included never living anywhere but Southern California because he wanted his kids to grow up able to drive to Hollywood and ball away Saturday night in their vans, like he did. He’d told me so when I mentioned that I wanted to live where it snowed.

I acquired a girlfriend, a dance major whom I’d stand behind on a sixth-floor balcony of the science building and look out over North Orange County while I pressed my erection between us. Soon she dropped me without comment beyond, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

So on Thanksgiving Wednesday I went to a stag dance at the Cal State student commons. With strobe lights and rock music and several hundred boys hoping to meet girls to ball that night, and several hundred girls hoping to meet boys to ball eventually, I lasted one dance. On the way home I stopped at a Snack Shop or a Coco’s or a Denny’s–I can’t remember which–and sat at the counter drinking coffee from a mug or a cup-and-saucer that was refilled whenever half-empty. I still got home earlier than I wanted. Mother, working on the turkey or the pies (always two pumpkin and one mincemeat–Dad liked mincemeat), commented that I was home early, as I suspected she might. “It wasn’t my kind of crowd,” I said.

I went to my room and listened to one of my Broadway soundtrack albums or to Gordon Lightfoot or Barbra Streisand or Hedge and Donna. In bed I had a fantasy in which a boy from the dance–no particular boy–lay naked in his van while one of the girls fingered his erection. I saw him climb on top of her, saw his tussled hair–blond or brown or dark–saw his broad shoulders, the small of his back, his buttocks and thighs, muscular calves, and the soles of his feet, toes alternately clenching and flexing.

It would be at least one Thanksgiving later before the boys in my fantasies occasionally–hesitantly–did things with other boys.

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Picture immediately above: By Seedfeeder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkey at top of this post: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=284803

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A Modest Inheritance by Carol Bird

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A MODEST INHERITANCE, BY CAROL BIRD, takes us to West Virginia in a tightly drawn, subtle mystery in which much is behind the scenes and the apparent monetary stakes aren’t as high as the spiritual and emotional ones. I enjoyed dropping into the life of every-woman protagonist Amanda as she drove home to Charleston and learned that her 100-year old grandmother had inexplicably changed her will one year before her death. As Amanda travels back and forth between her own home in Annapolis and her late grandmother’s hillside, historic Charleston house—under the new will about to become the house of someone outside of Amanda’s family—Amanda gradually realizes that the end of her grandmother’s life was not idyllic in every way, as many people would have her believe.

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I invite you to read my interview with Carol Bird at latelastnightbooks.com

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