growing up, Home

Touchstone: Sculpture

One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “watch the feet”, because, after all, talk is cheap, whereas my mother’s favorite piece of advice was “keep marching!” Mom was more proactive than Dad, especially when faced with adversity. He’d sit back, observe and eventually come to some conclusion he could live with, whereas she’d jump in and try to fix things with her bare hands, whether it was changing her own flat tires or replacing burnt-out bulbs in the exterior light fixtures atop her multi-story apartment house (she was acrophobic).

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As soon as she saw it, my mother HAD to have this sculpture. She’d spied it in a furniture store on the Berlin Turnpike and put it on lay-away, driving however-many miles round trip from Hartford. She got paid every two weeks and allocated $1.50 every paycheck for this piece – I know because I made the trip to the furniture store with her more than once.

There was an undulating white fake fur lounge for sale there, too – but the lounge was “dream-stuff” – something to be desired but never actually purchased, since it cost 10 times what the sculpture cost, and wasn’t what she really wanted.

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I think the sculpture only cost $20, but back in the late 1960s, that was a lot of money to my mother – hence the lay-away. I figure it took almost 6 months for her to get it. She never claimed to be a patient person, but this was special.

At the time, I didn’t understand the appeal of this piece; an old lady walking with a small boy, against a strong wind. It sure spoke to my mother, though – and she wasn’t one for tchochkes or keepsakes. She’d periodically purge her home of anything deemed unnecessary or frivolous. This sculpture was a rare exception. She told me she liked the set of the old woman’s jaw, the carefree gait of the little boy, the disparity in their ages, the intensity of the wind they’re up against.

A decade later, it burned up – along with a coffee table, a sofa she’d reupholstered (in white fake fur!) and the chair the sculpture’s occupying in this photo. The fire blackened the walls of her apartment and the smoke smell didn’t fade for many months afterward. Since I’m pretty sure the sculpture is one-of-a-kind, I’m glad I took this photo before the fire happened.

“Keep marching!”

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growing up, Home

Stand Facing the Stove

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The original edition of The Joy of Cooking apparently began with this instruction, the self-evidencial nature of which encapsulates for me the profound ambivalence I’ve always felt about spending time in the kitchen. While I have a great appreciation for well-prepared food, I also, like my mother, eschew most domestic duties.

She managed to put food on the table on a regular basis, but it didn’t come without a price; not just her iffiness about parenting in general, but a real ennui in regards to cooking. When she’d over-broil the 3 half-chickens for dinner, she’d laugh that “instead of Shake’n’Bake, we’re having Turn’n’Burn!” Unfortunately I adopted her habit of abandoning the kitchen in the middle of meal preparation and have scorched many a pot and burned many a pan of vegetables.

One evening when we were young girls my mother showed my older sister and me how to wash dishes after dinner. We did a pretty good job scraping, soaking, rinsing and drying, and then putting the dishes away, so I recall being surprised when our mother told us to do it again the next evening. “But we learned that already, yesterday!” Seeing the little smirk on my mother’s face, I was a bit horrified at the idea that I might be expected to do this every night for the rest of my life.

“Woman’s work is never done.” I think that was the hopelessness that pervaded my mom’s take on all housework – and one of the reasons she divorced my dad. She told me more than once that the moment she recognized that she was “done” with being married, she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the downstairs half-bathroom floor, realizing that, even though all of her daughters had weekly chores, nearly all of the daily domestic duties fell to her.

I recently purchased a new 6″ chef knife, to go along with my other knives – and I remembered that my mother never had ANY knives that look like these. And she never got the ratty old knife she DID have sharpened. She resisted housework tooth-&-nail, and could never bring herself to make it any easier – as if purchasing the right tools might be a show of weakening in her resolve to hate “woman’s work”.

I love my knives. They’re a gift I’ve given to myself. I’d have them even if I wasn’t married.

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growing up, learning, music biz

Believe Them The First Time

I can forgive myself for wanting people to be better than they are – to make good on their promises, show up on time and behave honestly – despite many experiences to the contrary. I’ve certainly let myself down, so why shouldn’t other people? But there have been a few instances that stand out.

I’ve learned major lessons from each CD we’ve released; the first one (in 1993) taught me that expenses will run over – there will be tracks that need to be “fixed” and some that will need major reworking, so count on needing more time and money than you’d originally planned. The second one (in 2004) taught me that radio promotion is not enough – you’ll need publicity to make any kind of a splash, no matter how awesome you know your recording to be. The third CD (in 2006) taught me “Caveat Emptor” – in bold relief. And that Maya Angelou was a very wise woman.

We’d been shopping for a publicist for a while, asking our jazz friends about their experiences. No one we knew would recommend anyone (which may tell you something about the nature of the publicity industry!?)  So when a collaborator began to sing the praises of one couple he was working with to promote his jazz career, we were excited to meet them!

When she said, “I don’t know what we can do for you”, that should have been the first clue to heed, since:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AMBut we were impressed with their big fancy house in a fashionable part of town and their list of successful clients in all media and we were tired and time was growing short for our release date and we desperately wanted to work with someone (anyone???) who was connected in the biz, to get the word out about the new CD!!  And yet:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

And then there were their adorable dogs, and the photos on the walls of their past triumphs and we could see how wonderful it was going to be when they promoted our wonderful CD and got us reviews in all the trades and even a mention in People magazine andwe joined those triumphant success stories on the wall, and… and… and…
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Even though she had told us that she didn’t know what she could do for us (and she was right – she did not know and wound up doing virtually nothing!!), she was more than happy to take our sizable check. And great was our ultimate disappointment.

If only we’d believed her the first time.

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growing up, Home

The Japanese Garden

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One of the advantages my generation enjoyed was being trusted when we were kids, to go out in the world by ourselves. Of course, with instructions to “never take candy from strangers” and “don’t get in anyone’s car that you didn’t know” – but mostly we were encouraged to explore the world of our neighborhood and trusted to know when to ask for help, who to turn to (“the policeman is your friend!”) – to look out for your friends, family, fellow classmates and neighbors.

Tonight while walking the dogs around the block before bed, we saw a SUV with its lift gate left open. We tried to pull it down to shut it but backed away when the hinge made a screeching noise, thinking aloud, “don’t want somebody to come out here and point a gun in our face!”  That kind of litigious thing was unheard of in the 1950s and 60s. But back then, families left their cars unlocked, with the windows open overnight during the summer – I remember having to run out to crank them closed when a sudden rainstorm would hit.

For years I’ve had dreams about walking to a Japanese garden when I was 10-or-so years old. But I couldn’t recall exactly where or when this was. I knew it was within walking distance, because my older sister and I had to share one bike between us, but I couldn’t recall exactly where it was.

She remembered – and it’s still there! Even expanded over the years! It’s probably covered in snow right now, but in my mind it will always be a cool respite from the overly warm summer of 1962, when we could buy a Coke at the corner store and escape from the chaos and noise of younger sisters and our forlorn mother, stuck sweltering at home. My father used to refer to East Hartford, CT as “the armpit of the world” – but he didn’t hang out much in the Japanese Garden of Wickham Park!

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growing up, learning

My Best Blogpost EVER!!!

 

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How did we get to this point, where everything is absolutes and superlatives? “The Best Trumpeter/Guacamole/Fill-In-The-Blank”??  “The Worst Comedian/TV Show/Things-In-The-World“??  Hype has gotten way out of hand, and while I’d like to blame certain über-judgemental politicians, I know that this trend to compare, pick apart and find fault with everyone else predates “The Donald”.  (Like for 50 years now!!)

Admittedly, it’s human nature to notice differences in quality, but was it always so vicious? We grew up with Montgomery Ward’s and  Sear’s Good – Better – Best!  – and I kinda miss it, that tolerance for “pretty good” – you sorta knew where you stood and what to expect when UPS dropped off the package. When did it become okay to trash everyone else’s efforts in order to establish one’s own superiority? How can Kobe Bryant be “arguably the best player of his generation” while Michael Jordan is “the greatest basketball player of all time” ?  Couldn’t we just enjoy watching magnificent athletes make amazing shots without the constant chatter of pundits announcing THIS one is so much better than THAT one?

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It took me many years and a lot of soul-searching to feel alright about being a black-thumbed gardener, a lousy bowler, a mediocre pool player and a less-than-stellar cook – to get to the point where I could perform those functions and actually enjoy doing so. (Why? Maybe because my parents didn’t believe in the “learning curve” – at least not so I could tell; we were taught that you either “got it!” and were brilliant right out of the box, or you should hang it up, like the old one-liner: “if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you!”)

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Or maybe because the deck’s been stacked – the media has decided to turn us against ourselves and one another because there’s profit to be made. Never mind how unhappy it makes most of us; it’s in somebody’s intere$t to turn everything from singing and dancing to driving a big rig thru the snowy tundra to getting married to surviving on a desert island into a competition. They’re using manufactured dissatisfaction to get us to buy whatever it is they’re selling but don’t have enough confidence to offer it without the hoopla of hyperbole.

Which means, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth buying.

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No, thanks! Not for me!

 

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growing up, Home

House Of Hate!

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“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line

Our family lived in garden apartments most of the time I was growing up – little 2 or 3 bedroom places on 2 floors, with ivy on the outside walls, trees and grass in the front and back yards that someone else mowed and tended to, and casement windows that leaked like a sieve when winter came. After a bleak 4-year sojourn as homeowners in Cicero, NY, my mother appreciated finding friends among some of the more educated and sophisticated women she met once we were left suburbia and my dad really liked the fact that he didn’t have to rely on his somewhat temperamental jalopies to get to work – he could take the city bus to his office in downtown Albany and in Hartford, he could easily walk to his job from our apartment.

We kids also enjoyed the more cosmopolitan environment and watched with interest as new neighbors moved in from time to time.  Dr. Bill and Harriet Miller were next-door neighbors and their daughter Shirley became my best friend until we moved from NY state to Connecticut.   At one point Hazel and Roy lived next door – they were a Chinese couple who liked us and even invited us over for a real homemade Chinese dinner once!

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Then came Marrrge & Bob – a couple from Scotland who brrrristled whenever we encountered them. We couldn’t figure out what the trouble was until one day Marrrge came over and screamed repeatedly at us that ours was “a house of HATE!”  We were so stunned to hear her opinion and couldn’t fathom what would make her think that?  We LOVED each other!!  Sure, we made a lot of noise bounding up and down the stairs which were directly on the other side of the wall from THEIR stairs – and we hollered and teased each other, like kids will do.  We had 2 adults and 4 kids packed into 1000 square feet and we WERE a bit rowdy from time to time.  But HATE?  Marrrge and Bob moved away shortly thereafter and we just laughed at how mistaken they were about our loving family.

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Decades later Mark and I rented a spacious luxury 2 bedroom place on the Gold Coast of Chicago – just the 2 of us, with our dog Dunkel. Each floor had just 2 apartments. The first night at 3 AM we were awakened by yelling, screaming and crockery breaking from the apartment across the hall.  When we asked the doorman what was going on, no one seemed to know.  Eruptions occurred on a fairly regular basis and poor little Dunkel would just shudder, like he did when thunderstorms rolled in from Lake Michigan.

It wasn’t just fights that woke us; the man would throw the family’s trash down the chute in the middle of the night and more than once I spied him doing so au naturelle. One night he locked his wife, dressed only in her nightgown, outside in the hall and wouldn’t let her back in, no matter how she pleaded and begged. These folks acted like they were the only people on the planet, totally oblivious to the disruption they caused. We later found out that the father was high up in the police force, so domestic disturbance calls never made it past the thin blue line.  Apparently most of the other residents had assumed that the noise was coming from OUR apartment, since we were known to be musicians, and we all know how rowdy and disruptive THEY are!!?

We never found out what, if any, mitigating circumstances were in play in that household.  I wonder how Marrrge and Bob would have handled being their neighbors!?

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growing up, music biz, romantic, self-acceptance

My Romances

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My initial plan was to become a brilliant concert pianist, marry Van Cliburn and live happily ever after. I figured that since we both had naturally curly hair and loved Chopin, it was a perfect match. But before that, I was going to EXPERIENCE LIFE!  Which meant, being a child of the 60s and 70s, that I would have many lovers and flirt outrageously with Johnny Carson, just like Eva Gabor and all the other glamorous women guests on the Tonight Show.

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It didn’t work out exactly like that. My first boyfriend was the head usher at the Allyn movie theatre in downtown Hartford. Wayne lived in another part of town, went to a different high school and was very cute. We would sneak up to the balcony on breaks for closed-mouth kisses and while it was new and exciting, I wasn’t really interested in HIM.  I knew I liked being liked but that was about it. The one time he dropped by my house on his bike, out of uniform… well, it was a real disappointment.  (it was a VERY snappy uniform!!)  When I was fired from that first job, it was a relief that I wouldn’t have to see him any more.

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The vibes coming from our parents had always been such that, even tho nothing was said overtly, we knew we weren’t encouraged to date.  That may have been due to the troubles brewing in their own relationship, or my mother’s terror of our becoming pregnant (and trapped!) or my dad’s unwillingness to see us grow up, or some combination thereof. My dad warned us that “most men see women as meat – something to be pursued, used and disposed of”- a rather unsavory picture of romance for a teenage girl. Still, sexual freedom was in the air and I felt urge to get GOING already as I had devoured all those magazines and read Helen Gurley Brown’s SEX & THE SINGLE GIRL cover to cover.

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I’d had crushes – all unrequited, of course – on the handsome but somewhat dim boy in German class, the substitute teachers who looked SO much like Freddie of Freddie & The Dreamers, Paul McCartney and let’s not forget Van Cliburn!  And I’d held hands with the accompanist and kissed a singer from the InterHigh Choir on a concert tour to D.C. There was some smooching with a fellow cashier at Korvette’s – but nothing serious – nobody even got to 2nd base. Boys were so FOREIGN and they stayed that way for me through high school.

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Once I’d moved away to college, there was more freedom to meet with boys but dating per se had somehow disappeared. My girlfriends who came of age in the 70s agree: in the musician/artist crowds we ran with, NOBODY actually went out on dates!  You’d meet someone interesting, flirt, and… sometimes it was almost like shaking hands, it was so casual. From age 18 to 27, I think I may have gone out on no more than a half dozen actual DATES. We didn’t call it a “hookup” or a “booty call”, but for those of us who weren’t in a serious relationship, that’s essentially what it was.

I had always been drawn to musicians – especially those who could really PLAY. It didn’t matter whether they were married or not – in fact, I was more comfortable if they were already spoken for, because I had no intention of letting anything as trivial as sex derail my career ambitions. I wasn’t tuned-in enough to attempt to parlay my affections for career advancement – not that I entertained any idea of “the purity of being in love” – but it just struck me as cheesy. Looking back now, I’m not sure whether I missed some great opportunities or whether it really would have been cheesy!?

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I bumbled along through the 70s, never committing to anyone. There were many months at a time when I had no gentlemen callers, even though I rarely played hard-to-get. A lot of time I was mighty lonely. Instead of building connections in the music industry while I was Gil Evans’ copyist, I distracted myself by flirting with his band. Mostly I was judicious and paid attention to my own radar, so I didn’t wind up with many head cases, but I still have plenty of memories that make me cringe to this day, when I was shamed by lovers who somehow felt justified to put me down, criticizing the body they had just enjoyed. In my experience, the sexual revolution did very little to remedy the double standard.

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I was confused in many of my relationships – frequently mistaking my interest in men as sexual in nature, when what I really wanted was their friendship and camaraderie.  I loved how they played music, their enthusiasm for life, their creativity, their energy… and in many instances, it would have been a travesty to muddle my admiration and affection for them with sex. And yet I did, all too often. The smart ones talked me out of it and I wasn’t too difficult to dissuade – I don’t want to be around anyone who doesn’t want to be around me.

There were certain mileposts of progress – when I turned down a last-minute visit from a gorgeous, brilliant saxophonist because he called after midnight after months of hearing nothing from him – and when I realized that I could actively choose who I wanted to be with and not wait around to be noticed. It wasn’t exactly liberated, but felt like baby steps towards sexual self-esteem.

Romantic moments that actually made me swoon were few and far between, and generally weren’t sexual so much as warm and affectionate; the composition student who held my hand during a string quartet recital or listening with a friend to jazz piano at a NYC club while drinking one too many gin and tonics.  Being actually SEEN as a person – and knowing that whoever is seeing you is LIKING you!?  To me, that’s the gold.  All the other stuff is posturing.

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