Friday, March 30, 2007

 
A couple of things are catching up with me right now, nothing I can't handle but still they're stressful. And I'm aware that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record but this is my life right now. I'll work on developing a few new threads ASAP.

The lowering of the price on the house is depressing for a reason I can't quite put my finger on. Even at the new price, it's a higher amount than what I had originally thought it might go onto the market for. I think any disappointment about lowering the price is now joined and overshadowed by a concern that it just isn't going to sell in any reasonable period of time at all. We'll know more after this weekend when there will be another Open House to inaugurate the new asking price.

The other issue has consumed much more of our time than it should; it's the route of the conduit that will bring electricity, internet cable, TV cable and the phone line up to the house. For a variety of reasons, we opted to have a grid interface even though we're going to be producing a healthy amount of electricity with the photovoltaics up about seventy-five feet above the house on the hillside. Electricity we produce will be purchased by the power company and credited against that which we draw from the grid.



The problem is that right smack in the middle of the easiest and most direct route from the house to the two electric poles that sit on the road in front of my property is the sizable leech field for the septic system that serves Fritz's Center. It would take far too long to explain how all that happened, so please take it on faith and let's move on to other factors that are problematic, particularly the 18 foot high "
cliff" that these conduits will have to negotiate. So far we’ve explored solutions to the problem that included various combinations of electrical poles to bring lines into the property about 200 feet, safely up and over the rise where they'd then enter the underground conduit. But poles—big, ugly poles with their requirement of a 16 foot wide corridor cleared of all trees--were the last thing either of us wanted crossing either of our properties.

So yesterday morning Fritz and I were measuring the latest path that had been devised for the lengths of Schedule 80 3" and 2" PVC conduit pipes that would be needed to house the various cables. Two poles, coming into the properties about 200 feet would still be required. Then we went on an unsuccessful trip looking for doors at an architectural salvage place in Manchester, NH.


When I got back to MIT, Fritz called to say that the Public Service representative who was supposed to have met with us in the morning had finally arrived very shortly after I left; he devised another plan, this one without poles but with a different route and longer run of conduit that would be able to mount the “cliff” in a way acceptable to the cable pullers. So tomorrow I'll go back up and we'll measure this new route that we actually like a lot, then I'll go buy all the conduit required and arrange for delivery.

It's at times like these that not being resident with Fritz full time and on the scene is especially difficult, but we'll get through it, I'm sure.

Whenever I'm stressed like this the worst thing for me to be is alone. I'm a gregarious person and other people invariably draw me out of myself when I get stuck in a worry cycle. Last night Steve of Chaos blog was going come over, cook dinner for us and talk. First he had a meeting at the school where the son he has recently taken guardianship of is enrolled, and it went much later than he had estimated, so we did a quick bit of phone negotiation and decided to meet at Golden Temple in Brookline. Steve says it's the best Chinese cuisine in Boston with no MSG or other cheap ingredients. It also has remarkable interiors in terms of exposed structural design.

Two and a half hours have never flown by so fast. When I look at Steve's daily schedule, the amount he accomplishes and the drive with which he does it, I see a lot of myself when I was his age. We talked about that, talked candidly about each other and his voluntarily taking on parenthood, spent a lot of time laughing, had a very good dinner in the process (yes, Fritz, I DID have roast duck) and when we left at the end of the evening, I was a lot more relaxed about life in general. Thanks, Steve!


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

 
They keep dumbing down my supermarket. Years ago Star Market, a really great chain of stores, began to divest to its subsidiary, Shaw's, which was an OK market but not great. One of the first strange manifestations was that the Shaw house brand (quite decent on the whole) which had been prominently featured by Star, began to disappear once the Shaw's name went on the stores. I never understood that.

But I soon reoriented myself to new choices and settled into a routine only to find that once I formed a liking for something in the new line of offerings, almost invariably that item would be dropped. For example, Shaw's non-fat yogurt in a wide variety of fruit flavors and plain, is virtually absent. They started by cutting the variety of flavors way back and now they don't restock any of them very often. The last vestige of loose tea in tins was the three Twining's standards: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Earl Gray. I bought them faithfully--now they stock only Earl Gray as loose tea in a tin, and I'm willing to bet the Earl's days are numbered. Ditto Old London Flatbread Crackers in the Everything flavor that were so good with a slice of Manchego, Tomme or extremely sharp Cheddar on them--completely gone.

Fritz has a big Hannaford's about two and a half miles from him and I've become pretty happy with it. The fish section extremely good and their produce is impressive in quality and variety. There's a decent gourmet/foreign foods section. Even they eliminated some great brands, like Edy's Whole Fruit Sorbets, a couple of years ago but they've still got a superior selection and I'm looking to shopping there all the time once I move. Add a specialty tea shop that Fritz discovered a short while ago and some internet shopping and I'll be able to stock the kitchen the way I like.

Which brings up the subject of selling my present house. I met with Bill, my broker, yesterday afternoon and we went through the grim figures. The foreclosed houses are being unloaded by the banks or other mortgage businesses to brokers for relatively low prices. The brokers can therefore tack on fifty or even seventy-five thousand dollars and still put them out on the market at prices lower than houses being sold by owners, even when those owners have already cut their asking prices in response to the market. I have sometimes had great good fortune in timing during my life but now isn't one of those occasions.

Bill had floated the idea of reducing the price of the house by $5000 a week until it found the price that would attract buyers, like a Filene's Basement automatic markdown. I said this sounded like slow torture and that while we were settling gradually, lots of other houses would already have arrived at a price attractive to potential buyers. So we bit the bullet and officially lowered the asking price of my house by a whopping $35,000 to put it into immediate competition with several others in the neighborhood that are getting decent numbers of potential buyers looking at them. Also, the "Staging Lady" had recommended marketing my house as a uniquely styled artist's home, in areas like the South End and Jamaica Plain which have a high gay population. So I passed on Fritz's suggestion that an ad should be placed in Bay Windows. Bill thought that a great idea and said he'll place one ASAP in preparation for another Open House at the newly reduced price this coming Sunday. I don't feel great about this but this is the reality of the current situation.

At MIT, I'm working on producing the coming Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company performance on Friday evening, April 6. This isn't the main Taylor Company but six of the most accomplished younger dancers who do both the signature Taylor dances and material created especially for them. Right now I have to sort out parking details for the Company's two mini-vans and the big truck that will bring in the stage platforms, lighting equipment, dance floor surface, etc. I’m looking at an eighteen hour day on the 6th but at least so far everything's going well.

Because our own final production of the year is putting in at the theater that day, I'll have virtually no equipment available to me from our own stock, and can't recruit too many students away from our own production's scenic and lighting crews. Fortunately, a donor gave enough money to fund my hiring a production company to bring everything we need in to equip the bare hall the performance is to take place in and turn it into a dance theater for the evening.


Monday, March 26, 2007

 
Seen recently in my bird feeder: a mockingbird technically too large for my kind of hanging feeder who goes into extremely funny contortions to hang on as he gets at the seed; a mated pair of downy woodpeckers; various yellow and purple finches; the usual flock of sparrows; mourning doves feeding on the seed dropped on the deck by the others; a female and a male cardinal who always arrive separately, so I don't think they're a couple [yet?]; one or two plump junkos.

*******

We've hit the wall with the sale of my house. It's been on the market now for two weeks and three weekends. Apart form the open house on the first Sunday, nobody's come to look at it. I called my realtor (who had assured me the house is eminently saleable at the price for which he's advertising) and discussed the situation this morning. He had said he'd work the open houses on Sunday to see what the situation is. The news isn't good.

For one thing, I heard on CBS radio news that February was the worst month for domestic real estate sales in something like seven years. He had told me that January was pretty active but that the bottom fell out in February and he was right. A couple of factors are extremely important. The rate of foreclosures is sky high right now in the well-publicized crisis in what's called the sub-prime market of adjustable mortgages. Record numbers of people are defaulting on mortgage payments and losing their houses which are beginning to glut the market (the stock pile of new houses that aren't selling is at record levels also)--on Saturday I drove to my supermarket and in the 8/10ths of a mile between it and my house there were five houses for sale.

The broker also told me on the phone this morning that he had seen houses on Sunday with more updated features than mine at lower prices than the price he recommended to me. We have an appointment to meet late afternoon tomorrow to discuss strategy. It's not that I'm scared of not making a profit--when I bought this house many years ago at a reduced price as a "handyman special", I paid $16,500 for it (that's NOT a typo). I'm not even afraid of having to lower the price of the house somewhat since the price my broker suggested was significantly higher than what I had thought I'd have to put it on the market for. I'm concerned that it won't sell at all, at least not in a reasonable amount of time. That was my big concern when I realized that I'd be selling the house at the bottom of the market, and it remains my concern, amplified by the unexpected foreclosure situation that's a most unwanted complication.

The new house moves along. Yesterday we finished cutting trees in the road leading to the house and slightly beyond into the area where the drilling equipment for the well has to gain access. Next time we cut, it will be in the actual footprint of the house. After cutting for two or so hours and getting a lot done (we had three chain saws and six men in all) we took an afternoon tea break and then got ready for the Sweat, for which another ten joined us.

One of our guys has a plan for completely renovating the Sweat Lodge and putting an actual roof on it to replace the dome built of PVC pipe ribs and two layers of tarp with four layers of bubble wrap in between them as insulation. After fifteen or so years out in New England weather and subjected to a great deal of steam inside, the Lodge very definitely needs work. We're looking to getting it done next month.

*******

I'm continuing to lose weight slowly but surely. Tossing around 60 to 70 pound sections of tree trunk certainly isn't hurting that effort, and I'm working to eat as responsibly as possible. But I've always been a nervous nosher and if it goes much longer before people at least come to look at the house, I may snack myself back into a couple of extra pounds.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

 
I've been extremely proud to be a Massachusetts resident for a very long while. Despite politics that are truly bizarre and a Political Correctness that can go over the top into idiocy at times, Massachusetts at heart is extremely decent, highly inclusive and appreciative of diversity.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, didn't seem so welcoming, even when Fritz explained to me that "Live Free or Die", the state's motto, means that people are free to live as they wish without hassle, at least theoretically. But there may not be any legal acceptance and, indeed, in the wake of gay marriage being legalized in Massachusetts, New Hampshire fell over itself to pass a law specifically banning the recognition of any other state's same-sex marriages.

The explanation at the time was that the state feared an influx of gay couples of retirement age who would settle in New Hampshire because of the legendary tax-friendliness of the state, and overwhelm the state's health care providers while not providing anything to the economy. I must admit that I never saw the logic in all that. The argument presupposes that all married gays are close to retirement age, have no alternative but to head directly north, and won't do things like build houses, buy things, or pay New Hampshire's confiscatory property taxes, the state's dirty little secret that manages to trump a lot of the savings from no sales tax and no state income tax.

But, this week just past, on the same day that South Carolina officially ratified a voter-sanctioned amendment to its Constitution banning gay marriage, the New Hampshire House of Representatives Judiciary Committee endorsed the creation of civil unions for same-sex couples in a bipartisan vote of 15 to 5.

"I am very pleased that we have taken this step," said one of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Rep. Marlene DeChane, a lesbian.

A vote by the full House is expected next week, then the measure also must pass the Senate, where Republican Bob Clegg has proposed legislation for "contractual cohabitation" giving unmarried adults the same legal rights as married couples. New Hampshire may now be falling into step with the rest of the Northeast.

*******

Here's the latest on the new house: we met with M who had just gotten the drawings back from the structural engineer. He's now free to do all the working construction drawings. We had a meeting yesterday morning to go over many more details; heaven, they say, is in those details and that's really how the character of the place will be determined.

M is finding us pretty easy to work with. As he put it, we "don't dither" over things. For one thing, Fritz and I have a pretty strong sense of our own identities and tastes. For another, there's no sense of a struggle for control of the look of the house--our aesthetic senses are pretty close, and I include M in that, which is one of the main reasons we chose him to work for us on the project. In other words, we give good client.

We started with the window contract, a huge chunk of a house desiring passive solar gain and beautiful views of the hillside and the woods. We had three possible suppliers of either double- or triple-glazed windows, each with differing details, costs, hardware considerations, etc. We disposed of that in about 20 minutes and passed on to items like interior doors (we're planning on touring architectural salvage companies and getting antique doors), door hardware, and the color/texture of the slab on which the house will rest and that becomes our interior floor.

You can do it two ways: pigment mixed into the concrete--and there is a nice variety of colors for that—-or a wash of acid stain that's mopped onto the finished, set concrete and pulled into the surface about a quarter of an inch deep by the acid's interaction with lime in the concrete. Technically, you're living on a giant fresco. The advantages of the latter are that the stainer can achieve a variety of patterns and textures, the end result looking like art stone—-alabaster or marble or simply a variety of mottled, sponged effects. With pigment mixed in you get nice color but a flat, uniform and frankly pretty dull floor. With the stain, the floor has a depth and richness that are striking. We chose that in a heartbeat.

After the meeting was over, we went on a bit of a wild goose chase to find a Verizon office and discovered that Verizon has dropped everything in New Hampshire but cellular phones. The rest of the business—-internet, cable TV and phone was sold off and I now have to contact what the Verizon guy called simply "the land line company". We need to do it pretty quickly as the road up to the house is going to be vanished (graded and graveled) in two or three weeks and part of the job is to dig the conduit trench which will pass UNDER that road at some point. The cable and Public Service of New Hampshire pieces of the pie have to be coordinated as soon as possible.

Blessedly, next week is Spring Break at MIT and I'll have a chance to spend more time than usual in New Hampshire tending to all this—Fritz and I hit the salvage places on Monday. I've been to the one in Exeter with him before and it's a treasure house—-the antique hardware section alone is dazzling.

As to my house in Roslindale, it's a gorgeous day, another set of ads has been placed in the papers and still nobody has come to see the place since the original open house two weeks ago. My realtor and I can understand last weekend's lack of buyers since the weather was dire, but today is an ideal house shopping day. He told me that January was very busy but February almost dead and that perhaps things haven't quite rebounded yet. He's going to hang out around the open houses tomorrow and try to find out what's going on. Tomorrow, Fritz and I will be back in NH, lumberjacking in the afternoon and hosting a crowd of guys for the Sweat Lodge and pot luck in the evening.

*******

Speaking of a wild goose chase, one of the endearing things about living and working in the Boston/Cambridge area is the geese. We have the brown and black wild migratory Canadian Geese, of course, whose numbers are growing all the time. They've completely taken over Harvard's playing fields by the hundreds. Not coincidentally, those fields have some of the lushest, most brilliantly green grass I've ever seen on football fields, but I'm not so sure I'd want to be tackled and slammed down into that which makes those fields so beautiful.

At the MIT end of the Charles River, we have the permanent resident flock of white geese, so famous they even have their own blog http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/, preservation society http://www.friendsofthewhitegeese.org/index.html, and photographer groupies http://www.historicpages.com/geese/wg.htm. They're seen here in a little hollow in the riverbank nestled up against at he Cambridge end of the Boston University Bridge. They go here to preen their feathers and spread out from here to paddle upstream to various of their usual haunts, or to venture off the riverbank and cross Memorial Drive to graze or explore.

Coming home from MIT last night, I was delayed a while at the rotary on the Cambridge end of the B.U. Bridge as a large contingent of the flock crossed from under the overpass embankment, where there's grass to eat, to the riverbank. Geese are not to be rushed, their amiable waddle is a stately tread. One driver got impatient and began to edge forward, to be greeted by two of the males with a hissing, spread wing warning. He decided he'd just wait with all the other stopped cars. Although it's a pain to be stopped while they're crossing if you're in a hurry, it's both encouraging and wonderful to see that in this frenetic society, nature can still bring a city to a halt.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

 
As with the nation, so with this state - by unanimous vote in the Massachusetts Senate, Therese Murray was elected its new President, the first time in the state's history that a woman has run the Massachusetts legislature. She's a Democrat (surprise) whose home district is Plymouth County, ironically the single most Republican area in super-liberal Massachusetts.

She's more liberal than her district; she's more liberal than her predecessor in the job (who resigned suddenly to pursue job prospects in the private sector). She's a supporter of gay marriage and she's probably a huge breath of fresh air in a state whose legislators are [in]famous for collecting their popularly believed to be overinflated salaries while accomplishing absolutely nothing for months at a time. We're getting further and further away from Mitt Romney (who's been out there destroying himself faster and faster anyway) all the time!

*******

I haven't been able to check out Thursday night TV in quite a while and I got to see a bittersweet episode of Ugly Betty tonight with Michael Urie's Mark as the featured character. Patti LuPone showed up as Mark's bitchy mother, chewing scenery manically. With Betty's urging and support he finally had the guts to stand up to her and tell her he's gay. At which point she rejected him and walked out. As is typical of this show, it left the stereotypes and caricatures in the overtly comic scenes and allowed Urie to register his fear and finally the pain of rejection in a strong performance in the spotlight he's deserved on this show for a long time.

*******

The man who turned Tchaikovsky's uber-romantic ballet Swan Lake into a homoerotic love story, and who made a ballet out of Edward Scissorhands: Matthew Bourne is taking on Shakespeare in the upcoming Romeo, Romeo. In a Sunday Times of London interview, Bourne identified the personal challenge to be choreographing a credible love duet for two men: "It's more to do with dancing than with sexuality. A male dancer, whether he's gay or straight, fits into a relationship with a female partner very happily.
Getting away from that, making a convincing love duet, a romantic, sexual duet, for two men that is comfortable to do and comfortable to watch - I don't know if you can. I've never seen it done."

Well, those of us who've seen Bourne's Swan Lake either in the DVD of the original London production or — with far more impact — live on stage, would say that it HAS been done and done by Bourne himself in the breathtaking and highly erotic duet for the Male Swan and the Prince. But Bourne is working on it: "I have a way of approaching it so as to make it - I hate to say 'acceptable', it's a terrible thing to say - but so that people don't run screaming from the theatre. I let them find their own way with it, take it as far as they want in their own heads."

Bourne chose to adapt an iconic play of young heterosexual love because, despite the incredible success of his Swan Lake, he feared that he hadn't created a true homosexual love story. The Prince was a man but the seducer who brought him out was a mythic animal creature, not another human. In any event, there's a considerable body of critical writing on Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet in particular, that explores the homoerotic subtext in the male-male friendships and dependencies seen in the plays and sonnets.

Bourne will begin improvisatory explorations with his dancers this summer and go into rehearsal early in 2008.

*******

I'm driving up to New Hampshire early tomorrow morning for a meeting that focuses on all the windows in the new house. There are many, many of them — the light in the house should be spectacular. Issues to be discussed are: double glazed or triple glazed?; the material of the exterior window framing; amount of UV and other protection in the glass (the more of those shields, the less solar gain you enjoy from the large array of windows on the south façade of the house). After lunch, we'll visit a Verizon store (they're the dominant internet/cable TV/phone provider in the area) to find out what kind of package they'll put together. I want wireless internet in the house and the fastest connection they can give me in an area that has no fiber optic cables in place at present.

A lot of the weekend will be spent at Symphony Hall. Tomorrow night there's a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio (me alone because it's opera) and on Saturday we're both going to a concert by Broadway and cabaret legend, the great Barbara
Cook.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

 
This photo has been cropped but you can see it complete--and it's well worth seeing--along with the first part of an interview with the young man on the site Beautiful, operated by Rob and Yann in Paris, dedicated to celebrating male beauty. http://www.beautifulmag.eu/beautiful/2007/03/jet_kanashi_enj.html



He's the 24 year old singer and model Jet Kanashi, who spends a lot of time presenting himself in the persona of a romantic hero, and he most certainly looks like one. His first CD is out with the title "Enjoy the Sadness". His personal website, Namida, with more pictures (though nothing quite so dramatic as the complete version of the one above) and samples of the songs is at http://www.jetkanashi.com/

Jet pushes just about every button I have and will be my desktop wallpaper for an indefinite period of time. The name is a stage name constructed from part of a nickname his father gave him as a boy and the Japanese word for sorrow (therefore linked to the CD title).

Jet began to model at age 19 but found it to be an unhappy experience, feeling that he wasn't being treated well. He'd decided to stop when one photographer persuaded him to give it another shot. The combination of the photographer's personal process and the fact Jet was more mature and able to articulate his own needs resulted in a very different experience. Since then he's worked extensively in front of the camera, and when erotic photography was suggested to him he discovered [fortunately] that he had no problem working naked.

The song samples on his site were a bit disappointing--perhaps I'm just not into the style. The basic sound is kind of new age folk-pop. He has a nice, somewhat shallow tenor but for a man who discusses his perpetual depression at length and in detail, I didn't get as much of an emotional connection as I thought I might, and I'm not sure his pitch is always solid. Others might well have no problems with him at all; for me right now he's better to look at than to listen to.

Straight? Gay? Nothing's stated but something might be inferred. The revelation that girls intimidated him in high school is probably ambiguous; the title "A song for him" for a song about a break-up is perhaps less so. Concerning his visual appeal, there's nothing ambiguous whatsoever.

(Wednesday morning update: The second part of Beautiful's interview with Jet has appeared this morning with some pictures from his mostly nude photoshoot that appeared in the the February issue of the gay German magazine Men. In this section of the interview he answers questions about what his perfect man might be like and volunteers some info on his sexually intimate moments with men.)

Rob and Yann who own Beautiful are a Dutch/French couple who operate a gay B&B located very close to the Marais, Paris's premiere gay neighborhood. Its rooms overlook the Place de La Republique. The pictures show a typical view from a guest room and the style of the interior.

Despite the high style of the furniture and ornamentation, the atmosphere is apparently informal and friendly. The boys admit to walking around the place in various states of undress, and while an ample breakfast is provided, guests serve themselves.


*******

As this week draws to a close, we reach mid-term of the spring semester at MIT. Next week is Spring Break. We don't have any plans to go anywhere far this year, during either the Break or the summer. There's going to be too much going on as the house gets under way for us to be away for any length of time. May 1st, give or take a couple of days, now looks more and more like a realistic date for the start of construction.

I realized this week that
I've crossed a threshold psychologically without really trying to; I've already separated myself from my career at MIT and am now looking objectively at what I've done there and at the job itself. It's become very easy to prepare things for my successor, purge files and do all the things that need doing to pass into a different phase of my life. When I was younger I was less confident and more afraid of change. Now I know that a little reinvention of self every now and then is a life-giving, renewing process. I'm ready.

*******

There was an interesting recital at MIT's Killian Hall, an intimate recital venue, last Sunday. Tenor Jason McStoots, who had sung the Madwoman in our production of Britten's "Curlew River" last fall, sang a demanding but extremely rewarding program he'd put together himself along with accompanist Linda Osborne-Blaschke on the subject of a Journey, its rigors and returning home.

Jason has a sweet, clear, totally unforced voice and uses text with great expression but no hint of mannerism or showiness. What drew attention was the daring juxtaposition of composers, many of them gay, across centuries and styles. Instead of organizing songs into neat groups by composer, they followed one another thematically--at one point in the second half Gabriel Faure was followed immediately by Noel Coward, then Franz Schubert, Ralph Vaughn Williams and John Duke.

Elsewhere in the program, Jason premiered a three song group by Charles Shadle who's on our MIT music faculty and who is now composer-in-residence with Intermezzo, the opera company for which I design. Charles had chosen three quirky poems by Herman Melville, including a grotesque one called "The Maldive Shark."

Classical vocal recitals are becoming freer in their construction these days, which I think is all to the good. Soprano Dawn Upshaw does a huge amount of contemporary material and sings one of her song cycles lying on her back UNDER the piano wearing a sort of burlap bag.

And here's a very interesting quote from Joshua Roman, twenty-three years old and alreadythe first cellist of the Seattle Symphony: "I would love to see the classical-music industry crumble, just absolutely fall to bits. Because I think then we'd have to start over. We'd have to say, well, what is it? What is classical music? Is it this concert hall, is it these tuxedos? No, it's this music. And then we could start over from the beginning, build it up, find people who like the music. Like rock and roll started, like the punk movement started."


Sunday, March 18, 2007

 
Saturday was spent cleaning up from a nasty Nor’easter that gave New England a bit of everything, ending up with torrents of rain that flooded streets and highways whose storm drains were clogged by mounds of snow and sleet. I live halfway down a fairly significant hill-—my section of Roslindale being known as Clarendon Hills—-so I awoke to the sight of a river flowing down my street. After breakfast, I got out and began the big job of shoveling out the cement-heavy rain-drenched snow before the temperature dropped and everything froze solid.

It was St Patrick’s Day and when I got back inside I made tea and thought a bit about New York City’s parade for the first time since I was a kid. I grew up in the City and that parade was a part of my childhood, particularly as my family had moved to Queens from Manhattan just before I turned five, settling into an Irish-Catholic neighborhood.

TV coverage of the parade then had a policy of cutting quickly away every time a group or individual came down 5th Avenue with one of the many “England Get Out of Ireland” signs that were common then. It was done in the name of avoiding politics, but in my family it was taken as an endorsement of the English occupation. My English Grandmother (mother’s mother) was a staunch Imperialist—-the sun never set on HER Empire, even when the British government began slowly but surely withdrawing from (or being kicked out of) its many overseas possessions. She would proudly tell anyone within earshot that if it hadn’t been for England, there still wouldn’t be flush toilets in Dublin. That was a piece of historical information I wisely decided NOT to take into Resurrection-Ascension Catholic Grammar School, which was ruled by a strict order of Irish-American nuns.

The parade this year went on without the participation of New York State’s new, liberal Governor Elliot Spitzer. No statement was made, but it is widely assumed that Elliot elected to stay away because his strong support for gay rights that’s strongly at odds with the organizers’ ban on any openly gay persons or groups marching in the parade. There have been several court challenges to that ban, but it has held—-the parade is run as a private party, in effect, so the organizers are legally free to invite anyone--or exclude anyone—-they wish. In the last decade or so, this year’s Grand Marshall, former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, has retreated firmly into alliance with ultra-conservative Catholicism and the radical Evangelical Right, particularly on gay issues.

Anyway, bless Elliot; he’s made it one of his goals to introduce legislation establishing gay marriage in New York State within his first year in office, so the organizers probably wouldn’t have been too happy with him in any event.
It was different with New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay. She announced she would march in Dublin's St. Patrick's Day parade this year in company with the Lord Mayor of the city who has no issue with gays, Irish or otherwise, a direct snub to the New York parade’s organizers. Ireland is on the verge of introducing gay marriage, also.

Here in Boston, epicenter of the Irish Immigration to America in the 19th century, there’s a parade but the big event has always been the St Paddy’s Day political breakfast and roast, this time held today, the 18th. Originally a face off between the old guard Boston Brahmins (the English-descended Yankees with the great names of Lodge, Endicott, Cabot, Lowell, Peabody, [Leverett] Saltonstall, etc.)
and the scrappy “upstart” Irish politicians who were demanding their piece of the American Pie, it very quickly turned into a hilarious “demilitarized zone” where a Cabot and a Fitzgerald or a [James Michael] Curley (two of the new great names) could meet and joke and begin to discover how they might learn how to govern the Commonwealth together.

But it’s a new time, and the focus of the breakfast has shifted in the last several decades. The name on the governor’s office door recently is likely to be Italian or Greek as well as WASP and we now have our first black governor, only the second ever in the nation. The underlying humor at the event—-and humorous it very definitely is--now has much to do with the efforts of the almost invisible Massachusetts Republican Party to field enough viable sacrificial lambs to run against the habitual triumphal march of Democratic candidates.

*******

The house has been on the market for a week now and mobs of house hunters are managing to restrain themselves from interrupting my routine. The only people to see the place came last Sunday for the Open House. My realtor was surprised at this, particularly as we went into multiple listings on Monday.

I’m not surprised about yesterday, as the city was digging out from the storm. But I thought maybe today . . . I was advised that there would be a flurry of activity for a week or so right after it was listed, then things would relax for a bit and finally pick up again in the later Spring. Well, our flurry lasted two hours and then nothing. I'm working on not becoming nervous.

Not to be discouraged, I am continuing to process stuff in storage areas and will be doing some little paint jobs and other cosmetic things that should make a difference here and there. One thing I decided to do was to start eating down the contents of my deep freeze. I got it several years ago and have loved it—so much so that when I had to replace my refrigerator, I got a refrigerator-only model with no freezer in it.

I quickly came to appreciate this arrangement. I like to entertain and to have a cabinet big enough to take platters of prepared canapés, bowls of meats marinating, dessert items, bottles of wine and beer in addition to my regular fridge contents works for me very well. Fritz liked the way it worked so well that when his fridge diedhe also has a deep freezer), he got the same model--Sears Kenmore, if you’re curious.

So, all manner of soups and stews and blueberries we picked in the early fall and packages of turkey salvaged from the carcasses of Thanksgiving and Christmas roasts are getting taken out and used up. One big advantage of a deep freeze is that food keeps fresher much longer than in a refrigerator’s freezer, so all this stuff is pretty much in prime condition.

I’ve found over the years that my two great allies in using up leftovers are Herbes de Provence and Wye River Seasoning. The Provencal herb bouquet contains rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, thyme and fennel; the best mixes have lavender flowers as well. They’re perfect for soups and stews and I love them in scrambled eggs and omelets as well. They can be a little pricey depending on where you buy them, but on the other hand, the flavor is so intense you don’t have to use all that much. I’m going to try them in home-made bread some time soon.

I first found Wye River Seasoning in Maryland about eight years ago during a reunion with a high school friend. The reunion didn’t go all that well but he cooked one night with this seasoning and I made sure to get a ten ounce tin before I left the area. It was developed as a complement to Maryland crab dishes—steamed crab, crab soup, etc. It’s very good in Bloody Marys, salad dressing, chili, eggs, stews of all kinds, and mixed into ground beef to make hamburgers. One of its great uses is to make dull food interesting. It contains salt, black pepper, celery seed, paprika, mustard flour, spices (undefined) and red pepper. It has a satisfying zing but isn’t so hot you can’t taste the food--something I hate.

*******

The weather smiled yesterday afternoon, Fritz came down from New Hampshire and we had a nice dinner here at the house before leaving for Jordan Hall. The Prazak Quartet turned out to be four Czechs who got together in 1972, just out of the Prague Conservatory. Like many central-European musicians they’re very intense, very physical—they play with their whole bodies, and really lean into the bowing whether it’s a violin or a cello. I remember seeing the Vienna Philharmonic play and the first violins were undulating back and forth like a kelp forest in a current on the sea bed.

Slavic violin tone tends to be dryer and a little more gritty than western European musicians prefer, but it gives an exciting edge to the string sound and they proved themselves capable of a very warm and smooth tone when they played one movement of a Mozart quartet as an encore. Their reception from the audience was extremely enthusiastic,and deservedly so. Sadly, there was only half a house in attendance but we made up in enthusiasm for what we lacked in numbers.

Friday, March 16, 2007

 
Toward the end of a busy, even hectic week, last night's concert by the Boston Symphony was just what I needed. The single work on the program, Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony, is a ninety minute piece divided into two unequal parts. Part one clocked in at thirty five minutes last night; it was conceived as a Procession of Bacchus by Mahler, a typical mixture by him of the rhapsodic and the almost grotesque. The second, hour long section is divided into five parts including a lovely string-dominated minuet and a genial scherzo (both with the delicacy of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream music), a rapt song urging mankind to look to the joys of eternity, a rollicking song from the German folk music collection "The Youth's Magic Horn", and a final elegiac movement that brings the work to a luminous end.

Under its new Music Director, James Levine, the Boston Symphony is playing incredibly well--at times the playing is almost unbelievably beautiful. And Levine accomplishes miracles without drawing any attention to himself. There are none of the balletic contortions of some conductors, but he obviously has strong communication with every player individually.

Three of those players were on view last night, and a lovely view it was. To be a timpanist with the BSO these days means to be tall, dark or dark blond, and handsome. Led by principal timpanist Timothy Genis, the three of them looked like so many graceful black swans in their formalwear as they arched low over their timpani to check the pitch after each demanding outburst. Since the timpani are placed dead center on the highest level of the orchestra's risers, these guys are easy to see and very well worth watching.

*******

Snow is swirling wildly around the house in the Northeaster that began to hit just before 10am today in Boston. It arrived with a sudden temperature drop and roaring gusts, and has intensified ever since. I was able to get off campus right after a 1pm appointment and made it home before snow was sticking too badly on the roads. I'd probably go out before dinner to do a first shoveling, but I think anything I cleared would drift over immediately in the strong wind. As I type this, hard wind-driven sleet is blowing horizontally, clicking and tapping at the windows of my studio. Going outside for ANY reason is the last thing in the world I want to do right now.

We're still hoping Fritz can come down tomorrow afternoon as planned. We have tickets for the Prazák String Quartet at Jordan Hall tomorrow night (and I haven't seen hair like the cellist's since some 1950s rock 'n roll heart throbs!). Of course, smartass that I tend to be, I started making jokes about our going to hear the Prozac String Quartet and now it's stuck in my head. Serves me right!

They're playing a lovely program:
DVORÁK
String Quartet in F Major, Opus 96, "American"
JANÁCEK
String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata"
BRAHMS
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Opus 111

*******

Beautiful is as beautiful does—-top international fashion designer Stefano Gabbana is seen on the gold-plated bed in the gold-plated ceramic tile guest room in the house he and business partner (and former lover) Domenico Dolce renovated at Portofino.

However, Stefano’s fathering a child with a gal pal (presumably by artificial insemination, but one never knows) and disappointed (read: enraged) a lot of gays and lesbians by stating that children should have a male and a female parent, not two parents of the same sex.

*******

The following is courtesy of Gaytwogether. I can’t call the result of the debate in advance, but I have a feeling General Pace’s infamous homophobic outburst may actually assist in passing the anti-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that Massachusetts Representative Marty Meehan introduced to the Congress. Having high-ranking gay officers come out in protest and discuss the indisputable service records of so many gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, flyers and marines should be extremely influential.

Colonels & Captains Call for Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --

A group of seven high-ranking military veterans today responded to recent remarks by GeneralPeter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who earlier this week called lesbian, gay and bisexual service members "immoral" and re-iterated his support for the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gayand bisexual service members. The officers, who are all lesbian or gay, called on Congress to repeal the law, and demanded that General Pace apologize for his remarks.

COL Stewart Bornhoft, USA (Ret.); CAPT Joan E. Darrah, USN (Ret.); CAPT Robert D. Dockendorff, USNR (Ret.); Chaplain COL Paul W. Dodd, USA(Ret.); CAPT Sandra Geiselman, USNR (Ret.); COL E. A. Leonard, USAF (Ret.); and CAPT Robert Michael Rankin, USN (Ret.) issued their statement on Friday morning: "Our community has a long history of serving our country in the armed forces," the group said. "Today, there are more than 65,000 lesbian and gay troops on duty. Another one million gay and lesbian veterans, including the seven of us, have served in our fighting forces. General Pace's remarks dishonor that service, as does the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law. GeneralPace must offer an immediate and unqualified apology for his remarks and Congress must take action to repeal the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans who want to serve our country."

The highly-decorated officers each served more than 20 years, and several considerably longer. They have earned scores of awards, honors and commendations during their long careers. Four served in the Vietnam War. They have served as company commanders, helicopter pilots, medical officers, commanding officers, psychologists, chaplains, combat engineers, platoon leaders, infantry officers, supply corps officers and intelligence officers.

"Does General Pace believe we are immoral, or that our service was unacceptable?" the group asked. "Does he appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of every patriot in our armed forces, regardless of their sexual orientation? As military leaders, we never discounted the enormous contribution that every service member brought to our armed forces. GeneralPace should do no less, and owes an apology to our men and women on the frontlines and their families."

"Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is enormously proud of thes estellar officers," said C. Dixon Osburn, the group's executive director. "These seven, who stand on behalf of one million gay veterans now living in the United States, are irrefutable proof that lesbian and gay patriots have made valuable contributions to our fighting forces. They have commanded companies, advised government leaders, fought on the ground and directed troops from the air. It was their outstanding performance and dedication to our country, not their sexual orientation, that made all the difference."

*******

I'm ending today with a lovely shot of the great Harbour Bridge framing the iconic Sydney Opera House at night that recently appeared on Synthetic Ego, written by the blogger who signs himself NarcissusAU http://syntheticego.blogspot.com/

A dedicated body builder and enthusiastically randy gay 20-something, Narcissus either takes great pictures or has great taste in what he finds and puts on his blog--as do I, of course! :-) Have a lovely weekend, everyone.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

 
The following is being circulated around technical theater sites. Those with some professional theater experience--Mr. Vant, Mr. Schmactor and Citywolf, if he reads DesignerBlog--will understand immediately. I've highlighted the backstage terms in this version (having made one or three additions) and will be happy to provide a follow-up explanation for the uninitiated, or just plain curious:

In is down, down is front
Out is up, up is back
Off is out, on is in
And of course:
Left is right and right is left [this line is dedicated to my beloved]
A drop shouldn’t and
A block and fall does neither
A prop doesn’t and
A cove has no water
A teaser rarely does
but a tormentor just might
and a traveller never goes far
Tripping is just fine
A running crew doesn’t get anywhere fast
A purchase line buys you nothing
A trap won’t catch anything
A gridiron has nothing to do with football
Strike is work (a lot of work, in fact)
And a green room usually isn’t
Now that you’re fully versed in Theatrical Terms, Break a leg (but not really!)

*******


I wrote to the Doc Martens Customer Service people the other day because I thought you could send your Docs with worn out soles to them if the tops were still good, and could have them resoled. They wrote back very nicely that such is not the case--in fact, they claim that the way Docs are constructed, they can never be resoled.
Then I remembered that I had indeed sent in a pair, but it was to be replaced under their guarantee because a sole had failed and split. So I began to surf through the site looking for some new Docs and stumbled across the Originals section. Great designs, and they lead one to wonder if the Doc Martens factory just might have been the model for the one in the film "Kinky Boots."





From Advocate.com
Trailblazing gay actor John Inman dies

Actor John Inman, popular for his memorably camp role as Mr. Humphries in the '70s sitcom Are You Being Served?, died Thursday in London. He was 71. Inman died in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington after suffering a hepatitis A infection.

His character's catchphrase, "I'm free," and suggestive sexual humor made Inman a star, and he starred in more than 40 pantos, traditional Yuletide family entertainments that include double entendres and male and female drag as well as lots of jokes for the kiddies.

Named BBC Personality of the Year and "Funniest Man on Television" by TV Times in 1976, Inman remained popular long after the show ended in 1985. He went on to star in an Australian version of the show in the early 1980s and also appeared on BBC's 2004 series Revolver. Are You Being Served?, about a stuffy department store staffed by lovable eccentrics, reached the United States in the late 1980s, where it became a cult hit.

When publicly questioned about his sexuality, Inman remained coy for many years, but admitted that he could be bisexual. However, in late 2005, Inman made his sexual orientation public when he entered into a civil partnership with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch. Lynch is said to be "devastated" by Inman's death.

Although Mr. Humphries was widely criticized as a gay stereotype, actress Rula Lenska, who worked with Inman, defended the gay undertones of the character. "It was suggestive, but never in-your-face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today," she told the BBC. Inman "was a joy to work with, and even after an exhausting day in pantomime he would have time for the fans who crowded round the stage door," Lenska said.

Wendy Richard, who played shop assistant Miss Brahms in the series, told BBC Radio 4's Today program: "John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I've ever worked with. He was a brilliant, brilliant pantomime dame, and he was a very good all-round actor, really. He was a true professional."

Inman's manager, Phil Dale, said, "John was known and loved throughout the world. He was one of the best and finest pantomime dames working to capacity audiences throughout Britain. John was known for his comedy plays and farces, which were enjoyed from London's West End throughout the country and as far as Australia, Canada, and the USA."

George Broadhead, secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, told Gay.com that at the time of the show, "Inman became a bit of a bête noire for the gay community for promoting stereotypes of gay men as effeminate." However, he said, "The gay community has grown up since then and has come to appreciate its trailblazers. Inman fits into the same mold as Larry Grayson and Frankie Howard. We can actually see reruns of Are You Being Served? and appreciate their zaniness now rather than cringing at stereotypes."

(Hassan Mirza, Gay.com/U.K.)


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

 
Here's something those of you who are more technically literate in the ways of computers than I can perhaps explain to me. In the wake of the mini-hysteria over Daylight Saving Time coming early, computers not knowing the fact and trying to operate at the "wrong" time, etc., I simply reset the time on my PC manually. It was very easy to do and I thought, great, now I'm in sync.

Everything worked fine. The next time I logged onto my MIT email account, I got an enigmatic error message, and mail would neither download nor send. I thought nothing of it--the MIT Athena system has its glitches every now and again and, besides, I'd updated my computer's clock so I was in sync, right?

Apparently not. On Monday morning when I got up and logged on, the error message I received was much less ambiguous: "Time is out of phase". I checked and the time displayed on the computer was the proper Daylight Saving Time--could it be that my updating the time had caused this problem? I quickly "fell back" one hour, then clicked the check mail button on my MIT account's control bar and, Voila!--mail came pouring in. So now I'm purposely running my computer at the "wrong" time and everything’s fine again. Thoughts, anyone?

*******
The report on the Open House last Sunday is kind of positive. My realtor said that he had seven parties come through the house, everything from single people who had caught the ad in the Globe to couples brought by other agents in the ReMax network. As I thought, one or two of my neighbors to whom I've never been acquainted showed up to check out who I am and how I've lived. He said they praised the neighborhood and me as a homeowner.

Predictably, reaction to the house was mixed. Comments ranged from appreciation for its condition and period charm to displeasure for the narrowness of the upstairs hall and period layout. This is understandable. The house was built circa 1860 and is a typical New England farm house. It doesn't waste too much space on halls but gets right into rooms with great light and a comfortable layout; each and every room is 11'-6" by 13'-6". The three main rooms downstairs are extended by walk-in bay windows that are 4' deep by 10" wide.

The house went onto multiple listings yesterday and we'll see what kind of traffic that brings. All indications are that the market locally is picking up ahead of the slower national recovery. Roslindale has the reputation of being just about the last area within Boston’s city limits where you can still find something affordable. As for me, I'll keep on weeding out the basement and attic storage room, and continue packing and taking stuff up to Fritz's. By the time I need to contact movers, I may have made as much as half the move myself in my Jeep.

I can tell that on at least one level I'm experiencing stress about the whole transition that's going on in my life. On the surface I'm making it back and forth to New Hampshire for meetings and checking out houses built by the prospective General Contractors just fine. I'm working through my last months at MIT refusing to be taken as a lame duck or slacking away from doing my job although some are saying I'm nuts to keep up my usual pace. I look at it as preserving normalcy in a time of concern about strangers going through my house and preparing to make a huge change in how I live. But I'm sleeping badly. Last night I went to bed at quarter to midnight and was wide awake before 5am. I know that this too will pass, but I'm hoping the house sale phase will pass rather quickly. One aspect of my life is definitely passing quickly—-as of Friday, there will only be two and one half months remaining to my MIT career.


*******
A gay rights story that's blowing up very quickly is the defense of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Pace declares homosexuality to be an immoral act that he equates with adultery among military families, and which he says must not be condoned by the Pentagon. Pace credits his upbringing for his opinion of gays, which gay/lesbian groups are saying is not an appropriate basis for the formation of governmental policy.

As General Pace appears to be "family values" man, he's going to have problems voting for a Republican in 2008 should any of the current front runners become the candidate. Among the three, Giuliani, McCain and Gingrich, there are seven wives and a known history, at least in Gingrich's case, of adultery.

*******


*******
Here's a link http://silveraj.livejournal.com/71833.html to a blog out of London by a Brit who's living out on several different edges simultaneously. The photos and graphics are never less than interesting and sometimes stunning. AJ (for Aaron Jacobs) reveals self in layers, but clicking the "Who I am and What I Do" button in the left-hand sidebar will lead to a most interesting profile. Be warned: the image that comes up when you get to the site is technically not safe for work but as it's all in the cause of political satire, it might go down well (pun intended) in liberal office environments.


*******
Not too long ago I passed on an opinion piece that had appeared in the METRO. At first I thought METRO was a dumbed-down version of a newspaper because of its extremely short news items that get the basic facts across without going into much if any supportive detail. But I've come to realize that there's some real depth to the paper and, using the T while my Jeep was being repaired, I found this level-headed piece:

My View: Can you say "scrotum"?
by felice cohen
MAR 7

Hey kids, can you say vagina? How about scrotum? OK, maybe "Sesame Street" won't be helping kids pronounce these words anytime soon, but on that same note, does banning these words from kids' vocabularies really protect them? Some folks think so.

But is it protecting or censoring? We're not talking about the f-word that instills shock, nor the n-word that fuels hatred; scrotum and vagina are simply the actual names of body parts.

An Atlantic Beach, Fla., theater had "The Vagina Monologues" displayed on its marquee until a woman complained. Why? Because her niece asked her, "What's a vagina?" Instead of simply answering her niece, a girl old enough to read (thus old enough to know what a vagina is), the woman complained to the theater. And like good little PC-doers, the theater changed it to "The Hoohaa Monologues." Said a theater spokesperson, "We decided we would just use child slang for it." Child slang? If children already have a slang name for vagina, why not just use the real word? My 2 1/2-year-old niece knows what a vagina is. As she should. She has one.

When asked what the woman told her niece, the woman replied, "I’m offended I had to answer the question." Offended? I’m offended. "The Vagina Monologues" author, Eve Ensler, is offended. What's there to be offended about? Having a vagina? The whole point of the play is empowerment of the female body. Thankfully the cast made them change it back, but the message had already been sent.

On the same note, the new children's book "The Higher Power of Lucky," which just won the Newbury Medal, children's literature's most prestigious award, is currently being banned from school libraries and bookstores across the country because the book contains the word "scrotum." That little sack that contains the key to continuing world population has parents hopping mad. Will knowing the word scrotum cause kids to have sex prematurely? Or will not knowing?

In an opening scene in the new Broadway show "Spring Awakening," a teenage girl asks her mother where babies come from. The mother doesn't say. Later on the girl becomes pregnant and the mother says she should have known better. But how? The mother never explained it. Had the girl known the scrotum carries sperm to the penis that when inserted into a vagina causes impregnation — well, you know the rest. And if you don't, ask your parents.

Ms Cohen is a New York-based free-lance writer


Sunday, March 11, 2007

 
My house went on the market Friday with a preliminary ad in the Boston Globe. A second ad was scheduled for Sunday morning's Globe announcing the open house from 1 to 3pm. So on Saturday, I was working throughout the house to clean, dust, wet mop and generally make the place look uncluttered, tidy and inviting The Jeep was packed with cartons and a couple of chairs to store at Fritz's. My cat was in her carrier, having quieted down from her usual immediate protests to the kind of gentle resignation with which she waits out all car trips. And then there was a knock on the door.

It was M and B, my neighbors from across the street. About fifteen years ago, they'd bought the once handsome Queen Anne Victorian across the street from me, a house so large that one wing had been cut away and stands just down the street as an entire, roomy house on its own. They began renovations immediately and have turned it into a showplace. B, a Boston Cop in the old Irish-American tradition, and I have become good friends; we put on a devastatingly successful presentation before the city's zoning board many years ago to shut down an absentee landlord who had illegally divided a neighboring house into several more apartments than allowed by the law.

They'd come because of the "For Sale" sign that went up Friday night. They'd received the note enclosed in my Christmas card alerting everyone to my coming retirement and departure but said they'd repressed it--but now it was real and they wanted me to know how much they'd miss me. I wanted to be on the road, but there was no way I could or would rush them out. I've been blessed in my neighbors; their concern had to be honored. In discussing the sale, I mentioned my realtor's tale of thefts during open houses. B immediately confirmed this and with all the authority of an officer of the law, he told me it happens all the time, and that I must hide or remove all prescription medications, valuables and cash. Then they took their leave.

I'm a lively, enthusiastic type, but I don't think I'm an hysteric. However, I freaked a little. OK, I freaked a lot; having sequestered all jewelry and medicines but looking around and suddenly seeing things I hadn't considered vulnerable before: my father's WWII medals (very collectible), my French Grandmother's medals, including the Palms of the Academie Francaise and the Legion of Honor (also very collectible), and many small artifacts that could disappear into a tote bag or a deep pocket in a parka. I began packing sturdy shopping bags and got them into the Jeep somehow. Last thing I thought of was my two check books sitting on my desk up in my studio. Then I locked up and headed to New Hampshire. It was the best place to be--with Fritz and one of his veteran teachers, a brilliant woman and honored school principal who was giving a music course for the whole weekend.

Now to preface this next story, you have to know that while my cat is very affectionate she has never come over and licked anyone the way most cats do in greeting. This includes me, even though she'll lie down in my lap, turn over and invite having her tummy tickled. So there's M sitting across me at the dinner table and she suddenly looks down and says:

M: Oh, that's sweet, she's licking my fingers.
W: She's WHAT?!
M: Licking my fingers.
W: Are you sure? She rubs up against hands but she never licks.
M: She's licking ME.
W: The little whore!

It was all true. The spectacle was repeated this morning at breakfast. For eleven years I've loved, fed, groomed, and been slept on by my faithful companion but she's never licked me, not even when I've rubbed my fingers on cheese or dipped them into canned tuna juice. But she meets M for the first time and within five minutes she's licking her!

Of course we made it a great joke among us. Then the day started. M went up to the Center to teach and Fritz and I went maple sugaring. We set up the boiler outside the Center near the wood stack, got the evaporator filled and a fire started. Fritz had tapped the big older trees during the week but we tapped the younger maples and found them gushing with sap this morning. By the end of the day, about 26 gallons had collected in the pails. In the process we'd heard the first crows of spring calling in the woods, and seen crocuses beginning to open in the warm sunlight. A huge melt was in progress, sheets of water moving down the hillside.

I left about 4:30 and arrived home to find everything neat as a pin and all my possessions present and accounted for. I called Fritz who was in a high state of tension, fearing that the house had been ransacked. Either nobody showed up, or the ad in the Globe had attracted an honest group of prospective home buyers--I'll find out tomorrow when I speak with the realtor. It's the end of the day now and I'm typing this with my cat on my lap purring and rubbing her cheek against my hand.

But she's NOT licking me.

Friday, March 09, 2007

 
Hallelulia! The log jam has broken: we now have not one but two viable candidates for General Contractor--both are extremely qualified for the job and have expressed what seems to be genuine enthusiasm and desire to take on the project.

Minutes after posting Wednesday's blog, I headed up to Fritz's for 10am and noon appointments. The morning one began slowly. The candidate was biding his time as he reviewed the plans, saying little and revealing less. I felt a little uneasy listening to the conversation bump to a halt with some regularity. So I suggested going up the hillside to visit the building site. He loved it--so far, everyone has.

When we got back to the Center, he opened up, letting us know his history in construction in detail and responding to issues he found in the plans very well. He had photos of a wide variety of homes he'd built over the years most with the kind of warm wood-detailed interiors we're looking for. He was especially persuasive when talking about his favored framing crew, guys who set up bins for scrap lumber and go to them FIRST when they need short lengths rather than just running for a fresh 2x4 to cut up. We felt very good about him and decided that he and the man we’d seen two Fridays ago were both well in the running, which was reassuring since the noon appointment started poorly and deteriorated as it went on.

Two guys came from a committed "green" construction company in the southwestern part of New Hampshire. One of them dominated the conversation from the beginning, probing the plans and unhesitatingly announcing which of the materials and techniques they would or would not consider employing given their company's philosophy. Our visit to the site went well--the quieter of the two began to speak more and continued to do so back down at the Center. After they'd left, however, I told M, the designer/former builder who's doing the construction drawings, that I thought we and they were not a good match. I felt they were far too doctrinaire At one point in the conversation, the more talkative one had defined the builder/client relationship as being controlled by the builder. Sorry, guys, but the guy who's paying for the job has to be part of a collaborative process.

Strangely, they’d brought not a single bit of work to show us and although I asked for a couple of business cards and maybe some a brochure or printed information sheet on their company and its work, I was never given anything. But with two good candidates, we can send the job out to bid as soon as the construction drawings come back from the structural engineer. Both these guys estimate five months of construction time. Even if it goes to six months, we’ll still meet our goal of moving in before the weather gets wintery in mid-to-late November.

*******

I discovered rosemary bagels yesterday--rosemary is a very favorite herb of mine--and discovered that they taste even better dipped in French Roast coffee with half & half and a bit of sugar in it.

*******

I also discovered that my Jeep's radiator, water pump and hoses are rotted out and leaking. The job will come in at $675 to $725--not an expense I enjoy as I'm getting ready to build a house.

*******

Dinner tonight was eaten with Anthony (GayProf) and Atari (Ready,Reset,Go) at Laurel in the South End. Laurel's popular but we weren’t rushed in any way, and we wound up sitting at the bar, being regaled by the restaurant's super-extrovert Welsh bartender and extending a delightful evening's conversation an hour or so longer.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

 
I spent the day yesterday coming down from a big stress appointment. My realtor came over late Monday afternoon to look the house over one last time with me before deciding if it's ready to put it on the market this coming weekend.

I'd been working feverishly to finish the "staging" according to the guidelines I'd been given. I wouldn't have been any near where I was in the process if Fritz hadn't come down the week before and been an enormous help, but I knew there were things still to be done. When you've lived in a house for a couple of decades, run an active free-lance design and graphics business in it, and when you've raised two children from toddlerhood to adulthood, you've got STUFF everywhere.

However, the electrical work was finished. All the "public" rooms in the house were where the realtor wanted them in terms of thinning out and rearrangement to highlight great features like my self-designed ceiling treatments and the roomy bay windows on the first floor. On the other hand, the attic storage room was a mess and the basement still cluttered. I also hadn't gotten to a couple of painting touch-ups, etc. However, I HAD managed to take down the 2007 Testosterone calendar, and get the porn collection stored where it wouldn't put sensitive souls into cardiac arrest but will still allow me to access it when I want.

He arrived on time and I took him through the place. He was highly complimentary and told me that it's OK for storage rooms to look like storage rooms, and that basements are so messy in our current culture that nobody would care much about mine. He proposed getting the For Sale sign put up on Friday, placing ads in the Boston Globe on Saturday and Sunday for an Open House that he would run personally from 1 to 3pm on Sunday. I was just happy that I'd managed to meet my deadline.

Slowly, it began to sink in that this home I renovated mostly by hand and where I raised my daughters is going to pass out of my life, probably in around six months. But I didn't have time for too much sentimentality, however; he immediately segued into things I'll have to do while the house is being shown. I'll have to leave every time prospective buyers are going through the house, no matter what time of day. I'll have to houseclean on a daily basis and everything will have to be neat and tidy at all times. OK, in truth that much I more or less expected.

Then out of the blue he asked if I take any prescription medications. I said yes. He said that I'll need to secure them along with any valuable jewelry I have, especially this Sunday when people will be going through the place in numbers greater than he can escort personally. He told me that prescriptions are commonly stolen out of houses by prospective buyers. He floundered around for a moment trying to remember the name of the most stolen drug. "Vicodin?" I asked. "No." "Oxycontin?" "No, no--it's the one you take for cholesterol." "Lipitor? LIPITOR?!" Indeed, yes. Lipitor, he told me, is the drug most often snatched out of medicine cabinets and off bathroom counters.

I was stunned and suddenly wondered, "do I WANT these people in my house?" Well, yes I do if I want to sell the place. But this process has been an eye-opener for me and, in effect, I'm only just at the beginning of it. There'll be many more surprises in store for me in the coming months, I'm sure. In the meanwhile, my few prescription drugs (including my own Lipitor) will be going into hiding. And I suspect it might be a good idea to sequester the contents of my night table drawer as well!

Monday, March 05, 2007

 
My friend and fellow-blogger Karl at Adventures in Gastronomy dropped a little phrase on his blog today to the effect that he knew one person who had ever appeared on a TV game show. I smiled and posted a not so cryptic comment to the effect that he'd had a couple of lunches and some dinners in the company of other bloggers with another one. Sly fox that Karl is, he figured it out, and immediately emailed back wanting the details. So, here's what I replied:

I was but a child--probably no more than seven--when my parents got tickets to "Beat the Clock" in New York City. In the audience we filled out the standard profile questionnaire about being willing to appear on the show--two couples and one family generally appeared on each one.

The show was set up with one verbal and two physical stunts that you had to
complete successfully to get prizes. The family that was supposed to have gone on had a son about my age who had shown up wearing full cub scout drag complete with merit badges, so of course they picked them because he was the All-American Boy (the little bitch!). We were to be the stand-by family.

Lo and behold, when the kid saw what others had to do on live television under the bright lights, he froze--and I mean shaking in his mother's arms. We were rushed on in place of them (we were later told there was pandemonium in our apartment building when we appeared on screen--there just weren't that many television channels
back then).

We sailed through all three stunts and won a flash camera, my first bicycle and a large Sylvania TV with "halo light", a frame of florescent light around the screen that was supposed to counteract the damage watching TV was thought by every mother in America to do to people's eyes. It turned out to be a major annoyance, but it gave us a TV screen bigger than anyone else in our building had at the time.

As we walked off the set the cub scout was crying and his parents looked daggers at us, but it was too late. We had been on television! So we returned home as heroes.

Game shows on early TV were very different from today, mainly because TV was live. There was no videotape, and no retakes; if there were accidents or disasters (and there were lots of those during the commercials when things went wrong or the advertiser's product failed to operate as promised) you saw them in real time and the poor actor or "TV Personality" who was on camera at the time had to do his or her best to cover for the problems.


Here's an edited excerpt of what Wikipedia has to say about "Beat the Clock" and its place in the history of TV game shows:

"Beat the Clock" was a Goodson-Todman Productions game show which originally ran on CBS from 1950 to 1958 and ABC from 1958 to 1961, with later revivals. The show was hosted by Bud Collyer, assisted by the model Roxanne [seen here on an August 13, 1955 TV Guide cover], and was one of the first, and primary forerunners of future stunt shows such as the modern Fear Factor and Dog Eat Dog.

Host Bud Collyer, one of the first stars of TV game shows, was the main speaking personality on the show. Trademarks of his performance on "Beat the Clock" included his cheery attitude and his personable rapport with contestants and their children. As opposed to being an impartial observer, he was often supportive of the contestants in assisting and egging them on; though he was always the first to enjoy a bit of harmless embarrassment on their parts.

Contestants were chosen from the studio audience and were usually married couples. Bud would ask them general questions usually including where they were from and how long they'd been married. Sometimes the couple would bring their children with them; Collyer would usually take some time out to talk to the children and ask questions like what they wanted to be when they grew up. The husbands on the show usually wore a business suit. Collyer would often ask the husband to take off his coat for stunts to make it less cumbersome (there were a few hooks on the contestants' podium for this purpose, or Collyer would just hold the coat himself). Occasionally, if there was going to be a messy stunt, the husband would come out dressed in a plastic jumpsuit to keep his own clothes clean [my father did such a stunt in which he had to hold a very small Christmas tree in front of his face while my mother, given a highly pressurized canister of whipped cream, had to shoot the ornaments out of it from a distance of ten feet].

Main game
One couple competed against the clock to win a prize in stunts that could require one or both members of the couple. The first stunt was the called the "$100 clock,". The time limit was always a multiple of 5 seconds, usually at least 30 seconds. If the couple beat the $100 clock, they moved on to the "$200 clock" and the same rules applied. If they failed to beat either clock, they received a consolation prize.

Jackpot clock
If the couple beat the $200 clock, the wife would play the "jackpot clock" in which the words of a famous saying or quote were scrambled on a magnetic board; the phrase had to be unscrambled in 20 seconds or less [my mother aced this one in about nine seconds]. The jackpot clock and the bonus stunt (see below) would provide the templates for the traditional quiz-show bonus round, which would become a TV staple, starting with the Lightning Round for the Goodson-Todman word game Password, in 1961.

Bonus stunt
Some time during every episode (between normal stunts), a bell would sound. The couple playing at the time would attempt the bonus stunt for the bonus prize that started at $100 in cash. If the stunt was not beaten, it would be attempted the next week with $100 added to the prize. When it was beaten, it was retired from the show and a new bonus stunt began the next week at $100 [ask not for whom the bonus bell tolled that night; it tolled not fo us.]

The Stunts
The stunts performed on the show were mostly created by staff stunt writers Frank Wayne and Bob Howard, but in the early days of the show, playwright Neil Simon [!] was also a stunt writer. Stunts were usually aimed towards fun with difficulty being secondary, and would usually be constructed out of common household props such as balloons, record players, dishes/cups, and balls of almost every type. Most stunts in some way involved physical speed or dexterity. Contestants often had to balance something with some part of their body, or race back and forth on the stage (for example, releasing a balloon, running across the stage to do some task, and running back in time to catch the balloon before it floated too high) [the one I was involved in had me on my father’s shoulders, trying to remove a Christmas wreath from a pole sticking out of the wall of the set without using my hands and without dropping it at any time. The fact that I wore glasses was a great help as I was able to catch the wreath on the top of the frame and hold it securely as I maneuvered the wreath off the pole].

Prizes – Sylvania era
The jackpot prize during Sylvania's tenure was always a Sylvania television set. Sometimes a hi-fi stereo/phonograph--with "famous surround sound"--was included with the television, and it was noted that the jackpot prize was "worth more than $500!". A notable (and often pointed out) feature of Sylvania's TVs at the time was the "halo light", which was an illuminated frame around the image which was supposed to have made watching the image easier on the eyes. The sets, as was the style at the time, were freestanding pieces of furniture that sat on legs on the floor with a speaker mounted next to or below the screen. (quoted from Wikipedia)


So that was my fifteen minutes of fame, in this case almost literally.

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