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Still Dancing

She was a classically trained cellist, shopped at Bergdorf Goodman, and kept a studio apartment in lower Manhattan she’d dubbed Club Grey, because it was where she went to dance.

For a year she’d gone to the same club on Friday nights. dancing to the same DJ, but stopped when it became too embarrassing. The music was vintage 2006, her grand kids danced to it. She found it the best kind of exercise, the kind you don’t notice you’re doing. It carried her away every bit as much as Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes a kid would put his arm around her on the dance floor to have his friends take a picture with her; she didn’t care. Until the night a boy who’d watched her came up to the bar where she was downing a glass of water and smiled at her with glaringly white teeth that meant he’d only been drinking coffee for a year or two. “What are you doing here”? he asked in a pure sweet way that she knew was simple curiosity, like looking at an albino alligator in the zoo, not meant to offend. His beautiful girlfriend slid in between them.

After that she found a room downtown. She invested in a set of Bang & Olufsen headphones when her neighbor asked her to please turn down the volume.

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David Letterman and Mom

Mom and I stood across the street from Trump Tower 2 years after it was built wondering who was at the center of the crowd of people out front that included an NBC film crew.

Seeing the interior of Trump Tower was on our visitors list anyway.

Later I learned that by breaking the tower up into retail, public, and living space, and claiming the airspace above its neighbor Tiffany’s! Trump had circumvented building regulations that would have prohibited him from going so high on such a crumb of land. Was he the first one to think of a mixed-use high rise? If he was, this was his stroke of genius..and trickery. Couple that with his schoolgirl vanity and you have a Cyclops missing an eye for introspection. A common brown sparrow, majestically fluffing its feathers oblivious to the fact that it’s not a brilliant blue bird. A hat of hair in all its dandy glory.

Mom wasn’t technically a visitor since she and her husband came to NYC regularly for business. He sold fur coats in New Orleans, a city where summer can break out in January. I think this explained why he was so grumpy all the time.

We crossed Fifth Ave. and there Dave Letterman stood at the center of the crowd taping a bit for his show that night. “Oh God, it’s David Letterman”! “Who’s that”? mom asked. He’s this! He’s that! I filled her in. She marched directly up to him and said “I don’t know who you are but my daughter thinks you’re wonderful”.

Next, mom and I went to have tea at a hotel trying to be British, two guards standing at attention out front like it was Buckingham Palace complete with gold embroidered scarlet doublets and chin crunching fuzzy bearskin hats. And there was Dave and his crew again. Mom waved, assured he remembered her from their get together at Trump Tower. I turned and waited for it to be over.Time for invisibility cloak.

That night I fetched her right on time at 7:30. She was still in her bathrobe putting on makeup. Apparently she had encountered Dave a third time that day after we parted! “Here” she said, “I have something for you” and handed me a scrap of paper that read:

Dear Carol,
Sorry I missed you.
Good luck with mom.
David Letterman

CRAZY DOG

Hey Kid, How’s Your Aunt Wanda?

aunt-wanda-gouache-copy

Lots of people in high school thought I was strange because I dressed and cut my hair like a boy, and I was tall like a boy. But I was nothing compared to my Aunt Wanda.

Wanda usually dressed in black and talked real tough. She used to say things like, “Kid, when I get cold, I don’t get goosebumps, I get tigerbumps.” Our standing joke was my reply, “Aunt Wanda, don’t call me kid, call me Tiger Boy.” I don’t think there was anything funny about that  but it always made her laugh which would make me laugh because Wanda’s laugh sounded more like terminal hiccups.

One day we were walking down Canal Street. People were staring at us probably because of Aunt Wanda’s hair, (dyed blueblack and a foot high), and she got particularly ticked off when one Catholic lady crossed herself after having eye contact. Wanda went up in her face and said “whaddayathink lady, I got tha evil eye or sumpn”? That old lady ran, probably into the nearest church. A big black fellow saw the whole thing and said something cute, but crude, to Aunt Wanda. She never did know when to drop the tough act and said “Get outta here”. He said, “Lady, you some weird peesashit, chill out”.

This was bad. “Don’t you tell me to chill buddy, cuz when I chill I don’t get goosebumps, I get tigerbumps.” The guy looked at her dumbly, having no clue how to respond. A moment passed, I think he was drunk. I’m pretty sure one blow from him would have been the end of the story so I just spoke up. “Hey mister, and they call me tigerboy.” Well, Aunt Wanda’s mouth started trembling and then she let loose, just cracked up, and her laughter let all the air out of the balloon. This giant thought she was having a fit when he heard her hiccuping and he knew in New Orleans if a black man gets into a fight with a white woman, and that woman dies or even if she just has a fit, then that black man eats his next meal Chez Angola State Prison.

So he was the second person in a row that ran off from our weirdness. A crowd had gathered around by this time and when Wanda stopped laughing, or hiccuping, she looked at me and said, “We’re quite the team Tiger Boy, quite the team.”

Mrs. Mayer’s Cookies

MRS MAYER’S COOKIES

Mrs Mayer took care of herself and her family by baking her Viennese family cookie recipes and selling them first for Bar Mitzvahs, then for parties, then for weddings, and finally to Pepperidge Farm.

But back in the early days my mother, a fabulous cook and baker herself, was one of her best customers. For 25 years mom begged for the recipe. One afternoon, just before the Pepperidge Farm news broke, Mrs Mayer invited my mother over for coffee.

Mrs Mayer’s Pecan Cookies
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat 4 small egg whites with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Add vanilla extract, then turn beater speed down to medium and keep beating, adding one and a fourth cups of sugar till firm. Set aside some of the beaten whites in case you need to loosen the mixture later.

Add one pound of pecans, (preferably ground by a hand grinder instead of a food processor!) Add to egg whites until you have the right consistency. This is the tricky part; this is a grandmother’s recipe, not specific. What you want is for the mixture to hold together but not be so loose it doesn’t firm up. You’ll just have to experiment. Roll into balls about an inch or so and drop into a bowl of sugar to coat. Place on baking sheet and press a little pecan piece into the center.

Bake about 10 minutes. They should look cracked on top.

p.s. This story is true, but only at its core. I called Mrs Mayer’s son, advertising maestro, Peter Mayer, to get his ok and he said “You have my mothers pecan cookie recipe??!! I’ve only got her schnecken recipe!”

NITROGLYCERIN

sometimes things explodeWe lived on Vendome Place, a street with nice homes but on the far edge of a good neighborhood.

My father and his brother had started a company together and built very similar brick homes right next to each other. Then they built 2 cottages right next to each other in the middle of 300 acres across Lake Pontchartrain, the lake that would roll over and flood New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. Folsom, Louisiana where land was valued at $3 per acre in the middle of nowhere, misery for my city loving mom,  heaven for my cousins and, I, youngest member of the Black Widow Club that met in the hayloft to discuss all the scary things like snakes and spiders and make vaguely ominous plans of attack.

I took the bus home from school that day and two blocks from my house I could already see the fire engines and police cars. Oh god, not another bad thing.

My eyes stretched open as I saw that whatever was happening, was happening at my house. “What’s happening” I asked. “They’re burying something”. I could only think it was my pug Nicky who could be buried and was deserving of this much attention. “Who are they burying” I quietly asked? “Nitroglycerin” he answered. “Who is that?” I asked relieved that my Nicky was safe.

That same morning as I’d slipped into my brother’s souped up 1956 red/white/and chromed Chevy to drive to Isidore Newman School he’d said, “Hold this”. It was a little vial with liquid in it and he hadn’t bothered to say to be careful. Marshall lived, and died, on the edge. One day he’d cut off the gorgeous red ponytail of the girl who sat in front of him in school.

His bedroom was speckled with pretty patterns from past explosions and he had a very mutually beneficial relationship with the neighborhood cops. I got quoted on the front page of next days Times Picayune for saying “Daddy’s really gonna blow up when he gets home” and I remember clearly that I wasn’t trying to be funny. Darned exciting though.

Times Picayune September 18, 1956     →    http://bit.ly/qStx6e  (unfortunately there’s a pay wall between this wonderful time capsule – Dulles Seeks Peaceful Pact, Adlai Answers Questions on Hiss Verdict, Nitro Disposal Problem Found- and my post).

Little Women

They called themselves the Monkey Women and I couldn’t have agreed more. True, their tiny bodies were exquisitely proportioned, but no competition for my English beauty looks, lanky, snowy translucent skin, clear light eyes, sunny hair.

My self confidence got a little shaky though when my husband for the third night in a row wanted to see them perform the Balinese Water Dance. This same husband who would not dance or go to the ballet, and who I had dragged to see the Monkey Women 3 nights earlier, same husband who hated doing the same thing twice, often hated to do anything once unless it involved a couch, a tv, and a Cognac.

My anxiety over the rapidly changing situation made me scream sharply and we got into a loud and disorganized fight. The Canadians and Americans on either side of us in the hotel must have been mightily entertained as I went on about Swan Lake and The Thin Man movies. We never got to the core of the matter in this fight; that John was dying to sleep with a dark and miniaturized woman and that I looked like a giant paste pie by comparison. I couldn’t compete any more than if John’s appetite had turned to men.
I left him the next day; he’d gone to the Water Dance that night and hadn’t returned until early the next morning.

We made frosty plans to meet up in Hong Kong in two weeks and I’d actually waited there an extra 3 days hoping he’d show up. Women can be as dumb as men.

Six months later I got a divorce back in England, but it will be years before I recover myself. I had always put such faith in my height. Now more than ever I talked over the heads of short women at cocktail parties and business meetings, but I never took them for granted again.

Lacy Bug

Larry from very northern California, pudgy hands but strong from working so long in metal, tarnished too, nearly copper. His lacy VW Bug proclaimed his skill.

When I saw the bug parked on Main street in Poblanes in front of The Welcome Inn I grabbed my camera and parked. Larry came roaring out as I began to shoot. I think he probably waited for people like me so he could relieve his pressure. There was no peace to be made so I asked where I might find a good tuna sandwich.  That let the air out of his anger and he brightly said, “Come on in, you can’t beat the Welcome”.

Larry was drunk as he always was this time of day, so I ate, he talked, mostly about iron working but also about Mexico where he’d learned his trade and love for Tequila. I asked if I could get one good shot of the car and he was drunk enough to say yes. Then he got quiet, kind of slumped in the booth, closed his eyes. I didn’t know if he’d died or gone to sleep but was happy to learn he’d just passed out when a couple of months later I thumbed through an Art In America to see a story titled “The New Wave; Wavey Art; Straight Lines Need Not Apply” along with a photo of Larry’s bug in all its curlicued glory, no Larry of course. I laughed out loud thinking of East Coast art establishment types trying to deal with my buffalo pal.

 

 

Photo by Dennis Bayer, stem cell transplant miracle on wheels, Endurance Cyclist for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team In Training and proud driver of 1953 Citroen Traction Avant.

http://pages.teamintraining.org/rw/gsfba11/dbayer

Live & Learn

And now for something completely different

LIVE & LEARN
You may not believe this but my wife and I invented a new sport in Thailand. We were in the Live & Learn Department of the Peace Corps in 1971. This department sent out eager young peacecorians to collect data on successful agricultural methods in the Third World in hopes of replicating that success in other locations. We were studying the sweeping terraced rice paddies of Western Thailand.

One day, several Japanese salesmen on a tractor followed by a horde of baggage carriers on foot, made their way into our village, which was called SeeSee. This created a lot of excitement since the only sound these Thailanders ever heard from their farm equipment was the yawn of a water buffalo. After a few hours it became clear that this coccyx-bending trip had been a waste so the Japanese and their tractor planned to leave next day.

The Asians quietly took to their afternoon teas, prayers, and naps while my wife and I spontaneously took down the giant tortoise shell from the wall of our hut. We hooked it to a rope which we tied to the back of the powerful new tractor and terraced rice paddy skiing was born!

I drove first, my wife crouching inside the tortoise shell, hanging onto the rope, laughing quite hysterically, I think out of fear, joy, and dizziness. We glided down, terrace to terrace, the horrified Japanese flailing after us and our Thai friends laughing as usual.

That was the end of our career in the Peace Corp. But we bought a large parcel in the Smoky Mountains and have just about finished “terracing” 5 miles of trail. We should be open by next Spring. Our families think we’re demented but we say, “live and learn”.

Carmelita 1952

CARMELITA 1952

Carmelita was the color of a latte, today I might call her Carmelatte as a joke. But 60 years ago I was a stupid little girl and had some crazy notions.

Like one time I went up to the attic where Carmy was changing. The shock when she removed her slip, to see her breasts weren’t white! In my mind, no matter what color your skin, private parts were always white. See? Stupid.

Carmy was a Creole, some black, some French and Spanish, very proper, unmarried Catholic lady. New Orleans is still a Catholic city. It has plenty of schools with names like King Louis the Fourteenth And Jesus Our Lord Middle School. I always thought it was funny that the King of France took top billing.

I was the child Carmy never had and went with her everywhere, to stay overnight with her family, shop, and go to church.

Every Saturday she’d tell my mother we were going downtown to the movies but every Saturday instead we would go to the big Catholic church behind The Roosevelt Hotel. I loved that it was about 8 degrees cooler than outside, the mammoth interior, gorgeous stained glass, quietness and darkness. A stepped wrought iron tray held flickering candles and Carmy would always let me drop a coin into the bowl and light one with a little prayer. Then I would dip my fingers in the holy water, cross myself, tap tap forehead to chest, tap tap left shoulder to right shoulder.

Holding hands we would walk the long red carpet between the pews up to the gold encrusted statues in front, tap tap… tap tap, curtsy, turn left, take a seat and be quiet for a few minutes as Carmy fingered her rosary beads. It was fun, it was spectacular, magical, and it never occurred to me that not every Jewish child did this. Carmy loved me too much to let my heathen soul burn in hell.

Mom was throwing another big party, this time with a Chinese theme. She did lots of exotic hors d’ouevres like shrimp toasts from recipes in Thoughts for Buffet. All the fine and rich Jews were there.

It wasn’t surprising that mom brought three of the women up to see my new bedroom she’d just redecorated. The tiny blue and white flowered wallpaper matched the quilted fabric on my bed, the bed I fell out of every night.
The surprise was that at the exact moment they walked through the door, they found Carmy and I kneeling bedside, saying prayers to Jesus, crossing ourselves, tap, tap, tap, tap.

I’ve always felt those church days were a gift. Unlike many Jews I enjoy being in churches and decorating my house full-on Christmas. And you don’t have to be Christian to know Jesus was great. Still, when it comes to Easter, I uneasily join my tribe at a Chinese restaurant followed by a movie.