GOING RETRO

I’m in a nostalgic mood today thinking of fun objects from the past.  Take for instance the lava lamps which contain blobs of colored wax inside a glass vessel filled with clear liquid; heat from an incandescent bulb underneath the vessel causes the wax to rise and fall as its density changes making shapes resembling lava.

Lava lamps in a variety of colors are sold everywhere from eBay to Target. I have one similar to the lamp pictured; it’s fun to veg out watching the shapes morph up and down. I consider this a form of meditation.

LAZY SUSANS were all the rage for entertaining during the sixties.  Some, like the one here, are equipped with cups and many Chinese restaurants have a variety of sizes that contain dishware to hold the food.  To my mind, spinning a platter is much more efficient than asking someone to pass the mashed potatoes, and it certainly makes for more conviviality.

Speaking of conviviality, fondue pots were another 60’s social rage.

Fondue originated in Switzerland as a way of using up hardened cheese. Deriving from the French verb fondre, meaning “to melt,” fondue is a classic peasant dish. Accounts vary on how fondue was originally created.  Traditional fondue is made with a mixture of Emmenthaler and/or Gruyere cheese and wine, melted in a communal pot. Cherry brandy (yum!) is often added to the melted mixture, which becomes a dip for pieces of stale bread and crusts.

Chef Konrad Egli of New York’s Chalet Swiss Restaurant introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil. Happily, chocolate fondu followed.

Baked goods such as brownies, pound cake, marshmallows, and ladyfingers work well for dipping in chocolate.  Fresh fruit such as strawberries, pears, or bananas are  romantic and healthier. Dried fruit such as apricots or large chunks of candied ginger are also delicious with chocolate.

Fondue restaurants remain popular. For dipping,  they offer chicken, meat, seafood and, of course, cheese and chocolate.  I may try dining at one.

I would like to hear from readers who have other retro favorites. Right now, in addition to feeling nostalgic, I’m getting hungry.  A melted cheese sandwich or P B & J both sound good.  Then I plan to meditate in front of my lava lamp.

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SUMMER CAMP MEMORIES

Decades later, days at summer camp linger in my memory.  I find myself treading the soft beds of needles in the fragrant New Hampshire pine groves and thinking about people I once knew.

This morning, my cousin, Marvin, and I reminisced about camp and, for fun, I surfed the net to find the camp’s website, which pictured campers happily boating on the lake in kayaks and small craft—no canoes in sight, no ponderous old-fashioned row boats—and  no mention of nasty little bloodsuckers.  Are the critters still there lying in wait?

To me, the camp has gone elitist; they now boast a swimming pool and even tennis courts, and they say the buildings have been refurbished— do the bunk houses have electricity and are they heated? I feel an icy chill when I remember the freezing August nights. After evening programs followed by a bugler playing taps, we would return to our pitch black accommodations to wash quickly by flashlight and huddle under three layers of scratchy wool blankets—no cozy microfibers in those days–lucky to be young, to sleep through the night without my, now habitual, mid-night stumbles to use the facilities. We showered only once weekly in a seperate outbuilding, but daily swims kept us more or less hygienic. Does the camp follow the same routine or do they have showers en suite in the bunkhouses?

Romance always filled the air at camp.  Most of us paired off with someone for the season to attend dances with and to snuggle with behind the recreation hall while we watched old Mark of Zorro movies.  I vaguely remember Evan, my first camp boyfriend, as being tall and dark; I liked him and I liked his name so much I chose it as my son’s middle name.  Mike became camp boyfriend number two, and another Mike took stage during season three—the first two of several other Mikes I dated over the years. One summer, I heard that a cute guy had been waiting for me to arrive for the August session.  I was so excited. But before we had a chance to connect, a young hussy vamped him away. I still haven’t forgiven her. That may have been the same year a counselor told me, “You look very wholesome.”  What a blow when I wanted to look sexy. I haven’t forgiven her either.”

I don’t recall having any deep or heart-to-heart conversations with any of my romantic partners.  Mostly we made moon eyes at each other and exchanged chaste kisses at the entrance to “Girls” camp.

Two or three camp boyfriends reappeared when I attended college in Boston, but somehow the magic had evaporated and the relationships came to naught. A few years later, I was shocked to learn that one young man whose entrepreneurial abilities I had always underestimated went on to develop a successful chain of retail stores.  So much for my skills as a prognosticator!

From time to time, I have crossed paths with camp friends. On a ship returning from Europe, I encountered Ricky, the ever-laughing girl who always occupied the bunk above mine and disrupted my peace and quiet by exiting hers none too gracefully.  A few weeks after the ship docked in Canada, we both headed to New York for jobs where we continued our friendship.  Joan, my New York roommate is also a camp friend. Then on an exotic trip to Mongolia and Central Asia, my husband and I met Bob, who turned out to be a former camp mate. We hung out, and, a couple of years we later shared another adventure in Tibet with Bob and his wife, Carol.

These days, as a resident of Southern California, I have little contact with old friends from camp.  But one acquaintance told me that her grandson attends the camp and loves it.  In checking the website’s posted price list, I am astounded to see that four weeks in July cost $4,000 and four weeks in August cost $3,800. When I attended camp, sessions cost only $200 each. I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering that gas went for 27 c. per gallon during my adolescence and is $4.19 as of today.

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SHREDDING FRENZY

One of the reasons I’ve been neglecting my blog is that I’ve been busy, busy, busy cleaning up my act.  When I view my three newly-neatened-beyond-belief kitchen drawers, I undergo a religious experience; I feel pure and righteous.

As a recovering pack rat, this process has been indescribably painful for me.  I’m one of those people who holds on to almost every scrap of paper that has ever crossed my path.  I’ve kept notes from the classes I’ve attended for the last twenty-five years; I’ve  saved information from my days as a Docent; I have diaries from many trips beginning with my post-college summer in Europe. I keep letters, greeting cards, and thank you notes, and I find it impossible to discard Xmas cards that display family photos, even though some of those beaming children now have children of their own.

I especially cherish words of praise for any of my good works and achievements.  Who doesn’t love being singled out for praise?

And old clothes! I have garments in every closet of the house.  I have pants and belts that no longer go around my waist. I have scores of shabby T-shirts that I swear I’ll wear around the house one day. I save anything that commemorates visits to far off lands.  My black cashmere sweater from high school has moth holes and is more than a wee bit snug, but I find it a great comfort.

What better way to lighten the load than to shred every last piece of extraneous paper I could find—and there are a plethora of those.  At first, I read through years-old bills, remembering favorite trips and dining experiences, sighing over purchases from Nordstrom.  Soon the nostalgia bit grew old, and I realized I was wasting precious time. Even after speeding up, the shredding seemed endless and bo-o-ring.

After my first shredder died, the local office supply store kindly replaced it with a larger free-of-charge shredder. To save wear and tear on the machine, I discarded envelopes, tore off the blank parts of pages and threw them in the waste basket.  But the wear and tear on me grew and grew.

Then I learned that a store was offering free shredding for the first five pounds and charging seventy-nine cents per pound for the rest.  My initial visit proved to be only one pound over—not a bad price.  The second load weighed in at ten pounds; paying for five pounds still did not seem bad. That deal ended, and I began accumulating trash bags full of business records, health records, and purchase invoices—oh my.

When I heard of a free shredding event to be held at a local shopping center from 9 to11 a.m. on the coming Saturday, I attacked a garage cabinet and found folder upon folder containing business data. I madly began emptying said folders, beginning by laboriously opening each folder, removing the contents and making a pile of them before depositing them in a trash bag. It’s amazing how efficient the process becomes with practice; in short order, I unloaded the folders directly into the trash bags. “Now you’re cooking,” I told myself.  Even so, the process became extremely time-consuming.

The shredding day flier cautioned that they would only accept five banker boxes per car. Having no idea what banker boxes are, I worried that I would be turned away for not using the proper receptacles;  I also worried that I would exceed my quota. Nevertheless I woke early to beat the rush and drove my load to the appointed spot. My fears turned out to be groundless; the shredding personnel didn’t seem to mind how much material I had or how it was packaged.

“Aha,” I told myself.  “Methinks I will gather more. And so I raced home to my garage where I spent another hour emptying additional folders and delivered my bundles just minutes before the event came to an end. This time the workers gifted me with a free tote bag that has lovely pockets and closes with a zipper.

I’d better end now; there’s work to do.  Another shredding event is coming up next weekend.  I wonder if I’ll get another free tote bag?

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VILLAINS WE LOVE TO LOVE

I’m surprised to find that I’m enthralled by Boardwalk Empire, the popular HBO series, and by Steve Buscemi the portrayer of ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brains behind Atlantic City’s Mob that thrived during Prohibition.  The show teems with drama and excitement in its depiction of the roaring twenties and its melding of money, sex, violence, crooked politicians and legendary gangsters, such as Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein.

For all that, Boardwalk Empire has historical and educational value. We see  Eddie Cantor as a young start-up entertaining gamblers and politicians alike.  We meet the mistress and illegitimate baby of President Harding and watch the deal making that enables his rise to the Presidency.

Regarding Steve Buscemi or ‘Nucky’ Thompson, he is far from a matinee idol.  He looks middle-aged, dissipated and has deep bags under his eyes.  So why do I like him so much?  ‘Nucky’ is a complex man.  Clearly he is the agent of violence and corruption—always carried out by others, at his behest.  But he’s a soft-hearted, soft-spoken, often kind man who treats his women with tenderness and peels off dollars to rescue the needy.  His temper does flare, but only momentarily. And so far, unlike the other gangsters, I haven’t seen him take a swing at his lady loves.

As I writer, I am fascinated that I like a Protagonist who is a criminal, while I abhor the FBI Prohibition Agent, Nelson Van Alden, a self-flagellating religious zealot and hypocrite.  In one episode, I found myself rooting for Van Alden’s double-dealing fellow agent whom the FBI man holds under water until he drowns.

There are villains in the Arts whom we enjoy. Take Dr. Hannibal Lecter, for example.  To many, he is scary, but funny and a caricature.  Yet Jeffrey Dahmer, a real life cannibal, makes one sick.

We often forgive well-known sinners, provided that they are punished or find redemption.  The public may also give a pass to those who cheat on their spouses, falsify their income tax records, or fail to pay traffic tickets. I, personally, will forever abominate child molesters, wife beaters, animal abusers, rapists, and torturers.

But back to ‘Nucky’ Thompson:  At the end of season one, his enemies are joining forces against him. Even though I read on Wikipedia what happened to the real ‘Nucky,’ I can’t wait until season two of Boardwalk Empire becomes available.

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THE JOYS OF EDITING?

If I were physically able, I might have skipped around the room when I finished writing my grey panther mystery, “Feisty Old Ladies.”

The last paragraph had been tough going with emails back and forth between me and Ellen Larson,  the excellent and infinitely patient editor who had been shepherding me through revisions for the last six months. Feelings of euphoria overtook me as she pronounced my ending, “Spot on.”

But those euphoric feelings were soon replaced by feelings of emptiness, the postpartum blues after birthing my book.  How could I survive without the daily rhythm of writing, rephrasing, editing and correcting?

Panic set in. Now I would have to market the child.  Should I search for an agent or try for a publisher?  Ellen pointed me to Absolute Write, the main resource for writers looking for agents and publishers. I would start there.

I would also need a one-page synopsis and a query letter; I have only rudimentary attempts at both—must get busy, shaping those up.

I had pushed the marketing business to the recesses of my mind; now I would be forced to deal with it.

But wait.  I’ve had a reprieve.  In reading through my manuscript to check for consistency and to print out hard copies, I’ve found myself writing, rephrasing, editing and correcting.  So here I go again.  The good part is that I can’t possibly proceed with my marketing plans.

After putting in seven years writing the mystery, what’s another few weeks?

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THE BAIN OF RAIN

THE BAIN OF RAIN

We Southern Californians welcome rain—at least on a short term basis.  Rain turns the hills from desiccated brown to refreshing shades of green.  It clears the smog and dust and pollen from the air and brightens the landscape.

It wards off the Water Police who spy on us through sneaky water meters that not only record how much we use but also when we water.  In the city where I live, during years of drought we are allowed to water only three times weekly: on Tuesdays, Fridays, and either Saturday or Sunday.

I wonder if the Water District kidnaps miscreants and hauls them off to safe houses for questioning before shipping them to secret water-waster prisons outside the country?

Don’t misunderstand me; I dearly love rain—once I’m safe inside.

Rainy days are perfect for reading, napping, drinking hot tea, even tackling disagreeable tasks, such as shredding mounds of personal papers or tossing magazines collected for the last ten years.

When the sun at last appears, the world shines; venturing out in the rain is a different story.

Rain here is rarely gentle and soothing.  Most weather systems that make it through are fierce and accompanied by cold, gale-like winds and hail.  To make matters worse, our drainage systems are totally inadequate; in a heavy storm, water pools along the sides of the road causing cars to hydroplane.

Because it rains so infrequently, built-up oil makes the roads slippery, and drivers  have no clue how to brake properly, so skidding is a major hazard.

Driving the freeways in a rainstorm is scary, especially at night when visibility is poor; cars slide all over the road, and great splashes of water attack the wind shield.

Southern Californians tend to be poorly equipped for wet weather; I own several raincoats, but rain boots?  Forget it.  And one umbrella is so inadequate it turns inside out at the whiff of a breeze.

You may surmise that I have been a recent victim of inclement weather and its affect on the local populace.  Yesterday in the pouring rain, a hotel valet directed me into a lane behind what turned out to be a parked car.  So I sat and sat while the cars in the next row continued to move. If I hadn’t summoned help, I might still be sitting there.   Then, on the way out, they lost my car and had the nerve to suggest that perhaps I had given them a different name. Of course—that’s what I always do to confuse people.  Sans raincoat, I shivered in the cold until they finally found my car. An unusual downpour and hundreds of women at the hotel to attend a literary luncheon had the valet corps completely frazzled.

It’s not raining today, but the wind is kicking up a great fuss. Guess I’ll have to brave it.

I know that readers from other areas of the country are sneering as they read this.  Luckily, we’re not afflicted by tornadoes or hurricanes.  But we show admirable fortitude  in the face of earthquakes, floods, fire danger and mudslides.

We’re just wimps when it comes to rain—and wind.

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MEMORY AND THE LOSS THEREOF

Like many people, I have hoped for a long and fruitful life, but now I’m reconsidering.  New statistics show that 50% of Nonagenarians suffer from Alzheimer’s or other brain deterioration diseases.  How scary is that?

I try my best to enhance my brain power with brain-boosting exercises; I study Spanish; I do crosswords and word jumbles; I eat healthy food. I walk three or four times a week (admittedly, only on some weeks); I lead art tours; I do research; I’m writing a mystery; several of my short stories have been published; I watch Jeopardy, and often I surprise myself by being right up there with the answers—though when it comes to most sports, rock bands and TV sitcoms, I have no clue.

Even so, my memory continues to falter. I find myself running out to the garage for something and finding I can’t remember what I wanted so desperately. I leave home to do errands, and when I reach the bottom of the hill, I ask myself, “And where are you headed today?”  If a friend recommends a book or a movie, unless I immediately write the title down, it disappears within seconds. During conversations, I forget the names of well-known personages and events; the names do eventually pop into my mind-often in the middle of the night.

I used to have a terrific memory.  I could repeat whole conversations, word for word; I could detail happenings as if I were still there. In college I would regale my roommates with an action by action retelling of my latest date.

My husband often complained, “How come you remember everything I ever did wrong?”  I suspect this type of comment is made by most married men; they don’t hold grudges for as long as we do.

What’s strange is that my son seems to remember his childhood differently than I do.  I’m often shocked to hear his account of past events.  My answer: “I said what?” or “I did what—no way.”  But once, after he argued that I attended Boston University with my husband, I nailed him.  Of course I didn’t; I know what colleges I attended.  Just don’t ask me that question when I’m ninety.

Currently, PBS is airing Use Your Brain to Change Your Age.

I’m definitely going to watch.

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THE BEACH-PART TROIS

More days at Nantasket Beach:

During our stays at Nantasket Beach, we usually rented rooms in someone’s home or took a flat.  One of my favorite rentals, was an apartment over a grocery store, on Nantasket Avenue and L street, that we shared with my Aunt’s family. My mother loved to cook and my aunt preferred cleaning; they comprised the perfect duo.  When everyone was present, six people in our family and five in theirs made eleven people to cook for.  But I never heard my mother complain. I have no clue about where we all ate, what we ate or where we slept.

The two fathers came only on weekends; I suspect that my mother and my aunt exulted in the respite, but I clearly remember my mother donning her skirted one-piece bathing suit and wrapping her hair in a kerchief to enjoy a companionable early morning swim with my father on the mornings of his departure for home.

Various relatives occupied the other apartments in the building, so there were children of sundry ages to hang out with—ranging from teenagers down to age five.  Luckily, we had an outdoor shower for hosing off the sand because we had only one bath in our apartment; still, I don’t recall ever waiting desperately to use the facilities—hard to believe—now that I live in a house with more baths than people.

I loved watching the older girls dress for dates, and I still remember the night we all gathered to critique the expected young men, who ended up being “no shows.”  The looks of consternation on the faces of the jilted young ladies stick in my mind—though I have no idea why.

Besides days at the beach, on the rare rainy days we trekked the alphabet blocks to the one movie theater, at the end of Hull, that opened for the day to show children’s films.  And, of course, the town celebrated the 4th with fireworks on the beach.

Since the girls in our households, outnumbered the boys, one night we planned a girls-only cook-out with hotdogs and burnt marshmallows. Our parents insisted that the boys attend as well. We grudgingly relented but eyed them balefully for the entire evening.

What I’ve described here may sound ordinary, but I  remember having wonderful fun during those carefree days, at a time when life was ordinary: A Sunday drive, a trip to the lake, going for ice cream, seeing a movie, listening to The Shadow on the radio, and a month at Nantasket beach—that was the stuff of my growing up.

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DREADED WORDS

In addition to being told that one needs to cough up extra money for Uncle Sam during this dreaded tax season, plagues such as Wet Rot, Dry Rot, and Termites have put fear into my heart.  Appliances break down because they’re manufactured to last only a few years, carpets wear out, rooms call for repainting, stoppages happen, etc. etc. etc.   We’re all more or less accustomed to those travails.

I’ve read that the first light bulbs didn’t burn out.  Imagine that!  Of course, they were soon replaced by bulbs that needed to be replaced.

Currently, Slab Leak is the dreaded problem that is now assailing me.  I used to read ads for Slab Leak professionals and think: Why would anyone need such persons?  What did the poor devils  do wrong?  I’m here to swear that they did nothing wrong.

The Scope tech arrived this morning with his leak-detecting equipment.  Nice guy!  After an hour, he found the bad boy pipe, and I wrote him a check for $200.  Since then, the plumber has been cutting rectangles in my walls and ceilings to cap and reroute pipes. He’s being neat about it, for which I’m grateful, but once he’s finished, I will need to call in a plasterer and a painter to put the rooms back to new. And so, I’m writing this blog to take my mind off of the dollars that I visualize floating away, away from my bank account.

The truly scary part is that another slab leak could pop up anywhere and anytime.  Did I say that?  I’m biting my tongue.

Continue reading

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THE BEACH–PART DEUX

Dee FitzGerald and my cousin, Cookie emailed that my blog on The Beach brought back memories of their own summer experiences.  And last week, at a super bowl party, Judy Sparanese and I traded beach stories (in between rooting for opposite teams–hers won, darn it) So, I am encouraged in more reminiscences about my halcyon days at the shore.

Back to Nantasket Beach, the place my family enjoyed for many summers:  Most days, we hung at the beach, but it was Paragon Park that provided a special treat. The amusement park, which opened in 1905, was created by  George Dodge, a whaling mogul; it finally closed in 1985 (sigh!). It featured lagoon rides, a jungle ride, a carousel, a Ferris Wheel, bumper cars, and much more.  But the most thrilling of all, was a giant wood roller coaster that attracted young and old.

It’s difficult to recapture the excitement of a visit to Paragon Park, at a time when recreational activities were simple: Trips to the beach or a  lake, a Sunday drive, going for ice cream, the movies, Jack Benny and The Shadow on the radio, children’s concerts at the Auditorium.

The Carousel is now located next to the old train station and clock tower at Nantasket; The rest of the site is devoted to condominium development. But the park’s “Giant Coaster” lives and breathes as  The Wild One” at Six Flags America in Baltimore/Washington DC.

Believe it or not, this summer, the world premiere of “Paragon Park the Musical,” opens on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, MA.  It is co-authored by actor/director Michael Hammond, a lifelong Holbrook resident, and Company Theatre co-founder and artistic director Zoe Bradford.

When I was planning to write about Paragon Park, how lucky I was to find an article, published only yesterday, in the periodical, Wicked Local Norwell, written by correspondent Jeanne M. Rideout.

Jeanne Rideout writes the following:

Hammond and Bradford never left the magic of Paragon Park behind.

Hammond recalls trips to Paragon Park with his sister and brother.

“When we approached the park in the car, my brother, sister and I had a contest to see who could see the roller coaster first. When we saw the roller coaster, we started screaming. The whole place was magical and fun for me,” Hammond said.

Paragon Park stood out for Bradford as well.

“Where Zoe used to live in Weymouth, she could see Paragon Park across the water and see the roller coaster. Paragon Park was in the back of her mind all the time,” Hammond said.

The inspiration for a musical that would bring the rich history of the park to life sparked when Hammond designed a Paragon Park poster.

“I sent Zoe an email with the poster with text and graphics and that email reignited her interest and kicked off the idea again,” Hammond said.

Bradford and Hammond conducted hundreds of interviews, viewed countless historical photos and visited historical societies, libraries, and cemeteries while piecing together the 80-year history of Paragon Park.

“Once we started, everywhere we went, we would write. We wrote in a restaurant in Hull. People kept coming up to us and telling us their stories about Paragon Park. There was real interest,” Hammond said.

One little-known fact shared by Hammond is that if there had never been a Paragon Park, there might never have been a Disney World. Paragon Park was the inspiration for the first Epcot Center.

Dodge had created areas in the park that were Asian, African and Italian, surely inspired by his travels around the world. Although Walt Disney never visited Paragon Park, he visited a park in another state that was a copy of Paragon.

As for me:  who could have imagined my Paragon Park being the inspiration for a Walt Disney theme park.  No wonder I thought it was special.

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