Life Lessons, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

The Typewriter

Yard sales are common in my town but I seldom, if ever, take part.  For one thing, to have a crack at the really good stuff, you must arrive early and I’m not a morning person, especially on Saturdays.  Add to that my inability to shake off the old city-dweller mentality that no matter how tempting a curio might be, “there’s just no room for it.”  So, it was very out of character for me to check out the yard sale taking place in my neighborhood this past weekend.

As I approached the house, I saw the usual folding tables filled with knickknacks and gently used kitchenware.  There were books, of course, and a seemingly brand-new tennis racket.  I paused in front of the historic banker’s chair that was in need of a little TLC, and considered the antique wooden ironing board that yearned to be a piece of art displayed on a kitchen wall.

Call it serendipity, or fate, that I should spot a manual typewriter.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune that, as late as 11:00 in the morning, a vintage Royal had not yet been scooped up.  My first thought: it’s still available because it’s expensive.  My second thought: didn’t Kerouac use a Royal?  I knew about his famous Underwood – the typewriter he used to write On the Road – but I remembered reading somewhere that although he favored the Underwood, at one point, he also used a Royal.  Another literary giant had used a Royal, but I couldn’t place who it was.

On closer inspection, the putty colored typewriter was dirty, perhaps nicotine stained, and laden with the kind of dust that accumulates from years spent in an attic or basement.  The keys had long ago yellowed and the roller was splattered with white-out.  Its carrying case was even more soiled, and I couldn’t tell if it was leather or some sort of fabric that had petrified.  Still, this was a vintage Royal that, given its body’s metal construction and iconic red logo lettering, I guessed to be from the mid-1950’s.  I doubted it actually worked.  In fact, I didn’t even care.  I just knew I wanted it.  And for ten bucks, it was mine.

As soon as I got it home, I went online:

How to clean a vintage typewriter
When did Royal introduce the portable Quiet De Luxe model
Famous authors who used a Royal

Turns out a small paint brush, a soft cotton rag, a gentle hand, and the sparing use of water and rubbing alcohol have gotten me off to a good start.  I think my typewriter is a 1956 model.  And Hemingway was the other writer who used a Royal.  In fact, he had three of them.

Why have I been so fixated with this typewriter all week?  It’s the sheer romance of the whole thing.

Think about it…  In this digital age where first our PC’s, and now our laptops, become obsolete every couple of years, we don’t keep them long enough to create a history.  We don’t get attached to them.  We just discard them.  Years from now, will I even remember what version of Windows I used to write this blog post?  But I do remember the typewriter I learned on, and used to write my college papers and my first short stories – a blue Smith Corona.  It didn’t possess the mystique of an old Royal.  I don’t imagine anything could.

This Royal is going to sit on a shelf in the room where I write.  It will be more – much more – than a conversation piece.  It will be my reminder of what’s important.  My talisman.  The compass that guides me to whatever comes next.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

Ice Ice Baby

There’s an indoor skating rink about a half-mile from my house and, for the past couple of years, whenever I pass by, the place whispers to me: Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby

First, a little background: I skated regularly throughout my childhood and teen years.  While I was never exactly graceful, I had good balance and could move at a steady clip.  The last time I was on the ice was during college and, after that, my skates were left abandoned in my parents’ basement.  Eventually the leather dried and cracked, and the skates got tossed.

Over the years, I replaced skating with spectating and, as evidenced by my past blog posts, I not only love hockey, I am hopelessly devoted to the Boston Bruins

Because my Bruins make it look easy, and because this charming old rink is walking distance from my house, it was only a matter of time before I got the urge to lace up and get back out on the ice.  What better way to get in some cardio and burn a few calories, right?

On a whim, I bought a pair of ice skates.  Then brought them to be sharpened.  And, realizing I was sorely out of practice, and considerably older than the last time I went skating, I picked up a set of knee, elbow, and wrist pads.  I was ready to go.  Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby.

I skated about twenty minutes before I stumbled.  Suddenly, I was airborne and, arms out-stretched, went leaping through the air as if I were about to dive into a swimming pool.  Only this water was a frozen block of ice.  I came down on my stomach and chest, remaining prostrate and stunned until a nice stranger helped me up.

The pain was immediate and sharp and I figured I’d pulled a muscle in my arm.  I left the rink and, as soon as I got home, I reached for the Ice Ice Baby.  The next day, when I couldn’t move my arm at all, I sought medical care.  Turns out I fractured my shoulder.  Specifically, the ball joint of my humerus bone.  Note the spelling: that’s humerus, not humorous.  Because there is nothing funny about it.

For the past week I’ve been mostly immobile, sprawled out on my chaise, popping ibuprofen for the pain, and eating ice cream because, clearly, I need more calcium in my diet.  The one thing that could drag me from the chaise and back out into the world?  Tickets to the Bruins/Vancouver game.

As my brother and I approached the Garden, I spotted the bronze statue of Bobby Orr that immortalizes his famous “flying goal.”  Pointing to the statue, I exclaimed, “Hey, that’s what I did!  I went flying through the air just like Bobby Orr!”

Only Bobby Orr didn’t suffer a fracture.  He scored the over-time goal that won the Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup Championship.  Ice Ice Baby!

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Best of Boston, Girl Talk, Pop Culture

The Basement

It’s Thanksgiving night and the holiday is winding down.  At least for me, that is.  But in a few hours, some of you, armed with a travel mug full of coffee, will be headed out to the malls for Black Friday.  This shopping frenzy makes me nostalgic for “The Basement” so here is a re-post from February 2016.

Let’s meet at The Basement on Saturday.

Wanna go down to The Basement after work?

These phrases were on the lips of Bostonian women of all ages.  That’s what we called it.  The Basement.

I am, of course, referring to Filene’s Basement, located on two floors beneath the art deco flagship Filene’s department store and cornerstone of Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

The Basement folklore was plentiful.  The Running of the Brides, so named for its resemblance to Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, turned ordinarily polite young women into fierce competitors the moment The Basement doors opened, as they fought over designer bridal gowns offered at a fraction of their original prices.  And men would actually stand in line waiting for The Basement to open on the mornings of the semi-annual men’s suit sale.  But the outrageous bargains were only part of it.    A trip to The Basement could cheer you up on a rainy day.  It was as loud, as crowded, and as chaotic as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  The Basement was pure joy.

The three-dollar Christian Dior bras I pulled from the depths of the lingerie bins were mine for the taking.  And the shoes!  I thought nothing of squeezing into incredibly cheap Ferragamos and Via Spigas that were only a-half size too small.  There were no dressing rooms in The Basement so I’d angle for a spot near a mirror then strip down to the Danskin leotard I’d worn under my clothes.  Some women were so intent on getting a bargain that they tried on their finds right over their clothes.  Others, caring nothing about modesty, were on full display in their bras and slips as they tried on a pile of potential purchases.  It was divine pandemonium.

In 2007, Filene’s Basement closed its doors for good and shopping has never been quite the same.  I’ll always miss the tradition and the spectacle that was The Basement.red poppy

 

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Best of Boston, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

The following is a re-post from October 2017.

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Girl Talk, Pop Culture

Finger Paint


What’s the one beauty product you couldn’t live without, even if you were stranded on a desert island?  BB cream?  Lash extensions?  Lip balm?  For me – no contest – it’s nail polish.  I can’t get enough of the stuff.  I’d drink it if it weren’t toxic.

When I was a teenager, the lady who lived next-door shared my love of nail polish.  She stored hers in the little egg holders on the inside of her refrigerator door because, she explained, the cold temperature helped prolong the shelf life of the polish.  By the time I was grown and had a place of my own, refrigerator doors no longer came equipped with egg holders, so I bought a Lucite organizer for my nail polish and have kept it refrigerated ever since.

My fascination with nail polish goes way beyond painting it on my fingers and toes.  When I’m on the subway, in line at the store, or at a social event, I always notice the nail polish other women are wearing.  At a recent family gathering, the lady in red had a clean and classic French manicure, and the child of the ‘60’s painted her nails midnight blue to match her cocktail dress.  My basic black ensemble needed a pop of color so I went with a vivid fuchsia.

In a January 2016 blog post, entitled “Man Buns” I went on a rant about the onslaught of guys wearing their hair up in little ballet dancer buns and hypothesized about what might come next that could be even more cringeworthy.  Jokingly, I suggested men wearing nail polish.  But this is no joke.  And as alarming as it may be, it has come to pass.

A few days ago, a millennial wearing the grad student uniform: baseball cap, graphic tee, khaki shorts, and sneakers stepped onto the train.  After he sat down next to me, he reached into his messenger bag for a book.  That’s when I noticed his finger nails were neatly painted a garnet red metallic that I’m pretty sure was OPI’s “I’m Not Really A Waitress.”  I was aghast.

I’ll give them their messenger bags.  And their ridiculous man buns.  But my beloved nail polish?  I have no words…

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Girl Talk, Pop Culture

The Perfect Little Black Dress

Some women are forever searching for the perfect little black dress.  When they finally find it, their joy is so profound that a national holiday should be proclaimed.  Me?  I believe just as there’s more than one Mr. Right, there’s more than one perfect little black dress out there.

My first perfect LBD came in my mid-twenties courtesy of a talented seamstress – my mother.  Sewn from a Vogue pattern, it was truly a custom fitted garment.  The simple jersey shift that hit just above my knee, with a boat neck and three-quarter sleeves was anything but simple because, when I turned around, the dress featured a daring, plunging, V-shaped back.  I wore that little number on dinner dates, on New Year’s Eve, to the theatre, and to one very memorable cast party with a group of quirky but hunky Shakespearian actors.

In my thirties, when all of my friends were getting married, I found the perfect LBD on a sale rack at Needless Markup aka: Neiman Marcus.  Reminiscent of the iconic long black gown Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this sleek, silk dress was ankle length, but with a deep slit up one side.  Even though I didn’t wear Holly Golightly’s opera length black gloves and tiara, this dress was magical, for it made me look taller and thinner than I am in real life.  It got me through the wedding blitz, and eventually I donated it to a young classical musician who needed a formal black gown for her performances.

My cousin’s upcoming wedding is cause for celebration, and for yet another perfect little black dress.  I was delighted to find a vintage-style, tea-length dress, embellished with appliques and lace, and a label that promised it was machine washable.  Although not my usual style, it was Boho Chic, like something Stevie Nicks would wear.  I liked it because it was different, and all was right with the world.  Until I washed it.  Despite following the care directions, when I took the dress out of the washer, I was horrified to see that the applique work had unraveled.  The dress was ruined.

With the wedding only two weeks away, I made the rounds at several fave dress shops.  Bad news travels fast, and one of the sales ladies had heard about “the woman with the shredded dress” and was eager to help.  The shredded dress turned out to be a happy accident because it brought me to my new perfect LBD.  This one is timeless, ageless really.  And since I’m now a woman of a certain age, timeless and ageless is a good thing.  This ladylike sheath dress is sublime, with delicate capped lace sleeves and the same lace yoke around the gently rounded neckline.  I will wear this one for a long time to come.

Just like the men who come into our lives, who are the perfect fit, at a particular time, so are these little black dresses.  Be assured ladies, this is no urban myth – there really is more than one Mr. Right and more than one prefect little black dress for the taking.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers, Pop Culture

Red Hat Lady for a Day

Have you ever seen a group of women all wearing red hats, and flamboyantly dressed in purple?  These older ladies can be seen lunching and laughing, and generally whooping it up all around town.  Some of them even wear feather boas… Truth be told, my mother is one of them and, on a recent visit home, I crashed the party.  But I did not wear the requisite purple, nor the red hat.   According to Red Hat Society lore, someone my age wears lavender and pink instead.

The Red Hat Society was founded quite by accident by a woman who bought a stylish red hat for herself, then started giving them as gifts to her friends.  The purple attire came about as an homage to the poem that begins, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”  Now, there are a bazillion chapters all over the country.

On the first Wednesday of every month, when my mother and her friends get together adorned in their whimsical outfits, they remain mindful that everyone is not as carefree and blessed as they are.  That’s why they never fail to pass around an envelope for their donation to a food pantry.

I was expecting lunch to be a quiet affair in a subdued café.  Instead, it was a raucous celebration in a sports bar with Bon Jovi and Led Zep piped through the loud speakers.  The ladies talked about hair and makeup, current events, and their families, just like my friends do when we get together.  And I nearly forgot how much older they were until the talk turned from gardening, to their former careers, and to their numerous doctor appointments.  Save for the arthritis, they were mostly just like their younger counterparts.

So thank you Red Hatters for welcoming me into your circle, and for offering me a window into what lies ahead.  It promises to be fun and fabulous!

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

Wishing Every Day was the Fourth of July

It’s no secret that here in Boston we like to do it up big on the Fourth of July.  For decades, the Boston Pops has performed at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade and, after the concert, a spectacular fireworks display rains down over the Charles River.  My neighbors and I may curse our lack of closet space 364 days of the year, but on the Fourth of July, we have the best place on earth to watch the fireworks: our roof deck.

Last week, as neighbors and friends gathered with beach chairs and blankets, food and drink, I was struck by what a diverse group had assembled on our roof deck for the day’s festivities.  One young mother was nursing her nine-week old baby, while the oldest, a vivacious lady in her seventies, sported an American flag motif scarf.  There were straight couples and gay couples.  And folks whose ancestry represented each of the seven continents.  There were Boston Brahmins, first-generation Americans, and at least one New Yorker.  All afternoon and into the evening, the sense of community prevailed as we waited in anticipation for the fireworks to start.

On the day we celebrated the red, white, and blue, there was no red state/blue state divide.  No political talk at all.  Do we all agree on everything?  No way.  But for one glorious, sparkling day we had come together with respect, pride, and patriotism.  All of us different, yet all the same – Americans.

 

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Pop Culture

The Candy Holidays

It’s over.  I can breathe a sigh of relief.  You know what I mean.  The candy holidays.  No normal human being can resist the constant barrage of sugary treats that appear in September and last until April.

It starts with that damn candy corn and the “fun size” candy bars.  You can have a few because they’re so small, harmless really.  Yeah, right.  It’s only fun until you suddenly can’t zip up your favorite jeans unless you lie down on your bed and hold your breath.  Let’s say that by some small miracle you make it through Harvest without gaining any weight.  Now it’s the hap-happiest season and you’re surrounded by candy canes and chocolate Santas.  Be careful here or you might get sucked into the sugar vortex that leads to an obscenely gigantic heart-shaped box of caramel and nut-covered chocolates, and a bag of tiny red cinnamon candies that, if you eat one too many, will burn your tongue and leave the roof of your mouth numb.  Next you’re hopping down the bunny trail trying to dodge those pastel-shelled chocolate mini-eggs, (I refer to as “devil eggs”) and neon-yellow marshmallow chicks.

As alluring as all that candy is every time you go shopping at the supermarket, drugstore, or large retail chain, the real challenge, at least for me, is the day after Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter when holiday candy gets marked down to half-price.  Forget the allure of the candy itself.  Who can resist such a bargain?  Clearly, not me.

Easter Sunday has come and gone and here’s my dilemma:

What to do about those Peeps?   A friend of mine once told me of a long-standing tradition that took place at her ivy-league university.  After eating one or two of the gritty, sticky little things, the rest of the brood got put into the microwave.  To get nuked.  Until they exploded.  I swear I’m not making this up.

Summer’s coming and fortunately, there are no Fourth of July sweets to tempt me.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

New York to Boston and Back

 

The distance between my two homes is about 210 miles.  I’m a New Yorker who lives in Boston.

New York is the home my parents made for me.  All my peeps are there.  The Big Apple’s in my DNA – in the tone and cadence of my voice.  Regardless of where I go, my birth certificate and passport identify me as a native of the greatest city in the world.  Just like the song says, I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep…”   We talk fast, and we walk fast, like a type-A personality after a couple of cans of Red Bull.  Go people watching in Times Square and you’ll see what I mean.  My favorite piece of architecture is the Chrysler Building.  Favorite hotel, the Algonquin.  Favorite drink, the egg cream, of course.  Growing up in Queens made me a Mets fan.  For life.  Because I’m of the belief that when it comes to baseball, you stick with your home team, no matter what.

Boston is the home I made for myself.  The day I moved to the Bay State I heard the Standells’ song about the Charles River playing on the car radio, “…Well I love that dirty water, oh, Boston you’re my home, and I was hooked.  I fell in love with the swan boats in the Public Garden, the Citgo sign, and Filene’s Basement.  Despite my proximity to Fenway Park, I am not, and never will be, a member of Red Sox Nation.  I did, however, fall hard for the Bruins.  Apparently my home team rule doesn’t apply to hockey.  We’re called Beantown, The Hub, and more recently “Title Town.”  And the water?  Not so dirty.

My tale of two cities is a love story.  When I’m in New York, it feels like home.  Yet when I leave to go back to Boston, I’m on my way home.  And visa versa.  It may sound confusing, but not to me.  Home is where the heart is.

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