I am the mayor


Apollonia and I were running errands the other day; she was driving the car and I was jumping out and delivering things. “Sorry that took so long,” I said, getting back in the car after one stop. “Everyone kept stopping me to chat.”



She looked at me sidelong. “Well,” she said, “you’re the mayor, after all.”



I sighed. “I suppose I am,” I said.



I have lived in my neighborhood for over thirty years. I have worked at my current job for almost twenty-five years. I know pretty much everyone, and they know me, by sight if not by name. I can’t walk to work without waving to at least three people. I was waiting for the elevator the other day when one of Partner’s co-workers shrieked at the sight of me. “Where’s your hat?” she yelled. “I didn’t even recognize you without your hat!” (I usually wear a I LOVE WARWICK RHODE ISLAND hat, which was (indirectly) a gift from the Warwick Chamber of Commerce, but it’s a long story.)



So, apparently, I am the crazy old stooge with the stupid hat. You know: the older guy who just babbles on and on about nothing.



And I have created this image all by myself.



Remember Grandpa Simpson? “It’s an interesting story. Well, maybe not so much interesting as long.”



And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen:



I am the gabby drooling old wreck you really ought to avoid on public transportation.



Somebody shoot me immediately.



The movies in my head, part one


Apollonia’s sister Augusta came to the office recently, and we had a long and lively conversation about old movies. We are both addicted to Turner Classic Movies, as it turns out. She challenged me to come up with a list of my favorite movies. Impossible! But we started naming our favorites, and . . .



Dodsworth!” Augusta proclaimed. Oh my god what a movie. It’s based on a slender but uncharacteristically sweet Sinclair Lewis novel. Walter Huston is a patient man who gets dragged to Europe by his nervous silly wife Ruth Chatterton; he meets Mary Astor, and – well, I won’t tell you more. But what a final scene! Who needs CGI when you have acting?



Okay, I’m up to this challenge. Five, four, three, two, one:



The Red Shoes. Spectacular Technicolor, classic plot, incredible acting. Featuring real ballet stars: Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Leonid Massine. And featuring one of my favorite actors, the grave and handsome Anton Walbrook.



Holiday. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett Horton. Glorious Philip Barry 1930s dialogue, and a classy upper-crust setting, and a happy ending. And it has a charming air of insouciance, almost as if the characters were ad-libbing the dialogue – which is just as it should be. “Do you mean your father isn’t even a Whoozis?”



Black Narcissus. Another Archers movie, like “Red Shoes,” based on a Rumer Godden novel. The colors and the scenery, oh my God. Apollonia can’t stand this movie because of the male lead, David Farrar, an ugly hairy brute who’s shirtless for maybe a little too much of the movie. But, for me, it just seems hilarious that this gargoyle actually seems attractive to the sex-starved nuns in the movie.



Witness for the Prosecution. I am not normally a fan of courtroom movies: too claustrophobic. But this one I’m okay with. Charles Laughton as a lawyer, Elsa Lanchester as his nurse. Tyrone Power! Marlene Dietrich! A complex twisty plot, with humor, yet! And every time you think the mystery’s resolved, it snarls back up again . . .



Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. As with courtroom movies, I am not warm to the war-movie genre. This movie is the exception: it’s intense and simple and methodical. I understand why they made it: it was a war thing, they needed to show America striking back at Japan. It’s the American version of something by Leni Riefenstahl.



Dune. I first saw first in the back yard of the Marine House in Tunis, under the stars, projected onto a sheet. It’s one of the most peculiar, spaciest, funniest, scariest movies of all time.  It opens with the ethereal Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan, floating calmly against a starscape, saying calmly, “A beginning is a very delicate time.” It’s perfectly magical. The whole movie gets into your head if you watch it more than once. “Wait for my brother, Baron!”



More soon. This is fun.




The places where revolutions begin


The Stonewall Inn is nothin’, really. Partner and I were on Christopher Street in Manhattan a few years ago when we suddenly realized we were right in front of it. There were some tacky signs in front, and the usual gay-bar postings – bands, drink specials – but there was nothing distinctive about it.



On June 28, 1969, a couple of weeks before the first moon landing, the police raided the place, as they used to do periodically. The regulars were sick and tired of being raided, and fought back. The protests went on for several days. Then they spread. Activist groups sprang up.



It was, as Malcolm Gladwell might say, a “tipping point.”



I’ve been following Tunisian politics lately, as I lived in Tunisia for two years, and I still have friends there. The Tunisian revolution which happened very suddenly this year found its tipping point in a smallish town called Sidi Bouzid. A young vegetable vendor was harassed by a member of the police, who insulted him, slapped him, and confiscated his wares.



So he set fire to himself.



Within weeks, the country was (metaphorically) on fire too.



As revolutions go, the Tunisian revolution was pretty brisk and effective. There was violence, but only on a small scale. The government collapsed in short order. The replacement government (which was quite obviously the old government in disguise) got laughed off the stage within weeks.



I was recently chatting online with a Tunisian friend, in the usual mix of English / French / Arabic. He speaks very proudly of “la nouvelle Tunisie,” the new Tunisia.  There are still problems – he didn’t hide that – but he’s happy.  No, actually, I would say that he’s exhilarated.



And wouldn’t you be?



And, as I write this, the United Nations has just endorsed a resolution confirming gay rights.



And the state of New York (holla, Cuomo and Bloomberg!) has just legalized gay marriage.



And it all begins in a small town in Tunisia.



Or in a seedy bar in downtown Manhattan.



Revolutions start in the damndest places.



Your daily horoscope



My daily horoscope in the Providence Journal for the morning of June 13, 2011 read as follows:



CANCER (June 22 – July 22): In the manner of rock stars, boxers, and firewood choppers, you will sublimate your anger into something extremely entertaining or useful to everyone around.”



This gem was written by someone named Holiday Mathis. My hat is off to him/her. This sentence is beautiful like a haiku, or a Sarah Coventry necklace.



I am a great fan of astrology; I used to cast and interpret charts myself (and still do it from time to time). But this daily-horoscope stuff is a bunch of malarkey. As I used to tell my astrology clients: do you really think you can divvy up the human race into twelve neat groups and tell each group what’s going to happen today? I mean, really. Did every Cancerian in the entire world have some kind of hissy fit on June 13, and sublimate it into high art?



(Speaking as an elderly Cancerian, I did not. I was fairly calm that day. I do take medication that heads off most of my hissy fits, however.)



In an old episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer was hired to write fortune-cookie fortunes, and wrote two that will live forever in my memory.



One: “The price of postage stamps will rise ever higher.”



Two: “You will find love by Flag Day.”



The first is inevitable. The second is a lovely possibility.



And that, Charlie Brown, is what fortune-telling is all about.



Sunday blog: “Heroin,” by the Velvet Underground


I’ve been posting too many music videos lately.  How about a nice song?



Here’s the Velvet Underground, back in their earliest days, with Lou Reed singing the creepily beautiful vocals and playing lead guitar, backed by Maureen Tucker on drum, John Cale on electric viola, and Sterling Morrison on rhythm guitar.



Happy Sunday.



“And I guess that I just don’t know . . .”


07_Heroin.m4a Listen on Posterous



My barber tells me stories


My barber has his shop on the fourth floor of an old office building on the corner of Dorrance and Weybosset in downtown Providence, which is the local version of Broadway and 42nd, or maybe Hollywood and Vine.



He is short and wears glasses perched low on his nose, like a librarian. He recently grew a mustache, which is actually very cute on him, but I don’t dare tell him so. He has one of those perfect Rhode Island accents that I cannot replicate. When I try to imitate him, I put my glasses low down on my nose and raise my eyebrows and say, in my deepest rumbliest Ben Affleck / Matt Damon South Boston voice (which is close enough): “No kiddin’?



He is an expert at small talk. He’s been doing it, after all, for over forty years. When he’s not talking, he’s humming to himself.  And, like all real Rhode Islanders, he wants information. He wants to know who owns what, and who’s going out of business, and what’s going on in City Hall and the State House, and who’s paying who off.  I tell him the little I know, and he gives me back my money’s worth.



He was very worked up last week. “I tell ya,” he said, using the clippers around my neck, “I’ve been doing this for forty years, and this never happened before. Two guys in here, this morning, waiting for haircuts. And they start arguing about politics, Democrat, Republican, Obama this, economy that. And now they’re yellin’. And the guy in the next office over, the mortgage guy, comes in to tell them to shut up, he can’t do business with all the noise. And one of the guys arguin’ goes through the roof all over again, he’s yellin’ at the guy from next door. I thought I was gonna have to call the cops!”



He was pretty keyed up by this, let me tell you. But I could tell he’d sort of enjoyed it. It gave him something to talk about.



But this was the best thing he said:



I knew he’s a racing aficionado, so I asked him about the upcoming Belmont Stakes. He looked wise, and sly. “Well, you know,” he said, “it’s a long race. If you ask me, I think that other horse is gonna win.”



I didn’t ask him what he meant by that. I didn’t need to. I thought his answer was just perfect as it was.



And you know what? He was right.  That other horse did win.



Bar people


Partner and I wanted a light dinner one evening on the Cape, so we stopped in at a local bar & grill. It was cheap and cheerful, and very airy, and mostly a local crowd. (You can always spot tourists on Cape Cod: they look – well, they look like us.)


We ate, and we took in the local color:


The young(ish) couple at the bar. He’s sitting on a stool; she’s standing right over him, her face maybe ten inches from his. She’s wearing a little too much makeup. He’s got his knees open, and she’s standing right between them. She’s talking a mile a minute, staring into his eyes, never for a moment looking away . . .


The young(ish) guy at the bar, maybe three or four beers gone, telling a story to the bartender, so excited by his own story that he’s standing up, almost hopping up and down, getting louder and louder . . .


The old guy sitting at the bar, weathered-looking, with a hat and a shaggy mustache. (“He looks like he’s been here continuously for two weeks,” I whispered to Partner. “Are you kidding?” Partner said. “He’s been here continuously for forty years.”)


The gruesome-looking couple emerging from the back room. He’s big and bearded and looks either angry or constipated, and she looks either despondent or completely out of it. I look away for a second, and suddenly she’s alone at the bar, and he’s nowhere . . .


And most memorable of all:


As we were leaving, a woman was getting out of her car. She gives us a nervous grin, turns, and says in the direction of her car: “I’ll be right back.”


I look at her car, and I see a little dog, maybe a papillon, perched in the back seat, its face pressed to the window, watching her go into the bar. “Look!” I say cheerfully to Partner. “How cute!”


Partner looked at me sadly/wryly. “You didn’t see,” he said. “The dog’s not alone. There’s a little girl in there too.”




The dog was foolish enough to watch Mommy go into the bar, hoping that she’d be back soon.


The little girl didn’t bother to look. She knew better.


Happy Wednesday at the Sand Dollar Bar and Grill, everybody!









Left-winger, irrational, and proud


Homer Simpson once said: “If you’re in a store and you see anything on a toothpick, it’s free.” He then stabbed a large ham with a toothpick and ate it like a drumstick.



I love free things. Partner despairs of me, because I grab free food like an animal. I like free periodicals too: “Senior Horizons,” “Approaches to Menopause,” “Survivalist Quarterly.” I learn all kinds of things from these, ahem, sources.



The other night, in our uppity local grocery store (with which we have made peace, because their produce is excellent, and we are tired of buying rotten Stop & Shop oranges), I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings.



(Mostly because it had a picture of a cute jogger on the front cover, but – well, you know me.)



I read it with interest. Massage therapy. Shamanistic healing! (This turns out to be located directly next to my office building, so I made a note of it. I may want to put curses on some of the people I work with, and who better than a shaman for that?) Meditation. Organic food. Vegan food. Gluten-free food. Working out with your dog.



You know how right-wing people have this cluster of core beliefs that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything? They’re against gay marriage. Why? Well, it’s icky. They don’t believe in climate change. Why not? Well, it’s just silly. Big government? Awful. Christianity? Two helpings, please!






Well, we left-wingers do it too



Vegetarian? Please! I’m vegan! Medical care? Well, Western medicine is so restrictive and hyperrational – let’s have some reiki and acupuncture too! What could be more effective than someone waving his hands over your body without touching you? Or someone sticking pins into your body? Homeopathy? Two helpings, please!



Let’s face it. We’re as intolerant and irrational as they are.



But we’re much nicer and cuter about it.



And we don’t kill as much stuff.



Except for babies, of course.



North African food


When I first arrived in Morocco in 1984, the Peace Corps nurse spoke to us about health issues. “You won’t need to worry about the food,” she said. “Believe me. You will eat well.”



She wasn’t kidding. In Morocco and Tunisia, we ate spectacularly. Bread and cheese and fish from the corner store were always fresh and delicious. Fruit and vegetables were always local and beautiful. Local places always had roasted kebabs and fresh bread. Tajine, and couscous, and salade mechouia, and brik, and chakchouka. Harira, the magnificently thick aromatic soup with which one breaks one’s Ramadan fast.



There was also the wacky stuff. I have written elsewhere of my adventures with kamounia, a dish which can be made with just about any organ meat (usually liver or kidneys, but which, one memorable day, came with a sheep testicle riding on top). Ojja, the delicious Tunisian dish with tomatoes and hot peppers and eggs and sheep’s brains. Osbene, the North African version of haggis: guts and vegetables, stuffed into guts, then baked.



(There are gray areas, of course. There is a Tunisian dish called meloukhia, prepared with meat and olive oil and dried powdered jute leaves. It ends up looking like chunks of sponge rubber marinated in motor oil. It smells like death. And some people love it.)



One day in 1986, a friend with US Embassy commissary privileges bought us a whole bunch of food – American food! packaged and boxed and canned! – and we had a feast.



And we were all sick for three days. Utterly miserable.



After several years of pure food, we’d eaten (in a single meal) huge doses of preservatives, and additives, and pesticides, and hormones, and chemicals.



Kids: you think foreigners eat strange things? Read the side of your Cap’n Crunch box sometime. The entire periodic table is in there.



And now I’ve gone and made myself hungry for guts and brains.



Summer solstice blog: Sumer is icumen in

Summer is a-comin’ in. Loudly sing cuckoo!



Honey, I was all about the Medieval Studies when I was back at Gonzaga U.



Here is a song for you. It’s a round. It’s very catchy. Try it:




Here it is in MP3 format, for you lazy types who can’t be bothered to get together six or seven Middle English scholars to sing a simple little fourteenth-century canon:



Have a lovely summer.




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