Chaos Is Over…for now

The kitchen/family room renovation is finished, yippee! It looks quite nice if I say so myself. What began as a way to replace some old counter tiles and make the kitchen cabinets more user friendly (didn’t want to have to get down on my knees and reach back into the bottom of a dark cabinet for items I couldn’t even see) mushroomed a bit. In the process of replacing the cabinets with drawers of various depths that pull out all-the-way, we also reconfigured the kitchen a bit — moved the refrigerator, built a pull-out pantry cabinet behind it and extended a second counter. We also tore up the old linoleum flooring and replaced it with tile.

The top picture on the left shows the new main counter with the Galaxy Red tiles purchased at Contractor’s Tile Mart in San Gabriel, and below that, the piece de resistance, the custom-built pantry specially designed by Ross Hoagland of Halcyon Artisan Contracting in Altadena. What you see in the center of the picture are two ‘drawers’ that pull out sideways from behind the refrigerator; behind them is a doorway. [Note: I am mentioning by name only those people/establishments with whom I would willingly work again. Anyone who has ever done any home renovations knows that is high praise indeed.] Top right shows the extended second counter, and below that is the flip side of the main counter as seen from inside the family room. The original plans also included replacing the worn blue carpet in the family room with bamboo flooring.

I had not intended on painting the family room, but the change from deep raspberry to yellow made the room feel larger and everything in it felt new. The fireplace, the bricks around which were looking old and crumbly, suddenly took on a new life, standing out against the floor and walls. The shallow brick mantle is now lined with bamboo and there are two small bamboo trim pieces running down the sides and across the base. About the paint: the family room walls are flat yellow with the ceiling and trim painted glossy with a 10% tint of that same yellow. The kitchen walls and ceiling are all the same glossy 10% color, with the exception of the beam over the main counter that is painted with the same yellow as the family room, making the two rooms feel more like one big space. Blue turned out to be the accent color, with the blue leather couch, blue upholstered bar stools, touches of blue in the draperies, and blue in the new lighting fixtures. These were so cool looking that I used them in both ‘rooms,’ again to join the rooms together. There are three bars of lights in the family room, and the kitchen has two bars and three circles.

Can you tell I’ve been watching too much Home & Garden TV?


No, this is not a political message. My house has been without electricity since yesterday morning. Warning signs came a day and two before, but we didn’t get the message…and even if we had, I doubt anyone would have found the problem. A couple of days ago, the outdoor outlet that we wanted to use to power Christmas lights wasn’t working. It is on the same circuit as the master bathroom and my alarm clock was on the fritz too. I checked the circuit breakers and all were in the ON position, then finally I thought to push the little red Reset button on the switch in the bathroom and all was well…or so I thought.

I spent Christmas day cooking (thank you Julia Child; and thanks girlfriend for lending me the cookbook) — butterflied leg of lamb with dijon marinade, tomatoes provencale, broiled peppers and asparagus drizzled with olive oil and pepper. Another girlfriend came early and made the mashed potatoes – lots of butter and half-and-half, yum. Other contributions included wine and sparkling cidar, guacamole, rolls, and our youngest guest and her mom brought wonderful homebaked Christmas cookies. Just as we were about to sit down to eat, the lights began to flicker ominously, but the power did not actually go out. So we turned off a few light switches, lit a few candles, and enjoyed the food and friendship.

It wasn’t until yesterday morning that the power went out, pretty much throughout the house with the exception of the guestroom and the stove and one bathroom light. No heat, no cable tv, no cable modem, no outdoor Christmas lights…. The Edison man came out and found the problem inside the service panel — a fat bundle of copper wires that connect to a clip of some sort were no longer connected, and the bundle was visibly frayed and fried. “Not our problem,” said the Edison man. “Your electrician will have to fix this…but don’t let him tell you that you need a whole new panel.

Christmas having fallen on a Sunday meant that yesterday was an extra holiday, and my contractor, who is also a master craftsman of several trades including electrical, was out of town. “Run an extension cord from the guest room to the refrigerator, and I’ll be there first thing on Tuesday,” he told me when I rang his cell phone. I guess that’s the contractor’s equivalent to “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

True to his word, the crew arrived this morning to finish off some detail work from the renovation and to handle the new “emergency.” If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I’ve just now got my power back and have a lot of catching up to do. Sometime tomorrow I’ll post pix of the newly renovated kitchen and family room.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday and is ready to ring in the new year.

I’ve Got Nerve: Poetry Out Loud

The other day I was talking with a friend about writings and recitations from childhood. He had just rediscovered a wonderful Christmas story that his daughter had written when she was all of 11 years old, and I had re-encountered a hilarious recording of ten-year-old me reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem In The Morning. My neighbor said “post it on your blog” and I laughed.

Then yesterday, courtesy of About Last Night, I was directed to Verse By Voice, a poetry meme of sorts at Coudal Partners, where people call in, recite a favorite poem, and some get chosen for posting on the web site. Laura Demanski, a/k/a OGIC/Terry Teachout’s co-blogger, is among those selected; she’s reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall: to a Young Child.

I don’t know if any of my colleagues in the blogosphere have any old recordings (poetry, songs, instrumentals, radio air-checks…) from days of yore, but if they do, I hope they will follow suit and post some…it seems a fun spin-off idea. So here I go — and when you fall out laughing, please remember that I was only ten and attempting, without any relevant experience, to impart the dialect in which Dunbar wrote.

(If you’re not familiar with the poem, you might want to read it first or follow along — I found the text online at Poetry Archives, a site created “to provide a simple interface into a dynamicially generated, database driven website archiving thousands of copyright free poems.”)

In the Morning
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

‘Lias! ‘Lias! Bless de Lawd!
Don’ you know de day’s erbroad?
Ef you don’ git up, you scamp,
Dey’ll be trouble in dis camp.
T’ink I gwine to let you sleep
W’ile I meks yo’ boa’d an’ keep?
Dat’s a putty howdy-do–
Don’ you hyeah me, ‘Lias–you?

Bet ef I come crost dis flo’
You won’ fin’ no time to sno’.
Daylight all a-shinin’ in
W’ile you sleep–w’y hit’s a sin!
Ain’t de can’le-light enough
To bu’n out widout a snuff,
But you go de mo’nin’ thoo
Bu’nin’ up de daylight too?

‘Lias, don’ you hyeah me call?
No use tu’nin’ to’ds de wall;
I kin hyeah dat mattuss squeak;
Don’ you hyeah me w’en I speak?
Dis hyeah clock done struck off six–
Ca’line, bring me dem ah sticks!
Oh, you down, suh; huh, you down–
Look hyeah, don’ you daih to frown.

Ma’ch you’se’f an’ wash yo’ face,
Don’ you splattah all de place;
I got somep’n else to do,
‘Sides jes’ cleanin’ aftah you.
Tek dat comb an’ fix yo’ haid–
Looks je’ lak a feddah baid.
Look hyeah, boy, I let you see
You sha’n’t roll yo’ eyes at me.

Come hyeah; bring me dat ah strap!
Boy, I’ll whup you ‘twell you drap;
You done felt yo’se’f’ too strong,
An’ you sholy got me wrong.
Set down at dat table thaih;
Jes’ you whimpah ef you daih!
Evah mo’nin’ on dis place,
Seem lak I mus’ lose my grace.

Fol’ yo’ han’s an’ bow yo’ haid–
Wait ontwell de blessin’ ‘s said;
“Lawd, have mussy on ouah souls–
(Don’ you daih to tech dem rolls–)
“Bless de food we gwine to eat–”
(You set still–I see yo’ feet;
You jes’ try dat trick agin!)
“Gin us peace an’ joy. Amen!”

I’ve Got Mail: On the Lighter Side

Found this in my mailbox from bassist Bill Crow:

Your reference to country music reminded me of Joel Grey’s nightclub act, which I played at a theater in Rockland County. After his opening number, he would tell the audience, “And now, I’m going to sing some country music.” Then he would rare back and loudly sing, “Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania!” He’d stop, look inquiringly at the laughing audience and say, “Rumania is not a country?”

I’ve Got Mail: More Discussion

Just Muttering has weighed in again, via email as I do not use the Comments feature favored by some bloggers. I get enough spammail as it is, and simply do not have time to monitor blog comments. However, I love to post readers emails — even if they disagree with my opinions — so please do write in. So without further ado:

…I was relieved that someone else wrote about Pinter and Wallace so I wasn’t the only grouser. And I wanted to say two things about all this. One is that I totally agree with you about the importance and need for disagreement and speaking-out. My disagreement is with the tone that those who dislike the current political moment are taking (with an exception of your calm voice!). It seems to me that intellectuals, of all people, could refrain from overlaying their disagreement with disgust and disdain. And yet they are the most vituperative and angry. Apparently Bush struck a very unpleasant cord (chord?) for them and it’s been downhill ever since.

The second thing is about the economy. You say that the “booming” “may be true for the upper middle class and beyond, but all those who have lost their jobs to cheap labor in India and elsewhere, or been laid off due to mega-mergers, are not feelig [sic] so flush”. I’m not sure how you’re defining middle class, but all the markers I’ve read about say that the improvement is across the board/classes. Outsourcing actually hasn’t replaced anyone, even though it seems as if it would have. Dell, among others, says they didn’t lay one employee off in that change. As for mergers, there were far more megamergers twenty years ago for one thing and the current ones are almost devoid of layoffs, which is an interesting change. Truly, economic indicators are that we’re doing well. Not at the levels of the 80s, but well, and perhaps more reasonably than then. Unemployment is lower, housing purchases are higher, etc….

Incidentally, do you honestly think there can be total transparency in government? To the extent that the keepers of a state are in loco parentis (and although I hate to use that phrase), there are some things they cannot let us all know about because we are not all trustworthy. To my mind, that’s why there are the other two parts of our government – the three pieces can “talk” to each other even when it’s unwise to talk to us. Should FDR have announced his battle plans and conferred with all of us before doing anything? Do we maybe disagree with Truman for dropping the bomb; of course; but do you really think he should have consulted the American public?

When it comes to the differences of opinion between Just Muttering and I, I suspect that in most cases it is more a matter of degree than disagree. I’m not a political or economic analyst, and my opinions are more about the general state of affairs, which makes it easy for arguments to be made on small specific points. For instance, JM cites Dell saying their outsourcing didn’t cost anyone their job. That may or may not be true at Dell, I wouldn’t know, but I have to ask: what happens to all the American workers when a company closes a plant stateside and opens one staffed by cheap overseas labor?

JM says unemployment is lower – maybe, but a lot of people are now self-employed. That can be a good thing, but they’re catching hell trying to get decent individual health insurance policies and they will struggle to build any savings for retirement, and social security is no longer a promise down the road. My greatst complain about the current administration is that theyare not taking care of The People. All their attention goes to the care and feeding of thye big corporations and the trickle down never worked. And they just cut even more of the funds for federal programs — $22 billion cut from student loans, $6 billion for Medicare, $5 billion for Medicaid…Of course there are aspects that sound good, such as “charge high-income beneficiaries more for their insurance for doctors visits,” but they will also “reduce payments to managed care providers.” But I wonder what is their definition of high-income and how many more doctors will refuse to take HMO patients? I know there are no easy answers, but there are a lot of people who need a lot of help and their futures are looking pretty bleak.

As for transparency in government, no, I do not honestly think that there can be, or even should be, total transparency. BUT — call me cynical, some might even say paranoid — I think people at the highest levels of our government are lying to us, and by “us” I mean the not only you and me, but also the congress and the senate and other government agencies. I fear that the system of checks and balances is no longer in operation and a small but powerful handful of individuals are trying to manipulate public opinion through the use of fear.

The Year In Pictures

A friend sent me a link this morning to MSNBC’s web site displaying The Year In Pictures 2005. The pictures are really fantastic — both in their visual artistry and in the moments they capture. Some are horrific, some are sad, but they are interspersed with some that are funny and others that are just lovely to behold. While there is some overlap between the Editor’s Choice and Readers Choice shows, there were enough different images in the show to make it worth watching both (with or without audio).

I’ve Got Mail: Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Loves Me…

The best present a bloggess can get is mail from readers — good or bad, pro or con, it’s great to know that people are out there reading and thinking and talking. Here’s a sampling of recent missives:

Just found your blog. Lots of great info!
I am listening to an interview of Mr. John Levy that my radio partner, Cheryl K. is airing on WMUA and I was directed to and then onto your blog. Great interview, and John is a great guest, so full of charm and fascinating info and anecdotes. Special insight on the late great Shirley Horn. Still can’t believe she is gone. It’s like when Ella passed; some artists create such an emotional bond with you. Through the magic of modern electronics you can just put on their recordings and you once again live that emotional relationship. So I guess, in a way, they haven’t left at all.

That one was from Ken Irwin, Jazz Music Director at WMUA and co-Host of “Java Jazz” (airs Wednesdays). (Note: WMUA can be heard online ands they play jazz from 9 AM to noon, Monday through Friday.)

Here’s one from anonymous who writes to disagree with me:

Hard to say what prompted Wallace to respond as he did to Suzanne Ryan’s question. It certainly wasn’t wisdom. Last time I looked, the President flew jets in the Naval Reserve. That experience must have taught him something about the military. Wallace’s supercilious tone is offensive, frankly. A little humility never hurt anyone. He (and you, based on what I’ve read) may think the country is messed up, but many of us, probably a majority of us, think otherwise. The economy is booming, crime is down, as is the divorce rate, and other important social indicators also are favorable. The Middle East is undergoing a transformation that only a crazy person would have predicted in 2001. Are there plenty of problems? Indisputably. But, contra Pinter, I rather face ours than have to deal with the far more vexing social and political ills (unfavorable demographic trends, sclerotic economies, racial and ethnic segregation etc) staring into the face of our friends in Europe. But what do I know? I haven’t lived as long as Mike Wallace so I suppose I’m still humbled by my ignorance.

Actually, I, too, find Wallace’s tone to be supercilious, and humility is a good thing. Our president might benefit from a dash of humility himself. As for a booming economy — it may be true for the upper middle class and beyond, but all those who have lost their jobs to cheap labor in India and elsewhere, or been laid off due to mega-mergers, are not feelig so flush. My applause for Pinter and Wallace was an endorsement or advocation of open discourse and transparency in government. We are not children and the government is not a parent. In the words of Albert Einstein: “A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”

And last for today, words of encouragement from Mike Davis, co-author (with Roger Hunter) of “Hampton Hawes: Bio-discography”

I have just stumbled on to your log – it is very readable, immensely rich with recollection and affection; chock-a-block with sound sense and no little insight. I have logged it on to my ‘favourites’ list. Please keep up this good work and I will be so pleased to keep reading.

I hope that you, too, will keep on reading. Thank you.

Count Your Blessings

Terry Teachout posted an email from one of his blog readers in response to his illness:

I find it odd what a presence you’ve become in my life; I didn’t think it was possible to care so much, to be so saddened by, to fear the loss of a person whom I’ve never met.

A friend of mine who does not know Terry wrote to me

just read your latest and then TT’s. could hardly make it through his as my eyes were so blurred with tears! very happy to hear that he has been given the greatest xmas gift of all – “another chance,” – so to speak.

Odd perhaps, but not really considering our shared humanity. Is it not kin to the same feelings that make our eyes tear up watching happy-ending holiday movies, or even Extreme Home Makeover and Three Wishes? We identify and empathize, and it feels good to be a part of that something bigger than our individual selves.

It’s true that tangible gifts — whether a handmade card or the over-the-top ‘gifts’ of houses and scholarships and such on TV — are great, the latter often representing a second chance at a new or better life. But it is the words we speak and write to one another that can provide powerful sources of support, a measure of comfort, and sometimes inspiration — even when there is no second chance.

I was saddened last week by the death of a woman I had never met. A week ago tonight my neighbor’s mother, Gladys, died in the hospital, surrounded by loving family members and friends. Ever since my neighbor told me about it I’ve been thinking about the hospital scene she described. The doctor and nurses were kind…and more importantly I think, they were honest. When Gladys asked the doctor, “Is this the end of the road?” he told her the truth. The best part, if there is such a thing as ‘a best part’ in death, is that because she was lucid, and because of the doctor’s honesty, goodbyes were able to be said. They talked about how cool it was that they were not only mother and daughter, but also best friends. Mother-daughter relationships have their unique twists and turns, and to feel that one’s mom is also a best friend is definately a blessing. (I feel similarly blessed, and if I am with my mother when she makes her transition, I will remember to remind her of how great it is that we were also friends…in fact, maybe I will tell her now, too.) I don’t know what else they said to one another, I get choked up just trying to imagine it — does one actually say “good bye” at such a moment? “I love you” was certainly said, not only in words, but with every touch and glance.

When the doctor acknowledged to Gladys that it was, indeed, the end of her road, he also told her that he could take away her pain. That was another gift — not only the cessation of pain, Gladys was given a choice, one that brought her some small measure of control along with a large measure of dignity. Gladys knew, as did those who were with her, that as the pain meds were increased she would slowly slip into unconsciousness. No longer in fear of pain, she was able to stretch those last hours and share them with those she loved. When her physical pain became too much, it was she who chose to ask for relief…and for release. It must be hard to let go, to allow a loved one to slip away. I imagine that it is even hard for the nurses to administer the medications that while providing relief from pain also slow the heart, leading ultimately to its repose. But love is sometimes hard. Gladys sailed away a few hours after, leaving behind sadness to be sure, but the tears will be tempered in time by loving memories.

So let’s count our blessings, use our time on earth wisely, be kind to one another, and remember that we are not alone.

Curve Balls At Christmastime

Yesterday Terry Teachout wrote, “life has a way of pitching curve balls at your head.” He has been released from the hospital, and before heading off to spend Christmas with his family in Smalltown, USA, he updated his friends and blog followers on his ordeal.

TT has a serious ailment — congestive heart failure — but as he told me in an email message, “The good news, say the doctors, is that no permanent damage was done to the heart muscle and that IF I DO WHAT THEY TELL ME TO I can make a more or less complete recovery.”

Along with less salt and more exercise, one of the many mandates is sure to be reducing stress. The challenge of doing so is stressful in and of itself. As I told him in an email reply, “it won’t be easy, so get ready for the battle has just begun…You’ll need a support group, so lean on your friends — YOU ARE NOT ALONE — you have a formidable army at your disposal, so use us.”

I know whereof I speak. It will be ten years this summer since I told the grim reaper to take a hike. I thought I was immortal. Then, two years after that, the doctors happily reported that the cancer was still gone but diagnosed MS — more lifestyle changes. I’m still here, but superwoman took a nosedive. Priorities change in the proverbial blink of an eye and it is astounding what we we mere mortals can do, the things we can live with, and live without. Superwoman rises from the dead from time to time and tries to fly; sometimes I manage to hold her down, but sometimes I just let her soar…and pay for it later. Life requires an ongoing attitude adjustment, and it’s hard work.

Sharing your thoughts and fears, and reaching out to friends, makes the job a tad easier, and Terry is off to a good start. Read his account posted yesterday — Time off for good behavior — it is as eloquent as always with a touch of introspection mixed in with humor and journalistic details.

Color Purple

John Lahr reviewed the Broadway production of The Color Purple in the December 12th issue of The New Yorker (Artificial Respiration). Because I have been working on the Luther Henderson biography (the man behind the music of Broadway shows such as Ain’t Misbehavin’, Jelly’s Last Jam, and Play On, to name a few), I took particular note of Lahr’s comment regarding the music:

Under Gary Griffin’s direction, the show moves at speed but picks up no momentum. It has pace but no rhythm. There is something inert at its core, which has to do with the lyrics and music by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, who have written pop songs but, as is all too evident, never assayed a Broadway show. Their songs illustrate, but don’t advance, the plot.

Lahr was not alone. Here’s an excerpt from Michael Feingold’s review (Prosaically ‘Purple’) in The Village Voice:

…the three songwriters, skilled professionals from the Hollywood pop scene, mostly display competence and craftsmanship rather than inspiration. One or two of the ensemble numbers built on traditional forms, refreshingly, break free of the standard pop conventions. But far too often you sit, watching dynamite performers give their all to a song, and wonder why the result doesn’t soar. Then the book takes over, and inexplicable events start rushing past again.

And Terry Teachout had this to say inThe Wall Street Journal (The Color Green):

I can’t say enough nasty things about the music, which consists of generic gospel, scrubbed-up blues and fake-fur jazz, all somewhat less memorable than the score to a made-for-TV movie. The lyrics are cloyingly faux-naïf, though I’ll be kind and cite only this stanza from the finale: “It take a grain of love/To make a mighty tree/Even the smallest voice/Can make a harmony.” Why does it not surprise me that one of the show’s songwriters is best known for having penned the theme to “Friends”?

Had Luther been alive and working on this show, I suspect the outcome would have been very different. In several interviews I have heard about Luther’s collaborative nature and how he approaches the music not as not an add-on or interlude, but as an integral part of a production. Here are snippets from two interviews, the first from Susan Birkenhead, lyricist for Jelly’s Last Jam:

…he took this complicated music and because he had worked in the theater for so much of his life, and he understood the dramatic needs of the music, and because he was a consummate musician who understood the complexities of that music, what he did, really, was not just arrange the music but almost recompose Morton’s music as a theatrical score…

Sheldon Epps, creator, writer and director of Play On, had this to say:

I was a huge admirer of his work on Jelly’s Last Jam and what I thought was an extremely difficult task, brilliantly executed in terms of Luther’s adapting that music to theater music and to theater songs. He was not given nearly enough credit for the brilliance with which he accomplished that task. I loved the show. I loved the way that Jelly’s music was used to tell that story, the way that music is adapted to the needs of choreography and staging and all of that, and in fact in addition to my overall admiration for his work, I think it was probably specifically the work that he did in adapting that music to the needs of the theater project that made him the one that I wanted to contact when I started to work on Play On….

Luther never approached it initially musically but always dramatically. When we were in the first rehearsal process, he never wanted anybody to sing a note of a song until I had been clear about what the scene was about, until the actors were clear about what was going on between the characters and what they were playing in the scene prior to where the song was going to be done, so that whatever adaptation of that song, whatever treatment of that music he created was the result of the dramatic needs rather than the musical needs. He then went on to arrange it in a way that was musically brilliant, that the inspiration for all of those arrangements was the story and the theatrical needs, not the musical needs.

I don’t know for a fact, but I imagine that the fault for the music in The Color Purple lies not with the songwriters, but more likely with the mandate they were given. Whether they have the expertise to have handled the job differently is not my point, rather I expect they were hired for their pop expertise, in hopes that the songs would become popular, sell lots of audio CDs, and thereby expand the revenue base for what is a very expensive production. The result of putting commercial concerns above artistic ones may yield financial success, but is unlikely to garner any critical acclaim.