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Friday, September 30, 2011

Big Mar's Birthday Fest 2011 (Part One-words)
or celebrating 90 sparkling years on this blue planet

Okay, so this weekend the sibs and I threw a soiree to celebrate the life and times of the most wonderful woman we know, our Mum, Big Mar.

Friends and relatives drove from near (surrounding neighborhoods) and far (Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Japan--okay, you can't DRIVE from Japan, but you know what I mean. Smart ass.) to help her say goodbye to her 80s. Several of them made the long journey to Pittsburgh only to turn around and drive back to their home state the same day.

Why? Because everyone LOVES my Mom. She has always been that special sort of person to whom everyone gravitates. Firm, but fair, yet never judgmental. She's an amazing listener who never betrays a confidence. She's kindhearted, warm and always welcoming. She is happy to stop what she's doing to sit down and visit with whomever knocks on her door. Like a big ole adorable puppy, she's always excited when people drop by. Her positive outlook is contagious. Her love of humankind is genuine.

She has the kind of face people feel immediately comfortable with sharing their life story. I can tell you from experience, many times we have sat my Mom down on a bench when she's needed a rest from shopping only to find her engaged in a lively conversation with a complete stranger upon our return.

There were five of us kids and even though we didn't have a lot of extra material things growing up (I always yearned for a real Barbie doll instead of that poser Dawn doll I received. Selfish beyatch), we had the security of abundant love, gentile guidance... and a well-placed hairy eyeball or two.

And the food... my GOD the food! She was and remains an AMAZING cook. In fact she still whips up her culinary magic for us every other Sunday. Dinner for five or twenty five, she's never flustered and gladly makes room for one more. We all used to bring home unexpected "strays" to the dinner table. She'd shrug her shoulder and say, "What's one more. We have enough food."

Big Mar never learned to drive so our house became the center cog for family gatherings. I have fond memories of carloads of kin folk, including our favorites from Miami, pulling into the driveway in their big-ass 1970s Buicks, off loading cases of beer, pop and the occasional bag of groceries. My Dad always freaked out that the house was too small for so many people, but my Mom was cool as the proverbial cucumber. No one seemed to mind what state the house was in as long as they had a tall, icy high ball in one hand and glowing cigarette in the other. Everyone felt at home in our house. As Big Mar is fond of saying, our house was clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be comfortable.

During these events (planned or unplanned), a cornucopia of food would pour out of the kitchen like some crazy clown car of consumable goods. We had such fun running around the sizable yard playing with a kajilion kids from our extended family while the adults hung out on the porch laughing, drinking and telling stories. When it got dark, my Dad would put up a sheet and play home movies and cartoons from an old 8 mm projector. I can still see him, head tilted slightly, right eye squinting from the curl of grey smoke rising from his unfiltered Pall Mall pinched between his lips, threading the film through the maze of sprockets...

And at the heart of all the chaos was Big Mar. Loving every minute of the mayhem. The more the merrier. She still loves the madness. She just has to take a nap occasionally now.

My Mom is one of the brightest women I have ever know. I'm not saying that just because she's my mum either. She really is. She's extremely well-read, has a memory to die for and is still a whiz at doing extensive math in her head.

In. Her. HEAD.

I can barely operate the calculator on my phone and she's adding up long strings of numbers in her 90!

Had she been born three decades later, I have no doubt she could have been a physician, judge or pretty much anything she wanted. But she was born in 1921 when there were few women in the work force. The choices were nurses, housewives or Barbies. Her fate was to be our Mom and she took on that daunting, thankless job with elegance, grace and a light heart.

And I couldn't be more grateful.

So thank you, Big Mar. Thank you for giving us a happy home filled with love and laughter, for instilling in me a moral compass, a keen sense of humor and my love of the word "shit". Oh, and thanks for breaking the wooden spoon on Buddy's ass instead of mine.

You're a beautiful old broad, aged to perfection.

What do you say we shoot for triple digits. We'll all help you blow out the inferno.

Love ya, Mumsy!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's The End Of The Music World As We Know It 
or a ground breaking band from the 80s calls it a day

Okay, so yesterday after 31 years in the biz, the iconic band from my post-college years, R.E.M. decided to "call it a day" in their joint musical venture.

One of my friends posted that this announcement should have happened ten years ago. He's right, of course, but even though it's been years since they recorded a collection of songs that remotely come close to their heyday in the 80s & 90s, news of their definitive demise left me melancholy and wistful. In spite of R.E.M.'s lackluster latter years, there's no denying the enormous influence these four men have had on the music industry and its future inhabitants.

On their official website, the band put it thusly:

"To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening." R.E.M.

Music, much like smells, is a trigger point that has that magical power to send one back in time to a special event, place or gathering with the stroke of that first telling chord. I have a lot of truly happy memories of moments in my past life spent with one friend in particular, all connected to the catalog of early R.E.M.

We were first introduced to land of R.E.M. by our musical guru friend, Bill when he started working with Geo back in the early 80s. At the time, Bill was in love with the song Driver 8 from their third album, Fables of the Reconstruction. I felt kinda meh about it at first, gravitating towards other tunes. And then this happened last year.

My worlds colliding in pure awesomeness. *Swoon* Plus you can actually understand the lyrics. I admit I love pure power of it now.

Anywho, they created so many great songs (Pretty Persuasion, Seven Chinese Bros, So Central Rain, Nightswimming, Shiny Happy People, the entirety of Life's Rich Pageant) and they're all connected to Bill.

Psst. Don't tell anyone, but I used to have a teeny bit of a crush on Mr. Bill. He's smart, talented, funny as Hell... what's not to love. Oh and did I mention he was handsome? Yeah, that too. Thankfully I was married to my ever-loving Geo when he waltzed into our lives, because had I been single, I'm certain he would have crushed my soul.

He is the Virgo flame to my Aquarius moth.

Bill is an amazing human being, but he has an irresistible charisma, making every girl he'd ever been with long to be his wife and bear his progeny.

No shit. Every. Single. One.

Way back when, he was in a long-term, very committed relationship which ended with him catching the girl he thought he was going to marry in the carnal clutches of another man. It left him damaged. So much so that every time he found a relationship getting close, he would walk away before she had a chance to dump him. Needless to say he left a trail of very angry, splintered women. It was nearly two decades before he let some in.

Best buds
circa 1993? 
Dorkus and her two favorite Y chromosomes
(could those glasses BE any bigger?!?)

Italian film director Sergio Spoliate and the Rock Star
Glam Rocker with Sergio's paramour, Sophia Putania
He's married now and lives on the other side of the Commonwealth. We don't see him nearly as much as we'd like, but hearing an REM tune takes me charging back to our youthful antics together: dart games at Caine's, George's surprise 30th birthday party, the great baby powder vs hair dryer incident at Hunting Ridge, dancing on O'Leary's bowling machine, white-guy dancing and drinking too much at Metropol, late-night confabulating (drunken or sober), Summer bowling league, numerous concerts including REM, smoking ceeegars, Jamacin' Me Crazy night in Florida, St. Patrick's Day bar crawl and perhaps my very favorite memory that never fails to make laugh out loud: the image of Bill riding a girl child's pink flowered Big Wheel down our steep hill, long legs all sticking up in the air, the trike's roar busting through the 1am stillness.

That one's going to be in head forever.

Good times...

So thank you Michael, Mike, Bill and Peter for three decades of music, for your gorgeous, thoughtful lyrics and for providing the soundtrack to the scenes of our youth. You will live on in my iPod.

I leave you with a few of my personal favorites from their vast collection. Starting with a rocking one from 1989 when they were young pups and Stipe still had hair.

the beautifully understated Nightswimming

"Miles Standish proud" with Eddie Vedder

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Which I Grapple With A Difficult Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of that unfathomable day in which America's innocence was lost and our world changed forever.

Where were you when the towers fell?

I've been trying to pen my feelings all week about this macabre anniversary. Each time I sit down to write, I find something else to do. It's not my work-related ADD, either. It's my subconscious refusing to tackle this memory, but I feel compelled to write... something. It's too big to ignore and too devastating to forget. It's indelibly burned on my heart.

Last month, The Atlantic published excerpts from the King-of-all-my-musical-thangs, Rhett Miller's journal of September 11-13th.*** Reading his harrowing experience brought back a rush of emotions I thought I'd successfully repressed in the sub-basement of my psyche.

I posted the link on Facebook which lead to an interesting discussion between me and a couple friends, each of us reacting to the events of that day from varied corners of the country, sharing our individual experience. The conversation acting as a salve on an old scar freshly torn open.

I remember that day vividly.

George and I were at Rehoboth the morning the towers fell. We were getting ready to do our daily walk on the beach, when something possessed me to turn on the television. Maria Bartoloromo was standing in the street reporting that a second plane had just struck the South Tower. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Both skyscrapers belching thick, black smoke from their top quarters. The South tower's upper floors listing is a precarious way.

Not realizing the magnitude of what we were watching, we decided to take off for our walk. In the ten minutes it took for us to walk the stairs down to the boardwalk, the t-shirt vendor screamed out from the back of the store that the tower collapsed. We thought the top, teetering portion had fallen over. Makes senses, right? I mean, seriously, who would have imagined the entire structure would collapse. We couldn't believe our eyes. The building was there just ten minutes beforehand, on fire, but standing. And now it was completely gone.

And now nothing made sense.

I stayed on the beach, trying to shake off the images we saw. I think I was in denial. Poor Geo went back up to the room and witnessed every fear he'd ever had with regards to heights. Planes crashing. Buildings collapsing. People jumping to their deaths. All played out over and over and over on a 27 inch screen. The footage was horrifyingly compelling. He couldn't tear himself away. He's a strong man, my husband, but this rattled him to the core. I finally had to drag him out of the room and away from the constant barrage of footage for his own sanity.

The silence on the shore was unsettling. Several times over the next few days, a large, heavy military chopper would rumble up the coastline. I remember being filled with an infinite sadness that I wouldn't be able to shake for years. I cried for what seemed like a lifetime, getting teary any time my mind was idle. The sorrow and tears living right under the surface of my skin, mourning the loss of our collective innocence along with so many innocent lives.

And the stories, my God the stories from that day...

I bought a book titled, "Letters from 9/11" whose spine I have yet to crack open ten years down the road. Perhaps it will take another ten years before I can flip through its pages.

You know, I thought I was past this, but as I sit here, crying as I type, I realize the sadness is a part of me now. I may be able to muffle it, but It will never be completely gone.

Funny thing is, in all the chaos and uncertainty, I instinctively knew my nephew, who still lives in Manhattan, was alive and a safe distance away from the destruction. I don't know how, but I just knew he was safe. He lost friends to the towers, and probably felt a little guilty about it, but thank God he was unharmed, physically anyway.

We visited Ground Zero that December. It was a pilgrimage I just had to make. I remember seeing little piles of ash on window ledges and realizing that those could be all that's left of somebody's loved one...

Being directionally challenged, I used the towers as a touchstone once I emerged from the subway station. When I found them in the skyline, I could find my way. Stepping out of the dark underground, I'm just lost now.

I miss them.

To this day, when Geo and I see a low-flying plane in the Manhattan airspace, we stop, watch and wait for it to pass.

Here's a weird side note. Until the day I die, I will be forever grateful to a silly-ass robot fighting show on Comedy Central. You see our original plan for vacation was to spend a couple days at the beach then head to our friend's house near Philly where we were to drive into Manhattan for the day. It wasn't prudent to venture to a town in such turmoil where we would likely get in the way, so instead we ordered Chinese take out and stayed in, not knowing how to act, what to do, how to feel. For three days there was no levity. Nothing was funny. It just didn't feel right or respectful to laugh ever again.

As we sat there quietly eating dinner, we happened upon the much-maligned program, BattleBots. It was a show wherein pasty-faced, gear-headed geeks created remote controlled robots to pit against one another in a fight to the death. These bots were loaded with mallets, spikes and saw blades with which to pulverize their opponents in a glass encased arena. It was absolute mindless drivel, and it was EXACTLY what we needed.

For the first time in 72 anguish-filled hours, we laughed. For that brief time frame, we forgot about the  all-consuming tragedy which befell our beloved country and just.. laughed. Yep. I will always and forever have a soft spot in my heart for that ridiculously stupid, wonderfully absurd robot fighting show for affording us the opportunity to shelve the madness for sixty glorious minutes.

***You can listen to Rhett read from his journal on NPR's Here and Now here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let's Get Ready To Play The Family Feud!!! 
or the curious case of the Chopra's curmudgeon consciousness

Okay, an hilarious exchange happened on Twitter today between a wry writer, Suzanne Munshower, and noted, self-proclaimed "Cosmic Consciousness" spirituality guru, Depak Chopra.

A couple of Chopra's cosmic tweets didn't sit well with Munshower, so she did what many tweeters do, she commented on his BS.

As Shea Bennett from Mediabistro put it, they were pretty light retorts, but clearly, Chopra was not a peace-loving camper when he shot back this tweet:

Real mature, Dude.

Wait. Isn't he supposed to be above this kind of petty rhetoric? Doesn't he pass himself off as more enlightened than the average bear? Of course this against-his-holier-than-thou-principle retort was retweeted ad naseum as well as egged on Ms. Munshower.

As the afternoon's encounter progressed, a Mr. Singh put in his two cents, soliciting another out of public character response.

Yeah. It felt so good to this do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do yahoo that he removed this and several other similar posts from the Twitter stream. I just love that Suzanne's little three word comment got Mr. Trancendental's knickers all into a major bunch.

Nice job, Chopie. Guess what? You're fucking human like the rest of us humps after all. How's that irony taste? Try not to hit your head on your way off your pretentious pedestal.

You can read the entire article here. Enjoy.

In Which I Believe In God, Guardian Angels and American Workmanship

Okay, so I was driving around a blind corner (not speeding for a change, mind you. pinky swear) on this gray, rain-soaked afternoon, when the two cars in front of me suddenly stopped. The road was slick, I jumped on the brakes, the car fishtailed and after invoking Jesus' name, Rita came to a screeching halt a mere foot behind the piece of crap, gray, clown-car shaped Cube.

Fact: I believe in God, Guardian Angels and Divine Intervention.
Fact: I do not, however, believe in the Warren Commission's "Magic Bullet" theory. That's just fucking fantasy.

I know. A declaration of faith sounds hypocritical coming from me, abuser of the Lord's name, lover of the f-bomb and Patton Oswalt's religiously irreverent Christmas Shoes but, I am a spiritual being. Not necessarily religious, but spiritual.

Shut up. I am. Swear to Dogma. You can stop rolling your eyes anytime now.

But seriously, there have been a number of incidents in my life in which I should have died, or at the very least been badly injured. My avoidance of these potentially fatal happenings can only be attributed to the grace of a higher power. A psychic once told me that very thing. She said I have a Guardian Angel who steers me clear of wreckage. I call him Guillermo. He's all tall, dark and ripply. I owe G my life several times over. Hope he gets paid by the hour, because that Dude works a LOT of overtime.

So, yeah, I believe in God, Grace, Guardian Angels, Divine Intervention and in this case, the American Workmanship of a Pontiac Vibe.

Monday, September 5, 2011

In Which We Celebrate A Holiday For The Little Guy

Okay, so today is Labor Day. The day in which the hard-working, middle and lower-middle class union members (like myself) are celebrated across America for making our country strong and self-sustaining. Ironically, most of us celebrated laborers labor on Labor Day.

Somebody has to clean up this mess, right?

Anywho, the disgusting truth of the matter is unions and their members are under viscous attack from the cold-hearted right during these poor economic times. Ironically these are the very times in which unions are needed most to protect the hard-won workplace benefits we all feel entitled to today. I have argued innumerable times with non-union employees who don't realize the only reason they have healthcare, paid vacation, paid sick time, a safe working environment and a living wage is because union's exist in this country to fight for these conditions. They just think we're a bunch of fat, lazy slobs who sit around all day drinking coffee and bitching instead of working for a living.  
Okay, we do down the java and bitch, but we work our asses off, too. No matter how many times I say it, they don't connect the dots. Strong unions = a strong middle class = a strong economy = a prosperous country. My Dad worked to get the Post Office unionized. Today's postal workers owe him and his buddies a debt of gratitude for their salaries, overtime pay and pension.

One of the women I follow on both Facebook and Twitter, Joyce, is a ballsy, broad from Massachusetts who isn't afraid to say outloud what most of us rational humans are thinking. She puts it out there, warts and all, with no fear, no matter whose knickers she might twist.

I love her. I wish I had her stones. Someday I'm going to meet her.

She wrote a piece about the virtues as well as vices of unions that is much more eloquent than I could pen. Plus, you know, I'm a card-carrying member so natch I'm a lazy lout. You can't expect me to read the paper AND compose a post. Pffft.

Here's an excerpt: