Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wherethehellarewe, Wisconsin

One weekend, at the last minute, my future partner and I decided to take a road trip. Picking me up at work in a rental car late Saturday afternoon we headed northwest. 5 hours later we arrived at our destination, the town of Prairie de Chein, on the Mississippi river, the border between Iowa and Wisconsin. It was October and the midwest had been basking in a freakish warm spell. For the last week high had been in the mid to upper 80's. People were out in droves. As we drove down the main road all the hotels and motels sported signs reading "No Vacancy". In desperation, my partner, leaving me in the car, went into one of the largest hotels to ask where we might get a room for the night.

Returning to the car he tells me what he has found out from the woman at the hotel desk. There is not a single room available in the town. They have been sending people to Dubuque, 90 miles away, although they are not sure if there are rooms available there. She has told us that if our car seats recline we can sleep in the car in the field across from the hotel. If anyone questions us tell them she said it was alright for us to do so, giving us her name.

After a few more minutes of fruitless searching my partner suggests that we return to the hotel and ask the woman if she will rent us pillows and a blanket for the night. Our seats did not recline but the back seat folded down which would make the hatchback a small, cramped and hard but serviceable place to sleep for the night. Upon entering the hotel the woman says "I'm so glad you came back! I found you something!" She handed him a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it. We go to the local casino boat and using the pay phone, cellphones were not ubiquitous then as they are now, dials the number. Speaking over the din of the casino and adjoining lounge he jots down the directions he is given. They go something like this.....

Head south on County Road 91. When you see the big rock on the left turn right. After you cross the second wooden bridge you'll see a barn and a farmhouse, that's the old Miller place. Turn right, go about 2 miles and you'll see the motel of the left. We were in the country.

When my partner says we will be arriving late so how will we get in the man at the motel replies, "It will be the last door on the left on the first floor. I'll leave the key in the lock." We were definitely in the country.

The casino boat sat in the river, which is technically Iowa. In Wisconsin, two feet away across the gangplank that connected the boat to the shore, gambling was illegal. After a period of unsuccessful gaming we crossed the gangplank and simultaneously the state border, returned to the car, said a prayer and headed south on County road 91.

There are no lights on these quiet county roads. Our headlights provided the only illumination. The need to pee became unbearable so we pulled over to the side of the road. As we "answered natures call" we looked up and were mesmerized by the star filled sky. We never experience that many stars at home as the city's glare overwhelms their more delicate brilliance and the beautiful, intricate patterns they create.

Following the directions we were given we do eventually come upon a small two story structure. There was indeed a key in the door of the last room on the left. The interior decor of the room resembled the interior of the ramshackle trailers envisioned by Hollywood set designers that are sometimes featured in slasher movies, fake wood paneling, poor, worn country reproduction furnishings and all.We were not there for the decor, we are there for the bed. Especially considering that it was the only one available for miles in any direction., We tucked ourselves in and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, after settling our bill with the owners; the ones that had provided us with the excessively rural directions of the night before; we began to wind our way thru the farm fields and small towns of Wisconsin. The tiny hamlets struggle for claims to fame, which are proudly provided to you on signs as you enter each one. "Home of the 1963 State High School Champion Falcons", "Home of Miss Wisconsin 1953" and my personal favorite, "The Wild Turkey Hunting Capitol of the World." Think about it, really, who is going to challenge that claim? Who else would want it? One towns overlong explanation is, not the place where the first Gideon bible was left, but the place where the two men first discussed the idea of leaving the bibles in motel rooms nationwide.

We traveled through the bright fall colors enjoying the warm autumn afternoon. We passed cows tranquilly grazing in fields, it was Wisconsin. We stopped at a farm stand and purchased gourds, jams, cider and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stopping at the border we bought the obligatory cheese before crossing into Illinois and heading home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Illinois neighbor to the north is the state of Wisconsin, known as "America's Dairyland". I sometimes say, only half jokingly, that as you leave they check your car at the border to ensure that you have purchased cheese during your stay. In truth, there are shops selling a variety of cheese products at all state border crossings.

I have a friend who grew up in, and whose family still lives in, Oshkosh, a city famous for the clothing company which carries it's name. It is a relatively small city in both physical size, 24 square miles, and population, around 66,000. It contains a number of historic structures, primarily due to the wealth generated by the timber industry in the late 19th and early 20th century, including a modest home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

My friend's family lives on a county road, yet still within the borders of the city. The home was part of a dairy farm, it is Wisconsin after all. A second home, a classic example of the Arts and Crafts movement, was rescued by the family from demolition during an urban renewal project. It sits next door to the original house on the property. There is a hay barn and the dairy barn, some of the milking equipment still in place. The grounds around the homes and outbuildings are well manicured. The rest of the property has been allowed to return to it's former state of prairie grasses and wildflowers. Wild hares and mice thrive in the tall grasses. Hawks float overhead. My friend's father and I once stood at the edge of the wild growth watching two adult hawks teaching their young to hunt.

My friend once told me the story of the house. Originally a much older home stood on the site. Apparently the husband who owned it was constantly telling his wife he would build her a new home to replace the old one. After postponing construction time and again the wife's patience wore out. She took a sledgehammer to the house causing so much damage that tearing down and rebuilding was the only option. What resulted was the charming one and a half story home that stands today.

The upper floor, where the bedrooms are located, is a cozy space of sloping ceiling lines and dormer windows. The mix of furnishings, punctuated by country antiques, makes the home feel comfortable, loved and lived in. Off the master bedroom is a deck built on top of the home's first floor mud room. The mud room is the entrance to the house. It opens into the kitchen, which is the heart and soul of this home. There is a front door the the house as well, but I can truthfully say that in all my visits there I have never seen anyone use it. The dining room has built in cabinets in it's corners showcasing a collection of transfer printed pottery. Racks containing a collection of silver spoons hang on one wall. A small book lined study sits at the back of the house. Out the living room's window cows can be seen grazing in the field across the road. Alas, the last time I was there this bucolic scene had begun to morph into the tract homes of a subdivision. In the basement a bar and pool table share space with the family's Christmas decorations.

Each year the Experimental Aircraft Association holds an event called AirVenture. People flying in from all over the world to display their small aircraft gives the city's municipal airfield, for this one weekend each year, the distinction of being the busiest airport in the world. Oh those magnificent men in their flying machines! My first visit to Oshkosh was to experience this aeronautical spectacle. 5 of us, plus their son, descended upon this hapless family that weekend. We took over the upper floor of the house, his parents graciously giving up their bedroom, sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room. I went to the air show knowing almost nothing about experimental aviation. I left knowing that it was a venture entirely out of my price range. The visit ended with a Sunday family lunch of hearty country fare prior to our drive home. 3 generations of this wonderful family graced the table that afternoon.

Subsequent trips revolved around the family's annual fall barn dance. Shopping at Goodwill and antique malls filled the afternoons. On occasion short visits to a local lighthouse were made, as a constant fellow on these trips is fond of them. He was fonder still when he discovered that this particular lighthouse carries his last name. Further investigation revealed that he is distantly related to the family that owns and maintains the structure.

In the evening the dance commences. It is a major event in the area and draws a large crowd. As it is Wisconsin there is a fair assortment of Packer's attire on display. The scene is peppered with guests sporting combinations of Green and Yellow and G's and B's. Hay bales provide seating, plank tables groan under the weight of kegs of beer and plates of candied apples. Jack o' Lanterns, carved by the lighthouse lover, flicker and two stepping couples fill the floor.

One dance of the night is reserved for the hosts, the parents of my friend. After over four decades of marriage the look they shared as they moved across the dance floor to the strains of "I Only Have Eyes For You" displayed a deep and abiding love that is beautiful, inspiring and enviable.

I wander outside. The barn blocks out the lights from the house and grounds as we sit behind it. I enjoy the crisp, fresh coolness of the fall night air and look up through the darkness at the multitude of twinkling lights in the broad, crystal clear, midwestern sky. I could not live in the country, but it's a great place to visit once in a while!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chicago Is

My partner has been posting on Face book a series of photos entitled "My Kind of Town". They feature diverse views of Chicago, the city we call home. I have never regretted, in fact often rejoiced, at my decision to move here over twenty five years ago. Knowing after 6 months of unemployment I would soon be returning to the workforce, and with our early fall weather generally being some of the finest of the year, I decided to take in just a small amount of what the city offers.

The Goodman Theater

This is a season ticket I subscribe to. The opening production just happened to coincide with my final moments of unemployment before beginning new job training the next day. I enjoyed a rare, albeit somewhat uneven, production of Tennesee Williams "Sweet Bird of Youth". With the high level of production values I have come to expect from this award winning theatre and featuring the outstanding performance of Diane Lane in the role of Alexandria Del Lago, it was a wonderful way to kick off a new chapter of my life.

The Lincoln Park Zoo

We try to get here a least once a year. A zebra had just given birth and the new foal, less than one month old, was a delight to watch as it's mother kept a vigilant eye over it's every move. There were several other newborns on display, a reflection of the zoo's successful breeding programs. With it's free admission, easy access via public transportation and lush park setting, it is well worth a visit from tourists and residents alike.

Outside the zoo's main entrance, across an expanse of green lawn, colorful flowerbeds and fountains sporting a blue green patina, stands the late 19th century conservatory. Temporary and permanent exhibitions share space inside the historic glass and steel structure. Admission to it is also free.

Through the back entrance to the zoo, a few steps to the north, is the tranquil oasis of the lily pond. Restored just a few years ago the waters of the pond provide a home for ducks and turtles. Again lushly landscaped, featuring Arts and Crafts style pavilions, it feels a world apart from the busy city streets less that a block away.

A Birthday Lunch with Friends

Again, I had no control over the timing of this, it was just coincidence that it took place during my last free weekend. Chicago contains an almost embarrassing wealth of unique and outstanding restaurants. Ranging from expensive fine dining to small neighborhood haunts there is something for every taste and budget.

This celebration was held in the private downstairs dining room of one of the city's finest Mexican restaurants. the guests ranged from the "Birthday Boy's" young granddaughters to his siblings. Our table was hosted by his daughter. He recognised us, during the obligatory speech; my partner in particular, for our assistance on his daughter's wedding day. The food was outstanding. The city's restaurants are not something we get to take advantage of very often making the rare opportunities to do so all the more special and memorable.

The Art Institute

We maintain a membership to this world class institution. They had mounted a special exhibition of 18th and 19th century textiles culled from their permanent collection. Bedcovers, samplers, quilts and even embroidered lace bonnet veils were displayed. An immense, spectacular star quilt, which had managed to retain it's bright colors, was one of the highlights here. A beautiful white bedcover had delicate stitching depicting flowers spilling out of a cornucopia in it's center. Mourning samplers were lovingly rendered remembrances of cherished ones who had passed on. Other samplers almost looked as if they were paintings due to the tight, thick stitches used to create them . Some of the pieces possessed extensive provenances including dates of birth, deaths and marriages of the previous owners. The incredible amount of work involved in crafting these pieces insured their status as treasured family heirlooms and contribute to their knowledge of their provenance and remarkable state of preservation.

This impressive exhibit made me think of the many other pieces of art and history that are stored out of sight in museums collections, not displayed due to lack of space or the fragile nature of the artifacts. When I first moved to Chicago I interviewed for a position in the cash office of the Art Institute. As I was led back to the managers office I vividly remember, decorating the cubicles and hanging on the office managers walls, the oil paintings in their elaborate gilt frames. 

The museum does periodically change, reorganize and rotate some of it's exhibitions. A recent change is 10 pieces by Toulouse Lautrec, formerly interspersed with other works, pulled together in one gallery.

I have found that in museums you experience not only art but are often given the opportunity to experience and appreciate moments. As I moved through the modern wing I noticed a young woman speaking in French to a group of small children sitting on the floor gazing at a work by Jackson Pollock.

A minor disappointment, Hopper's "Nighthawks", one of my favorite pieces, is once again on loan.Tempering my slight dismay was that we had loaned it to a museum in Paris, securing my city's reputation as a repository of world class art.

Leaving the Nest - Dedicated to My Brother

One of the things I enjoy as fall moves to winter and the trees finally concede to the season dropping their last leaves are the birds nests that appear nestled in their branches. Hidden by the foliage of summer, as they are exposed they serve as a reminder and promise of the rebirth and eventual warmth of a new spring. Some are reused and new ones are constructed. Lined and padded with grass and leaves, sometimes lint or bits of paper, they create warm, safe, snug places to lay and hatch eggs and rear young.

I have seen a blanket made of down stretched over the nest of a goose. The mother sacrifices her own coat to serve the fragile lives developing inside the eggs it covers. I have watched as she turns each egg with her bill to ensure the correct formation of that small life. I have been warned away when the mother or drake feel that I have ventured too close to their painstakingly cared for treasures.

Parents nurture their young, helpless in their newborn, unfeathered state. Mothers ferry food to them inside themselves and, when the time comes, teach them to fly. Eventually, they spread their wings and leave the nest, independent and free.

Recently, my brother's youngest child moved out of the home he and her mother had created with her. Her departure was met with what seemed a mixture of sadness and depression. I have known other parents whose emotional experience was similar after the departure of their children., I have never raised a child. I cannot empathise, only sympathise with these feelings. Perhaps it is loneliness. Perhaps it is a feeling of no longer being needed by the one that has always needed you most. But when children have the strength, will and determination to leave the security of their childhood home and face the uncertainty that defines adulthood it means that as a parent you have done your job exceedingly well. You have provided your child with the education, tools and insight to face the next phase of their lives and all that it will present to them.

Children never stop needing their parents. They will return for advise and love or for their comfort during difficult periods. They will also return to share their joy during happy times. A true love met or the expectation of a new life. There is no greater teacher in the rearing of a child than those that have done it before.

Children never truly leave home. They move away, but they always carry their home with them. It is part of the foundation they use to build their own home. As their children grow and move away that home travels with them also. Although they may no longer live with you, your children are always at home.      

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An October Afternoon

It is the sort of, almost mythic fall day one dreams about. Some trees have been stripped bare and are beginning their winter slumber. Most still wear their autumn garland of color. A few leaves remain stubbornly green, refusing to succumb to the diminishing daylight. The sun at this late hour, at this time of year low in the sky, sends a shaft of bright warmth down the canyon formed by the highrises which line each side of our lakefront street. The warmth tempts the students, recently arrived at the nearby college, to run shirtless to and from their lakefront jogs.

In the playground children run about in their seemingly aimless fashion. Yelling, giggling, their sweet innocent faces express the joy of playing outside on this beautiful day. Soon this play will change. Shorts will give way to long pants, heavy coats, hats, gloves and scarfs. It will be a season of snow. Sledding, snowmen and throwing handfuls of powder into the air to watch it float down around them, or forming it into balls and throwing them at each other will be the order of the day.

But, for now, there is the warm sunlight, gentle breeze and peace and contentment that come from experiencing a glorious day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My New Commute - Mid Autumn

With a new job comes a new commute. This one is somewhat different than any I have had before. Each day I take a short, 10 to 15 minute train trip from Chicago's northern border to a suburb located northwest of the city.

It is mid autumn. The leaves are more colorful than I had dared hope after the drought and extraordinary heat we experienced over the summer. Initially the train runs through a tangle of these leaves. Yellow, colored by the fading sunlight of the season, mixes with the last, remaining green of summer. I am learning to overlook the rail maintenance yard and water treatment plant that follows. In an odd juxtaposition, the stately administration building which stands watch over the bubbling cauldrons of recycled water is a study of classic art deco beauty. Soon there is a grass easement on either side of the train sprinkled with yellow wild flowers and queen anne's lace. One evening a doe and her fawn stood in the grass as the train passed.

Neighborhoods of cozy late mid century bungalows sitting side by side along tree lined streets appear. The trees are an autumn rainbow of orange, green, yellow and red. Masses of other treetops can be seen in the distance. The soft transition from one autumn shade to another look almost as if they could have been painted by Monet, had he not been obsessed with his palette of soft pastels.

At my rides end stands the historic first train station for this suburb. Built in 1924 it is an excellent example of Prairie School architecture. It has been moved 130 feet east from it's original location. Today it houses a Starbucks and a company which assists people with declaring bankruptcy. As I think of the lack of respect for the building and it's history that this use shows I am heartened by the fact that there was enough respect to keep it from being bulldozed into a memory.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Guilty Pleasures - Televised Eye Candy

In my youth television consisted of 3 channels, and even these stopped broadcasting at 11 p.m. or so. Under these spartan conditions my adolescent televised eye candy, although I did not acknowledge it as such at the time, consisted of the eldest of  Fred McMurrays "Three Sons", James West, in his impossibly tight pants, and on occasion Greg Brady. Today television offers us a copious number of channels 24 hours a day and almost unlimited opportunities for satisfying our more lurid visual fetishes. Following are some of my personal favorites.

The Tudors

Although I can claim some small level of dignity with this choice citing it's quasi historical basis, it essentially amounts to a bunch of very comely people running about engaging in political backstabbing and blackmail and extramarital coitus. One of the actors, after bulking up, is the latest choice to play Superman, since the 80's a character they keep trying unsuccessfully to make sexy. Maybe this time they will get it right and get past the underlying goody two shoes nature of the previous attempts which made the "Man of Steel" about as sexually appealing as an unfrosted donut. In some episodes clothing seems to be more off than on and costumes, when worn, appear to be designed by someone fond of tight leather boots and leggings. Nothing even slightly erotic about that. The sets, costumes, leather aside, jewels and locales are lush and spectacular and the scripts and storylines complex. Which keeps me from feeling particularly dirty as I watch it. Then again, maybe I am a master at justification.

The Mentalist

O.k., this one is completely indefensible. While I enjoy the manner in which the crimes on the show are solved, it is also the cast which captures my attention and keeps me whiling away portions of my life watching it. There is the tall, hot detective. Lean and handsome, he also looks somewhat stupid, which is not always an undesirable trait. The stoic Asian detective I also find appealing. Which is odd in that I never even remotely considered myself a "rice queen". Perhaps it is his solid, thick physique, showcased in tight fitting short sleeved dress shirts and ties. This is a fashion choice which usually makes me cringe, however in this case I am willing to give it a pass. In one episode, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of him clad only in boxer shorts. It seemed to make some of the time I have spent watching this worthwhile.


I only recently discovered this one. I can, again, maintain my dignity while viewing by remarking on it's period set and costumes, although I suspect they are a conglomeration of several different periods, and the inclusion of the noted thespian John Hurt as the voice of the dragon...alright, maybe that's a stretch.

I must also admit I enjoy the two male leads. Merlin is adorable in a jug earred twinkie sort of way. He possesses a delightful impish smile. He is complimented nicely by the blond underwear model who plays the young King Arthur. Great care appears to have been taken to ensure that Arthur is often seen in various stages of undress. In the series 4th season, and extraordinarily tall, handsome supporting actor has been added to the cast. The actor, playing the role of the knight with the  decidedly unbutch name of Percival, always seems to have his rippling, powerful arms bared, whereas the arms of the other knights in those same scenes are covered by not only tunic sleeves, but also gauntlets and chain mail armour.

The plots and subplots of this BBC production while often witty and engaging, are not it's only attractions.

I will admit to sometimes reverting to my youth and watching a rerun of "Wild Wild West", paying particular attention to the episodes where Robert Conrad dons the leather chaps his character is so fond of. Although often neglecting to wear a shirt, a favorite episode of mine is one in which he forgets his shirt while wearing the aforementioned chaps. When viewing this episode I can't help noting that there are several bars I am aware of where he would not only fit in but be very popular.
One question has always vexed me though. How was he able to sit down, let alone fight bad guys and swing his leg over to ride a horse, while wearing those tight pants?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Excuse Me Mr. Kubrick, I'm 10 Years Old and Real Confused

For a number of years, as a child and teenager, I made my pocket money as a newspaper boy. While my mother was working her way through college one of her part time jobs was as a "den mother" to a group of us. My fellow newsboys would gather at our house each day to collect and fold their papers before setting out to deliver them. She would study at our kitchen table in the breakfast nook, which overlooked the back yard, thereby being accessible to us should the need arise. One of her responsibilities was to take us out one evening each week to canvas neighborhoods for new subscriptions. In this area of the business I was particularly successful. I was tiny, with red hair, freckles and large blue eyes. I was difficult to say no to. There were prizes awarded for the number of  subscriptions we were able to collect. Over time I won, among other things, several trips to Disneyland, we lived an hour away, and a small black and white t.v. This I used for over ten years, keeping it with me when I moved out of my parents home. At one point we were awarded tickets to a movie at a fancy Hollywood theatre. The movie was Stanley Kubrick's "2001, A Space Odyssey".

Although the movies remarkable visual effects impressed me, the film's non linear storytelling style left a bunch of pre teen paperboys standing in the lobby afterward scratching their heads in puzzlement. What's with those apes in the beginning? What about the old man and the baby at the end? And, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT BIG BLACK THING THAT KEPT SHOWING UP??????????? Another of the "den mothers", who had driven us to the theatre, on the way home was left with the unenviable task of attempting to explain this confounding movie to a bunch of 10 year olds.

I am several decades older now and recognize Stanley Kubrick as a true master of his craft. He did not play by the rules. If he had his work would not be near as interesting or carry the extraordinary level of gravity which it does. There is "Spartacus", with it's homoerotic undertones, so controversial in their day that they were edited out of the movie upon it's initial theatrical release. He demanded that Dalton Trumbo be given screenwriting credit for this film, even though Trumbo was blacklisted at the time. "Barry Lydon" is a visual marvel due to his creation of a film making technique which allowed him to shoot scenes in candlelight. "Clockwork Orange", again controversial due to it depictions of sex and violence is a remarkable piece of storytelling, a wonderfully imaginative vision of a future gone haywire. "Paths of Glory" contains some of the most affecting battle scenes I have ever viewed. It manages to show the horrors of the battlefield without resorting to scenes of graphic gore. "Dr. Strangelove" is a satirical classic which masterfully skewers the foolishness and utter nonsense of the decades long cold war.

But back to "2001". In order to lend the film realism he paid AT&T and the Hilton Corp. to use their names and logos in it. This is particularly ironic in that today companies pay film's producers to have their products and logos depicted in them. Perhaps the film is best described as "open to interpretation". In my case at least, this interpretation seems to change with each viewing. This being said, I am always enthralled by it's spectacular visuals, lush classical score and Keir Dullea's thick thighs in his tiny tight shorts as he jogs around the spaceship shadowboxing.

The only time the movie has ever made complete sense to me was one night watching it on t.v. with my stepfather as we smoked a substantial quantity of hash. As the movie progressed our conversation regarding it resulted in great insight and clarity. The following morning however, the hash had worn off and I remained as frustrated and confounded by it as ever.

Mr. Kubrick, may you rest in peace, but I am now 55 and real confused!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

St. Louis - The Trip Home

I remarked during my trip, to an extremely helpful bus driver, how gracious and friendly people had been to me in St. Louis. I enjoyed my visits to the two museums, particularly enthusiastic about their excellent art museum. I was quite taken by the park in which the museums were housed and wish I had had better weather and more time to explore it. From the brief glimpse I received, it appears the neighborhood around the park is also deserving of more exploration. I was underwhelmed by the segment of gay life I witnessed, but nowhere, even in my beloved hometown of Chicago, is that what it once was.

Early Monday morning arrived and I boarded the Amtrak train for my return trip. Having ridden on the left hand side of the train going south I realized I would also have to sit on the left hand side of the train going north to see the sights I had not seen as opposed to seeing what I had seen only backwards! I was allowed a better view of the Capitol building and the well preserved historic center of Joliet, including the beautifully renovated train station. Having to pull off to a siding to allow another train to pass we were treated to a bucolic vista of late summer wildflowers and due to the recent rains, somewhat replenished wetlands. A friend of mine, when I returned, mentioned how boring the drive is from Chicago to St. Louis. Upon learning that I had traveled by train he agreed that it would be a much more enjoyable and interesting trip. It is a mode of travel I highly recommend Perhaps, choosing to ride the train, if parents are lucky, "are we there yet" would turn into "are we there already".

St. Louis - The Courthouse and Dred Scott

While admiring the Arch I struck up a short conversation with a man wearing a faded Cubs tee shirt. He also was visiting from Chicago with two other friends over the long weekend. I seem to have a habit of running into Chicagoans when traveling. I have met them gazing at a waterfall in Ohio, strolling down the street in Key West and met people born in the suburbs in Palm Springs and Yellowstone. At the street corner he went his way and I started across another small park towards the historic St. Louis Courthouse.

I had initially intended to just walk by the Courthouse assuming, it being Sunday, that it would be closed. It was covered by scaffolding undergoing renovation. This is something else I seem to have a habit of running into. The Doumo in Florence, main cathedral in Mexico City, even the 18th century courthouse on St. Martin, it's cornice topped by a carved wooden pineapple, have all been at least partially covered by scaffolding or netting during my visits. I was delighted to discover that the courthouse was open and climbed the steps to it's entrance.

Inside rooms contain historical displays. There is a plexiglas model in one of these rooms showing the original structure and how it had been expanded over the years. The soaring, beautifully painted rotunda and dome were festooned with patriotic stars and stripes banners.

The sign outside had said that two of the courtrooms had been restored to their original 19th century appearance. I stepped into the gift shop to ask where they were located. A Park Ranger, who had been visiting with the woman behind the counter, escorted me out into the main hall to direct me to them, filling me in on the history of the building. A remarkable history it was. This was the site of the Dred Scott hearing. Dred Scott, born into slavery, was owned by an army officer. He accompanied the officer to several of his posts. He eventually sued his master for his freedom, his argument being that, since some of the posts had been in free states, when he set foot in them he became a free man, regardless of where he currently resided. The court's decision was that, as he was born into slavery he was not a citizen and therefore had no legal right to sue. His suit was declared invalid. The suit and decision were more complicated than this, involving appeals and questions of protection of property.  Legally Dred Scott was viewed as his master's property. The decision inflamed passions on both sides of the issue. It influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln which eventually led to the civil war.

By 1860 more free blacks than slaves resided in St. Louis. A resident's license for a free black, however, required the posting of a $1000 bond, which was a considerable amount at the time.

The courtroom where the Dred Scott decision was heard no longer stands as it once did. A sagging ceiling required building two supporting walls to shore it up, cutting the space up into two courtrooms on either side of a corridor.

On the second floor of the Courthouse are the two restored courtrooms. The second floor is accessed by cast iron steps with filigree risers which date from 1851. The Park Ranger pointed out that the staircase has no vertical support, instead it is anchored to the wall.

Back outside I wandered the downtown streets back to where I would catch the bus to the guesthouse. It being Sunday the streets were almost eerily quiet. Although the majority of the structures in the downtown area are modern, besides the Courthouse a few historic buildings still stand. The city hall is a baroque beauty under it's coating of grime. It is badly in need of some TLC as in it's present state it appears almost abandoned. Across the street from it is a court building. On it's upper floors classical columns hold up a stepped pyramid roof. Unfortunately  between downtown and the neighborhoods to the south several blocks on the edge of the downtown area appear to have been razed to construct elevated highways and off ramps. This has created a desolate, almost war torn looking landscape. From the few buildings that remain it looks as if this area may, at one time, have been historic in nature.

St. Louis is by no means alone in this form of destruction. Throughout the U.S. cities have destroyed their heritage, often to accommodate this countries addiction to the private car. Once this history is gone it cannot be regained. We owe it to future generations to restore and preserve history. The knowledge of where we are cannot be fully understood or appreciated without the knowledge of how we arrived there.

St. Louis - The Arch

On a still gray, cloudy and rainy Sunday morning I left the guesthouse for my trip to the iconic landmark the St. Louis Arch, an almost mandatory visit on a trip to the city. The bus service on Sundays is somewhat sporadic so I chose my departure time carefully and got to the stop with plenty of time to spare. A misstep here could mean on hour long wait until the next bus came along.

I settled in and observed the Sunday morning goings on. An elderly couple carefully picked their way across the rain slick street heading towards the church next to the stop. Bicyclists in their skin tight lycra outfits, their aerodynamic helmets making them resemble some odd form of insect, pedaled hard in an effort to successfully navigate the hilly terrain in the area. Bells rang in the distance announcing the start of Sunday services elsewhere in the area.

After a short ride that I was beginning to become familiar with, I transferred to a train and was soon at the park surrounding the St. Louis Arch. A nationwide design competition was held in 1947 for a new National Monument. Eero Saarinen's design of the Arch was chosen and construction began in 1963. Unfortunately, Saarinen died prior to the completion of the structure in 1965. Weighing 43,000 tons, at 630 feet it is the nation's tallest National Monument. Although from photos one might assume that the base of each side of the Arch is square, they are actually trapezoids, which gives the massive structure a surprisingly graceful silhouette. Small signs lead you through the pleasant park to the underground entrance and visitor's center.

Times being what they are, and this being a National Monument, security at the entrance is tight. All bags are x rayed, jackets must be removed and all visitors must pass through a metal detector. They let you keep your shoes on! Due to the limited number of elevators and somewhat small observation area at the top of the Arch, to maintain crowd control tickets to the top are sold for a particular time. Arriving relatively early in the day the line was short and I only had to wait 20 minutes before my reservation. I browsed in the gift shop, I noticed two women in colorful African dress. One was about to take a photo of the other. I offered to photograph the two of them together as I crossed the lobby to my place in line for the elevator. These women plus the mix of languages and accents around me let me know that this monument is truly internationally known.

Prior to my visit friends asked me how the elevators worked. Did they turn sideways at the top requiring you to climb out of them like a space capsule? To a certain degree I wondered how they would work myself. In fact the elevators, 8 on each side of the Arch, are small, pod like affairs which seat 5 people each, in theory. If one member of the party is particularly large or tall this could make the space rather tight. Fortunately there were well behaved children in my orb going both up and down so the 4 minute ride was as comfortable as it could be, considering. As the pod elevators resemble eggs I began to relate to the feelings that an unhatched chicken might have. Glass doors keep at bay any claustrophobia and give a fascinating view of the inner construction of the Arch. Short steps lead you to the observation deck from the elevator area. Small windows from the observation area look out on the Mississippi river on one side and the St. Louis cityscape on the other. This vantage point provided me with a clear view of the layout of the downtown area allowing me to better plan my walk through it after I left the Arch. After peering out the windows and snapping a few photos I was done and returned to the elevator banks for the ride down.

I was to share the pod with a couple and their two young daughters, who were in town for the birthday of the girl's cousin. The wife was sweet and related her memories of visiting the Arch when she was young. The husband was silent and almost unbearably hot with his shaved head and wide receiver's physique. I had heard that the Arch was designed to withstand winds by having been built with a certain ability to sway, up to 18" if winds were to ever reach 150 mph, 2" on 20 mph winds. Although I did not perceive this movement in the observation area, I did waiting for the elevator. The sway that day was not enough to be nausea inducing, just ever so slightly disconcerting. Once back outside I lingered for a few moments in the park admiring the simple beauty of the monument. I marveled at the technical skill involved in it's construction, particularly in a era prior to computerized measurements and construction techniques. Standing on the banks of the legendary Mississippi it elegantly symbolizes the "Gateway to the West".

Friday, September 14, 2012

St. Louis - It Rained, Then Stopped, Then Rained Anew!

The rains from the tropical storm came and went, and then came again. The challenge was to be inside when the skies opened. As the showers were completely unpredictable this was a rather tricky dance. The showers ranged from flash flood inducing deluges to mists barely worthy of the term rain.

While sitting in a bar Saturday afternoon one of the more violent storms passed over, carrying with it strong powerful rain. Patrons that had just left came running back in. I chose a spot that afforded me a view through the open door and watched the poor souls caught outside during the downpour. Two girls ran by, both soaked to the skin. One carried her flip flops apparently deciding that wet bare feet would give her more traction than her rubber footwear on the rain slick brick sidewalk. A man walking across the street seemed resigned to his sodden state as he plodded along.

Later that evening I left the guesthouse to find a place for dinner. The first venue suggested was dark, loud and not to my liking. The Mexican restaurant next door to it, also suggested as a possibility, had a wait of 45 minutes. Beginning to despair, and being quite hungry by this time, I happened to see a small pizzeria, set back away from the sidewalk,  just off the main street. Entering, I found a small space awash in wonderful smells. There was only one party there when I first arrived. A group of 6 people, most quite heavy, loudly discussing politics and the upcoming election. One woman continually stated her opinion that Republicans wanted to take the vote away from women and furthermore "Put women back in Burkas!" I found this odd as I was unaware that American women had ever worn Burkas. Inexplicably, as I was in Missouri, the USC game was playing silently on the t.v., as it had been in several other places that day. I found a window table, ordered and observed the people coming and going through the restaurant door.

 A family entered, a man with his wife, who was another extremely heavy woman, and several daughters of various ages. I got the notion that he had never won a single argument in this house full of women. Perhaps he gave up trying long ago.

A heavily tattooed, emaciated young man came in. His felt porkpie hat had several feathers tucked in it's band. Against all odds it seemed to have fared rather well in the inclement weather that day. The chain attached to his wallet was long and thick. It's weight seemed to put a strain on his pipecleaner thin physique. He picked up his "to go" order and stepped out the door, striding up the street in his heavy Doc Martens.

I had ordered chicken wings. One of the hallmarks of good chicken wings is how messy they are. These were good, and very messy. One was so slick that it slipped from my fingers and landed under the table. As inconspicuously as possible I attempted to slide it back with my foot, then bend down to pick it up and deposit it among the bones of the ones I had already devoured. After finishing the wings I used the accompanying order of garlic bread to soak up the remaining sauce.

Another fierce storm began. I watched out the window as 3 small children giggled and screamed as they chased each other around in the pouring rain.

The Missouri History Museum - Underneath it All

An extremely interesting and entertaining exhibit currently at the Missouri History Museum is entitled "Underneath it All". It's focus is on the history of women's foundation pieces from the 18th century to the present day. Mannequins are positioned side by side. One is dressed as a woman would be seen on the street, the other shows what was worn under the outer garments. It is a fascinating display of hoops, corsets, stays and various types of padding necessary to give the woman's dress the proper silhouette. Some of the more restrictive items made me wonder how women were able to move about at all, or perform a basic action such as simply sitting down. The accompanying notes make the point that the restrictive clothes women wore reflected and reinforced their restrictive roles in society. A corset, making her body conform to an unnatural ideal, or hoop skirt made it impossible for her to perform any type of physical labor. In some cases she would not have even been able to dress without assistance due to the elaborate combinations of laces, buckles and fastenings needed to don these garments. It was the western world's version of the Chinese custom of binding feet.

At the turn of the 20th century women began to demand emancipation and greater participation in society. These ideas influenced women's dress and foundation garments. Fashions became more comfortable and easy to wear. A woman's body was allowed to appear more natural. Foundations were relegated to providing support and protecting the outer garments as well as providing modesty. The days of the corset, hoop and bustle were behind her. The First World War forced many more women into the workplace which in turn forced more comfort and practicality into women's fashion.

As the 1920's dawned, hemlines rose. Women's undergarments became more fun as color, albeit soft pastels, began to be introduced. The downside, some more well endowed women had to bind their breasts to achieve the newly popular boyish look. Some of the thin strapped, bias cut dresses of the 1930's demanded that, for the first time, women would need to forgo upper body foundations. The war effort of the 40's meant that the fabrics that had been used for undergarments, primarily cotton and silk, would have to be substituted as these fabrics were being used heavily for military functions. Acetate and nylon were developed as stand ins.

The 1950's brought a return to more form altering foundations. Crinoline petticoats and new styles of bras, which occasionally made breasts look like atomic weapons, come into vogue. As I stood in front of a display of bullet bras, two in black lace, I heard an extremely elderly woman behind me exclaim "I never did buy a black bra!" All of us standing within earshot managed to keep a straight face, although it took some effort.

The exhibit continues through the "natural" braless look of the 60's and the disco era of the 70's, when skintight fashions required thin, sometimes almost nonexistent underwear. It then covers the 1980's, or as I like to refer to them, "the shoulder pad years", to today.

In the center of the exhibit is a rack with various styles, hoop skirts etc, which can be tired on to get a first hand feel of the pieces displayed (before you even ask, no I did not!)

One last case, also in the center of the room, displays the type of corset worn through much of the 19th and even early 20th century by the woman that was pregnant, or, to use the vernacular of the time, "expecting", to attempt to disguise or downplay her "condition". Today actresses parade down red carpets proudly displaying their "baby bumps" in clinging jersey gowns. You've come a long way baby. My how times have changed.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two Museums in a Day - The Missouri History Museum

A talkative woman from Kentucky was waiting at the stop for the park bus with me. I attempted to be polite, however, she was none too bright and decidedly uninteresting. I became a little edgy, praying for the bus to come so I could be relieved of this conversation. My saviour arrived and I boarded to ride to the History Museum at the front of the park. The park, the site of the 1904 World's Fair, is much larger than it appears on the maps I consulted prior to my trip. A full day, if not more, could be spent exploring it. The inclement weather, unfortunately, kept my personal explorations limited to those that could be accomplished from inside the bus.

The entrance to the Missouri History Museum, like the Art Museum is also classical in style. Large columns support a portico over it's doors. An addition has been added to the original structure. The frieze of the first building, constructed in 1913 using proceeds from the 1904 Fair, was located at what was the main entrance to the fairgrounds and is preserved inside the newer building. A copy of Lindbergh's plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, is suspended from the ceiling.

An exhibit is focused on the fair. It includes extensive historical information not only of the fair itself but also of the construction methods, some of them quite innovative in their time, used to create the buildings and grounds. It contains photographs, fair souvenirs and reproductions of several employee I.D. cards of the workers, accompanied by short bios on each of them. There are displays of items exhibited at the fair. It was the first World's Fair in which China participated which caused a great deal of excitement at the time. People eagerly anticipated a chance to explore a small piece of this exotic locale. On display is an ornate desk, featuring more drawers than traditional Asian furnishings, designed to appeal to the western market by an enterprising Chinese craftsman.

Appropriate fashion for fair attendees is featured. No tank tops, shorts and flip flops for this event! Hats, for both men and women, were a mandatory accessory of the day. Bowlers or straw boaters for men, elaborate feather and floral adorned creations for women. Judging from photos of the era, the "hat wars" among the women were vicious, bloody and brutal affairs. Women's dresses were long and modest. Cool lace and batiste was the order of the day for summer, transitioning to warmer wools as the weather turned cooler later in the year. For men, summer fashion was a sweltering combination of a shirt, featuring a tight, starched, stiff collar and tie, and a, again, mandatory jacket. Some particularly masochistic male fashionistas would add a vest to the already cumbersome and over warm costume. Considering Missouri's midsummer heat, I imagine one's nattily attired profile would last a half hour, tops!

There are maps of the fair, locating the various attractions, and a small section on the Olympics held in St Louis that year in conjunction with it. The first Olympics to be held in the U.S.

After the fair all of the structures, except for the building now housing the art museum, were demolished. Whatever could be reused was recycled and sold. Other items were buried under the park. There is one case devoted to ornamental fragments of some of the buildings that were unearthed in an archaeological dig conducted by local students.

Another room in the museum features a mixture of smaller exhibits. Here a walk through example of the modest home of a free black can be seen. In this area can also be found a fully outfitted, late 60's model VW camper van. It brought back to me memories of summer trips in vans exactly like this. I felt like a child wanting to explain to passersby, this counter lifts up to reveal the sink, the icebox is under it! This is the closet, the pantry is back by the hatchback, the table and seats fold down! That seat makes a double bed, there's storage under this one! The only difference was the smart looking black and red upholstery this car sported. Having four kids required our upholstery to be of a much more mundane and durable material.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two Museums in a Day - The St. Louis Museum of Art

The collection of the St. Louis Museum of Art is rich. Like a fine wine, it leaves one satisfied yet yearning for the opportunity to experience it again. There is a balance to the collection. It contains a wealth of works spanning eras and art movements from ancient Egypt to the present. No one period or style receives more emphasis than another. Despite the generous size of the collection, over 30,000 pieces, the museum has an intimacy to it which allows one feel a personal attachment to the works. It would be interesting to see if this intimate feeling remains when the expanded galleries, now under construction, are opened. Excellently curated, the galleries are arranged by art movement, subject matter or period, which helps provide focus. For instance, Impressionist landscapes and Impressionist portraits are housed in two separate spaces. The lower level concentrates on furnishings and artifacts, the second level on 17th century through early 20th century painting and sculpture and the third on more modern works. The building, originally constructed for the 1904 World's Fair was moved to it's present site in 1906.

I began on the lower level in the institutions furnishings collection, which  includes two reconstructed period rooms. The collection ranges from opulent 17th century furniture and decorative arts through the Arts and Crafts movement to free form, minimalist designs from the 60's and 70's. Several of the Arts and Crafts pieces are shown in their original settings through the use of period photographs, providing the opportunity to understand how, beautiful in themselves, they were also an integral part of a larger whole. There are galleries of china and silver pieces. Some almost vulgar in their level of ostentation and opulence. Others, like the Wedgewood Jasperwear displayed, familiar and simple in design. One case highlights objects associated with the English tradition of afternoon tea. Medieval armour, and Mesoamerican and ancient Egyptian artifacts are also housed on this floor.

The Egyptian collection is housed in two small rooms, one skylit, which gives a feeling of space to the small gallery. It also allowed me to see the fierce rain which had broken out outside. Three mummy cases are displayed. Two painted with elaborate hieroglyphs, the third a breathtaking example of gold and black lacquer. Xrays of the mummys encased in these are shown on the wall behind them describing the differing methods used for interring them. In one small case figures, meant to assist the dead with tasks in the next world are shown next to a collection of beads used to adorn a shroud. A rare marble figure of a God is juxtaposed with a beautifully simple, elegant bronze sculpture of a cat which bears the wonderful green patina of it's 2000 plus years of existence.

The small Mesoamerican collection has maps on the walls spotlighting the origins of the objects on view. There is a wonderful stone sculpture of a God, a piece of mural from Tenochtitlan, with a detailed explanation of the symbols employed and a well preserved, carved example of the girdle worn by the players in the Mayan's ball court rituals.

I move to the next level and work my way through a grouping of 18th century portraits. Masters of the genre like Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds hang next to works by other, lesser known, yet remarkably accomplished artists. I marvel at the ability of these painters to capture the light reflecting off the satin fabrics of the extravagant costumes worn by the subjects. The rendering of the delicate lace in the portraits look almost as if you could feel it's texture under your fingertips.

The landscape Impressionist gallery contains works by Van Gogh and Pissarro, as well as a small work by Seurat. A mammoth example of one of Monet's "Waterlily's" dominates the room, filling one wall.

A Dega sculpture of a young ballerina, considered shocking and grotesque in it's time, is housed in a gallery which also contains a work of his depicting women in a hat shop. A charming docent at the front desk tells me that this is a recent, major acquisition.

I linger over Millet's tender work "The Knitting Lesson". I am delighted by the visual assault of a collection of works by the German Expressionist Max Beckmann. In the modern galleries upstairs I discover a Rothko. His soft edged rectangles soothe me while a Lichtenstein sculpture nearby tickles my comic fancy.

There is a unique special exhibit on view during my visit. In the museum's collection is a panorama. These are large, multi-paneled works popular as a form of visual entertainment in the 19th century. Attached to rollers, they were used, accompanied by music and narration to gave an audience a view, often somewhat romanticized, of different destinations and  important historical events. As each event was being described, the accompanying scene would be rolled into view, comparable to a slide show. The rolling, as well as the constant transport of the pieces caused them to deteriorate. The one owned by the St. Louis museum is the only example known to exist depicting scenes and the history of the Mississippi Valley. A true American treasure, it had been in storage for several years due to it's delicate condition. It's paint had flaked badly and the fabric had become creased and wrinkled, causing further distress to the already damaged painted surface. Steam was used to smooth the fabric, the piece was reinstalled on new rollers and a painstaking restoration of the damaged paint was begun. Artist, sometimes resorting to ladders, the piece is quite tall, began filling in the damaged areas. This restoration is done in full view of  museum visitors. In addition to giving the visitor the unique and rare opportunity to see the curators at work first hand, the exhibit also includes photos of all the scenes depicted on the panorama.There is information on the details depicted on them,a history of the piece and an explanation of the work being performed.

The only other place I have seen something similar is at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. There a window looks into the conservation lab allowing visitors to observe the technicians at work. As preservation and conservation of the priceless works held in museum collections is as important as the exhibition of the holdings, perhaps more museums should develop this type of exhibit. It allows the visitor to view, understand and appreciate the process and work involved in providing them with the uniquely enriching experience of a museum visit.

Since the rain from the tropical storm continues, some downpours being rather heavy, I decided to skip the zoo and continue on to the Missouri History Museum. I did not know of it until I saw it at the front of the park as I waited for the bus. Admission to it, like the Art Museum, is free. The woman at the front desk informs me that she had recently visited Chicago and feel in love with the Art Institute, sending her husband off on other activities so she could linger there. She tells me there is an exhibit at the History Museum, "Underneath it All", which is not to be missed. Armed with this information, I leave to catch the bus to my next destination.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

St. Louis - Breakfast in a Garden

The day dawns gray and overcast. Storms and showers are predicted but, thus far, in spite of the gray skies, the streets are dry. I have planned a trip to the St. Louis Art Museum and weather permitting the zoo. They are located next to one another in a city park. If inclement weather does hit, I resolve to make things up as I go along.

Bits of blue are appearing in the sky as I wait for breakfast in the charming outdoor garden of a restaurant near the guesthouse. A light breeze creates a rustle in the leaves of the trees which shade this tranquil green oasis. The waiter is adorable, friendly, young, dark curly brown hair leading down to retro 60's sideburns. Well built without being overly muscular, his broad shoulders lead down to a tiny waist. He possesses the kind of physique young men often take for granted, before gravity comes along and does it's sinister work. He is an unexpected breakfast treat.

The sun seems to be struggling to burn off the cloud cover. I begin to think I may have to return to the guesthouse to ditch some of the rain gear I packed for the day in an overabundance of caution. The breakfast is delicious, particularly when compared to the rather tepid fair of the previous evening. An omelet composed of eggs, spinach, mushrooms and tomato topped off with three thick slices of creamy brie. The potatoes, mixed with peppers and sweet onion, show that even though St. Louis is called the "Gateway to the West", it also contains a small, slight southern sensibility.

As I am here longer and have become more familiar with the area I begin to notice more of the details which give the neighborhood it's French village feel. The red brick sidewalks and the colored shingles which form diamond shaped designs on some of the mansard roofs. There are the friezes running under the narrow eaves of the roofs created of painted wood or decorative brick. Through a wrought iron security gate you can see an open gallery running the length of one building, front to back. It creates the separation between the two flats on either side of the first floor. It also reveals a staircase leading to the flats of second floor the lush green yard sitting behind the structure. An small, empty lot nearby has been turned into a lovely, tidy garden. Small patches of lawn sit between bright plots of flowers, delineated by  sinuously curving brick borders. A short wrought iron fence with a gate in it's center runs along the sidewalk. At one point, inexplicably, the sidewalk ends in the middle of a block. A rutted dirt path, now muddy due to the recent rain, carries you to the next corner.

A short bus and metro ride, the city's public transit is adequate and easy to navigate, takes me to Forest Park, the site of the 1904 World's Fair. A second bus travels through the large park to ferry passengers to various attractions there. I disembark in front of the classical, colonnaded facade of the St. Louis Museum of Art.

St. Louis - Upon Arrival

Even though, as a result of the hot dry summer, it is well below it's normal level, the Mississippi is broad and stately. A proud, imposing lady worthy of her legendary status. She is a hard working river. Her waters not blue but silt filled, brown and muddy. She is not used for pleasure but for transport. As her waters empty into the Gulf of Mexico, she creates the biologically rich delta which shares her name.

When one arrives at a destination mid afternoon, in this case 3:30, there is often a quandary of how to kill the remainder of the day. After catching the bus to the small guesthouse, my home base for the next two days, I find myself left at odd ends. I take a short walk through the historic neighborhood where the guesthouse is located. My umbrella comes in handy as occasional small showers, the aftermath of the tropical storm, pass over. The streets in the area are lined with late 19th and early 20th century rowhomes. Storefronts occupy the street level of a number of them. They bear a decidedly French influence. On the uppermost floors dormer windows perch on mansard roofs. It is immediately reminiscent to me of Montreal's old city, although a couple of centuries younger that that venerable spot. Large churches loom over the other buildings suggesting the importance of religion in society and the lives of the people at the time this area was developed.

The guesthouse itself is a comfortable yet somewhat ramshackle affair. The handyman is quite talkative and has provided a wealth of information on the building. He has also served a valuable purpose as a conversationalist on this initial day. Due to the weather and the current, still difficult, economic times, I am the only guest here this weekend. The guesthouse dates from 1904 and was originally built as coldwater flats. Some interior woodwork, baseboards and door and window mouldings, are still intact. The exterior steel staircase leading to the second floor rooms is reputed to have been salvaged from the Ferris Wheel featured at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. However, this would be next to impossible to verify. World's Fairs, for the most part, are temporary affairs. The attractions are generally demolished or dismantled after the Fair's run. The look of the stairs does make this assertion, though somewhat questionable, not implausible. The central spoke to the wheel, local legend has it, is buried somewhere in the city. Over the years attempts have been made to locate it in hopes of reconstructing it as a tourist attraction.

A MGM technicolor version of the fair can be seen in the delightful, silly Judy Garland vehicle "Meet Me in St. Louis". The film features her singing "The Trolley Song" and the perennial holiday favorite, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".  I have seen this movie several times. After all, it does star Judy Garland and I am gay!

As I am about to leave to go to dinner at the gay bar and restaurant next door a powerful thunderstorm hits. I spend time listening to the booming thunder and reading the book I have fortunately had the foresight to bring with me. It is one of Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie Brown murder mysteries. The series is dependably fun and has become a favorite vacation read of my partner and myself. The storm subsides, I reach the end of a chapter and head next door.

Dinner is a mediocre chicken parmesan accompanied buy a generous house salad and an extremely strong cocktail. The crowd seems to be around my age and like many Americans these days, thick around the middle.

Returning to the guesthouse I again meet up with the handyman. We hold another lengthy conversation. I ask about the small metal stars which dot the outside of many buildings in the area. He explains that they are the heads of large screws which join and support the interior floor beams of the structures to the outside brick walls. In this case form and function meet to create a distinctive, attractive and whimsical whole. A soak in the hot tub, my travel tired muscles pulverized and massaged by the extremely strong jets, sends me to bed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

St. Louis - Ridin' the Rails

I love traveling by train. There is a connection with the landscape that is missed when flying or driving down highways which seem to be specifically designed to be faceless. One upside to hard economic times and high gas prices is the apparent surge in the popularity of train travel. This particular route from Chicago to St. Louis takes just 40 minutes longer, and is significantly less expensive, than a similar trip by car. Planned high speed rail between the two cities will make the trip even more efficient that taking to the road. Another advantage to rail is that stations are generally located in the city center, as opposed to airports which usually sit some ways out. Rail travel in Europe is second nature. It is the mode of travel my partner and I have used on our 2 trips abroad. It has provided us with rich glimpses of the life and countryside that lies between the European cities we have been fortunate enough to visit.

Enroute to Joliet, the first major stop, lush foliage envelops the train on both sides. This gives way to a more industrial scene of highway overpasses, junk car lots, an enormous concrete grain silo and large aluminum clad buildings surrounded by the containers deposited there by semi trucks. This in turn surrenders to prairie meadows thick with knee high late summer growth. A small group of overlarge, banal, yet expensive looking homes appear on a hillside before we are treated to a quick trip through the historic section of Lemont.  And so it continues, forest, field, petroleum plants, acres of corn and the 100 year old church steeples and business districts of small towns as we travel through southern Illinois.

In the distance the sky appears increasingly gray as the remnants of the weekend tropical storm move up the Mississippi valley. It has been a summer of record breaking heat and drought. Although the rain will come too late for he burned crops outside the train's windows, perhaps it will replenish the depleted water table for next year. A large wind farm stands among a farmers field. The rotating blades generate energy which is renewable and does not pollute. Seeing these always gives me a sense of hope for our future.

The scene outside had grows increasingly agricultural. The hamlets, beneath their watertowers emblazoned with the town's name, are less picturesque. They are built for utility. Unfortunate examples of the ugly side of form following function.

Farms feed us. The quiet and solitude of the farming life serves some well. It would bore me silly. These same people, well served by farming, find cities loud and chaotic. In discussions with them they find it difficult to imagine how I manage to thrive there. As much as rural life would bore me, I would be even more bored and frustrated if all people were the same. It's the differences in the threads that make the whole cloth interesting.

We pass through Lincoln, Illinois. A once proud county seat grown old and tired. The great dome of the courthouse presides over decaying early 20th century storefront lined streets. The town resembles a man whose cuffs and collar are threadbare, worn completely through in spots. Bent over from the weight of hard times.

A banner, strung across one of the now ubiquitous grain silos, announces the Williamsville Fall Festival. My mid reels as I imagine the scene. Square dances and handicrafts created by the local church women. The teenagers smoking homegrown pot behind the barn while the high school quarterback attempts to seduce the head cheerleader in the back seat of his parent's car.

We stop in Springfield, our state's capitol. It looks quiet and provincial, as state capitals often do. It's placid streets contain some spots of historical value, many of them pertaining to the early years of President Lincoln. We claim him as a native son. Our state license plates proclaim "Land of Lincoln", even though he was born in Kentucky.I catch a glimpse of the capitol building. Inspired by the design of the nation's capital it has a distinct presence. Classical and imposing, it is a structure which states it's importance without reservation or apology. I also see the Frank Lloyd Wright designed home there, it's architectural lines unmistakable, as the train passes by.

The fields grow smaller and the forested patches larger and fuller. Later, during mid autumn, in a mild wet year, this stretch would be beautiful. Ablaze with fall color. This year, this fall, everything will be yellow and brown due to the summer's excessive heat. Some leaves, burned and dry, are already falling from the trees and fluttering by the windows as we continue towards St. Louis. A brief rain shower has popped up. You can almost hear the ground sigh as the moisture hits it. The corn in the fields we pass is a total loss, scorched on the stalk. Occasionally hawks can be seen, floating in the sky hunting for the mice who themselves search for food in the dry fields. Oddly, petaled yellow flowers and purple thistles grow in profusion, seeming immune to this past summers' brutal conditions.

The city's skyline comes into view. As we approach the Mississippi river the vegetation grows lushly among the ruins of abandoned factories. Soon I will be in the city and begin the next chapter of my weekend adventure.    

St. Louis - Hatching a Plan

I was laid off from a job I had held for 7 years in early spring. I spent the next 4 plus months looking for employment. This search was, at various times, arduous, tedious, grueling and occasionally terrifying. Frugality was the order of the day. I had built up a financial cushion of sorts and was receiving unemployment, however I did not know when I would see a regular paycheck again or what economic calamities I might encounter before finding work. I resolved if I were to come out of this in a fiscally solid position I would buy myself a treat.

While unemployed I had an enormous amount of time on my hands and fooling around on the computer came to realize how affordable a trip to St. Louis could be. I have never visited the "Gateway to the West" and made the decision that a short trip there once I was rehired would be my reward. Especially in light of the realization that might be some time before I was able to leave town again.

I, at long last, secured a job. I had 2 weeks or so prior to starting so began to hatch my plan. Labor Day weekend was high, the timing seemed perfect. I would travel by train finding Chicago to St. Louis routes that were both time and cost efficient. Reservations were made at a small gay guesthouse in a historic area. Two gay bars were located nearby, one apparently right next door. Online research revealed that the neighborhood is sometimes referred to as the "French Quarter" of St. Louis due to the number of clubs featuring live music located in the area. My plans were to visit the cities Art Museum and zoo. Both of which are highly regarded, free of charge and located next to one another in a park and accessible by public transit. I also planned to visit the world famous Arch which the gentleman I spoke to on the phone at the guesthouse assured me was walking distance from them.

There was the possibility that tropical storm Issac would rain a bit on my personal parade, however, the radar the morning of my departure suggested that it was moving faster than was expected and could be out of my way, or only a minor annoyance during my trip. The train was scheduled to arrive mid afternoon Friday. My return was planned for early, very early, Monday morning. I packed a gym bag with shorts and tee shirts, this was to be a casual relaxed weekend, and bid adieu to my partner and our spoiled rotten cat.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

To My Darling Spellcheck - A Love Letter

Some call it a crutch and equate it with the dumbing down of America. I, on the other hand, prefer to consider it a tool. Tools assist us with the act of creation. Tools make tasks easier. Spellcheck effectively accomplishes these things.

I am now and have always been a terrible, or in more politically correct verbiage, challenged speller. As with many people my age, when young, when there were questions about the correct spelling of a particular word we were told to look it up in the dictionary. I, as instructed, would go to the bookcase and standing on my toes pull down the massive, formidable tome from the top shelf and begin to turn it's pages. Each time I did this a recurrent thought always ran through my head, "If I don't know how to spell something how on earth can I be expected to look it up? That requires, at least, an approximate correct spelling of the word in the first place." One had to, at the very least, have the first few letters of the word in question in the correct order. Still I would dutifully continue my search, occasionally giving up and using a word synonymous with the one that had been my first choice.

During my recent job search my darling Spellcheck came into play many times. The last thing I need when attempting to make a good first impression is an obviously, to all but me, incorrect spelling. I will admit that when the message "no misspelled words" appears I do have a feeling of some accomplishment and experience a fleeting moment of pride.

I am extremely dependent on my beloved when blogging. There are certain words I find difficult to spell correctly, even with repeated use. The word resturant, resterrant...oh, whatever, always leaves me completely frustrated and befuddled. I'm surprised that my darling has not gotten frustrated with me with my repeated misspelling of that word. So far, at least, she was forgiven me this transgression.

So whether crutch or tool, Spellcheck, darling, I love you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Degrees of Separation - Community College Professors

At one point, for a short period of time, I studied performing arts at a Community College in the San Francisco bay area. When one lives in California, due to so much of the entertainment industry being based there, brushes with celebrity, while not necessarily commonplace, are somewhat more ordinary that in many other places in the U.S. If you live in the Los Angeles area, not knowing someone working in the industry, however peripherally, is virtually impossible.

One of my professors during this period, a transplant to the Bay Area from L.A., worked during the late 50's at Desilu Studios. He was in a short lived series called "Harbor Police". He was self depreciating enough to make jokes about appearing in this series. While he always seemed to insinuate a minor, albeit recurring role, online research lists him as a guest star in only one episode. While he never met the studio's legendary namesake, he described her from observing her in the commissary as "One of the most garish women I have ever seen." Her hair he described as pink and her garb, according to him, was a combination of wild prints and bright, almost headache inducing colors. It was as if she could not decide what to don in the morning so wore a bit of everything.

He claimed as a roommate of his during this period, the actor Tony Franciosa. He further claimed, as a student of his, Adrienne Barbeau, casting her as Maria in a production of "West Side Story" he directed. I recently saw Ms Barbeau in a delightfully cheesy, low budget movie from that era, "Wild Women of Wongo". She was in her late teens, it appears, and is both luminous and ravenously beautiful in her South Seas cave woman garb. Bruce Vilanch told a story relating that she, Bette Midler and Pia Zadora once played Tevye's daughters during "Fiddler and the Roof's" original Broadway run. They shared a dressing room and were known, at the time, as "6 of the biggest boobs on Broadway".  My professor also mentioned, in an offhand manner, his close friendship with Colin Higgins, the screenwriter of "Harold and Maude", a favorite film of mine, and writer and director of "Nine to Five". Higgins died of aids in 1988.

Another professor at that college, during his own college days, had, as a classmate, the legendary Carol Burnett. The professors had to, as a part of their contract, direct one student production each year. These were often lavish affairs due to the almost limitless manpower available. Costumes were designed and constructed by a costume design class. Similarly, sets, lighting and other technical aspects of the productions were also designed and constructed by students as a part of the school's curriculum. Student lore said that this professor only missed one rehearsal during his years at the college. Ms Burnett contacted him at the last minute to invite him to dinner during a visit to the Bay Area. So, the professor was treated to dinner with a longtime friend who just happened to be a world famous star. The student director handled the rehearsal that evening. Ms Burnett was also influential in obtaining the rights to "Once Upon a Mattress" for him before they would normally have been available to a college production.

There was also a professor there who was a first cousin to, and shared a name with, James Kirkwood, one of the writers of "A Chorus Line". As his name appeared on my resume during my brief attempt at a theatrical career I found myself explaining, more than once, that it was not the James Kirkwood with whose name they were familiar but his first cousin I had studied with. Perhaps if I had omitted this explanation my endeavors would have been more fruitful.

My mother was a professor in the Performing Arts department at the college as well. We lived in the suburbs of L.A. when she returned to school to obtain her degree and teaching certification. While she was attending school she worked at several part time jobs to help cover the expenses associated with her education. One of these was at "The Preview House", a venue designed to get audience reactions to new commercials and television pilots before they aired. The business was owned by Jackie Cooper, the actor. I asked her if she had ever met him. "Of Course", she said. A tad starstruck I asked her what she called him. "Mr. Cooper" was her deadpan reply. It was at this job where she met the cast members of "The Mod Squad" when it previewed there. It was also at this job where Alejandro Rey, the Latin hearthrob from "The Flying Nun", asked her out for a drink. She explained that she was married and politely declined. In later years I always wanted to say to her "He's hot, have a drink with him and then tell him you're married!" I will admit to occasional stepfather fantasies involving this incident. Darn my mother and her damn fidelity!

During this time my sisters befriended two other sisters in their same grades and classes in school. Their mother was an actress. I sometimes accompanied my mother when she picked up my sisters from playdates. I remember, even at that young age, eating windmill cookies while being awed by this woman's glamour and beauty as she moved about her suburban kitchen in her suburban mom clothes as she and my mother discussed the in's, out's and challenges of suburban motherhood. Neil Hamilton, who played Commissioner Gordon on the Batman series, made an appearance at the birthday party of one of the girls. My sister's came home chattering about the experience and showing me the photos he had autographed for them. I did not speak to them for weeks afterward.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

While I do not generally use this forum as a platform for political or social discourse, I feel I must break with this tradition to speak on one particular subject before I burst a blood vessel in my head.

A recent Internet article about gay athletes at the Olympics created a long thread of comments. Some were quite judgemental and hateful. I expected these. I might have even been disappointed if I had been denied the entertainment of watching the self righteous pick and chose scripture as a basis for their barbaric and unenlightened opinions. But there were others, far too many, from people who felt this view is reasonable. Gays can be gays, we have nothing against them and bear them no ill will, they just shouldn't talk about it. Their private lives should be private. It is none of our business and we don't wish to hear about it.

This opinion is often held by persons wearing wedding rings and displaying, when possible, pictures of their spouse and children in their workplace. They hold this opinion while they kiss their spouse in public or walk side by side holding hands or with their arms around one another's waist.

These people have never experienced the feeling of isolation of a young teen struggling to understand a sexuality for which there is no reference. Couples are man and woman. Same sex couples are not seen, therefore do not exist. As presented by the mainstream media, gay men are campy and fey, gay women butch and humorless.It is difficult to find depictions of loving, normal, same sex relationships.

We, as a community, have endured a long and difficult struggle to get where we are. I, for one, will not peacefully step back into my closet under the guise of keeping my private live private.

I urge all gay athletes, politicians, entertainers and other highly public and influential people to loudly announce their sexuality. This is not a gay agenda but a question of equal rights for all people. By speaking out they provide role models and become mentors for those young people who feel alone and scared. Although they, by utilizing their money and fame, may be able to provide themselves with safe enclosures, they have a responsibility to others who cannot.

The irony of people urging us to keep our sexual orientations to ourselves is that the more the subject  is vocalized, the more we talk about it, the more commonplace it will become. We will cease to have a need to announce it because it will just be. Out, open and as beautiful and inspiring as love between two people should be.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steve Martin is a Cheap Date

By my very early twenties I had managed to make my way from the suburbs of San Francisco's East Bay, where I attended junior high and high school, to the city itself. I took up lodgings with a high school friend of mine in an apartment on Nob Hill. Nob Hill, at this point, had lost some of the gloss of it's glory days. Our building dated from the twenties. An old cage elevator transported residents from floor to floor. Our unit was on the first floor, up five or so feet above street level due to the buildings basement. Our front windows faced Bush Street. The clang of the cable car bells, located a half block away, gave a distinctively San Francisco air to this first of my San Francisco apartments. We had a decent sized living room, two decent sized bedrooms and a kitchen so tiny that were it not for the sink, small stove and mini refrigerator could have been mistaken for a closet.

We soon discovered we also had a large infestation of mice. Eventually the building management addressed this problem. We were grateful despite the inconvenience of finding their smelly, decaying bodies laying about. Even more unsettling was entering a room to find one splayed out in the middle of the floor taking it's last, pitiful gasps of air prior to it's demise. We spent quite a bit of time in those days sweeping them into a dustpan and throwing them away.

Union Square, with it's pigeons, world class stores and world class people watching was located nearby. Off of Union Square, on Geary Street, two of San Francisco's main theatres stood side by side. One, The Geary Theater, was owned by the American Conservatory Theatre. Known by the acronym A.C.T.  They presented their seasons of plays in repertory. A different play was performed each night. The house was large, with two balconies. Upper balcony seats were priced modestly enough that we could stroll down the street and decide to see that evening's performance on a whim. When the theatre company purchased that building they made several innovative changes to it's stage area. Following Elizabethan traditions the stage was thrust, built out beyond the proscenium arch. Orchestra seats were sacrificed to accomplish this. The stage was also raked, build on a slant so that the back of the stage was higher than the front to create better sight lines. All sets and props had to take the stages angle of elevation into account when being designed and built. In addition, the stage curtain was removed. The company decided that all set changes would become part of the action of the play, performed in full view of the audience. Set pieces flew up and down, platforms slid on and off from the wings. Due to the huge warehouses full of season after seasons worth of sets, props, wigs and costumes, these productions were often sumptuous visual experiences. The company also ran a theatre school. This allowed them to create crowd scenes onstage by using the students as unpaid extras. Their seasons consisted of Shakespeare, theatrical classics, rarely performed or obscure plays and on occasion new works in their initial stages of development. In short, soup to nuts. Early on, their use of full and partial nudity onstage, long before it became commonplace, was also controversial.

The Curran Theatre, located next door, played host to national tours. It was also a large house with both upper and lower balconies, albeit ticket prices somewhat steeper than it's neighbors. In those days touring shows would sit down in cities for four weeks or more allowing them to bring with them sets and casts similar in size and scope to their original Broadway productions. Also, a name star or two almost always appeared in the cast allowing me the opportunity to see several theatre legends perform over the years.

If you traveled down Bush Street from our apartment you would come across "The Boarding House", a tiny club, near iconic in it's day. PBS taped a series of concerts there called, appropriately, "Live From the Boarding House". One evening, having nothing in particular to do, I recalled seeing that Steve Martin was appearing there. I once heard him remark on a talk show that he considered "The Boarding House" the best nightclub in America. He was not the mega star he was to become soon thereafter. In that era, he could be seen on the occasional talk show or perhaps making a cameo appearance on Cher's Variety Show. His introduction that evening was "Now, direct from a rerun of the Tonight Show, Steve Martin. This absence of fame probably accounts for the cover charge of $3.50 we paid at the door, an amount he thanked us for several times over the course of his performance.

It was a weeknight and the crowd was small, less than 50 people. He began by doing his usual, now familiar routines from those early years. The arrow through his head, his divinely funny parody of a Las Vegas lounge performer and much silliness involving his beloved banjo. He eventually came off the stage. Moving to the rear of thee club he put a foot up on the seat of a chair and holding one of the large votive candles from one of the tables like a brandy snifter, began an insanely hilarious stream of consciousness rant. One of the employees of the club came up to him and informed him that the club was about to close. At this point he lead us to the sidewalk outside.

He hailed a cab, threw open the back door, looked at the crowd on the sidewalk and asked "How many people do you think we could fit in the back seat?" He dug through a garbage can muttering "I'm sure if I look hard enough I'll find money in here." This outdoor theatre of the absurd continued for 20 minutes until, thanking us once again for the $3.50 he ascended the steps to the doors of the club only to find them locked. He began to pound on the doors screaming "Let me in! All my stuff is in there!" An employee eventually opened the door for him and he disappeared inside.

We walked back to our apartment realizing that we had experienced something special. Years later, watching him host Saturday Night Live or the Oscars, I was thankful that, on that evening, I had nothing particular to do.


New York City - Reasons to Return

There are two distinct things I have not yet experienced in New York City. One of these is Times Square at night. The other is the Theatre District at night. I have always been fond of displays of twinkling, swirling lights, despite their somewhat less than positive ecological effect. Return visits to the Metropolitan and Modern art museums would also be welcome. While there I would also try to take in a show since New York productions are generally more elaborate than their sometimes stripped down national tours. The nephew of my ex roommate is lead trombonist at the Metropolitan Opera, so there is an outside chance I could score house seats by exploiting our decades long friendship. However, a return trip to New York is wholly dependant on where future fate and fortunes lead me. The world is large and complex and there is so much to explore.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New York City - Visit #3

It became known, among the employees of Bloomingdale's, as "The Christmas From Hell". We were understaffed, customers were vicious and the new store manager was generally acknowledged by the staff as "psycho". The traditional long holiday hours had added to the stress level. On the up side, the overtime had added greatly to my checking account.

Just after the first of the year my friends in New York contacted me. They were having a party to celebrate the lawyer making partner in his firm. There was some question as to rather or not this would happen due to the homophobic attitudes held by some of the senior partners there. An invitation was extended to me with the knowledge that it was improbable that I would be able to attend. They said even though the chances of my coming weren't great they would love to have me there for this important occasion. After agreeing that I wouldn't be able to come I looked at the vacation time and cash I had amassed. I also looked at the agonizing holiday season I had just been through and decided a trip to New York, with a free place to stay, would be just the rejuvenating treat I needed.

They were in Arizona the week before the party. That week the skies opened over New York and a snowfall occurred that completely shut down "the city that never sleeps". I arrived after nightfall, took the shuttle from Newark to Grand Central Station and then caught a cab through a still snow covered New their apartment on the upper west side. It was Wednesday night. The party was Saturday night. I would be leaving on Sunday night. After drinks and a quick catchup, I retired having worked all day prior to flying in.

The next day the new law partner went off to work. The other had taken a few days off to get ready for the party and spend time with me and and old school friend of his who was also coming into town for the celebration. He and I walked over to Central Park, snowclad and lovely. We sat on a bench and chatted enjoying the tranquillity of the green, or in this case, white oasis in the center of the bustling city. We had lunch and then had drinks at a small bar on Christopher Street, before taking the subway back to their apartment and meeting his partner for dinner.

His school friend came in the next day. He was determined that he was going to redecorate their apartment. The three of us spent most of the day helping him sort through swatches at fabric and furniture stores. That evening we were to meet his partner after work for dinner before being treated by them to the production of "Showboat" playing on Broadway that season. The show was at the Gershwin, a newer Broadway house that is decidedly ugly. New, however, meant more advanced stagecraft possibilities. In this aspect the show did not disappoint; Early on an entire showboat comes onto the stage. There are scenes that take place inside the boat as well as on the decks and the dock it is "moored" to. Marilyn McCoo, of The 5th Dimension fame, had just joined the cast playing the role of Julie. Her singing was sublime, her acting somewhat less so. John McMartin, in his Tony award winning role, was also in the cast. The music I heard in the theatre that evening was exquisite.

Occasionally during live theatre unplanned things happen. Sets fall down or cues missed, this performance had one of those moments. In one scene several of the cast members appear in the windows of the boat. The two ingenues make plans to meet on the top deck. At this point the upper half of the boat sinks behind the lower half to reveal the top deck. It was a wonderful effect. The stars in the night sky were placed in their proper places as opposed to haphazardly strewn across the night sky set piece. They were projections and twinkled. The moon glowed in a realistic fashion. The ingenues snag their beautiful love duet to one another. Then...the moon disappeared. Apparently it to was a projection and something amiss had happened backstage. The ingenues continued to sing on gamely. A few moment later... the moon reappeared. At this point my fist was shoved into my mouth to stifle my laughter. Nothing could stop my shoulders from shaking however. At the end of the scene I leaned over to my host's friend, who was seated next to me and whispered "I just loved the lunar eclipse affect in that scene". She replied"I knew that's why you were laughing. We had bonded at that point and we both enjoyed the remainder of our time together over that weekend.

That night and the next were like a slumber party as there were two guests and only one spare room. I ceded the spare room to her and slept on the couch in the living room. The next night, the night of the party, I was on an air mattress on my host's bedroom floor.

Having a Bally's gym membership has sometimes come in handy when I travel. The next day I went to a location in New York to get out of the way for a couple of hours while they set up for the party. The lawyer's parents were the first to arrive that evening. They reiterated how much my host's had wanted me to be there for the celebration.and how excited they were that I could make it. A group of snotty queens, is there any other kind in New York, were holed up on the couch in the spare room discussing whether their building staff had the right to unionize. The conductor of "Les Miserables", playing on Broadway at the time, a resident of their building, came by after the show. He ended up being cornered by a clueless aspiring actress with absolutely no idea of how to start in the business. Waiters circulated with hor dourves on small trays and a bartender poured stiff drinks, their dining table converted into a makeshift bar. I and their other "out of town" guest giggled together. At one point one of the guests tried to get her phone number or address so he could contact her later. I admired her skill as she deftly fended him off.  At the end of the evening we slept wherever we could find room as the overnight guest count exceeded the number of beds.

My flight back was not until Sunday night. At my host's suggestion I decided on a trip to New York's Museum of Natural History. My host's being members, they loaned me their card and I made my way there. The museum's prehistoric exhibitions are particularly impressive. There are the reconstructed skeletons one would expect. Other artifacts are housed under sheets of plexiglass with holes in the top allowing the visitor to reach in and touch fossilized dinosaur eggs or feel the impression of the serrated teeth of a flesh eating creature.

As I left the museum and was walking back to my host's apartment the snow cover from the massive storm had begun to melt. Revealed as the snow bled away were bags of rotting garbage, needleless Christmas trees, bicycles and dog feces which had been buried for a number of days. The resulting aroma was indescribable. As my partner remarked when I relayed this scene to him upon returning home "New York at it's finest." At one corner on Broadway the snow had been pushed into a 14 foot high mound. A backhoe was shoveling clumps of snow out of the pile and dumping it in the street. Thee tires of the cars traveling down Broadway were melting it and washing it into the sewers.

After picking up my bag I was off to Newark to catch my flight home. When I got there a light, very light, snow had begun to fall. This resulted in a light dusting of snow on the runways. This resulted in a long delay in flights. Being from Chicago, with it's legendary winter weather, I kept my thoughts about the inadequacy of the airport's snow removal crew to myself. Newark Airport, at that time, was a rather bare bones affair. It being Sunday what few businesses that were there had closed early. The flight delays turned from minutes into hours. I had exhausted all reading material I had brought with me. Looking down, I saw a Plumbers Union magazine someone had left behind. In desperation I picked it up. I read it cover to cover. After two hours my flight was finally ready to board. I have never been so grateful to get on a plane and take off in my life.