Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Lack of Imagination

A friend recently sent me a photo of the great actress Dame Judi Densch as Sally Bowles in a 1967 London production of  "Cabaret". Although she looks much the same as now in physical appearance it is a tad difficult to imagine the stately lady of stage and screen that she is today portraying the saucy sexpot.

In younger days Arnold Schwarzenegger was fond of donning tight fitting polo shirts. Unfortunately, although his style sense has not changed, his body has. Several years ago I saw news footage of him running up a few steps to a podium wearing one of the form fitting shirts. The effect, to quote Jack Lemmon in "Some Like it Hot" looked like "jello on springs", not in a good way. Looking at him today it would be difficult, were it not for movies and photos, to imagine his once award winning physique.

So it was, while quietly standing behind my jewelry counter some years back, that a tiny lady entered the store. I judged her to be perhaps 70, if not a bit older. As I rang her transaction I invited her to add her name to our mailing list. She mused a moment then decided on one of the two names she went by. "That's the name I used when I played nightclubs and cruise ships", she informed me. As we continued to talk she said she had been in the original companies of two Broadway shows. "I was in the chorus of "The Sound of Music" and had one line in "Gypsy." In "Gypsy" she played Electra, one of a trio of strippers encountered by Gypsy Rose Lee. In a delightful song, "You Gotta Have a Gimmick", they attempt to teach Miss Lee the ropes of their profession. She told me her single line  "You're much younger that I was when I started stripping", she delivered in a Marilyn Monroe coo, eliciting a laugh from the audience each time.

Ethel Merman, the show's star, apparently was not as amused as the audiences. Having none of it she cornered the stage manager and instructed him to "Tell Electra to cut it out!" God forbid that the audience should be entertained by a one line bit player.

As she left the store my mind's eye began to imagine her scantily clad on the Broadway boards. I shuddered a bit. It was at that point that I determined, my immense natural curiosity notwithstanding, that some things are best left unimagined.


Baby It's Cold Outside

Chicago goes through one of it's infamous winter cold spells. People hunker down indoors, blinds and curtains drawn shut to conserve heat. Outdoor excursions are reduced only to those considered absolutely necessary. Then the mercury rises and, like flowers that close at night opening each dawn, we draw our blinds, perhaps crack the windows a bit to allow in a dose of fresh air and murmur, in stalwart Midwestern fashion, "Thar wasn't so bad!"

I pulled the blinds up in my kitchen. I survey the view, one of the first things that drew me to this apartment. A jumble of rooftops mixed with, in this season, bare trees, so lush in the summer they render the homes along the streets they line invisible to me. Church steeples rise, in the older neighborhoods to the west the tallest structures in the area. Their Gothic lines remind me of our European sojourns. Further off the lights of the planes arriving and departing from O'Hare airport float above the horizon.

I turn and survey my Pullman style kitchen. A space of clean white shaker style cabinets and black stone counter tops. Our collections are displayed behind the glass fronts of the cabinets. The 1950's pottery bean pot, a wedding gift to my husband's parents, the short painted wood candle holders from my great grandmothers house. There are novelty vintage glasses, sold in their day filled with jelly and available for purchase at the local supermarket as a promotional gimmick. There are stacks of early 1960's era pottery dishes. A line of plates punctuate the space above the cabinets. A mixture of thrift shop finds, a couple that belonged to my grandmother and others, treasured mementos to us, culled from gift and antique shops or purchased at plaza souvenir stalls reminding us of the places we have been fortunate enough to visit.

The kitchen faces west. The afternoon sun slants in from it's off center winter post. Lasers read shiny disks in the c.d. player creating music and I begin to cook. A collection of cookbooks reside on a shelf behind one of the glass fronts. Sometimes they instruct, at other times they inspire, providing me with the ideas I use to experiment and invent. Some days I eschew them altogether. I have made some dishes many times before. At these times I cook by sense and rote memory.

Fresh vegetables, cans of beans and tomato paste and leftover chicken breasts are transformed into a simmering pot of chili. Chili powder purchased on a trip to Galveston adds spice to the brew. Ingredients including overripe bananas, flour and eggs, with the swirl of a wooden spoon become a bread which fills the apartment with it's scent as it bakes. I enjoy the sense of touch as I roll ground turkey, minced peppers and scallions into meatballs. I employ my senses, touch, taste, smell, as I sample the result of my labors, deciding to add a bit of this or that. I breath in the scents which help transform a house into a home and listen to the music as it wafts through the air.

I smile, my shoulders relax and I am tranquil, enjoying the task at hand.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Few Notes On Tribes

A number of years ago at a nightclub I was introduced to a rather attractive gentleman by a mutual friend. Upon our introduction the man said "Who are you anyway, I've been seeing you around for years. " Several months later I was introduced to the same gentleman a second time. His question, almost word for word, was the same. I informed him that the first time we were introduced his reaction had been identical. I then added, "Did you really have to use the word years?" His quick reply, "I could have said decades". To be fair his face, and somewhat hunky body, were familiar to me as well and I had been seeing him around for, well, the better part of two decades. He went on to explain that we had, at one point, ridden the same El train to work on a regular basis. He went on to speak of the community that forms when people's schedules coincide and they find themselves riding together on public transit. We do not necessarily know each other's names, occupations or life stories but, because we have shared a space together at a particular time, we know each other.

An erratic schedule defines a career in retail. However, when I work mornings, and I leave the house at a relatively consistent hour, I see the same people time and again., Because of the dress code I have to adhere to, suit, shirt and tie, I do stand out in the more casually dressed crowd of today's working world. Therefore I am fairly certain that I am noticed by "the usual suspects" on the El platform as well. The tall younger man with the unique sense of style. Comfortable yet slightly dressy, I have never seen him wear jeans, he appears fond of an occasional fun, almost whimsical print in some of his clothing. There is another extremely tall young man with a proportionally tall mass of black hair. His trademark skinny, stovepipe pants make his long thin legs look even longer and thinner. There is another who I acknowledge when we ride together. He works at a competitor. A bowtie is the daily standard of his professional garb. We met one morning, almost colliding nose to nose, running for a train as the doors closed and it pulled out of the station leaving us behind. There are the light skinned identical twin black sisters and the gay, yes it's that obvious, man with bright colored horn rimmed glasses, ludicrous handlebar moustache and garish clothing. I have not seen him for some time. Perhaps he has moved on, joined another community on another train.

At the gym the community changes with the time of day. Early morning before work I see the same group of people. If I go later, mid morning, a different yet none less familiar group inhabits the space. On weekends yet another. Some of us speak with one another, although the conversations are guarded and often banal. Even though there is a sizable number of gay men as members, when one is naked, or half naked, and unsure of the orientation of another, the subjects of conversation at hand tend towards the weather, the various supplements we take and their effects on our physical goals or the performance and payscale of the local sports teams.

These various communities might be described as tribes. Groups of people with a common goal. In these instances getting to work of getting fit.

There is another tribe I belong to, more seasonal in nature. My beach friends, my sandy band of brothers. A shared sexual orientation, plus our exposed amounts of flesh, makes the interactions with this group more comfortable than interactions with some others. A summer of unemployment led to my induction into this tanned gentleman's club. We tend to be over 40 with histories that make our conversations interesting and at times intellectually challenging. As they populate the beach on weekday afternoons they are not "9 to 5ers". They work, like myself, more random schedules. One man in his 60's is a personal trainer, taking up this new profession and reinventing himself later in life. Another is a bartender at an upscale restaurant studying to move up to somelier. Another, the one I know the best, is a public transit bus driver.

Over the past 2 decades virtual tribes have been created. Facebook as well as a number of other online networking sites link together large masses of people many of whom have never met face to face.

There are tribes defined by those one works with. By those that gather in houses of worship. Man is a social animal, desirous and even dependant on the company of and interaction with others. We form alliances, we form communities, we form tribes.