The Night Lauren Bacall Heard Me Cough

[Photo source: IMDb]

I lived for almost thirty years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It’s an artsy neighborhood. And it’s not uncommon to cross paths with famous people, most often actors. My wife was in the Blockbuster Video store, in line behind Michael J. Fox.

“I think your next,” he said to Mariam.

“And I think you’re great,” she said to him.

She stood in line at Fairway on Broadway behind Francis McDormond.

“I love your work,” Mariam said.

“Thank you,” replied the Oscar-winning actor.

I had a moment of greatness too. I went into our neighborhood Mexican restaurant…Gabriella’s. I calmly walked passed a chubby guy sitting at one of our favorite outside tables…with his family. He had cut off denim shorts, a thin wife and a hefty kid or two.

It was James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano was sitting at my table. I didn’t raise a fuss. I’ve been to Jersey City. I knew the deal. First come, first serve.

That was life in New York City!

Let’s go back in time. It’s 1984. I’m an exchange teacher in Dorset, England. I befriended a young woman when I signed up for a screen-printing and etching course at the Poole Arts Center. I made sure I sat near her. She was pretty and a very good artist…and a gourmet cook.  I still have one of her etchings on my wall. She was a mid-wife, a surf-boarder and a sweet attractive woman. We became friends. We went out for eats and a pint or two after class. She promised me she’d teach me how to wind-surf in Poole harbor. We never got to do it.

But one thing we did get to do was see a play.

I had tickets to the Salisbury Playhouse production of Sweet Bird of Youth.  I asked her if she would like to go. Yes, she said.

[This is the movie with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Photo is mine.]

“How about dinner?”, I asked.

“I’m a good cook what do you think you would like?”, she said. I made a joke. “Oh. Shrimp Scampi and some caviar.”

She picked me up in her MG (mounted with a wind-surfer board rack). She had a picnic basket. I peaked inside. There was shrimp scampi, caviar and a bottle of white wine. We spread a blanket on the lawn in front of the main entrance of Salisbury Cathedral. The air was crisp. The food was awesome. The view was breathtaking.

We finished and made our way to our seats at the Playhouse. The lights went down. Sweet Bird of Youth began. Lauren Bacall was playing aging actress. I don’t recall the leading man.

That’s when Lauren and I connected.

There was a scene where she was lounging on a bed, waiting for her lover. The theater was stone quiet. The silence was intense. But the need in my throat couldn’t linger. I needed to cough.

I coughed.

She didn’t look into the audience like they do now days when a cell phone goes off. But, I knew she HAD to have heard me cough. There was no other sound. Only me.

Years later, I flipped through her autobiography in a narrow aisle at a Barnes & Noble. I found no reference to me, the cough, the disruption, or the shrimp scampi. I wonder how long my cough stayed with her.

I have a feeling that I was no match for Bogie.

“You know how to cough, don’t you? You just lower your head and make a gasping sound.”

Advertisements

NASA Director Sends Wife To The Moon

[A rare photo of the then Mr. Kramden, with wife, Alice and neighbor, Edward Norton. (ca. late 1950’s). Source: Google search]

Washington, D.C.

The Chief of NASA, Dr. Ralph Kramden, has big plans to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  He intends to send her, literally  to the earth’s only satellite, the moon.

A short time ago, Dr. Kramden finally succeeded in making a large sum of money on a project, that together with his friend and neighbor, Mr. Edward Norton, had been working on for many years.  With his new-found wealth, Mr. Kramden enrolled in the Aerospace Department of the University of Brooklyn.  He eventually earned his doctorate by emerging himself in cutting edge research regarding the legendary and elusive propellent factor utilizing the positive spin of the negative Higgs-Boson particle coupled with the entropic variations of the magnetic properties of the Fermion and Charm quarks when related to the Absolute Zero behaviors of the graviton particle in zero gravity isolation.

This was a continuation of his sixth grade science fair project he presented when he attended The Town School in Manhattan.

The news of the intended lunar mission came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s public dedication of his deep-seated interest in research into such topics as climate change, evolution and space exploration.

“I am signing this Executive Order to relocate $15,000,000,000 to pure scientific endeavors…good things…for scientists…great people…for the pure joy of knowledge even if there is no immediate monetary return.  I remember hearing that we have laptops because of the space program…good stuff,” said the President at a recent news conference.

“Now, with this funding, I can give my wife, Alice, what I’ve always promised her.  I used to tease her when we lived at our old apartment at 328 Chauncey Street in Bensonhurst that someday it was going to be ‘Bang, Zoom…to the moon!'” said Dr. Kramden.  He was flanked at the press conference, held appropriately at the Air & Space Museum on the Capital Mall, by Alice and his Associate Director, Dr. Edward Norton (Sanitation Specialist for the International Space Station).

The Marine Band stood below him on the white marble steps.  When he completed his prepared statement, the band began playing Dr. Kramden’s own composition, You’re My Greatest Love.

When Dr. Kramden turned to his future astronaut-wife, he was heard by many to whisper: “Baby, you’re the greatest.”

This reporter had difficulty finding a dry eye in the crowd of 12,000 who had gathered in the heavy rain to hear the historic announcement for themselves.

This is a great day for America and a great day for Brooklyn!

 

Allison, Me And The Ghosts Of Judy Garland

marquee

“Who could ask for anything more?”

                     –Ira Gershwin

Ok, so I pulled a few strings.  Actually, it was only one string.  The daughter of my wife’s boss (Dr. Chris Walsh from Mount Sinai Hospital), was playing the lead in the hit Broadway show, An American in Paris, on the night of September 7, 2016.  We purchased the tickets and made a discreet phone call to Dr. Walsh.  Would it be possible if he had a word with his daughter, Allison Walsh, to give us a backstage tour after the show?

playbill

alysononstage

[Allison during the show]

It worked out like it does when you have some strings to pull.  All we had to do was be at the stage door after the show and mention we were guests of Allison Walsh.  We were on the list and we were led into the bowels of a storied and famous Broadway theater, The Palace.

The show itself was fabulous.  Allison, a trained ballerina, stood out as a total professional and got a standing ovation at the end.  But, I’m not a theater critic.  I’m going to take you behind the scenes and below the stage where so much real action takes place.

stagedoor

[Stage door]

3ofusbackstage

[Me, Allison and Mariam]

After descending miles of spiral staircases, we found ourselves in a warren of rooms and hallways filled with costumes, dressing rooms.  There were ropes and cables and sound boards and schedule lists and mailboxes.  I couldn’t imagine the action that took place down there during the show.

makeuproom

[One of the make-up rooms]

I thought I’d impress young Allison with the fact that we were both veterans in the Big Show, the glamorous life of a star, knowing the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd.

“I had the male lead in the Senior Play when I was in high school…back in 1965,” I said, feeling confident she’d see me as another thespian as herself.

She stared at me and said: “Oh, really?”

I estimate her age to be around twenty-five.  So she would have been born in the early ’90’s.  That would be about twenty-five years since I had the male lead in the senior play.  No wonder she seemed a bit quizzical at my comment.

Allison led the two of us (and another couple who had known her in high school) through the quick changing rooms and the wig room and back up another mile of stairs to reach the stage.  I caught up with her and said: “Is this place haunted?”  I whispered the question, not wanting to frighten or alarm the others.

allisonwig

[One of Allison’s wigs]

“Many who work here say it is,” she replied.  “They say that Judy Garland has been seen many times.”

We five arrived at the stage.  The house was empty.  There was a “ghost light” center stage.  We posed for a few pictures and I stood for a moment, thinking I was alone, looking out at the empty seats.  I nearly strained a muscle in my neck trying to look up to where we had watched the show (the nosebleed section).

Suddenly, the empty seats became filled with 3,000 Judy Garlands.  They stood and made a deafening  applause.

“You’re over the rainbow,” I heard the Judy who sat in the front row shout.  “You were amazing!”

I didn’t think that Judy Garland ever saw my senior play…then I turned around and saw that Allison was standing in the shadow of the Ghost Light.

“We loved you, Allison!”

I stood back and realized that my moment in the spotlight was long ago.

“Not to be mean,” said one Judy,in the third row, addressing me, “but you aren’t over the rainbow…you’re over the hill.”

I knew the real star of the evening was Allison.  She made a gracious bow to all the Judy’s…waved and then left. Stage right.

“Hey, wait for me,” I called as I hurried to catch up with the others.

stagelight

[The Ghost Light]

dancingwithallison

[Allison poses with an aged tourist]

We thanked her and said our good-byes.  I nearly got run over by a taxi as I stepped out to get a shot of the marquee.

I am grateful to Dr. Chris Walsh for arranging our tour.  I thank Allison Walsh for taking the time to show us around, knowing that she was probably exhausted after the performance. (I would have been heading for the nearest pub if I were in her place).

So, what did we do then?  Mariam and I headed for the nearest Irish pub to reflect on our strenuous tour of a great Broadway show.  If you haven’t seen it…go!  It’s closing in a few weeks.

And, just in case you think I made all this up…

autograph

Holiday Lights On Holiday Nights: A Visit To The Edison/Ford Estates

BanyanTree:edison

[The Banyan tree with a bronze of Edison standing guard]

We arrived about thirty-five minutes before sunset.  Heading for the admission window, we passed the largest Banyan tree in Florida.  There was a family on the path in front of us.  I heard the mother:

“Isn’t that amazing that this is one tree?”

“Not really,” said the sulky teenage daughter.

Teenagers…

We walked past the tree and I nearly stumbled over four people.  My attention was directed at this tree, this 3/4 acre tree, this alien-like plant that looked like it came from a moon that orbits a planet we haven’t found yet, this wonder of God and Nature.  It’s hard to put words on paper that would accurately describe the feeling I had when I looked at this tree.  The longer I stared, the more I saw…and felt.  If the Nymphs, the Dryads, or the Lauma live, they live in the Banyan.  To say that it “blew me away” sounds trite and immature.

And, the Banyan trees walk!

We’re down to nine days before we depart Fort Myers.

“Let’s go see the Holiday Nights at the Edison/Ford estates,” I said to Mariam.

“Ok.”

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and other extremely wealthy shakers and movers of industry, had winter homes here in Fort Myers.  These estates have been lovingly and intelligently restored and it is possible to stroll among the gardens and pools and ‘cottages’ that spoke of a time in the past when a heated swimming pool was a rarity.

Me&Mina

[Mina Edison and me.]

Henry Ford made cars, in case you haven’t heard.  I drive a red Ford.  Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.  But he was also intrigued by botany.  He planted the Banyan tree in 1927 as an experiment.  He was looking for a material that could be a cheaper method to produce rubber.  No wonder Ford and Firestone wanted to hang out with the guy.

ClusterFigTree

[A Cluster Fig]

We walked the paths and poked our heads into the dining rooms, libraries, kitchens and pantries of the Ford and Edison homes.

EdisonQuote

I bought two “Welcome To Florida” postcards, done in the old style of the 1940’s.

We left the parking lot and drove down McGregor Boulevard, keeping an eye out for a nice restaurant.  I thought about the teenage girl and wonder if anything she had seen that night impressed her.

Maybe the 1,200+ patents that these two men held?  Maybe the thousands of lights on the palm trees?  Maybe the museum with a working model of a Model T (or was it an A)?  Maybe the dolls that were on display in one of the family rooms?

Maybe nothing impressed her.

Me, I pushed the button on the radio of my Ford Escape and began to listen to my favorite country music station.

We were just approaching the restaurant on McGregor when I heard another memorable song:

“Prop me up beside the juke box if I die.”

This guy’s main concern about death was that he had a stiff (no pun intended) drink in his hand and was left against a juke box.

Now, that was impressive.

holiday nights 3

[Photo:Edison/Ford Estates Website]

 

Oxford Of My Dreams

Plane

I was drifting off to sleep.  My dreams began.  I felt disoriented.  Where was I?

I was in Oxford, England to accept an award for “Best Blogger in the World.”

I was waiting in a room in one of the 38 colleges that make up the University.  I had walked here from the hotel, but all the buildings were made of the beautiful honey-colored limestone from the Cotswold hills.  This room is where the dons donned their academic robes. The place was heavy with the dust of history…literary history. Books dating back centuries lined the walls. I saw an early copy of “Alice in Wonderland” signed by Lewis Carroll, himself.  Was I in the college that gave the world Richard Burton, the actor? Or, Edmund Halley, who made his name on a comet?  Was this the room where J.R.R. Tolkien thought about the narrative of the Hobbit books?  Did T. S. Elliot walk the path I just walked?

Perhaps I was in a room off a small lecture hall in Bodleian Library, which claims to have over 100 miles of shelves (The Strand Bookstore in NYC says it has 8 miles of volumes.)

In the lecture hall next door I could hear the shuffling of feet and chairs as the runner-up and past winners were taking their seats.  I could hear Fineguy6076, who blogged out of Jersey City.  There was the instantly recognizable voice of martagoesyo, who wrote from a small town in Ohio.  Last years winner had just arrived to a smattering of applause.  He may have a large following and was quite an original blogger of 2014, but many readers, including this writer, were put off by his daily output of cats dressed as dogs and disguised as trivets or mid-southern house plants.

His wrote under the name of HeSheGuy.

You do the math.

The opening speeches droned on and on.  The room was warm and I began to grow sleepy.  I drifted into a peaceful land of Nod.  I began to feel I was near a great dining hall with floating candles and a really bad bully was picking on a guy named Harry.  Wait! That was the Great Hall of Christ Church College around the corner.  I continued into a light dream-like state.

“Ahem”

My senses became fully awake.

“Order please!”  The words came from the lecture hall.

I knew then they were about to announce my name and I was to make my arrival through a massive oak door.

Applause and shouts of “Here! Here!” and “Hussa” and “About time old boy” would soon ring out.  Pretty ladies would stop fanning themselves and whisper, ever so discretely,  “ I want him to be the father of my children.”

But I was not out of my nap.  Another, less salutary voice spoke:

“Ladies and Gentleman” the calm business-like nature of a man’s tone had indeed broken my REM sleep.

I still felt it was my time.

I tried to rise but felt a restraint around my waist.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a small TV monitor mounted on the back of the seat in front of me.

On the blue screen was a small icon of an airplane. Behind it was a blue line that connected it to JFK. As the plane was set against a blue color, I surmised that we were over an ocean. The little icon seemed to be headed toward the letter LHR.

As I regained full awareness, it all came back to me. I wasn’t in Oxford, yet.

I was on American Flight #106.

Then more reality came flooding back to me.

We were caught in traffic somewhere near La Guardia Airport.  Despite being picked up three hours early by a car service from the Upper West Side, my wife was beyond frantic.  She was convinced we were going to miss the flight.

I said we wouldn’t, traffic was always like this out here in Queens.

She said we would miss the flight and that it would cost a small fortune to make new arrangements.

I suggested, calmly, like a man, that one screwed up ticket was only half as bad as two and I suggested she get on the flight without me.

[She was TSA approved and I wasn’t, so I would have to take off most of my clothes and pass through a scanner that would prevent me from having any more children in the future.]

She could breeze past all that and still make it to Gate 14.  I told her I would sleep in the airport or go to some cheap motel and find something to amuse me, like going bowling with a woman named Candy from Flushing, and I would catch up to her in London.

She flatly refused. [Sometimes, women just see the logic in some things.]

Without making this blog any longer, we actually made flight #106

So, now my watch reads 5:15 am.  We’re about 45 minutes away from landing.  Some kind of breakfast just got slapped down next to this computer.

My eyes turned red about two hours ago.

We’re going to pick up our rent car at Heathrow.

Our first night is already booked and it’s not that long a drive.

Where, you may very well ask, are we going first?

Oxford, of course.

My birthday is nine days away.  It’s not too early for a gift, is it?

Maybe an award for writing something like this?

Lone Ranger and Tonto United in California Civil Ceremony

MV5BMjIzNjE4MTM0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxNDY2MjE@._V1__SX1194_SY615_

Media representatives, Native American leaders, cultural historians, gay rights activists and many cowboys rejoiced yesterday afternoon when two long-time partners against crime were united in a civil ceremony on a dude ranch outside Oxnard, California.  The marriage was held in strict privacy with only several hundred invited guests in attendance.  Reporters hiding in the hills and using high-powered spotter scopes were able to identify only a few attendees.  Among them were Johnny Depp, Bob Seger, Bono, Harvey Fierstein and Doris Day.  Bob Dylan’s Wedding Song was voiced by Lady Ga Ga.  Because of strong dust storms in the area, GaGa was forced to lip-sync the song.  The only tape available was a 1982 rendition by Liza Minnelli.

“Because of their on again, off again relationship, we had doubts the ceremony would ever really become a reality,” said Chief Running Water of the Potawatomi nation.  Tonto is a member of that particular tribe, but as a part-time actor, he has often been confused with playing a Mohawk of Ontario, Canada.

Neither Tonto or the Lone Ranger were available for comment.  Moments after the vows were exchanged, the two boarded a Tomahawk helicopter and were flown to a spa somewhere near Twenty-nine Palms.

Several friends close to the pair agreed to speak to this reporter on condition of anonymity.

“We can confirm the two exchanged silver bullets instead of rings during the ceremony,” said one part-time actor from Van Nuys.  “Silver is considered to be rare and precious, like justice, law and order, not to mention a human life…we think it was better than the old-fashioned ring-thing because when you’re out riding the range, rings can chafe the finger as you grip the reins.  We’re so totally into the bullet thing.  We think it’ll be a big deal in unions of this nature in the future.”

Asked about the unusual names the happy couple have used with each other over the years, one friend chimed in: “Well, we know that Tonto translates from the Spanish into a less than kind word, so sometimes the Ranger uses Toro, meaning “bull”.

I asked about the term “Ke-mo say-bee” and was greeted by blank stares by those standing nearby.  “We think it means faithful one or something like that.”

I pressed on because that was my job.

“How did the Ranger become known as The Lone Ranger.”

“It seems that he was a member of a party of six Texas Rangers who were tricked into an ambush by “Butch” Cavendish.  All the rangers were thought to have been killed.  This Native American rode by and found that one of them was still alive…barely.  He nursed him back to health.  The two recognized each other immediately.  The ranger had rescued the Native American when they were children.”

Apparently, the bond was made then and there and they have rarely been separated since.

“What’s with the mask?” I asked, blindly.  I thought I had pushed these guys enough, but I kept on.

“Well, to honor his brother, who was leading the group of rangers, the survivor fashioned a mask out of his older brothers vest.  He never revealed his identity until later in life to his Aunt Frisby.”

“It was the mask that apparently intrigued Tonto enough to keep hanging around the ranger,” someone from the back said.

“Aunt Frisby?” I repeated.

“That’s right.  Say, I think you’ve asked too many questions.  Why don’t you get the hell off the driveway before I call Security?”

I back off.  I’m no hero.  I had enough for the story.

So, there you have it, folks.  Two strange men, always alone, always doing the right thing to help the helpless, finally seal their fate.

Right about now, they’re probably in a whirlpool spa somewhere on the edge of the Mohave Desert.

Word has it that they are going to open a landscape decorating business somewhere near Pismo Beach.

“Hi Ho to them,”  I say.

 

 

 

The Fabulous Life of a Published Author

Many writers dream of seeing their published works on the shelf of a bookstore.  Think of the heady feeling of walking into a Barnes & Nobel and seeing your name and book among the thousands of bestsellers.  That’s never been my goal in life.  Selling books means you make money and making money means you move into a higher tax bracket.  Who needs that?

Ok, I’ve written four books, and I get a royalty check once a month from Amazon.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours planning, plotting, writing and formatting (my wife did that part) and I actually get something ($) back in return for all that agony of being cursed with such a creative mind.  I make so much in one month that I can now go to a restaurant and order a Caesar’s salad instead of a regular tossed green.  It’s a life of wild self-indulgence.  I now know what it’s like to be John Steinbeck.  I don’t mean this in a literal sense because he died on December 20, 1968.  I now know what Hemingway’s life was like…sometimes I can even understand why he was “cleaning” his shotgun on July 2, 1961.

But I’d like to say that since bookstores are going to totally disappear from our lives in about six years, I’ve gotten more satisfaction from finding my books in the Public Libraries of America.  It is in these great institutions that my volumes will remain on a shelf for all time.  Actually, that’s not true.  I found out that a book’s “borrow” slip where a little grey-haired lady or an English major stamps the due date, needs to have dates stamped on them.  If no one checks a book out (say, twice a year) then the product of your sweat and tears will be in the next Fund Raising Book Sale.

[So if you’re in the Coburn Free Library in Owego, NY and you don’t check out my four books, they will sell them for 10 cents.  Go ahead, walk past me on the shelf.  It’ll be on your conscience, not mine.]

Recently, I toured the Saranac Lake Public Library to check on how my books were doing.  I felt like a famous surgeon making rounds of his patients at the Mayo Clinic.  I was very surprised to find all my books were shelved properly and had a decent number of check-outs.  I was even more pleased at the company I keep on these shelves.  In Fiction, I’m right next to Jennifer Egan, a very famous author and editor of The Best American Short Stories of 2014.

For those of you who are not familiar with Jennifer, this is a recent publicity head shot of her:

JenniferEgan

[Jennifer Egan (no relation), but a guy can wish, can’t he?]

Here’s proof of my claim:

JenniferEganShelf

[There I am…just don’t ask who Lesley Egan is, I have no idea.]

I went over to the Non-fiction section.  Again, there I was, with two books.  This time, however they buried me between two biographies of two relatively unknown individuals.

See what I mean?:

EinsteinEdison

I went straight to a computer and Googled these two people.  I found these images:

einstein-tongue-out

[A guy named Einstein]

einsteinOnBike

[Same guy, but on a bicycle.]

Edison

[The Edison guy with a funny horn-thing. He reminds me of a teacher I had once in high school who also had a sore left hip.]

So, what is the moral of this story?  What is the point of showing you photos of my books, when you can go to your computer and order them all yourself?  Well, you don’t have to go to the library then, do you?  A lot of quiet old men sit and read the newspaper in libraries…for free!  And, chances are, there are no book stores with 85 miles of your home.

But, there is a distinct possibility that you may not like to read and that you don’t really like me very much.  Then there’s always the option of Books-on-Tape.  The only problem is…none of my writing is on tape.

Not to worry, though, if you send me lots of money, I’ll gladly read a copy of my book into a tape recorder…I’ll even mention you by name.  There’s something heady in that, let me tell you.

Maybe then I can afford the extra salsa at our local Tex-Mex restaurant.  Can you believe they make you pay for that?