Saturday, May 31, 2008

Holiday Inn

This probably shows how shallow I am, but let the truth be told.

I am loving staying in hotels!

Today I came home from visiting with Leonard Pennario and reading him the draft of a chapter I wrote about how he was in Tanglewood, teaching and giving recitals, during the summer of 1949. It is a great chapter because Leonard has great opinions and observations on Bernstein and Lukas Foss, people like that. Anyway, I come back to where I am staying, which is this nifty Corporateville Holiday Inn. And there is this perfectly clean bathtub, with the mat folded over the tub just right, and a nicely wrapped bar of chi-chi soap, with the brand name "Cleanse," set atop the towel. Aaaaaaahhhh!

And this is just a Holiday Inn! It's not even as upscale as the last place I stayed at was. This place is right next door, by the way. So I got lost only once today. It's funny how Holiday Inns always have that Holiday Inn smell. Even when you're in a new Holiday Inn in the midst of suburbia and office parks. They had that smell when I was a kid and they have it yet. I wonder if they have it in a can at some warehouse and whenever a new Holiday Inn opens, they get one of those cans and give it a good spray. That is the only theory that makes sense.

Advantages to this Holiday Inn, over the place I stayed a couple of weeks ago: The pool and hot tub actually have prettier surroundings. I wouldn't have thought that was possible. I just got out of the pool. It looks amazing at night. There were people in the hot tub and as I was toweling off after the pool, I addressed the hot tub. "Beautiful night," I said.

People are not used to people speaking up like that. They are not used to Buffalonians, especially Buffalonians like me who have been up for 36 hours straight flying on planes and interviewing great piano virtuosi. "What did you say?" someone said.

I said, "I said that it's a beautiful night."

Then we all had this nice conversation, and I went upstairs happy. I have this beautiful room on the top floor with an incredible view of Corporate San Diego. I am looking forward to tomorrow morning. They have a free breakfast, including -- get this -- made-to-order omelets. Would Howard make me an omelet to order at home? I ask you!

Also they have free WiFi, permitting me to post this life-or-death bulletin. A bottle of Two-Buck Chuck -- that's that $2 Charles Shaw wine you can buy at Trader Joe's -- and you are in heaven! Tomorrow I have to go to Trader Joe's. I must make this picture complete.

How am I going to go back home to overdue bills and that upstairs bathtub, the one that Larry Solomon has to wear a Haz-Mat suit to clean?

Why can't my house be more like this Holiday Inn?

Please do not adjust your set

This is not a test of the emergency MKG blogging system.

Today's post will be slightly delayed due to The Wife's traveling.

Please check back later this afternoon as we expect to have this situation remedied.

Thank you.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Very candid camera

Yesterday Howard gave me a digital camera as a present. Now we are both targets of the paparazzi. Because we are the paparazzi.

Just now Howard snapped a picture of me sitting at my laptop in my bathrobe, with bedhead. It will probably turn up on my blog later today and I will be at the office so there will be not a darn thing I can do about it. But that's OK, I'll get him back. Lastnight I was video-ing him kvetching in the living room and he didn't even notice until I said, "I hope you are enjoying being on camera."

Oops, he just got me again!

Howard wants me to snap more pictures of Leonard Pennario in California this weekend, or sometime. This is hard to admit but the only picture I have of Leonard so far -- from the present day, I mean, from my visits -- is one of him and me in the hot tub together. I had Leonard's friend Mike take it. Mike was with us. I should mention that Mike wears the skimpiest swimming trunks in the world. Leonard and I laugh about that. We also laugh about how Mike wears short running shorts all the time, even when we go into nice restaurants. "California, Leonard," I whisper to him. "Mike is so California!" I love getting Leonard laughing. From the first phone conversation we ever had, back in October, it has been very easy to do.

Mike can see the humor too in what he wears. After we had changed our clothes after sitting in the hot tub he was carrying the wet trunks and he swatted me with them. Isn't it amazing how, even when you're doing something serious like writing a book about a great concert virtuoso, there are still so many ways in which your life resembles high school? But that's another matter for another day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can of worms

My dad didn't like to travel, just because getting there was such a hassle. He used to say, "If a giant hand could only just pick me up and put me there..."

I think I have inherited his temperament. Everyone else in my family has traveled more than I have. My sister Katie, the left-winger, once trekked solo through the Middle East. Well, she hit Turkey, I remember that. So I like to make it sound as if she did the whole Middle East. But still, impressive. She has also been to Africa but that was with her husband. My brother George is an encyclopedia of cheap flights. Even my mom keeps her passport current because hey, you never know.

But me? I'm lost!! Today I have already blown something like an hour on the Internet trying to figure out what to do for San Diego this weekend. I want to go to San Diego and see Leonard Pennario. I have stuff I want to ask him and besides, I just feel I have to see him. I am like Daedalus drawn toward the sun. Unfortunately with the travel arrangements I am more like Icarus. I am afraid I will get burned!

Your head starts swimming, trying to figure this stuff out.

I was on Hotels dot com. They hype these supposed last-minute deals. You get to the end of the process and guess what? That flight they listed isn't available. They give you another bunch of options, the cheapest of which would add $600 to your "low price."

Travelocity is a different can of worms. This time it's the hotel that disappears at the last minute. You're ready to seal the deal -- I was -- and oops! You know what? That hotel just sold out! Go back to start!

Speaking of worms, did I ever tell about the time I found one on the carpet of my apartment last winter in San Diego? That was so disgusting! I think it was the most disgusting experience I have ever had in my life. All I could think was this worm washed in under my sliding patio doors. This native San Diegan, this guy who showed up to fix my electrical outlet, thought so too.

Ugh!!! I called Howard and told him about it. "This is the grossest thing that ever happened to me in my life," I wailed.

Howard is always calm. I love that about him. He said, "It's just a worm. They're cute. They're harmless. You probably carried it on your shoe all the way from Buffalo." That made me laugh, but I couldn't shake that grossed-out feeling.

I went to see Pennario. "Leonard!!" I cried. "The worst thing happened to me! I found a worm on my living room carpet!"

Leonard exclaimed: "UGH! How awful!! That is the grossest thing I have ever heard about in my life!!!"

I loved that, too. Sometimes you just want sympathy. Now, trying to work out my travel arrangements, is one of those times.

I wonder if I could get Leonard to move to Buffalo.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Feelings, whoa whoa whoa

Feeling the need to go back and see Leonard Pennario again, I am trying to work in a weekend trip. This is the kind of hotel description I get a big kick out of.

"Comfort Suites Otay Mesa is located 12 miles from Coors Amphitheater and Knott's Soak City and approximately 30 miles from San Diego International Airport. This location is also 25 miles from Coronado Island, 27 miles from San Diego Zoo, and 33 miles from Sea World."

Where the heck is this place, anyway??

What, am I to figure this out algebraically?

Have these people never heard of the words "north" and "south"?

I have a feeling that -- listen to me. That is a woman thing. Already I have written the word "feeling" twice. Apparently women talk about "feeling" while men talk about "believing," or something more assertive like that. I read that once. Let me start again. I think that I will now be trying to sandwich in a lot of quickie weekend trips to San Diego, to try to keep in closer touch with Leonard about the book now that I am getting it together. The work is going easier now that I read a lot of it too him and he gave a green light to what I was doing. Now that I know he likes where I'm going with it, I can proceed with more confidence.

And it is getting exciting, the writing I mean. I really do feel -- zounds, there I go again with the feelings -- as if I am bringing it in. Like a pilot landing a plane. Sometimes it is as if I am about to ski down a mountain, that magical moment when you're at the top, looking down over everything, feeling the wind.

What am I doing, talking like that? I have never gone skiing down a mountain in my life. I have never even considered it. The only place I ski is Delaware Park.

But I never thought writing a biography would be this thrilling, in an actual physical sense. Sometimes I think of building a big cathedral. Or swimming. That image is in my head a lot. When things get stressful, I think of swimming, steadily, across a wide sea. In dramatic moments I might think of running a race, like our friend Bill in the Buffalo Marathon the other day, tee hee. Bill, I read what you wrote on my posting about my trying not to be late for Mass. I hope that wasn't you whose foot I ran over!

I guess what I am saying is that writing the story of this marvelous pianist, I see it in all kinds of exciting terms -- anything but in terms of what I am actually doing, which is sitting at my desk typing, or standing in the library, leafing through books, trying to dodge weirdos.

Which reminds me. Would you believe, yesterday I got TWO email notices for library books overdue? One from the UB Library, and another from the central public library. The public library is even threatening me with a collections agency. With my books only a week late! People must be lining up to read Arthur Rubinstein's "My Young Years" and "My Many Years." That is all I can think.

Imagine the clamor there will be for my book.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A visit from Ari

Ari Silverstein was the toast of Buffalo this weekend.

Yesterday our friend Ari Silverstein was visiting from New York City. We had a barbecue at our friend Gary's house. The culinary delights! Gary grilled sausages and made baked beans. Guy Boleri made potato salad. I made a chickpea salad, with cumin, carrots and -- this sentence is brought to you by the letter "c" -- chives from my garden. God knows how I was able to find the chives among the waist-high bishop's weed, but I did.

Ari himself, with his unerring sense of what is hip, contributed a box of doughnuts from Famous Doughnuts.

You have to love Famous Doughnuts. It is the closest heir Buffalo has to the immortal Freddie's Doughnuts, whose deserted drive-through still sits at Main and Michigan. I like Famous Doughnuts for its location on an unfashionable stretch of Main Street, and for how it proves that a little doughnut shop can hold its own against Dunkin Donuts, which all of a sudden is everywhere. Once Howard beheld an unforgettable scene in front of Famous Doughnuts. A big car was parked at the curb. And this woman who was huge -- something like 350 pounds -- came out of Famous Doughnuts carrying a box of doughnuts. She got into the car and the car sank down. What an endorsement for a doughnut shop! No wonder Ari recognized its greatness.

Ari Silvertstein studies his mentor Dodo Greene.

Ari has other redeeming qualities too. He is always talking about Mark Murphy and Mabel Mercer. He lets me talk about Leonard Pennario. And Ari is the world's best mimic, specializing in imitations of Dodo Greene, the singer we all miss so much who used to sing at the Anchor Bar. He shows promise in imitating Ron Moss, too. But that is like tackling Lear. It is this mountain for an artist to climb. It takes a lot of work and concentration to get it right.

The inseparable Ari Silvertein and Jazz singer Mark Murphy.

Gary's house, where we had this barbecue, is the best. A while ago it was featured as The Buffalo News' Home of the Month, because what he did was take this Arts and Crafts Dutch Colonial and make it absolutely beautiful. He got these light fixtures from Target and dishes from the dollar store and bold shades of paint and somehow it all works. And Gary is not even gay! Despite decorating his house and being a dancer! How about that?

Like so many of us, Gary has urban concerns. His neighborhood (University Heights) could go one way, or it could go the other. He is trying to keep it from sliding. So he got mad the other day when these unsupervised kids across the street threw ketchup at his house. Actually they threw condoms filled with ketchup at his house. Condoms are something I never imagined being mentioned in my blog, but at the moment there is no getting around it.

Gary went and conferred with the kids' mother. He said, "I don't want this neighborhood to turn into a ghetto."

She got mad and said: "Now you're calling me ghetto."

He said: "Who called you ghetto? I am saying I don't want this neighborhood to turn into a ghetto. Kids are congregating at your house all day with no one around."

I am not sure how that conversation ended but it must have ended less than perfectly, because Gary felt he should apprise the police of the situation. More drama followed. The cop who came to his house to investigate told him it was just a little thing and he should forget it. "Right," Gary said. "So it's OK, then, if I come and throw ketchup on your house? That's OK, right? That's allowed? And you'll just forget it."

"Well, no," the cop said.

"Well, that's the message I'm getting," Gary said.

It is no wonder we have to cheer ourselves up with trips to Famous Doughnuts and visits from Ari Silverstein.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A present from Ron Moss

Buffalo cab driver Ron Moss. Please click photo for larger image.

Ron Moss tells me that there is a half-price sale at Amvets today. I might go.

Meanwhile, Moss gave us a present. He slipped it through the fence at Goldman Motors, which is the affectionate nickname we have for Howard's other property, the one that isn't Big Blue. Goldman Motors is a 1930s garage. After a couple of days of both Moss and me nagging him to collect the gift, Howard finally went and found it in a clump of weeds. It is a beautiful 2-LP box set of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, conducted by Otto Klemperer and featuring soloists including Christa Ludwig and the great bass-baritone Hans Hotter.

Leonard Pennario told me a great story about when he was 14 and performed with the legendary conductor Klemperer, who I should point out was the father of Werner Klemperer, who played Colonel Klinck on "Hogan's Heroes." OK, I will stop talking about Leonard Pennario. I will stop now.

Back to Moss. When Howard walked in yesterday, he had Moss on the cell phone. Howard has a lemon of a cell phone and right now it only works when you put it on speaker phone. This makes it complicated when Moss calls -- you can't answer it in a normal social setting. Moss was in the middle of a round of questions. He loves to ask comparison questions. "Who makes more money, you or Donn Esmonde?" Esmonde is a co-worker of mine. "Who knows more people, Mark Croce or Myron Robbins?" "Who's more happily married, so-and-so or so-and-so?" (We do not want to include names in that example, because for Moss that question is code for "Who do you think fools around more?")

Yesterday when Howard walked in, I heard Moss asking: "Who was greater, Mozart or Beethoven?" There is a question you can argue for years, and one that can easily get ugly with the addition of a little alcohol. It is the classical music equivalent of the Beatles and the Stones.

It is fun to make up comparison questions of your own.

Who has wrought more destruction in my life, Larry Solomon or my brother Tony?
Who is more liberal, Ted Kennedy or my sister Katie?
Who was the bigger character, our late mayor Jimmy Griffin or the Australian-born composer Percy Grainger? There is no shame in mismatching people when it comes to questions like this.

What offers bigger bargains, the Trinity White Elephant Sale or the Amvets half-price Memorial Day sale?

That question, at least, I might be able to answer today. I hope there will be no incidents. Once I walked into Amvets and there were these kids, these teenagers, kind of congregating and poking each other and peering down one of the aisles. Following their eyes, I saw what they were looking at. Moss!

With him around, life is never dull.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The hurrier I go...

That was fun the other day, how Howard set up my blog so you could click and watch my plane making its way across the country back from California. The miracles of modern technology!

But really, it's just as dramatic watching me trying to get through the course of a normal day.

This morning, I was trying to get to church. And all was pretty much lost from the second I got up. First I let myself sleep too late. Next I needed a major infusion of coffee so I didn't get into the shower on time for my hair to dry properly. My hair takes hours and hours to dry. Then I hadn't decided what to wear. I am like a hopeless school kid. Someone should make me lay out my clothes the night before. I couldn't find my shoes. I couldn't find my keys. Or my prayer book. I need my prayer book for Mass. I am lost without it.

Ten minutes to get downtown and there I was with wet hair and no prayer book. Great going! In desperation, I grab this ancient prayer book I inherited from my dad. It is like trying to interpret ancient Hebrew scrolls but still, better than nothing. Then I jump in the car. Naturally I parked the car sloppily yesterday so getting out of my driveway, I shoot two minutes right there. Stuck at the signal. Cop sitting right there. Right there! What are the odds? So I couldn't do what I would otherwise do in such a situation, which is blow off the light and hope no one is watching.

Then I realize: The reason the cop is sitting there is there is a race going on in the park. Unfortunately I don't realize this until I am at another corner, this time stuck for good with some crossing guard, drunk on his own power, holding up a whole line of cars so a couple of walkers can straggle across the street. I did a three-point turn and got out of there. By then I had gone several blocks out of my way but hey, as Bills games tell us, it ain't over till it's over.

I should probably explain my panic. Because people are probably thinking, you're a couple minutes late for church, big deal, right? The thing is, I love the opening prayer they do. I hate missing it. I mean, if I miss it I get mad. And I feel it gets my week off to a negative start. So now I am in danger of developing full-blown road rage. These races. What in the world? Do they have to be on Sunday? Do they have to start at what, 7 a.m.?

This particular story has a happy but harrowing ending. Some klutz had blocked my way to my usual parking lot. So I used another parking lot. As I exited my car --stuffing things into my purse, trying not to destroy my dad's old missal -- I saw the priest and altar boys forming up into their procession, making their way outside the church up toward the front door. I had a chance. I had a prayer. I ran in my high heels -- of course I had to wear my heels -- toward the door, just beating the procession. My cell phone, did I turn off my cell phone? I got into the church and as I'm dipping my fingers into the holy water, I actually went, "Whew!" The ushers were laughing at me.

Why is my whole life like this???

My flight home from California went the same way. I was an idiot. I didn't get up till 5 a.m., even though my flight was at 7:20. We are used to the Buffalo airport. The San Diego airport is different. When I got there, all I could see was this eternal line for security. I mean it was at least a mile long. I could not see the end of the line.

Things seemed hopeless but I got in line anyway. I am not going to think about this, I decided. I am not going to check the time. It won't make any difference. There is nothing I can do. So I kept up a brave, happy front, chatting with the woman in front of me. But all I could think was, what an idiot I was today! Sleeping till 5. Drinking coffee. Showering. I had even wasted time getting out of the car rental van, chattering with that kid about the pianist who had written "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Remember, I wrote about that a couple of days ago. What had I been thinking, taking my ease like this? Where was my mind?

About an hour later, I finally got through security. (Isn't it weird that my braces don't set off the metal detector? But they don't.) I didn't check the time. I didn't even try to get my laptop back in its bag. I just made my mad dash toward the gate. Naturally my gate was the absolute farthest gate away. Naturally, just like for my mad dash this morning, I had on my heels. I just ran. I kept picturing Bette Midler. Movies always show her running while weighed down with all this stuff. Finally it appeared, as if in a dream: Gate 41! They were just starting to board. I couldn't believe I made it. Overcome, I dropped to my knees. And I held out my arms the way Evita does when she sings "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."

"I made it!" I exclaimed. And just like in church this morning, people are laughing at me.

I have this feeling that sometime, back when I was 12 or 13, I lost something like 45 minutes. And I will never be able to make it up. All I can do is keep trying.

You would think at least I'd be able to lose weight along the way.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ella and me

I am so sorry for my delayed post! No. 1, I had problems with my Internet hookup and couldn't get on my site. How insulting, not to be able to get on your own site! No.2, I was at the beach. We have this new beach in downtown Buffalo and I went to it. I couldn't help it. You cannot actually swim at our new beach but you can scuff around barefoot in the sand and that is what I did. Then I disobeyed the sign and waded in the water. It was cold but it felt great.

Leonard Pennario would not mind my taking an hour off from his book to do that. He has always just about lived on the beach. That is what happens to you in California.

The third thing that interfered with my blogging, which I have to say is a highlight of my day, was I didn't get my newspapers delivered today. For the second day in a row! I get The Buffalo News and the Wall Street Journal and I am addicted to both of them and for two days, I have received neither.

Had I received The News yesterday I would have known then that -- boo hoo -- the owner of the Tillinghast Frank Lloyd Wright house had bowed to the nasty neighbors and shelved his idea for a bed and breakfast. I now no longer plan on renting the FLW house to Ron Moss for a night. I plan on raising the money to buy the Tillinghast House myself and then letting Ron Moss live there. That will show those fussy folk on Tillinghast. Booooooo to them.

Few things frustrate me more than not getting my paper in the morning. I know, I could read The Buffalo News online. But there are times of the day when you do not want to stare at a computer. One is at breakfast, when I like to read the paper. Another is after work, when I have been staring at a computer all day. There are just times when you want to see something in print.

I'm old-fashioned, as the Rodgers and Hart song goes. We were just talking about the great songs. That is one.

But I'm not alone. Last week, flying to California, I noticed that.

We were flying on a big fancy-schmancy plane. It had five seats in the middle and then two on the edge of the plane on either side. So there are two aisles. Delta made an announcement that this was some kind of a first for them, that we were the first flight to use this kind of a plane. I had trouble catching that exactly because I was trying too hard to get my purse out of my jet bag. At the last minute they had announced they were limiting you to two carry-on bags, or else you'd be charged. And as my tight-fisted ancestors looked down approvingly, I had used superhuman powers to stuff my purse into my already overstuffed jet bag and zip the whole thing shut. I don't know how I did it. Removing it and sorting everything out took some doing.

Anyway, the jet was all spiffy, with video screens at every seat, and you could watch free TV -- CNN, the Food Channel, a lot of stations. You could also see movies, for a $6 charge.

Mid-flight, I looked around the cabin, and I took my own little informal poll. How many people were watching the screens? The answer: maybe three. Everyone else was either sleeping or -- guess what? -- reading something: books, magazines, or that old standard, the newspaper.

There were a lot of newspaper readers on that plane.

It makes me think there are still a lot of newspaper readers in this world. I am one of them. At least I was until yesterday, when my paper carrier went through the looking glass.

His/her incompetence makes me yearn for the days when kids had paper routes. They didn't screw up so much. The kids with the paper routes were our future leaders. They were the winners. Now, forget it. Is Bob Rich going to deliver my paper? Is Warren Buffet? No!
But when they were kids, they might have. And I'll bet in their hands, the paper would never have been late.

We must bring back those days, at once. Hey, I said I'm old-fashioned.

OK, I can't help it. It's in, and it's got to come out. Let's imagine Ella Fitzgerald:

I'm old fashioned
I love the moonlight
I love the old fashioned things
The sound of rain
Upon a window pane
The starry song that April sings
This year's fancies
Are passing fancies
But sighing sighs, holding hands
These my heart understands...
I know I'm old fashioned
But I don't mind it
That's how I want to be
As long as you agree
To stay old fashioned with me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Of tourists and toilets

View of City Hall from Big Blue.
(Click photo for larger view.)

It is not every day that you wind up on a death march in City Hall, having to go to the bathroom, all because of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Buffalo is not a normal city. We have a wealth of houses wrought by Wright. (Alliteration station!) And a couple of them are in my neighborhood. One of them is the Tillinghast House ... I forget its formal name, but that is what everyone calls it. The owner of the Tillinghast House wants to turn it into a high-end bed-and-breakfast. The neighbors are protesting.

City Hall scheduled a hearing, which is what brought Howard and me to City Hall. We wanted to speak up in favor of the FLW house's owner. We have a lot of reasons, not the least of which is we can't wait to shell out the $300, or whatever a night's stay at the Tillinghast house is going to cost, and stay over there ourselves. With Ron Moss. We are sure Moss would enjoy a night at the Tillinghast house. That will show the fussy neighbors.

And if anyone so much as looks at us sideways we will invite Larry Solomon over to vacuum.

I'm sorry. But when you buy a house in a historic, tourist neighborhood, it should be with the understanding that your life will not always be normal the way it would be if you lived, say, in West Seneca. People are going to want to come in and look around. There will be the occasional stranger on the street. That's why it kills me when neighbors worry that the Darwin Martin House, another Wright creation, will attract traffic. Of course it will. And we will have to put up with it. That's the price we pay for living in one of the city's showcase neighborhoods. Get with it, as Jocko likes to say.

That would have made a nice speech to make at the hearing. But the hearing was canceled. So Howard took the opportunity to drag me all over City Hall, from office to office, as he took care of matters regarding Big Blue. Which, I might add, was visible from one official's corner office in the Office of Strategic Planning. He wanted to know what building we were talking about so we just pointed at it. Big Blue looks so funny and anachronistic, this old brick house sitting among all these skyscrapers. We keep thinking we should nickname it Old and In the Way, after Jerry Garcia's old band.

City Hall is fun, with its old radiators, hand-lettered signs, ancient books, and cheery people sitting around with not a lot to do. My favorite was the Department of Permits and Inspections. They have a big sign: "Do You Need A Permit?" You can skip all the fine-print documents hanging beneath it. The answer is always "yes."

MKG and Ron Moss at City Hall. (File photo)

But we were going from office to office for well over an hour. And as I said, I had to go to the bathroom. Which in City Hall is not as easy as it sounds. My despair peaked when I found one bathroom, and it was locked. Finally, as we were meeting with the ninth or 10th official we talked to, Howard got him to find me the key. "The wife needs to use the ladies' room," he said.

Going to the bathroom in Frank Lloyd Wright houses can be problematic too. In Fallingwater, I think it was -- that is the Wright house in Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh --Wright had fitted the bathroom out with the oddest toilets. They were very low, as if they were designed for toddlers, but with adult-sized seats. I remember asking the tour guide why they were like that, but she didn't know.

I wonder what the Tillinghast House bathrooms are like.

With luck, I am going to find out.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stop the presses!

Stop the presses! MKG loses five pounds. Shrinkage prompts investigation.

Over the last few days, I have been rhapsodizing about coming back from California, and how well things were going regarding my book on Leonard Pennario. But I failed to mention my biggest achievement. I didn't realize it until just now.

I lost five pounds!!!

I couldn't believe it. Hanging around with Leonard you are going to eat burgers. You just are. There is no way around that. So I did have a burger with him, in Balboa Park. And then I had another burger, at MoTown, or whatever that place was called where I went with Mike.

Other than that, though, I must have done pretty well. For one thing I was pretty much living on salads from Trader Joe's. By the end of the week I was pretty sick of them. Also I went that one morning to La Jolla Shores and walked for about an hour. Best of all, my braces keep me away from candy, chips, nuts, even French fries. I did manage to eat the processed cheese and crackers on the plane but that took serious dedication. I had to break every cracker in half the way we all used to split up Oreos when we were kids, then break off a chunk, place it in my mouth and bite down and hope no one was watching. If I could apply that kind of dedication to other areas of my life, imagine where I would be.

I am finding you can make your braces work for you. I was embarrassed about them in front of Leonard but I try to smile anyway and not act funny about them. Leonard said I was doing a good job of talking in spite of them. Then I could tell he was impressed when we were dining at Balboa Park and the waiter began fussing over me strictly because of the metal in my mouth. First he let me make substitutions denied to other diners. Next he brought me a free dessert, something I could eat. Leonard admires when you get special treatment. I enjoy it, too.

There was only one moment when I felt bad about my braces. That was when I was in the airplane headed home. They followed the stupid inflight movie ("Mad Money") up with a stupid inflight TV show. I don't know my TV, so I can't tell you what show it was, but it was set at a fashion magazine, and there was this one girl who was supposed to be a total ugly duckling. She had long black hair and bangs, heavy glasses, and braces. And they made a big point out of the braces. At one point -- I couldn't believe I was sitting there, watching this -- the screen showed a cartoon of braces and flashed, in big letters: "UGLY!! UGLY!! UGLY!!"

And I'm shrinking down in my seat, thinking: Of all the stupid things they could have shown us, they had to show this! What are the odds?

But then I found out about the five pounds and now I feel great.

My Uncle Bob and I used to have long conversations about losing weight. We agreed that the world could be falling down around our ears -- you could be losing your job, your house could be on fire, your car could be towed -- and that would all be OK, as long as you had lost five pounds.

When he died, something funny happened. I was feeling awful -- we all miss our Uncle Bob terribly, and I still think of him every day. And I was at my mom's house, and I was weepy so I drifted upstairs to the bathroom, and there was the scale. And I stepped on the scale -- God knows why -- and guess what? I had lost five pounds.

I know Uncle Bob had something to do with that. I just know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The great songs

Lastnight Howard, prince among husbands, picked me up at the airport, hefted my heavy suitcase into the trunk and then took me directly downtown to hear Jackie Jocko. It was great to see Jocko again because before I left he was down with the flu. Now I am back and so is he. We had him playing "Lemon Twist," "My Heart Stood Still," "Moon River"... I am trying to name more, but there are so many. Jocko is the human jukebox and he is great about playing requests.

Our friend Paul Kukoda showed up and that was the signal for everyone to join in an impassioned conversation about our usual topic, the great songs. I had a rumor I needed corroborated. The kid from Enterprise car rental who drove me to the San Diego airport had told me that a pianist who had accompanied Judy Garland and had written the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was alive and living in San Diego. I was wondering if that could be true. Paul and Jocko agreed that it could not be.

Musicologists Paul (foreground) and Jocko last night at E.B.Green's.

But you know what? I just got on Google and it turns out my guy from Enterprise could be right! The composer of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is Hugh Martin. He was born in 1914 and he is, indeed, still among us. And he did accompany Judy Garland. He was a good friend of hers. The story I stumbled on did not say that he was living in San Diego but he must be. This must be the guy. How about that?

This is the sort of preoccupation that takes priority with me over weeding my garden and paying my phone bill. This is why my county taxes are overdue.

I may have mentioned, because I love mentioning this, that Leonard Pennario also accompanied Judy Garland, but only at parties here and there. She must have felt so lucky. Lastnight at Jocko we were talking about how Pennario shares our preoccupation with the great songs. He has a whole list of them he and a few friends put together years ago on a road trip from Buffalo to Michigan. It is a single-spaced typed list, about six pages long. I found it one day when I was going through his stuff. "Leonard, what's this?" I asked him. He said, "That is a list of the great songs."

Lastnight we had Jocko playing "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" because Pennario loves that song and for some reason this week it came up repeatedly into our conversation. Pennario sang it for me a few days ago so I would know how it went. I love when he sings. One night last winter when we were sitting around, he sang Cole Porter's "All of You." I have it on tape. "The eyes, the arms and the mouth of you/The east, west, north and the south of you." Those are very cute and sexy lyrics. We had Jocko sing that song lastnight too.

It is great to take time out from your life and ground yourself by listening to the great songs. Which is why I didn't go home from the airport and instead, went directly to Jocko.

By the way, when I mentioned that to our friend Paul, he didn't even laugh.

"Who doesn't?" he said.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homeward bound

Above: Live Tracking -First leg of MKG trip back to Buffalo.

Wow, all these comments yesterday! I will have to write about gay bars more often! Thanks, everyone, for weighing in.

George Honduras, whoever you are, your comments are so incisive!

I have to say this: During the last week, while I was out here in California, the comments people were nice enough to send me reminded me that I was not alone. This book is a very big and frightening project and this week was not all the fun and games that my blog suggested it was. But it relaxed me to write what I did, and it was such a comfort to know that people were going through this experience along with me.

Leonard Pennario and I did not get quite to the end of the chapters I had sketched out, but we got through 1948, which is a pretty good accomplishment because his life has been very eventful. I read it to him out loud and he offers comments, is the way we do it. He has been very generous in his praise of what I have done and I am more honored than I can say. "This is beautifully written," he told me today. I thought I would die with happiness.

As I was reading the part about his debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic -- he was 19 -- I started getting choked up, because I was thinking: when I am very old, I will be remembering this. I will remember how I sat with the great pianist Leonard Pennario and went through this exhausting, nerveracking, marvelous experience of giving him my version of his life. I have often thought that it must be stressful to be written about. It must be is as if someone is holding a mirror up to you, and maybe it reflects you at weird angles, in ways you don't expect. But it is stressful for the writer, too. I wrote some very personal things about Leonard, and about our conversations and experiences last winter. I was not sure how he would take them.

Not to get spiritual on everyone but last fall, when I met Leonard, I just felt called to do this. I just knew it was something I was going to do. I think we all have to be ready for this kind of thing. It is a mystery why it happens, but it is wonderful when it does.

Speaking of mysteries, one mystery I am contemplating now, as I head back to Buffalo, is...

Why do I pack so many things I don't need?

You wouldn't believe what I brought and never used. Big, bulky sneakers. (When I walked, I walked on the beach, so I went barefoot.) A bathing suit. (I bought a new one, my first day here.) Two skirts and two tops I never wore. A pair of black sandals I never wore -- I just wore the same old sandals, over and over. A jacket. Didn't need that. A black sweater. A black tank top. Black anything. For heaven's sake, it's 90 degrees here. What was I thinking?

When I come back to California in a couple of weeks, I'm traveling light.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A gay time

Party animal protrayed by performance artist Ron Moss.
(BuffaloBloviator file photo.)

Didn't I just write that I was the only person who could sit on a bar stool one minute and go to a Tridentine Mass the next? I was not kidding!!!

Yesterday, mere hours after emerging from my Latin Mass -- I am here in California, remember, working on the biography of Leonard Pennario -- I wound up drinking beer at the gayest bar in the entire world. I mean, this bar is the capitol of Gay America.

I was brought there by Mike, one of Leonard's friends. Mike is openly gay and also Buddhist, which Leonard and I have been known to -- shhhh -- giggle about now and then, affectionately of course. Mike is Leonard's equivalent of my friend Larry Solomon. I am going to make plans with Leonard to fix Mike and Larry up. Anyway, Mike thought he and I needed a break so he had promised me this lunch out, which was very nice of him. And I love Mike. He has been extremely nice in helping me out getting my bearings in San Diego while I am writing this book.

But this place! It was like no place I had ever been in my life!

It was called Homo Burger, something like that. Wait. I have it. Burger Mo. Mike explained to me helpfully that "Mo" is short for "Homo." I am not sure why he feels he has to explain gay culture to me as if I have never seen it before. But back to this bar. It was half indoors, half outdoors, and it was packed, with everyone shoulder to shoulder sweating and holding shots and bottles of beer. It was like the Allentown Art Festival on a 90-degree day. Except at Allentown, only about half the people there are large and homosexual with tattoos. Here, all the people were!

There was this guy at the next table. I have to talk about this. A huge, hairy guy with a kind of Mohawk but a long ponytail down the back. He had a ton of tattoos. And every time he got up to get another beer, which he did about every minute and a half, his pants would go halfway down his kiester. I mean AT LEAST halfway down. This was not your garden-variety "plumber's ass." I am sorry to use that word -- I was trying to avoid it by using the Kaisertown "kiester" -- but it would ruin the story not to. Every two minutes I was faced with this huge, hairy ass.

On top of all that the sound system was pounding. POUNDING. Mike looked around at the scene, drinking it in, eyes shining. He laughed, "Leonard would HATE this place!"

And I'm thinking: Yeah, no kidding!

But what about me? I am surprised that when I walked in the door an alarm did not sound. (Well, one probably did. They just couldn't hear it over the beat.) I had on a flowered yellow skirt and a pink top. And to complete my Lilly Pulitzer look, I was wearing this hilarious Republican headband. It was bright blue and green. I had the headband on because as I just said, I had just come from Mass, and at the Latin Mass people tend to follow old-fashioned rules, one of which is that women wear something on their heads. I would feel like a dork wearing one of those white mantillas, but I had this headband handy so I had worn that. So here I am, squashed in this uproarious gay bar, looking like the biggest square.

I realize I got the bar's name wrong. It is Urban Mo's. I just looked it up. They have a Web site, Check it out and you can share my experience. Just make sure if you're at work that your computer's sound is turned down.

The good news is the burgers at Urban Mo's were fantastic. So was the beer. A couple of cold ones, and I felt much more at home.

But that sight at the next table was still a little, uh, hairy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Latin lover

Live GPS vehicle tracking courtesy of
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please seek medical attention.

When I was a kid I collected stamps. And my hobbies have only gotten geekier since then. Today I will admit to one of my most embarrassing fixations.

The Tridentine Mass!

I grew up your normal kind of Massgoer -- the Sign of Peace, "Yahweh, I Know You Are Near," occasional guitars and, in high school, readings of "The Little (Yawn) Prince." (God, that book is boring. What does everyone see in it?)

Then last fall I went to a concert at St. Anthony's Church. And I saw a notice for the Latin Mass there on Sunday mornings. My church, Gerard's, was getting the ax, a victim of the Journey of Faithlessness and Disgrace, so I was stuck looking for a new, ahem, spiritual home. And I decided to give the Latin Mass a try.

I loved it! I was so surprised!

At first it was very alien. You have to be on the ball at the Latin Mass. You are trying to follow the prayers -- many of which the priest mumbles, his back to you, so you can hardly hear him. You have to keep track of what is happening when. When it's time to sing, you have to follow old medieval scores, the kind with four staves and square notes. On top of all that, you have to follow the choreography, kneeling, standing, making the Sign of the Cross when required.

Few people get it all correct. Some people -- I am one -- specialize in the music end of it. Others are good at the crossing and genuflecting. But I find something so magical and powerful and universal in this ancient rite. You get a whole different feeling from what you get dozing through the English language Mass, lulled by the kind of hymns that the Wall Street Journal once referred to, accurately I might add, as "light Broadway." I know there is a case to be made to put the Mass into the language of the people, but by making it too warm and fuzzy, they have lost a great deal of the sense of power. A Latin High Mass is a frightening experience in a way. It gives you the sense that something very powerful is going on. Sometimes it makes me think of "The Exorcist." I hope that isn't irreverent to say. I think "The Exorcist" does a great job of portraying the power of the Catholic religion. "Yahweh, I Know You Are Near" does not do that.

Heavy conversation for a Sunday morning! Heavy!

But it was on my mind because this morning I get to go back to the Latin Mass I found last winter when I went to San Diego. I found it on the Internet before I left -- I know, Geek! -- and it is in a 1930s mausoleum in a historic cemetery. How many people can spend one day sitting on a bar stool and the next going to Mass in a mausoleum? Yep, I'm one of a kind!

They have great music at this Mass -- lots of Mozart -- and last winter it became a kind of anchoring thing for me, because I was feeling overwhelmed by the project I had undertaken, the book on concert pianist Leonard Pennario. On this trip it is an anchoring thing too because guess what? I am still overwhelmed by this project I have undertaken! On that note, speaking of undertaking...

Bye, dear, I'm off to the mausoleum.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Into the wild

Being the Richard Halliburton of libraries, I ventured downtown yesterday and dropped in on the San Diego Public Library to look up stories about Leonard Pennario. I doubt the place will ever be the same.

From the moment I walked in the door, I needed constant assistance. First I had to be guided to the Newspaper Room. Then I had to be trained on how to use the search system for the San Diego Union. The San Diego Tribune has not been catalogued. And what they have for the San Diego Union is very primitive. You have to select these plastic see-through floppy sheets from a carousel, put them under glass and shine a lens on them.

While I was getting all this straight, the librarian and I got into a fight. She tried telling me I might not find the pianist I was looking for because the library clerks who put in the data might not have thought he was important enough. "I'm sure I will find him," I said. "Well, I don't know," she said. I told her the pianist I was writing about was a major figure. I mean, I didn't want anyone to think I was writing about some nobody. And she told me not to take it personally, that it's just that the clerks might not have heard of him, and.... Yeah, yeah, yeah. Naturally the file was full of stuff on Pennario. She would have known that if she had bothered to ask me who it was I was writing about.

Next step was the microfilm machines. Would you believe I have never used one? It was like going back to 1950. There was a girl next to me also doing research and we kept laughing about it like bad schoolkids. I had to call the librarian over so often that I thought she was going to kill me. Luckily this was not the one I had gotten into the fight with.

After all that Sturm und Drang I came up with only two things remotely useful. So enough about my library trek. Back to Richard Halliburton. My dad always used to read Halliburton's adventure stories to me when I was little. He had a big book of them. I just looked up Richard Halliburton on Wikipedia to see if his name had one "L" or two. And I became absorbed in his biography.

I love his dates. "Jan. 9, 1900 - presumed dead after March 23, 1939."

Someone once made the mistake of telling Halliburton he should find "an even tenor" in his life.
"I hate that expression," Richard responded, "and as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition. When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my way uneven then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible…. And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills—any emotion that any human ever had—and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed…" I am copying this off of Wikipedia.

There follow details about how Halliburton traveled the world enjoying bizarre encounters with foreigners, undertaking adventures including swimming the Panama Canal, and experimenting with people of both sexes.

But I bet he never ventured into one of our public libraries. That is an explorer's true test.

Friday, May 16, 2008

California girl

David and SUV checking each other out in Delaware Park.
Photo by BuffaloBloviator.

Yesterday I was in Balboa Park with Leonard Pennario. We had lunch there in a restaurant called Prado. We sat on the terrace and I was thinking, this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in my life. Trees and flowers everywhere. And it was so quiet, with light classical music playing softly in the background. I was absolutely stunned by how beautiful it was. I kept looking around, speechless.

What a contrast to Delaware Park!

Normally I am fiercely proud of Buffalo. I am always thinking how beautiful our city is. But in Balboa Park, I found myself thinking: Why can't Buffalo be more like San Diego?

When it comes to parks, our city has blown it. You don't even have to contrast our parks with world-class parks like Balboa Park or San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I have been to parks in St. Louis and Kansas City and thought the same thing. Our green space is nothing like the green space these other cities have. It does not come close.

Part of it is the Buffalo mentality. I think a lot of Buffalonians have a problem with quiet green space. They want to put something there. They want action. They want noise. So in Buffalo, beautiful flowers and landscaped paths take a back seat to screaming little kids playing soccer, big bellowing guys playing rugby, a truck route running through the center of Delaware Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted Schmolmsted!

Well, there are ways in which Buffalo is more peaceful than San Diego. We do not have the Angry Shopper. Here in San Diego, you can't browse Marshall's without feeling under assault by these weird women, striding briskly and aggressively in their heels ... What is your hurry? I want to ask. What are you trying to prove? Drivers here are more aggressive too. Changing lanes on the expressway is a fine art. It is an art I have thrown myself into mastering, seeing that I bought the rental car company's ripoff insurance and so have nothing to lose.

I have needed moments like the lunch in Balboa Park to de-stress from things like highway lane-changing. Also Leonard and I sat in the hot tub, did I mention that? I got to wear my new bathing suit from Target. I am going to say "bathing suit" instead of "swimsuit" from now on. I do not want the old-fashioned phrase "bathing suit" to fall from public usage.

This is a nice new bathing suit. It is not quite skimpy enough to be a bikini but certainly skimpy enough so that my mother would have a thing or two to say about it. It's funny how you never outgrow your mother lecturing you about the bathing suits you wear. (My mom, on another two-piecer I have: "I hope you didn't pay much for it. There's nothing to it.")

It's also funny that I realize that I have started collecting bathing suits the way other women collect shoes. I think I have about 30 of them now. Isn't that weird?

Maybe it's that California influence. Maybe I'm turning into a California girl.

Now it's time for my socially conscious cup of coffee.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The big day

Today was the day. Today I began reading my book to Leonard Pennario. We went through the first three chapters. I do not have all the chapters written yet but I have something like 12 of them in some kind of shape.

Everyone back home was always asking me if I would be nervous, reading Pennario what I wrote. "No," I always said. "I am a professional. I trust my instincts."


Because here is what happened. First of all lastnight I couldn't sleep from nerves. I was tossing and turning all night under this big heavy suede hide the hotel gives me to sleep under. I got up at 6 and honest, I rewrote the entire introduction to the book. I decided the old one wasn't good enough. At 10:30 a.m. I called Staples down the street (that is the advantage to being in Corporateville: there are always places like Staples around) and got them to print out my new intro. Then I grabbed it on my way over to Pennario's.

Now it is time. We are sitting in his room, facing each other, a couple of feet apart. I mean, Leonard is right in front of me. And I say, "OK, do you want to hear what I wrote? Should I start reading this to you?" And he says, "Yes!"

And I had this nice strong speech all ready and to my horror I couldn't say the words. I took a deep breath and all that came out was a squeaky: "I'm so nervous!"

And Pennario said gently, "Don't be."

Then we both needed glasses of water.

And then we got started. I read him the first sentences. I am in love with the first two sentences of my book, I have to say. So I took heart, reading them. I glanced up, and he was smiling.
Then it was tougher going. Because this intro, it talks a lot about myself, and my feelings about this project, and my recollections of my first conversations with Pennario. It must be strange for Pennario to be reliving our conversations from my viewpoint. I realize this is all very personal for him but it is for me, too. So as I was reading I found myself growing self-conscious, glancing out in the hall, worrying. A few times between my braces and my nerves I stumbled over the words.

Most problematic parts to read: one part where I said that initially he was not the best interview, another part where I describe his great looks, and then there was another part that told about how beautiful his hands are and how he lets me and other people hold his hands and feel them. I had forgotten all this stuff was in there and suddenly here I was having to read it to him. Aaaaaiiiiieeee!

But Pennario kept smiling and laughing. "That's right," he said a couple of times. "That's accurate." Then he said: "I love this. This is so charming."

And he kept saying that! He said he was so happy with everything he heard, and I could tell that he meant it. Pennario doesn't lie to you. Later at lunch he said he also liked my segues. He used that word. Then he said, "That's such a beautiful word, 'segue.'" I like that he appreciates words the way I do. I am always pointing out in here when I like some word or other.

Speaking of Pennario's love of words, that is one reason I was nervous. He has read all the greatest novels and knows all the Shakespeare plays. He knows good writing.

But so far, so good. I am weak with gratitude and relief. This book is one of the biggest thrills of my life and to know that Pennario likes what I am doing means the world. And now I won't be as nervous, because he says he loves the tone of the book, its style. It is different from other music biographies, as you may have guessed. We wanted it that way. We had talked about that. We would like this to be a book interesting to everyone, not just classical music nuts.

Please, everyone, wish me continued luck!

Now I am going to go jump in the pool.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Journey into social consciousness

MKG at the beach minutes after posting this blog.

This morning, 5:30 a.m., trying to load up the coffee maker, I have to read the coffee packet, because I am trying to find out how many cups it makes. The coffee comes from Seattle. This is a classic case of one hip city, San Diego, boosting another. And this is what I read:

"We believe it's possible to create good coffee and Create Good (registered trademark) at the same time. Made from 100% Arabica beans, Pura Vida is certified Fair Trade, organic and shade-grown. And Pura-Vida was founded with a distinct mission: Help children and families in coffee-growing communities."

Then there is another whole column. "The Pura Vida journey begins with triple-seal certified coffee beans..."

For the love of God, as my friend Michelle likes to say. How about my journey into alertness? Can't you just tell me how many cups the darn thing makes? Would you believe the packet never does say that?

Do these people not go to church or temple, so they need sermons with their morning coffee?

Just for that, I am going to widen my carbon footprint, get in the car and begin my 7-mile journey to the beach. Howard is going to be watching me, did I mention that? He has a GPS tracker on my car so I am observed at all times by law enforcement across the country. Invasion of privacy! I bet the people who distribute this coffee have a lot to say about that. I'll probably read it on the next packet.

MKG route to the beach. Courtesy of

Greetings from California

Click picture for larger image. "GPS Sky-Way" image courtesy of

What a day I have had!

That jaunty picture Howard took of me yesterday, that was at 5 a.m. Hours to go before I sleep! Heck, here it is, past midnight in Buffalo, and I am still not asleep. I am trying to eat a Caesar salad which with my braces is not easy but I am darned if I am going to get fat from eating mashed potatoes. After that I will go to bed. Well, before that I might take a hot bath. When I am in a hotel I love using up a lot of their hot water.

I am in a hilarious hotel.

When I saw it I burst out laughing. The name of it is the Woodfin Hotel and Suites and it is just Corporate City. The place impeccably landscaped, surrounded by palm trees and flowers, and there is a perfect restaurant called Oasis with a beautiful terrace that adjoins the pool area. Next to the pool is a Jacuzzi and tomorrow when Leonard Pennario and I talk about the book we have decided that is where we are going to sit and confer. We were laughing thinking the book will probably end up being dropped in the water.

I am very lucky in that my husband lets me sit in hot tubs with concert pianists.

Back to my trip. You know how it is when you haven't slept much and have to spend 7 hours cooped up in cramped planes among people with no social skills, not that mine are much to speak of. My mind is just gone. I let the rental car people talk me into buying their ripoff insurance. Then I kept losing the key to the rental car. I admitted that to Leonard, that I was such a mental case, and he was so sympathetic and said, "Well, of course you are!" He said he was going to worry about my finding my way home tonight. But here I am. I made it!

And on the way I managed to stop at Trader Joe's. I wandered the place in a delirious sleep-deprived haze. I emerged as if in a dream with hummus, pita bread and this salad. And I think I bought some cherry tomatoes. I am limited because I have no fridge.

Then I went to Ralph's for their olive bar. Ralph's is more upscale than Tops, not as upscale as Wegmans. It is right next to Trader Joe's so I didn't have to move the car. Good thing, too. When I got out of Ralph's it took me about 20 minutes to find my way out of the parking lot. People in San Diego drive very fast and angrily and the parking lots are labyrinthes. They mark arrows this way and that to tell you where to go. We don't realize how beautiful and simple life is in Buffalo.

I was not kidding about the shopping! Before I went to see Leonard, his friend Mike stopped by and lectured me that I should take a nap. As soon as he was gone I dug around till I found the key to my rental car and then I went to Target. They have better stuff at these Targets than the ones in Buffalo. I got a red flowered 2-piece swimsuit and two headbands.

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers! Who wrote that, Wordsworth?

If Wordsworth were around now he might write:

Blogging endlessly we lay waste our powers!

I must away, ere break of day. Tomorrow is another day. And a big one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Leonard Pennario and Big Blue

Mary being deposited at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport early this morning.

I knew when I bought Mary this blog that it would wind up being like a puppy that I would eventually get stuck having to feed and clean up after.

Well this morning I put her on a plane to San Diego to see Leonard Pennario. He is the concert pianist whose authorized biography Mary is currently writing.

Leonard Pennario is a lot like Big Blue, the old house that I am rebuilding. I don’t mean that the actual person and the actual house have much in common. What I am trying to say is that the two, as projects, have a lot in common.

For one thing, we are each obsessed with our respective projects. At dinner we discuss arcane details or our own project and tune-out the other’s diatribe. It seems to work for us.

Having achieved three years of marriage (on top of the accomplishment of 49 years of bachelorhood) I have found myself at a destination of great wisdom.

Most marriages are broken up by a behavior that is not comfortably discussed. Leaving the cap off of the toothpaste. Even in our young marriage I was a victim of this abuse. But now, thanks to a simple over-the-counter marital aid, the most common form of spousal abuse in America is finally cured. Yes, the flip-top toothpaste tube has changed everything.

The only thing is, when I got back home after driving Mary to the airport this morning, this is what was waiting for me. (Photo below) But I did not myself become uncapped by the discovery.

It sure beats losing the cap.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Airport bound

The new lawn at Big Blue.

Trying to keep my head together, I have started writing lists of "Things I Have To Do Today." On today's list is stuff I have to do for work, a card I want to get my thoughts together to write... and I love this, in the middle of all this is "Pack."

Ha, ha! That is almost as funny as yesterday's list. I had to pay bills, rent my car for California, buy toilet paper because we were running out -- and, oh yes, in the middle of all that, I had written: "Get book ready so Leonard Pennario can see it."


That one task was a daylong ordeal because I kept taking things out thinking, "He'll hate this," or remembering things I forgot to include. It is funny how things don't strike you until the last minute. After that I was so stressed that Howard took pity on me and took me to Bob and John's for pizza. I will miss Bob and John's when I am in San Diego. They are my rock.

My departure date is closing in. Actually, it's tomorrow. For three nights now I have been dreaming fitful dreams about travel. Lastnight I dreamed I was in Paris with Howard and a bunch of people we knew. And immediately, upon arrival in Paris, I lost Howard. Tried to call him on his cell but that was no good, the rules were different in Europe, no end of aggravation. Slight relief when, in one of those hilarious dream footnotes you get, I saw the great conductor Arturo Toscanini walking into the hotel where I was staying. Toscanini was at my hotel! I thought that was neat.

That is how a music biographer dreams.

Then I wake up and things are back to normal, I'm in Buffalo, I've got to go to work, we are running out of dish soap, it's raining. Howard rejoices in the rain because it is good for his new lawn. He has put in a new lawn at Big Blue. It is the talk of downtown Buffalo.

The lawn at Big Blue is a tender yellow-green. It's this sweet baby grass and whenever I look at it I think of a beautiful little song by Robert Schumann about young, new grass. The name of the song is "Erstes Grun," which means "First Green," and it ends with a line about how feeling the grass makes your heart beat more calmly. Every single time I look at that lawn I think of that song. I keep wanting to explain that to Howard but where do you start.

Unfortunately I am afraid it will take more than the lawn at Big Blue to make my heart beat more calmly today!

I guess I should start packing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Miracles in my life

Today is a beautiful Sunday morning, so our topic is miracles. I have two to disclose.

The first is that Leonard Pennario got the flowers I sent him. Remember my big battle with Teleflora? When in the middle of a mild workday I turned into a warrior out of Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelungs" -- horned helmet, long braids, spear -- and told these Telefloroids that they'd better get these flowers to the person I sent them to, or else? I could not believe I had that in me. But apparently Teleflora believed it, because when I talked to Leonard a few days ago he said he did get the flowers, and that they were on the dresser by his bed, and they looked great. Victory! Miracle! I have been meaning to write about that.

The second miracle happened Wednesday, the day I went with lounge sensation Guy Boleri to the Anchor Bar.

I mentioned yesterday that when I go to San Diego I am looking forward to a stop at Ross, the store where I bought my favorite skirt. This was the skirt I was wearing when I dined with Guy. Nothing but the best, when I go out with lounge sensation Guy Boleri. Well, this basket of Italian bread arrived at the table. And Guy, being Sicilian and genetically wired to be unable to resist this bread, asked me to open one of those butter packets -- you know, those fussy little plastic tubs that have a tiny tab you have to pull. No one can open these things.

But because I have braces now and can no longer bite my nails, I was able to pull the tiny tab. What I hadn't realized, though, was that the butter had melted. For some reason that only makes sense in Anchor Bar Land, they had tucked the packets between the slices of warm bread. So when I opened it, the butter packet spurted all over my favorite skirt!

I immediately gave up. Even a little spot of grease can ruin something completely, and now here was my poor skirt, drenched in what amounted to an oil slick. I stuck a napkin in a glass of water and scrubbed at it for a few seconds, but then I shrugged and decided what the heck, when I go back to San Diego maybe I can buy the skirt again. No point in crying and fussing.

Well, guess what? Half an hour later, the skirt was fine! You could not tell anything had ever happened to it!

I am speechless in the face of this miracle.

Incredibly, there was a similar miracle in my life before this one. That was when I was in a Chippewa Street bar with my sister Katie, the left-winger. We had big Wagnerian goblets of red wine and she managed to spill hers all over my favorite coat, this beautiful long green wool coat. There was a gigantic crimson splash down the front of it. It looked as if I had been shot. I didn't know what to do so I just figured, I am not going to worry about this, and we went on with our evening.

Which I don't remember much of, though it must have a been a riot if my sister, who is not normally a party animal, was taking glasses of red wine and throwing them. That is a miracle in itself.

What I do remember is that my coat ended up mysteriously fine. It dried with no sign of a stain. None. I still wear it.

Isn't that amazing? I should call the Vatican. Maybe Father Baker was involved.

Maybe he could be the patron saint of hopelessly stained clothing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

California, here I come

President Truman, George Marshall, Paul Hoffman,
and Averell Harriman discuss Marshall's plan.

This blog is so neat and uncluttered. I love looking at it because it gives me a break from my actual life.

You know things are gyrating out of control when robots start calling you on the phone. Yesterday I got a "courtesy call" from my insurance company. I like how they finesse a collections call by calling it a "courtesy call." I also got a call from Verizon and another one from National Grid. But I called back National Grid and to my astonishment they told me my account was not overdue. So I guess they were just being neighborly.

So before I go back to San Diego in -- yikes! -- just a few days to see Leonard Pennario, I have to clean up my finances, which are not pretty.

But you know what's funny?

When I look ahead to my week in San Diego, I tend completely to forget that I have to work on this book. Yesterday I was lounging at my desk, my chin in my hand, thinking about visiting the Art Museum. Maybe Leonard could go with me. I could show him "I Remember Being Initiated Into the Frat" and then we could have lunch in the museum cafe and talk about George Bellows. I am sure Leonard knows about him. He knows about everything. And then we could look at the park. I didn't see much of Balboa Park last winter when I was in San Diego. I was too busy working.

My daydream continued. I could go back to this clothes store called Ross that I liked. Ross is like Marshall's, only cheaper and more fun and the sound system is not always squalling "Never ever ever pay full price!" right in your ear. The Marshall's stores in San Diego are better than they are here, too. I should go there. And that Supercuts, that gave me that great haircut, I should stop in there. I should check out La Jolla more. I should walk on the beach.

La la la la la la la.

Then I think: Wait, I'm going to be there only a week. And I have this book to do!

What I want to do on this visit is go over what I have written so far with Pennario, and see if he likes how it is going, and also I am hoping that the research I have done back here in Buffalo will bring up memories that didn't surface before. Yesterday I read an L.A. Times review in which the critic said Pennario had done music an incredible favor by discovering and performing the 1952 sonata of Alberto Ginastera, the Argentinian composer. "Why pianists have so long overlooked this brilliant work is a mystery," the critic wrote.

What a funny world this is! I just heard that sonata the other night at Holy Trinity Lutheran when Gabriela Montero played it! I wonder if she knows she owes such a great artistic debt to Leonard Pennario. As does every pianist.

I will have to ask Pennario about that Ginastera sonata.

After I walk on the beach.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Remember My Trip To Columbus, Ohio

George Bellows' 1917 lithograph, "Initiation Into The Frat," eerily predicted events in Wilson.

A few years ago, at the art gallery in Columbus, Ohio, my brother George and I stood spellbound before an unbelievable picture. The picture was "I Remember Being Initiated Into the Frat." The artist was George Bellows. Bellows, who was born in Columbus and died in 1925, was a painter of the Ashcan school (a term I love). His did a lot of paintings depicting gritty urban life. Prizefighters were a specialty of his.

The painting George and I saw in Columbus showed Bellows' memories of the crazy frat inductions at his college. We couldn't get over it. Everywhere in the picture, something was going on: someone was being beat up or blindfolded or whatever. One kid was hanging. Even so, it wasn't a tragic picture -- somehow, you didn't get the sense that anyone was being seriously hurt. It was more as if the picture showed the nuttiness and stupidity of frat life.

George (my brother, not Bellows) reminded me of this picture yesterday. What got us talking about it was the recent sordid frat hazing in Wilson, N.Y. A little like in Bellows' picture, no one's dead or seriously hurt, but it's just... yecch, as they used to say in Mad magazine.

Clearly, this sort of stuff has always been going on. Maybe not of the ridiculous lowdown nature of the stuff that happened in Wilson, but still. (That is a little tease for our out-of-town readers, who will be scrambling for Google to find out exactly what did happen in Wilson.)

What about medieval Heidelberg, where students used to duel?

What about Old Heidelberg beer?

Back to Bellows. I have just learned that he made a lithograph after his painting of frat life. It is called "Initiation Into the Frat." It is at the San Diego Museum of Art.

When I go next week to see Leonard Pennario, I will have to go see it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Out with Guy

Guy Boleri with jazz singer Peggy Farrell.

Lounge sensation Guy Boleri.

Lastnight I went out to hear the South American pianist Gabriela Montero. And my date for the evening was the legendary Buffalo lounge sensation Guy Boleri. What an adventure that was!

First we went to the Anchor Bar. I had a salad, can you believe that? I was cringing hoping no one would notice. The place was crammed with tables of people digging, family style, into huge platters of chicken wings. Luckily I can't even eat wings with my metalclad mouth. Anyway, Guy had a salad too. We are always talking about watching our weight. But as we were leaving he stuck his face right in this neighboring table's platter of wings. I mean, his nose was inches from it. "Wow, those wings look good," he said. Guy is not shy.

The concert was even more fun. As Ms. Montero was thundering her way through a Ginastera sonata, Guy said, in a loud stage whisper: "Jesus!"

"Guy, shhhhh," I said.

As Ms. Montero was improvising on "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," Guy went, "Wow!" Again, really loud. And I'm sinking down in my pew. This was in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

Yes, like Liberace, Guy does not go anywhere to go unnoticed. The good news is, everyone who meets him loves him. By the end of the night Guy was old friends with two Lutheran women sitting in front of us. He was wearing his blue Winnie the Pooh T-shirt and you could tell they thought he was the cutest, cuddliest thing. Guy has to dress formally when he plays the Buffalo Club so when he is not working he likes to kick back.

Here is my favorite Guy story. My teacher, Stephen Manes, was playing a complete cycle of all the Beethoven sonatas. It was the first concert, and it was a big deal, so Slee Hall was jammed. And I forget which sonata Stephen was playing, because everything has been eclipsed by what Guy said after the slow movement.

REALLY loud, he remarked: "That would be great music to make love to."

And I said: "Guy!!"

He continued: "Of course, it would have to be a little bit longer. That was kind of a short slow movement."

By now all these tweedy people are turning around to look at us.

"Oh, come on," Guy said, addressing us all. "I'm sure everyone was thinking the same thing. Don't be so repressed and uptight." "Repressed" and "uptight" are words Guy loves. He is a yogi in addition to being a jazz pianist and he is always giving us advice.

When I went to my lesson a few days later I was still laughing about Guy and his brief sermon. I told Stephen about it. He loved it. I said, "You have no idea what goes on at your concerts."

Stephen said all he was aware of was somebody snoring.

It couldn't have been anybody near Guy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The War of the Roses

Getting flowers delivered is harder than moving this old safe out of BigBlue.

Actually, it's the War of the Dashing Daisies. But that doesn't have quite the right ring.

Way back on May 1, I decided to send flowers to Leonard Pennario, because he had to go briefly into the hospital. Selecting my bouquet was a big kick. I found a site called Teleflora that looked big and established, and there are all these bouquets for every occasion and you just click, click and have fun. Women love this sort of thing and I am no exception. All the bouquets have cutesy names and I selected Dashing Daisies.

But my daisies dashed into a black hole! I called Leonard. "Leonard, did you get my flowers?" I asked. And he hadn't. Come on! Here I was supposed to have had a little glamour in my life. I am sitting here in Buffalo with my dirty kitchen floor and boom cars in front of my house and yet ... and yet... I am, magically, in a position to send flowers to a great concert pianist. And they don't get there!

So I call the company, and the nice thing is you do get a human being, and he was kind and gave me a 20 percent credit and told me the mistake was theirs and they would deliver the flowers the next day. By now Leonard is back home, so I have to change the address. And all bright and chirpy I call Leonard the next day asking if my flowers got there. And guess what? No! They didn't!

Back on the phone with Teleflora. More promises -- the flowers will get there today. I am always nice as pie in these situations. I mean look, I am nice to weirdos in the library, am I not? But then -- but then -- I get a call back from an employee who can hardly talk English, saying they delivered the flowers on May 2, a nurse signed for them, and ...

And then I blew up. It was 4 p.m., my blood sugar was plunging and my braces had just been tightened.

"I don't care who signed for them!" I said. "I didn't send the flowers to that person!"

"Well, I have her name," she said.

"Well, I don't care what her name is. I didn't send flowers to her!" I said. "I want the flowers to go to the person I sent them to!"

Finally she called me back and said they would deliver the flowers that same day. By now, a new worry had occurred to me.

"These aren't the same old flowers, are they?" I said.

"Yes," she said. "They are the bouquet you ordered."

"But not the same ones, I hope, that got lost last weekend," I said.

"No," she said. "They will be fresh flowers."

Tomorrow, if the flowers still aren't there, it might be time to turn Teleflora's phone number over to Ron Moss. He has a list of people he calls on a daily basis and perhaps Teleflora should be one of them.

But I hope it doesn't come to that.

Cheap food, aisle 1

Above: Ron Moss look-a-like.

The genuine article is on the left.
Ron Moss impersonators Gerald Cantor and Ari Silverstein, middle and right respectively.

What is with all this talk about food prices "soaring"? What is everyone buying, weird stuff like frozen dinners or pre-made pie crusts?

These are thoughts that preoccupy me in between trying to straighten out all of Leonard Pennario's concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.

I will grant that a few things are more expensive. Eggs have doubled in price since the days when you could get them for 69 cents a dozen at Wilson Farms. Yesterday at Tops I had to pay $1.29 a dozen, I think it was. And milk is up to $1.69 a gallon. Ouch! Ach du lieber, I should say. Complaining about stuff like this, I feel I am turning into my German grandmother, not that I really knew her seeing that she died in 1936.

But a lot of things have not gone up. Chicken quarters, which I live on, are still 59cents a pound at some places if you know where to go. Whole chickens, 99 cents a pound. I am a walking price index! Another icon of my household, the 28-oz can of tomatoes, is a little over a buck. They have always been that way. Produce is erratic -- here is where you really have to know where to shop -- but I can find big cheap baskets of apples, same as I always do. Zucchini the other day was 89 cents a pound, normal for this time of year, I thought. Must I go on? Stop me, someone!

Here is the clincher. Yesterday at Tops -- this is Tops, now, not the Broadway Market, not Guercio's -- black beans were 43 cents for a one-pound bag. I have never seen black beans anywhere near that cheap! In my considerable experience they have always been at least 99 cents a pound -- usually more like $1.29, which I always figured was because black bean soup is chic and the demand is probably slightly higher than for other beans. I cannot believe I walk around thinking about stuff like this. Anyway, black beans were 43 cents, and so were navy beans! I have never seen the like! I stocked up!

My record for legumes is once I found lentils for 39 cents a pound. But that was about a year ago, at Sav-A-Lot. Yikes, I am embarrassed by my vast knowledge of these matters. I should not be writing a book about Leonard Pennario. I should be writing a book about this.

Let me sum up my thoughts for the day, not an easy thing to do as I am about to leave for the ortho's to get my braces tightened and I am nervous about that. I bet if everyone started cooking and eating real food, instead of buying whatever junk they are buying, we'd hear a lot less griping about "soaring" prices. My recipe for black bean soup is available upon request. It is a goodie. I inherited it from Erna Eaton, the former society editor at The Buffalo News.

Speaking of Erna reminds me of Jocko, who reminds me of Howard (it's great when you have to be reminded of your own husband) who reminds me of his cousin Ron Moss.

We had a Ron Moss impersonator sighting yesterday. Our rule of thumb is to accept no imitations, but we secretly get a kick out of them anyway, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Howard's friend Bryan Bonn emailed him the picture at the top of this post. You compare. But we suggest you don't try imitating Moss yourself. Definitely don't try it at home.