Monday, June 30, 2008

Letters from the past

Leonard Pennario's brother, Dr. Joseph Pennario, has been nice enough to pass on to me a pile of letters that were sent to Leonard over the years. Many of them come from famous conductors, some from famous actors. There is a dinner invitation from Cole Porter. It says, "Just a reminder that Cole Porter expects you at dinner at 8:30. Cocktails at 8."

Why don't we live life like that these days?

Among the letters are a good number of notes from noteworthy friends of Leonard's complimenting him on concerts he gave. One of these notes comes from Mary Costa, the beautiful singer who became famous as the voice of the original Disney "Sleeping Beauty." She and Leonard were good friends. I am hoping to talk to her for my book.

Ms. Costa has a beautiful handwriting. "Dearest Leonard," she writes. "I shall never forget last nite. You are so greatly blessed that I am absolutely hypnotized listening to you. There is such color, style and imagination in all that you do. I couldn't sleep when I got home I was so inspired. God bless you always and please consider me another of the many who adore you. Mary."

What a gracious note! I love the idea of writing to someone like that, someone you know who gave a great concert. Once I wrote to my piano teacher, Stephen Manes, about a Beethoven concert he gave in Slee Hall. I still remember this concert. He did the beautiful Sonata Op. 109, which is my favorite. It is Leonard's favorite too. We used to talk about that. Leonard loved playing that sonata.

Where was I? All roads lead to Leonard Pennario. I was talking about this concert at Slee. Anyway, the next day I was still thinking about it. It was like this glass of red wine I once had at Brodo, on Elmwood. That glass of wine was so good that the next day I was still thinking about it, getting pleasure just remembering it. That was sort of the way it was with this concert.

So I took time out from my hectic day at work to write a note. I had this pad on my desk so I pulled it over and just wrote to Stephen how awesome I thought his concert was. We should all get in the habit of doing things like that, even when we don't know the person that well. We should all write more notes in general. It is one of those niceties that have fallen by the wayside.

We should cultivate nicer handwriting, too. All the people who wrote to Pennario have beautiful writing. Well, Miklos Rozsa's is kind of tough to read, and Clifford Curzon, the British pianist, had a kind of scrawl I'm having trouble with. But most of his friends have writing that reflects the glamour of their age. We can bring a litte of that back.

As soon as I get home I am going to start working at that.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The media and me

Damned if I did not lose my digital camera. It is just gone. Poof. Like last winter, when when I was in California with Leonard Pennario and lost my glasses. These gorgeous designer frames, gone. No one ever turned them into the lost and found of that apartment complex. People in California are not always as nice as people in Buffalo.

Well, so what. When you are dealing with issues of life and death and eternity, things like a lost camera do not seem as bad. Luckily Howard had backed up the pictures in the camera, so I did not lose the pictures I had taken of Leonard and me in the hot tub. Even with Pennario gone, the memory of those pictures makes me smile. Not only was he the greatest piano virtuoso, but he made it into his 80s and he was in a hot tub with his biographer mere weeks before he died. That is a life well lived.

Today is the first day I felt as if I could breathe a little.

The last couple of days were unbelievable. I got the news in the morning that Leonard had died, and I knew what I had to do was start calling the major papers. This is what happens when a famous person dies, though I never knew it before: Someone acts as spokesman and takes the job of contacting the media. That someone was, in this case, me. Leonard's brother had asked me to be the spokesman and I was honored to do so. Still, it was tough to get started because I was in shock and I couldn't stop crying. I had to call a couple of my friends to steady myself. Then I wrote my blog. Then I finished my coffee (you got to have coffee). Then I got on the horn.

It was great how gracious everyone was to me.

A friend at the New York Times had given me the name of their chief obit editor. It is a wonderful name, Claiborne Ray. I called her and I loved what an old-fashioned newspaperwoman she was.

Me: My name is ... is Mary Kunz Goldman and I'm the music critic at The Buffalo News, and I'm calling because we just lost a very important old concert pianist. He --

C.R.: (Brusquely): Name?

Me: Leonard Pennario.

C.R.: (Voice suddenly soft and sympathetic): Oh, I know Leonard Pennario. Of course! Oh, I'm sorry that he died. I have his Gershwin album.

The New York Times reporter who wrote the obit, James Barron, could not have been nicer. We were on and off the phone all day and I really enjoyed talking with him though by the end of the day I was so fatigued I was babbling. I even said that to him, if I recall. I said, "James, I'm babbling." James Barron has written a book on the making of a Steinway grand so I am glad he wrote the Times' obituary of Leonard Pennario. I think he did a wonderful job.

I love that so many of the obituaries for Leonard that I've seen so far chose to print what Leonard said to me: "You have to play for the people, you have to play for an audience. You can't just go into the studio and make records, you know?" I remember when he said that to me. I was smiling just out of delight in his words.

The L.A. Times writer, Chris, was also on the phone with me all day, and I liked him, too.

The San Diego writer misquoted me, saying that I said that Pennario did what he did without ever winning a piano competition. What I said was he did what he did without ever entering a piano competition. There is a difference. But, well, so what. Let those of us who are without sin cast the first stone. She did a pretty good job too. And they put Pennario's picture on the front page. A beautiful old picture of him, from when he was in his 30s. Hand-picked by, you guessed it, his misty-eyed biographer. Over the picture they had, "Leonard Pennario, 1924-2008."

Yesterday I got the story into the Associated Press and now it seems to be everywhere.

Anyone else want to hire me as P.R. director? I did not do too badly. It was very therapeutic for me, being useful like that. It helped me work through my grief. What is beautiful now is on music Web sites like, people are weighing in on how wonderful Pennario was, how he was one of the great pianists of our time.

One person identified as "Argerichfan" (after pianist Martha Argerich) writes about loving Pennario's recording of the Rachmaninoff Second. I love this quote:

"I'll never forget that moment in the 2nd movement -let me go grab my score- eight measures after rehearsal 19, going into the "Un poco piĆ¹ animato". No one had ever clarified -and given such character to- that transition. It was a magical moment of pure genius."

Argerichfan goes on to write: "Goodnight, dearest. Rest in peace."

Leonard must be adoring that! I am glad I am not the only person who loved him.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 2

Everyone who wrote to me yesterday, thanks so much!! I could feel this warm wind of prayers and sympathy coming from Buffalo and it made me feel so much better.

The editor I spoke with at the San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday was from Hamburg. He started laughing as soon as I said I was the music critic from Buffalo. Then I told him, "Well, Bob, I'm calling about a countryman of ours, the pianist Leonard Pennario..." Bob was very nice to me. I have to say, everyone** I talked to at all the papers yesterday was extremely gracious. By the way, if anyone needs me today, I am still on call (716-816-6279) and so is Howard (716-833-6111).

Wow! This very charming man from the London Telegraph just called. He said he had been reading this blog and found it "engrossing." Leonard gave a lot of concerts in London and loved it there.

I have to run. I will blog more later. Just wanted to check in and thank everyone. This is a crazy time in my life but I know I will always remember it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Goodbye to a great man

Leonard Pennario and MKG at Buffalo's Pearl Street Century Grill. Photo by Howard

I have to write something difficult and sad today. I do not know how to put this because I always spend my blog joking around. But I knew the day would come when I would have to write this, and today, it turns out, is that day.

We lost Leonard Pennario lastnight. He died at midnight, as I understand it.

I have been calling the papers because I am acting as spokesman with the consent of Leonard's brother. If anyone needs to get a hold of me for info on Leonard, my cell is 716-816-6279. Howard is also on call, if for some reason I don't pick up. His number is 716-833-6111.

I didn't feel free to say this earlier, but the reason I flew out here yesterday on the spur of the moment was that I had spoken with Leonard on the phone and got the idea that he was going fast. I wanted to see him one more time before he died. When I got to his bedside (after that long and awful fight with horrible Hertz rental car) he was on oxygen and mostly unconscious, but I got the idea he knew I was there. So I stayed there. When I left lastnight I leaned down and kissed him and cuddled him. The beautiful old man. I am going to miss him so much.

I will always remember meeting him in Buffalo last fall, how courtly he was, how romantic -- this man who had made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at 19, who shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. Spending last winter with him in California was like stepping into a movie. I thought that many times, while I was there with him. They do not make pianists any more like Leonard Pennario. There will never be another one.

I am comforted in that I was able to read him so much of my book over the past few months, and that he said he loved what I was writing. Everyone who read what I wrote about that on the blog was so supportive, too, and I am so grateful.

Well, there is a lot of work to do, so now I have to get a grip and do it!

Rocky first day in CA

This is a milestone for me! It is my 100th post. That is what the blogger Web site tells me. But I think this total might count a few unpublished posts, too. The ones I start writing and then Howard sees them and says, "What were you thinking??"

Yesterday was a milestone for me too. Here I was, on my way to California to meet again with Leonard Pennario, and for the entire flight from Cincinnati to San Diego, I gabbed with my seat mate. This has never happened to me. I am always a loner. But the guy sitting next to me -- his name was Randy -- was so nice. He had a beautiful Southern accent and we made friends when he laughed at me trying to find and fasten my seat belt. Seat belts are not easy to negotiate when you have had three hours' sleep.

So after that we yakked and yakked with just two seconds' time out that we took to mock the inflight movie, "Absolutely Maybe," which looked obnoxious. The flight flew! I will say that. Randy is a guitarist and we talked a lot about Neil Young, enough so now I have "Harvest" permanently on the brain. He also questioned me closely about Leonard Pennario, which I love.

Then we went together to the baggage claim and then on the Hertz rental car shuttle. At Hertz we parted ways, Randy being a Hertz Gold member and me being a zero.

Hertz. HERTZ. Do not ever say that word to me again.

I was at that place an hour and a half!

First, the line was eight miles long.

Next, they gave me a car I didn't want, and not only did I not want it, I had to pay extra for it. What is the point of reserving a car if the car you reserved isn't there for you? That is what I would like to know.

Then just as soon as I had warmed to that car -- it was a red Mustang -- the guy at the exit gate told me it was the wrong car! They had given me the wrong car! Go back to start! Do NOT collect $200!

So I find my way on my three hours' sleep back to the office. And then ... and then ... they try to foist this SUV on me. "It's a small SUV," they said. And it wasn't! It was like this Humvee!

Back I go to the office. By now I'm getting hysterical. I mean I am in just about in tears. You get to the point where you feel no one can hear your scream.

And it's funny, suddenly the right car suddenly materializes -- a white Camry with a sun roof and a GPS system which, hey, I didn't want it, but I didn't pay extra for it, and I heard other customers begging for one and being turned down, so I am gloating over having it. Not only did the car appear, but a nice man appeared and walked me over to the car and put my luggage in the trunk and made sure everything was fine. Hysteria gets a bad press, and it shouldn't. Hysteria will get you everywhere.

I drove out the same gate where I had been stopped before with the red Mustang. The attendant beamed down at me. "You're back!" he said. "You couldn't stay away from me! What'll it be? Dinner? Dancing?"

I said: "Drinks, after all I've been through!"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fare in the air

I have to fly to California again today to continue my work on the authorized biography of concert pianist Leonard Pennario, and for once this time, I am going to pack food for the plane. Yesterday I baked bread so I can make decent sandwiches. How wacky is that? Here it is 4 a.m. and I have not finished packing and have gotten only three hours' sleep but all is not lost, I have my home-baked bread.

You have to be careful about food on planes. Not being an experienced flyer I took along yogurt last time. This was a few weeks ago, flying back from San Diego to Buffalo. All that yogurt was taken away from me! Four six-ounce containers! The injustice! Along with a couple of tubes of fancy toothpaste, two of the gems of my collection (see yesterday's blog). Because I look like such a terrorist.

And the woman -- it was a woman, naturally, who took the stuff away from me -- wouldn't even smile or return any of my friendly Buffalo remarks. Instead I got lectured. Smite them, O Lord!

I will buzz this blog later today from California, or from Cincinnati -- I think that is where I am changing planes -- when time permits.

Meanwhile, my plane leaves in two hours. I guess it's time I finished packing.

I'll start with the food. First things first!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Of dentists and do-rags

The other day when I went to the dentist I came home with lots of teeth freebies. It felt like being a little kid. I had this baggie and I excitedly cracked it open when I got home and spread everything out on the bathroom counter.

What I found most exciting was this kind of toothbrush I never had before, with a conical attachment that snaps in and out and cleans between your teeth. But there was also a small tube of whitening toothpaste. And a little bottle of Listerine mouthwash that I couldn't open because of its child-proof top. And those floss loops that allow you to string floss beneath your braces. I already bought special floss that allows me to get under there without loops, but I hoard the loops anyhow.

I have become fixated on my dental paraphernalia. When I'm in drugstores I detour to the dental aisle and buy all this stuff. I have all kinds of fancy floss now, and various whitening compounds, including this Listerine whitener that I can't use because it tastes like paint, but I display it in the bathroom anyway. You know who in music history had a teeth fixation? He was always polishing his teeth. You will never guess. Here is a clue: He is a major, major figure. I will reveal his name in a second -- meanwhile, you can try to guess.

Combing the drugstore I sometimes discover other interesting things. Recently I was in CVS, in the hair aisle. I was looking at Scunci stuff. You know, they make all these girlie things, like barrettes and headbands and scrunchies.

What did I see but a do-rag!!!???!!

All nicely packaged, and they spelled it with a chic umlaut, if I remember correctly. Du-rag, with an umlaut over the "u," something like that. (I am German and you would think I would be able to do an umlaut on the computer but I have no idea how to do that.)

Who knew that do-rags were made by Scunci?

Next time I am walking down Bailey and see a man wearing a do-rag, I am going to imagine him walking into CVS, finding the hair accessories aisle, and finding his du-rag (with an umlaut) among all those headbands and barrettes. Because surely that is what happened.

Imagine what it would do to gang culture, if word got around.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Comedy central

All this talk about the late George Carlin is well and good, but when all is said and done, jazz singer Peggy Farrell, and not Carlin, will emerge as the supreme comedian of our time.

Yesterday my friend Gary called Peggy to invite her over to his house. Peggy told him she was sorry, but she was out of town.

Gary asked where she was.

"I'm in Williamsville," Peggy said.

That is the truth. Gary couldn't believe it. "Uh, Peggy," he said. "Williamsville is not out of town? Williamsville is 10 minutes away?" Well, I don't know if he said that. I do not know how you would start reasoning out that situation.

Peggy is one of those West Siders displaced because of the falling livery stable, a subject we chewed on a couple of days ago. I think there could be something in the air over there. Maybe something in that crumbling brick.

Anyway, I will have to quiz Peggy about what she was thinking.

She gets back into town on Wednesday.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday morning blues

Yesterday I made the mistake of reading Becky's blog. It was a mistake because she was writing about these log cabins in Clarence, these ancient log cabins, that are apparently hidden inside other buildings. Who knew such a thing existed? Only in Buffalo!! Well, only in Clarence.

Now I will not rest until I go and see these log cabins.

And I feel overwhelmed, every Monday, with things I have to do. I always feel behind the eight ball on Monday mornings and today is no exception. Just now I caught myself thinking: Maybe I don't have to take a shower this morning. I mean, I took one yesterday. Couldn't I do what they do in France and wash my hair every other day? Oh, wait, in France they wash their hair once a week. Well, even better!

That would be a better time saver than trying to pay my bills online. Jennifer, I so appreciate your sympathetic comment about National Grid. They are the worst!

I tried to pay my electric bill online last week. It made me want to kill myself.

There was the usual quagmire of passwords and user names. And keep in mind, I am normally good at this stuff. I have no fear of it. I like the computer. The computer is my friend. But some passwords need numbers as well as letters and some do not allow numbers. Some of them want upper and lower case letters and some do not. Sometimes your user name is your email, sometimes it cannot be your email. It is as if all these entities want to be special. Each wants a different password, one that makes it feel as if it enjoys a special place in your heart.

So much for my strategy to use the same password, "Pennario," for everything. It will not work.

Last week, trying to get on line at National Grid, I ended up calling the company four times. Each time, I got a robot.

"OK," the female voice says. Why is it always a woman? "I'll need your account number."

"Operator," I say. That is what my brother George tells me to do.

OK," the robot says again in its snotty tone. "You want to speak to a representative."

"Operator," I intone, again. You cannot say "yes." You cannot fall into that trap. You must just keep repeating "Operator" until they connect you.

"OK. You want to speak to a representative."


When I finally got a human being, the person tried to deny that my screen was telling me what it was telling me -- that I needed a User Code. "I've never heard of that," she said.

It wound up, three phone calls and one supervisor later, that this particular code was required only in the cities of New York and Yonkers. But still, but still, the site would not admit me. The last agent I talked with played her ace and said that the Web site was experiencing problems. Just like a Buffalo bartender, I said, "You got that right!"

Then I scraped up my first-class postage and put my massive bill in the mail. A whole half hour, totally wasted!

Speaking of which, I have now wasted another whole half hour telling the ridiculous story. Well, I've had fun.

But now I might have to do like a Frenchwoman, and skip that shower.

I hate Monday mornings.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Savoring the strange

This morning I found myself rejoicing in all the ways my life is not normal.

No. 1, I awoke to hear lions roaring. How many people in the world have that experience? I live near the zoo, is why I get to hear that. The first few days after I bought this house and moved in, I could not believe it.

No. 2, I got to start my Sunday singing medieval Latin chants. How many people get to do that? I can't begin to describe that Latin Mass I go to but it gets my week off to an unbelievable start. After that my week tends to head downhill pretty fast but at least I get this one beautiful hour and a quarter to feel all warm and cocooned before things start to go blooey.

No. 3: Downtown was full of basketball players. How surreal is that?

No. 4, on my way after church to meet my friend Jane for coffee, I passed the grain elevators. How many cities have a landscape like this to look at? Does anyone else besides me ever stop and just savor how weird those things look, reflected in the water? They should use them as a backdrop for "Batman."

No. 5, there is this drink that is to be had at Betty's, that restaurant on Virginia Street. It is called a Poinsettia and it is like a Mimosa, only with cranberry juice. I have decided I must make that part of my Sunday ritual along with the Tridentine Mass. They give it to you in this big round wine goblet.

No. 6, I got to go home and call Leonard Pennario. I like myself when I am on the phone with a great concert pianist. I like myself better in that situation than when I am bailing out my basement, collecting Howard's and my dirty coffee cups or swearing at National Grid's Web site because it won't let me log on to pay my colossal bill.

No. 7: Another good and not-normal thing: How many people can complain one day about how fat they are and the next get three (3) sympathetic messages, two from strangers, with support and suggestions? Thank you, Chris and Jennifer and Becky, for responding to my gripy post yesterday! Even though I cannot believe Chris has put on 25 pounds. Chris, you are surely fibbing. And on the Lord's day!

No. 8, this weather. It is not normal! Not according to what I have come to expect over the last week.

What is that weird bright thing in the sky?

Mayhap I should get out and exercise.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Meet the Push-Up

Howard is on the Tim Russert Diet, and now that it is officially summer, I am joining him on it.

When Tim Russert died, Howard sat up and took notice, and decided that he better not keep on eating chips and chicken wings. I wonder how many other people are on the Tim Russert Diet. Anyway, Howard also wants to get more exercise, and I do too, so today we walked twice around the Ring at Delaware Park. They have a Ring Road in Vienna, too, does everyone know that? People in Vienna, like people in Buffalo, know a thing or two about eating too much.

At the Juicery at Delaware Park Howard actually ordered a fruit cup instead of chips. This is serious. But still, we are not so hell bent on our diets that we cannot stop in our walking and eat.

I am not sold on being skinny. I would like to look strong. But still. I was thinking today about how I can get more exercise and have fun. Once at the gym I tried a spinning class. It was like going into hell. This muscleman yelling at me, rock pounding. I am not cut out for that.

Here are some thoughts I have been having on exercise, egged on by Howard.

Maybe I will do hula hoops in the park. We saw people doing that today. Guys do it too.

Once I went to Darien Lakes and did that water park ride where you ride innertubes over waterfalls. The next day my abs really hurt. I got exercise and I never even knew it!

It would be fun to swim at the downtown microbeach where they tell you not to.

My mother gave me a jumprope that's too short and bugs me. But maybe I can get one that's long enough. On the other hand wouldn't I look like a jerk, jumping rope in my driveway? That is something to think about. Jumpropes are kind of like hula hoops. You feel better if you're in a group.

In my bar-going days which were not too long ago, it was fun to go to Nietzsche's when some world-beat band was playing there, like Burning Spear or the Outer Circle Orchestra. You'd hand over your $5, then wedge yourself into the crowded back room where it was something like 100 degrees, and dance for five hours. That sure burned calories. Of course you drank enough beer to make it back up.

I am not much for the pressures of tennis but it is fun to get on the tennis courts and just bop the ball around.

We are thinking of taking up badminton.

Look what Tim Russert has started us on.

Instead of "Meet the Press" on Sunday, it's "Meet the Bench Press"!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Howard, possessed

Gloom and mis'ry everywhere, stormy weather! These gray, cold days are getting me down. I am actually starting to take it personally. Especially since ever since our basement flooded I cannot take a hot shower.

The problem isn't that the hot water heater doesn't work. I believe it does work. The problem is that Howard turned it way down and now is niggardly about turning it back up to whatever level it was at before, before he messed with it.

"We don't want it to get so hot that we scald ourselves," he said.

"I won't scald myself!" I found myself pleading. "I'll be careful!"

I am starting to think that inside Howard is an old German woman struggling to get out. I told him that. I said: "Howard, you are an old German woman trapped in a young Jewish man's body."

Remember what Terrence McNally said about inside Martha Stewart is a gay man struggling to get out? This is like that.

Howard does have a lot in common with my female ancestors. The reluctance to turn up the hot water heater is just part of it. I have caught him reusing coffee grounds. He prefers powdered creamer to half-and-half. He insists on bacon. Next thing you know I will see him sitting in the corner saying the Rosary in German. That is what my mother says my great-grandmother used to do.

(Petulant sigh.) I love Howard but I will just have to go down and figure out how to turn up the hot water heater myself, and hope this doesn't turn into a chess game, with me turning it up and him turning it down. And because it'll take a while to warm up, maybe I can go back to the gym today, just to use the shower. Would anyone notice? I don't think so. I'll go in, hand over my card, go downstairs, take a long hot shower, towel off, dry my hair, go back up, reclaim my card. "Ahhh," I can say. "That was a good workout."

Then I'll just hope the hot water heater is up to the task tomorrow.

Or at least that the sun comes out.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In the pink

Big Blue was honored by an anonymous philanthropist who gifted this sculpture.

There is excitement today. There is joy. There is mystery.

Someone has stuck a pink flamingo on Big Blue's front lawn!

Just in time for the Gus Macker tournament, going on this weekend right outside the gates. We are going to leave it there. We love this pink flamingo, the look on its face. It will project just the right image to the out-of-town basketball players. They are expecting this urban experience and what do they get? This Depew/Cheektowaga experience! Ha, ha!

Last year's tournament action.

Howard and I have been trying to figure out which neighbor is responsible. He suspects New Era Cap. I say Uniland, the company rehabbing the Dulski building across the street. In any case, isn't life in Buffalo exciting? Do other cities have this kind of intrigue?

I bet they do not have it in Rochester.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wake of the flood

Today brought many revelations, the biggest of which is that I used to live at 280 LaSalle Avenue.

I found that out when I was cleaning out my basement in the wake of the flood. Hey! Why wasn't I listening to the Grateful Dead's "Wake of the Flood" while I worked? That would have cheered me up. Isn't "Mississippi Half Step Toodaloo" on that album? But I digress.

About the LaSalle Avenue address: I knew I had lived on LaSalle, for a whole six months or something, which at one phase in my life was a long time for me. And I have been trying now and then to remember which house, because it was a very important time in my life, when I lived there. But I could never remember. My friend Gary lives on LaSalle and often on my way to his house I have looked at the other houses. But none looked familiar. Isn't that strange. I must have had a very good time, living in that house, if I can't remember which one it is, hee hee...

But today, in the midst of the incredible yuchy and often heartbreaking job of cleaning out my sodden basement, I found something with my LaSalle address. And there it was, 280.

Anyone out there in Blog-O-Land live at 280 LaSalle? Can I come visit sometime? I would like to see my old room. I don't remember the house but I remember that room.

Oh, look. Howard's home. Here I have just poured this huge glass of wine and sat down to soul-search. I must be brief. Everyone out in Blog-O-Land, Dear Readers, O Best Beloved, as Rudyard Kipling used to say...

Be careful with your stuff. Take it from me.

Don't put it on bottom shelves in the basement. Don't put it in the basement at all. When you throw your stuff into your house you often don't think of how much it means to you. You just put it anywhere and think: If anything happens to this, so what. I don't care.

You will care. And don't listen to people who tell you that you shouldn't. You don't have to be ashamed of keeping your old school books. Mozart kept his.

I lost stuff I cared about. Which torqued me off. There is no rhyme or reason to what is safe and what is ruined. Ruined: book of Greek translations that used to belong to your dad. High and dry: junk book you somehow wound up with about Ethel Kennedy. The misery! The injustice!

But there were positive things, too, that came out of today's experience.

For instance, my high school yearbooks. The one from junior year was soaked. But the others were OK, and I realized that they do mean a lot to me and I'm going to take care of them. Plus I believe I was able to salvage the soaked yearbook. And I still could read all the stuff my friends wrote. Which was hilarious! I had forgotten how much I loved those girls. I am going to find where they are living and send them cards or something. I want to tell them how they cheered me up when I was cleaning up my flooded basement.

Also: I found a datebook from when I was a kid and went with my brother George to San Francisco to hear the Grateful Dead. Why do I keep thinking about the Grateful Dead today? Slipped into its pages was a great picture of George and the hippie we wound up staying with when we ran out of money. Also a great picture of George and my sister Margie and me on the couch, all laughing. I never would have probably seen those pictures for the rest of my life had my basement not flooded. They weren't wet, either. They are fine.

What else? My Auntie Rose's photographs are all fine. That was a big relief. We had a wonderful bohemian aunt who is gone now and we miss her, and back in the 1940s she traveled all over the world and now I have her pictures. It wasn't really my fault they were in the cellar. George put them there without telling me. Because I have the big house I have been nominated the keeper of the family flotsam and jetsam. Hereafter I will take this responsibility more seriously.

Some things made me laugh. There was this terribly slimy and sodden book that looked very old, and I thought, with my heart sinking, oh no, what's this? When I could finally make out the lettering, it said: "Drinks You Can Make With Your Blender," something like that. From the 1970s, too, not the 1930s or anything. I laughed out loud with relief.

Because this book was sitting there in the puddle, something else was not.

You get wise, in the wake of the flood.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A River Runs Through It, Part II

Something awful happened today. Something that has never happened to me my entire life. Something I swore would never happen.

My basement leaked. Which is putting it mildly.

More accurately, it was a deluge. There was water pouring into it!

I am bewildered. I am outraged. Remember "A River Runs Through It"? I wrote that maybe a week ago, when I walked downstairs and I thought the fridge down there was leaking. You can guess what happened next... I went upstairs, started reading a Los Angeles Times story about Leonard Pennario playing the Prokofiev Third at the Hollywood Bowl in 1956, and I forgot all about the fridge, the basement, everything. Because my basement does not leak. End of story. In the 10 years or something I have owned this house there has not been one drop of water in the basement. It is like headaches. I do not get headaches. I have not had a headache since I was 8. So every time I feel I might be getting one, I think: That is ridiculous. I do not get headaches.

But the headaches go away -- if they are ever there to begin with. The water in the basement did not.

Because Howard went down there today. And he started screaming. Along the lines of: "There is six inches of water in this basement! How could we not know this is happening? How could we not know what is happening in our own house???"

Which, of course, he is perfectly justified. When he married me he did not know he was marrying a woman who was going to go around with her mind on nothing but the 1956 Los Angeles Times.

Upshot of this: Howard made two trips today to Harbor Freight (don't feel too sorry for him, he loves that place, it's like me going to the UB Music Library) and bought two (2) sump pumps. My admiration for him, at first grudging, grew to astronomic proportions when, unable to find rubber boots at Kmart for wading in the water, he fashioned his own footwear utilizing big plastic bags from UPS. What a resourceful man I married! He needed that protection when navigating our basement because would you believe it, that fridge was still running, blamelessly, with electrical cord and outlet completely submerged in water. The fridge's fan was whirring underwater, creating this awful splashing sound.

We realized the problem was not an appliance or a pipe when we realized that in spite of all our sump pumping, we were losing ground. We were taking on water! And we realized it had to be because of the rain pounding down. When the rain stopped, we gained ground. When it started again, we lost it. Not for nothing did I go to UB. I can figure things like this out.

What happened to that covenant God made about not destroying the earth with water?

Howard finally went down to Big Blue to do this or that. He has been a sweetie over this basement business so he can do whatever he wants as far as I am concerned. Except. Except. He did pay me the ultimate insult of forgoing my slow-roasted chicken and cabbage in favor of a burger from Fuddruckers. He called me to tell me he ate it. Think of it, a big fattening burger! And Tim Russert's body not even cold!

What with that and the dread of whatever expensive home repair we might be in for, I really do think I might be getting a headache.

Nah, can't be.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Living large

Today it is back to Pilates class with my fat self. That pasta dish yesterday was my undoing. I could not stop eating it! It's funny, other people seem to wrestle with the dessert dilemma. I do not have much of a sweet tooth -- though I can see how that's a problem with people when I go to California and Leonard Pennario starts stuffing me with ice cream. Normally my weakness is -- well, food, in general. Everything.

Even vegetables. It gets to the point that in the summer I tell myself Mary, you can't eat the entire farmers' market.

About that blueberry pie yesterday. I have a confession to make. It was supposed to go to the party with me. Instead it wound up staying home. Howard wouldn't let me bring it. It came out of the oven looking too good so we decided we didn't want to share it. How piggy is that? Luckily at the last minute I remembered that the gal giving the party was going to have a lemon tart. And she did. And it was magnificent. So, good thing the pie stayed home with us.

Among the guests, all clueless to the very existance of the MKG blueberry pie that they were being denied, was this father and son reality tv show celebrity team. Pictured at left is lounge sensation Guy Boleri. Our friend Rob is on the right.

The pie.

But one more reason I am going back to gym class.

I have heard it said that we eat more in the winter than in the summer. But I think I take in more calories in the summer. There are those two-for-one specials at Sunset Bay. And fries on the patio at Papa Jake's. And the Czech beer at the Three Deuces. Remember, I said I was at the Three Deuces -- that is 222 Gibson, across from the Broadway Market -- on Friday when I heard about Tim Russert dying. The owner of the Three Deuces is Czech and he has this wonderful beer from Prague he will sell you if you know enough to ask for it, which we do.

That is summer -- being perched on a barstool in dark, cool 222, listening to the fan oscillate, half watching a Burt Reynolds movie on the overhead TV, sharing news and gossip with fellow beer drinkers and talking with the bar owner about how awful the Communists were and what a relief it is that they are out of the Czech Republic. I share my fellow blogger Chris Byrd's concern for the Broadway/Fillmore district. And if one way to support that classic neighborhood is to quaff Czech beer at the Three Deuces, well, it is a tough job but someone has to do it.

Just thinking about that brightens a Monday morning.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sweet Sunday

Howard and I are going to a party and we are late because of, you guessed it, him. This business about women always being the ones who take a long time to get ready is total bull. The guys are the ones who take a long time. They have to decide between this tie and that. This jacket and that. Next, where are their shoes? Then they go into the bathroom.

At least now I have time to blog.

I am in a good mood, too. I have had a relaxing day. Here are things I did today to relax: I got up early enough so I wouldn't have a mad rush to church. Good thing, too, because that Jog for the Jake was going on. Those control-freak volunteers were out there and they could not wait to put a hand up and make me stop. But it didn't get me that mad, because I wasn't in a big hurry.

When I got home I played the piano for a while. I played Schubert. That felt wonderful.

Then I worked on the book and wrote only about things I wanted to remember. I mean, I wrote about nice conversations I had with Leonard Pennario and times we laughed at each other's jokes and kidded around instead of times I had asked him about things he didn't want to talk about and made him mad at me.

Next I called Leonard just to yak. I told him about going to the library the other day and checking out certain books, including one by this one noted "critic" we hate. We mocked out this "critic." Leonard said, "That book sounds caustic." I said, "Well, Leonard, he had nice things to say about you." Pennario didn't care. I love when he gets like that.

Then I went downstairs and made a blueberry pie. I have not made a pie in forever. I have forgotten how relaxing it is. I made a great buttery crust. That is the secret to easy pie crust: Use real butter, and what's not to love? There is no going wrong. I made this pie and listened to Mahler. That is a very nice way to spend an hour of a Sunday afternoon.

Somewhere along the line I pruned my rosebushes, too. I am trying not to be the one-house ghetto on the block. Clipping roses is a wonderful thing to do. Rose bushes are like pie crusts in that everyone thinks they're very difficult, when actually they're very easy. Roses grow on their own. And they hold their own, too.

Howard is ironing now. I have a little more time. What else did I do? I made a pasta dish to take to the party. It has apples and collard greens in it. Don't knock it till you try it. It is problematic to eat with my braces but I am going to try.

That is a relaxing Sunday but now I am being dragged away from my blog. Would you believe Howard is ready to go? He looked over my shoulder. "I see the word ghetto," he said.

My new resolution is to make every Sunday as nice as this one.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lost and found

Jazz singer Anita O'Day.

Lastnight I went to Mass for the feast of St. Anthony and we were asked to pray for Tim Russert. It reminded me of when I was a kid and Bing Crosby died. His name was mentioned on the Mass intention list, along with parishioners who had died. They used his real name, Harry Lillis Crosby.

I am sad about Tim Russert though I did not often agree with his politics and sometimes I would turn off his show. My friend Jane and I were in the Three Deuces, that bar across from the Broadway Market, yesterday when we heard he had died. A guy down the bar mentioned it. And we couldn't believe it. We thought we had heard wrong. It's sad for Buffalo, losing Tim Russert, and so suddenly. Looking at that tremendous picture of Russert on the front page of the paper this morning, I was thinking, he had a magnificent interviewer's face. Like a bulldog.

Just now at the library -- I cannot stay away from the library -- I picked up a biography of Leonard Bernstein and the author had written something like, "I am well-qualified to write the biography of Bernstein because he and I are both American Jews, he was from New York and I was from Boston, both major cities on the U.S. East Coast, blah blah blah." OK, the "blah blah blah" was mine, not hers. What I am getting at is I would be well qualified to write the biography of Tim Russert because we are both Catholics from South Buffalo. According to that author's reasoning, anyway, which I think is kind of dopey, but what do I know.

I should not be writing the biography of Leonard Pennario. I should be writing the biography of Tim Russert. Leonard is a Catholic from Buffalo too but he is from the West Side. There is a world of difference.

So how about this stable? We have not heard anything about it today and I have been afraid to drive down to Jersey Street and see for myself what is going on.

Wasn't it supposed to be shot at dawn? Are they going to implode it or what? I have been really chicken about this. I have not wanted to learn the details.

If there is one thing I hate it is when they implode something and all these slugs show up with their lawn chairs and popcorn and celebrate the sight. This happens a lot in Buffalo. People cheer when the dynamite goes off. Creeps.

What is with me today? I need a glass of wine or something. No, wait. I need to talk about an old building that is doing well. I will talk about Big Blue. That will cheer me up.

Lastnight at Jocko Howard and I got talking with this guy Greg. I only just met Greg but I love him. He was personal assistant to the great jazz singer Anita O'Day for the last 10 years of her life. He had a lot of stories to tell about that.

He is the second person I have met who was close to Anita O'Day in her last years. What does that say about my life? It reminds me of what Howard said to me once, "Why do we know so many people who used to be in vaudeville? What is with that?"

But back to Big Blue. As I may have mentioned, it used to be a series of gay bars. And Greg told us lastnight: "I came out in that building."

I said: "Greg, what did that entail? Did you make an announcement to the entire bar or something?"

He said: "No, it wasn't that big of a deal." His explanation seemed to be that he was comfortable and stuff, and everyone got the sense that he was happy with who he was, something like that.

Howard said: "We should put up a plaque."

Isn't it great that Big Blue survives, so an event like that can be commemorated?

Good thing Greg did not come out in that livery stable.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another one bites the dust

MKG with ill-fated ivy covered historic stable on "Little" Summer Street.

There are some phrases you just don't want to see in the morning before you have had an adequate amount of coffee.

One is "pregnant sea dragon." Yahoo flung that one at me while I was trying to check my email. They like to brief you on weird world events, and one today concerned a pregnant sea dragon, which really isn't an image I want in my head, at least not this time of day.

Another is "emergency demolition." That was in the paper, which I read when, head still spinning over the pregnant sea dragon, I went out on the porch to drink my coffee.

I should not be writing the biography of Leonard Pennario. I should be in the demolition business. I would be like Warren Buffett! Here in Buffalo, anyone in the demolition business surely has as much work as he or she can handle.

The latest is we're losing that horse stable on Jersey. It was, er, not stable. We say the owner is unstable. Wow, this is like Shakespeare! You could go on forever like this.

But I don't want to joke. This loss makes me mad. I spent so many pleasant afternoons in the shadow of this stable's sky-high brick walls. My friend Peggy Farrell, the jazz singer, lives behind it on "Little" Summer Street. We would sit on her patio, and just admire that brick-wall, ivy-covered, age-old. And the front of the place was so lovely, and whimsical, too, for such a massive edifice. I should ask Pennario about it. He grew up in that neighborhood. I'll bet he remembers it. It would have been old when he was a kid.

Why do we have to lose everything??? This case is especially discouraging because the people who owned this place and let it run down aren't absentee landlords. They are prominent local citizens. This stable fell down in plain sight.

Appropriately enough, today is the feast of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost objects.

I wonder who is the patron saint of pregnant sea dragons.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My husband, the motorhead

MKG welcoming visitors to Tonawanda.

I was so proud today to see Howard weighing in on the Buffalo News blog site about the drag racing -- or street racing, more accurately -- incident. He is right in saying that being from Tonawanda he has knowledge of motorhead matters. Amen, I say.

Once when I had been going out with Howard about two months, I had car trouble. My car just started making this noise. I immediately detoured to Howard's Tonawanda childhood home, where his mother was still living. I pulled the car into his driveway.

The original Goldman Motor's Tonawanda location.

Immediately the lights to the garage went on. Suddenly this quiet Tonawanda street looked like Transit Road. Then Howard came out of the garage, dragging things, all kinds of coils and hoses and chains and whatnot. These people from Tonawanda know this stuff. They are a different breed from the rest of us. It is a miracle now to think how in the world we can balance each other, Howard with his knowledge of radiators and air filters and me going around all day thinking of nothing but Leonard Pennario and William Kapell. But I guess that is one of the mysteries of life.

This is a secret: Howard and I went street racing once.

Bolts Dancing photo by HG

A few months ago we had that tragic incident when someone died after text-messaging on a cell phone while driving. The point was made: It's illegal to talk on a cell phone, but why isn't illegal to text-message?

I want to scream when I see these knee-jerk law proposals.

It's horrible when you lose someone in an accident. I know what that's like. But accidents are always going to happen. You can go only so far to protect people against themselves. About these driving laws: While you're driving, is it illegal to eat a three-course meal from Oliver's? Is it illegal to look someone up in the phone book? Is it illegal to take out your Latin missal and work on memorizing the Credo? I have the urge to do that, sometimes, in heavy traffic.

Long story short: Is it illegal to be dumb? If we continue on the road we're on, that's where we're headed.

Let's step on the gas, and see if we can get there first.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A river runs through it

Summer has sneaked up on me and now it is like being on a different planet.

Don't ask me why, but I have this refrigerator in my basement. Yesterday, I went down there to get my laundry and there's this funny smell. The fridge has spewed all this water all over the floor. Ugh! Double ugh! You have to wade through it to get to the washing machine.

What in the world?? Why do I even have this fridge? I should get rid of it. I have dim recollections of my sister Katie's husband David moving it in once upon a time. Typical Buffalo transaction: "We found this fridge somewhere, it works, do you want it?" "Sure, OK." Now it's here, it's queer, get used to it.

My saga with this fridge has not been easy. Once I had electricians here updating electrical outlets and stuff. I guess they did some good, but one thing they did that was not good was they unplugged this fridge, and they never plugged it back in, and at the time I was keeping stuff in the freezer, so... you guessed it, yecch. Double yecch! That was one of those times that when I discovered the problem, I just grimly started cleaning up. I read in the paper today about that Grand Island couple who used to own a restaurant in New Orleans and had to clean it up after Katrina. And I thought: I know what they're talking about!

Another story involving this fridge dates to our October Surprise storm. I was taking stuff out of it, trying to figure out what could be saved, and I was doing this by candlelight, because we had no power for a week. In the middle of this task my cell phone rang. (My land line was out, too.) And it was this pianist on the phone, Peter Nero. He had been at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and I had written something about him.

The funny thing was, I am not exactly friends with Mr. Nero. It was not as if I was used to him calling me on my cell. He must have gotten my cell number from the BPO. Which was fine, but it was also surreal, to be standing there in this unbelievable situation, like out of a Hitchcock movie, trying to light candles and salvage food and suddenly saying, "Oh, Mr. Nero, hello."

"It's Peter," Mr. Nero said. He is an extremely nice man as well as a fine pianist. "How are you?" he asked.

Any Buffalonian knows we get situations here you cannot put into words. So I didn't try.

"Fine," I said.

But I appreciated the weirdness of the situation. We went on talking, and it turned out that Peter Nero wanted my OK to include part of what I had written in an ad he was running. I said sure. As we talked, I came up from the basement and began roaming around the house, taking care of business. Howard and I were staying at his garage in Black Rock, so I was trying to find clothes I could wear the next day. I was putting candles into the front window in hopes that the house would look occupied and no one would break in. I was trying to find flashlights and matches. And all this time I was gabbing with Peter Nero, talking about concerts, this and that -- I told you he was a nice guy. I never mentioned the storm. I didn't know where to start.

Howard's garage bunker during the "October surprise" blackout.

All this drama, and I never would have started remembering it today were it not for my basement fridge!

Maybe I should keep it after all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blowin' in the wind

MKG is not green at being green.

This whole "green" thing, I don't quite understand it. What is new about this? Haven't we been trying forever to recycle, save energy and be nice to the planet? I have been doing that since high school. Was I the only one? Is everyone else just starting?

It's just the same old thing in a new package, is all I can think. And it's annoying. It's as if all my efforts -- taking the subway instead of driving, canning my own tomatoes, cooking dried beans instead of canned, supporting local farmers, buying used clothes, walking, obsessively recycling, roasting my own granola instead of buying packaged cereal -- are being ignored. I have even been known to mow the lawn with a hand mower! How many other people do that?

MKG tinkering in the shop with one of her carbon footprint experiments.

Oh well. That doesn't stop Howard and me from reducing our carbon footprint -- there's another new buzzword for you -- still further. As a matter of fact, it is now officially invisible. Good luck finding our carbon footprint. It is not anywhere.

We have discovered new technology which has allowed us to retire our window air conditioner. This new technology is quieter, more pleasant and much easier on the environment. It is ingenious technology, taking advantage of the fragrant, natural air outside. And if the air doesn't always smell that great, what with the zoo up-wind from us, that's OK too. Dung is a natural product. It is good for the environment.

Our new technology is an electric fan.

It's square, and it sits in the window, and it has a price tag on it, too, that says $5. I bought it at a garage sale last year or sometime, I forget. So I didn't even support whatever sweatshop the device originally came from. And because my mom was with me, I probably didn't even pay $5. My guess is she talked it down.

You cannot beat this thing!

It whirs throughout the night, creating a gentle white noise that makes it easy to sleep. Are you still allowed to write "white noise"? I am constantly being made aware that this or that phrase is politically incorrect. The scent of roses drifts up to the window. That is more cutting-edge energy-saving technology we have developed -- rosebushes that function as an organic security system. Creeps can't crawl in our front windows or the thorns will gore them to within an inch of their lives.

What about Al Gore? Him, too.

Anyway, Howard and I stand around every morning congratulating ourselves on how clever we are, with our electric fan. Lastnight with the winds and the thunderstorms it went berserk.

It helps make up for all the hot air we've been feeling these days.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

In my wildest dreams

Howard went to Kmart yesterday to buy curtains for Big Blue. Last week he restored one of the glass windows that used to be boarded up and now it is time to put curtains on it.

At the rate we are going the house is scheduled to be completed by June 13, 2056.

But that's OK, because we will always have Kmart. The Kmart near us has survived all kinds of Kmart downsizings, including the legendary purge that happened three years ago or something that took out the Kmart that was across the street from the Broadway Market. Our Kmart is great. It is an urban Kmart, near the corner of Elmwood and Hertel -- a great slug atmosphere, with kids screaming and parents swearing. The plants are kind of bedraggled, though I admit I have bought them. The store also carries Martha Stewart items, hilarious in such a setting.

Here are a few other urban stores that I love.

1. Lorigo's Meating Place. Under certain circumstances. This tiny food store is wedged onto Grant Street next to the Wilson Farms, near the M&T Bank. They have cheap pies that my brother George loves and they also have Fleischmann's Yeast at $2.15 a pound, if I remember correctly. But you cannot, cannot go there when the kids get out of school. It is just too little and crowded and you will go crazy when you are stuck behind 50 kids buying candy.

2. Caruso's on Hertel. A fine port in the storm when a blizzard is blowing in and you need Parmesan cheese and a squash or something.

3. Frontier Liquor. I love the baskets of marked-down wine at the front of the store.

4. The dollar store at the Main Place Mall. Has anyone else ever been here? Such an atmosphere! Narrow aisles, all full of Rain Bonnets, scarves, umbrellas, pads of stationery, kitchen stuff, cheap pens, what have you. Most memorable item I bought here: two headbands that Howard and I both use to keep our ears warm when we go cross-country skiing.

5. The Antique Lamp store on Hertel. Amazing, a store devoted to antique lamps.

6. The spice store in the Broadway Market. It took over the space where a little drugstore/herb place used to be, and you can now get all these herb teas and mysterious remedies as well as hippie food like kasha, sea salt and smoked paprika.

7. The mighty Amvets at the corner of Elmwood and Hertel.

8. The mighty St. Vincent de Paul at the corner of Main and Riley, is it? Everytime I go here I find something. I have a frequent shopper's card and they actually think to ask me for it.

9. Budway's, on Kenmore. Today when I walked in they were playing the Moody Blues' "In My Wildest Dreams." I had just been joking about that song with my brother George not two days ago! I had been saying, you never hear that song anymore. And we were laughing and singing it. Then I walk in today and I'm picking out broccoli crowns for my mom (98 cents a pound, such a deal) and I hear it. I couldn't believe it. There was this guy yakking on a cell phone and I had to get away from him and walk over to a speaker just to make sure. Yep, there it was. "In My Wildest Dreams." How about that?

10. Classic corner store at the corner of West Delavan and Baynes. I used to live right near there and go to that store all the time. I wonder if they still have that classic wooden floor.

Why would anyone shop in the suburbs?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I cover the waterfront

Joe. (honest)

Yikes! I am posting so late today! Thanks, everyone, for not giving up on me. I have a confession to make. I went to the beach.

I have been working and working and working on my book and it has occurred to me recently that I am missing the seasons. I was in California over Christmas and it was 75 degrees and sunny. That is not good for a person. Next, when I came home, I worked on the book all through spring. The tulips came up and I did not even notice.

So today I was sitting there working on my chapter about Leonard Pennario in Tanglewood and my friend Gary called me and said if I wanted to go to Sunset Bay he would pick me up in 15 minutes. I had all this work to do. I was going to finish the Tanglewood chapter and start a new chapter and use the Internet to track down two more musicians I wanted to find to talk to for the book. Then I was going to go run some errands, mostly to buy oatmeal for Howard and spray for the apple tree.

"I'm sorry," I told Gary. "I am going to stay home to work."

Yeah, right! What I really told him was, "OK, I'll be ready in 15 minutes."

That was something like one o'clock. Now it is after nine. The whole day, shot, because I was lying around on the beach drinking gin and tonics and watching my fellow beachgoers having chicken fights. And glorying in my tan. I have the best tan, from going so much to San Diego.

While I was at the beach I got into an argument with Gary's and my friend Joe over Barack Obama. I know you're not supposed to talk politics but sometimes I can't help it.

Joe loves Obama. "I've read all his books," he said.

"Barack Obama has written books?" I said.

"Yes, he has," Joe said.

"About what?" I said.

And Joe gave me a title, something about... about... I forget what. If the book had been about a concert pianist, I would remember it. But it wasn't.

I told Joe that the campaign would be really interesting because I am sure, as Howard is too, that either some weird thing is going to come out about Barack Obama, or else Michelle Obama is going to say something or do something to blow it. That woman is clearly an accident waiting to happen. As was Teresa Heinz Kerry. Remember her? She was always playing with her hair and looking and acting crazy. I sense Michelle Obama is the same way.

Joe and I were able to go back and forth about this for about a minute and a half before we decided we had better buy each other another drink and drop the subject. I am used to that. That is life as a conservative in Buffalo.

But really, I know Michelle Obama is going to blow it.

I wish I could buy her a gin and tonic, just to get her going.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Low hanging fruit

MKG cultivating organic fruit and looking very non-Republican.

I am not a Democrat but I am finding all this Hillary/Barack business tremendously entertaining. There was one moment I especially loved, watching the two of them "debating" a couple of months ago. Hillary had just answered a question, sort of. Then she said, without pausing, "And any time you want to ask HIM the hard question before you ask me, that's fine with me. You always ask me the hard questions first."

She said something like that, anyway. For a second, I actually liked Hillary. I liked that she felt so free to bitch, to sound like someone's disgruntled coworker.

But these days, as the contest between HRC and BHO reaches its ugly denouement, one thing puzzles me. That is the way everyone is going on about what Hillary is going to be doing now that she will be out of the race.

What do they mean, what will she be doing?

Won't she just disappear, like John Kerry?

Remember John Kerry? I know, it's tough. But he just vanished. One day, he was everywhere, the next, he was nowhere. Al Gore would have disappeared, too, had not he discovered that second career making science fiction movies.

Speaking of science fiction reminds me of my garden. I have been working in it faithfully. I am like someone out of the Old Testament, pulling up bishop's weed. I found three rosebushes under the bishop's weed! And a sage plant, complete with purple flowers. And my thyme and oregano. I knew they were in there, somewhere!

My garden still looks like hell, don't get me wrong. I cannot walk out the door without being overwhelmed with shame. I tell myself: You cannot write the biography of a great concert pianist, work a full-time job and have a good-looking garden, too. But still I cringe.

On the bright side Howard is spraying the apple tree today! He is the keeper of the apple tree.

Perhaps we should save some of that tree spray for those politicians and see if they bear fruit.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Revved up

MKG poses with her Republican-econobox.

What with the soaring gas prices, I am thinking it is time to buy a bigger car.

Maybe it's time to buy an SUV. I never liked them. I think they're ugly. But I hear you can get great deals these days. Say I saved $20,000 on a $60,000 slightly used Intimidator, or whatever they're called. That means with the $20,000 I saved, I could get 5,000 gallons of free gas. Such a deal!

When shopping for a new car, seek the advice of a professional driver like Buffalo cab-driver Ron Moss.

With the amount of driving I do, I would use only 50 gallons every two weeks, tops. Which means my free gas allotment would last me two years. That is cheaper than buying a Prius! Plus I know, you know, we all know that gas is going to come down. When it does, I can sell the SUV for what I paid for it, or pretty close to it. Or maybe more.

MKG recovering her stolen Buick on Lemon Street.

Meanwhile all those Prius owners will be dumping their out-of-fashion Priuses like last year's padded shoulders when they have to buy a new $5,000 battery. What is with those batteries? They cost more than a whole engine! I must pause to point out that every appliance I ever bought that needs batteries has been a ripoff. Think of those tears on Christmas mornings when you were a kid. Also, my Water-Pik kicked a few days ago -- after what, a month of use? Already I have had to buy a new one. Let that be a lesson.

Hmmm, maybe I'll buy a Hummer. They are closing the plant. They can't give them away. They have been humming a different tune.

Now, I am, too!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Yes-we-can open a can of can-do.

Wow, my muscles ache today, from yesterday's weeding session. And that was just the beginning. I have such a distance to go. I am such a loser in the garden.

But I have to admit I am high on my progress so far. The average person passing my house would not be able to tell that anything has been done, but I can. Now I am dreaming big. I am thinking maybe I will be able to work in a couple of unobtrusive tomato plants. That will be my antidote to the "skyrocketing" food prices.

I am very tired of hearing about these food prices and the stupid things people are apparently doing to cope, i.e., eating Spam and ketchup and mac and cheese. For one thing, the prices are not THAT bad. This is not the Great Depression. For another, um, can't anyone else out there cook? Am I the only one in the world who likes to come home from work, tie on an apron, pour a glass of wine and start chopping onions?

While I was in California I stooped to reading USA Today because that's what the Holiday Inn served up with breakfast. One story in the Life section killed me. It was a big story about these "skyrocketing" food prices. They zeroed in on one yuppie couple's hardships, chief of which seemed to be that the couple could no longer go out to dinner every night.

"Jack and Jill Jerk (I can't remember their real names) get ready for another dinner at home," read the caption to a big photo. It showed the wife putting salads on the table while her husband, in the background, opened the fridge. Both of them had bitchy, nasty looks on their faces.

That is such a trash attitude!

I love eating at home. It is one of life's supreme pleasures. Here are a few things, right off the top of my head, you can make with almost no money.

You can make chili with good old pinto beans, maybe a pound of ground beef or ground turkey. I like topping it with cornmeal dumplings. I know, people blah blah blah about corn going up because of ethanol, but you know what? That big bag of cornmeal still doesn't cost you that much, and you can get tons of meals out of it.

Photo by

Chicken usually still hovers at not much more than a dollar a pound. Look around and you can get it for less. My favorite comfort food dinner -- I made this for my mom yesterday -- is chicken pieces in a pot with carrots and greens. Greens are a bargain vegetable. I paid $1 a bunch for collards and turnip greens. That was at the supermarket. In a little while you'll be able to find them for less at farmers' markets.

Make a fish chowder with mussels and those end pieces of catfish you can pick up cheap at the Tops fish counter. If you call it bouillabaisse, you will also have an excuse to use up a bit of orange rind, which you'd otherwise throw out.

These people who complain that they have to have another dinner at home should be given something to cry about.

Go on, start chopping those onions.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Woman vs. Weeds


Instead of going to the gym today, or walking around the park, I went outside to pull up some weeds. What a sight the garden was! Incredible!

In Buffalo we learn to make lemonade when life hands us lemons. That's what makes us think of having a Comedy Hall of Fame -- which I really think we should have, Buffalo being the butt of so many jokes, but of course we'll never get around to it -- a Weather Museum, and whatnot. Anyway, I humbly offer my front yard as the Museum of Invasive Weeds.

You name it, I've got it! Bishop's weed, yarrow (it's pretty but I completely regret ever having introduced it into my garden), lamb's ear (ditto) and these long spiky things with weedy looking yellow flowers on top of the stalks.

I labored for about 45 minutes, with every clod in Buffalo driving past with car stereo blaring. It got easier, actually. The first weed is the hardest weed, as the Grateful Dead sang, or something to that effect. The toughest part of today's task was walking out to the garden and looking at it.

Now I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Don't get me wrong: My garden still looks like an untamed nature preserve. But I got a little exercise -- badly needed because in California I was back on the Leonard Pennario steak and ice cream diet. If I order a salad Pennario mocks me out. So I tend to eat what he eats.

I did get a little exercise in San Diego swimming in the pool at the Holiday Inn. One day Mike swam with me. He wore his Speedos. You remember when I blogged about the Speedos. But I never lost an ounce thanks to swimming. I can swim a hundred laps and not get the least bit tired or winded. It is an exercise that never worked for me.

Not like gardening.

I'm ready just to lie down in the weeds!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Remember the Alamo

I love how when I am out of state, my art director slacks off. Howard has posted only one picture on my blog since I left. He is working round the clock on Big Blue. He is making hay while the sun shines.

[Editor's note: Ok. I added a few pictures.]

Rather than jumping out of a window when MKG left town, I decided to rehab this one with a nice view of City Hall

I went down to the "parts department" coal ash pile to see what I could find that may be useful.


I also found this cool milk bottle that says "Buffalo".

I always wear my coal mining headlight when I dig through the "parts department".

The neon sign visible from my workshop is the New Era Cap entrance.

I hastily mix home-made historic paint formula as the Dulski's can be seen making progress on their project across the street. Mrs. Dulski must be out of town too.


The finished sashes. The white-wall effect is my home-brew glazing compound made from chalk power, mineral oil, and boiled linseed oil. The wooden sashes are sealed in linseed oil.


The finished window. Who will get all of their glass up first?

Now we can keep an eye on City Hall.

Jackie Jocko took this picture of me at the after-party.

Well, Howard, heads up, because as of tonight, the Wife is back.

In a couple of minutes I have to go return my rental car. My company this time around was Alamo. I forgot to book my car until the last minute before I left, and to my horror, my old standby -- Enterprise -- was all out of vehicles. How insulting! After Enterprise had sent me my Preferred Customer card and everything! So I wound up going with Alamo. I will never do that again.

One thing I get a kick out of about Enterprise is that their employees are all about 20 years old and very chirpy. The guys, too, I am talking about. They walk you around the lot and let you choose your car. That kills me. If you don't like one, fine, they give you another. Meanwhile they chat with you, asking what you're doing here, where you are heading. The employees at the airport Enterprise location have heard a lot about Leonard Pennario, believe me. They let me talk about him, which I love.

I will never forget the first time I went to the San Diego airport Enterprise, which was on Halloween last year. All the attendants were in costume and I was walked around the lot by a cute pirate. Seeing that I had not slept in 48 hours this seemed perfectly natural to me. I was here to spend three months with a brilliant, complicated piano virtuoso I had only just met, why wouldn't I be welcomed by a pirate? We chose my car and the pirate handed over the keys and chatted with me about what I would be doing in the San Diego area. Then the pirate gave me a map. Then -- this is the part that's really memorable -- he gave me specific directions to a nude beach he said was really cool. Wow, I thought happily as I drove away in my fog. I have been here what, an hour? And already a pirate has given me directions to a nude beach.

Every time I go that Enterprise I remember that day affectionately.

But this time around, no Enterprise! And Alamo, what a dump. Everyone was mean to me. First they wouldn't take my Entertainment coupons, which Enterprise accepts without question. Next they offered me no opportunity to talk about Leonard Pennario. Then to top things off I didn't like the car. I had shelled out for a full-size car, which Howard insists on for my safety. This is life with a neurotic Jewish husband. And when I got out to the car -- and Alamo didn't even send anyone with me, booooo -- it was this cheesy little Volvo. What would I be doing in this Volvo? What did they think I was, some kind of liberal? Plus it had only half a tank of gas. And when I turned the key, a sign flashed saying, "Needs Routine Maintenance."

I stalked back into the office. I began bitching like the New Yorker I am. In situations like this Buffalonians have every right to call ourselves New Yorkers. We are from New York State. We can use that term and we can live up to it, too. The upshot of the prolonged fight that resulted was that I got this .... this ... Avalon, is it? All I know is it's a dark red. A monsignor car, to quote one of my friends. And it's full-sized, at least it seems to be. It is not some recyclable little piece of trash like that first number they tried to hand me.

It is an adventure, traveling!

Now it's time to pack up the laptop.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Queen City summer

Now that it is June I keep thinking of things I want to do when I get back to Buffalo. There is nothing like a Buffalo summer.

You can get even more specific. When we were teenagers I remember my cousin Caroline, who lived on Depew Avenue, talking about how wonderful a North Buffalo summer was. Now, living in North Buffalo myself, I see what she meant. Hertel Avenue, baking in the sun. The freight trains thundering past on the tracks by Linden Avenue. Tennis tournaments in progress in Delaware Park. You pass the zoo and the giraffes are out. That is a true test of summer, when the giraffes are out. They are out only on the nicest days.

What was the zoo thinking, shipping the elephants out for the summer? I know they are revamping the elephant house, but there has to have been some way around that, some better solution, that would have allowed the elephants to stay. Sometimes it is as if our public institutions just want to stick it to us, you know?

Well, I do not need bad karma today. I will resist ranting about the elephants. Instead I will list a few things I love about Buffalo in the summer.

1. Sunset Bay Beach Club. The best beach, with wonderful sand, and a bar with two-for-one specials and great gin and tonics.

2. Niagara Street. I have always loved this gritty underappreciated street. I love to ride my bike on it and smell the river and then eat at one of its Italian restaurants. That is a perfect summer day.

3. You can also walk or ride your bike across the Peace Bridge. Beat the cost of gas! My sister and I did this a lot when we lived on Delavan. We would take a whole day to bomb around and walk to the Peace Bridge and on over to Fort Erie. It's fun to walk to a foreign country. You feel like such a vagabond. And Fort Erie reminds me of my next summer treat...

4. Happy Jack's. A wonderful and undersung institution. One waiter told me it has been there, run by the same family, since the 1930s. Last time I checked they had a patio, so you could sit by the river. I have not checked recently but I plan on doing so this summer.

5. Fort Niagara. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a world-class historic destination. It's so rare, in our country, to see buildings that date from before Mozart was born. Listen to me. I always think in terms of musicians. When Howard bought Big Blue downtown, I got dreamy and said, oh, when that house went up, Johannes Brahms was a young man.

6. The new canal slip historic site downtown. I have been there only once but already I know I will be knocking around there a lot.

7. The Miss Buffalo. Nothing like it on a sultry summer night.

8. The Finger Lakes. Not exactly Buffalo, but near. And as beautiful as anything you will find in Europe. I have been all over Europe. I know. There is this very dry Gewurztraminer they make a the MacGregor winery, I think it's called, that tastes like citrus, like grapefruit. I am normally not a white wine drinker but I want a glass of that. I wish I had one now.

9. Wineries in Chautauqua and Niagara counties. I have not been to many but this is the summer I will go. I am getting into the habit of telling outsiders that Buffalo is in wine country. Well, we are!

10. One more slot to make this list an even 10.... what to choose ... what to choose ... Well, this is an off-the-cuff list so I'll just throw out one more thing. The patio at Duo. Has anyone else seen this patio? It's stunning. I can't wait to go there for a late-night gin and tonic. Best of all you can walk there from Big Blue. So I have a chance of dragging Howard.

This makes me feel good that I am flying home tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Every trip it surprises me, the stuff I forget. I keep hoping I will get this down to a science. Maybe I can have a bag already packed, with doubles of everything I will need. It will mean buying another Water-Pik, electric toothbrush, tape recorder and all kinds of other stuff. But it will be worth it if it means I don't have to go crazy when I get here looking for drugstores and Radio Shacks.

Whenever you go somewhere you remember something you forgot last time. But you also forget something you remembered last time.

This trip what I forgot is nail polish. And polish remover. I didn't discover it till this morning, which was stupid, because lastnight I stopped in a drugstore, and after I got what I needed I was just kind of wandering looking for stuff to buy. And they had all these beautiful new nail polish colors. This is the kind of thing I am thinking about when I should be thinking about Leonard Pennario and his performance at Tanglewood of Prokofiev's Toccata. Prokofiev, Schmokofiev! (I had to write that, just because I love how it looks.)

With my braces keeping me from biting my nails, suddenly nail polish has become a big thing with me. I like to do them up nice, because it's great that something can look nice, as long as I am running around with a mouth full of metal. And I want to be able to show off my new nails to Leonard, because he has beautiful hands and goes for manicures so they always look nice. I have been bragging to Leonard about my new nails and now look, they're all chipped and I have forgotten my polish.

Here is my plan: After church I am going to run to a drugstore and pick up what I need. Then I am going to head over to meet Pennario as planned, and while I am there, I can quick fix my nails. I can say, "Leonard, you don't mind, do you, if I use your bathroom to do my nails?"

I can just hear him thinking: Why didn't I get Tim Page from the Washington Post to write my book? Why did I have to choose this ditz?

But desperate times call for desperate measures.