Thursday, July 31, 2008

Among friends

Has anyone else noticed how the word "community" is everywhere? "Our community." "The gay community." And (my favorite): "The Dead community." Look in any news story. You will see the word "community" at least 10 times.

So why fight it? I am going to say it, too.

I am loving the community feeling of my blog. Just look at yesterday. Ward, that was so nice of you to help me make sense out of that story about Leonard Pennario in the Guardian! And semi-anonymous Mr. Stevens (I am guessing), your analysis was great. I appreciate so much the wisdom and the sympathy! Before, I would have just been wailing and gnashing my teeth in solitude.

And my sister Margie is so nice to get involved all the way from New Jersey. Thanks, Margs!

This feeling of community will give me strength to go about what promises to be a terrible day.

First, the UB libraries sent me a bill for $875! I am not kidding. In the fine print it says if I just return all this stuff I have overdue, I will be charged only late fines. With luck the late fines will total, oh, $20, is what I'm hoping, though I might be hoping too much.

Second, my Water-Pik broke. For the second time! I pay $50 for these things and they keep breaking! I cannot exist without my Water-Pik. I love my Water-Pik like a schoolboy loves his pie. Listen to me singing the blues.

So, big detours to be made today, to UB and to replace my Water-Pik. That on top of being behind the eight ball in every aspect of my life. Well, before I go about my heinous day, time out for one more diversion:

Lastnight at a party at the zoo I noted what could be a new phenomenon: Dressed-up girl with grungy guy.

I saw it over and over! Including in the case of one TV-head, some girl who does weather or something. She was all done up in this beautiful dress, her hair all perfect, great makeup, the works. And her boyfriend was in this sloppy shirt and dirty jeans! What in the world? Dump this guy, TV-head!

Grungy clothes have been everywhere forever and I do not understand it. When I get old I do not want to look back and think I spent my youth looking like homemade sin (a phrase I love). I wonder that so many other people are setting themselves up for such regrets.

Here are things I am starting to lose hope will ever go out of fashion:

1.) T-shirts.
2.) Baseball caps.
3.) Tattoos.
4.) Those empire-waisted tops women wear that flare out over your stomach. Why do I want to make my stomach look fat?
5.) Rap and hip-hop.

Everyone, feel free to add to my list.

I love that community feeling!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No goal!

Is it too much to ask out of life that every time I turn on my computer and check my email I should not have to see big pictures of fat butts?

This is the truth. Yahoo! must keep track of me. They know I am a woman, that I subscribe to a few cooking magazines ... ergo, wouldn't I worry about getting fat? So every day, there they are, big pictures of cellulite and thunder thighs, with places I can click if this is my problem.

Can't they zero in on things that would really interest me? Aren't they savvy enough, for instance, to see that I buy books about music? Couldn't they give me a picture of Leonard Pennario, and I could click on that and, I don't know, buy Leonard Pennario records, or something? OK, I am just kidding. But you would think these big computer whizzes would be smart enough so they could serve you up ads that would not annoy you.

Speaking of Pennario ... it's not as if I think about him or anything ... there is this article about him that appeared yesterday in the Guardian that is extremely peculiar. The Guardian is this big British paper. I will try to post the link later on, but I don't have time now. Just Google Pennario and the Guardian, and it will come up.

It is as if whoever wrote the story resents Pennario and twists everything around to turn it against him. I was reading it and in Buffalo fashion I was thinking, "No goal!" Note to out-of-towners: This is what we say in Buffalo when justice has been ill served. It goes back to an unfortunate Sabres game.

But I am proud of Pennario in a way when I see a story like this. You know what they say, there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

I will be the one to tell the world the truth about him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Penthouse forum

Lastnight I was over at my friend Ruth's condo, this beautiful penthouse on the 11th floor of that building on Delaware near West Utica that looks like something out of "The Jetsons." I love that word, "penthouse," in spite of the, um, men's magazine. I like writing that I visited one.

Well, I spent most of the evening outside of the penthouse. I was on the patio drinking wine, as Sunday's communion meditation suggested I should, and contemplating the Buffalo skyline.

The Buffalo skyline is not specifically mentioned in either the Old or New Testament, but looking at it, I am always struck by how unusual it is.

Often when I am driving past on the 190, I think of how if I were an out-of-towner, just passing through, I would be impressed by the look of this city. I have done a lot of driving around the country, and I remember distinctly my impressions on passing Cincinnati, with all it bridges, or St. Louis, with that arch. Of course when I passed St. Louis I naturally made a wrong turn and ended up immediately in East St. Louis. That sort of thing always happens to me.

But back to the Buffalo skyline.

Buffalo definitely has it together when it comes to our silhouette. We do not give our city enough credit for that. Our skyline has unusual features: the Liberty Building, the Electric Tower, Olympic Towers, various church steeples, and of course our magnificent City Hall, delightfully out of proportion for a city of our current size and station.

At night the buildings are lighted up in unusual ways. I love especially how the Electric Tower and the Liberty Building are lighted. Flying into or out of Buffalo, the city looks stunning, especially at night. You see the streets all fanned out like spokes of a wheel.

It all can make a Buffalonian's heart beat faster. We have our problems, same as every other city.

But we sure look great from a distance.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Yesterday was my brother Tony's 50th birthday so we had Tonyfest out at my sister's house in East Aurora. I had the best time. Number one, Tony's adorable friend Peter showed up with the cutest Volkswagen convertible and he took me and my nieces, Rosie and Millie, for a spin. With Fritz Wunderlich singing Viennese songs. Fritz Wunderlich is a tenor whom Peter and I both love. Peter wore a straw hat and as we drove through Emery Park I felt as if I were in "Enchanted April."

Also I went swimming in a pond with my nieces, Rosie and Millie. They are 12 and 9, something like that -- still young enough to be babies but old enough to be fun. Their little brother Georgie dog-paddled around grinning, wearing a life-preserver laced up around his neck and another blow-up life preserver around his waist.

My other niece and nephew, Barbara and Georgie (too many Georgies in our family so I call this one Junior) are babies so they just took all their clothes off. The dog-paddling Georgie loved that. "Naked!" he yelled, and he paddled grinning toward them.

On the way home it was fun with all the kids sitting on towels in the back seat of my car. Rosie is an accomplished baker. She made an exquisite cake lastnight. And as we were driving home from the pond she asked me, "Aunt Mary, are you going to be here for Christmas?"

"Yes," I told her. I missed last Christmas because of being in California with Leonard Pennario.

"Let's bake together," she said.

"I would love to!" I said.

What Rosie said next killed me. Eyes shining, she said: "Let's work our way through all the Christmas classics!"

So we decided we would do that. Then we began discussing what would be our ultimate challenge, the dessert we served for Christmas dinner.

"Let's do a gingerbread house!" I said. I have never made a gingerbread house and always wanted to.

"A brilliant idea!" Millie shouted.

Don't kids kill you? All of a sudden I felt as if I were in a Rumer Godden novel. I love the idea of working our way through the Christmas classics.

I will need something to do once I have finished my book!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Et vino torcularia redundabunt

OK, I finally got it done. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. There is a new light in my eyes now. There is a new sense of infinite possibilities.

You guessed it ... I cleaned the upstairs bathroom!

It is amazing, what a sense of accomplishment you get from doing something like that. You put it off for -- well, I am not going to say for how long -- and then it's done. It has brightened my morning.

Speaking of brightening my morning, I have to quote from this morning's Mass readings. Hang on, let me go get my missal. This is a goodie. Here it is, the Communion reflection for, ahem, the 11th Sunday After Pentecost:

Honora Dominum de tua substantia, et de primitiis frugum tuarum: et implebuntur horrea tua saturitate, et vino torcularia redundabunt.

Translation: Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with all the first of all thy fruits: and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine.

"Thy presses shall run over with wine." If that is not a good reason for honoring the Lord with thy substance and the first of all thy fruits, I do not know what is. It is inspiring to think of this beautiful wisdom being handed down, writ first in ancient Hebrew (the verse is from Proverbs), then in Latin. It makes me want to have a glass of Gato Negro right now!

But alas, I have work to do. That Journal story.... it's still not finished.

Well, at least the bathroom is.

I am flush with success!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of angels and slugs

Whew, what a day! First I get that downer news that those angels mid-aisle at St. Ann's were not there when my grandmother walked down the aisle. Darn! And I had such a romantic picture in my head. Read it and weep.

Well, thank you, Professor, for setting the record straight. (See comment yesterday.)

Then I blew all day today working on this story about Leonard Pennario I want to send to the Wall Street Journal. Ten hours, vaporized, like that. Do not ask me why I am going through this trouble. I have absolutely no guarantee they will run it. The day after Leonard died, I took the liberty of giving their Arts and Leisure editor a buzz. I emailed him and called him. I am normally too shy to call strange editors but I have read that in extreme situations, we are capable of extreme things, like picking up cars. That was what it was like for me that day.

So I called this editor and got his machine, and I explained who I was and what I was doing, and said that I was going to be sending this story to him. I never heard back from him. For which I don't blame him -- I am the queen of lapsed correspondence and unreturned phone calls. No one can touch me in that department.

But, you know, it would have been easier to get this done if I had just had a note saying, "Sure, Mary. Send it along and I'll see what I think." Maybe there is some reason they cannot do this. I don't know.

All I know is I worship at the altar of the Wall Street Journal. I love the writing in the paper and it would help me find closure, as the cliche goes, to get some kind of appreciation of Leonard in there. I loved the beautiful obituary in the New York Times but I did not get to write that myself, though the generous writer, James Barron, was gracious enough to quote me quite a bit.

So for the last 3 weekends, or however long it has been since we lost Leonard, I have been working away at this thing, trying to get it the way I want it. It is a challenging assignment: "In 1,000 words or less, describe your feelings for this person you care deeply about and state why he matters to civilization." What a pain! No wonder I am banging my head against the wall. My friends think I'm crazy. It's getting so late, they point out. It has been what, a month?

Maybe it is too late. But I am doing this anyway. Then I will dive back in and finish up the book. Will I be sane at that point? Or will I be curled up catatonic in a ball, drinking herb tea and listening to gospel music?

Oh! I almost forgot. Speaking of challenging assignments, a few days ago, Anonymous issued a good one. "Define slug," she said. I am not sure Anonymous is a she but somehow I suspect it is.

Define slug! That is something to think about.

I will need a couple of days. But I will do it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The belle of the bells

Lastnight I rang the bells at St. Ann's. For all would-be Buffalonians out there (as opposed to actual Buffalonians) St. Ann's is a historic and beautiful church in a struggling East Side neighborhood here. It is scheduled to be closed next month by Bishop Kmiec. You can see Bishop Kmiec, by the way, in a frieze in the back of the church. There is a frieze behind glass of all these figures thrashing about in flames as devils poke at them with pitchforks. I distinctly recognized him. He is there.

Bishop Kmiec, repent! It's not too late!

Back to the bells. I was a wimp and did not actually ring them. You had to pull these long ropes and instead I went up to the top and simply watched the big bells swing. Well, maybe I was more brave because I had to climb the rickety pigeon-pooped stairs. You should have heard the cacophony in the bell tower. It was unbelievable. These huge, iron bells on these gigantic wheels, making the most unbelievable clangor. Out on the street you could see people looking up. That is what church steeples were designed to do. I read that somewhere. They are supposed to guide your eyes into the sky. To remind you that there is something up there that is greater than you are.

I have had a lot of reminders of that lately.

Later a bunch of us were going to the Pearl Street Brewery, where we wound up being deafened by the Brothers of Invention, I think the band was called. But first the church looked so beautiful that I had to step inside and kneel down and say a prayer. If you have never seen St. Ann's try to get there before it closes. There is no church like it, with these touching, folksy statues and millions of twinkling lights.

My friend Jane told me later that while I was in there, our friend Eddie complained, "What's with Mary? Why is she getting all religious on us?"

"Oh, come on, Eddy," Jane told him. "She is probably saying a prayer for Leonard."

How did she know?

Actually, I did some praying, and a lot of gazing. My grandparents got married in St. Ann's. I think of my grandmother, Rose Ernst -- whom I never knew, seeing that she died in the 1930s -- walking up that long aisle. Halfway up the aisle there are these carved angels -- such a sweet, whimsical little touch. I imagine her approaching those angels, seeing them ahead of her, then passing them and continuing on up to the altar. I have my grandparents' wedding photo so I know exactly how she looked.

I remember walking up that long aisle of St. Gerard's. That is a long walk you take when you get married, whatever church or hall or synagogue you choose. I don't think any bride reaches the halfway point without a moment of "What am I doing? I mean, what in the world am I doing?" I think that is why those angels are there at St. Ann's.

St. Ann is your patron saint if you are looking for a husband. Jane thought I was making that up but I am not. The reasoning is that St. Ann wanted a good husband for her daughter, Mary, and she wants one for everyone who prays to her.

"Dear St. Ann, get me a man." Those are the magic words. I thought about that as the bells were ringing.

Ladies, you can tell St. Ann I sent you.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Into a movie

It is kind of odd going forward with my book about Leonard Pennario now that the man himself has passed on. Sometimes it makes me sad. But other times there is a lot of humor about it. I have found that whenever you suffer a major death, you find a peculiar mix of laughter and tears. That is the situation here.

I just got off the phone with one of Leonard's old friends. That is what I am doing over the next few weeks, calling the people who were close to him over the years. What I can't get over is how varied these people are. Leonard stayed single his whole life and traveled constantly and loved parties. Ergo, tons of friends. It is fun to talk to them because it brings him alive to me again.

We wind up laughing together a lot on the phone, remembering this brilliant, absurd personality.
And one thing that I find myself laughing about when I am off the phone is the nature of these people, of Leonard's friends. They are not the kind of people who would normally appear in my humdrum Buffalo life. They are like royalty compared with me. One beautiful, graceful woman, a very close friend of his, invited me to come to Los Angeles and go with her and her family to the beach club there. That is a very exclusive place I would never ordinarily wind up anywhere near. (How is that for grammar? Can you tell I'm in a hurry?)

She said I could not write about Leonard Pennario without going to this beautiful Republican beach club, because I guess he practically lived there.

Then there was this woman I just got off the phone with today. Now in her 70s, she sent me a picture of her and Leonard from years ago, both of them blindingly beautiful. She has this lovely German accent. A lot of women who knew Leonard very well had these accents, I am noticing. I don't know why he ever bothered with me, with my flat Buffalo A's.

Anyway, she and I both established that our families were from Bavaria. We conducted part of the interview in German. And today she invited me to come with her to visit her family's ancestral vineyard near Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest, where my father's family was from. She gave me the Internet address of this winery. It is beautiful! Rolling hills, green fields, an incredibly beautiful place. The family crest was there too.

She asked if I would come with her. Answer: Ja! Jawohl! I think I would enjoy life there. There would not be boom cars and I would not have to listen to people yelling: "OMIGOD YOUR BUTT IS HANGING OUT!" Or "I AIN'T GOT NO BRAKES!" as Ward talked about yesterday. Ward, want to come with me to the Black Forest?

I always said that working on this book was like stepping into a movie. And oddly enough, even with Leonard gone, it still is.

Alas, now, at least for today, I have to resume my normal Buffalo life. Back down to earth.

But with luck in the future you will be able to look for me here:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The summer of the slug

It is not every morning you get to pick up the paper and read good news. So I loved picking up The Buffalo News this morning and seeing that the Common Council is making plans to crack down on boom cars and -- this is the good part -- have them towed.

Ha, ha! Wouldn't that be more funny than anything, seeing these losers have to watch while their big loud vehicle is towed away?

Summer used to be the time of year I loved best. I love wearing sandals and sundresses and bathing suits. I like sitting out on Hertel patios. But it is getting to the point where I can't take it any more. Every summer, Buffalo turns into a slug's world. I am just living in it.

The other day I heard a girl on our block yell to someone, at the top of her lungs: "OMIGOD YOUR BUTT IS HANGING OUT!" I made a mental note of that quote just so I could reprint it.

And that is music to my ears next to some of the other things I have heard. You can't walk anywhere without hearing slugs slinging the "F" word around, roaring their motorcycles in your ears and blasting their car stereos. The other day a boom car went past that was so loud things were shaking. It set off the car alarm next door. The car alarm next door goes off several times a day but still.

Here is a good idea for therapy. Maybe I can establish a Slug Gallery on this site. Whenever any of us has to deal with an outrageous slug, we could snap that person's picture and post it. That way when we run into slugs we can see them not as annoyances but as fine specimens.

I will get Howard to start working on that technology so we can get that powerful therapeutic system in place. Meanwhile, we can start by sharing our favorite slug quotes.

I challenge anyone to top: "OMIGOD YOUR BUTT IS HANGING OUT!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Just got back from getting my teeth tightened. What a pain! I mean, I can see my teeth straightening out. But those few seconds when they put the screws to you, it is not pretty.

But what goes around comes around. My ortho, Dr. Kevin Hanley, is now getting braces too. He has what is called "the appliance" in his mouth already. AHAHAHA! Does he do them himself? I will have to ask him that. It is the obvious question but it did not occur to me when I was sitting there with my mouth open.

My brother George, who is downstairs right now playing Gershwin's "Of Thee I Sing" on my Steinway, says it is amazing that the technology of braces has not changed since we were kids. They have found no way to do it better than they used to. You would think they could just beam a laser into your mouth, but no.

Another thing that has not changed: the street cleaner. Those funny old street cleaners, with the circular mops, you still see them chugging down your street, same as ever.

Also, the snowplow. Donn Esmonde at The Buffalo News once referred to the plows, admiringly, as "machinery from the Jurassic era." True!

Speaking of old things, what a loss, that barn that burned out in Williamsville. I did not know it was there, but now I am outraged that it is gone. When something is 187 years old, it's just not forgivable that it burns and everyone goes, "Oops." I think it was probably burned by Williamsville punks, kids who went in there to smoke or something. Williamsville has punks same as the rest of us do. The town should have had the place secured, had an alarm on it or something.

Back to my braces. I don't know if I told this story. A while ago I had to interview this comedian, Robert Klein, on the phone. I had trouble talking because of all the metal in my mouth. So I said, "Mr. Klein, you have to forgive me. I can't say the letter 's' because I have braces, and --"

"You have braces?" Robert Klein said. "Jesus, what are you, 14?"

Ha, ha! When I go to the ortho, it sure feels that way.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Art on the fringe

Yesterday on my way to Artpark I stopped off at the Averill Gallery, right there on Lewiston's main drag.

The Averill Gallery is not your ordinary art gallery. It is alternative art. It is realism!

Isn't that scary and daring?? The artists exhibited therein create representational art. There was this cartoon I remember from Mad magazine back when I was a kid and used to read Mad magazine. It was one of those Dave Berg cartoons. It showed a hippie looking at a blotchy abstract painting and saying: "Marvelous!" Then looking at another abstract and saying, "Like, awesome!" The final frame showed a picture of a woman. And the viewer is scratching his head, saying, "I don't get it!"

That is what the world has come to! It's funny how the Averill Gallery makes no secret of taking a stand against that. Its Web site,, proclaims: "Our goal is to support and promote local artists who work in realism (representational art). The local art scene is dominated by the world famous Albright-Knox Gallery of Modern Art and consequently, our local media and arts leaders ignore and downplay the tremendous talents of representational artists. Our Gallery hopes to buck that trend."

Them's fighting words.

Amazing how these days, if you paint a portrait or a landscape, you're a revolutionary!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stand facing the stove

I cooked dinner tonight for the first time in something like a week. I have not been home all week. I have turned into my college self.

Here are phrases I hate seeing in cookbooks and cooking magazines.

1. "Boneless, skinless chicken." Heaven's sake, learn to deal with skin and bones, you know?
2. "Serve with hot, cooked rice." You know what, my guests prefer cold, raw rice.
3. "Fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth." My sister Katie saw that once and laughed out loud.
4. "Refrigerated potato slices." What in the world?
5. "Cookie of the month." What is with Martha Stewart? She wants us all to be 400 pounds!
6. "Heavy or whipping cream." It is 2008. Can't we cook without this stuff?
7. "One teaspoon oil." Who can saute anything in that amount?
8. "Barack Obama." Oh, wait, I was talking about cooking magazines.
9. "Flank steak." Where do you buy this? I think I found it in a supermarket maybe once.
10. "Prepare grill." Here it is July 20 and I have not prepared mine.

How is that for a Top Ten list right off the top of my head? Yes, I have complaining down to a fine art. I would love to hear phrases other people hate in cookbooks, too, if anyone cares to confide them. It feels good to complain about it, in case that gets anyone motivated. Jump in! The water's fine!

On the bright side, my dinner turned out well. I got sick of searching for a recipe so I just threw together a summer chicken stew with zucchini and onions and celery and fat-free, less-sodium tomato sauce. I am kidding of course. It is just my own tomato sauce that I canned last summer. I also threw in raisins. That is a great exotic touch you can get with no extra work at all.

After dinner I actually cleaned the kitchen. I have cleared the decks.

Tomorrow will be another day full of adventure.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Survival of the fittest

Lastnight it was too hot to sleep, plus I drank too much red wine at the party I went to in my New Orleans dress, plus I could not turn over in bed -- a minor problem -- because of the Total Body Sculpt class I went to the day before yesterday.

Imagine me, sculpting my body. It must have hurt the Venus de Milo when she was chipped away at and it hurts me, too.

There is this deal at the Buffalo Athletic Club. If you have this Blue Cross health membership, which I do, they will pretty much pay for your gym membership. Except you have to sign up for certain classes, and attend them for a certain number of weeks. Hence, the Total Body Sculpt. I had to sign in on a clipboard so Blue Cross would know I was there.

But heck, all they'd have to do is look at me, and they'd know I was there! Because honest, I can not walk. At the end of the class I could not move. I was lying there on my mat like a dead person. The instructor even knows my name, is how abject I am. He is this muscleman and he likes to count down our exercises in German, just so we really feel as if we are working. And he kept walking over to me during the crunches that ended the class and sort of poking at me. He made as if he were checking that my middle was against the mat right, but I think he was really checking to see if I was alive.

A big if!

Yesterday I tried to talk Howard into coming to some classes with me. "Howard, come on," I said. "Check out Total Body Sculpt." Howard is always talking about wanting to be buff.

But Howard said, "I just want a class that does stretching."

"Then take Pilates," I said. Pilates is the class I really love. "That's stretching."

Howard was suspicious. "No, that's hard core." (Hard core, get it? Har!)

"It is not," I said. "It works out your core. You do a lot of stretching." You do. The stretching takes 15 minutes. What I did not tell him is the stretching is the hardest part of the class.

Howard was dogged. "I want a class like old people take where you stand in the water and stretch."

OK, guess I won't be seeing him on any mat near me at any time soon!

Exercise is a solitary affair. It always is, it always will be. You wait for an exercise buddy, you will wait forever. You will get fatter and fatter. So next time I go to Total Body Sculpt -- which will be next week, thank you Blue Cross -- I will be by myself.

I wonder if I will be able to turn over in bed by then.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The gong show

MKG stacks up at the "Italian Festival" but fails to take home the cheeze.
Photo courtesy of BuffaloGal.
Click here for BuffaloGal's play-by-play report of the event.

Tonight I have to go to a party and it is outside and dressy and you're right, I am stuck with that steamy summer question of what in the world to wear that won't make me faint. Why don't they make dressy dresses out of cotton? No fair, no fair!

I am lucky I am not a guy. Men, with their shirts and ties, I don't know how they do it. At least being a woman I can always wear a camisole with something and throw on pearls and in a pinch, that would probably work for anything. Creative black tie is a lot easier for us.

Speaking of pinch ... why is it that I keep in my closets skirts that have always pinched and always will? Why don't I throw these things out?

Also, why do I keep things because my mother gave them to me? A lot of things fall into this category including a couple of bow blouses and also this old bathrobe that I don't need any more now that I have Leonard Pennario's. I just hang on to this stuff. I don't know why.

Speaking of Leonard Pennario's clothes, Howard is wearing a tie of his tonight. He tried wearing a shirt of Leonard's too but this particular shirt is, for some reason, too big. We think maybe Pennario bought it by mistake. It would be too big for him too.

For a long time I have been in the habit of buying dresses as souvenirs of my travels. I think tonight I am going to wear a dress that I got in New Orleans. I bought it at an, er, antique shop (really more like junk shop) and I know I have worn it to other parties before, but I am hoping no one remembers seeing it on me. Well, I am not that worried. If I don't remember if I wore it here or there, there is no reason why anyone else will.

The one thing I remember at this junk shop was they had this big gong. I went up to it and hit it. Nothing happened.

So I did what anyone would do and hit it again. Again, nothing happened. I walked away, figuring it was broken.

Then this sound began filling the shop. It started small and then it got bigger and bigger. A big SsssssssshhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.....

The gong!!!!!

It grew louder and louder!!!

I went to the other side of the shop and just stood there, pretending I had had nothing to do with it. That was when I saw the dress that I am going to wear tonight. I think it cost me $7. They gave me a song and dance that some movie star had worn it. Like heck. The label is La Belle. I have seen other dresses with that label. I do not think movie stars wear dresses with labels that I have seen before.

But it is a great dress all the same. I just hope it does not make me faint. The object is for me to make other people faint. Hee hee! Har!

Imagine how witty I will be once I have a glass of wine.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Under the Tuscan sun

Lastnight I was out till all hours, something that hasn't happened that much in the past couple of years since I got married and my wings have been clipped.

I was out on Hertel with my friend Jane and in the middle of the night when you would think we would be heading home, these big Sicilian guys showed up with this bottle of the best Tuscan red wine you could dream up. And they began pouring it for themselves and us, into these big globe wine glasses. Who could resist? Not I!

I can never resist Sicilian guys which is how I wound up writing this book about Leonard Pennario.

Anyway, whenever it was I finally got home, I tried to creep about quietly so I would not awaken Howard. I closed the bathroom door carefully and was brushing my teeth. Then my cell phone rang. And I saw Howard's name on the screen.

He must not be asleep, I thought. He must still be downtown. Howard has been known to spend eons at Big Blue, practicing the piano, puttering around, etc.

"Howard," I said into the phone.

"Where are you?" he said.

"I'm home. Where are you?"

"I'm home."

"Oh. I'm in the bathroom."

"I'm in the bedroom."

What idiocy is this?? After that I went to bed. This morning I awoke with a migraine. It must have been that wine. I did not drink that much of it but it was late -- usually I am in bed at that hour -- and I hadn't eaten much either. You have to eat huge meals while you're drinking wine. That is the secret.

I get an unusual kind of migraine. I don't get head pain, but my vision is screwed up. This is a bad day to have this problem because tonight is the night I have to go to the Italian Festival -- yep, back to Hertel -- and defend my title in the Cheese Building Competition. You have to stack Sorrento Cheese Sticks on top of each other and build a tower. I am the reigning champion from two years ago and this year if I win I stand to win a thousand bucks for St. Anthony's Church.

Leonard Pennario and I realized we had in common that we both got migraines. We liked that about each other. Pennario once had to play a concert while he had one. I can't remember at the moment what concerto it was but this morning I was thinking, if he could play Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto, or whatever it was, with a migraine, I can sure as heck build a tower of cheese.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hazy, crazy days

How gratifying, to see that my five-cent Sciences stamp is coveted enough to warrant my being invited to join a stamp club. Thanks, Michael, for your comment yesterday! I knew I was onto something. I knew that once I came forward with my rare stamp, everyone would want to know me.

Unfortunately I have no room for any other serious hobbies in my life besides my book on Leonard Pennario. That and drinking the occasional glass of red wine. And following the local news, like the story about the teacher who supposedly had the suicide pact with the 14-year-old boy. Could you believe that woman? I keep poring over her picture. I cannot get over that.

Here is how nutzed up my life has been. My sister from New Jersey visited this weekend. And I completely forgot she was coming.

And we had just talked on the phone last week!

The whole story is so idiotic. On Monday, my mom called me at work. She said, "We're all going down to the waterfront." I said, "What, is Katie coming in with the kids?" Katie is my sister the left-winger, who lives in East Aurora. I have written about her before.

My mom said yes, Katie was coming in. And I said, well, you know, that's great, but I have to work, blah blah blah. Later my mom called me again and said they were all going to eat in her back yard. I said, truthfully, that I was under the gun at work, that I'd probably have stay late, etc. I guess if I had stopped and thought about it, I may have realized: there's something funny that my mom is calling me every five minutes to say we're doing this, we're doing that. Especially since she and I just went through that night from hell at Artpark, that night I wrote about last weekend. But I never stopped to think.

Fast forward to late Monday night. I mentioned in my stamp post yesterday (stamp post, haha) that Howard's old buddy Jeff Van Stone showed up and we went with him to Papa Jake's. I'm making conversation with Jeff, whom I never met before, and I'm saying, "Jeff, that's great that you live in the same town with your brother. Most of my family lives here. But I have a sister in New Jersey, and... "

Then I stopped. "MY SISTER IN NEW JERSEY!!!!!"

That was why my mother had been calling me! I had totally forgotten she was here!

So on Tuesday night I managed to get together with Margie and my nephew Matthew and my niece Emily, the golf champion. Emily is a darling girl who had just advanced to the next level of a major, major golf competition. She is our own Tigress Woods.

Maybe some day someone will be writing her biography the way I am writing Leonard Pennario's. The writer might have a problem, though, making golf as sexy as classical piano. Nothing is as sexy as classical piano.

The world will find that out when I finish my book.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Yesterday I did the dorkiest thing I have ever done in my life. Well, at least the dorkiest thing I have done in the last 10 years. I have to qualify things because I have been known to be incredibly dorky.

A few weeks ago, when the basement flooded, I was down there salvaging stuff. And one thing I salvaged was the United States stamp album I had as a kid. My world stamp album was upstairs already, not that I had opened it since I was about 12. When I found my U.S. stamp album I got mad at myself, thinking: Why is this thing in the basement? It should be upstairs where it's safe. So I brought it upstairs and now it is kicking around the house, with everything else.

So I'm at work yesterday, and this envelope lands on my desk. You can see where this story is headed.

I notice the stamps. They looked odd. What elegant stamps, I was thinking. They reminded me of the old stamps I had just seen in my old album -- monochromatic, on heavy, engraved paper. Old U.S. stamps were the best stamps in the world. Funny, I didn't know they still made stamps like this. All I can find at the post office now are garish stickers.

Then I realize: The reason these stamps look old is that they are old!

Three of the stamps were 5 cent stamps. That suggested, I instantly calculated, that they dated from the early 1960s. It is funny how arcane knowledge you amassed as a kid is still in there, instantly accessible. The five-cent stamps were green and bore a picture of a globe and the words "The Sciences." Another stamp was red, for 25 cents. It had a picture of an airplane. It was obviously an air mail stamp, and I was able instantly to determine it was from 1949.

Think all this is nerdy beyond belief? Wait till you hear what comes next.

Late that night, Howard and I had just gotten back from Papa Jake's, where we had gone with his childhood friend Jeff Van Stone, who was in town. Howard and Jeff were in the back yard talking, and I was washing my face and Water-Pik-ing my teeth, when suddenly...

Those stamps! My mind flashed back to them.

I was alone in the house. No one would see me. I crept downstairs, and I ... ssshhhh .... began leafing through the album. And do you know what? I found the picture of the science stamp. It was right where my 10-year-old self had told me it would be, in 1963. And would you believe it, I did not have it!!??!! I had almost every other stamp on that page, including the Doctors Mayo and Homemakers, but I did not have "The Sciences."

Whoo-hoo! This was great!! I flipped to the Air Mail section. Another score! I did not have that Air Mail stamp! I had others, but not that one. What a day! What a find!

But now what? Will I have to go and get stamp hinges? I would have to put a paper bag over my head. Well, I will think about that tomorrow.

For now, let it be known: I have two extra 5 cent stamps, "The Sciences," from 1963. Lightly canceled. I am keeping the one that is not.

Anyone got anything good to trade?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Modern love

Jon pictured on left is dining with Howard.

Wow, what a rant yesterday! What got into me? But I have to say this, writing that yesterday felt good. It just did. Sometimes you have to let off steam.

Luckily I have gotten comic relief since then, from a variety of sources, one of which is Howard's friend Jon.

Jon was married for a long time but now he is not and he is on J-Date. That is the Jewish singles dating site. I guess it is quite the marketplace because I have heard a lot about it. Anyway, Jon is on the phone with Howard all the time suddenly, raving about hot new prospects. Yesterday the big story was that this woman from Toronto returned his email.

Being a woman I am hard-wired to seek out romantic information. I love hearing about people's virtual love affairs.

But sometimes, I have to say, it sounds damn wearying. Such as in this instance. What is Jon going to do now, go up to Toronto? "Just what anyone does not need," Howard says. "You meet someone who lives out of town."

That is just one of the pitfalls of Internet dating. I know it can work out. I know married couples who met that way. All it takes is one good person. So if you keep playing this numbers game, I imagine the odds are good that you'll find someone good.

Still, it could take so long! I have been married only a couple of years. I know how this goes. The trouble is that everything can work out beautifully on paper. Say I'm single, I get on the Internet and I find this guy who is Catholic, plays the piano, likes vinyl, even has a few rare Leonard Pennario albums I do not have. "This is great!" I say. "I have found my soul mate!" I say.

And then I meet him in person. And I go... "Uhhhhhh... I don't think so."

I am not saying you have to find love at first sight but there is such a thing as un-love at first sight. I mean that first second when you see someone for the first time and you know that nothing will ever happen between you. And when you are blind-dating you get a lot of that.

Part of the reason that happens is that I don't think any of us knows what we're looking for.

Howard and I were once talking about that and Howard was imagining the kind of personal ad he might have written when he was looking for someone. He said, "I would never have described you."

I think it is best just to go through life doing what you want to do and pursuing projects you're passionate about and trust in God to send someone your way. There is a line from Mozart's "The Magic Flute" that I love. Pamina, the princess who is the opera's heroine, says to Papageno, the goofy birdcatcher, who is looking for a wife: "Geduld, Freund -- der Himmel will auch fuer dich sorgen." Which means, be patient, friend, God (or heaven, technically) will look out for you too.

I do not think I will bother quoting that line to Howard's friend Jon.

Anyway, I have a feeling he is on his way up to Toronto.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Long day's journey into night

If I sounded tense yesterday it was because I was taking my mother to Artpark.

For our out-of-towners: Artpark is an outdoor performance venue in Lewiston, N.Y., roughly 1,500 miles from Buffalo. OK, seriously, it is only about 40 miles or something. I don't know. But it feels like forever.

Taking your mother anywhere is not easy. My mother is great and especially compared with what I was used to in California with Leonard Pennario, she is the picture of health. But everything is a challenge. We were packing a picnic and I have to find foods she likes because she is a picky eater, especially when it comes to vegetables. I am omniverous. Clearly I did not inherit her genes.

Then we get there and it is raining. Well, it was raining when we left, this rain that, I might add, was never predicted by our unethical weather forecasters. (That is a word Pennario loves, unethical -- always used to describe someone or something that torques you off.) There is this shelter with tables but they all look filled. I was asking myself what ailed myself. I had just had this confidence the rain would stop. Now I am stuck and my mom is saying, "Oh, dear."

She is also fussing because she forgot her lipstick and I didn't have any, and also I brought just one umbrella. "Mom, you take it," I said. "I don't care what happens to me." It reminded me of this situation last winter in California when it began raining hard, this cold rain, and I took off my jacket and threw it over Leonard. Even though all I had on underneath was this little nothing. You get to the point that you don't care.

Lastnight I got so mad at the rain that when I ran to the box office, I said a prayer. Well, it wasn't a very good prayer. The actual wording, I am afraid, was "God, thanks a heap." Isn't that awful? But God was so merciful to me. The rain cleared up plus we found a table underneath the shelter just in case it started again.

Gratefully I gulped a glass and a half of red wine.

But meanwhile another problem presented itself: I was supposed to review the concert for the paper and the Artpark people were supposed to let me do this backstage at this computer they have. I have emails to prove this. But no one seemed to know anything about that. Well, no biggie, I thought. I can go back home after the concert, I thought. It'll end early enough. I can make it. I have done that before and I can do it again.

However, I did not anticipate what happened, which was the perfect storm. At intermission I spotted my brother Tony. I said, "Look, Mom, there's Tony. Let's catch up with him, and he can give you a ride home and then I can run directly home and write my review."

And lo, it was done. And Tony says OK. But Mom waits until we're in our seats afterward to tell me she doesn't want Tony to drive her home. His car is all junked up and there is nowhere for her to put her feet and besides she is afraid he will detour to Smokin' Joe's to buy gas. Mom said Tony once detoured to Smokin' Joe's even though it was five miles out of their way.

So I say, "OK, Mom, I will bring you home."

But then I can't leave the concert early! I have created the perfect storm! We have to find Tony otherwise he would wait for my mom forever under the sign saying Aisle 3, because that is where she told him to meet her before deciding she did not want to ride with him. I was stuck. I was so stuck. Then after this encore ended it took us forever to find Tony because as usual he took his time, he was off talking to someone.

Then Tony trails us to our car and he started singing this thing by Bernstein really loudly and I was so stressed that I told him to shut up. This was an awful night. First I tell God thanks a heap and then I yell at my brother who has no idea what he did to me. Just a couple of months ago this Jesuit priest and I had it out in the confessional at St. Michael's about exactly this kind of thing. I was supposed to work on this. I was supposed to get better. And now listen to me.

Back to my trip home. I was victimized by endless, unethical Artpark traffic, couldn't get out of the park, couldn't even call the office (I tried but for some reason my unethical cell phone just went "beep, beep, beep"). All the way home it rained -- dark rain, wipers on high. Driving home from Artpark is awful. You think you are making good time and then you realize you have not even crossed Grand Island. I finally got home at exactly my deadline. I phoned the office, begged them to give me 15 more minutes. Then I wrote it up and got it in. I have done this before in extreme situations. I pride myself on being a pro.

But what a night! Please, God, next time I bring my mom anywhere, let things go better.

I promise not to say thanks a heap.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The count and the yacht

Darn, it's the weekend, when no one reads blogs. And there is so much to talk about!

How great it was, yesterday, to wonder out loud what big orange freighter that was that I beheld on the Niagara River ... and then to have the answer come to me, thanks to Mr. Anonymous Correspondent, that it was delivering gas to Noco. Who knew that the gas in those huge tanks came in by ship? And how nice to have the answer come to me out of the ether.

Guess what I saw today??

Down by the marina, across from the Hatch and up a ways, my friend Jane and I saw a gigantic yacht! It was called, if I remember correctly, Gran Finale.

I mean this was a world-class yacht. Jane said it gave her shivers. Who in the world was visiting?

I would have asked, but now I have gotten lazy, because I believe that again, the answer will come to me out of the ether. It is wonderful that things are finally starting to move for Buffalo. Things are happening here. One day, a big freighter. The next, an awesome yacht. Remember when all that washed up on our shores was the occasional zebra mussel? We have come a long way since then.

How about that Italian count who has washed up on our shores and is giving us all that modern art? Did everyone else see that story in the paper yesterday? There is this very odd picture that shows this Count Giuseppe Whatever-his-name-is posing in front of a blank square, apparently a picture.

Gee, just what we need. We've never seen a blank square like that before. Doesn't he have any decent stuff to give us?

Hmmm. I just started wondering if maybe that yacht belonged to the count. It has to be. Who else could it belong to?

Couldn't the count keep his blank square, and give us the yacht instead?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Strange sights

What is it about summer that makes people behave like Neanderthals?

That's what I found myself wondering out loud at work. You would not believe the road rage I encountered on the way home the other day. I had to switch lanes -- I signaled and everything, and then when I saw what looked like a break, I did the switch. This was on Parkside. And this guy behind me, who was going too fast, just leaned on his horn. I got this long, rude BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP! As if it were my fault he was speeding!

Then when he passed me he gave me the finger! Well, I think that's what he did. I saw him in my peripheral vision doing something. I made a big show out of studying the giraffes at the zoo so I am not sure exactly what he did but I fear the worst.

You must never look at drivers when they behave in this threatening manner. And there is something about summer that makes them behave like that. Maybe they're hot. Maybe they're in a hurry. Maybe they're just slugs. I don't know what the problem is.

At least the giraffes looked beautiful. They were striking what looked like ballet poses, bending down as if to touch their heads to their knees. Buffalo is a wonderful city in that our zoo is in the middle of everything. Where else can you drive down a street and look at giraffes and rhinoceroses? If those grinches in charge hadn't taken the elephants away we would be able to see those, too.

Here is another thing I saw, just going through the course of my normal day, that made me marvel.

Yesterday, on the way in to work, I saw a big ship. From the 190! It was called "McCleary's Fortune," I think. It was McCleary's Something. Anyway, it was in the river, near that old bridge that goes up and down. It completely shocked me. I am so used to seeing the river empty. Now there was this big freighter.

Where was it going? What does this mean?

I wonder what oddities I will see today.

The Wunderkind

My sister Margie found my blog. I may have mentioned Margie before. She is the sister who married the dentist -- my brother-in-law Greg -- and now lives in New Jersey. In a beautiful part of New Jersey, I have to say. We are not talking Newark or anything. Margie lives in a new build we call Big House because that is what her son Matthew called it when he was very little. Matthew has a lot on the ball.

So does Margie and Greg's older kid, my niece Emily.

Emily is only in seventh grade, or something like that, but she is turning into the marvel of the golf world. For some years now, she has been the talk of Howell County -- that is the idyllic county where they live. Howell County does not have a Water Authority such as we have in Erie County, I am reasonably sure of that. Anyway, Emily is taking on the world. She is the Leonard Pennario of golf. She is a prodigy and she is unstoppable.

Our lives are very complicated now because Emily has to be taken to North Carolina and places like that to compete in golf tournaments. You would think she would be too young for this much pressure. But she is not. She deals fine. So we are pushing her forward like a little battering ram. We have been waiting for someone like Emily to appear in our family. She is our ticket out of here.

Margie, if you're out there, could you email me a picture of Emily in her golf get-up so we can post it? We all want to be able to say, "We knew her when...."

I look forward to how my life will be when Emily makes it big and none of us has to work any more. Think of what I would do on a day like today.

1.) Sunset Bay.
2.) Bike along the Niagara River, lunch at Santasiero's.
3.) Walk across the Peace Bridge, eat at Happy Jack's.
4.) Wander Hertel Avenue.
5.) My friend Michelle has this beautiful cottage in Ellicottville with a pond.
6.) There is this winery in Niagara County where they have ghosts and I keep wanting to visit.
7.) I used to have a bunch of Chopin etudes memorized and it would be nice to get them back in my head.
8.) I would like to make Chinese lanterns for the patio at Big Blue. Am I allowed to write "Chinese lanterns?" The other day everyone got mad when I mentioned that Chinese kid crying.

I was going to write a list of 10 things I would like to do but I realize my time is up. I have to get to work. No life of leisure today.

Emily, get out on that golf course and get busy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Of cabbages and kings

Happy Birthday Leonard Pennario from Cole, Howard, and Mary.
July 9th, 1954 Western Union telegram from Cole Porter discovered this week among Mr. Pennario's letters.

I have decided, like Bill Clinton, that it is time to move on with my life. So I have started again to follow the news. I realized I had slipped when I talked to my brother George yesterday -- he is visiting his in-laws in California -- and he asked me what was going on in Buffalo and I said, "Uh...."

Usually I have something ready to tell George, something entertaining about the Buffalo Public Schools or the Water Authority or City Hall. Buffalo is never boring. We are full of amusing organisms. Did everyone see that letter in The Buffalo News today defending the Water Authority? The county wants to take it over and the Water Authority is fighting for its life. Hahahahahahaha! Something tells me it will win.

It was too hot to sleep lastnight and I had to work to keep my mind from going Leonard Pennario, Leonard Pennario, Leonard Pennario. Especially since today is his birthday. It is also O.J. Simpson's birthday. Pennario told me that. He was laughing and laughing about it. He said he would kill me if I put that in the book but he did not say I could not put it in the blog.

See what I mean? I have to take my mind off this stuff. So here are things in the news that I have been thinking about instead:

1.) Barack HUSSEIN Obama's teeth. With my new braces, I have been noticing people's teeth a lot. I ask strangers about their teeth. I am not kidding. BHO's teeth are perfect.

2.) The knocking down of houses on Buffalo's East Side. I do not like this demolition being hailed as progress. It just depresses me.

Once last year I went looking for my family's houses. I had this long list of addresses I got out of the City Directory in the downtown library. And I used to go to Mass at St. Gerard's, the beautiful church on Bailey, before the diocese closed it last winter -- thanks, Bishop Kmiec -- so after Mass one day I thought, I will go and find my ancestors' houses and take pictures. I also had looked up the address of the shop on Jefferson Avenue where Howard's grandfather, Samuel Rosenblum, sold cigars and umbrellas, circa 1912. La la la la la.

Everything on my list was gone, except, oddly enough, for the oldest address on my list, the house that belonged to my great-grandfather, August Ernst, who was a blacksmith. Old August's house was still there, barely standing. The rest of them were gone. My mom couldn't believe it.

"What about the house where my mother grew up?" she said.

"Mom, gone," I said.

"Oh, no!" she wailed. "Oh, no."

"Mom," I said, "you can't imagine it. Everything's gone. It's as if World War II was fought there."

To me this is no reason for celebrating.

3.) The judge's "No" to the Seneca Casino. Yay! George, who is more of a traveler than I, has told me it wouldn't be a big deal, that the Indians have casinos in other towns and they haven't hurt anything, but I still do not like it, I do not know why but I have decided not to argue with myself about it. I argue with myself about enough already.

Of course heaven knows how all this will end. There are going to be appeals and appeals and all I can imagine is it will be like something out of Dickens, like "Bleak House," where there is this lawsuit that goes on forever. The lawsuit is Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce. I remember the name even if I am not sure I remember the spelling.

Speaking of lawsuits, there is a lawyer reading this blog! He has a very beautiful and formal name and is an, ahem, partner at a law firm in downtown Buffalo. I found out about him because yesterday he wrote to me that he, and not the reader from the Cote d'Ivoire, was the one who sent in the Edith Piaf lyrics. Merci beaucoup, lawyer friend and fellow Leonard Pennario fan!

Speaking of merci beaucoup, what in the world, about Barak Hussein running on accusingly about how Americans can't speak French or German? Amazing, the stuff that comes out of his mouth.

Though what's in his mouth, you can't argue with that.

Those teeth!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Into the fridge

That was so nice of my commenter yesterday to give me the words to Edith Piaf's song about having no regrets. Thanks, dear anonymous friend. Or, rather, merci beaucoup!

I will have to memorize those lyrics so I can sing that song when I think of Leonard Pennario and my feelings now that he is gone. I have no regrets, it's true.

I'll tell you what I do regret, though: my refrigerator.

Recoiling from it just now, I realized something: As goeth thy life, so goeth thy vegetable crisper. One of my friends once made a joke that when things get out of control down in those nether regions, an alarm should go off, with a robotic voice warning: "Danger. Danger. Produce has liquified." That alarm would sure be going off now in my kitchen, I will say that.

Months on end of flying in and out of town have taken their toll on my Frigidaire. There is this bowl of cabbage I roasted before I left the last time. Roasted cabbage is wonderful but not after you fly to California and back. There is stuff in Tupperware that I cannot come close to recognizing. This morning I took out a carton of cottage cheese that had not even been opened and through the plastic I could see that something was wrong with that, too.

Here I was hoping foolishly that when I die I would be able to go to heaven and see Leonard again and hug him and ask him a few things I forgot to ask him. Ha ha ha HA, as they used to say in Laurel and Hardy. It will be ages before I see Leonard again. I will be in Purgatory for hundreds of years paying for all the food I am wasting.

On the bright side, this blog cheers me up. Yesterday I got to glance at a listing of where our correspondents are tuning in from. Would you believe we have a reader in Africa, in the Ivory Coast? Welcome, reader from the Ivory Coast!

The Ivory Coast has a beautiful name in French: If I remember correctly it is Cote d'Ivoire.

I wonder if that reader was the one who sent me the Piaf lyrics.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Summer wishes, winter dreams

Remember what Mia Farrow says in "Hannah and Her Sisters"? "My needs are enormous."

That is the way I feel these days.

Right now I am thinking about tomatoes. Every summer, it feels like forever until they get here. And it's funny, the magazines that come to the house always seem to operate under the supposition that we have homegrown tomatoes starting in June. I do not understand that. On what planet do they have fresh homegrown tomatoes in June? And there is nothing more boring than a hothouse tomato.

So I sit, and I wait. And I get more and more impatient. I mean, white beans were fun for a while. You can throw some fresh sage in there -- I do have that in the garden, though I have to dig into the bishop's weed to get at it -- and pretend you're in Provence. But now I want to start digging into those recipes that are being thrown at me from all directions, calling for eggplant and peppers and tomatoes, as if we have them, as if they're ripe.

There must be some inner emptiness in me I am trying to fill. (Just what I need, one more excuse to eat.)

Howard pointed out to me lastnight I am in a weird position. We are both grieving over losing Leonard Pennario. But Howard can take his mind off of him by touching up the bricks at Big Blue. Whereas I can't. I have to keep writing about him and thinking about him. Writing about Leonard is a mixed bag for me these days. Sometimes it makes me feel better and sometimes it makes me burst into tears. Like that Chinese kid Leonard and I saw in that restaurant. Ahahahahhaa!

This whole Pennario adventure, I would do it all over again in a second. There is that song by Edith Piaf. I wish I could write it in French but my French is awful. Pennario used to tease me about that. What did Piaf sing? I have no regrets.

Still, these are strange days.

I must have tomatoes, at once.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Into the jungle

So here I am, up with the birdies, getting ready to go to church, and guess what's filling my head? Inappropriate thoughts. Commercial thoughts!

I keep thinking these days about what to do with my book.

This is my first book, as Howard was nice enough to write on my blog banner overhead. (We call the main headline the banner in the newspaper business. I am not sure what to call it in the blog business.) I am sure of my ability to write a good biography. That is no problem. I have read enough biographies and I know what separates the good ones from the bad ones and besides I am as smart as the next guy. All the same it has been an adventure from the word go. Getting involved with Leonard Pennario, this complicated, brilliant old man, then getting through losing him -- there are no words, really. Well, yes there are! What am I saying? I am a writer and it will be up to me to find those words. Don't worry, I will do it.

Anyway, none of those challenges is as murky as the overriding concern: what to do with the book when it is done.

Last week, when Pennario died, the reporters who called me were all asking me if I had a publisher. Answer: no.

I have not actually gotten around to working on that yet. Last winter I picked up a copy of "Writer's Market" and I started looking through it but then decided that straightening that out would eat up too much of my time, and that I would be better off concentrating on Pennario and writing the book, seeing that I was in California with him for only three months.

Also I admit, I find dealing with the publishing aspects annoying and irritating. I think it is assumed that if you are a professional, as I am, you will know someone. Which I don't. So I am stuck reading all this loser advice that assumes that you have never been published and don't have a clue. Plus they throw all this stuff at you about how to butter up agents and editors. And they tell you many of them are these kids right out of college, so you'll have to talk fast to grab their attention, because they have short attention spans.

When there are whole books written on "How To Find An Agent" and "How To Write a Book Proposal" you know there is something wrong with the system. I am not going to spend six months writing a book proposal. I would rather spend that six months writing the book.

I have confidence this is all going to work out. I am just not sure how.

For a few days after Leonard left us and my name was all over the Internet as his biographer, I kept expecting someone was going to appear out of the ether. I mean, I didn't see it as farfetched that a sharp-eyed agent or publisher would think: "Aha, here's this gal who turned her life upside-down and risked her job to spend three months with this glamorous old Sicilian concert pianist. She must really have something there. I'd better give her a call." That didn't happen. I was surprised. Aren't there all these agents our there and aren't they all looking for ways to make money? Get on the stick, people!

Oh well. Speaking of getting on the stick I have to get in gear and get to church.

I think I know what I will be praying about today!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Suddenly, summer

Shocking, that it is high summer, the Fourth of July. For the first time in forever I let myself sleep in. All spring I was getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. trying to get various chapters of my book done so I could read them to Leonard Pennario. Now it feels as if I am waking up after a long sleep and all of a sudden it is summer and I never saw it coming.

Howard and I went for a walk in the park this morning. We are trying to get more exercise.

I was easily the most schleppy exerciser in the park. I wore sandals and carried a cup of coffee. I did not even have the decency to put my coffee in a travel mug. It was in the same cup I was using at the breakfast table, this cup my Uncle Joe gave me years ago that advertises some drug and reads, "Helps Clear Airway Mucus." The mug has a picture of a set of lungs with black stuff in them and it used to be that when you added hot liquid, the black stuff would clear. That feature wore off years ago -- maybe I put the cup in the dishwasher too many times -- but I still treasure it.

My Uncle Joe is a doctor and always gives us the best stuff.

What with the last eight months of my life having been signed over to Leonard Pennario, I am noticing now that just about every single thing in my life needs fixing. I have begun to work to clean out my "office." (Pennario used to use quote marks sarcastically and I have picked up the habit.) I actually did some dusting. Today I have to go grocery shopping. I wonder if I could just call the grocery store and tell them to bring me one of everything.

Remember weeks ago when I was gardening and thought I was winning the battle against the bishop's weed? AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA.

I still have snow tires on my car.

My inspection has lapsed.

Then there is my old nemesis, the library. The answering machine is full of messages about overdue books.

Yes, I am definitely taking on water.

But it was all so worth it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


The San Diego airport, my home away from home! Well, not any more, I guess, with Leonard Pennario gone and, as of yesterday, buried. If you did not read the post I wrote lastnight about speaking at the funeral, please immediately put aside your other affairs and read it. That was a trip.

When I remember this experience -- as I will, when I am old -- I hope I will not dwell on the flying aspects. We have this crowded gate, and a little over an hour until our plane leaves for Minneapolis. You would not believe the slugs. And the annoying cell phones. There is this couple sitting across from me scarfing down an endless variety of junk food out of hundreds of paper bags. And a guy next to me playing a video game that sounds alternately like bubbles popping and gongs going off.

And of course there's a three-day-old infant. I want to have a baby just so I can take that kid immediately on a plane, to get back at everyone who has tortured me this way. Honest, I would go straight from the hospital to the airport.

It is no wonder Leonard Pennario and I hit it off. Here is a Pennario story I love, that I found myself sharing freely at the funeral lunch yesterday. It is the moment when I knew that I not only admired Pennario, I loved him.

It was my first day in San Diego, which would have made it Nov. 1, 2007. Leonard and I were sitting next to each other in the first of many restaurants in which we'd find ourselves over the next three months. It was a cafe in an upscale supermarket, kind of like Wegmans only you could get wine.

There was this Chinese kid squalling at the next table. I am hyper-sensitive about stuff like this so I was deeply annoyed, but I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to sound like the crab that I am. Then Pennario rolled his eyes.

"Brat," he said.

"I love you," I said. OK, I didn't say it. But I thought it, and Pennario being a brilliant and worldly man used to women falling in love with him, I am sure he sensed it.

So it became a long-running joke with us, whenever there would be a crying kid we would complain freely to each other. Once I told Pennario, "California has the cryingest kids I have ever encountered in my life." Pennario agreed. Of course he already knew that California was a deeply flawed state. We used to discuss politics a lot.

But that is a whole other story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Speech, speech!

Today I had to speak at Leonard Pennario's funeral. It was just the latest unbelievable experience in a very emotional week.

I was standing there at the lectern just about blanking out, looking at the casket covered with flowers, thinking: A year ago, I didn't even know this man. Ten months ago, I didn't know this man. This all happened so fast. Now I am standing before a chapel full of people, having to eulogize this brilliant, complicated, absurd, miraculous being, trying to put into words what made him great, what made me love him.

Let me tell you, it was not easy.

Because this Episcopal minister who had taken charge of the ceremony was in the front row, and he kept catching my eye and pointing at his watch. What a nightmare! I had been talking only two minutes! I had a stroke against me because one of Leonard's friends who couldn't make it to the ceremony faxed in a speech and I had been asked to read that in addition to making my remarks, and I am afraid the minister had counted that as part of my time. No fair. No fair!

How can you concentrate on what you're saying when as soon as you stand up, you're being given the hook?

This minister, Rev. Thomas Vanderslice, had flown in from I think Chicago and told us to call him Father Tom. He was a close friend of Leonard's -- that was why, as I understand it, the ceremony was Episcopal instead of Catholic -- so we were all nice to him. But he flew out right after the ceremony. He didn't even go to the lunch. Now I wonder if all the brevity was all about his making his return flight. The rest of us didn't care. We had nowhere we had to be. I have been speaking my mind to everyone this week and before the ceremony I argued with the Rev. Vanderslice that so many people had come from out of town, they would want something substantial, they wouldn't need to be out of here in, say, 35 minutes.

The reverend just kind of looked me up and down, probably thinking: I wonder where Leonard picked her up.

Everyone was probaby wondering that by the end of my speech, which was hurried and nerveracked. But then, Father Tom's speech was no great shakes either.

He told this odd story that Leonard Pennario hated to be called Lenny. I mean, that was just wrong. Pennario made this speech to me once that I thought very sweet and kind of awkward. He explained to me that he thought "Leonard" sounded so formal and that he liked being called Lenny. I am pretty sure that was a hint to me to call him Lenny but somehow I kept calling him Leonard. I was used to calling him that. That, or LP. Sometimes I called him LP.

A few people older than I am said that Leonard told them to call him "Uncle Lenny." No such invitation was ever issued to me, which I have to say made me smile.

The nice thing was, at the lunch that followed the funeral, everyone was so gracious, so welcoming to me. I took down dozens of names and phone numbers of people who would like to talk to me for the book. And more than few of Leonard's friends said they had heard of me, of this gal who came out to California to be with Leonard for three months last winter, who was writing his biography. They said Leonard was so happy about it, so excited about it. And they said they liked my talk. They said it was from the heart. Which was very nice of them.

Still, I really wish I hadn't had to deal with that minister and his watch-pointing.

Howard says I should have said, into the mic, "Excuse me, do you have something you would like to say, before I continue?"

Either that or: "Leonard told me not to let you ruin his funeral."

But I was nice.

I hope I get points in heaven because of that, and God lets me see Leonard again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I have skipped a day! Awful! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. That is a phrase from the Latin Mass that means "my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault." I remember Leonard Pennario dropping it into conversation last winter, making me smile. He shared my preoccupation with the Tridentine Mass. I liked that about him.

Anyway, after I write this, I will proceed to cheat and write something else that can run under yesterday's date.

Under normal circumstances I would never skip a day. But everything is a little haywire here. It is unbelievable, the people who have been in touch. Once my cell phone rang and it was the actor Robert Wagner. Another time I picked up and a man said, "Is this Mary? This is Nicholas Rozsa." I said: "You must be Miklos Rozsa's son." Miklos Rozsa is the great Hungarian-born film composer who won an Oscar for the score to "Ben-Hur."

Nicholas Rozsa seemed happy I knew who he was. Well, of course I knew. I mean, you can't write a book about Leonard Pennario and not know who Miklos Rozsa was, because the piano concerto Rozsa wrote as a present to Leonard is famous in the repertoire now. The composer's son seemed just to want to talk. We were cleaning out Leonard's apartment at the time, and I went out in the hall with my phone, sat down on the floor and listened. It amazes me, how much Leonard meant to so many people. I knew he did, but knowing it on paper is not the same as seeing it for yourself.

Now here is something funny. Anyone who has ever suffered through a major death -- which this is, to me -- knows that it's kind of like going into another world. You're not sleeping right, not eating right, you've lost several pounds (yes!!), you feel your life will never be normal again -- and in the middle of this strange universe you're in and you don't know how you'll ever get out of, inevitably you get a phone call.

And it's one of your friends who has no idea that anything has happened.

"Hey!" the friend says. "What's up? What are you doing? Want to go to the Sportsmen's tonight?"

Ain't that the truth??? I have gotten a couple of those calls.

I think God puts these people there to keep us laughing.