thewordofsusieq

"…a writer's gotta write." —a former professor. I'm obsessed.

Rock Impresario/”Jewish Mother”?

A year or two before the book Bill Graham Presents was published (a wonderful biography about a man who led quite a life, from escaping the Nazis as a child in Europe; living a hardscrabble life in NYC and chasing a dream that didn’t materialize (that of being an actor),  until he ditched that particular goal and headed to San Francisco in the late 60s. It was there that he opened the Fillmore on the corner of Market & Van Ness Sts., and set the wheels in motion putting him on track to become the biggest impresario in the late ’60s through ’70s San Francisco rock scene, and beyond.

There was an article in one of the S.F. newspapers (or perhaps one of the underground papers) asking people to send in stories and anecdotes about Bill Graham, to help his co- writer get a “good feel for their subject’s interaction with the “young people” of the San Francisco “scene”. I was told he made a lot of charitable contributions to projects in which he was interested, but kept them very “quiet”. Other than that, one thing I think all we Fillmore “regulars”, who would stand in line from the Market St. entrance, around the corner on Van Ness Ave. on opening nights of new shows, if my memory serves me correctly, each Thursday night. By today’s standards, tickets were downright cheap, although there were no seats. Rather, people would bring old blankets, quilts, mats-anything to make sitting on a hard former-gymnasium floor, during an entire evening’s worth of terrific music! I can only imagine what a ticket to see Janis Joplin at the Greek Theatre or Troubadour would go for today. I remember attending shows there almost every Thursday after work, with my roommate. We saw Janis Joplin (in her final performance before her demise), Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Paul Butterfield, and so many other performers. If memory serves me correctly, the price of a ticket back in ’70 or ’71 was $7.00, which was affordable to those of us embarking on new careers after college. I always thought that was so very “cool” that prices were held so low. I’ve no idea what Graham paid the musicians, but there was some acrimony with some performers. Bill Graham had become quite a businessman, and his product was rock music for the public.

He also was a bit of a “Jewish mother” in the sense that one Thursday night there was the threat of a general strike against most city services that would take effect at midnight that night. Well, when my roommate and I were leaving to go home, B.G. was at the door, wearing his usual heavy gold chains and Star of David. [Today, it would be considered a lot of bling] and as we were getting ready to leave, he told us that the strike had gone through, and that meant there were no buses, streetcars or cable cars running. He stopped to ask us if we had transportation home, or money for a cab. We were rather concerned, because we lived way out by Golden Gate Park, in the Sunset District, quite a long cab ride. When we took out our wallets to count our money, Bill Graham told us, “I’m not letting you young women leave if you can’t afford a cab. If you could just wait over there [pointing to some stools in the vestibule] for a few minutes, I’m going to arrange a ride for you two.” We were confused and surprised (and probably a little stoned) but we did as B.G. instructed, and sat on the stools. About five minutes later he comes over to us and tells us that there’s a car outside that will take us home. We were suspicious and a touch frightened, but then Bill escorted us himself over to a small limousine (!) and told the driver to take us out to the Sunset District and that we’d give him the address. The man nodded and said “Sure”. Then, as if I couldn’t have been shocked any further, B.G. handed the guy what looked like a couple of $50 bills, along with some others! We were so grateful, and he just told us,  “Don’t worry. Just get home safely.” He furthermore asked us if we had a way to get to work the following morning, and I started to lie and just tell him “Yes”, but my roommate, Ghillie (from U.Ga.) just turned red in embarrassment and somewhat shook her head “No”. With that, Bill Graham offered to give us some cash to help us get to work the next day.

When we got to our apartment and shut the door, we couldn’t believe what just happened! Stranger things have happened to everyone (myself included) since those days of being in our early 20s!

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Digging Out of a Black Hole

I’ll admit it. For most of my life I’ve been an inveterate optimist. My glass was always more than half full. Part of that is because I honestly have so much to be thankful for during my years growing up in a house full of humor and interesting conversation with my parents, and so many of their friends. But more about that later…

Right now, I’m trying with all my might to dig my way out of a long time spent in what I call a “black hole”.

Another admission: It’s taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I suffer from clinical depression. And when it hits me, it’s like a slug in the face, while tripping over my own steps. The curtains come down. Darkness comes, and so do the tears. This came on when I was in about fifth or sixth grade. I suffered from insomnia, which for some reason, my parents fought with all their might, despite the fact that living on little sleep tends to run in my dad’s side of the family. I guess they didn’t like the fact that I’d get bored just lying in bed, so I’d get up and walk around the house. I probably scared the bejeezus out of my sisters sound asleep in our house. Our house did creek from temperature changes (what my mom called “settling”) but even with the carpeting, the hardwood floors below it also creaked, even from light footsteps. Strangely, the darkness wasn’t really something I was looking for. I was already there, yet I didn’t know it. It wasn’t just the late night wandering that “scared me back to bed”; it was the time spent sitting on our living room sofa with my head leaning over toward my knees, with my head in the palms of my hands. During those minutes, I would find myself tearing up, and sobbing silently, from what, I can’t say. That’s one thing that will always remain a mystery to me. I can look back now, and still wonder why that was happening. There must be a reason. A reason I just couldn’t grasp at the age of eight or nine. But it was there. I knew it, and I also knew it wasn’t a “good thing”.

I’d finally make my way back to my bed, and crawl silently back in, pulling the covers up over my head. (Even writing this takes me on a journey to a sad moment of déjà vu.)

After months of my nocturnal wakefulness, my parents, especially my mother, grew very concerned. I was involved in a lot of athletic endeavors during that period in my life (and beyond) and my mom believed that a kid my age needed a good eight hours of sleep to function well in school. Somehow, the topic of my insomnia came up in a conversation between my mom and my aunt down in Georgia, and my aunt told her that my cousin had the same problem. Wisely, my aunt said to Mom, “Maybe she’s just not tired.” BINGO!

That still left unsolved my wanderings at night. What to do? My aunt told my mom that she put an old TV in my cousin’s bedroom, and that she watched it until she fell asleep. (Given that they only had three channels down in Thomasville, Ga., it’s amazing there was enough to watch past 11:00 p.m.!)  My parents had an old TV, but to start with, they arranged for my bed to be next to a bookcase, and on the bottom shelf was the Encyclopedia! I started reading the encyclopedia, and anything that came into my head that seemed interesting was where I dug in. Naturally, when I was done with one article, something else would come into my crazy head! So, my late night sleeplessness turned out to be a real boon to me, because I was always the “curious daughter”. Still, I was wide awake.

Next came the old TV, which my folks made a special “box” to go over the chassis of the old set. It was placed on a table or cart with a swivel-top, enabling me (or the “invisible sister” who shared the large room with me for a time) to watch it from anywhere in the room. I was allowed to watch it to my heart’s content, as long as it was set to a quiet sound level. God knows there’s enough boring fare on the tube, even decades before cable, and I’m talking about here in LA, where we had numerous channels to choose from. I became the only kid in my fifth grade class who watched Jack Paar every night. I would watch for about 45 minutes, when miracle of miracles, I actually fell asleep. Of course, somehow like magic, when I awoke, the TV was turned off! I really had slept. Eureka!

At this point, I think it’s appropriate to mention that I was the youngest of three daughters in our family. I don’t have many memories of them growing up, but my best friend from school, who spent a lot of time at our home, told me that she only remembers “bad” things, like my sister (the one closest to me in age with a four-year age gap) slapping me in the face, and just bullying me in general). Other than that, I have no real memories of either of my older sisters, other than that I was treated by them as a pest to be tolerated, lest they get in trouble. I also remember being the happiest when my oldest sister got married, and I no longer had to share a bedroom with my “middle sister”, whose name I’ll leave out. My bedroom was my sanctuary, with my books, desk, and my (late) grandma’s old-fashioned maple bedstead, which I refinished in the “antiquing” method that was so popular in the sixties. The photos of that time show a broad smile on my face.

My moment of true “liberation” was when my oldest sister moved out to the dorms at UCLA. I immediately moved into her old room, which was at the front of the house, and far away from the rest, so I could blast my music. And blast I did! It was the fall of 1963, I was a freshman in high school, and wanted nothing more than to play my Beatles’ albums, and listen to the radio. Ahhhh, sweet liberty! Being an “only child” at last! Having civilized dinners with my parents and even being able to drink a little wine with dinner, which was very common in households in California, where the wines of the state were gaining popularity.

Somehow, after visits to a child psychologist recommended by our pediatrician who I (and all my friends, and my sisters) hated, there was still no ladder or rope for me to climb out of my black hole. In fact, all the fun I was having in high school with a small group of friends with whom I was very close (and am so very fortunate to remain close with to this day, so many decades later) seemed to provide me with little “down-time” to worry about that ol’ black hole, which I knew was still “out there” somewhere, just waiting for me to slip and fall.  Again.

Not to leave you on a downer of your own, I’ll add that my freshman year of high school started with tragedy, with the assassination of the young, handsome president, John F. Kennedy. It’s one of those seminal moments in ones life that cannot be forgotten, not matter how many years have passed.

That said, the beginning of the new year, 1964, began with a frenzy of excitement, which didn’t seem to end at least for the following two or three years. The excitement of Beatlemania hit Southern California like a frenzy in early February when an enterprising DJ in the local rock ‘n’ roll station out of Pasadena named Bob Eubanks, started heavily churning up excitement and with good reason. He had arranged in that summer for the Beatles to play the Hollywood Bowl in the first of two memorable concerts there. I was so fortunate to have a close girlfriend whose father knew someone who was able to get three free tickets for us. And they were good seats, too. Of course, I had no idea about the scheme, and I’m not sure if my friend and her older sister knew either. It was only in late July when my mom handed me a library book that needed to be returned to the library, when the ticket fell out! I can only imagine the excitement of this fourteen-year-old girl (young women don’t behave that crazily, do they?) who was holding a precious Hollywood Bowl ticket in her shaking hands! (I think that deserves a second exclamation mark, so here it is: !) I remember my mom looking at the price on the ticket and giving out a big “Harrumph” and wondering out loud how they had the audacity to charge that much to see a rock ‘n’ roll band! Years later, we had a big laugh about that, because she knew that we paid over $100 to see (Sir) Paul McCartney perform at the Bowl in 2010. I remember Mom saying to me, “That’s a lot of money to see just ONE Beatle, isn’t it?” Then she gave me one of her sly smiles and a wink.

I’m going to end this very long chapter on that high note.  I’ve written enough and exposed my inner demons to scare any reader away.

This is going to take a lot of chutzpah, cajones,  (or whatever substitute you wish to use for the English “guts”), for me to even post. I do hope you stay with me on my next post, and I won’t let you down. (Ending with a terrible pun wasn’t my intention–but it is going on 2:00 A.M. here, and I’m actually tired!)

November 30, 2015

 

 

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A Winter Meditation

I’m posting a link to my most recent blog (note that I said “blog” and NOT “rant”) because the earlier FB post seemed to have gotten messed-up.

thewordofsusieq

(Note: This was originally written as a reply to “Escape from Atlantis” published by “Britt” in February, 2015. At the time, I was still nearly bedridden 24/7 after suffering a rib-and-sternum-crushing automobile accident. Inspired by all the outpouring of love from friends and relatives in the East, Northeast, Midwest, and Eastern Canada, I was taken back to a time when I lived in New York State and City, when winters, to this native of Southern California was still a wondrous time.

I dedicate this to all those friends of mine who have been leading a life that has been as much an endurance test as day-to-day pleasures, both small and large, were often buried deep below thigh-high snow. And to Britt, I wish you all the best!

As a former resident of the Hudson Valley and NYC, I know what winters can be like, and yet I never took…

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A Winter Meditation

(Note: This was originally written as a reply to “Escape from Atlantis” published by “Britt” in February, 2015. At the time, I was still nearly bedridden 24/7 after suffering a rib-and-sternum-crushing automobile accident. Inspired by all the outpouring of love from friends and relatives in the East, Northeast, Midwest, and Eastern Canada, I was taken back to a time when I lived in New York State and City, when winters, to this native of Southern California was still a wondrous time.

I dedicate this to all those friends of mine who have been leading a life that has been as much an endurance test as day-to-day pleasures, both small and large, were often buried deep below thigh-high snow. And to Britt, I wish you all the best!

As a former resident of the Hudson Valley and NYC, I know what winters can be like, and yet I never took a winter vacation to get away from all the chaos that can come with those heavy winds that whip through Prospect Park, efforts made to throw on clothes as fast as a firefigher (I confess that I slept in my red L.L. Bean Union suit) with enough layers to keep me cozy, while my Labrador, with his “double coat” was more than ready to run out the door and over to the park where he’d be able meet his buddies and run amok, while we humans dealt with the elements, usually standing relatively still (which makes it more difficult, when you think about it) and maybe drinking coffee from a mug.

No matter. There was something about your piece that brought back wonderful memories of some brutally “angry” weather: The kind that’s the opposite of what you mentioned from the places where your meetings were held. The type of weather you listen for on the radio while getting dressed for an early morning park outing (before changing for the office), when they tell you that “It’s currently 18° out there, but it feels like -1°, so you may want to add an extra layer or two”. I know that temperatures like that made me want to crawl back into my bed (with the dog) but he needed to go outside anyway, so as usual, it did become a bit of a social and exercise “event”.

That was then. This is now. I live in SoCal (my native turf) again, and I must say that when I hear of the horrible storms, part of me feels that “tug” to be back in NYC with my friends, where we all felt a certain sense of “community” just be bearing the elements together, or even traveling on the subway to and from work (Downtown in my case). There seemed to always be a feeling of “we’re all in the same boat, folks!” and seeing someone I knew on that train platform always made me somehow feel better. No, I wasn’t alone!

Then there were those too-quiet nights when the falling snow made things eerily silent, yet somehow peaceful. Despite being a serious skier since my youth in Southern California and time living abroad, I never lost the wonder of watching the snow come down from the sixth-floor window of my co-op. I was on the top floor, and could look out and see as far as the snow would permit. And of course the snow would reflect the streetlights, and despite my shades, it was enough to give my great room the feel of orange lights shining through. But it was quiet. Very quiet. No one “back home” would’ve believed me, because they all knew I was living in “the Big Apple”, where “The City Never Sleeps” (or so Citibank used to want us to think). It was spooky in a way. But wonderful as well. Where else could I go down the hall to my friends’ apartment (with my dog) for a Saturday night movie (on the VCR or DVR) and not even have to put on shoes! Or even change from my flannel nightgown, for that matter!

Your wonderful piece here reminded me of just why I never took vacations (other than to go skiing) during the unkind at best, brutal at worst, winter months in NY and the rest of the Northeastern states. There was something about that “winter silence” that was just so captivating, and so different from anything I knew growing up. Those quiet nights when I’d stand at my window looking out to see if I could guess just how much snow was accumulating on the roofs of the cars parked on the street below, and the sidewalks to be navigated on foot the following morning.

Is there anything that holds as much wonder for me? I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything. Winter was something to be savored, or at least, endured. Garrison Keillor once said at a show he did from Town Hall, that people needed “to EARN spring”, and that “New Yorkers certainly had ‘paid their dues’ that year.” I don’t remember which winter that was, but whenever I saw the first daffodils come up on the hillsides along the perimeter of Prospect Park, I smiled. I had to. Because without spring, summer, and autumn, when would I be able to anticipate winter?

I often wonder if, when he wrote the song “Sounds of Silence” if Paul Simon was thinking of winter nights in the City? After my first winter in NYC, I was convinced that he was.

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A Christmas Story: A Brooklyn “Morality Tale”

Somehow, this story, although almost 1/4 year old, seemed to evoke another laugh or two only because of the guilty pleasures I’m enjoying in record heat out here in SoCal…Maybe this would exorcise those “happy demons” within me? Doubt it. I just thought maybe a little “poetic justice” would put me in my place. Oh hell. Probably not!

thewordofsusieq

Location: Brooklyn, NY. Time: December, sometime in the mid-80s to mid-90s.

I was living in my smallish, but wonderful loft-type apartment which I shared with my rambunctious Labrador retriever, which one exactly, I can’t remember. Whatever the year, I wanted a Christmas tree very badly, but didn’t want to go overboard with the size, because there had been a few years when (as I’m sure has happened to a lot of you) the “trunk” of the tree was too big for the metal stand I had at home, requiring me to (no joke!) take a hatchet to the trunk (doesn’t everyone in Brooklyn keep a hatchet handy?) and chip away at it in my living room until it would finally fit into the tree stand/water-holder. Another year my tree was so scraggly and pathetic (Hey! I felt sorry for it when I saw it on the sidewalk among the other…

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A Christmas Story: A Brooklyn “Morality Tale”

A Christmas Story: A Brooklyn "Morality Tale".

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A Christmas Story: A Brooklyn “Morality Tale”

Location: Brooklyn, NY. Time: December, sometime in the mid-80s to mid-90s.

I was living in my smallish, but wonderful loft-type apartment which I shared with my rambunctious Labrador retriever, which one exactly, I can’t remember. Whatever the year, I wanted a Christmas tree very badly, but didn’t want to go overboard with the size, because there had been a few years when (as I’m sure has happened to a lot of you) the “trunk” of the tree was too big for the metal stand I had at home, requiring me to (no joke!) take a hatchet to the trunk (doesn’t everyone in Brooklyn keep a hatchet handy?) and chip away at it in my living room until it would finally fit into the tree stand/water-holder. Another year my tree was so scraggly and pathetic (Hey! I felt sorry for it when I saw it on the sidewalk among the other, prettier trees—besides, it was lightweight enough for me to drag home in the snow) that I had to deal with numerous wisecracks from friends and relatives! Another year, it was so tall that I had to chop almost a foot off the top. (And I had old, high ceilings!) So, I’d finally “had it” with the Goldilocks experience, and decided to make sure that the size would be right, and that the tree would be beautiful when I finished decorating it. I happened to be driving with my cousin not too far from my place, when we saw a man parked along the side of the street (a relatively busy one bordering a huge, Victorian cemetery) with a pickup truck and a trailer full of very pretty-looking trees. The sign said something about them being “Scotch pine” and “Your Choice–all $25”. That was a REAL deal, given the cost of trees, and the even higher cost of trees in NYC. So, we pulled over to the side of the street and got out to have a look. They all looked very nice, and smelled quite fragrant, so it was hard to make a decision. I finally decided on which tree was to grace my living room for a few weeks (along with my Hanukkah menorah and decorations–I ran a very “ecumenical household”) until New Year’s Day. The guy was nice enough to use his hatchet to trim the bottom, and gave me the branches he removed, along with some others, so I’d have greenery to put on my front door. Fine. Took it home tied to the top of my car, and my cousin stayed with the car while I ran upstairs to ask a neighbor to come down with his heavy gloves (he was a firefighter) to help cut it off the top of the car and drag it to the elevator and then to its final spot in my living room. That was when everyone ditched me–kind of like what happens when you tell your friends, “You know, I’m going to be moving, so do you think you could help me out for a few hours two weeks from Saturday?”–leaving me alone in my apartment with a six-foot tree and an 85 lb. dog staring at it wondering why the hell there was a tree in the middle of the room. So, to speed things up, (because I want to finish this before Christmas gets here) I untangled my lights, wrapped them “artfully” around the tree, and started putting on the ornaments, being careful not to put anything breakable low enough for the dog to get too curious. It took me a few hours, but when I was done, I turned out all the lights, flipped on the tree lights and voilà! It was beautiful! I put some blues CDs on the stereo, and sat back on my bed, cuddled up with a book and my doggie. I fell asleep with the lights on. Well, it truly was the most beautiful tree I’d ever had, and I was so proud of it! Amazing! I couldn’t believe I did the lights and everything, all by myself. The stately tree was beautiful until the following evening when my hands started itching on the backs. Then my forearms. Then, I noticed a bit of a rash on my palms. Then my face! OMG! Next thing you know, it was Monday morning and when I got up to take the dog to the park, the other “dog parents” there looked at me and wondered if I was running a fever. I began to get concerned, especially when one of the women, a doctor, said to me that my face looked “very puffy and red”. In other words, I was having an allergic reaction to something! I knew it wasn’t any of the ornaments or garlands I used, because nothing was new that year. I couldn’t go to work that morning, because by the time I got back to the apartment, my hands were swollen and very “beefy” looking! And my eyes were starting to swell shut, to boot! So I called in sick, and then began wondering what my next plan of action should be. Not knowing exactly where to turn, I phoned my cousin Upstate, as he was a doctor, and told him what was going on. He told me to take six Benadryl, or better yet, to get a bottle of Benadryl syrup, and drink the ENTIRE bottle! I happened to have been living in a neighborhood where anything could be delivered, so I called the drugstore nearby and told them what I needed, and that I needed it IMMEDIATELY. Within 15 minutes they were buzzing the intercom, and I let them in without even asking who was there. When the delivery guy got to the door (and it happened to be the son of a friend of mine) he gasped when he saw me. I paid him, giving him a nice tip telling him to “keep quiet”. I went into the bathroom, plugged my nose and drank the entire (disgusting-tasting) bottle of Benadryl, and within 10 minutes, I was feeling groggy, and within the half hour, I’d passed-out cold onto the bed, still dressed in my cold-weather gear. I slept for six hours (!) and when I woke up, the swelling had reduced for the most part. That’s when I started reading the newspaper (I got it delivered every morning) and found an article on the front of the Metro section about the problem with “tree poaching” this time of year, and how the forest rangers, etc. had decided to combat the problem by spraying an irritant on entire forests of evergreens, while others (like many in the park by me) had parts that were partially spray-painted yellow, in a non-toxic paint. Well, you can guess what the problem was. I didn’t need a doctor after reading that! What I needed was a pair of sturdy gloves, long sleeves, something to cover my entire body so I could pull off the decorations, get the tree down, wrap it in an old bed sheet, and call the super to come and take it away! He asked me why I was getting rid of a perfectly beautiful tree, and before he could decide to keep it for himself, I warned him. Needless to say, that was the last time I bought a “bargain” tree. Or at least the last time I bought one from a “guy on the side of the road”. P.S. I did have to go to the local ER later that day, to get another shot of Benadryl, to complete the “detoxification”, and a prescription for cream to smear on my arms and face. And that, friends, is why one should only buy trees from “licensed lots.” (Or, go chop one down yourself. In a “legal location”, of course!) And don’t forget your Hanukkah candles while you’re at it. Happy holidays!

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My Crazy-Assed Trip to Montreal, Part Deux

I’m back again! I know, took me long enough!

Anyway, I’m thinking, a dangerous thing, so my husband says…It is nearly 3:00 AM on Wednesday, May 16th, and I’m just going to start this off.

When last I wrote, my friend Jane and I were heading north on the NY Thruway, figuring we’d make it to Albany that night, before we’d both get too tired to talk, sing, and otherwise entertain ourselves in the car. Now, according to Jane, I kept screaming “WE’RE GONNA DIE!” repetitively, while taking swigs out of my blue bottle of Mylanta that was on the floor, between my feet.

I have to admit, the weather was really terrible, and driving conditions were awful. There aren’t lights along the NY Thruway, and in some places, the road has such a narrow shoulder on the right side that it looked as though it would be so easy for Jane to just veer the car off into a ditch! (So it is quite possible that I truly was screaming “WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”  in some of the more narrow parts of the road.) And…I know I was drinking Mylanta out of the bottle, but wishing it was something a bit stronger. Like tequila perhaps.

Jane and I were out of the City and heading through Westchester County in…uh…about two hours, I believe. Maybe longer. Afterall, it was a Friday night, and we weren’t the only ones fleeing the City for the weekend. We were on our way to Albany, and parts further north!

On our way to Albany, the first leg of our adventure, it rained non-stop. I think we were actually planning on going farther north than Albany, but since it took so long to escape the hellish traffic (New Yorkers may know how to drive in the snow, but I swear, they don’t know how to drive in rain!) and the nasty road conditions, we had to alter our itinerary, which, if we indeed had one, certainly wasn’t set in stone. I kept looking for the glow-in-the-dark lines denoting the lanes and the shoulder of the road, but alas, there were none. I was also looking for the glowing “pegs” in the road, like we had in California. (Later, I was told that they couldn’t do such things in the roads and highways, because they would (the pegs, especially) ruin the blades on the snow plows. Made sense to me, but hell, it was raining like no one’s business, and after all, WE WERE GOING TO DIE AND BE LEFT IN A DITCH ASIDE THE NY THRUWAY, NOT TO BE FOUND FOR DAYS!

Once on the NY Thruway, the traffic eased up, and we were on our way, albeit at a cautious pace. Jane, after all, had only had a driver’s license for a few years, so she wasn’t quite ready for the Indy 500 (or the California freeways, which at non-rush hours, one could easily go 80 m.p.h. and [typically] not get pulled over). But it was late, and we were wearing out, so we found the exit to the State Capital, and when Jane pulled up to the toll booth, she asked the toll-collector (before handing over the money) if he knew of a place where we could spend the night for a ‘modest” rate. I don’t remember what he said, but we ended up at an Econo-Lodge, I believe, and when we entered to check-in (dressed in totally unglamorous casual clothes), we found ourselves almost surrounded by lobbyists, aka “bloated blowhards” (I love alliterations!) offering to buy us drinks in the bar, which was adjacent to the lobby. One quick peek (and “sniff”) at the darkened bar made it so very, very easy for us to head straight up to our room, put on our PJs and play cards for a while. Besides, we had our own bottle of wine (for me) and a few bottles of “designer” beer (which is an oxymoron to me, but hell, they sure have cool labels!) to consume before we hit the Canadian border.

Ahhhh…Comfort at last! It had been such a long day for both of us, but obviously neither of us cared a whit about that. All we wanted to do was to drink and play cards, most likely the game “Spite and Malice”, or “Bolivia”, both of which required a reasonable amount of table space. Well, Jane, an artist (and cracker-jack computer programmer to pay the bills) decided that in order to expedite our card-playing, we’d have to move what in retrospect seems as though it was not just a humongous square table, but one that weighed enough to pull both our backs out. (Maybe that was the entire point: To prevent crazies such as us from rearranging the furniture!) After quite a joint effort, we managed to get the table between the beds, allowing each of us to sit on our respective beds, with our newly christened card table conveniently located. (Did I mention that we also had to move the beds as well, to “enlarge” the space between the two? With the headboards being stationary fixtures on the wall, and the beds not on casters, it was even more of a herculean effort than the 100-lb. table! But never underestimate two dames from Brooklyn with more determination than upper body strength!)

We proceeded to deal the cards, and I don’t know how long we managed to play cards (Jane always seemed to win; and she didn’t even have to cheat to do it, the way my older sister did when we were kids), but I’m sure between the wine, beer, and Friday night exhaustion, it wasn’t for long.

Saturday morning arrived, along with respite from the driving rain of the previous night.

And therein lies the next part of our adventure as we were “Off to Montreal”!

I really, really promise this time to not wait 11 months before writing “My Crazy-Assed Trip to Montreal, Part Trois”

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My Crazy-assed Road Trip to Montreal c.1995

When I was living in Brooklyn, USA, my best friend (with apologies to my Lab) and I decided to take a trip north-of-the-border to Montreal. This was an “important” trip, as it was the “shake-down trip” for my friend’s new used car, and it was an amazing adventure to say the least.

Now, before I get into this, I have to explain something. My friend, with whom I had so many adventures both in and out of NYC,  was an amazing person and a real native Brooklynite: Bright, a Catholic school survivor with  a propensity for wearing black, with her “Goth” accessories that hid the fact that she was brilliant, artistic and an in-demand computer “jockey”. She was a street-wise as I was not and for that I admired her, as she taught me how to bely my SoCal “innocence” and act “like a real native New Yorker”.

Unfortunately she  has been incommunicado with me since about 2001, as I recall. She sadly, lost her husband to cancer, and shockingly, I had to hear the awful news in an email from a friend and former colleague of mine. I was so shaken-up, but I had no way to express my condolences to my dear friend, nor get back in touch with her. So, with that in mind, since I have no permission to use her name, I’m going to change her name to something else, like a very generic “Jane”. So read on for more “Fun with Susie and Jane”, as we took our show on the road through Upstate New York, across the border, into Canada.

I remember that it was a cool, early spring day: The kind of day when despite the last few remnants of snow were still scattered around the flower beds surrounding my co-op building, while shoots of green were starting to make their way out of the frosty soil, reminding me that winter was finally over. (I hoped.) On the other hand, it was the kind of weather that made me truly understand something that Garrison Keillor said when I was at his New York broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion”. He said (and I paraphrasing here) “New Yorkers, who experienced a particularly harsh winter really deserve spring and all its promise. How true.

But on this weekend afternoon, I got a call from Jane, telling me to wait a few minutes and then go downstairs and stand on the sidewalk on the side of my building. I had a feeling that Jane might have gotten a new car, because afterall, she’d had to junk her beloved first car, an old AMC that was a kind of revolting lime green/chartreuse, which she appropriately named “Swampy”. Swampy finally died, and he was towed away by a Rasta-man, according to Jane. She really went into mourning, playing New Orleans jazz dirges all day. I don’t remember if I still had the car I shared with my cousin (a bright red Ford Escort that was very troublesome. She called it “The Tomato”, while I called it (and I think aptly) “The Cherry Bomb”.

But back to Jane, and her mysterious call. I went down and waited on the sidewalk as instructed, and down the street I see a silver car driving along the left side of the one-way street, heading right toward me. There was Jane behind the wheel of her “new” used car, a silver Chevy Celebrity sedan, a model that was popular in the 80s, I believe.  Jane told me to get in to go for a drive.  I ran upstairs, grabbed my purse, a neck scarf, and one of my numerous hats. I gave Duncan, my Lab, a hug and told him I’d be back in time for dinner, (a word he knew well) and grabbed the elevator down to the street.

So, there we were, in Jane’s new wheels, and it felt as if we could go anywhere. Well, she decided that we should go over to the main drag in Park Slope, the neighborhood in which I lived. There we were on Seventh Avenue, and we decided to go in and have a drink at one of our favorite haunts, a bar with a restaurant in the back, where incidentally, I saw my very first salad bar in New York! (Hey now, give me a break! I was living in London, returned home to SoCal, and sixth months later it was off to New York, so I missed all the salad bars that had become staples in California restaurants.)

Sorry about that…Back to Jane and the joy I could see on her face she drove us about Brooklyn, fortunately not to any of the “scary blocks” we had discovered while “exploring around” in her old car. Those were small blocks over near the Gowanus Canal (which used to be notorious for being the place where cops would find bodies that had managed to float to the top) in a neighborhood of warehouses and a few auto garages (and probably “chop shops”) which were mostly “uninhabited” by anyone during the day. At least we never saw anything other than a lot of grafitti scrawled over the metal “garage doors” that came down over the warhouse entrances.  I was glad we didn’t go around there in the dark. (I would’ve really felt out of my “element” in that case.)

So, Jane (and I) were so happy about her new car. On a trip home I even bought a license plate frame for her that I had made at the Orange County Swap Meet. It read, “My Other Car is a Hearse”. She loved that, so fitting with her macabre sense of humor. (In reality, I know that Jane had a secret desire to buy an old hearse for transportation! Thank God she didn’t find any on the used car lot(s) run by Russian immigrants she checked-out when looking for a second used car.

Now with the new used car, Jane decided it was time to “take the show on the road”. She phoned me one evening not long after I got done walking my dog in Prospect Park, and asked me if I could get a few days off work. I told her that my office was in a “low point” in the City’s budget cycle, meaning that things were quiet until the next budget came out. I checked with my vet’s office to see if they would have room for Duncan for about four days, and they told me, as usual, that he was “always welcome.” Check. That was taken care of.  Next, I had to check with my boss if there was anything that might come up during the first few days of the following week. (We were making the trip a “long weekend”. )

I immediately phoned Jane and told her that I was on board and would be ready to leave Friday night.  Good. Everything was set.

Thursday night I packed my duffel bag and rucksack (including my pillow and my teddy bear.) Not having been to Montreal, and wanting very much to try my French, which I hadn’t really spoken in ages, uh, years, I was quite excited anticipating the “road trip”.

Friday morning, I looked out the window and discovered that the weatherman on WNBC’s 11:00 p.m. newscast Thursday night was, unfortunately, spot on: it was raining, when just a day before, the sun was shining and the sky clear and blue! Damn, what a letdown that was, to say the least.

I put my raincoat over my “mud clothes” and a baseball cap on my head, and took Duncan to the park, where we had off-leash hours before 9:00 a.m. It seemed like only the “die-hard” core of Park Slope “dog people” were their with their canine friends. Nevermind that, Duncan and his yellow Lab “girlfriend”, Shirley, and my friend Beth’s huge golden retriever, Jordan, seemed to be enjoying the muddy field they were playing and running around in. The three of them, somehow “led” by Duncan, who is definitely not an “alpha dog”, were rolling in the muddiest part of the field: an area bordering one of the many baseball diamonds. Those of us who had “dirty dogs” had to get going, so I ushered Duncan home, and of course he shook himself off right in the lobby of my building! We hustled upstairs, and once again, Duncan decided to shake off in the elevator. Thank God there were no other passengers. I got to my door and got Duncan, aka “Stinky”, a name given him by my cousin Elizabeth, who lived nearby, into the entrance hall and made him stand still while I took a beach towel I had handy for the task, and wiped off the mud embedded in the pads of his paws, wiped his legs, and tried to get the rest of his body, especially his tail, that was apt to wag and hit anything around the house. Fortunately, with hardwood floors, I would have an easy cleanup on the floors when I got home.

Got to work that morning, a little soggy, but no worse for wear. I talked to Jane on the phone and told her I was going to leave work early, to get Duncan to the vet’s office.

Well, after a quiet day in the office (which was pretty unusual), I took off and when I got home, I saw “tail prints” all over the light pink walls in the long entry hall. Nothing unexpected, but I thought I’d better wipe them off when I got home from taking Duncan to the veterinarian’s office. I called a gypsy cab aka “car service”, which were independent taxis that served areas that were more residential than the City, or other areas of Brooklyn. Luckily, I found a car that could come immediately, and didn’t mind having a dog along as a passenger. So, down to the vestibule, the area between the outer unlocked doors of the building, and the locked doors, that could only be opened with keys or when a guest was buzzed in by a resident contacted first via the intercomm system. We waited for the cab, which came right away, and Duncan and I were whisked off quickly to the Park Slope Animal Hospital. I took Dunky in and they said they’d give him a bath for me. Guess there was no way to disguise his grunginess from the receptionist at the animal hospital. They took Duncan after I said a goodbye, and I ran back out into the rain and jumped into the cab and was taken home. I paid the cabby and jumped out at home.

I had a message on my machine from Jane to give me a call as soon as I got home. Having been all packed since the night before, I grabbed my leather jacket, a scarf and beret, and I was ready! I called Jane, and she asked when she could come pick me up. I told her that I was ready whenever she wanted to go. After she replied that she was going to leave right away, I went downstairs with my stuff, and waited for Jane, who said she’d pull up in front of the building so I wouldn’t have to wait out in the rain.

In about 5 minutes, Jane was there, honking for me, just for the “obnoxious fun of it”. I ran out with my bags, which I threw into the back seat, so as not to have to fool around with the trunk in the rain.

And with that, we were finally off. Susie and Jane were on their way! North to Canada. (It somehow doesn’t have the “ring” of “North to Alaska”, but we were still taking the “silver streak”, as I called the car, on her first long road trip! We both had our Triple A cards with us, which if you read on in “Part Deux”, you’ll understand the significance of the gesture.

So, off in the rain, and rush hour traffic, we headed toward the NY Thruway, which took us a lot more time than anticipated, due to the heavy downpours and the slow rush hour movement of traffic, because some of the roads were flooded in places where the East River had risen to the level of the FDR Drive.

So,we come to the end of the first installment of “My Crazy-assed Road Trip to Montreal c.1995.” Believe me, it gets better, and waaay crazier (and funny)!

So, stay tuned for “Part Deux” of this story. I promise it will not be three months, like the time since my last blog! Look for it within a week or so!

And thanks to all my friends, relatives, and enemies who read this (and hopefully enjoyed it, and didn’t think it was a complete waste of time.)

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One Never Outgrows Their Fear of Cooties

Cooties you say?

It never ceases to amaze me how the topic of cooties, and the fear of them,  has popped up again and again over the course of my life.

Cooties? Well, yes. In fact, just last night, as we were going to bed (at our unfortunate habit of doing so at 3:00 a.m. or so), they reared their ugly “heads” (or fill in whatever body part you might prefer. Afterall, the body of a cootie is up to your own imagination; I don’t ever remember  dealing with them in biology, (except perhaps in reference to one of my lab partners).

So, Jim was already in bed reading by the time I got done turning the lights out and doing my evening ablutions. I started climbing into the bed and for some reason I said to him, “Well, I’ve done my ‘ablutions’ and am “cootie-free.” Jim turned to me and immediately told me that he had no way of knowing for sure. This drew fits of laughter from me, and a “discussion” of the matter ensued. I’ll remind you once again that this was 3:00 a.m., so anything goes! That means that even supposedly highly educated people can really be talking about cooties! Or, more  sinister, should we be asking ourselves if we’ve really gone “round the twist?” Naaaaaaahhh…

As such conversations progress, we ended-up in the equivalent of a verbal slap-fight, with accusations of “infestation” flying back and forth between fits of laughter. At that point, I should’ve either run for the bathroom to get the Cutter’s Insect Repellent, or maybe to the service porch for the Raid. Something had to end this idiotic conversation.

As I often do, I started to go to my personal “way-back machine“, and thought about the introduction of the word “cootie” my vocabulary. It came when I was very young, as most things do, and from my older sister, who threw accusations quite freely at me, from all directions, and without discrimination of our location. The worse of these accusations, of course, came at night, during the time we shared a bedroom. Oh God, it was nasty! She’d yell insults across the bedroom in fusillades:  Bad hair (in elementary school?), klutziness (she was the ballet dancer, and I the lowly ice skater and piano player, who routinely would have to be pulled away by friends in school to prevent me from walking into a post during conversation!); my “funny” southpaw penmanship, and after all of that, in a deep voice she seemed to draw from down low in her throat came the worst of all: You have COOTIES!!! It couldn’t have been more terrifying or scary if the voice had been Vincent Price! (Note: You probably have noticed all my exclamation marks…well, I’m an emotional sort.)

As an imaginative kid, I could picture the ephemeral bugs in disgusting detail. Worse yet, I could feel them crawling all over me! I remember kicking my legs about, and even, more than a few times, getting up out of bed and went to the bathroom, closed the door, turned on the light (which I did after closing the door to prevent my parents from seeing the light) to lift up my nightgown to check my legs for the crawlers or any other creepy-crawlies. I ended up as a young insomniac.

Fast forward to Chelsea, London, 1979: I was sitting in our local pub during lunch time from work, talking with friends and the “Kiwi” bartenders. After a pint and some really hot chips, I somehow got into a discussion with one of the fellows about one of the neighborhood dogs who routinely made the rounds of the King’s Road shops (where I worked at the newsagent’s) with his mistress. He was a big, shaggy dog named Charlie, and he was very well-behaved, as are most dogs in London. But Charlie walked without a lead, and we always had a box of treats for Charlie, or any of the local canine population who dropped in with their people. Well, as the conversation went into Charlie’s “demeanor”, my best buddy, a gay fellow named Nigel, who had been in veterinary school declared that Charlie was having a problem with an “infestation” in his shaggy, wiry coat. Okay, I was ready to shove Nigel for mentioning it, because I immediately started feeling as though I’d caught something from Charlie, as if his problem was airborne. Oy. Jerry, an affable bartender leaned over and put his elbows on the bar. He asked Nigel (aka Nikki) exactly what the nature of the the hapless Charlie’s “infestation” was, because so many of us saw him on a daily basis, petting him and bending over to hug him. Nigel informed us that Charlie had contracted a case of cooties while out in the countryside. Uh-oh! Yikes! I had no idea that that particular “c” word was in the Anglo-English lexicon. But I guess the Pond is no barrier for cooties!

We continued on our pints, and I told them my “experience” cooties as a little kid. Laughs all around. “But,” Nigel told me, “Only dogs and cats get cooties”, and proceeded to tell me that humans never ever get them.

It gave me some food for thought: Perhaps Nigel was right! He was, after all, experienced with critters in the animal world. Maybe I never did have the cooties as my sister had so vehemently accused!  And, even good ol’ Charlie was “cured” with a good, thorough flea-bath. I finished my tankard, hung it up, and took a brisk walk home to take a shower before starting on my column for the week.

So there, Jim! We can joke all you want, but I do not, nor have I ever had, COOTIES! (Except I did have the children’s game of the same name.)

And now, I think I’ll go for my evening/early morning “ablutions”. A little spritz of “Stella” au de cologne ought to keep the buggers away from me for the time being. And then I’ll get a good night’s sleep. It’s 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning anyway. It’ll be time for bed in 1-1/2 hours.

Tomorrow: the Trojans meet up with the Bruins in the LA Memorial Coliseum, USC’s “home turf”. Don’t know who I’ll put my money on. I guess it depends on which team has cooties.

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