Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sense of Style

Many years ago--forty to be precise--I was living in Cambridge, MA. I didn't like Cambridge, but one of the great redeeming features about living in the Boston area was reading George Frazier in the Boston Globe.

Frazier was a columnist whose writing was lively, acerbic and highly opinionated.  He wrote about all sorts of things, but whatever he wrote about he was always, in one way or another, searching for a sense of style.  By that he meant not simply what a person wore--though this was very important to him--but the way a person lived as well.  He had his heroes--Fred Astaire, being one. There was a man who embodied all that Frazier admired and loved.

Frazier's writing could be abrasive.  But it was always 100% entertaining.  He never disappointed.

He also wrote a column for Esquire Magazine.  I am thinking about that as I feel grateful for just being alive.  I know some of these posts have been dark.  Life can be dark.  And will be.  But overall, I'll turn to a cliche: It's great to be alive.

In this particular column in Esquire, Frazier was writing, once again, about a sense of style.  He put forth several examples, mostly about African-Americans, and then he concluded the column with a brief encounter he had with Duke Ellington. 
                                                                    

Frazier wrote, "There was a night when, as I stood with Duke Ellington outside the Hickory House, I looked up at the sky and said, 'I hope it's a good day tomorrow. I want to wake up early.'

"'Any day I wake up,' said Ellington, 'is a good day.'

"And that was style," George Frazier wrote.

That's exactly how I feel, dark thoughts or not.  Any day I wake up is a good day.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Acceptance, LA

I live in New Orleans.

I know what you're thinking.  I've taken up the trombone and am playing with jazz great Irvin Mayfield in his nightclub.

Just a few more practice sessions, and then, yes.  Need to buy the trombone, though.

I came here two years ago to take a teaching job at the University of New Orleans.  It's a tenure-track job, and I think, at age seventy-two, I may be the oldest tenure-track professor in the history of higher education.  Someone fact check that.  I think I deserve something for that.  Maybe a gold-plated eraser.

What I have discovered in my wanderings around the city, particularly at various music spots, is that I don't feel like some kind of interloper amongst the various young people there.  The other night I went to hear Lucinda Williams at Tipitina's, a great club, where the floor was packed with standing fans.  They were from all age groups.  I think I even saw some older than I.  We all fit in, moving and grooving to Lucinda's wonderful raspy vocals, as one.

Because the fact is, you can tell if you feel alien when you come into a place that's full of young blood.  They don't even have to look at you.  It's in the air, like an odor or like some low-sounding alarm.  You do not feel welcomed, much less accepted.  Nobody wants to feel that, and, in my case, I usually leave soon.  That's a downer, because it's all about age.

But that's not what happens when I walk into most joints in New Orleans.  Like The Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street, a casual bar where musicians play, it seems, around the clock.  And where people swing dance like nobody's business.  I fit in. I stay.  I have a great time.
                                                                         


That's the way it should be.  But, in the rest of the world, it hardly ever is.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Allen Ginsberg taught me this...

I mean the actual Allen Ginsberg, not his poetry.

Allen--as so many called him--lived most of his life in New York City's East Village.  I never saw him there, although I lived in the same neighborhood.

Who in my generation wasn't startled and set on fire by "Howl"?  I loved that poem so much I taught my four-year-old daughter to recite the famous opening lines, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...."   My daughter actually did very well with it. Much to the horror of her mother.

And I, like so many others, admired Ginsberg's guts, his fearlessness about standing up for what he believed in.

So, it was with great surprise and delight that one day I saw Allen Ginsberg walking out of the now-defunct (and oh so sorely missed) Books & Company bookstore on Madison Avenue.  This was probably around 1996, toward the end of both the store's life and Ginsberg's.

I was driving up Madison Avenue in my car.  As I rolled by Books & Company, I saw him.  Allen Ginsberg.  He was standing on the sidewalk, looking, I supose, for a cab.  You couldn't mistake him for anyone else.

                                                             


What did I do?  I slowed the car down almost to a stop, leaned out the window and shouted these profound words,

"Hey, Allen!  You're a great fucking poet!"

He looked here and there, not certain where the voice had come from.  Then he spotted me.  He looked at me and then said,

"I'm still here."

Indeed, so am I.  I may bitch about growing old, but I'm still here.

Grateful.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Oh Diana!

In the late 1970s, I belonged to the Midtown Squash Club in New York City.  It was a great little club.

One of the members was Diana Nyad.

She wasn't Diana with a capital D then, but she was getting there.  She was an amazing athlete to watch.  In incredible shape with a fierce drive and whiplash power in her stroke. I loved to watch her play.  Everyone knew her.   

But we didn't know what she would become.  A world-class squash player? An Olympic athlete of some kind?  The first woman to summit Everest?  All I know is that she put me in awe.

Through the years I heard about her from time to time.  I don't recall under what circumstances.  But then she began this Cuba to Florida swim, trying and trying.  She came front and center into the news.

I saw that she was on Twitter, so in the spring of 2012 I contacted her and told her I used to watch her play squash years go and that I loved watching her.  She replied.  "1970's huh?  Time sure flies."  We exchanged, oh, maybe five or six tweets.  It was such a treat to be "talking to her."

And now she's done it.  She tried and tried and if at first she didn't succeed, she did.

                                                           

And what did she say when she emerged from the water after 50-some hours in the ocean swimming?

"You're never too old to pursue your dreams."

She's sixty-four!