Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Memoriam

London 1968

I just realized that it's November 30, which means that my father died 14 years ago today. By coincidence, I was scouring the New York Times online archives for family information, prompted by a woman who recently got in touch with me, claiming kinship. As it turns out, we're technically not related (she's my 2nd cousin's 2nd cousin, and worked for his mother in NYC 50 years ago) but I consider her family all the same. Given how often the Standers married their cousins back in Latvia--and even in the UK & US--for all I know she and I could have some common blood.

One of my searches turned up a Sunday NYT magazine article from June 9, 1968: "How Revolution Came to Cannes" by Harvey Swados, about the 21st International Film Festival. It contains this wonderful passage:
But no matter how they got themselves up, the girls found it difficult to compete with the men. The male birds of paradise, preening themselves in flowered prints and ruffled cottons and silks, were simply more interesting. Unquestioningly the fashion king of the festival was Lionel Stander, the gravel-voiced movie comedian, in triumphant re-emergence from his years of obscurity after the era of the McCarthyite blacklist. The actor, who will surely never see 60 again, appeared in a succession of brilliant costumes. One evening, he surpassed himself in a blue and white brocaded Nehru suit, set off with freshly bleached hair, ruffles and Miles Standish pumps with giant silver buckles. He was rewarded by the greeting of a dazzled friend: "Lionel, you have never looked more beautiful!"

Few who admired the rejuvenated movie star were aware that among the girls whom he outshone was an extremely attractive, extremely mod girl with short-cropped blonde hair and a short-skirted white dress who was not a girl at all but a transvestite. It should give one pause when even a transvestite can be upstaged by a super-elegant male in full plumage.
Actually, my father had turned 60 five months previously. In late December of 1968, I stayed with him and his 20-something then-girlfriend at the Dorchester Hotel in London. I have vivid memories of his sumptuous, wildly colored threads and her micro-mini skirts. Also of the clove cigarettes they smoked, which I was terrified were marijuana.

He's wearing the pilgrim shoes in the picture at top, which is much the worse for having spent the intervening years in a billfold-size photo album. That's me, age 13, on the right. Can you believe I thought I was fat? (I wore those green jeans with a matching sweater to school just once, whereupon I was known for years as "the Jolly Green Giant.") On the left is my friend Tory, who lived near the Dorchester. Dad's suit was of pumpkin-colored velveteen, the shirt striped bright blue. He cut quite a figure on Carnaby Street. "Your old man's a real swingah!" he crowed.

Several years later, I asked his 20-something last wife what happened to all those marvelous clothes. I was particularly fond of an enormous black cape, with a scarlet lining if memory serves (below, with London g.f.).

"Oh," she said in her Dutch accent, "I got rid of them. He looked like a feg."


Rome 1969

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fewer, Better Things

"I'm too poor to be cheap!" a friend told me years ago, when she was shopping for a couch. She said that she always bought the best, few things she could afford. Because it was ultimately more frugal to buy one good item that would last for years, rather than a bunch of shoddy stuff that would have to be replaced, perhaps several times over.

De Beers Group brilliantly mines (pun sort of intended) this philosophy. There's a full-page ad in today's New York Times that I think is absolutely inspired--and inspiring. It's a powerful antidote to the empty consumerism displayed by the martyr mommy and her "stuff" in my post Which Quote Is More Nauseating? It reads:


Our lives are full of things. Disposable distractions,
stuff you buy but do not cherish, own yet never love.
Thrown away in weeks rather than passed down for generations.

Perhaps things will be different now. Wiser choices made with greater care.
After all, if the fewer things you own always excite you, would you
really miss the many that never could?

Near the bottom of the ad is De Beers' trademark phrase, "A DIAMOND IS FOREVER," with a pair of diamond solitaire studs just above it.

Now I'm not about to rush out and buy myself diamond earrings, or ask Darling Husband to do so. I'm perfectly happy with the $50 crystals I bought at a Georgetown consignment shop on my last trip to DC. Fake diamonds are forever too, and I'll never worry about their being lost or stolen.

But the ad's message really hits home. Thinking back on all the presents I received as a child, few have survived, either in memory or reality. The toys I so ardently begged for were early casualties: Chatty Cathy, Play-Doh Fun Factory, Barbie's Dream House (then made of cardboard, not plastic). Two gifts are unforgettable: the parakeet I got for Christmas when I was nine (I didn't start celebrating Hanukah till I hooked up with DH) and the puppy I got at age ten to replace the lost parakeet. (The bird was returned the next day and lorded it over the dog ever after.)

What do I still have decades later, besides fond memories of my pets? Things with emotional resonance, containing not a speck of plastic: a little pearl pendant on a whisper-thin gold chain, given by my father when I was five; a clay plaque he made me when he was recovering from his first heart attack; a crewel-embroidered velveteen koala bear, made by my mother; a pair of silver wire earrings, given by my mother and stepfather for my high-school graduation.

When I hold those gifts now, they still make me happy. Treasures for a lifetime.

Giving Thanks

I never got around to soliciting stories of thanks, as I did last year. (I'd love to read yours; please put them in Comments.)

Here's what I'm thankful for:
  1. President Obama.
  2. That I live in the USA, where we can count on a peaceful transfer of power after an election, and (usually) the rule of law.
  3. That I don't live in Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Cuba, Russia, Mumbai...the list gets longer every day.
  4. That I have a safe house to live in and enough food to eat.
  5. My wonderful husband.
  6. My son, the light of my life.
  7. My parents.
  8. My friends far and wide.
  9. My clever and generous business associates.
  10. The kindness of strangers.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Russian Around the Kitchen

Whenever I prepare a huge meal--Thanksgiving, Passover--I need music to cook by. Loud. One time I had the Stray Cats' "Rock This Town" blasting so hard that the Boy Wonder could hear it 50 yards down the street.

It was just us three for Thanksgiving, as everyone turned down our invitations and we weren't asked anywhere. (SIGH...) But I went ahead with plans to make dinner with all the fixings: turkey, rice stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, garlicky cranberry chutney (recipe here, but the vinegar is omitted in the cooking directions), green beans, salad and apple walnut brandy cake.

Well-caffeinated (I recently bought a stove-top cappuccino maker on eBay), at 9:45 a.m. I prepared for the kitchen onslaught.

First order: music. Darling Husband had a wicked headache, so rock 'n' roll was out. I'd been in the mood for Russian music since hearing a snatch of Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kizheh" on the radio the other day. So I headed to our music library (thanks to DH, we have a vast collection of CDs and vinyl, though I supplied much of the classical and funk), then cranked up the Russkis:
  1. Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique") and "Romeo & Juliet"
  2. Prokofiev, "Ivan the Terrible," "Alexander Nevsky" and "Lieutenant Kizheh"
  3. Rimsky-Korsakov, "Scheherazade" and "Russian Easter Overture"
  4. Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor
I discovered that the Troika in "Lieutenant Kizheh" (used in Woody Allen's "Love and Death") has a perfect beat for chopping vegetables, though doesn't roust BW out of bed (directly above the stereo) the way P-Funk's "Get Up for the Down Stroke" does. The Rachminoff was great for tablesetting, gravy-making and salad-making (DH's job).

For variety, the last CD I put on was Beethoven's 9th Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein with a cast of thousands in Berlin on Christmas 1989. We chanced to sit down just as the "Ode to Freedom" began. (The "Ode to Joy" was retitled for that performance, in honor of the Berlin Wall coming down.) What inspiring music for Thanksgiving!

I said, "Was Beethoven deaf when he wrote this?"

DH answered, "Yeah, that's why it's so loud!"

I lowered the volume and we had a very joyous and thankful meal. Delicious too; which is a good thing, as we'll be eating leftovers for a week.

Next-day Update:
The apple walnut brandy cake (I used cognac) was a huge hit, especially with the Boy Wonder. Darling Husband and I had one piece each last night, and this morning the cake was half gone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Which Quote Is More Nauseating?

Sometimes I regret reading the paper over breakfast, when I come across stories such as To Buy Children’s Gifts, Mothers Do Without. Cue the icky-sticky strings:
Come Christmas, McKenna Hunt, a gregarious little girl from Safety Harbor, Fla., will receive the play kitchen and the Elmo doll she wants. But her mother, Kristen Hunt, will go without the designer jeans she covets this season....

“I want her to be able to look back,” Ms. Hunt declared, “and say, ‘Even though they were tough times, my mom was still able to give me stuff.’ ”
Martyr mom Kristen Hunt with the all-important stuff she bought her daughter for Xmas. (Instead of buying a play kitchen, why not save the money and just--gasp!--spend time with the kid in the real kitchen and--double gasp!--teach her to cook?) Photo for NYT by Charity Beck.

On the other hand, there's On the Block: Anarchy and Nostalgia, about Christie's recent auction of punk memorabilia. Cue The Ramones!
“I lived through it, and now I can afford it,” said [Scott Wittman, Tony- and Grammy-winning composer and lyricist for “Hairspray”], who like many of the buyers viewed the sale as not just music history but also New York City history.

“I look at it as revisiting my youth,” he added. “I ran into John Varvatos,” the designer whose pricey boutique now occupies the former CBGB space on the Bowery, “and I said, ‘I used to throw up in that corner.’ It brings a tear to my eye.”
The infamous men's john at CBGB, courtesy of (The women's was just as terrifying. I made it a point to go at home, a few blocks away, before I went to the club. And to drink as little as possible once there.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Not to Ruin Thanksgiving Dinner 2

Laurie Puhn, author (INSTANT PERSUASION), attorney & mediator, has 10 Things to Say to Keep the Peace. My favorite:
“Thank you for your opinion. I’ll think about it.” When you receive unsolicited advice at a family gathering, such as Aunt Sylvia’s suggestion that you change your hairstyle, just smile and respond with this casual conversation terminator. If you’re rudely asked a question like, “Are you still single?” don’t reply with a lengthy excuse. Say, “Yes, and I’ll let you know if anything changes.” The goal is to be polite and end the conversation. There is no need to be defensive or rude.
Ah yes, how well I remember being asked, "Why doesn't a pretty girl like you have a boyfriend?" And later: "Why are you still single?"

I believe I may have once or twice replied, "Because I'm an awful person." An intensely satisfying, if not altogether peaceable & polite, conversation ender.

Renaissance Woman

I never conduct my L.A. workshops without the presence of Kim Dower, better known as Kim from L.A. Turns out that not only is she one of the best book publicists in the West, but she's a damn fine poet too. She's the latest writer to be showcased reading work al fresco in Guerrilla Reads, an "online video literary magazine."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Life Lessons

Today's NY Times has a profile of Valerie Jarrett: An Old Hometown Mentor, Still at Obama's Side. Vernon Jordan (remember him from the Clinton White House?) says of Jarrett, who's a cousin of his wife's:
“What Valerie developed is the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip.”
Jarrett keeps a list of 21 aphorisms--"life lessons"--on her hard drive, which she cites in speeches, including:
  • All leaders are passionate about their beliefs, even the ones you don’t like.
  • Put yourself in the path of lightning.
I also have favorite aphorisms, devised by my very own self:
  • The world is filled with wankers.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough go to bed.
The Friday before Election Day, I went to a (packed!) women's luncheon with Gloria Steinem as the keynote speaker, introduced by author and member of Denver Literary Ladies Luncheon, Debra Fine. The last question from the audience was posed by Andrea Joy Cohen MD, another LLL member and author of A BLESSING IN DISGUISE: 39 Life Lessons from Today's Greatest Teachers.

"What life lesson have you learned?" Andrea asked.

Steinem's response brought down the house:
"If you're part of the wrong group, nothing you do will be right. So you might as well do what you fucking well please."

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Not to Ruin Thanksgiving Dinner

Debra Fine, author (THE FINE ART OF SMALL TALK), public speaker extraordinaire and member of the Denver Literary Ladies Luncheon, will be making her 7th "Today Show" appearance, on Thanksgiving morning at 8:09 a.m. (all time zones).

Tune in if you (or your offspring) need a refresher on what NOT to say at the Thanksgiving table. Example:
"Do you actually prefer Cool Whip, or do you just not know how to make whipped cream from scratch?"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Last Chance to Hear Me Phone It In

I'm giving my last Book Promotion 101 TeleSeminar of the year tomorrow, Friday Nov 21, 6-7:30pm Eastern (3-4:30 Pacific). Participation is limited to 10 authors, but there's still room for last-minute additions. (Translation: registration has been light.)

90 minutes, 90 bucks; includes 15-minute individual follow-up consultation. Such a steal! Details here.

Virtual--and Visual--Treasure Trove

The LIFE magazine photo archive, with millions of photos (some never published), is now online--and best of all, searchable--via Google. Start looking HERE.

I searched for "stander" and found pix of my father I'd never seen before. The one above is by famed photographer Gordon Parks, taken in May 1950 on the NYC set of St. Benny the Dip. Dad played one of a group of cons (a "dip" is a pickpocket) who disguise themselves as clergymen. He's flanked by Roland Young (misidentified in archive caption as Charles Ruggles; I sent Google a note) and singer Dick Haymes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interracial Reading 2

Look how diverse I am!

Inspired equally by Carleen Brice's new blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors, and Stephen Colbert, here I am with NO PLACE SAFE by Kim Reid and NATIVE SON by Richard Wright.

More props: I did the first print interview with Edward P. Jones for THE KNOWN WORLD.

Coincidentally, my father was involved in the 1941 Broadway production of "Native Son." According to Hazel Rowley's biography of Richard Wright:
For once, the Mercury Theatre had no trouble attracting funding. Not with the name of Orson Welles -- the biggest man in Hollywood -- attached to the play. Lionel Stander, a left-wing actor known for his fundraising skills, easily persuaded the Hollywood investor Bern Bernard* to produce fifty-five thousand dollars.
Not so coincidentally, Kim Reid is a consulting client and fellow member of the Denver Literary Ladies Luncheon, as is Carleen.

*the show's associate producer, per Internet Broadway Database

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, EX-Senator Stevens!

Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Bloomberg News, via NY Times.

I'm going to bed soooooooooo happy tonight:

Stevens Loses Alaska Senate Race

Can't wait to see what Jon Stewart has to say about this tomorrow!

One down, two more to go... (that would be Saxby Chambliss and Norm Coleman)

First Obama, Now It's...Interracial Reading

Carleen Brice announces that December is National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month. And she started a blog to go with it: White Readers Meet Black Authors. (LOVE the message in the url: welcomewhitefolks.)
[It's] the official invitation for EVERYBODY to check out the African American section of the bookstore. Every Tuesday I'll review/introduce a black author or comment on an issue about race and publishing. First up is starting a movement in which we all give a book by a black author to somebody who's not black for the holiday season.
This gives new meaning to "black and white and read all over."

Optimize Your Website

Check out Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. It's easy to understand, even for non-techies. I'm going to be directing my consulting clients to it (I put a link on my Resources page), as I constantly see author websites that have pages that are poorly titled and/or all have the same title. (The title is what's at the very top of your browser screen.)

For example, memoirist Jane Doe (name & book title changed to protect the guilty) currently has a home page titled, "Jane Doe, Writer." It should read, "Jane Doe, author of TOO CUTE: A Memoir."

The page with the nav bar link "About the Book" has the title "TOO CUTE." It should be, "About TOO CUTE: A Memoir by Jane Doe."

Jane's links page is titled "Links." Bad Jane! (More accurately: Bad Webmaster!) The title should be something like "Author Jane Doe: Links to My Favorite Websites."

The page labeled "About the Author" on the nav bar should be titled, "About Jane Doe, author of TOO CUTE: A Memoir."

And so on.

Gail Konop Baker Saves Thanksgiving!

I'm the only person in My Gracious Home who likes pumpkin pie, so it's fallen off the Thanksgiving menu. But what to replace it?

I'd been mulling ideas (I've had lots of thinking time on airplanes lately), but hadn't come up with anything other than apple pie. It's good, but hardly festive.

A few minutes ago I checked out the blog of consulting client Gail Konop Baker, author of CANCER IS A BITCH: Or, I’d Rather be Having a Mid-Life Crisis. And there, posted Nov 5, was the recipe for:

Problem solved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

In honor of Veterans' Day, courtesy of The Guardian UK

Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Out of the Vaults

Since today is the 8th and my birthday, here's a photo of my dad that I recently bought in a batch from a collector. Alas, there's no caption or date on the back. All I know is that it's one of a series of publicity stills taken by a professional photog.

Edit: Note the cigarette; he died of lung cancer.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Eight years ago, I got the worst birthday present ever: George W. Bush. Worse yet, I had to wait a good (make that bad) month to get it. Four years ago, I got Bush again. Blech. But today, I woke up ecstatic that I'd finally gotten what I wanted: Barack Obama as president.

Last week, my mother and stepfather, who live in Maine, sent me a Tomato Card showing a smiling Obama in front of the Capitol, and in handwriting by his head: "Happy Birthday & all the Best! Barack Obama."

Inside was this message:
You have no idea how hard it was to get a very busy Barack Obama to sign your birthday card. But he knows how special you are to us, and we did promise to vote for him a few extra times.
A major advantage to living in the Mountain Time zone is getting "late-breaking" news well before bedtime, so we got the happy news, courtesy of Jon Stewart, at a civilized 9 pm. My stepfather told me Wednesday that he'd been too tired to stay up for Obama's acceptance speech. But then he woke up at 2 a.m., went downstairs and turned on the TV, just to make sure it was really true.

And here's another terrific birthday present:
Good ol' boy (read: cracker) Democrat turned Republican congressman Virgil Goode, who's represented Virginia's 5th district for lo these many years, was defeated in a squeaker by Tom Perriello. Overall margin of victory was a mere 745 votes, though in enlightened Charlottesville, my late home (also of Thomas Jefferson, in case anyone would let you forget) the vote was 15,908 to 3733. See results here.

Everywhere I've lived went for the Democrats this time: NY, DC, MD, NC, PA, ME, VA & CO. (I've lived in a lot places; no wonder I feel rootless.)

Incidentally, all the pundits failed to identify the real reason why Obama won: he got the "Boy Wonder bump."

We'd been keeping it under wraps, but my darling child has special mojo. The home team wins every college or professional sporting event he attends: UVa football, Penn State football, Atlanta Hawks and Denver Broncos. And both politicians he's worked for have won: Chris Romer and Barack Obama. In the primaries, BW worked for Obama in Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania & Texas. (Yeah, Hillary won PA, but Obama won Philadelphia, where BW was. And Obama ultimately picked up more delegates in TX via its 2-step process.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Quote of the Day

From a Politico story about Rahm Emanuel, just named to be Obama's chief of staff:
Emanuel is dramatic, impatient, and profane, willing to speak truth to power in the crudest terms and the most difficult moments, as in the heat of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"You got it backwards," Emanuel, who is Jewish, reportedly told Clinton at the time. "You messed around with a Jewish girl, and now you're paying a goyish lawyer.”

What Do We Do Now?

The Onion has the best post-election headline:

And learn about the nationwide malaise in this video report:
Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bark Obama

"Street Fair" by The Sprinkle Brigade.

I was talking with the proprietor of a professional dogwalking service today. Her employees always write a note after each walk. A recent one read:
"Pooped by McCain yard sign. Good dog!"