Monday, April 30, 2012

4-30-12 Pictures of Tommy - a memoirist’s blog #1

Well, I cracked: couldn’t keep up my starter job blogs because of too many other pressing demands at the moment. . . with first of all my current survival jobs keeping me occupied  (waitressing, subbing, etc.) with the Amalgamated Muck CD coming out, important gigs to prepare for & play, Finding Bliss on the radio (WESU-fm).  Yikes!  I’m just ga-ga (and no lady).  Not to mention my paid writing work for INK magazine, Shore Line Times, Yourlegacywriter.com and photography to boot. 

But, I started a memoir writing class with Lary Bloom & Sue Levine (at the FloGris) and after long and hard thought, I’m going to switch gears for a month or so and just devote my blogging to what I’m trying to accomplish in the memoir writing class, something I’m going to call

“Pictures of Tommy”

Here we go:

We see my 12-year-old brother, Tommy, on a family summer vacation with his sisters, Carrie and me, in Washington, D.C.  Outdoors, by a tree, Tom is standing on the left, arms crossed, a wristwatch on his right wrist.  He doesn’t touch anybody.  His medium-brown hair is crew cut.  A handsome boy, he is smiling, showing a little teeth, gazing into the camera with four eyes – heavy-framed eyeglasses.  Tommy wears a madras plaid short-sleeved button-down shirt tucked into khakis cinched with a nice belt. 

The following year, the shy, strange, awkward but academically precocious Thomas Agnelli (who was skipped a grade at Saint Anastasia’s Catholic grammar school) entered Manhattan’s prestigious Saint Francis Xavier Academy for boys -- a military/Jesuit school where our dad excelled and had graduated from twenty years earlier.

As a 14 ½-year-old sophomore at Xavier, home from school, he just lost it one night.  I dimly remember brother Tommy’s fury and strangeness, as I cowered under the kitchen table, watching him run around the house after my dad, with a knife.  I can sometimes chuckle about it now, as it seems almost comical these days of uncloseted secrets and “TMI” (“too-much-information”).  But back then it was so scary, I nearly blotted out that memory: an event that nearly destroyed our family.

No, make that a hallmark event: our family before Tommy cracked up (BC), our family after the deed (AD), huge to our identity as a family: the “happy” family, versus the shattered one.

From the age of 14 ½ onwards, Tom Agnelli was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, suffering from various brands of psychosis.  Schizo-affective disorder was his last diagnosis.  His I.Q. had been measured – as a boy in grammar school – to be quite high, in the genius range.  He was lonely, bright and angry, with musical and poetic talent. Tom grew big, about six-foot-one. Late in life, he grew a huge belly. His skin was scarred, deeply lined, his eyes haunted, his teeth all rotted out, his voice hollow-sounding, like it was swallowing itself.  He walked, shuffling like Frankenstein.  Most people --including me -- were scared of him.

Tommy was born on July 3, 1954. Tom died July 29, 2011 -- exactly 37 years after our father died, broken-hearted. 

4-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #114 (On Holiday with Carrie & Patrick in the English countryside, part 2)

After visiting Brighton in the south, Patrick’s family home in Lincolnshire, then on to Stonehenge with the boys, Carrie and I were on our own.  On to Wales (Aberystwyth), then Liverpool.

For the U.K. road trip with my sister after the guys parted ways with us, I hired a motor -- in the American parlance, I rented a car, a Vauxhall of some sort.  There are some who are wary of driving in a car with me whether English or American. . . but I did just fine, driving on the other side of the road.  Surprised myself. . . it wasn’t that hard getting used to.

Best of all were those roundabouts, some showing up in the middle of the proverbial nowhere.  The countryside was SO lovely, make that intoxicating (and I don’t mean due to staying overlong in quaint countryside taverns or pubs).  Carrie, my sister, and I stayed in a cute B&B in Wales; a sweet old dear, Mrs. Davis was the proprietor.

Driving through Wales, I was surprised at all the how hilly fields, surprised how many sheep abounded.  I thought, from reading DH Lawrence, there’d be coal mines over every hill and dale.  Oh well.  We visited Blenheim castle because we were told we ought to (it wasn’t terribly grand, but notable nonetheless).

The biggest disappointment was actually Liverpool.  The abysmal mid September  rain and lack of the cool, touristy Beatles stuff (it was before they’d capitalized on that, big time) made it a dismal visit.  Carrie and I, bored, left a few days early and returned to London.

I was so glad that my cute, fun sister visited me in England, as she really liked me as well as loved me, and we had a lot of laughs.  My sister, Carrie, was also an Anglophile -- though perhaps not as much of one as I’d been previous to moving to London. . .

Living in the U.K. for eighteen months made me better understand the ways of the Brits. It also pretty much cured me of Anglophilia -- though I do love the sound of language as it passes through their mouths, still!

4-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #113 (On Holiday with Carrie & Patrick in the English countryside)

Before leaving London, my sister, Carrie, came to visit in September of 1982 and we took off on a motor trip, with a few friends on the first leg.

For the first part of that trip, Patrick and his friend, Simon, joined us -- with another young man who was really sweet, who I’ll call Andrew (don’t really remember his name).  Everybody got along except for Simon, a cranky young guy who was very snippy.  Everybody else was easygoing and very happy to be larking about.

First (I think!) we visited Patrick’s parents in Lincolnshire -- lovely people, of course -- and visited the Lincoln Cathedral, where the legendary “Lincoln Imp” resided.  Then we went south, to Brighton and to Stonehenge.  Carrie and I wanted to see the sights we most desired, and those would include Brighton (because of Jane Austen books), Stonehenge (because it’s cool), and Liverpool (because of the Beatles).  Of course, native Englishmen aren’t besotted with their own national treasures so with us they figuratively grew new eyes to gaze at these wonders. . .

(Patrick & Lauren in Brighton)

We had a lovely traditional English tea in some country town, and I kept confusing a “high tea” with a “cream tea” so I thought we were having a “high cream tea.”  Ha!  At any rate, I did drink much more tea in England (as you’d expect) than I did in America because it was delicious.  PG Tips tea is still a great treat for me; tea with milk, no sugar, please.

 (Carrie & Patrick at our little "high cream tea")

I was so glad that Carrie & Patrick got along so well, and so glad that I made such fun & sweet new friends. . . but I felt a little sad, knowing my time in England was marked. . .

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

4-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #112 (Pictorial of the Players from London Survival Job at Main Squeeze)

Here are some pictures of some of the characters/friends I partied and worked with back in ol’ Blighty -- including pics of me in some of my rather interesting and capricious outfits:

Above, "Nutty Nora," the Yugoslavian wonder, "Queen Eleanora"; below, the gatekeeper of the Main Squeeze, Hazel "Pull up yer socks" darlin'. . .

Below: Jackie, Jaxon, and Toni, the party girls of 87 Earl's Court Road (my flatmates)

Below: co-owner Kevin giving me a hug while I tolerate it, dubiously (in a pretty dress!)

Below: me in my favorite black eyelet dress with a black leather merry widow -- oooh la la!

Below: Main Squeeze staffers Nora with John & Greg, the bartenders

Below: my dear friend, Patrick, dancing to ABC at his party one night. . .

Monday, April 23, 2012

4-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #111 (Why England? Lessons learned)

It’s probably worthwhile to reflect over why I went to the U.K. -- and London  -- in the first place.  Fair enough, I was captivated by the people and the places I’d seen in England -- and I thought it was a place of destiny for me.

I also had friends there -- lots of musicians -- and found life there, as in New York, a struggle still but very nice.  That was, until. . . well, more unfortunate things happened to me on a personal level that I can’t even put in words here, on a screen or a page.  I’d met some disrespectful men who didn’t honor the words, “NO!”  It came as a shock to me, and was totally depressing and humiliating. . . and it only happened to me in England. 

At one point, I thought that I’d marry an Englishman, but the closest I came was asking Patrick to marry me for convenience if it came down to that -- if I really wanted to stay and it was the only thing that would keep me in the country.  A true gentleman, he nodded, yes, I’d do that for you.  That thought -- to marry for convenience -- was fleeting, thankfully: I believe in marrying for more legitimate reasons, like romantic/sexual love. . . and stuff that I could go on for quite a while about.  But, mercifully, I won’t!

In London I also learned that, for some reason, I wasn’t being taken seriously as a musician and writer, and I didn’t know how to change that.  Perhaps everyday life as a young cocktail waitress was so full of struggle and distraction that I didn’t even have the energy or the nerve to try to make a change and show how serious I was. I did, however, spend a lot of time clacking away at my typewriter, writing letters home to various & sundry family & friends (I used those blue foldover air letters from the Post Office -- they were economical and forced me to write just the amount that fit, like a journalistic assignment).

In England, there was a common comment about my hair color -- I dyed it black in NYC because I liked that look -- was, “Oh, why are you doing that?  Come on, grow it back to your own natural, pretty brown colour, darlin’.”  Jeez, even when it was brown, it had been hennaed with a reddish rinse from age 20 on.  I never liked mousy brown colored hair: not interesting enough.  Anyway, this lack of being accepted for a dramatic look was kind of tiresome. . . nobody in NYC gave a rat’s ass about my hair color, or at least they had the sense to keep it to themselves.

So. Many strikes were mounting against me staying in the U.K.  And then, I heard from immigration: my visa would not be renewed past November 1982.  I’d have to leave the U.K. unless I did something drastic, like marry Patrick.

Lovely man, great friend, good looking gent, but -- no way!  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

4-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #110 (Back to Blighty -- again -- and the Mo-Dette’s trial by fire)

(photo by Ralph Alfonso -- small world!  He's BongoBeat records, who released my first solo album, and a friend of mine, too)

After seeing Paris for the first time on my bank holiday trip, I settled back into life in London in the summer of ‘82, living in my bedsitter in the basement at 87 Earl’s Court Road, hanging with Patrick & Nora & other friends, trying out for a band or two.

I kind of remember the time I auditioned for the Mo-Dettes, who were looking for a vocalist/guitarist.  I was nervous and didn’t have an electric guitar so I had to borrow one from the band’s guitarist.  Back home in NYC before coming to England, I’d sold some equipment, among the casualties a sweet cherry red Gibson SG junior guitar, worthy of Joan Jett-dom.  Let me tell you, showing up at an audition without an axe when they’re looking for a rhythm guitarist in an all-girl punk rock band. . . just isn’t good.

They were also scary people with nasty attitudes.  They made me feel really small and uncomfortable.  Part of me was blisteringly angry at them for being such unnecessary assholes.  Another part of me was chiding, “Lauren, why can’t you just be confident?  You were in a BIG NY band -- to hell with these London snobs!”

They’d told me to practice that hit song of theirs, “White Mice,” and added another one that I really liked with a descending chord structure like the Raspberries’ “Tonight,” but of course I don’t remember the title of the Mo-Dettes song -- sorry.

In the audition (in North London?) I didn’t play well, fumbled the chords, didn’t hit the stage with that bigtime pun attitude and charisma (which I can turn on when I feel more welcome)/  Ultimately, as much as I’d wanted to be in a band, especially one with a solid reputation, I really wasn’t into being around these people.

In summary, my Mo-Dettes audition was a total bust (LOL).

According to Wikipedia, they disbanded in November of 1982, anyway, so I guess I’m lucky I didn’t do well & get into the Mo-Dettes. . . just another heartbreak I’d have to withstand, another broken up band. . . and the Nervus Rex breakup had affected me more than I thought it would.

That was all a big part of why I left NYC was because I couldn’t take it: our band failed, it broke up, we were no more.  The other reason being, obviously, that I had been an Anglophile and wanted to live there. . .

Saturday, April 21, 2012

4-21-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #109 (Bank Holiday weekend in Paris - part 5)

Encore!  Voulez regardez vous ma blog?  (Better?)

All right, back to finish off this little reminiscence about my time spent on a poverty jet set bank holiday weekend in Paris in 1982, when I was waitressing in London at the Main Squeeze, writing songs, writing copious letters home, and truly experiencing life on my own. . .

Philippe, my generous host who put me up in Paris in his quel charmant ancient walkup pied-a-terre, threw a party the last night I was in town.  He invited a handful of his Parisienne pals over, but I think we went somewhere else for drinks beforehand -- somewhere classy. 

I recall liking a young woman named Carole, a vivacious, smart blond a la Lauren Bacall.  For some reason I was drawn to ask to read her palm.  Gamely, she offered it, and my comments came. . . and the one that stood out was: “You have a famous relative.”  She looked surprised -- but not unpleased.  She smiled, and we talked about other things.

Philippe overheard this exchange and spoke softly to me when she was out of earshot.  “Lauren, do you know who Carole’s uncle is?” 

I looked at him and shook my head. “How would I know that?”

He answered, “Francois Mitterand.”  Wow.  This friend of Philippe’s, Carole Mitterand, was niece of the president of France!  What a wacky guess. . . I saw a star on her palm in a certain place. . . I’ve given up palmistry since, but that was an on-the-money guess!

By this time, I had been submerged (or is it immersed?) in the culture and language for four days and so, emboldened by time and altered consciousness, I spoke almost no English the rest of the night.  In reality I did listen a lot more than talk, and after getting a little blotto, the weirdest thing happened: I was understanding the conversation -- in French!

When I left Paris the next day to take the ferry back from Calais, I thought, “Yeah, I could get by in a foreign country with a different language, too.”  But, the next time I tried speaking French conversationally was in New Brunswick, Canada, 12 years later. . .

Friday, April 20, 2012

4-20-12 Bye Levon blog #108 (remembering a great man)

(photo of Levon Helm, playing mandolin -- he was about this age when I met him, or just a little bit older)

I met Levon Helm through his booking agent.  That sounds kind of dry and boring, but really, I was friends with Steve Martin, who booked The Band -- or what was left of it sans Robbie Robertson -- in the 1990s.  Steve was a very jocular, sweet guy who booked music I liked and so every now and then I’d come along with him to different shows, different “adventures” that sometimes included eating before the show, then going to the show.  As I was struggling and it was all gratis and special, I was cool with it.

Besides, Steve liked the music I made and the bands I was in (The Washington Squares, Agnelli & Rave) and we could talk music and have a laugh.  Did I mention -- he has a great sense of humor?  This was when I was living in NYC, of course. 

Starting back in the 1970s, there was a fun venue for music, a restaurant/bar called The Lone Star.  It had a Texas theme, of course, and it used to be downtown, on the corner of 13th and Fifth Avenue.  There was a big iguana statue on top of the building -- a fun place with great a sense of humor.  Lots of great music was booked in there, including my friends Brave Combo, Billy Swan, Doug Sahm, Kinky Friedman, Asleep at the Wheel, you name it.

In the 1990s, they had to move uptown, to the West 50’s. But the uptown Lone Star was bigger, so bigger acts could be accommodated.  Wasn’t as funky, or as easy to get to for us downtowners, but so it goes.

One evening after work, Steve bade me to follow him to a hotel.  He was very mysterious about where we were going.  I’d been enthusing about a book I recently read, a memoir by Levon Helm, my favorite guy in the band because he was a singing drummer with a real soulful voice and a great character.  His book was really delightful (This Wheel’s On Fire).

We arrive at the hotel and Steve pushes me in front of the door when we arrive. Who answers but Levon Helm, himself.  Was I ever glad I’d just read his book!  I knew that he’d worked in Hamilton, Ontario, a place where I’d been cutting my teeth as a rockin’ songwriter for a few years, with Dave Rave.  I stuck out my hand to for shaking.  What a nice surprise!

“Hey, Levon!  Hi, I’m Lauren -- and I‘ve made lots of music in Hamilton, Ontario, too.”

Levon winked and said, “I KNEW there was something I liked about you.”  He shook my hand warmly and led me in, greeting Steve (behind me) of course.

I sat there in the hotel suite for over an hour, joking around with Levon, Rick Danko, Steve Martin, and a few others.  Even though I didn’t know them, they were welcoming.  A boatload of laughter, coffee, beer, diet pepsis later, we headed to the Lone Star where The Band (minus Robertson) played several sets of rockin’ roots music as only they could, with ol’ Levon keepin’ that steady, funky beat. And Lou Christie joined them onstage for a number. . . “Lightnin’ Strikes,” of course.  What a great voice!

But for me, the night belonged to Levon: ultra cool, ultra warm, ultra genial.  He sang and played effortlessly, performing for the audience, seeming to really dig it.  His greatness was not only in what he did, but how he treated people.  I was a nobody to him, but he made me feel special.  He did that to everybody I could see. I aspire to emulate that greatness and to carry on his tradition of roots music. . .  thank you, Levon.  (And thank you, Steve Martin.)

4-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #107 (Bank Holiday weekend in Paris - part 4)

(Edith Piaf, my inspiration for "J'ai Faim, Toujours" along with incidents from the following anecdote)

“I’m wondering if you’d join me for dinner tonight?  That is, if you’re available.”

Success!  My hunger for food and English speaking conversation was about to be sated in the form of a perfectly nice, dull, bland, not particularly attractive young man who I zeroed in on at a left bank café.  He was minding his own business, having an afternoon Left-Bank moment at a café, and this brash Yank on bank holiday from London interrupts.

“Pardon me, but I am alone and so wanting to meet other English speakers.”  Not an original line, but really, anything else would have been insincere. I couldn’t comment on his outfit or what he ordered because it was all so nondescript.  But he was kindhearted to invite me to eat and I was hungry so I readily accepted.  I dressed up nice, but not too nice. . . I wasn’t about to lead him on, but took pride in my appearance, as is my wont.

We dined at a nice place that wasn’t too pricey -- and I think the man was on a business tab.  We had little in common, and as skilled a conversationalist as I am now, I was still learning back then.  I probably listened a lot and drifted. . . I ordered dishes from the menu that weren’t calorific or expensive (what a waste!  Quel dommage!).  It was remarkable that we had so little in common, really. 

“Oh?  What do you do?”  I’d read in a Tom Wolfe book that women are presumed wonderful as long as they verbally “suck up” to men and ask stuff like, “Are you rilly a senator?  Are you rilly a CFO?”  and I was floundering in foreign waters, all around me.

He brightened and said, “I’m the manager of an auto parts fabricator and we gross sales upwards of 15 million pounds.”  He continued, “You see, I make the customer/supplier relationship work -- and help keep the workers from striking.  We receive sizable orders for our products and have to keep a 30-day turnaround but the customers generally give us a net-90. . .” he shook his head, cutting a rare bouef steak with his smooth hands.

He might as well have been speaking French for all I knew about that business.

Anyway, the best thing about that meal was the guilt that I felt. . . I didn’t have any way to repay him for the meal, did NOT want to kiss him or do anything else, and my sense of honor and payback is so keen I hurt.  We parted ways and that was that.

A few years later, that experience -- along with listening to massive doses of beautiful vintage Edith Piaf recordings -- led me to write a song about a starving waif in the streets of Paris, wailing, “J’ai Faim, Toujours/Toujours J’ai Faim: I’m hungry always!”

It’s one of my biggest hit songs yet.  Thank you, Monsieur Anglais! Merci beaucoup!

4-18-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #106 (Bank Holiday weekend in Paris - part 3)

Regardez-moi le blog, et quelque chose?  Pardonnez-moi, le plume de ma tante?  My memories of French class in college flooded back to me in dire recherchez du temps perdu. . . .

My professors in college French levels I and II made it obvious to me they despised my efforts at speaking it -- though I could read and write Francais just fine.  What can I say? I had three strikes against me:

1.    I took three years of Spanish previously and kind of coasted through it -- I was good at learning and speaking Spanish.  Spanish speakers always smiled and kept conversing if you tried using their language.  The pronunciation in Spanish is a lot different from the French, and I’d get confused.
2.    I grew up in Queens, NY, with a mother whose grasp of pronunciation was often creative, so it left me confused.
3.    I’m an autodidact -- self taught -- and when you read words you can’t appreciate how they sound.

Nowadays I think of humorist David Sedaris’s essay on his attempts to speak French in Paris, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” because I know that it’s nearly futile to make the French happy when you attempt to speak their pretty words and make sense in the exactly correct pronunciation.  Batardes!!

But at the time, my first trip to France, I was intoxicated with the language and so glad to open my mouth and have those mellifluous sounds pour out -- or so I thought.

At the Champs D’Elyssees -- I did a solo walking tour of the sights -- I inquired of the guard, “Ou est la toilette?”  It came out like “Oooh aye la twa-lette?”

And he kind of jeered back at me, saying, “Ou est-elle la toilette?  Oui, il est la bas.”
In an accent so French I almost didn’t comprends pas.

Oh well.  The surly returns to my friendly efforts at conversation in the mother tongue convinced me to seek out other English speakers in Paris.  My constant hunger and penury (very low to no budget -- I don’t recommend going to Paris in those circumstances) forced me to a streetside café on le Rive Gauche (the Left Bank to all you non-francophones LOL).  I ordered something very cheap and sat quietly, listening for voices that brutalized the French tongue and/or spoke English.

Soon enough, I did meet somebody -- a young man from England on holiday, by himself, at the café.  After he ordered from the (snippy Parisien) waiter, I said,

“Pardon me, but I am alone and so wanting to meet other English speakers,” I must have said something like that, because what else do you do?  Oh, right, add some charm & warmth.  I must’ve, because after a few minutes, I was invited to dinner. . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

4-17-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #105 (Bank Holiday weekend in Paris - part 2)

(the "grandma hat" sort of looked like this, but had a smaller brim and was white, not pink, with black netting)

In Paris, I ate by myself, at simple cafés.  Everything that passed my lips was so delicious! -- but then, I was pretty broke, really watching my wallet, and very HUNGRY the whole time.  But in one café, I ordered “une sandwich au fromage, avec moutarde” (a cheese sandwich with mustard).  The waiter gave me an incredulous, then dirty, look.


I responded, “Oui, je desire fromage avec moutarde.  Je suis Americain.” I looked at him with an almost apologetic, yet defiant, look.  Just bring me my cheese sandwich and don’t spare the Dijon mustard, OK pal?? 

Reluctantly, the waiter brought my sandwich, cruelly bastardized in his opinion with the delicious Dijon moutarde my American tastes so craved.  I laughed, inwardly, and applauded my small fait d’accompli.  I do love cheddar cheese, Dijon, and anything else with Dijon mustard: pretzels, turkey sandwiches, hot dogs. . . I’m just a mustard freak.  So it appears that they don’t like to combine cheeses and mustards in France.  Ha! So old school, noveau, non!

I was wearing a funny looking hat (a white satin cap with a brim and wide black netting around it) that I’d just bought, thinking it was piquant, and pixie-ish.  The waiter commented, something about a chapeau and a “grandmere.”  He insulted my chapeau!!  Said it looked like a grandma hat!  Oh, mon dieu! Quel mortification! 

I did not return to that café, and I stopped wearing the hat once I tired of it.  I was having fun, reading and speaking the language, although some of the Parisiennes I met weren’t reacting very positively to my struggles with their beloved langue. . .

Monday, April 16, 2012

4-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #104 (Bank Holiday weekend in Paris!)

I’m telling you: only I could have gone to visit Paris at a time when the Louvre was closed to the public. . . but then, this was before computers, so how was I to know about such things?  It was terribly exciting to take a jaunt across the English Channel and stay with a friend of a friend, a photographer named Philippe, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, right near the Louvre. 

But of course -- because I already said it -- when I walked to the Louvre, expecting to spend what meager monies francs and centimes I had on a visit to that historic big bastion of beauteousness, the sign said “FERME.” Of course, that set me off to saying “MERDE!” and I probably stamped my pretty booted foot.  Sad.

I went on holiday solo because I didn’t know people in London who knew me well enough to go somewhere, and I am an adventurous girl anyway so I enjoy taking a trip alone.  It just feels a little sad when the experiences can’t be shared -- which is what I like about togetherness.

So.  Because my friends Grace & Dolci suggested it as a cost-saving measure, I met up with a total stranger who was their friend, a really nice character named Philippe who I’d never met until then.  He was a small, dark haired, dark eyed, wiry white guy with a swarthy complexion and a permanent five o’clock shadow. He looked like a French pirate, was pleasant, and spoke a little English.  I spoke a little French, so we got on all right and could communicate.

Philippe set me up in his attic bedroom in his ancient attic apartment, high up on the street.  This building felt ANCIENT, and the stairway up was narrow, dark, and winding.  All of the ceilings were low.  It reeked of that old time charm, and really, small though it was, you couldn’t beat the central location.  It reminded me of my apartment in the heart of the south village (on the Soho border) back in NYC, making me a TEENCY bit homesick.

It was very nice of him to agree to put up a total stranger for a few days -- me. Merci beaucoup mille fois, cher Philippe!  He stayed with his girlfriend the few days I visited, and worked most of the time. I spent hours roaming the Paris streets, soaking up the atmosphere, attempting to utter that strange and mellifluous tongue. . . .

(Tell me I’m sounding totally pretentious, now -- even seeing French in print, in italics, seems kind of affected. . . which is why it’s so much fun to do!!  As David Sedaris said in one book, “Me talk pretty one day” -- of the merciless French tongue!)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

4-15-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #103 (Back to Blighty -- the Girls Upstairs)

My sister, Carrie, was coming to visit in September of 1982, and I was very eager to see her. We’re close, you see: she’s the best sister that could possibly be!  Because of cheap transatlantic flights like the Laker planes to Gatwick airport people like me and my sister, practical “have-nots,” could actually have the ability to be what was later called “the poverty jet set.” 

Anyway. Carrie had bright hazel eyes, pretty long light brown hair, a bouncy, tan body that had a healthy weight (she was around a size 8), and a wicked fun sense of humor. It was great that she could get away and come and visit me in the U.K.

I knew that she and my upstairs neighbors, Jackie and Tony and their friend, Jaxon, would probably have a great time.  And yes, we all did when Carrie came to stay for a few weeks.  The flat I lived in, a basement bedsitter, had a bathroom (with a bath) down the hallway, which I shared with another two tenants. Luckily, I love baths so I didn’t miss showering, really.  And I am not a clean freak or germphobic so sharing bathrooms isn’t an issue.

But upstairs from me lived three other young women: Jackie, Tony, and Jaxon.  Actually, Jaxon lived elsewhere but she came around so much you’d think she lived there, at Jackie’s.  A little older than us and a mom as well, Jaxon acted kind of like our “mother hen.”  Jackie was a very pretty girl who was also rather large, probably 225 pounds or so.  She was dark haired, dark eyed, soft and round.  Jackie knew that she was especially attractive to men from the Middle East, so she got in with a group that introduced her to really nice young gentleman from Egypt and such. They’d take her on dates to really nice places, and all she did was get pretty, laugh, smile, and be with them.  Was Jackie “on the game?” as Alfie Maron asked me?  No, I think not. . .  I’m not 100% sure, but it seemed to me she, like all us single gals who were around, was looking for love.

Jackie was smart to know that the Middle East gents were turned on by women of generous proportions. . . it’s kind of like back when that look was popular over a hundred years ago, here in America.  Long time ago, fat women were prized because they signified prosperity: if you had a beautiful big woman, it meant you had enough money to feed them and keep them idle.  It made you look rich.

At the time, she was dating a wealthy young Egyptian man named Mustafah.  Jackie was generous, kind, pretty, and enjoyed sitting around drinking endless cups of tea, snacking, and smoking various things.  Her best friend, Tony, a tall, quiet, strange, horsey looking girl, lived upstairs and hung around a lot, too.  I didn’t have a clue what these people did for a living, but knew I had somewhere to go if I felt lonely.  Truth was, I got restless and wanted to write and make music, do other stuff after a while.  I wondered why it didn’t bore them, just hanging out every day.  Nice people, though.  Oh well. . . I do hope they’re content with their current lot in life and are healthy & happy.  Salud!

4-14-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #102 (An Aside: Escape from New York)

All right.  A few weeks ago, when Patrick and I “reunited” via email, he mentioned that he’d never imagined me “living in the country.” HA!  Little he knew me, eh?  Truth is, I really really wanted to “Escape from New York” so badly for so many years.  Do I sound like a traitor?  Not to me!  I know myself well enough that the sounds, smells, and sights of the “country” make me feel great.  I never was a diehard city person; always found boyfriends who were ambivalent about the city or had family elsewhere (like Exeter, Pennsylvania or Hamilton, Ontario!).

Even the nasty smells of the country -- in a manure of speaking -- don’t make me feel awful, whereas city smells (garbage, diesel fuel, etc.) set me to the verge of puke-dom.  The biggest plus, for me, in country living is the greenery that surrounds us out in the sticks.  Sure, there’s Central Park & whatnot in NYC, but come ON!  That’s nothing compared to a woodsy trail around here where you may not see anybody (and their dogs!) for hours. 

I also don’t mind driving around (and I do have a bike, which I take out when not in a rush to get downtown to Chester center or when the mood to go “pedaling” grabs me).  I do mind the expensive car repairs, on occasion -- but so it goes.  And gas prices!  At least, I’m able to sympathize with that fuel-dependent demographic. . . 

In a nutshell, I just don’t think I’m fond of mankind enough, as a whole, to want to be packed in with a lot of them.  Nope.  Not that I’m a total misanthrope, but give me people one on one -- and one at a time, preferably.  That’s why it’s easier for me to be on stage than in the crowd.  Crowds make me uncomfortable and nervous.  The stage seems special, andn safe.  I’m highstrung enough as it is!

Aging has not mellowed my high-strungness -- although I’ve always done a good job of not showing it.  I may look unruffled on the surface, but deep down, I am pretty much a “silent screamer” in stressful situations, situations that occur with far more frequency in urban environments, for me.

It was laughingly ironic that the movie, “Escape From New York,” came out when I was living in London.  I went to see it with friends more than once.  Every time I went, I laughed my cute American butt off -- much to the chagrin of many others around me.  But I didn’t care. . .

Ha ha ha: I HAD escaped from New York.  “Snake Plissken! I thought you was dead.” Yup.  That was me, the young female Snake Plissken, returning to the city when I finally had to come home to NYC from London eighteen months after my adventure had started. . . .