coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Strip Malls

When you move someplace new you are adrift.  Nothing is familiar and everything involves taking a risk.  This is especially true with food.  It takes a long time to find the best places to eat. 

I guess you have heard there are many transplanted New Yorkers in Florida.  Central Florida is no different.  And yes, we realize native Floridians dislike and resent us.  Apparently we have a reputation for being rude.  Probably because we are hungry and we cannot find good food!  Whoops, there I go with my rude self again.  It takes so little for me to be off and running.

First of all, not every New Yorker is from New York City.  It is a big state.  Secondly, when I meet other New Yorkers the very first thing we talk about is the dearth of good, inexpensive restaurants in Central Florida.  Sometimes we whisper this to each other so that the locals do not hear us.  See, we are not really all THAT rude. 

The truth is T and I live near Disney World, the Land of Mouse, a place where French fries and chain restaurants reign supreme.  The challenge lies in hunting down the Mom and Pop owned restaurants.  They ARE here, they are simply hidden away in strip malls - a place I would never have thought to look for good restaurants before moving down here.

I have not located a bagelry. I miss fresh, crusty bagels. Perhaps if we travel to one of the Florida retirement havens on the Atlantic coast we might find a Northeast style bagelry?  We would definitely make the drive to get there if we knew FOR SURE a good bagelry existed.  I might even abandon the grandkids and move there permanently if I could buy a decent bagel.

The bagels they sell at Publix, our ubiquitous regional grocery store, are soft.  I assume they are made from a prepackaged mix Publix probably distributes to all its in-store bakeries?  Anyway, I see my granddaughter chowing down on one of those for breakfast and my heart hurts.  I feel like we have all let her down on a deep, cultural level. 

Chinese take-out can be found at virtually every strip mall, and there are plenty of strip malls.  In fact, it seems like every few blocks there is a strip mall with a Publix, a hair salon, a liquor store, and a Chinese take-out.  I am only exaggerating the teeniest little bit. 

Unfortunately, the Chinese restaurants here serve a milder version of what is served up north, and without shitake mushrooms.  I guess shitake is too weird?  Needless to say, we stopped ordering Chinese take-out early on.  I mean, who wants Hunan Chicken that has no zing and includes white button mushrooms instead of shitake?  I experience cognitive dissonance over this one. 

Pizza?  Well, we are lucky with pizza.  There is a place where the owners are from Buffalo, NY.  Although it nicely approximates NY-style pizza, the crust is not exactly the same.  The owners bemoan this fact and claim it is because of the water.  I understand.  Hey, the crust is good enough for me and I am grateful for this pizzeria.  The sauce is flavorful.  Thankfully they do not serve pizza with raw, chopped green peppers on top. Good thing, too, because my rallying cry regarding green peppers on pizza is: "Give me greasy roasted green pepper strips or give me none."

Happily, there is a lovely Thai Restaurant in town, and they are not afraid to spice things up. I have no complaints there. There are lots and lots of really good Mexican restaurants everywhere. And at a new strip mall down the road we discovered a Cajun place that makes a mean shrimp and grits. Yum.

There is a barbeque joint downtown that we like.  Part of what I like is that it is downtown instead of in a strip mall.  Of course their BBQ is not half as good you might find in South Carolina, but hey - half as good as South Carolina BBQ is pretty darn good. I hear there is another good BBQ place at one of the local strip malls, the one with the medium-sized Publix.  We need to check that out.

South Carolina style BBQ with collard greens, stewed tomatoes, coleslaw, and sweet potato
We found several interesting Cuban restaurants in the area. We frequent a Cuban place in a charming tourist town less than a half hour north of us. The picadillo is sublime.  

Picadillo with fried plantains and yellow rice
As far as the Greek experience, I live in hope. We may have to drive to Tarpon Springs on the Gulf Coast for an authentic Greek food experience. Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US because of their sponge diving industry. I am looking forward to going there soon.

I am grateful to the Ancient Greeks for all the things they did well including democracy, philosophy, medicine, theatre, sculpture, and architecture.  But I think they reached the apex of their ancient civilization when they adapted baklava from the Ottoman Turks and made it their own.  Without the Greeks we may only be eating syrup with pancakes! Think about the perfect baklava, oozing honey syrup and melted butter with each bite.  It is so moist, almost like eating and drinking at the same time.

We stumbled upon a fabulous Greek Restaurant with our granddaughter the last time we went to St. Augustine.  She had avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup for the first time and fell in love with it. Of course the restaurant was in one of those homogenous strip malls that have no distinct sense of place, so I am not sure I can find it again.  The other two Greek restaurants we found are both about 30 minutes away in opposite directions.  Also in strip malls...  Neither of these two restaurants make their own baklava, they use the same pre-packaged variety they must purchase from their distributor.  I was disappointed, but I still ate the baklava.   

Anyway, the good, cheap restaurants we have found to date are only the tip of the iceberg.  They are out there and they are in strip malls.  The search continues.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Grievous Angel

I get daily updates from History, a website for TV’s History channel.  A recent “This Day in History” post concerned the death of Gram Parsons, a country-rock musician who died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1973.  Most of us die and our bodies are disposed of rapidly.  Gram’s corpse had a remarkable life after death that was also a legendary event in music history.  I was not expecting to see this reminder of his death in my In Box, it gave me pause.  

Gram Parsons was an eclectic bad boy in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when his distinct musical genius took him on quite the ride.  He was also a serious substance abuser, partying hard with the likes of Keith Richards during the legendary making of The Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street.  Gram famously lived with Richards and his entourage for a while at Villa Nellcôte in the south of France until he was asked to leave.

Gram Parson’s music was not traditional country, although he revered country music.  His music is considered country rock.  He is remembered as one of the founders of what has come to be referred to as alternative country, or alt-country.  However, in true wild child style he wanted his music to be thought of as “Cosmic Americana” or “Cosmic American Music.”  Although a lot of people have never heard of him, his brief career profoundly influenced contemporary music.

He was a replacement member for the Byrds in the final days of that band's heyday. His influence was strongly felt on the one album he did with them, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a watershed moment in the then fledgling country rock style.  He was a bit of a Young Turk in the music industry at that time.  In his early 20's and with minimal street cred, he persuaded Roger McGuinn and the Byrds to change course on that record, and he also wrote and contributed the songs, "Hickory Wind" and
"One Hundred Years from Now."

Subsequent to leaving the Byrds he became an original member and creative force behind The Flying Burrito Brothers.  Gram did two albums with them: The Gilded Palace of Sin, and Burrito Deluxe before he was fired from the band.  He then put out a solo album called G.P.  Later he teamed up with the young Emmy Lou Harris, with whom he performed some stellar duets on a truly great album called Grievous Angel.  Their cover of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s song, “Love Hurts,” is spooky damn good.  If all you are familiar with are the versions done by The Everly Brothers in 1957, Nazareth in 1975, or Joan Jett in 1990, do yourself a favor and download Gram and Emmy Lou’s take from 1973.  Like way too many great musicians, performers, and songwriters from my generation he died young, at 26, from substance abuse. 

He died from a lethal overdose of morphine and tequila in a motel room at Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California on September 19, 1973.  If you are my age, and of my background, you are too tired of this nonsense to even say the obvious, “What a waste.”  It went so far beyond wasteful, it was maddening.

His parents were both alcoholics. 
He was born Ingram Cecil Connor III at Winter Haven, Florida in 1946, and he was raised in both Georgia and Florida. Gram’s father committed suicide when Gram was 12.  His mother remarried and Gram took his stepfather's last name, Parsons. His mother died from cirrhosis of the liver the same day he graduated from high school.  Addiction was always going to be a factor in this boy's life!

Gram had previously told his friend, an ex-tour manager and producer named Phil Kaufmann, that when he died he wanted to be cremated at Joshua Tree and have his ashes distributed there over Cap Rock.  However, when he actually died his stepfather made arrangements for his body to be sent to New Orleans for burial. 
Gram was not from Louisiana and did not have a particularly good relationship with his stepfather. The story goes that his stepfather thought, because of Louisiana's Napoleonic Code, as the senior male relative he could claim the majority of Gram’s estate if he could prove Gram was a resident of Louisiana.

In true rock and roll style, Phil and a roadie named Michael Martin drove a borrowed hearse to the Los Angeles airport and managed to steal the coffin with Gram’s body in it.  They drove it to Cap Rock at Joshua Tree National Park, doused it with gasoline and lit a match. 

They split when the police arrived, but were captured later.  It turned out there was no law against stealing a body in California at that time, so they were merely fined $750 and set free.  Can you believe this stuff?  I mean who gets away with stealing a corpse?  And who has friends so committed to you that after you die they will STEAL YOUR DEAD BODY from a major airport to honor a promise!

The stepfather had the authorities pack up the 35 pounds of physical matter that survived the Joshua Tree cremation attempt and deliver said remains to him in New Orleans for burial.  If his hope to inherit Gram's money was true (and not just the stuff of legend), it didn’t work.  Gram’s money went to his daughter, wife, and sisters like it should have; which proves that sometimes the good guys do win.

Anyway, there are plenty of references to his wild young life and unfortunate death on the internet if you are interested.  A particularly nice one is on his tribute web page written by Pamela Des Barres, the famous rock and roll groupie, former GTO, and author also known as Miss Pamela. 

This all reminded me of how crazy and transcendent the late 1960's were. 
We all had one foot in heaven and one foot in hell and that's how we walked around, limping and stumbling.  Believe it or not, for a short while the nascent psychedelic drug culture was not dominated by drug dealers, substance abusers, or witless thugs.  At first young people were not taking drugs to get wasted, they really were trying to expand their minds and test the limits of reality.  True story.  Cross my heart! 

At the time it seemed like an interesting endeavor, a noble experiment.  Unbeknownst to us, it was also dangerous.  Our innocence did not last long.  Greed and/or addiction always seem to ruin everything.  Soon decadence and decay settled in and opportunistic scoundrels were everywhere.  Some of us did not survive the decline, the excess.  We all lost someone to drugs and alcohol.  And then there were the cultural heroes like Gram Parsons who checked out early.  Sheesh, there were so many of them.  It makes you wonder why all those beautiful and talented young musicians threw their lives away?

Actively creating something beautiful can be similar to a mystical experience. Tapping the creative imagination is a powerful rush.  I am sure they loved that feeling. The sad and perilous truth is that drugs and alcohol provide an easy alternate route to ecstasy. For a few moments it feels the same, but of course it is not. 

For those lucky people who have a gift, and their gifts are recognized and rewarded, it must be hard to come down to earth after a performance, a recording session, or a song writing experience.  Imagine how high you can fly when the spirit moves you.  Instead of surrendering to The Muse, artists and musicians are sometimes seduced by and then surrender to a lesser stimulus. 

Anyway, I think this is what happens to many artists, actors, and musicians especially when they are young and foolish.  Sometimes they do not live long enough to grow out of it or grasp the complexity of a life well lived. Such was the case with Gram Parsons. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Walking the Dogs

OK, I am pulling myself together. I am going to stop flirting with confessional and/or bereavement writing! 

It was fun while it lasted, exploring my fears and anxiety (which are legion) in a public way. But that stuff takes on a dangerous life of its own. If I kept it up I would have probably jumped off a cliff, assuming I could find a cliff in Central Florida. I do have a fully realized fantasy of dealing with neurosis, anxiety and fear that I will share with you, though. 

We all have psychological baggage. Some worse than others, it is true – and always for good reason. I am not trying to be disrespectful. Deal with your issues in the way that seems best for you. They are absolutely real, and don't let anyone tell you any different.

I like to anthropomorphize my neuroses. I like to think of them as my personal demons. In my mind they are the Hounds of Hell – in this case three large and vicious canines growling deeply, dripping venomous crud from sharp and oversized teeth, and relentlessly chasing me through life, nipping at my heels. I figure I can deal with my personal demons in one of three ways.

1.  I can try to pretend that they do not exist and keep running from them until I drop dead. I think of this way as the time honored “Way Of The Neurotic.” In this scenario I attempt to keep these unresolved emotional themes bundled up inside me, letting the hounds drive me in all sorts of weird and wacky ways. This is the easiest way.

2.  Conversely, I could do battle with and seek to destroy these demons via "The Way of the Warrior.” In this scenario I battle those suckers endlessly, seeing plenty of action but never quite emerging triumphant. Instead I become battle scarred and bitter. You have to get really, really angry to go the Way of the Warrior. It involves lots of killing and plenty of blood lust. It can be dangerous to walk this path because Anger is a potent demon himself and he may actually try to usurp the rightful place and power of your other demons. You simply cannot trust Anger. Be careful if you choose the Warrior’s path.

3.  Or I could choose the last scenario, "The Way of the Dog Walker." Ha! In this scenario I stop running, turn around, and face my hounds.  Maybe they just want a little attention, you know? It's pretty scary at first, so the Dog Walker path requires as much bravery and bravado as the Way of the Warrior. But those big old hounds eventually stop growling and start to lick my hands instead. We get comfortable with each other, and I attempt to tame them so I can introduce them to polite society. When I am able to put collars on my demon hounds and hook those collars up to a leash, I take those bad boys out for a walk. I proudly parade them around in front of me. In essence I say to the world, “These are my demons, these are what drive me and make me unique. THIS is who I am.” Those dogs are always with me on this path, but I try to keep them on a short leash. The Way of the Dog Walker is the most fun because it requires an inordinate amount of humor.

Today I'm gonna walk the damn dogs.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Breaking the Sound Barrier

On Tuesday my husband had a dental appointment in Orlando.  I love that man like you would not believe; however, I am rarely in the house all by myself for an extended period of time and I was thrilled to have a few hours alone.  An unavoidable loss of privacy occurs when two people living in the same house do not work outside the home.  This has been an unexpected retirement challenge for me.

T and I have always had separate home offices in our 2 extra bedrooms. 
Throughout our long marriage, we spent most of each day apart.  Our jobs were private spaces where we spent a huge part of most days.  At home on the weekends we had no problem amusing ourselves with private hobbies and interests.  We have been together for over 44 years.  We give each other a lot of space.  It works for us. 

I assumed our private lives would continue in retirement.  Theoretically, the only thing that would change is that we would now spend most of our time in the house.  In fact, we still have our separate offices.  We still spend most of the day happily pursuing our own hobbies and interests, but it seems less private now.  Why?  Well, I think in moving to Central Florida we inadvertently broke the sound barrier.

Our old house in Upstate New York had 2 stories.  His office was upstairs and mine was downstairs.  The ceiling/floor between us provided a natural sound barrier.  I used to joke that he had the upstairs and I had the downstairs and that was the secret to a long and happy marriage. 

Now we live in a small house with high ceilings, all on one floor.  The master bedroom is on one side of the house.  The dining room, living room, kitchen are in the middle.  The two extra bedrooms serving as our private spaces are on the other end.  The doors of these two rooms mercilessly face each other, separated only by a short hallway leading into the bathroom that lies between us.  I was prepared for seeing him more often when we retired, but it had simply never occurred to me that we would hear each other so much.

I now find myself reluctant to make noise because I do not want to disturb my husband.  He is usually playing his guitar, so I worry that any music I play will interfere with his concentration.  This is not something he has complained about or even mentioned, it is me overthinking.  Anticipating problems is my forte.  Big smile!

Think about it.  We cannot even talk on the phone in our rooms without hearing each other.  It seems kind of rude, but I find myself going outside the house to talk on the phone.  I am not used to being overheard as I talk to friends or family.  It is a bit disconcerting, even though logically I know T is not the kind of person who is interested in other people's conversations.  I suspect he doesn't even listen to our conversations!

So what did I do in the hours T was at the dentist and I was home alone? Well, I have 4,127 songs on my computer.  I swear I have not listened to one of them since I moved into this house, well over a year ago. I guess I have been overwhelmed by change and frozen in place.  It happens!

I clicked on iTunes and played Al Green, Amy Winehouse, and the Pogues at full blast.  I listened to Joey Ramone sing about Sheena being a punk rocker until I started to feel a little foolish listening to the Ramones...  I discovered I actually have some Taylor Swift songs.  I do not think I have ever listened to them.  I did not listen to them then, either.  I was moved, as always, by the mystical Van Morrison.  I reveled in the intensity of my girl, Carlene Carter, as she sang Stronger.  I listened to the young Sandi Shaw singing Girl Don't Come.  Moby Grape thrilled me with their glorious vocals and male angst on Bitter Wind, but I had to switch to another song before they segued into the psychedelic reverse.  Been there, done that.  I am too old to sit through that abrasive noise and pretend I like it.

I remembered that I went on a music buying frenzy in the years before I retired, buying up as many of the new generation of female British soul singers as I could find.  I need to get back to those young women, they are waiting to be heard. 

I ate Doritos and a fudge brownie even though I was not hungry.  I drank coffee until I shook.  I did NOT do any laundry.  I ran wild in an old lady kind of a way.  It was really fun.

It took some doing, because I still do not know where all my stuff is, but I searched the remaining unpacked boxes in my room until I found my iPod and ear buds.  I hate listening to music like that, but I need music in my life.  More change, yuck!  But hey, problem solved!

Another obvious solution to the privacy dilemma is to do something I have always tried to avoid, both in my personal and in my professional life.  I think I need to shut the door to my office.  Why does that seem like such a hard thing to do?