Saturday, May 31, 2008

Okay. Here's an example of Hormones Gone Wild. Today, I was sitting at my computer looking up recipes for pasta salad. I'd like to make something special and fresh and delicious to bring to a reunion I'll be attending in July (which I'll write about another time) of all my friends from my summers at the lake.
Anyway, I clicked on to Lidia Bastianich's website. She's that wonderful woman who cooks the most delicious Italian peasant food on Channel 21. I read a few recipes and then switched to another site that had recipes for the food she served the Pope when he was in New York recently. Now, I was raised Catholic but have not practiced nor subscribed to Catholicism for most, if not all, of my adult life. That being said, I read that when Lidia served the Pope beef goulash for one of his meals he said "these are my mother's flavors" and I started crying. Just a little. Not a full out cry. One of those ones that happens sometimes during a commercial. Or when I smell freshly cut grass. Mamma Mia...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Richie Smirnoff. Or, just plain Smirnoff. That's what they called him at Brownstone Car Service on Union Street where he was employed as a driver. He's one of those people I wish I'd kept in touch with somehow. He's had a profound effect on me.

It started back when I was waitressing at McFeely's on Union Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I may have even started bartending there by the time I'd met Richie. In any case, it was the late 80's/early 90's and I was working at McFeely's and raising my two children. I'd call Brownstone every night at the end of my shift to get a car home. I used to drive my own car but three break-ins in less than two months and stressing about being ticketed for being on the wrong side of the street (alternate side parking rules in NYC) as I crawled out of bed in the morning after a late night working left me completely disgusted and frustrated so...I sold it...for $50 to a junk dealer (it was an 82 Corolla).."uh, sorry miss, I can't give you any more than that."
"really? I have two kids to feed. Are you sure?"

The conversation between me and Vinnie, the dispatcher at Brownstone, went pretty much the same way every night -
"Hello, Brownstone."
"Hey Vinnie, it's Dawn."
"Hello doll. Ready to go home?"
"I'll have a car right outside in three minutes. How're the kids?"
"They're great, Vinnie. You?"
"Very good thank you, sweetie. You take care, alright?"
"Yep. Thanks, Vinnie."

He'd give me a "special" price and the car would be right outside the door, just like he said, in three minutes. And then, every night, as I got into the car I'd hear Vinnie on the radio dispatching the same message to the driver as the night before -
"$6, Smirnoff. $6 for Dawn. Take good care of her and make sure she gets in safe."
"10-4 Vinnie," Richie would say into the mouthpiece.

The first night I rode home in Richie's car I noticed something. It was quiet. Many of the other drivers kept their radios on, pumping out of the back speakers, tuned to the party music station. I think they thought people liked it. I didn't. I'd just come from a loud, smokey bar where every thought, word or interaction was punctuated with music. Loud music.

I sat in the back, never behind the driver so as not to make him/her uncomfortable, and made small talk for a minute or so and then sank into the seat and my thoughts. After riding with Richie for about five minutes he asked me if I would mind if he put on some soft music. I said I didn't - with trepidation. He put on a jazz station. Not fusion. Jazz. Not Andreas Vollenweider. Thelonius Monk. I was a fan. I didn't know much but I knew what I liked. Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Sun Ra, Ed Blackwell, Coltrane, Monk...many of whom I got to see play live at places like The Village Vanguard, Continental Divide and Town Hall. Monk played on the radio and Richie mentioned the fact that Monk was pretty much self-taught on the piano. I think he even said that Monk could not read music.

Richie had a soft way about him. I looked at him from behind and guessed him to be about 55 or so. Checked his eyes out in the rear view mirror. They looked clear and blue although I'm not sure. He wore his jet black hair in a sort of DA - slicked back. He also wore a black leather biker jacket. And still, he seemed soft. The car smelled like coffee and occasionally I would see him take a sip from the cup he had tucked away between his legs. There was something about the way he spoke that made me think he had peanut butter or a cookie stuck to the roof of his mouth. In a good way. It made me want to eat...well...peanut butter...or a cookie.

Richie soon became "my" driver. Every night when I called Brownstone, he would be the one sent over to pick me up. I loved it and began to rely on it. It was my favorite way to end my night of work. He'd have the radio going and a story at hand. I soon found out that Richie was, in fact, a drummer. And that he'd played with many jazz greats including Chet Baker. Richie regaled me with stories about music and food. He'd talk about his apartment and the little Italian joint up the street that he went to often for a bowl of spaghetti marinara with fresh basil and warm, crusty garlic bread. He was one of the first people I'd met that seemed so, so present.

One of the great stories he told me was about a time he was touring with Chet Baker - probably in the late 50's, early 60's - They were in Italy in a hotel lobby awaiting the arrival of Romano Mussolini (yes, Benito's son), who was an acclaimed jazz pianist and slated to join Chet Baker and his band on this leg of the tour. Before Romano arrived, Chet's bandmates talked to him about Romano and pleaded with him (though he was high on heroin at that moment) not to make any mention, WHATSOEVER!, of Mussolini's infamous father.

When Romano arrived, Chet was in a full junkie nod in one of the hotel lobby's cushy chairs. Richie said he elbowed Chet just as they all stood up to greet Romano and introduce themselves. They all shook hands and said their names and when they got to Chet, Richie introduced them -
"Romano Mussolini - Chet Baker. Chet Baker - Romano Mussolini."
And, he said, without missing a beat, a weary and very high Baker extended his hand and said -
"Wow, nice to meet you. Drag about your old man, huh?"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My mother spends a fair amount of time with me these days. She lives with my sister and her husband in Staten Island but comes to Brooklyn for her "meetings" at the local Knights of Columbus every other Friday. Recently, her sister Katherine was in a local Brooklyn hospital so she stayed with me so she could vist my aunt daily. I encouraged her to stay with me this week, too, even though Aunt Kay was discharged, because my brother-in-law is home on vacation for the week and I thought it might be nice for them to have a little privacy.

One of the conversations I have wth my mom every morning is about the weather (she's obsessed with the weather) and it always - always - always - goes something like this -

"hey mom, what's it like outside?" (I ask her this because she goes out for her coffee and the paper every morning at about 7am)

"well, it's cool...but not too cold. They said it's going to be 70-72 degrees today but then get verrrrry cold at night. It's not too cold but it's cool. You should bring a jacket but maybe take it off later because it's supposed to be very nice later. It's supposed to be a little cool, but not rain...partly cloudy. Sun and then no sun - low 60's and then Friday a chance of rain and then Saturday a possibility...a little sunshine...they're not predicting much rain...and then Sunday is supposed to be not the best...rain...on and off...expect more rain on Sunday. It could change. That's what they could change."

And then I say...

"Should I take an umbrella?"

Monday, May 12, 2008

It is what it is. People are saying that all the time these days.

They're also clipping their fingernails on the train and, as of late, applying make-up. Seriously, I saw a woman curling her eyelashes on the subway the other day right before she applied a generous coat of mascara. She was totally unabashedly doing her thing as if she was at home in her own bathroom. And that's far from the first time I've seen that. I'd actually have to say that I see some form of full make-up application on the trains at least once a week.
When I was a young girl I used to love to sit in the bathroom at our lake house while my mother, my Aunt Dot and my cousin Maureen stood at the long dressing table with the big round mirror in front of it and applied their make-up for the big Saturday night beach party down the road. The three of them smoked cigarettes and whenever they were excited about something, applying make-up and, especially, in the smoke-y company of each other, they would smoke like maniacs. The thing is - there they were - all three leaning forward towards the mirror - all at various stages of their make-up application - all drawing and painting and coating themselves while the cigarettes dangled in a yet-to-be lipsticked lip or burning away in the ashtray just beneath their faces - all three squinting in an effort to see their reflections through the smoke. They loved to take big, long drags right before they were about to speak because I think they liked the smoke that accompanied each word as they spoke them. And, just so they'd have alot to say, they'd preface those smokey sentences with catch phrases like "So, as I say..." or " So, whozzeewhatsis..."
I sat behind them and a little to their right on the toilet. They'd cap off all the making-up with the the final teasing of the hair followed by a generous spray of Aqua Net. Smoke, Aqua Net and eyeliner. It is what it is.