Friday, May 30, 2008

Thayer St.

Now I can't say I'm a big fan of cars nor ever have been other than having appreciation for their utility at being able to provide transportation for oneself and one's stuff from point a to point b. That being said I must point out that I did grow up in North America during a time that new highways and burgeoning suburban enclaves made it appear that the future was to be ongoing technical and mechanical Utopia for all. The size, power and design of Detroit built cars reflected this belief of constant improvement and the car that epitomized the height of the auto-makers vision was the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible.

Early one afternoon as we walked toward our favorite Thayer St. hangout in Providence one of those was parked right out front - so long it took up two parking spaces and all gleaming white with chromed everything else. It was beautiful. Happily, our usual table outside Andrea's was just being cleared so we ordered our beers and spanikopitas while sitting back to watch the summer parade of locals and visitors stroll by. We liked the spot because there was a crack in the sidewalk right next to it that only the previously initiated would avoid tripping over. We'd take great delight in watching snooty rich people come to check out what qualifications Brown University and its environs could offer their young scions against Harvard or Yale. Invariably one of them would trip on the crack but, since we were connoisseurs of pratfalls, we wouldn't laugh out loud but give one another hand signals indicating points for style and flair in recovery just like they do at the Olympics.

On this particular Sunday the Caddy was of special interest since cars like it were always rare and by the mid-80's were next to extinct. Even now there are still more Model T Fords in regular operation than there ever were Eldorados and the few that existed were owned by very wealthy people.

As usual some friends came by pulling up extra chairs and eventually an extra table too. When I moved my chair to make room I found myself sitting rather close to a tall man of early middle age with languid eyes set in a milk chocolate face. He was dressed casually, almost carelessly, in clothes that were of the very best quality as well as the last word in fashion. He smiled and I felt my heart melt all the way down to the happiest places. It wasn't long before he and his friend-driver were sharing jokes and stories with the rest of us. The low rumble of his laughter was so infectious and sensual that people at other tables who couldn't possibly have heard what had been said laughed as well. We learned he was a talent agent with offices in New York and Hollywood and they were touring the country in a car he'd bought for the sheer luxury of doing the trip at his own pace in style and comfort.

Our waitress, Rachel, who had high hopes of becoming a Broadway star, was also very interested and our tables were getting a lot of her very personal attention much to the general outrage of other patrons. This was New England, after all, and the natives tend to express their irritation volubly when they don't get their food and drink replenished immediately. We heard a lot of comments like, 'Hey, bitch, where's our fucking beer and cheese dip?' and even more impressive variations of where they were planning to look for their meals.

Rachel was not only oblivious to the comments but was getting even more caught up in what she appeared to feel was her one chance of winning fame and fortune. She'd found some odd chromed bar utensil inside that she began to use as a pretend microphone while she proceeded to go into a full Debbie Reynolds routine that you'll understand if you've ever seen 'Singin in the Rain'.

We got to hear a capella versions of 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'Someone to Watch Over Me', 'Send in the Clowns' and 'Anything Goes'. When she got to that one she put down her tray and microphone, took off her shoes and continued to sing while turning cartwheels up and down the sidewalk. By then even the most jaded of Rhode Islanders were beginning to look a bit stunned and more than a few were hoping right along with her that she really would get a chance to go to Hollywood. Naturally, they were also hoping she'd just go away and another waitress would come out to serve their tables.

The Cadillac owner sitting next to me just kept smiling except for once when he looked my way and winked. Flirtation is a funny and subtle thing when you have nothing to gain but the pleasure of mutual understanding. Rachel had finished her acrobatics near the restaurant door and had gone inside. Everyone outside assumed she'd finished but two minutes later she was back for her unrequested encore - microphone and all.

She started to sing that all time favorite song of Broadway musical hopefuls - 'Summertime'. The level of emoting was something extraordinary to see on a city sidewalk and as she got more and more physically engaged in expressing the passion and sadness in the song she got closer and closer to the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, stroking its long sleek lines, tickling its chromed bumper and finally slithering up onto its gleaming white hood where she writhed and moaned out the last lines of the song.. 'So hush little baby, doon't youuu cryayayayy!'

It was a moment to be remembered. Anyone less cool than the man sitting next to me would probably have picked her up bodily and thrown her off the Caddy. He smiled. We said good-bye to all and walked home having enjoyed another fine afternoon on Thayer St.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

je me rappelle un chien

If ever there was a dog who belonged to himself it was Garth. Grown up in a time before leash laws and scooping he was happy enough to accompany us on our walks around town but if he sniffed something interesting in the air he'd say his farewells and be off like a shot.

In the early 70's we lived in a fourth floor loft in Montreal. The first person out the door in the morning would find Garth heading downstairs with them. As often as not he'd walk along as they shopped for brioches and fruit to go with breakfast coffee, buying something for him to eat as well. Back at the street door, in typical canine fashion, he'd say 'thanks and goodbye' and would stroll away for his morning constitutional. When he returned he'd stand at the door looking expectant until someone passing opened it for him. He got to be quite well known.

Walking to the top of Mt. Royal Park was something we did just about every day. The paths were wide and tree lined on one side with widening views of the city, the St Lawrence River and old neighborhoods on the other. At one side of the summit is Sacre Coeur Church and a huge metal cross above it whose nighttime lights dominate the city. In the church are canes, crutches and wheelchairs presumably left by people who'd been cured of crippling diseases by crawling up the long stairs. I never saw anyone do that.

 Closer to our place the park had gardens, tennis courts and playground equipment so it was a favorite place to rest on the way home. Sometimes Garth came home with us and sometimes he'd notice (or nose) something that he just couldn't ignore. It was those times I had to pretend I didn't know him. Who me? My dog? Nope, never saw him in my life before. Other times he would have love affairs, only come home for meals (if that) and I'd have to go looking for him. He never realized his tail gave him away no matter how well he'd hidden himself.

One afternoon when we were walking along one of the nearby narrow streets a door to an old house built close to the sidewalk opened and an elderly gentleman with a sweet smile beckoned. The man spoke little English and my French was barely acceptable but Garth walked right inside. It was obvious he knew the place and I was quite curious about what was going on so I followed him through the door with the smiling man motioning me to go further along.
We went down a long hallway to a broad sunny room at the end where a beautiful female dog was lying in splendor with a litter of black and white, and white and black puppies. The two big dogs nuzzled each other and Garth examined each of the pups. The old man, very proud and happy, told me that when she came into heat Garth was the only male dog he had allowed into his backyard.

Nowadays, I never see a black and white dog without wondering if he or she is one of Garth's descendants. As all of us do he slowed down as he aged but we covered a lot of miles together in a number of cities and parks on both sides of the border and in my mind's eye I can still see the optimistic wag of that magnificent white tail.

Monday, May 5, 2008

hot fashion story

There comes a time in every girl's life when the Dr. Scholl's or the genuine Swedish clogs simply don't provide that certain je ne sais qua required for full enjoyment of modern life. Sometimes you just have to ditch the jeans (or the overalls), put on the cute little dress and step out in something fancy. Let the world know when it comes to style that you set the trends and not by buying the season's latest as dictated by Sears or JC Penney.

Living on the east coast clothes were not the problem. Several times a year my friends and I would head to Filene's Basement Store in Boston early on a Saturday morning. They had clothes from all of the most expensive and exclusive stores in the country with the incredible benefit that the minute an item went on sale there it was already marked 50% off.. and there was a little date sticker on each price tag. Every day the price dropped by another 10% so it was easy to buy a lot of very cool clothes for a small amount of money. We'd dive into the chaos of the double deep Basement with the plan to meet at a particular spot some hours later. To give you an idea how big the place was (and may still be) we hardly ever met each other while there. The other weird thing was there were no changing rooms so you had to try things on in the aisles and hope nobody took the clothes you'd arrived in as a particular great bargain. People (well okay, men) would stand up on the balconies just to watch the women shop. The lingerie department was always well observed.

Shoes, cool shoes, were harder to find and percentage wise as expensive then as they are now. Plus, there were no Manalo Blahnik's or Roger Vivier's even if you were crazy enough or had a serious enough foot fetish to consider spending thousands for a pair. Nevertheless, shoes can make us feel beautiful and when you've just bought a little red silk dress for $15 instead of the original $300 asking price, it would be neat to have a pair of shoes to show it off.

In downtown Providence I found 'Adele's' - a store that had been opened in 1932 - and one look in the window was all it took to know I'd found the holy grail of fancy shoedom.

There were some odd things about the store once you went inside, the most noticeable of which was that they appeared to have shoes dating back to when the place first opened. Shelves of shoe boxes stretched to the ceiling and there were shoes on tables, under tables, in cartons, racks and stacks everywhere. There was even a floor above used as a warehouse for the overload. Two nice young men, her nephews, were always pleased to help but there was something funny going on too. You see, tucked away among the shoe boxes, there was a very old lady sitting on a little platform. If you liked a particular shoe (and you could only ever find one of a pair) one of the men would take it over to her and a quiet conversation would ensue. If the woman liked the way you looked or behaved or whatever, then the guy would go off and find the matching shoe. If you wanted to buy a pair another private conference took place about the price. She must have liked me because I bought a collection of antique shoes from the 30's, 40's and 50's for about $2 a pair. Most were Italian made and a few were snakeskin and alligator - platforms, wedges, maryjanes and 3+ inch heels. I was a tall, sexy lady in those shoes.

Wearing our designer dresses, garters, bustiers, seamed stockings and fine shoes we were a party waiting to happen and happen it did. I have this good friend, really good friend, really really good friend I've been living with for a long time and among his many talents is being a musician and song writer. At that time he'd written some new songs and was planning to perform them in front of a genuine audience - on a stage, with lights, with microphones, with a sound system. I mean REALLY.

For a very brief time we were a band - kind of like a reprise of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. We were the Andrews Sisters, Tina Turner and the Lickettes rolled into one tight little group singing backup and playing percussion. Everybody should get to have that much fun at least once.

Like innocent bystanders watching our time go by (I just had to quote my favorite song by Dan Hicks - Moody Richard) we witnessed the day when a local cooking school bought up the block in downtown Providence where Adele's store sat. Deals were done and everybody moved out - everybody but Adele who owned her building and refused to sell. So far as the school was concerned plans were far advanced with construction scheduled, students accepted and one little old lady with a shoe store was in the way of progress.

Funny how these things happen but one night the building caught on fire. Nobody was hurt but the building, shoes and all, was gone by the next morning when the fire marshall declared it a total loss. I've always wondered about those two nice young men..