Monday, November 28, 2011

A Pasta Thanksgiving

Some traditions are meant to keep, others to be - if not broken - slightly revised. So it was with our Thanksgiving. We kept the tradition of "family" alive by meeting our daughter and son in New York City over the weekend. Holly lives there, Gregg flew in from Chicago. As one cab driver told us, in his melodious mix of Chinese and English, "Thanksgiving is for families, Christmas is for staying home." Not once did he mention "shopping."

Thanks to a friend of Holly's, we watched the Thanksgiving Day Parade, aka Macy's Parade (speaking of shopping), from the 25th-floor rooftop of a condo building on Central Park West. The Tradition continued. Here's what it looked like.

After all, what's Turkey Day without Kermit, Ronald MacDonald and Spiderman? Talk about tradition: there was no Shrek or Buzz Lightyear or even a Twilight-style Vampire. Some lines you just don't cross. This was the first time I'd seen this event in person. Years past, I watch about 10 minutes on TV until the football game starts or I go back to sleep, usually the latter. I much prefer it in person, with my family, from the top of a building, away from the riff-raff, on a mild, sunny day with a Central Park in color transition across the way, the towers of Manhattan stacked to the south, and 3 days ahead of me in The Big Apple or, today, The Big Drumstick.

Well, not really a drumstick. This is where the tradition ends. We gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at a marvelous little Italian restaurant near The Village, picked out by Holly. Pepolino is one of those small, cozy, family-run restaurants that have no ambition to enlarge, add-on, modify, improve. It's perfect as-is. Our waiter did the Italian thing beautifully, heavy accent but clear enough to make out the important words, like "specialty," "delicious," "vino," and "here's your bill."

We all had pasta. Home-made. I remember my veal lasagna; never had anything like it and want it again. You know what? I did not miss my usual turkey leg, dressing, yams, and pumpkin pie. I can always get that at Denny's.

A final note on Thanksgiving: Small's. A small, downstairs jazz club in The Village, which featured a progressive quartet, led by a young bald guy on bass and a balding, older guy on tenor in an unattractive long-sleeve shirt decorated with bass (fish, not instrument), with a mother of a piano player and hard-swinging, tasty drummer. Small's, as in "small world." The owner went to the same high school I did, U. City. Only he graduated three decades later. Some things just happen, right? How did we end up talking about high school in a jazz bar in the Village? That's a story for a different time.

Yes, it was a Thanksgiving for the books, traditions and all. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Pause Before the Turkey

It's been a tough year, right? And it's not over yet. But looking back over the past 11 months, there are a few things I will not give even a small "thanks" for. 

Let's start with the weather. In a word, it sucked. Except for a stretch of 3 or 4 weeks in late summer/early fall. But how about those tornadoes? I used to think it'd be cool to see one, for real, not on the weather channel or a high-budget sci-fi flick. No more. Anytime the skies begin turning green, the wind picks up, and distant sirens wail, I'm going to head for the basement and watch a stack of old movies on my hand-powered DVD player. 

Autumn was colorless, thanks to lack of rain. Winter hurt. Especially at 10 at night when my dog expects a walk. This winter I'm training her to use the flush toilet. And think of the plastic poop bags I'll save. 

The weather has become as unpredictable as the stock market. 

Onward to the Economy: Jobs. Demonstrations. Greed. Madoff Fall-out. China. The new four-letter dirty words: Bank. Debt. Rams. And a St. Louis County Executive who thinks the answer to balancing the budget is to close up County Parks, at the same time he's hiring administrative staff. An advanced case of muddled priorities. 'Nuff said.

Politics. The End of Bipartisanship. Ugly undercurrents. Nasty sound bytes and angry faces. Don't get me started. 

So here is what I give thanks for. My wife, my kids, my dog, my health. Good friends. My brother. The Cardinals. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. An occasional good movie and even some good TV, as in Dexter, Homeland, and the new Woody Allen doc. Good jazz available on a limited basis, the St. Louis Symphony, the blues (hear 'em, not have 'em), a right shoulder that still lets me serve and hit an occasional forehand winner. Sumatriptin (if you get migraines, you know what I'm talking about). And the joy of writing, which I don't do nearly enough of but enjoy when I do. Like this one.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Talk We Need - A Veterans Day Thought

There's a lot of talk these days everywhere you turn. Sometime taking a position, giving an opinion, analyzing a situation, criticizing someone. On TV and radio, on cell phones. Even cartoons, if you believe that. An article in the NY Times says cartoons these days are loaded with dialogue while lacking movement. They're right. Road Runner doesn't talk, neither did Tom and Jerry. They moved, we laughed. Then of course there's Charlie Chaplin who made the world laugh and cry without saying a word.

So what's the point of this diatribe? Veterans Day. Today. Look back more than six decades ago, to World War 2. A lot of our troops never came home. Sadly, tens of thousands died in Europe and the Pacific. Most of our men came home though. But there's a sadness in that as well.  Because so many of them never talked about what happened there, what they saw, how it affected them.  And what they carry with them now, more than 60 years later.  It’s not easy for them to talk about their experiences, especially to their families.  But isn’t it a shame that these men who earned the right to talk have chosen to keep it all in?  Tim Russert of “Meet the Press” said they possess a “quiet eloquence.”  I like that.  Quiet eloquence.

I used to play senior softball with a guy named Charlie. He’s 85 years old now. I told him about a book I had read, called “Flags of Our Fathers.”  It’s the story of a young man who learns that his dad was one of the six guys who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.  He found out about it after his dad had passed away.  Charlie said, “Gerry, I was on Iwo  too.”  He surprised me.  I knew he was a Marine, but not much else.  I asked him if he’d ever told his wife or his kids about what he went through.  He said, “They never asked, they didn’t seem interested.  Anyway we were just doing a job.”  Quiet eloquence.  Still, I could feel there were undercurrents in his life he didn’t want to acknowledge.

I wonder how many stories and memories are locked up.  How many sons and daughters, and grand children, will never know what Pop or Grandpa went through.  Time keeps on moving.  The older we get, the faster it moves.  I hope there’s time for these men to bring their families into their past.  I hope they talk about it.  It’s the kind of talk we need.