Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest Post from Emma: My Family Hero

A family hero is an individual member of the family whose actions and deeds change the fate of a family, if only temporarily, for the better.”

Family: A person, people or beings that someone can trust with everything. Those people would die to save those they love most, their family. There is no need for actual legal or blood ties to be part of a family and those members will always have eternal unconditional love for each other. My sister, Mary Katherine Clifford Fiala, meets my definition of family criteria. She is 12 and we are best friends. We also happen to be complete opposites. I know she has changed my life because she has taught me how to live, accept others and stand up for myself.

Mary personifies life at its fullest. She taught me how to live through her endless love and compassion she has for all living things. Mary is possibly the most eager to laugh person ever. I’m positive that if the least funny person told her a really bad joke, she would laugh. Mary is a Broadway fanatic and I love how she randomly bursts into song. Mary loves me. When she sees another Asian, she thinks that they are pretty. She has so much energy and she has taught me not to be so serious.

Mary accepts pretty much everyone for who they are. She doesn’t judge until after she has met them. She convinces everyone that she is their best friend because she is so open and non-questioning of them. She could have been part of the “popular” kids at her school but she saw how they treated others and she wanted nothing to do with them. Her group of friends at school consists of a deaf girl, a fat girl, and a poor girl. She takes them in and makes them feel accepted when they are being bullied. She has one best friend, named Olivia, who is sort of like me. She says that she accepts people because people need to be accepted in order to live.

Mary sticks up for herself because she doesn’t care what others think of her. She does what she wants. I wish more people and I could think like that because we waste time thinking what others think about us when Mary doesn’t care if they think she’s weird, annoying, nice, funny or strange. Mary was in gym class one day and she forgot her tennis shoes. Nobody cared that she did until she lined up to go back to the “hell hole” that is her classroom. This snotty girl in her class named Maya said to her in a disgusted voice, “Those aren’t gym shoes, Mary.” Mary said in a fake snooty voice, “Thanks, I haven’t noticed.” And waved her shoes in Maya’s face. Maya got a frightened and a ‘she’s crazy’ look on her face and walked back to her posse to make fun of her. Mary just laughed.

Another day she decided to have a British accent the whole day and she asked her teacher if she could go to the loo. Then at lunch she said really loudly in the accent, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist” and “Jolly good.” She also sang songs from My Fair Lady. All the eighth grade boys gave her strange looks. She didn’t care. When people give her strange looks, she likes it and laughs.

Mary has changed my life and the life of my family in a positive forever kind of way. She is my sister, best friend, and greatest person I have ever met. Even though we aren’t blood related, we are 100 percent family. If there are past and future lives, I’m sure she was/is in every single one of them. Mary has changed me from being a serious person to being more random, gentle, goofy, standing up for myself and helped me accept more people even if they aren’t practically perfect. She has made me a more complete human being and I love her, forever.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Stork Club Ashtray and How I Blew My Big Chance with Kitty Carlisle

For someone who can’t stay awake past nine p.m., and who prefers pajamas above all other possible forms of dress, it’s odd that I have such a fascination with nightclubs. I don’t mean modern discos, but those black-and-white, swanky spots from the 1940s that that feature floor shows and cigarette girls and women wearing hats.

I don’t just love to see them in movies, or to find pictures of famous people at the Stork Club or El Morocco. I want to BE in them, somehow, no matter how tight my high heels would be, or hard I might find it to sip a perfect Manhattan while wearing a hat with a veil. For a real black-and-white supper club, I’d tough it out.

I recently ran across a picture of George S. Kaufman, Kitty Carlisle and Moss Hart, dining at the Stork Club. Golly. There is so much to love in this picture, and so much to imagine. Most of all, there are important questions to ask. Is the banquette red or black? Is Kaufman really interested in talking to them, or did he just want to turn his good side to the photographer? Is that an appliqué on Kitty’s dress, or part of the centerpiece? Is that a heart-shaped brooch or part of the dress, and is there an arrow sticking through it? Is that a corsage on the table, and did Moss buy it for her? What is she eating? Looks like a cutlet and mashed potatoes to me, but she seems to be a picky eater. Is she wearing a snood? And check out Moss over there on her left. A pinky ring? Really? Good job on the hanky puffing in the breast pocket, though. Finally, the most important part of the picture – the ashtray. If I could reach through the photo and take one item, it would be that ashtray -- the one with "ORK CLUB" just visible, tempting me.  If I could have that ashtray now, I’d even start smoking in its honor.

A few years ago, I was visiting friends in NewYork and my pal Virginia arranged for us to go to a pre-party for a Gay Men’s Chorus concert. I trailed along beside the always-outgoing Verge and had a nice, long neck-bending chat with Tommy Tune. And then I ended up standing next to Kitty Carlisle, who was about 200 years old at the time. This was long before I had read Act One or seen the Stork Club photograph, so I chatted with her about when she played at the Muny Opera in St. Louis, my hometown, and other inane topics. Now she’s dead and it's too late.  I’m kicking myself for not asking 1) would she sell me the rights to turn Act One into a musical? and 2) did she have any purloined Stork Club ashtrays sitting around, and would she give one to me?

No ashtray, no musical, but at least I've got the photo.  Thanks anyway, Kitty.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

No, I Didn't Recognize You

If you’ve ever experienced my driving skills from the passenger-seat side of my world, you’ll be glad to know that I’m a person who prefers to walk. My distinctive style of veering, wandering and sometimes just pulling off to one side to ponder life’s little mysteries is much more effective – and less life-threatening – when my feet are working the sidewalk instead of the gas pedals. “Whoopsie,” my most frequent comment when on the move, is not something you want to hear from either a surgeon or from someone operating heavy machinery.

For me,  walking represents the chance to spend even more time in my head, a place best described as a smoking stew of worries, show tunes and occasional snatches of words I’d like to write down, if I don’t forget them in the next 30 seconds. The footage is black and white, the soundtrack is by Cole Porter, and the whole business requires a lot of energy to keep in motion.

With so much to think about, I tend to lose track of where I am, sometimes even of who I am. The reason I walk the same route every day is so I won’t get lost, and if you think that’s a joke, thank you.

So is it any wonder that I don’t notice passersby, even if they are hooting, shouting and hollering my name with gusto? It seems to be profoundly annoying to those who know me, and I’m at a loss for how to respond when they catch up with me in my more conscious moments. A friend’s husband went into a tirade last spring. “I was riding my bike right past you,” he fumed, “I called and waved and you just walked by!”

In a straight line, I wondered? Hope so. But then I noticed that he was indignant, and I was perplexed. Did the occasion call for an apology? There are several hundred files open in my brain at any one time, all of them clicking away on topics ranging from the deadline for the article I’m supposed to be writing instead of taking this walk, to whether the toilet is truly broken or if I’m just not flushing it correctly, as my husband insists. Am I supposed to add one more file, that of how my friend’s husband looks while wearing a bike helmet and whizzing past me? He overestimates the RAM my system is carrying, I must say. I apologized, but I wasn’t sure why, or for what. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you,” I said, as sincerely as possible, just barely adding but managing not to, “and do you really believe that the world owes you constant recognition?”

I was so spooked by his wrath that I began to wave frantically at the slightest provocation, even if the honk turned out to be a stern warning to a sex-crazed squirrel or a heads-up that I’d drifted into oncoming traffic. I added a big, toothy and insincere smile for a bit of extra business. But even this attempt proved unsuccessful. A woman I’d worked with briefly looked me up at a colleague happy hour, clearly miffed. “I was at the stoplight and waved and honked,” she began, “and you waved back but I could tell You Didn’t Even Know Who I Was!” This time, I apologized for insincere waving, agreeing that her countenance deserved 100% acknowledgment at all times. I swore to remain on 24-hour alert for her visage in the future.

When I got home, I began to wonder, was it my fault? Since my life credo has become, “Everything is My Fault,” I guess so. But then, last Friday, I was in the car with my husband (he was driving, smart fellow) and we were exiting a parking garage. He began to veer about to a degree that even I noticed, barking, “They’ve painted the exit signs wrong, it’s badly designed, and now I can’t get out.” I was amazed. I am often stuck in parking garages, baffled by the exit signs, but I take this situation as a sign of my impending dementia. I sometimes pull over to an open space and wonder when I should stick the vacuum tube on the tail pipe and start inhaling, so my daughters don’t end up having to change my diapers. I’ve often contemplated suicide while stuck in parking garages, which is just one more reason that no one should ever give me a handgun license. But here he was, blaming the garage architect and feeling clever when he finally escaped. I’ll bet he recognizes everyone when he takes a walk, too.

I, in the meantime, am considering an invention that will prevent me from further harangues. Perhaps I’ve been going about this all wrong. My acquaintances seek recognition, but what I really need is anonymity. Perhaps a simple ski mask, matched smartly with my sneakers, would disguise me enough so that no one knows it’s me in the first place, and never bothers to get my attention. Even with a hot summer looming ahead, I really think I’m on to something. So if you see someone walking on Minnehaha Parkway this July, wearing a ski mask, whatever you do, DON’T WAVE.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fried Shoes for April Fool's

There is only one way to see the Fried Shoes sign. For me, it happens every time I leave my daughter’s tap dance class at Lundstrum (“Where West Broadway meets Broadway”) and arrive at the  entrance to 94E at North 4th Street. And there, through the miracle of a well-placed pole and a limited line of vision, Mr. Friedman’s noble emporium becomes a Fried Shoes shack, which always sets me to thinking. Fried Shoes, I believe, are the perfect April Fool’s Day appetizer. Like Nat King Cole, I think I’d enjoy them best with the frim fram sauce and the ausen fay, with chafafa on the side.