Saturday, December 20, 2014

Keith Haring at the deYoung

On a recent visit to northern California I was lucky to see the extraordinary exhibit of over 100 works from Keith Haring, the extraordinary artist who made his mark in the art world in the early 80s by painting silhouettes of little babies and men all over the subway.  I was living in Manhattan then and clearly remember seeing these images, talking to friends and work colleagues puzzling over whom was doing it and — what did these characters mean?

The deYoung Museum is hosting the US premiere of Keith Haring: The Political Line filled with visually exuberant images — whether in neon colors or stark black & white.  Haring made his views and his voice heard by creating (often at rapid speed and with no pre-planning) childlike scenes that upon closer examination made you stop short and think twice.

I knew about the work long before I actually knew anything about the artist.  I was surprised to learn that he was from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, went to the School of Visual Arts — literally around the corner from where I lived, and sadly, died from AIDS at the too-young age of 32.  But in his short life, boy, did he produce…


Years and years and years ago, my sister took me to the White Elephant Sale of the Oakland Museum of California where (before they had their own building to use for the sale) there were warehouses of treasures to be found and one I found — a Keith Haring address book that I've used ever since, even though the cover's fallen off and the alphabetical tabs are now hard to decipher.

My only other Keith Haring acquisition was just a few years ago at a Housing Works thrift shop on the upper West Side of Manhattan at Columbus & 74th.

It was a quick stop before heading to the airport and the place was mobbed.  Couldn't imagine why, but turned out they were having a huge sale and the place was crammed with sharp-eyed pickers (like me).  People had plastic laundry baskets filled with stuff so I didn't have much hope of finding a gem and just as I was about to abandon my search and head out of the store (because my bags were packed and we were due to leave for the airport) there I saw it — a large black-metal-framed square of Keith Haring's fancy.  Though it had no price, I grabbed the 24" square with it's broken glass and wormed my way to the check-out line frantically looking at the time.  Finally, the cashier looked at me and said, "The glass is smashed — we can't sell it that way," but I pleaded that I didn't care, couldn't get it on a plane in a frame, and was going to pitch the glass anyway.  

"Six dollars" she deadpanned and I gladly coughed over the cash and flew out the door mentally scrambling, I almost NEVER check baggage and already had two carry-ons.  "How was I EVER going to get this on the plane??" 

Two stores on the block and no luck finding a place that sold a shipping tube.  Running down Columbus Avenue my eyes scanned both sides of the street and then, thanks be, I saw a tiny, hole-in-the-wall framing shop!  I burst in to the small cramped space covered in frames when the owner came out to the counter (which was a wooden surface that spanned the complete width of the store, about 7 feet at most) and stared at me. Before he could say a word, I spewed forth with my story, the plane, carry-on, and the urgency of getting a tube I could fit the poster in.

Without any hesitation, this gentle gentleman flipped up his wooden counter and stepped out from behind it.

"I will help you," he calmly informed me in a thick Indian accent, as he took my treasure with him back behind his counter and proceeded to remove the broken glass, disassemble the frame, roll the poster, and climb up over his head to search the small loft of supplies he had tucked away above us.  He came down with two tubes, one was too short; the other was perfect.  Ignoring my chatter about metal edges, damaging the poster, tight spaces on the plane,he began to tightly wrap the four pieces of the frame and its hardware into the tube and because the cap wouldn't fit, added some foam padding inside taped at top to protect me from the sharp ends.  

Digging in my purse I only had $8.00 left to give him.  As he took my crumpled bills, he smiled sweetly and waved me on my way. It was a miracle.

Now hanging over a doorway (reassembled and protected by new glass) this cheerfully alive Keith Haring is mine all mine.


No stranger to pulling out the stops, Haring had the gift of drawing your eye into his worldview and bringing you over to his side — even if you weren't comfortable there…

SO, if you plan to be in San Francisco, you owe yourself the treat — this exhibit runs through February 16, 2015.  

And if you can't visit in person…well, there's always shopping online.
Visit the deYoung

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I've written before about my feelings around Thanksgiving.

This year, I'm going to focus on what I have to be thankful for — and I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am alive.  In relatively good health.

I have a lovely home. (However much work it needs.)  A roof over our heads. Heat in winter. Cooling in summer.

I have two refrigerators and a pantry filled with food.

My children (young adults now) can walk outside and will not be approached, profiled, stopped, arrested, or shot because of the color of their skin.

Whatever my life, whatever my problems, I have so much.

After my last post about regrets,  I heard from many of my friends.  
Some very worried about me. (No need.) 

Some reassuring me. (They too have regrets.) 

Some advising me. (The past is the past.)  

Each sharing their affection and support from their respective places in the world.

One thoughtful friend, even sent me absolution. (She's a minister, so it's legit.)

But I thought long about this shared wisdom from a dear friend…

"Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but you never get anywhere."

That seemed very profound to me. I thought about it and thought about it and I thought about how true that was and I wanted to accept that wisdom and move on — but oh, how I love a rocking chair!  How I just sink into the comfort of that motion. Back and forth, back and forth, and no where to go but be in that swing and sway.  
Back and forth, back and forth.  Maybe I'm comfortable sitting in regret.  

I hope not.

Another wise treasure came from a high school chum…

"Regrets limit us. Nobody gets a chance to go back and fix them so why do we focus on them? We did the best we could. Hopefully, our children can come to appreciate that. Don't beat yourself up...try to let go of shit you can't change."

And so, uncharacteristically, I find myself feeling very good about all the feelings of friendship and warmth and caring that have come my way and I'm trying to be in my present.

This Thanksgiving I made:

  • the organic turkey (with a thyme-rosemary-salt & pepper butter rub, for the first time),
  • my root-vegetables-only, no-flour FABULOUSLY DELICIOUS gravy,
  • sausage stuffing (with mushrooms added in this time with the celery and onions)
  • creamed onions with toasted almonds on top,
  • cranberry-mango sauce
  • and my wonderfully smooth and luscious caramel pumpkin flan with whipped cream...
          and you know what?



(I didn't make the mashed potatoes but with my gravy, they were great, too.) 

AND (This is really pretty amazing...)


Now I know many of you readers out there don't know me, but those that do, KNOW that for me to make a meal that I don't chop into little pieces complaining about the taste, the texture, the color, or any other way I failed to make it right — that's pretty miraculous.

I'd say that's a lot to be thankful for — and believe me I am.

But more than this — thankful, thankful, thankful for ALL OF YOU.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Regrets, Regrets, Regrets

I'm gonna need a mighty big eraser (Claus Oldenberg-style) to wipe out all my mistakes.

Where do I begin?  How far back should I go?  

When I first started working I did a good thing. I opened an IRA with $2000.  I was young and it was forward-thinking.  Life went on, I moved many times, got married, left the state, and lost track of that IRA.  Never set up another one.  I thought about it over the years, tried to track it down.  Never finished the paperwork.  Let it go year after year.  FINALLY I did what needed to be done, submitted all the documents, updated my name, information, address, marital status, and got back that IRA and was thrilled that it had tripled in value!  But the guy at the brokerage house?  He was sick over it because for 30 years it had been sitting in a money market account earning next to nothing.  Properly invested, that IRA should have accrued in the tens of thousands. GEEZ.  As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman... 
"Big mistake. HUGE."

I had a wonderful wedding and a huge reception with over 200 family and friends.  Try as I did to think of EVERYTHING to ensure no detail would be missed, there were misses.  I forgot to give my photographer the list of shots to get and never had a picture taken with my Gramma.  Because it wasn't my side of the family (and I didn't know at the time), we didn't include my deceased father-in-law's only
sister, Aunt Barbara and Uncle Dick in the photos and we didn't invite my sister-in-law's best friends from college, Marilyn & Doug, to the wedding.  Worse, my friend Shirley didn't ask me to take over the video camera and I didn't ask her because I thought it would be making her "work" at my wedding.  Videographer-extraordinaire, if Shirley had been behind the camera, she would've had a much better time. Shirley would've gotten our guests  many of whom are no longer living  to tell stories and share wisdom and we would've had an unbelievable visual and oral history of the people who loved us and were there to celebrate our marriage.  Instead, we have a stationery movie of the fixed view from the camera on a tripod.  

Photo by Jack Edinger

When I was at a small street fair on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I bought an unbelievably stunning piece of art  a silver necklace of a face that was so simple and yet so beautiful.  Out of fear and uncertainty, I never asked the artist his name.  I'll never know the name of the person who made this face that I love and wear and get complimented on for forty years now. 

Growing up, no one paid me any attention in my family, so when my children were born I was determined, driven and determined, not to have them experience that feeling.  But the trouble is I went all the way the other way.  I tried to tell them everything, give them everything, impart every last bit of information I could to inform them, educate them, protect them, and extend to them what no one but my teachers gave to me.  But the pendulum swung too far the other way.  How I smothered them with my knowledge.  I didn't know this until they were grown and gone.

If only I had known then what I know now.

When my sister-in-law Robin was dying, I didn't go back up north to see her one last time. I'd helped in managing to get her out of the hospital and up to her home, contacted family and friends, got the information for arranging hospice.  Though I spoke to her often (with someone holding the phone to her ear) I didn't make plans to return north. I was worried about the money, thought it was more important that my husband fly up to see her, but some part of me really didn't want to go back.  Didn't want to see her at the end.  Wanted to remember her dazzling smile and happy face. Didn't want to see her so changed and leaving this life.  I regret it now.
And finally, and this is a big one, a really unforgivable big heartbreaking mistake.   My sister Donna was an amazing, giving, gorgeous person.  I don't know that I ever fully appreciated how much of a a supportive, generous presence she was in my life.  When my sister died, my daughter and I had arrived to visit her for her birthday and then were headed to southern California where our first cousin Bobby's daughter was getting married and many of the family were coming west. It would be the first wedding my daughter ever attended.  We arrived at my sister's late one night, talked to her for hours and then, when it was 3:00 am our time and my daughter and I were collapsing, I finally said we had to go to bed and would see each other in the morning.  Not twenty minutes later, at Donna's request, we were taking her to the hospital and four days later (on her 59th birthday) she passed away in the fifteen minutes no one was there.  That was my sister, always looking out for everyone else. She didn't want to inconvenience us by dying at home and she didn't want to make it tough by leaving this life on anyone's watch.

She'd been sick for five years, bedridden for two, but still, it came as a shock.  We were devastated that Donna was gone.  Her son said the thought of orchestrating her funeral was overwhelming.  And we worried about spoiling the wedding happiness by following it with a funeral.  We didn't want everyone to darken their joy with our sorrow.  So we sent my sister to her next incarnation without any ceremony or service for all the people who loved her. We planned to hold a celebration of her life at another time on one coast and the other, but time went by and we never did.  Maybe that's why she doesn't "visit" me in my dreams or send me messages and let me know she's watching over us.  It was shameful. It is shameful.  She deserved better.  It is my biggest regret.


Okay, I've confessed.  These are the enduring regrets that keep me awake at night.  When my head hits the pillow, THEN in the dark and silence of night, all the other things that have kept me busy and distracted (and not thinking about my mistakes) disappear, and it all comes flooding back to haunt me.  I obsess about what went wrong last week, last month, fifteen years ago or more.  These are the mental one-sided conversations I keep having over and over and over again  hoping to be heard by those in my past, in my present.  

Not being seen or heard  painful remainders (yes, remainders) from my childhood.  These are the hot buttons that make me tough to live with and keep me from finding peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fickle Figs

I have always loved figs.
First it was only dried figs that were served whenever company was coming.  The figs came in a circle stacked side-by-side and sealed with crinkly cellophane.  We took those figs, bit off the tiny stem and stuffed them with walnuts for our guests. The figs were always accompanied on the serving platter by dates but first we had to squirrel in to get the pit out which was replaced by shoving an almond or two deep into the cylindrical cavity of those dates.  My friend (whose job it was to fly to Iran and inspect shipments of dates, apricots, & nuts) told me never to buy pitted dates. He saw that they were pitted by women using their teeth!

Fig Newtons were a treasured cookie of my childhood, though they've fallen out of favor now. (And I never took to those other-flavored fig newtons.)

When I moved to Manhattan I was exposed to fresh figs for the first time and I fell in love with their delicate sweet-not-sugary taste
  in salads with goat cheese and nuts, or wrapped in prosciutto.  Then I came across this simply exquisite artwork of figs online and I just couldn't stop staring at it.  The greens and the purples (my favorite colors), the beautiful gradation of colors, the exquisiteness of lines.  Here was someone who appreciated figs as much as I did.
Fabulous illustration by John Segal
About ten years ago, our down-the-block neighbor Frank gave us three fig saplings because we so loved his fresh figs. My husband planted them but they never took. After years of scraggly growth, two of the trees died off.  It was tough, but I was not fig-deprived.

Our neighbors, Jenni and Todd, have a truly massive fig tree in their yard and every year when their tree is bursting with more figs than they can possibly manage, they send out a blast email to everyone in the 'hood:

Please take some figs off our hands and make something delicious (or at least interesting) for the party we just decided to have next Saturday.  We have a gazillion figs in the fridge after this weekend's explosion. Come get some and make something to bring to a fig party...think fig pizza, fig bread, fig brownies, jam, sangria, newtons...

Hi, friends. Our fig tree is producing like crazy and we need your help! Please join us for our Second Annual Fig Pickin' on our new screened porch for figs and whatever goes well with figs.  The diversity and deliciousness of last year's fig dishes will be hard to top but we know you are up to the task!  If you are interested in making something, we will FIGure out how to get some to you. 

After a slow start our fig tree is finally producing, which means that it's time for our Third Annual Fig Pickin!  Please take some figs off our hands and make something figgin' awesome for the party.  Previous years' fig dishes have been diverse and delicious and repeat recipes are welcomed. Can you top figs in blankets? Figarettes?  

Year after year, it was wonderful but it was depressing.  Then a few years back my husband moved the sole remaining fig to the edge of his garden and finally, finally that little fig tree began to grow fruit! And for three years the fig grew green figs that never, NEVER ripened! They just stayed green, got hard and then died off. Why wouldn't OUR fig tree finish the job?  

This year, once again we got an abundant crop of green figs.  Each time I pulled into the driveway, I scanned that tree, hoping to see some ripening figs, and then  miracle of miracles  ONE ripened!  Hooray! That single fig was delicious!  Slowly others started to ripen and I thought, That tree has finally matured.  We're going to have a bumper crop of figs!  Each day as they softened we would get five to six ripe-for-the-picking fresh figs for eating…but you couldn't leave them to get that rich purple hue because the birds had their way at them so we picked them as judiciously and quickly as we could. 

After a week of getting those lovely figs, it all stopped.  No more ripened.  The bounty ceased.  I went online to see what I could find out.  Turns out there were many reasons:  not enough water; too much stress (how could a fig tree be stressed?); too much new growth diverting the plant's energy from ripening the figs it already had. That cause seemed probable  the tree was growing by leaps and bounds.  So, I got out the clippers and gently chopped off the new branch shoots from all over that tree.

The tree was loaded with green figs. 

And then, when all hope was lost  one  just one little fig started to turn,

 and before the birds could get at it, I quickly picked and ate that fig.

And the next week  after it turned cold and we'd already had fires in our fireplace — there were four more! Was the solution working?

This luscious fig had more time to mature…but not the others.

Now I ask you  why the heck won't ALL those fickle figs ripen?


Well, it seems the fig's on me because here it is mid-November, the leaves on that tree are turning spotty yellow/brown, falling off, and wouldn't you know  more figs are ripening!  Maybe I should start searching recipes.  Fig chutney anyone?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stuyvesant Square and Surrounds

My friend Shirley Sender died much too soon and whenever I am in New York I think of her.  This trip was no exception.

On the Lexington bus headed downtown, I passed (too fast to take a shot) a restaurant awning  Shirley.

I was going to see one of Shirley’s best friends (one of two Nancys) who’d recently had open-heart surgery and (thank the Lord) was doing very well.  Despite feeling as if she had been rammed by a car and a truck (one in front and one in back),  Nancy was sitting up, talking, taking short walks, and wise-cracking like her pre-surgery self. 

She was at Beth Israel Medical Center, down on First and 16th, in a spacious room (bigger than her West Village apartment, with French doors no less!) and a beautiful view  despite the scaffolding that wrapped the building outside her window.  In addition to seeing Nancy doing so well, meeting her multiple friends (Bryan, Dodie, Christina & Josh) and sharing stories, I got the pleasure of perusing the neighborhood once I left.


Stuyvesant Square Park  actually two lovely parks, back-to-back on either side of the avenue.  Though it was November, the leaves were turning and falling all around me, still there in the park were flowers in bloom…


       a beautiful strong and stalwart church standing guard  ready to slay dragons if needed…


and the quiet majesty of the Quaker presence  with their meeting house from 1786 (with plain but elegant moveable bench-pews painted dove-gray with worn red velvet cushions) and their Friends school.  Here I visited another friend-of-a-friend who was tending children while their Quaker parents communed in the hall upstairs.

The Quakers have their own tenets of truth.  Some emblazoned outside for all to see…

and other more subtly displayed to embed in one’s conscience.  Inside, where the children stayed and played while their parents discussed the problems of the world and how their social activism could help, I found a little truth for my own.

I was wearing the scimitar pin Nancy saved for me from Shirley’s collection.  

Maybe I’ll be slaying some dragons of my own.