Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Demon Racer

A few posts ago, I wrote about the neighborhood where I spent my childhood. The recent Soap Box Derby last week-end in Akron reminded me of this horrible boy, Lamar, and his horrible sister ,Jackie. I shall not use their last name because, in the unlikely event that they reproduced, I would not like to defame any spawn still in existence.

Lamar was a bully. He swore, using words that are now common in restaurants, malls, sports venues, cable TV, etc., any place where people gather, especially young ones. He picked fights over nothing. Both Lamar and Jackie were sturdy children. Jackie would stand in the middle of the sidewalk, hands on hips, and dare you to get by her. Jackie had been attacked by a dog at some point in her young life (probably provoked by her brother) and bore the scar on her face. That fact and Godknowswhat kind of home those kids came from probably wee behind her meanness. However, I was a skinny little person and she probably could have knocked me down by breathing heavily on me and I was not about to psychoanalyze her personality even if I'd known what that meant. All I knew was that the pair of them terrified me and every other kid in the neighborhood

In 1934, the first Soap Box Derbies were held in various cities. In those days kids made their "cars" out of whatever they could find around the garage, basement or the local vacant lot/rubbish dump. Baby buggy wheels, coaster wagon wheels, mounted on boards with a wooden carton for a body were the usual elements of the kid derby car. Lamar put together something and went to the local race.

It was sponsored, along with other organizations, by Rich's Department Store, which was offering the grand prize: a genuine gas-powered mini-racer. The other prize for the winner was an all expense trip to Dayton, Ohio, for the first national Soap Box Derby. You have probably already guessed who won that mini-racer and the all expense trip to Dayton, Ohio. Now, 1934 was just about the height of the Depression. Kids in that time were lucky to get a used bicycle, much less a genuine gas powered anything. The only good thing about going to Ohio was that he would be on a train! And stay in a hotel! Lamar! And his name and picture were in both the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal. Fame! Fortune! Lamar!

Well, at least he'd be out of the neighborhood for a few days, which meant freedom, a hiatus from fear. However, before that happened, we had to watch Lamar tool around the streets in his bright red and green gas powered min-racer from Rich's. Well, everyone was dying to get a ride , but knew there was no way anyone was going to ask Lamar for anything. And he knew it too, the little bastard. We stood on the sidewalk and watched him zoom (at around 3 mph) past with a smug look on his evil face.

I don't know how Lamar fared in Dayton, only that he did not become the first national champion of the first national Soap Box Derby. I don't remember how long he continued to drive his mini-racer; maybe it broke down, or his father took it apart and used the motor for something else.

The National Soap Box Derby moved to Akron, Ohio the next year where it continues to draw both boy and girl racers from all over the U. S. of A. The racing cars are now sleek fiber glass with standard wheels. The fiction of their being built by the kids is now over. It used to be held in August, and I would take the kids for school shopping at the two big department stores, which are, alas. no more. We would have lunch on Polsky's balcony and watch all the derby families at the other tables. There were special derby paper napkins and place mats. If we came a little early in the week we could watch the racer kids being driven down Main St. in convertibles and being greeted in front of the Mayflower Hotel by brass bands and pretty girls.
The Mayflower is now housing for people with disabilities and old folks in chronic poverty. Polsky's is part of the University of Akron and O'Neill's is occupied by a giant law firm. I think the kids are now welcomed at the new downtown baseball field , the pride of Akron, across from the old Mayflower. I'm sure that it is every bit as exciting as in the old days for those kids, but I am glad that we had our own fun back in the day.

But I wonder how many Lamars there are in that crowd of fresh faced kids?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dispatch from Abroad

Katina just celebrated Abschluss in Germany. Here is her mother's report.

In other words, Graduation Day. It started off in typical Burnell-Petrou disorganized fashion. First of all, I had to wake Katina up for school as I slept in myself...I was wondering why she was still in bed at 8:15 when school normally begins. But it turns out it didn't start until 9 a.m. Katina acted like it was no big deal - according to her, she just had to show up at school, pick up her final report card, give a gift to her teacher and have a glass of champagne. No formal ceremony, no parents. Well...thank God she asked me to drive her to school (it was raining, and god forbid her natural curls show up) because it was then that I saw hordes of dirndl clad mothers and daughters approaching the school. Totally bedraggled, unshowered and still in my pajamas, I asked her, "Wait...are parents supposed to be at this thing?" To which she slowly replied, "Um...I don't know...I didn't think so..." As if that weren't bad enough, the road to the school was blocked by Gymnasium brats blocking the way, going so far as to SIT ON MY CAR, refusing to move until I PAID them. WTF? I pleaded with the little f---ers that my daughter needed to get to her graduation, to which they just scoffed, "Too bad, pay us and we'll move". I could have throttled the privileged pimply faced brats. Apparently it's a custom for them to do this, to belittle the Realschule where Katina goes, to point out their "superiority" as Gymnasium students. As many of you know, Katina spent the majority of her high school education at Gymnasium, and this further justified my hatred of the place. I told them I had no money (again, no mercy, just braying laughter) and then I dug out a few cents from my wallet and threw it into the sweaty palms of the ringleader. By then, Katina had already fled the car in fury and impatience. I flew home, took the quickest shower of my life, threw on some nice duds and rode in the pouring rain on my bike to the school. Which was empty, because everyone was shoved into the airless church nearby. There was an endless mass going on which went on for an hour, full of that sort of droning folk music that makes you weak in the knees with misery and exhaustion. When that finally ended, we poured into the school, where the requisite glasses of Sekt and Mimosas were offered. In true Eileen Heckart fashion, I swilled a glass of Sekt, followed by a Mimosa, and threw some pretzel stix down my throat, realizing with horror that I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet, and my breath reeked of a combination of a dead mouse and garlic (perhaps THIS is the reason Katina doesn't inform us of school events?). Anyway, at this point I met up with Katina, who was surrounded by mama- and paparazzi snapping pix of their clique - of course, the parents all knew each other, and probably have for years, and one woman came up to me with a thick Bavarian accent and said, "Oh, I wondered who you belonged to!" (I said to Katina, "Story of my life.") Then we were rather unwillingly herded back to the church for more long winded speeches and folk music, but this time I was lucky to nab a seat in what appeared to be the foreigner section - i.e., the other 'garlic munchers' (as Chris and his siblings were called growing up in Anglo Australia). I dozed on and off while the speakers, in love with the sound of their own voices, wore us all to the ground. Give a German a microphone and purgatory ensues. Anyway, finally the wilting girls were given their diplomas, parental videocameras whirring, cameras clicking.
This dispatch contained a photo of Katina and some of her classmates. I am not using it because this blog is available to anyone who chances upon it. Needless to say, these are attractive young women and I don't like the idea of some creep drooling over a photo of them, especially Katina.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Salad Days

Too hot to cook. Almost too hot to eat. So salads have become a staple for dinner. Salads have come a long way since I was a child. In those days, it was usually cut up tomatoes and iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise. Since we lived in Georgia there was also shrimp salad which I loved, at least the way my mother made it with mayonnaise.

When WWII came along and my father had the back yard plowed up and put in a "Victory Garden" we started having home grown leaf lettuce with oil and vinegar(probably Wesson Oil and Mott''s apple cider vinegar) along with spring onions and tomatoes from the garden. Mother rubbed the salad bowl with a clove of garlic for a continental touch. Of course, during the winter, it was back to lettuce and tomtoes with mayo. And, of course, tuna salad with onions and pickle relish and mayo. There was also apple salad, with raisins, celery and the inevitable mayo. Sometimes Mother would make her own mayo with oil, eggs and lemon juice. It was delicious. We were big on mayonnaise. One of our favorite grilled sandwiches was peanut butter and mayo - on white bread, or course.

But I digress. The subject is salad. How did we live without a gazillion kinds of greens, olive oil, feta, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds or pecans, kalamata olives, oregano or dill, balsamic or wine vinegars, shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, fruits, raw vegetables, bacon or diced chicken, or all the other things we can make a big whole meal salad from? It will be nice to get back to a cooked meal eventually, but for now salads are great. I had lunch (a BLT) at Ray's today with some women from my aerobics class and one of them is going to bring me a recipe tomorrow for a great sounding couscous salad. Who ever heard of couscous back in the old days? Outside of a souk in Morocco?

Food, glorious food, salad-wise!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Staying Temporarily Hydrated

Ever since my experience with dehydration while in rehab for the broken hip, I have been very mindful of keeping hydrated. I keep a large container of ice water handy wherever I happen to be in my home. Especially in this beastly hot weather, I keep reading and hearing how important this is for geezers to keep that water going.

And that s the trouble with hydration. The life giving water does keep going. It does not seem to want to stay in my desiccated body very long. Our water aerobics instructor keeps telling us to bring a water bottle with us, which I refuse to do. I would have to get out of the water and dash to the loo and miss most of the exercising. As it is, I get a lot of exercise right here at home, dashing to the bathroom to dehydrate myself.

I have heard that the body gets used to this and regulates itself eventually. I have been drinking a lot of water for months now and it hasn't regulated anything. I've never been much of a water drinker. I have friends and children who have always been mighty water drinkers, who feel a thirst for it, gulping down great quantities of it. I almost never feel thirsty, even in hot weather, so I have to force myself to imbibe. I do not have to force myself to get rid of it; it forces me. I can be contentedly reading, or drawing and keep being interrupted by its demands. I have not choice, I guess, being old and dried up and at risk for blowing away, so I'll have to look at it as another form of exercise.

I have an addendum to my screed about the weather: my arms keep sticking to the drawing table, with the result that my drawing tools occasionally stick to my arm, too and I keep dropping pencils and such. My large bottle of water sticks to the coaster, which ends up dropping, or flying to the floor. More exercise spent leaning over to pick things up.

But life is good, innit? I just finished reading a good book (between trips to the bathroom), a fictional accocunt of the Bubonic Plague in a small English village in the 1660s. The inhabitants decided to quarantine thenselves to avoid spreading the plague to other villages in their vicinity. That actutally happened, but the author, Geraldine Brooks ("March"), made it into a very fine, if gruesome, story. I kept wanting to shout to the characters, "It's the fleas on the rats, people!" Alas, they didn't know that until the 1880s. Just so we can feel safe, since there are so many other things these days which can bump us off, the plague can be cured with antibiotics, if you haven't been using them for colds and such, for which they are no good anyway. One less thing to worry about. But I would not still not play with dead rats.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Blossoming Music

It's that time of time of year again, when young musicians from all over the world descend on Kent State's School of Music for the chance to be mentored by members of the Cleveland Orchestra. While they're learning , we're the lucky recipients of free chamber music concerts. On a hot summer afternoon, it's great to sit in a cool concert hall and listen to Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Schubert, Haydn and more contemporary, but still dead white European composers like Poulenc, Britten and Shostakovich. They'll occasionally throw in a really new composition, full of plucks, clicks and whines, but I enjoy it all.

I'm still doing sketches, but it's getting a bit tiresome, since where I sit only affords me either a first violinist or the violist in a string piece, or in the woodwinds, a clarinetist, flautist or oboist, depending on the seating arrangement for the group. Since they tend to bunch together , I seldom get a good view of the cellist or bassist. The oboist above is from a couple of years ago and I was struck by his slumping posture. I have a sketch of hi in a group and he is still slumping. I have wondered what sort of impression he must make when he auditions.

This year's group seems to be a cut above, although they are all usually very good. For some reason, this year we have five pianists from Korea. It's unusual to have that many pianists anyway. Yesterday all three of the numbers were with piano and the three that played were stupendous. I also noticed that there are a couple of high school students , both of them cellists. I can't remember if they've ever had high school students before. One played yesterday in a Shostakovich piano quintet winch was brilliant.

So, in a world where we tend to think of those under 25 spending their lives plugged into an electronic device, and being passive observers of virtual lives out there in the cyberworld, here are these young musicians who are making the most delightful music and appearing to enjoy it as much as the audience. Maybe they go back to the dorms and plug themselves in, but I doubt it. You can't make that kind of music without a lot of hard work and a love of making music.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's July, Dammit!

This is a summer version of a blog from last year. Is it very, very hot now? Yes, it is. And as soon as you turn on the radio or TV, you are being told that it is very, very hot now, and that it's going to be even hotter tomorrow, and that there's no relief in sight. When yo pick up the morning paper there is a headline that it is very, very, hot now. When you venture outside and meet up with a nother hot person, that person wants to know "Is it hot enough for ya?"

Well, it's July. It's summer. While there have been historical records of snow falling in July a hundred years ago, it is most generally HOT in July. It is most generally HOT in the summer.It is NOT news that it is hot in July. I do not wish to read or hear about this hotness. It will pass We have maybe only 10 - 15 days when it gets really hot, but then it goes away. If this were January and we had 90 degree weather , that would be news. I am perfectly able to discern hotness without having the media telling me this over and over. It's July dammit.

Along with the weather, we are also being inundated with non-news about LeBron James and whether he will abandon Cleveland for some other basketball venue. I am here to tell you that I don't give a s--t.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oh, What An Interesting Name You Have!

It has come to my attention that a couple of great nieces, whose middle name is Guenveur, have decided that they want to go by that name instead of the perfectly normal, easily spelled and pronounced names they already have been going by; lovely names, in fact, both of them. Obviously, they are of limited experience so far in their young lives. They have not had to introduce themselves to many people, or had to leave phone messages to business contacts.

They have not yet experiences that dead stop in social discourse, after being introduced, by having to pronounce the name several times, then being asked to to spell it out, resulting in being called Gwenver or Guinivere. They have not had to explain how they got that name, and what nationality it is. That have not had to deal with twits who giggle the next time they meet you and say that they just can't pronounce your name and would you tell them again? They have not yet been called, besides the misnomers already mentioned, Groover. Gunvor Govnor, Janvier (I am called this by a woman I have know for over 40 years), Gwen, Genver, Genvier, Gunnat - and a lot of other words that begin with "G" and end with "r." When you're working and have to meet a lot of people, it can be a big time waster.

And people always say, "What an INTERESTING name.!" Well, I guess that it might seem interesting if you don't have to struggle with it every time you meet someone. It's a great name for a hermit or a recluse. I expect the young ladies currently thinking of using that name think that's would be a great thing, to have an INTERESTING name. After thousands and thousands of times of the above results of having that name, I think they will find it not so interesting.

When I was in the third grade I decided to go by my first name (yes, Guenveur is my middle name, but it was the name I was called by from birth), which is Anne. Unfortunately, when the teacher called for Anne, I didn't respond. Then when I was in the ninth grade, new to high school, I decide to try spelling it Genver, not realizing that it was the "u" that made the hard "g", and sweet sister Eudora (now there's a name for ya) pronounced it "Jenver", thus leading Teddy Angelo, a no-neck football player, to call me Gennabee for the rest of my high school days. He was the only one to call me that, but I switch back to the usual damned spelling, and pronouncing and explaining.

It's a great middle name; it was my father's middle name and he used it until his college days when he switched to his first name, Sidney, and never looked back. I don't know if one is defined by a name, but I am who I am and would have been the same if I'd had the name my father wanted me to have: Sarah Jane. I would have been much less cranky about that name and I have always known that had I been named Sarah Jane, I would have been a perfectly splendid Sarah Jane.