MAINTAINING THE BUZZ

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

Successful restaurants, or so I’ve read, can go downhill overnight. The public can be fickle, on one side, and the operation itself, on the other, can implode. Oh, the stories we could tell!

In my new novel, What’s Left, her parents’ generation takes bold steps to anticipate changes in American food tastes. They brazenly agree to slightly re-position their landmark burger-and-fries restaurant (now called Carmichael’s Indiana) and the bar (the Taverna) while adding two new venues, one upscale (Carmichael’s Starlight), the other vegetarian (Bliss).

~*~

Though I cut this from the final version, I still love the taste of it on me tongue:

And the new Carmichael’s Stardust usually offered something daring, for our neck of the woods, depending on how we were feeling and how adventurous our customers were responding. Lamb shanks, anyone? Artichokes? Cornish hens? Brussels sprouts? We were expanding their horizons.

~*~

Well, that would have been pretty daring for the mid-’70s! We’ve come a long way since, something I’ll assume the Stardust menu has pursued. Vegetarian, meanwhile, has become both stricter and more innovative through its vegan adherents. I’m not at all surprised to find how often our meals fall into its range, even without trying. As for a late-night gathering spot? The Taverna strikes me as a step up from a typical bar. Makes me think, in fact, of the late lamented Barley Pub here in town.

Think of your own tastes. Which of the restaurants would be your first choice?

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TEN FAVORITE LIFEGUARDS

We’ve tried to keep them from getting bored as we swim laps. They’ve done the same. Come to think of it, I doubt that I’ve ever used any of these names in my fiction.

  1. Tynisha.
  2. Caleb.
  3. Hannah.
  4. Nate.
  5. Emilee.
  6. Lexi.
  7. Jess.
  8. Moriah.
  9. Matty.
  10. Alec (plus Alex, as a team).

~*~

Dustin Hoffman’s moonlighting job in Stranger Than Fiction almost made the list, but real life wins out on this one. Come to think of it, these could all be movie stars.

Well, how’s that for a prompt? Who do you know who’d you cast in a movie? Turn into a big celebrity, if you could?

Wisps of morning fog on the Damariscotta River, Maine. Tall masted clipper ships built just upstream once passed by here on their way to long trips on the oceans.

Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.

A WORKING MOTHER, ALL THE SAME

Cassia gets her name from the flowering acacia tree. The honey locust is a related species.

Bella is a grandmother Cassia never meets in the flesh in my new novel, What’s Left, but she’s a vivid figure in the granddaughter’s life all the same.

Bella comes to be the colorful face of the family restaurant, Carmichael’s, a woman who seems to know everybody in town and brightens their lives as soon as they walk through the door.

She may be the mother of five children, but somehow she manages to juggle both work and family – perhaps thanks to the older generation’s active support.

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OH, THE FINALS WEEK ORGY

Among the gifts I received at Christmas was a tablet laptop, with the expectation I’d be using especially for Kindle editions – including my own ebooks.

But so far what I’ve really appreciated is its ability to stream music.

For me, that’s meant Q2’s New Sounds and Operavore from WQXR in New York and WHRB from Harvard University in Cambridge.

With solid jazz from 5 a.m. till 1 p.m. and some adventurous classical continuing till 10 p.m., plus the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons and another opera on Sunday night, my listening is mostly on the Harvard station. Admittedly, the student announcers can be unintentionally amusing in their pronunciations and amateurish touches, but I usually find that more amusing than annoying.

This spring, though, I finally got to experience an amazing tradition on the station – the finals week Orgy, when the regular programming is set aside for in-depth presentations of specific composers or performers.

This one, for example, celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth by presenting just about all of his compositions that have been recorded – some from his high school years – as well as a hefty slice of works under his baton and the aural portion of his televised Young People’s concerts, one a day – over a five-day span. There was also an insightful Florence Price orgy, and a Rossini opera every noontime in observance of the 150th anniversary of his death.

There was also a presentation of the entire discography of jazz pianist Fred Hersch, an Overshadowed round on outstanding composers or performers who are less famous than others in their family (conductor Paavo Jarvi got good play with the Cincinnati Symphony), the complete recorded works of Edvard Grieg in celebration of his 175th birthday. Quite simply, I’m looking at all of them in a much broader and appreciative light now.

It’s not all classical, either, not by a long shot. One fascinating series was titled “Why Does Everybody Hate Disco?” while another, reflecting an inclination for some truly arcane indulgences, was “Yang Haisong and the Chinese Indie Scene.” There was much, much more.

Quite simply, I’m left wondering why more radio stations don’t go in for this kind of excess more often. It’s exciting – and, yes, it can also be satiating, boring, or too much, just as I suppose a Roman orgy would be – but, my, I found myself carrying that tablet with me through my chores around the house. I anticipated what was coming up, rather than expecting more of the same as you find on most cookie-cutter programming.

So what are you listening to? And why? Any recommendations, especially when it comes to streaming? We’re all ears.

TEN REASONS NOT TO WORRY ABOUT A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE COMING YOUR WAY

Do I really have to define this? To be honest, until recently about all I knew about the topic came from overhearing someone who’s truly terrified about it, but then you have to realize he’s terrified by everything, including his own shadow. A little research, though, casts the possibility in a much calmer light. For instance:

  1. It’s essentially a suburban phenomenon, should it erupt, starting at the malls. You don’t go there, do you?
  2. That also means it’s afraid to venture into the ghetto – and anything close to center city.
  3. It self-selects for Trump country, something like the plagues of Egypt. By the way, there’s no harm in sprinkling your doorposts with sheep’s blood, just in case. (You may want to keep some on hand.)
  4. It also heads straight for Walmart. Think of the cockroach hotel ads, “They go in but they don’t come out.”
  5. It runs in terror at the slightest whiff of high culture – paintings, fine literature, jazz, classical music, opera (especially) ward it off. Keep a good supply of Shakespeare quotes at the tip of your tongue. They’re better than any arcane spell you could cast.
  6. There’s some debate about whether it’s spread by infected people or by an airborne virus. Here’s a hint: It has no sense of humor – it’s completely defenseless against laughter. Or really bad jokes. (“You hear the one about two zombies go in a bar?”)
  7. As people? Traditional slow zombies will get in the way of the newer mutant fast zombies. They’ll start tripping over each other, which will lead to biting their rivals. New research indicates their blood types won’t match and that will be that. End of the show.
  8. Or consider traffic gridlock. Major highways and bridges stop moving at a given volume – and many zombies will expire right there. You really didn’t expect them to be walking anywhere, did you?
  9. And as a virus? Simple. Stockpile your vitamin C. And take it faithfully.
  10. They won’t want your home-canned green beans. Or any other greens, for that matter. It’s too quiet where I live. Zombies would be looking for live action. I’m more worried about garden slugs.

~*~

So what potential global catastrophes are keeping you up nights? And how would you advise coping?

 

African violets in a cozy window.

Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.

 

BACK AMONG THE LIVING

First, my apologies for not being, well, as present and active as I would have liked over the past five months. When it comes to blogging, most of my material has flowed from what I scheduled before the end of last year. I haven’t added fresh dispatches or participation much at other sites, and it’s showing.

It’s not what I intended.

Let me explain.

Shortly after the release of the Advanced Reading Copy of my newest novel, What’s Left, back in the first week of January, I found myself in the emergency room for what I thought would be more inclusive tests, but, well, my real-life plot thickened. We’d just had a big snow, and I was hoping to be out in it on my cross-country skis for the first time that winter. But I was having what I thought was a breathing problem, one that several buddies in the medical profession had informally thought might be a walking pneumonia arising in a bug that made the rounds last fall.

The previous week, though, I’d finally gone in to have my primary care physician check that out. The good news, he said, was that my lungs sounded clear. But he also ordered X-rays, scheduled a stress test, and then, instead of his usual droll humor, said very firmly if this happened again I was to go straight to the ER to have it checked out while the symptoms were still present.

Six days later – and two days before my scheduled stress test – we had that big snow. The symptoms were back. Despite my reluctance to go to the ER, my wife and elder daughter insisted otherwise, and since said daughter had just driven into town, her car was already cleared off and warm. She dropped me off at the hospital.

Fortunately, I brought along a fat, juicy Richard Avedon biography that my younger daughter had given me for Christmas. This was going to take longer than I’d planned. At least I had that fun read to occupy my time. But then, I should have also been suspicious when they asked if I had a living will (“That’s routine, isn’t it?” I told myself) even before other medicos said my EKG didn’t match the last one they had, from nine years earlier, but that wasn’t definitive. And then the physician on duty essentially said she wasn’t releasing me till I had a stress test, likely the next morning. “Could you get it in today?” Well, she managed, and I was wheeled off through the corridors. Remember, the earliest date that had been available the previous week is still coming up the day after tomorrow.

By this point I figured I might as well just lean back and enjoy the trip. Don’t ask too many questions, and don’t worry. Talk show host Larry King had the advice of not giving yourself too much time to read too many things that could go wrong.

Had I ever been on a treadmill before? Not that I can remember, and probably not with all the EKG tabs connected, but it was kind of fun, especially with the big video in front of me projecting souped-up color shots of wilderness scenes. Nearly complacent, I felt in great shape as I stepped off the machine and stretched out on the examination table for the follow-up echocardiology round. And that’s when the breathing problem kicked in. I heard whispering behind me, “No, it’s bigger than that,” and was introduced to the cardiologist, who told me he wanted to insert a probe into my wrist so he could check out my artery … and, as I learned afterward, my heart itself.

So I was whisked off again, to the cath lab and a couple of great nurses who prepped me and kept me amused while we waited for Unit 2 to be available.

Next thing I knew, as I regained full consciousness, I was being informed I now have a stent in my heart. What they found was a 99 percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery from my lung to my heart – what used to be called a widow maker.

They were keeping me over and the hospital was full-up. Still, my attitude was one of feeling blessed, as it had been from entering the ER earlier in the day. I’ve had a full life, after all, and am alive in faith – or in the Spirit, as we say.

What became clear in the following weeks is just how close I’d come to having a heart attack in the previous months, and just how lucky I was. The wife of a fellow swimmer is a nurse who thinks my active swimming and choral singing probably gave me a big edge in keeping the blood to my heart flowing over the previous months. A tenor in our choir, a thoracic surgeon, remarked, “Classic signs of angina.”

“But there was no pain,” I’ve been insisting. “Only a kind of pressure, if that.”

OK, note the shortness-of-breath part of the warning. I have a ton of allergies. Somewhere in there, I did have a two-hour battery of pulmonary tests, another wild trip, where my singing and swimming had my lungs performing at the 98 and 99 percent efficiency level. The tech was impressed. I was relieved.

In the months following, I’ve been on the mend. Done ten weeks of cardio rehab, my introduction to exercise machines, only with a trainer and nurses present to monitor the EKG connections and set a pace for me. Getting adjusted to the meds, with the side effect of dizziness and the need to stay hydrated has been a challenge, especially since that latter aggravates another situation. Ahem.

And then a very nasty bug and cough in the past month have taken a toll.

So all in all, I’ve been largely AWOL or missing in action when it comes to my normal activities.

It’s feeling great, though, to be inching back. Just need to take it gently, as they’ve all told me.