Monday, February 28, 2011
I don't know which came first -- this blog, or my tendency to travel around the different epochs of my life. This is what prompted my Proustian meanderings. (Who am I kidding? I've been reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for what seems like an eternity. How am I ever going to get through Proust?) Today, as I made my way from the Technology and Training Center, where my office is located, over to the Administration Building for a meeting just next door, something hit me. I'm not sure if it was a breeze, a ray of sunshine, or a combination of both. Maybe it was the sound of that breeze as it worked its way through the canopy of trees that surrounds our complex, or the scent of a budding flower. I think it had something to do with being in a campus-like setting during the time of year when the weather starts to take a turn for the better.
Suddenly, I flashed on a patch of dirt and grass across Marshall Street from the Generic Bar in Syracuse. We called it something with the word "Beach" in the title. It was either just "The Beach," or "Generic Beach," or "M-Street Beach." Something. We would go into the Generic, buy our beers and cocktails, and then take our places on that patch on the other side of the street and watch the world go by on M. Street. We were peaceful, so the cops never gave us any trouble. I remember my friends Jem, Kenny and I once joking drunkenly at the expense of our number-one basketball star at the time, Dwayne "Pearl" Washington as he walked by with his entourage. We couldn't help noticing that he had a huge rear end, something we hadn't quite realized watching him work on the Carrier Dome floor. "Hey, Jane!" we slurred, just quietly enough so that he couldn't hear us, "get your books outta your butt. Why are you carrying your books in your butt?" No one else got the joke, but it killed me, Jem and Kenny.
It was such a joyous time, as that iceberg of a campus turned into one of the most beautiful places you'll ever visit in the warmer months. I'm no meteorologist, but I'm guessing that the same lakes and glacial formations that make for arctic freezes and record snowfalls also somehow account for the crystalline blue skies of summer up there in Central New York.
There were a few spots where we gathered during the thaw. The Beach was only one of them. Others included Fraternity Row on Walnut Park, where beer flowed and bands often played in the spring and summer. The quad is an obvious one; I picture sitting on the steps of Hendricks Chapel, or throwing frisbees, shirtless. There was Thornden Park, overlooked by some students, but to me one of the great treasures of that campus, and even Oakwood Cemetery, where I took many pleasurable walks during my time as an undergraduate up there.
College is such an important time in a young person's life; it leaves an indelible impression on the soul. I wonder if my friends who do college counselling -- Tara, Eva, Erik, and the rest -- think about this much, as they send their kids out there into the world. Knowing them as I do, and knowing they are all such good souls, I have no doubt that similar images of springtime on campus come up each time they shepherd another one off into the Great Unknown that will help determine the rest of their lives.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I'll obviously need to see "The King's Speech," as well.
There will be cynical reactions to Kirk Douglas's piece, but I was touched to see him on that stage. And, as my wife (what's her name? Oh, yeah, Jeanette) said, James Franco and Anne Hathaway were "forgettable" as co-hosts. In my opinion, Anne came off as trying too hard, and James came off as not having prepared all that much. (In fact, he'd flown in for rehearsals on the weekends, due to his workload as a PhD student at NYU.) There were the usual clunky bits that you can't help but think should have been cut to avoid the inevitably long run-time. This year, the "musicalization" of "Harry Potter" and "The Social Network" was a time-waster, although I'll admit the "Twilight" punchline "Doesn't this guy own a shirt?" was good for a chuckle. I always find the "In Memoriam" bit moving. This year the experience was odder than usual, however, as my five year old, Jackson, sat next to me, astutely saying, "Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead," after each person's image was flashed on the screen, until I asked him to stop. The ones that made me saddest were Pete Postlewaite, Dennis Hopper, and Patricia Neal.
Throughout my life, Oscar night has been a big deal. My mother used to pop popcorn and make fudge for us. More recently, before leaving New York, Jeanette and I got into Oscar Pools and we hosted a memorable party for the awards the year before we moved. I used to actually see all the movies before the Oscars, but nowadays, my life is a little too hectic, and movies are a little too expensive, so I no longer know anything about the films, other than the buzz that's out there. I saw "127 Hours," which impressed me, and solidified my admiration for James Franco. I bought the DVD of "The Social Network" and enjoyed it; however, I have to confess I don't see it as "best movie" caliber. That being said, I'm happy for Aaron Sorkin, who was an undergraduate at Syracuse University during the years I was up there. Go Orange!
I know it's fluff. I know it's emblematic of a decadent culture. I know there are other, more important things the money could be spent on. But I can't help it. I have always watched the Oscars, and I probably always will. Next year, Jeanette and I are hoping to host our first Austin-area Oscar party. So don't make any plans for Sunday, February 26, 2012....
Saturday, February 26, 2011
"I don't believe it. Ducky Medwick is here! At our hotel!"
My brother, mother and I all looked at each other. We had no idea what he was talking about.
"He played for the Dodgers. When they were in Brooklyn. He was one of my favorite players. I just met him. I just shook Ducky Medwick's hand."
I think we may have met Joe Medwick, former Brooklyn Dodger at that point. He may have flashed a big, fancy World Series ring. It's one of those things that either happened, or I "filled it in" to make for a better story. To this day, I'm not sure what he was doing in Little Rock in the middle of summer. It wasn't the kind of heat you wanted to be in if you could avoid it.
Like many, my father was disappointed by the Dodger's departure from New York. He explained that back then there was a class thing going on; the pinstripes of the Yankees represented the pin-striped suits of Big Business, whereas the Dodgers were the team of the people. It's well documented that they used to take the streetcars and buses down Eastern Parkway, where they lived among their fans, in order to get to the park.
The Yankees were the enemy. They were the rich cousin who always made the Dodgers look bad in their many battles for the world championship. (Except for that one, lone victory in 1955, the one bright spot for Dodger fans in that storied rivalry.)
This rivalry created a generation of Yankee-haters. It seethed from my father's pores. He barely allowed us to watch the Yankees. In our home, it was Channel 9 and the Mets only. We didn't dare switch to the Yankees on Channel 11. I'm not sure what he would have done. My father was a gentle man, but there was something about his demeanor that told us this might change if we ever flicked that dial two clicks clockwise. So we never did.
He was a National League loyalist who always rooted against the American League during the World Series. Those two back-to-back losses in 77 and 78 had my father feeling the despair of his youth; you could see it on his face. The 1981 win over the Yankees brought back a bit of that 1955 adulation for him.
I say all this to preface my brief love affair with -- dare I say it -- the Yankees. The 1996 team was hard not to love, even for someone brought up as a hardcore Yankee-hater. They were homegrown young players like Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, and they were a lot of fun to watch, because they seemed to be having more fun than everyone else out there. I also had a great time going to games that year with James Savoca, a long-time Yankee fan. When I showed up at my dad's place in Irvington for dinner one night, he saw the Yankee cap on my head and said, "What is that?" as if I were wearing a satanic head dress or something.
Flash forward to my Dominican father-in-law, Daniel Reyes, another Yankee lover. He was convinced, when I married his daughter, that I was a Yankee fan like him. I started dating his daughter right around the time I had my brief love affair with his team, so I can see why. Of course, now he's figured out the truth. He enjoys rubbing my nose in Yankee victories, but in his polite, smiling way.
And it's true, since the acquisition of numerous big-ticket superstars who will remain nameless, I've kind of gone back to being a Yankee hater again. I get a deep joy from seeing them lose -- something that must go back genetically to my father's painful experience as a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Sorry, suegro. It's just the way I was raised.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Before it happened to me, it happened to a friend of mine. We were hanging out with a group at a bar in Madrid, and suddenly this weird kind of rolling commotion made its way across the room to us. It was odd, because even though Spaniards are generally quite open and friendly, madrilenos have that sort of cosmopolitan cool that tends to keep little groups of friends from mixing in bars like the one we were in, an old-fashioned neighborhood tapas place. But this murmur rolled its way over to us, and the people had all parted, so that my friend Jose could see this other guy who looked just like Jose across the bar. Both men laughed and shook hands, and exchanged a few words, and that was the end of it.
Up until the summer of 1988, I'd never had a double before. When Valley Girl came out, a lot of my high school friends made a big deal about Nicholas Cage and I having a resemblance to each other, which I guess I could see. The lidded eyes, dark brows, spiky (at the time) hair. I could see it. And there was a guy I waited tables with up in Syracuse who answered to the same general description, I'd say. (Enough so that our tables were always getting us confused, and we finally gave up correcting them and ended up sharing a bunch of tables and their tips.)
I did finally meet my double during that summer of 1988, while traveling in Greece. I was on a small power boat, an island hopper, with Susan and her dad, along with nine or ten other passengers. Suddenly, reminiscent of what had happened in the tapas bar with Jose, a murmur began building. This one was odder, though, since I don't speak any Greek. People shifted their places, leaning back, carefully, so as not to capsize, until another young man of about my age and I were looking at each other from either end of the boat, he at the stern, me at the bow. The people were laughing and patting both of us on the back, and I think Ken may have said something like, "Hey, would you look at that guy? He kinda looks like you."
I think my double and I were more embarrassed than anything else, now that all eyes were on us. I didn't quite know what I was expected to do. Was I supposed to wobble my way to the other end of the boat and shake his hand? Hug him? Instead, we just waved at each other weakly, until the people settled back down for the rest of the trip.
Of course, I no longer look anything like the slender, feather-haired young man that we both were that day on the Aegean Sea twenty-three years ago. I'm a heavier, balder, grayer version of that guy. I wonder if my double is still my double, or if he's still slender, with a full head of hair. And I wonder if he's sitting somewhere in Greece, wondering the same thing about me....
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
This time, however, I'm relieved, when he asks, "Can we put on some music and dance?"
"Yes! Of course we can, my son! Of course!" Jeanette was thrilled, and immediately began her stretches, in preparation. (I'm teasing. Homegirl was doing handstands as they danced. Literally. Hot yoga is definitely paying off.) Anyway, I'm a little under the weather with asthma and allergies right now (no, seriously, I am), so I had to play deejay. Thinking fast, I put "Michael Jackson Radio" on the Pandora, and the party STARTED.
No, I didn't videotape it this time, sadly, though I did think about it. What happens when you do that sometimes, though, is that it can kill the spontaneity of it. And man, watching my two boys and their mom going like tops around the living room floor with "Beat It" and "When Doves Cry" and "Remember the Time" playing . . . I tell you, it doesn't get any better than that.
Jackson's moves were more rhythmic, and MUCH more, um, how do I put this... adult ... than Diego's. For example, at one point, he was kind of like "freakin" Jeanette from behind (I don't know where he learned it, I swear), and as I raised an eyebrow, he grinned and saluted me. The kid saluted me. I shit you not. We're in SO MUCH trouble. Diego was more ethereal; his dance style was more of a "flow," with some robot thrown in there. I think he's learning different steps in P.E. class right now.
As I think I've said before somewhere in these pages, there will come a time, a few years from now, when these two young people will not be this into us. Dancing with their parents will be way down there on their list of things they consider fun. In fact, I don't think it will be on their list at all. So for now, Jeanette and I live for these moments.
Oh, okay, you want to see them dancing? Here you go: In case you missed it, here they are, dancing to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
Thursday, February 17, 2011
One of my favorite pieces of filmmaking/literature/performance is Jonathan Demme’s “Swimming to Cambodia.” Spalding Gray is beyond neurotic, giving voice to a number of my own manias throughout the tour-de-force monologue.
In that performance, there’s a segment in which Spalding talks about what he calls “Magical Thinking.” It’s his obsessive compulsive need to perform certain rituals, including not being able to leave his home until he hears a positive word on the radio.
It’s hilarious to me because it’s so recognizable. Like Gray, I believe in “magical thinking.” I take things as omens all the time, and this morning I had a doozy.
Driving south on Gregg Manor Road towards 290, after dropping off my kids at Manor Elementary School, I saw, about five cars ahead of me, a fox make a run for it across both lanes of heavy school-time traffic, from east to west across Gregg Manor. He was so fast (I say “he” not knowing the gender, obviously) that I don’t think the cars he managed to bisect even realized he’d gone across.
But I saw him, clear as day – a Running Fox – right there in front of me. Of course by the time I reached the point where he’d made his crossing, he was nowhere to be seen, snuggled safely amid the tall pasture grass that borders the Shadowglen golf course.
Significance: My name: Fuchs, German for fox. My tattoo on my left bicep, a running fox. And my film company, whose name is tagged on the documentary I’m about to present at a national conference in South Carolina? You guessed it: Running Fox Productions.
I felt as if God sent that fox in my path as if to say, “Don’t sweat it, Dan. The people who come see your film are going to love it. It’s good work. Be proud of it.”
The thing about me and my belief in omens, is that I tend to believe the ones I perceive to be “positive” ones. If it had been a black cat darting across Manor Road I would have pshawed it, having a private giggle for those poor suckers who believe in that sort of thing.
But if it’s going to help me have a better experience at the At Risk Youth Forum next week, then I say thank you, to God, and to that little gray fox, for giving me the courage to go forth and excel.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
“Singing in the Rain” (Fred Astaire) A Clockwork Orange – (1971, dir. Stanley Kubrick) Malcolm McDowell’s Alex and his cohorts beat a man senseless as they dance along to this tune.
“In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel) Say Anything– (1989, dir. Cameron Crowe) Lloyd Dobbler, played by John Cusack, stands atop the hood of his car at dawn, and blares this song out of his very 80’s-looking boom box, in hopes that Diane (Ione Skye) will take him back.
“Stuck In The Middle With You” (Steel Wheel) Reservoir Dogs – (1992, dir. Quentin Tarantino) Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) tortures Officer Marvin Nash, as he moves around him, to the beat of this classic oldie, ultimately slicing off Nash’s ear before being shot by Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange.
“Tiny Dancer” (Elton John) Almost Famous – (2000, dir. Cameron Crowe) The members of Stillwater, along with their entire crew of roadies and groupies, enjoy a moment of unmitigated joy in their tour bus, in an impromptu sing-along of the Elton John hit, unofficially inviting 15 year-old journalist William Miller into their family of gypsies.
“Sister Christian” (Night Ranger) Boogie Nights – (1997, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) John C. Reilly, Thomas Jane, and Mark Wahlberg sit in a growing rage of paranoia, before getting up the nerve to rob coke dealer Albert Molina, who dances in his underwear to the song, as his Asian lover periodically lights firecrackers in the background.
"Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" (B.J. Thomas) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - (1969, dir. George Roy Hill) For those of us who saw this movie as young children, this scene, in which Butch takes his friend's girl for a romantic bike ride (with no rain in sight, strangely) was our first glimpse at seeing the opposite sex as something other than "yucky." Katherine Ross was stunning.
“Goodbye Horses” (Q Lazzarus) Silence of the Lambs – (1991, dir. Jonathan Demme) I’m not sure how many of us had heard this haunting song before seeing the famous “Buffalo Bill Dance,” (picture "tucking it in") but if we ever heard it again, we’d certainly think of one of the most disturbing sequences (not to mention brilliant acting by Ted Levine) in modern film…
"Mr. Postman" (The Marvellettes) Mean Streets - (1973, dir. Martin Scorsese) Scorsese uses popular music like crazy in his movies (culminating with a near-nonstop musical soundtrack for Goodfellas in 1990), and this is one of his earliest. He likes to "choreograph" his fight scenes, and this one -- after DeNiro and company object to being called a "mook" -- is one of the first examples of this well-known Scorsese device.
"Surfin Bird" (The Trashmen) Pink Flamingos - (1972, dir. John Waters) If you haven't seen it, I'm not going to describe it. Best not to think about this scene for too long.
"Layla (Piano Exit)" Derek and the Dominoes - Goodfellas - (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese) This four-minute "outro" of the song "Layla" becomes the signature song of a LOADED soundtrack, when Ray Liotta explains the meaniing of the term "Goodfellas" while we see the aftermath of Jimmy's (DeNiro's) "housecleaning." The camera pans into the murder scenes of six former associates. The sequence culminates when the song goes silent, along with Liotta's voiceover, and we hear Joe Pesci's Tommy whimper, "Oh, no," when he realizes he's not going to be made, he's going to be whacked...
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Stay with me while we grow old/
And we will live each day in springtime/
Cause lovin' you has made my life so beautiful/
And every day my life is filled with lovin' you.
-- Lovin You, Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph
The Grammy Awards have come and gone, and it kept the attention of my two boys (ages 5 and 7) surprisingly well. I guess it makes sense -- people making music and wearing outlandish costumes is kind of like every Disney musical they've ever seen. Some were more cartoonish than others, obviously.
I was most struck by the enthusiasm with which Jackson, the five year old, responded when The Bieber (as we call him around Chez Fuchs) appeared on screen. Again, not much mystery there; he's a child who wows adults with his rhythmic and dancing skills. And you can't turn on any of the channels my kids enjoy watching without seeing The Bieber promoting his new film, "Never Say Never." I've got highly educated friends of mine professing their love for the kid on their Facebook pages. It's kind of scary.
So as I'm witnessing my kids' idolization of Grammy hopefuls like The Bieber, I am prompted to take a look back in time to when I was at my sappiest. The year was 1976, and I was 12 going on 13, squarely in the most uncomfortable time in a boy's life -- the "pre-teen" years. The pop songs that dominated the spring of that year went right to my heart, pulling at its mythical strings. "I Like Dreaming," "My Eyes Adored You," and "Silly Love Songs" are three hits that sent me into flights of romantic imaginings. When I heard these songs I needed to find a quiet, private space where I could just sit and listen and place myself in the story I thought the song was trying to tell. One of those places was in the stand of pine trees that marked the property line between the Karneses and the Hills. I liked to climb to the top of these pines, some thirty to forty feet up. From that high I had a great view of the Francises' back yard, and I would often see Debbie, a dimple-cheeked girl with a dazzling, snaggle-toothed smile and sandy brown hair, running and playing with her three collies who barked non-stop, all day and night. The song was perfect in my mind: “Carried your books from school, playing make believe you’re married to me. /You were fifth grade; I was sixth, when we came to meet.”
Of course as anyone and everyone knows, 1976 also marked the pinnacle of the ascendancy of disco music, and although I certainly recall trying to make sense of "Disco Duck" and "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," Rick Dees and K.C. did not feature prominently in the soundtrack of my childhood. Disco was the music that made its way through the rafters of the ice skating rink at Rye Playland, where my friends tried to rip the labels off the back of the girls’ Levi’s as they giggled past, fully aware of their part in the game. When you actually got the tag, which was rare indeed, the idea was to walk the girl in question outside to the boardwalk. Then you’d push your way through a cut-out bit of chain link fence and make your way down to the beach. Once there, you were expected to chat a bit. And then you made out.
I'd like to tell you I know this from my own experience at the time, but then I'd be getting into the realm of fiction. In reality, I may have gone skating once or twice at Playland, but I was self-conscious, awkward, and decidedly unsuccessful in the seeking and acquisition of Levi's tags. In a word, I was a sap. I made up elaborate stories in my head of defending Debbie's honor and rescuing her from those who would do her harm. These were usually personified by boys in our class who I identified as bullies. In my fantasies I beat them senseless, utilizing Kung Fu skills that made Bruce Lee's look amateurish. In tears, she would thank me, and we would kiss.
It wasn't until a couple of years later, not long after my braces were removed, that I finally had my first kiss. It was an abject failure. The girl was someone I didn't even know all that well; we were at a drive-in movie together with a group of friends, and I guess she just felt it was the thing to do. Her breath smelled like cigarette smoke and buttery popcorn, and she watched the movie with one eye as we kissed. That would have been in the summer of 1979, when I was sixteen years old. Late, I know, for a first kiss. 1979 was, appropriately, the year of Meatloaf's "You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth." The lyric continues, "It must have been while you were kissing me."
Thankfully, my first "real girlfriend" saved me later that summer, when she kissed me the way every 16 year old boy wants to be kissed. When I'm asked about my First Kiss, I usually delete the drive-in one, and move right to this one. It happened on a perfect, temperate night, and we were playing ping pong in an odd little outbuilding that her family had constructed for the kids years ago. It had electricity, and I remember this, because at an opportune moment, I turned off the light, pulled her to me in the darkness and had the kiss that made me understand what the big deal was. Thinking of it now, my breathing changes, and my vision clouds a little. (Or maybe I'm just getting to the age where I need my asthma pump and reading glasses.)
Keeping to the theme, our make-out album was Carole King's Tapestry, which came out in 1971. I liked that it was retro and not tied to the inane stuff that we were hearing on the radio that year. (Ah, who am I kidding? I loved "What A Fool Believes" by the Doobie Brothers and "Crazy Love" by Poco.)
There's one song that I listen to today that still brings me back to that perfect moment. (And it is a perfect moment. It's one of those moments I'll be muttering about as an old man, when my grandchildren come to visit me at the Home.) It's a stanza from Greg Brown's 1990 song, "If I Had Known."
A hayride on an Autumn night
Well we was 15 if I remember right
We were far apart at the start of the ride
but somehow we ended up side by side
We hit a bump and she grabbed my arm
The night was as cold as her lips were warm
I shivered as her hand held mine
And then I kissed her one more time
And Jane if I had known--
I might have stopped kissing right then
It's just as well we don't know
when things will never be that good again
Now, there are people out there -- some of whom are likely to be reading this -- who need to be assured that they're not to take Greg's words literally. Of course, there have been experiences that have eclipsed the one I described above since that time.
But the memory of that moment is pristine. It was as if my sappy boyhood fantasies all suddenly came to life. Not surprisingly, those fantasies tailed off after that, as I found that living in the real world wasn't so bad after all.Oh and by the way, if I managed to get any of the songs I've referenced stuck in your head, I apologize.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
After graduating from Syracuse in the summer of 1986, my girlfriend and I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we lived with her father in his three bedroom home. Just next door lived a very pleasant French couple, Michel and Jacqueline. Michel worked at one of the local universities, and Jacqueline stayed home with the boys, Damien and Antoine, who were about 6 and 4, if I'm remembering right.
Susan and I worked for a little over a year in Boston, so that we could save up enough money to get us to Europe. We were accepted into a teacher training program in London, where we would stay for the first month, before going to Madrid to live and work. It had been decided that we would spend the Christmas holidays with Michel, Jacqueline and the boys at their home in Nantes. (They had returned to France at the end of that previous summer.)
Our experience in London was amazing, to put it simply; I'm sure it will come up in another blog at another time. We arranged to take the ferry over the channel to Le Havre, then a commuter train to Nantes. I did my best to get us around, as neither of us spoke French, but my facility with phrasebooks is considerable. (I chalk this up to being my father's son. He spoke a number of languages.) Michel was there to greet us when our train arrived, much to my relief, at their stop in Nantes.
Nantes was a quaint town, all decked out for the holidays in lights and garland. Michel and his family were warm hosts who made us feel at home and showed us around the town. For Christmas day, they drove us out to Jacqueline's parents' house by the sea. We were fed an outrageous feast that included quail and suckling pig. My best memory from that visit was sitting in the dank basement of their old house, shucking oysters with Jacqueline's father. Neither one of us could speak the other's language, but we laughed and enjoyed ourselves together, in the simple act of shucking oysters. The wine might have had something to do with it.
Man, the wine. It just flowed and flowed and flowed. And it was ALL excellent. Not one bad sip the whole time. This may -- I'm realizing now -- be the reason this blogpost is so devoid of the usual detail. It is a little foggy, as I think back.
Anyway, yes, the wine flowed throughout Christmas, and it flowed on New Year's Eve, when we sat down, back in Nantes, with Michel, Jacqueline and several of their friends. They were an interesting bunch, many of whom were working on the unification of the European currencies into something that would be called the "Euro." I remember thinking it was a crazy idea; no way they would get that done by the year 2000, even though that seemed a long way away.
Michel sat at the head of the table, next to a case of champagne. Every few minutes he would pop a new bottle and pass it around. The flavor of that wine was like none I'd had before or since. So perfect. And the bubbles had the effect of lifting my spirits, filling me with love.
At one point, in this state of euphoria, I looked to my left, where Jacqueline was speaking, in French, of course, about something I couldn't understand. I had always found her attractive; she was petite, with sharp features and fair, freckled skin. Her hair was in fine, sandy-blond curls that framed the edges of her face. But the detail that caught me on this particular night (we were probably into the early morning by this point) was that she was wearing some kind of makeup that had just the subtlest presence of glitter in it. Her face was sparkling. Just like the wine.
I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I considered taking Michel aside and sharing a moment like the one that two of the main characters share in my favorite movie of all time, Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, when the American, played by Peter Riegert, professes his love for his friend Gordon's wife.
Thankfully, I thought better of it and said good-night instead. We enjoyed the rest of our visit and made our way to our new life in Madrid. As I said, I'm not sure how much of what I'm remembering about that trip, and about that moment, is accurate truth, and how much is the fabrication of a romantic mind, but I often think of that family, who I haven't seen since those holidays. Damien and Antoine would be in their twenties now, and who knows, maybe there still might be a hint of glitter on Jacqueline's cheek....
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Yesterday the Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees and Superintendent put forth a list of just over one thousand recommended staffing cuts. In my twenty years in public education, I have to say I've never seen anything quite so brutal. It's one thing to hear about the possibility -- the probability, even -- of a "reduction in force." I've been hearing those rumblings for as long as I've been an educator. But to see it in black and white, naming specific schools and actual teaching positions is a new one for me.
Maybe this is one of those Texas moments. This is a "Right to Work" state, after all, with no real teachers' union to speak of. (There are "unions" who are happy to allow you to pay dues to them, but they are legislatively and judicially prevented from having any real collective bargaining power.) Someone with more local knowledge than what I have may be able to elucidate on how we got to this sorry state. It's unclear to me how it happened, but apparently someone was writing checks with their mouth that their ass couldn't cash. And here we are, our body about to be covered in a thousand cuts.
There is, as you might imagine, an undercurrent of fear as districts begin putting out these recommendations regarding staffing cuts in the schools. And if it's palpable in the cushy atmosphere of the Education Service Center where I work, it's far worse in the school buildings. Many of the principals I work with have told me of the revolving door of teachers that have been coming to their offices, asking them if their jobs are "safe."
I think if I were a principal right now, in this climate, my message to my staff would be that we're going to continue to take care of each other as best we can as adults, so that we can do what we've always done for our students. They should never have the sense that there is anything different going on.
This brings up an interesting question: How are our schools going to talk to their students and families about the cuts that are coming -- the thousand cuts that are not just names on paper, but relationships that matter to the children, relationships that are, in the best cases, crucial?
The price of the proposed cuts will be much higher than any dollar amount being discussed right now. Imagine our collective body, as a city, as a society trying to provide for our children, covered by a thousand cuts.
It's going to be a very costly bottom line.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
People sit, thumbing their mobile phones and tapping on their laptop keyboards, like me. There's a funky DVD playing, something along the lines of Sade. Smooth jazz, only cooler. TCU students sit and eat and chat, using the word "like" so much that I imagine a device that will administer electric shocks each time they say it. Finally, mercifully, they shut up and get to work on whatever it is they've come together to work on today -- a group project of some sort, I'm thinking. Currently they're doing their best at some silent reading, but are easily distracted. One of them gets a call on her cell and disappears, chattering loudly. Another is listening to her iPod and can't seem to focus.
It's similar but different from the cafes I used to hang around in when I lived in Madrid. A decidedly Americanized version. But I do appreciate that I can do some pretty darn good people watching, while I sit and nurse my one coffee and no one bugs me about it.
If I had a life that allowed for this use of my time, I'd be in a Starbucks on the regular. Maybe I will schedule things so that I can make this a part of my monthly visits to Fort Worth.
Oh, she's back. Talking about her friend with the mysterious growth who just called. She has like a whole like list of like possible like diagnoses.
ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!
Okay, I love the cafe society. 2.0 works just fine for me.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
Like many college students at that time, I was bowled over by Carver's stories. They were terse, economical, and had an emotional directness I'd never experienced in my reading up to that point.
I used to see him at readings every once in a while. I even sat next to him when Edward Albee came to read at the Hall of Languages, because I was friendly with his niece, Amy, who introduced me to him. "Uncle Ray, this is Dan Fuchs. He's a writer, too." He shook my hand shyly, and his shyness was so powerful I could only reflect it back at him. If I said anything to him, I don't know what it was.
One typically cold winter day, not long after meeting him, I saw Ray standing outside the University Bookstore following a book-signing he had just done. He was alone, smoking a cigarette and looked so at peace that I chose not to say hello. I told myself I'd have plenty of other opportunities to speak with him.
Of course, I never did. I was vacationing in Greece in 1988 when I read the news of his death, which floored me. The combination of knowing I'd never get the rush of reading a new Carver story in the New Yorker or Esquire again, paired with the regret I felt as I understood our conversation would never happen, was like having the wind knocked out of me momentarily.
I vowed that from then on I would seize the opportunity, whenever it presented itself, to reach out to the people I admire. In the Spring of 1990, I went to see Richard Ford do a reading at ACHNA (Asociacion Cultural Hispano Norteamericano) in Madrid. With the same nervousness I felt meeting his departed friend, I shook Ford's hand, and managed to say, "You and I have a mutual friend in Toby Wolff." "Really?" he said, his eyes lighting up. "Well, isn't that something? Were you a student of his?" When I said that I was, he called his wife over, "Kristina, come over here. This is Dan Fuchs. He was a student of Toby's at SU." (At this point I was starting to notice the annoyance creeping onto the expressions of the others who were waiting for Ford to inscribe their books. I didn't care.) "Oh wow," Kristina said. "Did you know they just had a new baby?" "You're kidding!" I answered, genuinely surprised. The two of them were so engaging; I wanted to offer to show them around the city, but I could already see a publicist type, redirecting Richard to the line of book buyers who were waiting. "I'll get out of your way," I said. "It was nice meeting you." "Hey, you too, Dan," Richard said. "Did you want me to inscribe that for you?" I'd almost forgotten and handed him the book, a Spanish edition of Rock Springs. In it he wrote, "For Dan, With the pleasure of meeting you, and with good hopes for your work. Richard Ford, April 24, 1990, Madrid."