Friday, May 29, 2015

A nose for news awaken a life-long passion

      It never occurred to me at the ripe age of 12 why I couldn’t write an impressive news story from a simple day-to-day event.
      I charged full-steam ahead writing eye-catching headlines, stories with high-interest appeal and added to my vocabulary by leaps and bounds.
     That was my introduction to the newspaper business. I became the publisher, editor, reporter, typist and delivery gal for the Lincoln Street Gazette.

     The summer after seventh grade I was going through a delicate phase similar to girls of my age group slipping into adolescence. Mom wasn’t going to allow me to hang around moaning and groaning without a purpose for days on end, so she proposed that I start a neighborhood newspaper.
     The newspaper idea took off like a rocket in my mind thanks to my wise mother who knew exactly what I needed to keep me writing away, and I never looked back.
     I couldn’t wait for high school when I could join the school paper as a reporter. I idolized those older kids confidently carrying their reporter’s pads with them and interviewing teachers and football stars — even the principal in his office.
     In the meantime a newspaper might be a way for me to learn all about getting the facts straight, asking the tough questions and staying impartial giving both points of view. That meant taking the heat when things didn’t go right, too.
     Mind you, our residential neighborhood was quite removed from crime and more socially connected than anything else, so my news beat wasn’t exactly in a high intensity area for controversial happenings.
      I began work laying out a plan while sitting on the porch. My mind visualized all the different neighbors that lived on Lincoln Street, and I put their names down in a column in my notebook. I would go visit them on a weekly basis, collect information about their activities while interviewing them.
     Our Lincoln Street neighborhood was made up of older retired people and for most of the time that my family lived there my sister and I were the only kids on the block. 
     My mother regularly visited one set or the other, and I had tagged along enough all my life to know each person quite well — at least I thought I did. The more I sat down and listened to their stories, the more I realized I was chronicling a period of time that would never be repeated.
     Several days later I went into action dressing properly in my plaid skirt, white blouse and saddle shoes. Before I left the house Mom reminded me to be careful about what I was going to put in print because certain information might be private, and that someone might not want the rest of the neighbors in on it. She told me to make sure to copy down a quote exactly as it was said, and not to be afraid to ask someone to repeat.
      Gathering the news became more captivating than I had ever anticipated, and I filled up my notebook easily just like Lois Lane of Superman fame.
     Once I had the news gathered, I wrote it up copying the style of The New York Times. I studied how the reporters opened their stories, and it took effort to get the hang of it. I worked hard not putting my own slant on the news and I thought that I kept straight to the facts, although mom would come out of the kitchen checking every word once last time before the paper went to press — the typewriter, that is.
      The hardest part was getting out the Smith Carona portable typewriter, lining up the carbon paper and hunting- pecking on the keyboard. I went along fine for a sentence or two, and I hit the wrong key. With a few utterances out of the corner of my mouth, out flung the paper, and I started again.
      I wouldn’t hit the keys hard enough and upon inspecting the third carbon copy, it couldn’t be read. Back to step one over and over until publishing the paper would become a real chore. Often I would go swimming in the afternoon and decide to abandon the whole crazy newspaper idea.
      Surprisingly, not a single friend of mine visited when I was working for fear of being trapped into typing.
       I recruited my younger sister, — or should I say coerced her — to sell copies for two cents each. When I added up how much I would make a week, I quickly drew the conclusion that 21 copies wouldn’t put very much change in my pocket. I gave away the issues for free as it wasn’t a moneymaking operation.
     By August the glamour had tarnished a bit with the behind-the-scene work keeping me glued to the paper’s deadline instead of soaking up the sunshine.
     I constantly fretted if I would have enough news, and always in those situations, out of nowhere at the last minute a hot story would save my neck — Mrs. R. gets a new refrigerator delivered.
     When I went around to the neighbors delivering the paper, it was well worth it to see the smiles on my customers’ faces.   
   The Lincoln Street Gazette kept in print sporadically for several years after I joined the high school paper. Long after I left home to go off to college those neighbors still would tell my parents how much the newspaper meant to them.
    This summer I am going to decide if there’s a full-length book waiting to be written about those marvelous people long gone who shared their every day lives with the Lincoln Street Gazette during a tranquil decade in our history.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An open letter to my daughter

Dear Daughter,

     I have visited every single place you’ve lived. It’s a mother-kind-of thing. Besides, you know my nature.

     Mothers and their adult children don’t get enough together time in person, especially if they are at a distance.
     Inquisitiveness is in my genes, and I want to keep close while you are far away living in your grown-up world.
      You might think there is a bit of superstition here, too, and if it is so, I don’t intend to jinx the good luck fortune.
     I want to soak in your “everyday” such as where you lay your head to rest and what's outside your front door, so I can tuck it away for the next time we talk. I need pictures in my head, and knowing the sum of your days away from your childhood home.
     That’s why those visits are so important to me.
      I don’t hint around that you haven’t shown your face in months. I consider myself cool in that respect, and I know you get it. There is no guilt trip handed out from mother to daughter. My own parents were very tolerant of me living 400 hundred plus miles away, and when an emergency happened, distance wasn’t an issue.
     Our get-togethers are perfectly wonderful, and crammed full of activities from morning until late night. Then we go our own ways with many memories. In the meantime, we rely on phone calls and texts.

     Glancing back at your life, a few of those dorm rooms were pretty sketchy I must admit now that the years have gone by. Once my husband advised me under no circumstances to open the refrigerator at a college apartment, and trust me, I chose not to do any dirty work, although I wondered if the germs or your roommates would be the first to get out of there alive. Apparently, nobody got sick, and the place passed inspection when you moved. You held up your rent deposit, and moved out of town.
     When I came to your graduate apartment at another campus, it was a time to hold your hand and give you moral support. You had been in a major auto accident and had miraculously gotten out relatively unscathed. I do remember a lot of cheap burrito dinners eaten on a sagging couch you had rescued from the last renter. By the time I flew away, you had regrouped your emotions nicely, and there was a big smile on your face.

     Your first apartment in Ft. Worth as a career woman was beautifully decorated on a tight budget. The stately house was in a tree-lined older neighborhood, and your rooms had lovely wooden floors and molding. Yes, I did check for dust balls in the corners, and congratulated you on your superb domestication.
      Perhaps, after me badgering while you were a teen, you really had “heard” the message. I had thought that “picking up after yourself” was not to be in your skill set ever.
     I barely put down an empty mug on your coffee table and you whisked it off to wash. Wow. That was a complete reversal of roles here. I didn’t dare put my feet up either for fear of a scolding.

     It was at twenty-two that I knew they you would stand on your own in all circumstances tough or challenging. You had matured into a woman with excellent qualities. Not that I didn’t feel that way throughout your life, but proof is in the pudding.
     Things accelerated into the fast lane when you moved to New York City. At first, you were blessed to have a close friend take you in, although the apartment was minimal at best, and location, location, ah, that was not so kind.
     My husband and I brought your posessions in a U-Haul and you and I hiked four fights of stairs with boxes while he stayed with the truck. Even still, while he was in the back handing down the cartons, someone tried to break into the cab.
     You warned me on my first visit to look only to the left on the street and head to the corner to the subway station purposefully holding my purse tightly. It was a bustling street by day, and at night we were snuggled into our hotel in another section of the city.
     Fortunately, that lasted a year and like all mothers, the worry-meter was working overtime. I knew your job kept you late and I hoped that you were careful, took taxis at night and didn’t get mugged.

     Better apartments in different sections of the city made for adventurous exploration into new neighborhoods. The international areas around the United Nations and 44th street near Broadway are two great spots for excellent food and entertainment. How fun to stand in Times Square at midnight feeling all the energy, and then walk two blocks to your apartment.
     For quite awhile now you have lived in a great area in Manhattan with your husband, and I have become knowledgeable about the best of the best local restaurants, stores and places in all directions from your front steps. You have your Chinese laundry next door, coffee shop and fire department down the street, and you know the people in each place quite well.
     I am positive that I am not the only mother thinking in this vein, and I have put in words what the rest of you are feeling about your daughters.  
     Happy Mother's Day all.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring-ing outward

 I don’t remember the last time it happened. Certainly, not since the brutal winter where running back and forth between my car and the house with my head buried down into my quilted coat became my short sprint out into the world.

Maybe it is a spring phenomena.

 Last week it happened three different times. And I made space for it, too. That’s the most important part, and mostly why I am sharing this with you as a reminder to value impromptu situations. 

I was on Main Street when I came across an old friend walking in my direction that I haven’t seen in ages. We stopped. Talked. Deep down it felt good, and I believe it was mutual in a manner of speaking. Certain things you just know. Neither of us looked at our watches for we were engaged with each other. We checked up on our adult kids’ whereabouts, our spouses and how our health was treating us.
We wondered aloud if the art of taking extra time to talk face-to-face is lost. So much of our connections are by emails, cell phone and texting that the personal one has all but been lost.

Cars went by, and so did other people rush along thinking that there’s a couple of old retired folks killing time. If the truth be known, it was the best use of my day.

Not much later, I saw a friend going into a store and I followed him inside. It was another case of it being ages and little contact, and we needed to catch up with each other. An hour later, and I was on my way feeling much happier for the opportunity.

Friendships are built on it. We need our support networks.

The third time a few hours later I was walking down my rural road and I spotted a neighbor pulling out of her driveway that I normally don’t see during the winter. Somehow warmer weather brings everyone out, and we both talked about the exciting neighborhood news spotting a bear and four cubs.

 Springtime opens us outward once again after a dormant winter spell.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The long and short of an answer

The good news for me is that I have caught up with all my writing assignments – insert applause here - and today I can play around on the computer guilt free without a deadline hovering over my head. I am as giddy as a schoolgirl with the wisdom of an adult thank goodness.

The bad news is that I am flittering away my morning on useless stuff in hopes that something- anything- will inspire me and trip my wires in order to be ready for the next round of work.

In the meantime, I am participating in a Facebook private live jewelry auction on an event page, and simultaneously taking a quiz on my knowledge of contemporary British monarchy. I’m being outbid in the auction, and I am sensibly stepping aside to watch until the final hour. As for my blueblood connections, obviously I have none. I “liked” dozens of posts, wished five friends “Happy Birthday” greetings and found three other dates I need to get on my calendar for next month.

The best news of all is that I discovered an old piece of writing sitting in a folder on my desktop that is timeless, wittty and descriptive of a human condition. I am submitting it to a journal soon after a little freshening. 

Reality strikes a blow with the terrible fate of Nepal in cleanup and recovery, the issues in Baltimore and a couple trials in Rochester. I do honor all that, and won't forget those involved. Perhaps, it is time to reflect on those bigger problems and release mine into the wind.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earning my pay at the local radio station

     I answered to the name, “Hey You,” collected my paycheck and thanked the station manager for the opportunity. I was a tiny cog in the voice of community broadcasting.
     My job while in high school was at the local radio station, WRIV, 1390 AM on the dial. It is one of the oldest stations on Long Island serving the public with music and information for over 60 years.
     Our neighbor was the station manager, and he hired me for after school and summers. The station was a small, start-up operation, not at all like its AM-FM mega business today. 
      “Hey You” didn’t sit right with me, and looking back, I was a decade ahead of the feminist movement.
      My official title “Girl Friday” meant that I did mundane tasks such as putting stacks of vinyl records back on the shelves after the DJ had spun the weekly top 10 on the chart. The DJ would haphazardly deposit them on the studio floor and continue on with the usual broadcast chatter – weather, traffic and beach forecast.

     Certain announcers were sloppier than others in their broadcast booth habits, and I figured out which ones required more of my time. The weekend guys were the worst of the lot, and often they were the ones that lacked common courtesy.
     “Hey You, pick up my half-eaten sandwich and go fetch me an Alka-Seltzer.”

     Talk about broken records. It happened. When a DJ’s hand reached into the wall stacks, he expected the records to be in the proper slots. I made a mistake or two in alphabetizing, and had to observe a DJ going bananas, threatening the incompetence of everyone in the station— including the business manager —while searching for his music.

     Once the latest Johnny Mathias record “Heavenly” was nowhere to be found, and after a violent rant in the main office, the station manager calmly told the DJ that he had forgotten to return it from home. I sat cowering at the secretary’s desk frightened at such furor coming out in grown people. My innocence was being shaken firmly by the roots, and since then, I’ve never tolerated volatility and rudeness in the workplace.
     On-line male personalities no females yet ­ were like prima donnas compared to the technicians and office staff, and I bowed down to their every whim, or get a screaming tirade right in my face.

     There was one particular Saturday morning on-air guy that frequently felt the effects from his late night partying. I had to listen to his incessant talk about his latest love mishaps while tiptoeing in wide circles around him. It was way more than a seventeen year old needed to know. Professionally however, with a blink of the eye he was able to watch the clock for the second hand’s cue and his “golden broadcast tones” would resonate over the airwaves.
     I was growing up by leaps and bounds in an adult world and my sheltered childhood was eroding quickly. My dad warned me not to let anyone lay a hand on me, or say anything off-color, and I wisely stayed alert.
     Going downstairs to the tavern on the first floor for cups of coffee for the on-air personalities was a problematic situation. First, I was entering a bar under age and secondly, dad’s store window intersected the building. He didn’t miss a trick from his teenage daughter. I had to explain to him after my first coffee run what I was doing racing into a bar at eleven o’clock in the morning.
     Besides, I didn’t care to be in the local watering hole with a few   barstool regulars making cute comments while I nervously jumped back and forth on two feet waiting for the bartender to pour the coffee. I would have walked happily down the street to the brightly lit cafe, except the coffee at the bar was free for station staff and that is where I was instructed to go.
     I did a lot of answering the phone, and I developed quite the repertoire of phrases that could put off complainers and those wanting to talk to the on-air host right then, or else.

     When guests were coming for an on-air interview, it was my job to entertain them, and occasionally, I would go home to find out from my parents which adult celebrity, artist or writer from their generation sat across from me. Summertime on Eastern Long Island brought out the rich and famous.
     Carl Yastrzemski, local East End hero from Bridgehampton and future Boston Red Sox star, visited while still at Notre Dame. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten his autograph.
     I gathered news pertaining to the area from the AP wire, and as best as I was able, rewrote copy and handed it to the on-air newsreader for the top-of-the-hour. If the bell sounded, I knew to tear the sheet out of the machine and run directly to the booth. I liked the adrenalin rush, and I self-taught how to write quickly. As for accuracy, I was in the early learning stages and should say no more.
     One sleepy Saturday afternoon there was a serious boating accident and train wreck at approximately the same time, and the reporter on duty worked along with me pulling the news all together by a mere few seconds before airtime.
     It is at that small radio station that I started studying for my third-class broadcast license, and I went on to college to be an on-air personality at WGSU, SUNY Geneseo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Snooze...and you won't loose

At the Corning Museum of Glass
Taking a nap - a power snooze to be precise - is a terrific way to wake up my inner thoughts. With a quick yawn and a wipe of my sleepy eyes, out come words effortlessly as if a floodgate has sprung open suddenly. Hurrah for a stored wellspring of pithy wisdom and witty tidbits.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A mother-kind-of-thing

Mothers and their adult children don’t get enough together time in person especially if they are at a distance. Inquisitiveness is in my nature, and I want to keep close while you are far away living in your grown-up world. That's why I have traveled to every single place that you have ever lived from your dorm rooms to apartments in various cities. I can "place" you in each one. 
I want to soak in your “everyday” such as where you lay your head to rest and what's outside your front door, so I can tuck it away for the next time we talk. I need pictures in my head, and knowing the sum of your days away from your childhood home.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trio of stories from my travel journal

      Travelers return from a vacation with souvenirs and a suntan. Others come home with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of observable moments. 
     Writers worth their weight in gold are natural people watchers, and although I am not one that carries around a black moleskin notebook, I do record mentally what is happening when I am out in public, and hopefully, I blend into the background.
     Without throwing the salt shaker over my shoulder for good fortune, later snippets of this or that will show up in my work at the critical moment when most needed. Other times they stay stored in my head for years, and I am as surprised as the next person when my fingers start typing on the keyboard and a personality from a long ago chance encounter somewhere appears just as real as day.
    I have trained myself to visualize down to the smallest detail such as in this trio of flash non-fiction from a recent visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
     Each piece occurs in a different restaurant and with a rather varied cast of characters. I just happen to be sitting in the right place all three times, and I cast no judgment on what I observe.


     A family of six – four girls and their parents – select the grand breakfast buffet at the hotel with the view of the Horseshoe Falls. I wonder how that will work out, and if it is worth the price for normal finicky child eaters. I watch a different scene unfold, though, when white cloth napkins are spread over laps almost in unison. 
     The dad had been occupying a large table by the window and waiting with a cup of coffee for the family to arrive from upstairs, and as they do, each child gives him a big hug and a good morning greeting. He has that teddy bear feel to him and his squeezes are warm and natural like it’s an everyday occurrence.

     Right away the family fans out in all directions to check out their food options. One by one each child comes back to the table with her plate loaded with personal choices, and between give-and-take conversation planning out their touring day, they eat a hearty meal. The smells of fruit, pancakes and bacon abound along with a laughter level suitable for a public place. There is not a picky eater in attendance, and the boxed Fruit Loops are consumed equally as well as the hand-built omelet. I get the impression that this family is comfortable dining out.
     Once the middle-sized child slips out her iPhone and her dad immediately gives her a knowing look with an arch to his dark eyebrow. She slips it back into her jeans pocket, and resumes eating her waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries while pulling back her long brown hair into a ponytail. 
     When it looks like the family is all finished, the youngest daughter decides that she wants an extra serving of white toast. She swings her pink Ugg boots underneath the table, and politely asks the waiter. Everyone waits patiently while her order is filled. She carefully butters and spreads on the grape jelly thickly with spillage over the crusts onto her fingers. She takes bites as if she doesn't have a care in the world. The teenage sister rolls her eyes, and resumes chatting with her mom about a potential shopping excursion.
     There is no whining, sulking or barbs between sisters that could launch off into a tirade or two. It’s not a “les misérables” family vacation gone sour before it gets off the ground at first base. Mom is relaxing into her own space and dad is stepping up to the plate taking charge.
     Did I mention that there is a seventh member of the family present? The tiny grandmother is the most inconspicuous of the entire group, and whether or not she was already tired of it all and tuning it out, is not my concern.


      Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.

     A spindly size zero woman continues her lettuce leaf regimen and is in agony from her facial expression with every mouthful of caloric intake. She painfully picks away at her veggie plate as an afterthought not letting the meal get the best of her waisteline.
     I wonder if her shopping afternoon was more satisfying, and she cashed in on the value of the dollar; or could it have been the hours in the spa slathered in the latest skin hydrotherapeutic regime while drinking seaweed brew by the gallons that made it a super day.
     Her partner’s meal is sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and he consumes every mouthful with no guilt whatsoever while expounding upon the layers of flavors to the disnterested skinny woman seated across from him.

     A winter getaway to Niagara Falls is a great opportunity if you handle cold weather optimistically. The Butterfly Conservancy. The ice wine. The gorge overlook walk.The friendly attitude of the Canadians.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Time warp

The day before the last week of the first month of the year I practiced writing out the new year in the proper digits.

The first time after the third of a series of six doctor’s visits the man got a clean bill of health.

Later than usual while the audience was leaving the theatre at the close of a three-hour movie, the clean-up crew began the job previously done at an earlier hour.

Right now is better than waiting an hour or two, and actually, it is the perfect moment to make an announcement of an event occurring in the future.

Time flies and catching the second hand on the clock is a worthless exercise unless you are a marathon runner.

The day after is often the better of the two.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Desiring a complete travel experience

Folks bring back souvenirs and a suntan from a vacation. Others return with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of experiences.

People young and old flock to a famous landmark, and yet they spent very little time involved with the actual experience in comparison to the other secondary activities in the area. I have observed this over and over in my travels. 

Different personalities handle touring in a way that fits their lifestyle. Shopping, drinking, eating - in no particular order - is as necessary to them as their devices in order to have a satisfactory day without vacation boredom creeping in to ruin everything.  Many have traveled long distances to cross another place off their bucket lists, and so be it. 

I am somewhat cynical as I am a purist when it comes to travel devoid of unnecessary consumerism. There is a huge difference between a tourist and a traveler, and I am more in the adventuresome, seek your own soulful significant moments type of wanderer.

Take Niagara Falls, one of the world’s most scenic spots of natural wonder, and consider the possibilities of engagement in my opinion.

No matter what season of the year, the Falls are THE focal point. The are hours upon hours of natural beauty to be claimed by simply staring at the awesome force of the water cascading down into the river in the morning with the sun slipping over the horizon and a lengthy gorge walk or run. At the end of the day in the darkness as twinkling lights on the American side flick on and cast a softer glow to the falls, you listen and imagine a bit more. Here's where the stories begin to evolve and they will be stored for telling. There is a foggy layer hanging over the falls that distances you from the entire panoramic view during a burst of afternoon rain showers or a dump of white flakes. Amazingly, every single moment there are subtle changes to the view from the direction of the misty spray to the ideal viewing place, and no two days are alike. 

 At least that’s how I spend my time on the Canadian side of the Falls. I arrive with no other expectation than an opportunity for personal communing within, sharing quality time with others and a thankfulness for my life. I leave with a renewed strength pouring over me and a resolve that my small existence is miniscule in relation to this gigantic earth.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A letter to a restaurant owner

Dear Restaurant Owner,

My husband and I support the farm-to-table restaurant concept, and on a mid-week mini adventure to your city we dined at your place (purposefully left vague, blog reader) and we were pleased with a sleek, modern atmosphere, intimacy and especially, the ever-evolving selections on the menu and local wine list. (We have been reading from your website menu for quite some time in anticipation). A reviewer online criticized the overuse of regional wines, and quite possiblly never skimmed the extensive list beyond the first page for the standard international fare. 

We were not staying at the hotel; however, it was simple enough to grab a cab on a very chilly evening and venture off into a different part of the city. A most recent review of your place from someone staying at your hotel claimed that is was easier to eat in and take what was available.That sounds discouraging for you, owner, to read in print.

Our waiter was willing to interact with us, and he made some thoughtful suggestions starting with the Moroccan Brown Ale (local brewery) for my husband and a pork-duck confit for an appetizer neither would we have chosen without that conversation. I think one mark of a well-managed restaurant is taking a diner's tastes personally. I had the sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and my husband had the lamb shank, and both were seasoned properly and artfully presented on the plate. On the other hand, a review online implied that the waiter was too imposing and didn't show the mark a of high-end restaurant employee there to serve and not be seen.

Of course, the view was outstanding and we felt like dining at your restaurant was an evening's experience without a feeling of being rushed through and on to the next customers which is the case in so many other places lacking a European appreciation for freshly prepared food mixed with conversation. It takes time, and one reviewer claimed that he did not have all night to kill on one meal. Nor, a second person stated emphatically that the location was mother nature's and the restuarant held no special claim over it. 

I read a review from woman online that expressed dismay at your restaurant being sectioned-off from the hotel's grand buffet only by heavy curtains. Apparently, we were enjoying our meals and each other's company so much that we were oblivious beyond our space.

We are looking forward to another unique meal sourced from the region on our next visit. When you have a delicious dinner with many layers of flavor, the price is worth it. Again, many online reviews were aghast at the expensive prices, and we wondered what is their criteria for "better" places for special occasions.

We will overlook one flaw, but it is worth a mention here: We were not welcomed graciously (we had a reservation) at the front end, nor thanked when we left. 

Thank you.
An Appreciative Couple

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Collecting an observable moment

I am a collector of observable moments, and on a recent trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, I recorded this one in my memory.

      Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.