Friday, July 13, 2012

The Girl Who Loved Spider-Man

The American Blonde: The Girl Who Loved Spider-Man

Spidey's first appearance, drawn and co created
by Steve Ditko
         When I was five, Dad and I took a trip to the Jiffy Check and bought comic books. He read them enthusiastically as a little boy and now I would. His favorite titles included Superman and Batman. I still remember that moment, he stooped down, me in his arms, his large hands flipping through the comic rack. "PJ, this is a great one, it's Batman....Oh, here's Wonder Woman, you will love her...." Needless to say we went home with several titles including Harvey's Casper and Disney's Scamp, but my eye was caught by the men in tights and women in leotards!
        How I loved my ritual, racing to the store to beat the other kids to purchase the latest titles. First I read D.C., I became a fan of the Amazon Princess, The Justice League of America, Green Lantern, Teen Titans and The Legion of Super Heroes! Then I discovered Marvel! At first glance, it might seem generational that Dad's favorite was Superman, and during my childhood, cartoons and the Electric Company introduced The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man that "make mine Marvel"! But that was not the reason.
A Pulitzer Prize winner 
            Years later, when my former partner, foreign correspondent, Charles Laurence, interviewed another Alabama girl, Diane McWhorter for The Daily Telegraph of London. He gave me her Pulitzer Prize nonfiction , "Carry Me Home" and helped me connect the dots, only then would I understand the extent of the consequence for being my Father's daughter.  This revelation,  allowed many childhood events to fall in place and confirmed what I always knew.
Governor George Wallace
          My Dad was (is) "A Damn Yankee!" Let me define the term. A Damn Yankee; is a Northerner, who marries a Southerner and STAYS! But it didn't end there. Daddy was a man of steel, not only worked in the Steel Industry but he became a grievance officer for the United Steel Workers of America Union, in Bull Connor's Birmingham and George Wallace's Alabama.  The Dixiecrats ran a tight ship, unlike my Father, an eternal optimist who idolized JFK and his brother Robert.  The Old Southern Boy's Club elite, didn't take too kindly to a smart charismatic young Yankee who had too much to say about equality in the work place.
           My early childhood was a dark night, especially once a month, when Dad attended the Union meeting. Often he came home, roughed up by police, who purposely tried to break the USWs Union and the solidarity they held with the Civil Rights Movement.  Countless of times blue lights pulled into our drive way.  Daddy acted like it was nothing but a few bruises, and often commented, "You should see the other guy!" 

My Daughter, Dad and me, photo by Charles Laurence 
          "The police were suppose to be good guys?" My little girl mind tried comprehending and the only way I could rationalize, I knew my Daddy was a good guy too, was through the eyes of a Spider-Man fan.  It didn't end there, we were the target of rumors, claiming my Dad was African American, sharing in his large lips, I was bullied at school, called names and suffered physical abuse from class mates, teachers joined in to ridicule me.  Even in church a group of members tried unsuccessfully to black ball my family, because we dared to socialize with  minorities and speak with an open mind.  
          I was a child who didn't understand why some people hated others for the color of  their skin. 
Dad in center, heading the
Halloween Carnival committee 
I credit Spider-Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers for helping me weather the storms of my childhood. The reason was simple, these marvelous mutants were also misunderstood, labeled "bad guys" in their stories by the police and news papers.  But in fact, they were the good guys fighting to save mankind from erroneous evil! Stan made his super heroes easier to relate to, by giving them ordinary problems. Not righteous indignation but human flaws that weren't uncommon in my own life. I knew one day the truth would be known, we were a family of super heroes!  I even made myself a costume out of my Mom's old velvet robe. 
        In third grade I finally made friends, became the only girl in a group of comic book nerds, Owen, Adam, Doug, Hugh and Lee. My collection expanded to other titles, Thor (I could trade one Thor for three comics from Doug) Man-Thing was the environmentalist, Owen's favorite (he hated D.C.) he introduced me to Conan The Barbarian, Red Sonja (The She-Devil with a Sword!) and Vampirella.  I wasn't an average little girl, I was brave. No boy would or could save me, I wouldn't let 'em. 
Owen's fave, MAN-THING
      Things got a whole lot better in the South, especially in The Heart of Dixie.  My parents became community organizers; my Mom raised the funds to build our elementary school gym, brought theater and art to public schools. My Dad brainstormed our town's annual Halloween Carnival, that kept kids off the street, my favorite event of the year. Dad would oversee and build most of the games (he grew up working with his Dad, a contractor and studied drafting). My parents earned respect and became embraced by the community. The Damn Yankee didn't go back, but became an "Honorary Southerner". 
       I often observe prejudice is a product of fear, tribal or human weakness, especially when survival instincts, "fight or flight" kicks in.  I've seen it first hand, even in New York City, after 911.  Where tolerance and diversity is high but social and economical climates can instantly change and hate can live just beneath the surface.  It takes visionaries to cross barriers, help folks relate and dismantle the ugly beast. 
Todd McFarlane's best seller
Stan Lee and me 2012
        I've met Stan Lee on several occasions and got to know Jack "King" Kirby in his later years.  I repeat my broken record of adoration and how their super heroes inspired me not to  give up, use my super powers for good, "With great power comes great responsibility".                    
        The Spider-Man franchise is huge, the recent release I'm relieved to say, stays true to the origin of Peter Parker as well does The Avengers and Captain America movies.  And no matter where I travel it never fails, even in developing countries, I always spy a Spidey T shirt.  I ask myself , how many other children in seemingly impossible circumstance find inspiration from Stan and a handful of amazing artists?  Stan Lee is 89 and there's no sign he is retiring, in fact he's launching other projects with his company, POW Entertainment, that I'm sure will continue to convert even more generations into True Believers, "EXCELSIOR!" Nuff said. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's Happened to My Homeland?

When Will America Be America Again?

As soon as Obama took oath, The ranting madness of folks to make him a one term president began. The jubilation of “Yes, we can” enthusiasm, was muffled by divisive remarks, louder then ever; “He’s not one of us”, “He’s a Muslim”, “He wasn't born in this country”, “He’s a Socialist”.

The hope I held, the post 911 fear decade was over, was gone.  The Bush/Cheney blue print seems to continue to make us the “World’s Police Force”, along with private contracting firms, including Blackwater, cashing in at "three trillion tax dollars" and counting. Military vs private security firms. 

I’m a  believer we should take care of our own backyard and would rather go back to horse and buggy then for one more kid to die for black gold and big business under the lie of  "Weapons of Mass Destruction".

Its insane that Americans continue to be a gluten for gasoline, no matter what evidence it’s running out, bad for the environment and the same anti alternative energy rumor mill continues to grind (the same BS as when I was a kid) "it's not possible to have competitive alternative energy"!

I hate to be the one to break the news, as I did to a former FB friend, a male of a certain age and demographic, who told me I sounded like a "sociology grad student" with his unshakable belief, "drilling in Alaska will create jobs and lower prices". 

With all due respect, I commented "Not on your life, can you not do math?" How hard is it to realize this is about high demand from industrial nations, including China (7% growth) and India (6% growth). We allowed our industries to move there and now they need to build and expand and there is only so much oil to drill a day, no matter if you are Russian or an American company, the gas will be bought by the highest bidder. No politician can promise cheaper gas at the pump, they lie if they do!

And now with an election coming up, we are up to our eye balls in worthless opinions of over celebrated pundits who in fact are "want to be rock stars". SHUT UP ALREADY!  But the fear and anger makes America a very ugly place. “War on Terror”, is very much like the failed decades of “War on Drugs”, that created our “incarceration nation”! A failed campaign.

Many Americans are not asking intelligent questions, only aligning themselves with causes or parties that speak to their fears  and answer issues by blaming the other camp. No broadsheet unbiased reporting, just media monopolies allowed to herd Americans in blue state red states (I prefer to call it "Red Queen, White Queen"!) The Civil War seems to be rekindled in full force... "liberal" is considered a bad word and "tea bag" a self labeled insult. To be honest, I feel its all a smoke screen for colonialism to thrive. 

But like my favorite poet wrote and still recites, "I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet, Democracy is coming to the U.S.A." -Leonard Cohen.

I inherited my chutzpah from my Grandmother. When I was a child I would listen to her Great Depression stories of struggle, and took to heart "never to live above one's means and if you want to be free, don't go in debt!"  

There are a lot of very unhappy Americans out there,  from the Heart Land to New York City. Channeling their anger and fear into blogosphere, eager to jump on some senseless debate on social media. Humans disconnecting from each other in the physical world and bonding with avatars, that may or may not be who they claim. The cyber world we create, too often dehumanizes.

Regardless, we still live an exceptional life in the U.S., but for it to stay this way, we need to wake up. Smell the coffee, not the tea!  Come together, Tea Party, Occupier, rich man, poor man, working mom, over worked mom, black, white and rainbow. Leave all our invisible friends at home, not to be disrespectful, but we were founded on religious freedom and recognize its our birthrite if we so wish to worship the Easter Bunny but not to impose the Easter Bunny on others. We can't allow social and personal to muddy the water of priorities. That's the advice my Grandmother would give America, who was just as religious as the Pope.

I recall a time, it didn't matter who the President was, he did the will of the American  people. Again we need to remind our elected ones, that they work for us and we are done fearing fear, we know the real boogie man wears a business suit!

"When Will America be America Again" By Langston Hughes 

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Who's that American Blonde


I'm a poet, songwriter, singer, multi media artist and story teller. I was first dubbed "The American Blonde" by my former partner of 12 years, my Englishman, Charles Laurence.  A war correspondent and a broadsheet journalist.  He became my friend, lover, mentor and husband. But I can't give him credit for my hunger to know the world or the facts. That goes to my parents; my Father, a grievance officer of the United Steelworkers Union, in Bull Conner's Birmingham, Alabama and my Mother, a community organizer, who raised the money to build our elementary school's gym and continued fundraising to introduce art and theater to children in our community.

One Xmas, they bought me a radio and I began searching the waves for interesting programs.  I became addicted to BBC, international and political events were my window to the world.  I dreamed of globe trotting, experiencing other countries, cultures and wildlife. That  day would come and it continues. I first went abroad in the early 90s, the U.K. was my first foreign love affair, France and Italy would soon follow. Later Charlie and I, would take the kids on adventures, the U.S. coast to coast, where we would travel Route 66 and other great American highways, to visit Monument Valley and Yellow Stone Park and cross countries Europe, including exploring the Grand St Bernard Pass. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mariah Aguiar: CBGB Herstory!

They Call Her Mariah interview first featured in East Village Beat, Boog City Issue 25 May 2005

I met Mariah Aguiar with her close friend Helen Wheels, at an early 90s downtown art opening, we were introduced by sculptor, Dana Greene (long time assistant to Colombian fine artist, Enrique Grau). “Greenie” Helen loudly yelled across the gallery, when she caught site of us. Dana had purposely got us witches together, we shared the same code of values, strong, determined to do things our way and we would never betray a sister, especially for a man! The two women electrified the room; I spent the evening bonding with the brazen beauties, Helen a songstress and Mariah a photographer. I became a fan of this dynamic duo that night.

A few months later I asked Helen and Mariah if they would participate in a reading I organized at CBGB 313 Gallery, Venus in Latex all proceeds to benefit Iris House (refuge for abused women). They immediately agreed and jumped right in. Helen would read an excerpt from a work in progress, We Took Dawn For Granted and Mariah would donate one of her photos (to be auctioned) vintage Debbie Harry @CBGB 1977, one of many that would illustrate their book. The book would be Helen and Mariah’s first person experience of the Rock and Rollers who survived the Punk years and many who didn’t. Helen explained, “We were fearless, never thought some of us wouldn’t come out alive, I am one of those survivors.” Helen and Mariah's book concept came about by the two of them going through Mariah’s photos, remembering the Glory Days of CBGB! And it became apparent to both of them that so many people were dead, many good friends “had left the building”. They felt a need to tell their story, so no one would be forgotten.

CBGB history Mariah documented with her camera. And what a photo gallery she has, including, The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Dictators, The Sick Fucks, The Tuff Darts, The Damned, The New York Dolls, The Dead Boys, Jayne County, Nico and the list goes on.

How in the heck did Mariah, a 15-year-old shutterbug find her way to the East Village, I ask? “I was a kid reading Punk and Roxy Magazine, I loved the look, the music and I knew I had to be where the bands played, so I raided my piggy bank and took the train from Long Island to Max’s and CBGB”.

Mariah would sneak into the clubs, later hired by the Scottish manager Merve to work at CB’s, as, of all things, a BOUNCER...We laugh, Mariah was a 5'2" 100 lbs blonde, who could talk anyone into anything, thus folks out of killing each other. “I found a home, I wasn’t alone anymore.” Then Mariah pauses as she becomes a little dewy eyed and continues “I remember Blondie sending me their first release, a little girl, their first release, I mattered… it came to my Long Island address, my poor Mom" we laugh.

So when did you first hook up with Wheels (lead singer of the The Helen Wheel’s Band and an award winning body builder) I ask? Mariah answers “Helen had been playing CBGB and I was blown away by her performance, such a powerful woman with a powerful voice...I couldn’t stop taking her picture, at this point I thought she must think I'm a stalker (we laugh, she continues)...One night I walked passed a crowd and all of a sudden, Connie, Dee Dee Ramone's girlfriend at the time, had mistaken me for someone she had a beef with, before I had even noticed, Helen had prevented Connie from shaving off half my skull with a broken beer mug by physically grabbing me by the waste and pulling me out of her lunge!...Helen stood between us and looked her straight in the eyes and said ‘If I were you I wouldn’t fuck with me’ then Helen turned to me and said ‘You look too nice of a kid to get messed up with that shit’ and then she walked away, like no big deal” Mariah starts to laugh “The funnier thing about this story is that years later when Helen and I were out with friends she told the story about how we first met, I corrected her and said we first met when you saved me from Crazy Connie. Until that moment she didn’t realize that the star struck fan girl was me, she was my hero.”

Helen passed in January 17th 2000, not from illegal drugs but from legal medicine, malpractice (Helen caught an infection from unsanitary conditions at the hospital). “Down the rabbit hole” as Mariah puts it. It’s still hard to believe and unnatural that Helen is not sitting next to Mariah as we go through Mariah’s photos, the muse is silent and this is not fair but there are still stories to tell and they will be told.

We pause for few moments, missing Helen and then pondering the future of CBGB. Mariah interjects “Hilly is like a father to me and so many others..... Kids come from all over the Universe, they know this is where they can play their own music, tell their stories, be heard, MATTER! CBGB is more than a club, it’s a culture and a living history. Hilly Kristal keeps the dream alive and the kids keep coming.”

Note from EVE, There goes the Bowery, CBGB is in danger of being evicted please write, email and call the Mayors office and Land Mark Commission, lets get that damn dive land marked for future generations. All inquires regarding Mariah’s work email

POST NOTES: I wrote They Call Her Mariah in 2005. It was my pleasure to feature my dear friend in my East Village Beat column, Mariah Aguiar. Since that Boog City issue came off the press, May 2005, many things have permanently changed. Mariah left us a month later, June 29th 2005, CBGB, the church of Punk, doors slammed shut forever after Patti Smith delivered the last death throe song Oct 15th, 2006 and Hilly Kristal, creator and founder of CBGB, passed away from lung cancer complications (from 2nd hand smoke) August 28, 2007.
When I first heard Mariah was gone, befittingly from Hilly himself, “Paulette I heard terrible news, Mariah has suddenly passed away” It was unbelievable; only two nights prior I had dinner with Mariah at the East Village's Telephone Bar with Jacksonville's artist,Lee Harvey. Mariah was all smiles, still a beauty at 45 but looked 25, NO JOKE! And in, we all thought, good health, she never did drugs, was not depressed, most importantly had finally resolved her grief from Helen's early exit.

Billboard Obituary

At one of my darkest and I mean DARKEST period of my life (2002-04) she drug me out of my hole. Mariah was a living Angel! In all seriousness, one of the most compassionate, selfless and loyal human beings I have ever encountered. We both had hard knocks in recent years but our rekindled sisterhood was inspiring both of us to get back out there, we had lust for life. My column was very much meant to help jump start Mariah to finish a book project, a personal history of Punk Rock, told through her eyes and Helen Wheel’s voice, We Took Dawn For Granted. I hope eventually it will be published.

One more post note for the road, CBGB is credited for the gentrification of the Bowery that later bit the club back by becoming unaffordable for mom and pops, only huge corp owned retailers can afford a flagship on the Bowery.

It was Hilly who lobbied to make that little stretch of street “Joey Ramone Place” and it was Hilly who gave kids a community. Hilly was an accidental business man who created a perfect storm, environment, that gave birth to a music movement, PUNK ROCK that countless legends sprung from.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Ring of Fire

Charlie and I fell into a burning ring of fire. We didn’t plan on it, I don’t think anyone does. But sometimes two people meet and wild horses can’t keep them apart. This was true about our relationship. What began as friends, grew and soon crossed a line of ultimate intimacy; soul mates. We were warned by others, who perhaps saw what was around the corner or not. Uncle James cautioned, “Y’all are wading in mighty deep water”. But others, “friends”, I believe were looking out for their own priority relationship. And perhaps a little jealous, great love is often envied, especially when two people are bigger than life.

Years later we would have our approval for star-crossed love, during an audience with June Carter and Johnny Cash. Legends from my childhood, Johnny was the working class, downtrodden’s hero and June, the darling of The Carter Family, American folk and Country music royalty. When I was small I would sneak in Uncle Bill’s room while he was on duty at the fire station, to play his vinyl, Ring of Fire. The first song I learned by heart. I can still hear Grandmother sweetly scold, “Now you know you’re not supposed to be in Uncle Bill’s room.” allowing me to continue to play the recording over and over.

Charlie surprised me one afternoon while popping by his Soho office to join him for lunch. As I walked into his glass cubicle, he had a big smile on his face, “Guess who I’ve been assigned to interview and you are coming with me?” I paused for a moment, “Willie Nelson”, he shook his head “No, guess again”, I replied, “No way, no way noooooooooowaaaaaaaaaaay, JOHNNY CASH!?” He smiled his jack o lantern smile, and exclaimed “YES!” To San Francisco we would go, to meet Cash and visit City Lights book store.

Charlie was to interview The Man in Black, right before the release of American II, Unchained, Johnny’s comeback produced by Rick Rubin. When I told my friend, Roger, another journalist, who we were meeting, he exclaimed, “Good luck, one of the hardest entertainers to interview, he normally gives you 30 minutes if you’re lucky.” I smiled and replied I would report back.

We met Johnny at his hotel, he was just like I imagined; worn from years, a bear of a man with big gentle hands as he took mine to say hello. A few minutes passed when I noticed he started to relax, talking about his childhood, from the same neck of the wood as Granddaddy, Romey Renfrow. We shared Scott-Irish, pioneer stock bloodline. Forty minutes passed and we were still chewing the fat, when all of a sudden a woman’s voice called out, “John?”. She came barreling in the room, “Well Hello, I’m June”, she exclaimed, “nice to meet y’all” My heart jumped a beat, June was a great artist in her own right and now she joined our conversation!

The four of us talked for hours, it was like visiting my family, Charlie would comment. June sharing, they were respectively with other partners when they fell in love. At first they tried to ignore the attraction, but sometimes people meet and the two become a Force of Nature. I asked June, if she felt she hurt anyone? “I suppose we did, but it was so strong, meant to be, I believe God has something to do with it or it would not have happened, he always has a plan” And of course now it’s well-known that June and the Carter family helped Johnny kick his speed habit, if not perhaps he would have joined Elvis, his Sun Record alumni, the “King of Rock and Roll” and died far too young.

The next evening we sat with Carlene Carter and watched as June and Johnny lit up the Fillmore stage, I could hear her sing every song with her Mom and Step-dad. Afterwards they held court or should I say church and took time to meet many of their adoring fans. This had to be one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life, to see the diversity of ages and feel the love all around. I believe great men and women have a calling to touch others with their stories, underlining that we are all just human, stumbling through this mortal coil.

Back to ’93; Marion the Nanny was part-time and didn’t do overnight or weekends due to college. I loved nesting with the children; helping with school projects, throwing over the top birthday parties. So I naturally stepped in when Charlie was called away. Often he would return in the am, while the children slept and we would talk until dawn. Telling me stories of his life in the fast lane of journalism, especially covering war zones. This is when he shared his adventures; racing Max Hastings to the other side of the Falklands to riding with the Northern Alliance, along with their leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, The Lion of Panjshir, during the “Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan“. Little did I realize at the time, his Middle East war experience would play a major role in my own life.

The Powell-Laurence family looked forward to horseback riding weekends in upstate NY, but they were only day trips. Cold Springs was beautiful and we hated returning to the city so soon. Charlie decided to book a cabin for an overnight and I immediately said yes to play pioneers in the Catskill Mountains! The girls were so excited, jumping up and down; they could really pretend to be sisters now. Luke loved helping “Daddy” make a fire, I got to be granny, making her fried chicken, collard greens, corn bread and introduced “Critter Hunting” a family tradition, to drive the country roads at night, spotting coons, fox and opossums in the dark.

On our first over night, early winter snow dusted the evergreens outside the log cabin, with the kids tuckered out and asleep, we crossed a line. We shared bourbon by the fire, another and another. While shadows danced around, our eyes locked hours in conversation. When I finally turned away, I felt a big wet tongue lick my cheek! Electricity ran through my body and I turned to face my big bad wolf. We shared our first kiss. But we did not make love, only began to anticipate the moment when we would.

The next morning was the brightest day, the sky broke crystal blue and the snow sparkled like the glitter on a Christmas card. We played innocently with the kids, but something felt different. As we packed the jeep to head back to the City, Charlie and I shared a long gaze. I believe that was the exact moment, we fell hard, in that ring of fire.

Written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore

Recorded by Johnny Cash on 3/25/63

Number one – Country Chart; Number 17 – Pop Chart

Ring of Fire

Love Is A Burning Thing

And It Makes A Fiery Ring

Bound By Wild Desire

I Fell Into A Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire

I Went Down, Down, Down

And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns

The Ring Of Fire

The Ring Of Fire

The Taste Of Love Is Sweet

When Hearts Like Ours Meet

I Fell For You Like A Child

Oh, But The Fire Went Wild

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire

I Went Down, Down, Down

And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns

The Ring Of Fire

The Ring Of Fire

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Down Deep in Dixie

Thanksgiving 2010 and I'm visiting the folks in Bamie, if I said it wasn't a culture shock considering I've been residing in the Big Apple for many moons now, I would be a liar. Well I'm not a good liar so here is the truth. I AM IN CULTURE SHOCK! Look, I love The Swampers, Crimson Tide, War Eagle, collard greens, BBQ, Juke Joints. Well aware that being a daughter of the Southland makes me special, not just in NYC but in KSA and other foreign lands I’ve recently had the pleasure to work in. Alabama can be just as exotic as the Far East, with all due respect, this is not a bad thing but this is not mainstream!

I can cut the fear with a knife, really I can and Jesus ain't helping the situation. Not even the mega million dollar church down the way from Mom’s house. Being someone who lived through 911 in Manhattan I am in aw that much of the country is subscribing to media fear mongering and believe our great nation is in the throes of the end! The end of what? Perhaps the 2nd coming of Christ or Chinese but definitely there is fear of uncertainty and I find many natives seem to be reveling in it and snake oil sales seem to be at an all time high. I suppose misery loves company. But this is NOT the SOUTH of my childhood.

The South of my childhood with guard dogs and hose pipes, in the climatic 60/70s had something honest about it. Conviction, passion and leaders who were able to bring about positive change or at least get the shit kicked out of them. Yes Alabama could be the poster child of racism at its ugliest, but from the ashes came a sense of pride, knowing where we came and who we were. We gave America The Southern Poverty Law Center, that left no white hood unturned and still prosecutes hate to the fullest degree of the law. And I will never forget Attorney General, Bill Baxley, reopening the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case, and in a letter the Klan threatened him, compared him to JFK, and made him an "honorary nigger", but Baxley responded, on official state letterhead: "My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is--kiss my ass." To borrow a NY term, CHUTZPAH, our leaders shamelessly showed. Where did they go? Is Mayor Bloomberg the only one left standing up to recent insanity?

Big wheels keep on turning to carry me home to see my kin, who among other natives seem to be buying into FOX and Jesus juice and I don't mean wine. I actually wish they would have a glass of cab and relax instead of predicting Armageddon. I mention to young folks our own state history, they seem not to know or worse, not care, what in the hell I'm talking about, if they can pull away from their texting for one ADHDless second. It seems to me that we have raised a few generations and let me be frank, not just the South, but this indifference seems to be a plague inflicting our nation.

"My Old Southern Friend" defriended me recently, was probably a litmus test that tolerance was out the window. It began innocently enough; he is the husband of an old college classmate, who at first was delighted to reconnect. But then he started to notice I was obviously a liberal in his book (I think of myself more conservative than most NYers) livid, I voted for Obama, that I was relieved the Supreme Court did NOT pass a bill that would allow folks to carry guns across state lines and my interest in "socialist" health reform. I tried very hard to be nice, reason with him...I mention how many beautiful girlfriends had early demises, were single moms putting kids before themselves, diagnosed too late. I said to my Old Southern Friend, perhaps if you walked in my shoes your experience would dictate a different viewpoint. He STONE WALLED ME! Then asked if he could talk to me about his Lord Jesus. Considering I grew up in the Church of Christ, as a child memorized much of the gospels, I was not amused. My dry logic continued to underscore his emotion, so offended he finally defriended me. I must confess I was relieved, I no longer dreaded going to my FB page, never knowing what rant he might post.

My culture shock basically is ugly fear and NO PASSION! And people hiding behind FB pages or what other social network page, that praise the Lord and so quick to believe sound bites that are only meant to stir misplaced frustration and put the blame on others. Now I know you might accuse me of generalizing and correct me if you wish. But this Southern girl longs for the old days when people were loyal to either side, not their pocket books and seeing was believing not FOX sound bites!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Spy Who Loved Her

It was a dreary Edward Gorey day, September 11, 2009. I felt this deep pain, memories not only of 911 but the aftermath. It was a modern day phenomenon, mass depression washed over Manhattan, all of NYC, months, perhaps years. I believe we are still experiencing the after shocks of this horrific day.

A historical date often triggers memories. I’m relieved they no longer paralyze me. But on this day I experienced a case of butterflies in my stomach.

A friend red flagged me that my ex husband has written a memoir focused on his childhood years spent behind the iron curtain with his Father the diplomat. He spoke often, when his Father passed away he would finally write his book, My Mother the Spy. He kept his word, “Congrats!” The Social Agent will be released Spring of 2010.

I read the synopsis and I could hear Charlie, in his baritone voice, telling me about his Mother and Jiří Mucha, a BBC war journalist, a Czech and the son of Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha (known for his romantic posters of Sarah Bernhardt). The country weekends they spent together, Elizabeth, Charles and his sister, Kate with Jiří, miles away from their Father, Peter.

A different time and place, after the second war, but still a silent war was raging, The Cold War. It was the mid fifties and no catastrophic event signified the price of freedom. Only years later would the Velvet Revolution mark its success.

I think it could be easier on people who loose their families through a historical act of war. They have something tangible to mark their great loss, and the support of their countrymen. It’s the secret events that are never spoken aloud, eating at you like cancer that can make one’s soul so heavy. Creating the walking wounded, never able to connect the puzzle, living life in a holding pattern, until finally you can break the news or it breaks you.

What happened on their holidays? The ultimate betrayal with a man too willing to be Elizabeth’s close confidant, eager to venture with the diplomat’s wife, kids in tow to a lonesome cabin in the woods. Or the behavior of a man who couldn’t be tied emotionally to his family, never over the untimely death of his Mother, he witnessed as a child ? Or something more sinister, lurking just beneath the surface ?

I knew Sir Peter in his later years and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, Sir Peter was married to the Crown. I believe men with such a high sense of duty for “The Greater Good” will pay the ultimate price in Her Majesty’s service their family.

Charlie along with his Father was haunted by the ghost of Sister Kate. Kate died at 50. I met her once, on one of our trips to England. Kate, for most of her adulthood resided in a government home for adults who needed assisted living. A fairy child who never grew up, made the best of her life while suffering from Anorexia Nervosa.

Charlie’s entire family seemed to be suffering from depression and deep regrets, there is something about English culture that encourages families not to talk to each other, holding things in until often there is finally a blow up. The Brit “Stiff Upper Lip” is responsible for planting emotional landmines everywhere, Charlie’s family was an extreme, no one was immune from his Mother, Lady Laurence’s out bursts.

Charlie has lived most of his life on the edge, some shrinks and friends viewed his lifestyle suicidal. From racing motor bikes with Damon Hill to eventually becoming a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph of London. A pattern of behavior programmed by his culture, his parents, and his nature.

I went down the path, to love until it hurt; obviously my family and culture programmed me as well. I was borne in Tuscaloosa and grew up in Birmingham during turbulent times. I have my own difficult family members certified loopy and nurtured by an unforgiving South, land of fire and brimstone sermons. I have a predisposition to run into a burning house. I ran into that house for Charlie.

How we met; my blonde ambition brought me to the City. I became an East Village poet and singer in rock and roll bands, The Shameless Sycophants later Dark Blue. In the 90s we frequently played downtown haunts and dives, including CBGB, The Knitting Factory, and The Pyramid Club. One review flattered us, “Patsy Cline meets the Velvet Underground”. Charlie loved the persona I projected, his “American Blonde”, a hipster; a Neo Beat from the red clay of Alabama, snake handling country.

We met at our daughters’ school in the Greenwich Village. Seduction in a playground, he was an over 40 Englishman, attractively battered like Keith Richards. You could see the skid marks on his face from life in the fast lane. I was in my late 20s, from “darkest Dixie” he would proclaim to others, “Miss Alabama” at French Roast on 6th Avenue and 11th Street. This became a tag of mine; soon all of Charlie’s colleagues, editors would call me this.

Here is where Charlie and I found common ground, scarred through the bone to the soul.
I spent over twelve years with Charles, we raised our children together. Our life had beautiful moments I will always cherish. I walked away with inner strength not many will ever possess. It isn't easy wrestling with demons in the night, not just ethereal dark angels but voices of the living, harpies who tore at our family tapestry.

I’m anticipating a copy of Mr. Laurence’s memoir; it will be interesting to compare my notes to his written word. His agent’s synopsis reads, “Laurence strips the cover from a story of betrayal, sexual exploitation and heartbreak, and only then can he discover the healing powers of truth.”

This brings to my mind an American folk tale set in Missouri, The Devil and Daniel Webster. Perhaps Jiří Mucha is Mr. Scratch and Sir Peter, Jabez Stone and now Charles is Daniel Webster, winning his families’ salvation.

Stories from an Alabama Troubadour living in New York City.