August 11, 2010
Dr. Phil Sez . . .
There’s a guy I see just about every day on my morning walk. I like to think of him as “Dr. Phil.” Phil usually says “good morning” and then lunches into an extended monologue about what ails him. Today, his spiel began thus:
Dr. Phil: Felt so bad this morning I almost didn’t come.
Me: But here you are, Phil.
Dr. Phil (ignoring my cheerful comment): Then I took a huge crap and felt better—easy two days worth. (Pause.) So that must have been what it was, that buildup of crap.
On another occasion Phil greeted me and then proceeded to relate a vivid story about his feet:
Dr. Phil: So I wake this morning and stand up and my feet are all swole up and blood-red. (Pause.) Then I touch ’em and they turn green.
This colorful anecdote was delivered without a trace of irony—Phil has no idea how funny he is—so all I could think to say was: “Damn, Phil.” Then I smiled and kept walking. I knew that if I asked him to explain he’d have my ear for at least ten minutes, and I was pretty sure he couldn’t top his opening lines.
Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.
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Posted by Jim
June 30, 2009
By Shirley Lupton
My sister, Peg, is a contrarian. An introverted petite blonde, stunning and smart, she never wanted to be a wife or a mother. But then she turned 60 and her health insurance premium (individual plan) jumped from $500 to $1,200 a month. So she did what she could to keep herself insured. She decided to marry Ed, with whom she had lived for the past 28 years. He had a job with health benefits. Oh, we joked, hope you aren’t rushing into something. Do you really know him?
Ed describes himself as a poseur, a charlatan, and a gourmetician. To contrast her size 2, he is short, round, size 50, a gregarious Sicilian; also a former restaurant chef and now teacher of the culinary arts. In Philadelphia, where they live, Ed is a sort of Pied Piper. People come from doorways to greet him as they walk down the streets. He spends an hour in a sausage emporium on 9th Street in Little Italy talking to the “regulars” while Peg is around the corner, alone, puffing a Marlboro regular. “To marry or have health insurance—I picked marriage, a Hobson’s choice,” Peg said. “So—let’s make it an ironic wedding.” Ed replied, “Anything you want dear.”
Peg insisted on secrecy, so the site she chose was a mountaintop in north central Pennsylvania where we had spent our childhood summers. An old friend there, Al, a retired clergyman, agreed to conduct the service. Aside from me, the only other participants would be Dick and Judy, a couple we had also known as children on the mountain. That was it. No fuss, no cake, no expense, and none of the friends from Philly, who would hear about it later. At the rehearsal dinner, which was held at Dick and Judy’s cabin, we all drank too much wine and annoyed an abstemious Al by making up vows that pressed hard on the irony concept. In fact, Al got a bit huffy and left after Ed said that he would take this woman in holy matrimony only if she agreed to wash her cereal bowl and forsake country music.
The next day we stood in front of Reverend Al’s fireplace, ready. He had brought out his best cut glass wine goblets and a decanter of communion sherry. Judy had picked the wedding bouquet in the woods, an armload of blooming ragweed. Al wore his full black clerical garb and, caught up in the mood of irreverence, rubber flip- flops. We milled around a bit and then Peg, wearing denim, hugged the raspy flowers as Al began the ceremony. As he intoned, I watched a hummingbird at a feeder outside his window, and when I turned back I saw liquid reflecting light off Ed’s eyes. Peg’s eyes were glazed, like a cat full of tuna. Al was reading the traditional vows and they were answering—in tradition. This was a wedding. After Ed kissed the bride, Peg tossed me the ragweed and we stood around not knowing what to say but feeling rather graceful. Ed opened a bottle of vintage champagne from the year of Peg’s birth to find it had turned to vinegar. No one said, How ironic. We toasted with Al’s sherry.
Peg selected the Jamison Hotel for the “reception,” a place far in the mountains where the dress code was wife-beater undershirts and the all-you-can-eat buffet was on top of Bunson Burners in big aluminum trays for $8.50 per person. A pitcher of cold lager cost $3.00. I can tell you the ham and green bean dish was delicious. An eight-point buck’s head looked down at us from its wall mount. An old guy from the bar came in and played his harmonica so we could waltz the bride.
Last spring Ed lost his job in the recession. Now he and Peg are both uninsured. But in the four years that Ed and Peg have been married, they have been content. Willie Nelson instead of Puccini? — no problem. Whatever my wife wants, Ed continues to say. And soon, of course, there will be Medicare.
Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.
Shirley Lupton has been a contributing writer and photographer for Aishti, a Middle Eastern lifestyle, fashion and travel magazine published in Beruit, Lebanon. Her work has also appeared in the Irish Herald, San Francisco, and in the Baltimore Sun. Shirley is a member of Margaret Osborn’s Deepdeen Writers’ group, which is were we met a few years ago. I’m happy to report that her witty contributions have become a popular feature on this blog.
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Posted by Jim
March 11, 2009
By Shirley Lupton
My son, Robert, and I were having an argument on the train platform in Avignon. He wanted to stop in Lyon to have a look around and have lunch and I wanted to go straight back to Paris where we had rented an apartment for a few weeks. Robert is a travel writer and I do not see him much except the rare times we can travel together. “Mom,” he said, Lyon is the food capital of France. I guarantee that after two hours in Lyon you will not want to leave.” “You win,” I told him but I held in my head the impression that Lyon would be a city of damp unadorned buildings with menus that featured Lyonnaise potatoes.
So, after the warm October sun and the infinite yellows of southern France we stepped into a chilly plaza coated with light rain. As we walked along its streets even he agreed that Lyon’s buildings were stolid and Germanic. It will be better by the river, Robert said, and so it was. The River Saone flowed with a grand sweep under stone arched bridges and a seducing sun came out as we walked along. He was eying a white cathedral high on a hill on the opposite bank. I could imagine the thousand steps up to it and suggested it was time for lunch. Because part of Robert’s job is eating he has acquired a sixth sense about restaurants. He needs only to walk by the entrance, and sniff the air. “This is it, Mom.” His choice, Le Bistrot de Lyon, was no different from dozens of others along the cobblestones of Rue Merciere, which, with its beat and bustle, seemed to be the food heart of Lyon. It felt right to me too.
Le Bistrot opened itself to us. The maitre de was brisk but welcoming in that nuanced way the French have to be OK with Americans. We were seated at a small table with a white tablecloth and a pot of fresh flowers in the non-smoking section where smoking was still done without guilt or irony. Nearby a table of businessmen, six or eight of them in dark suits, were finishing up a platter of pork roast and sausages. A waiter poured from several bottles of wine set about and discussed their desserts. Good humor flowed between the waiter and the men in their rumble of conversation.
The décor was all polished brass and Persian carpets of faded reds, oranges and blues, The sconces on the walls were converted gaslights. In the mirror behind the men I could see our heads; Robert’s curling black hair, and mine, graying, had developed that “certain age” sway. Had I worn a cloche it could have been 1944. The waiter turned from the men and at once became our waiter as he placed a basket of bread on the table. When Robert spoke to him in fluent French his surprise showed in two dots of red on his cheeks. He wore a white shirt and a bold cerise tie and an apron with a casual hitch up the front. We ordered the specials and a half carafe of local red wine. The bread had deep crust and yielded dough that was thick and nutty, the color of caramel. Two small salads arrived –arugula with herbs and a garlic mustard dressing. The wine, hearty and fruity, tasted of grapes laced with primroses or cherries. And then the entrée, mine a slice of medium rare beef lightly covered with a sauce of orange cognac and butter and potatoes cut with edges crisped by caramelized onions. Another waiter joined up with ours, a dark skinned younger man, an apprentice perhaps. He observed our pleasure in the food and gave us two desserts instead of the one with the special. A small cheese plate, and an apple crisp that was so good I wanted to stand and scream. It crunched with the light, buttery shell and sugar and the freshness of the apples.
The check was modest and correct for such a simple lunch. But the confluence of care in the cooking, the colors, the way it was served by waiters who enjoyed the work, their reserved humanity and the happy hum of the businessmen, all this did something to us. It opened our feelings, which is a rare thing for a restaurant to do. In the past Robert and I had wounded each other after the divorce from his father. That day my faith in his judgment, his willingness to take me in hand and the mysterious magic of the Bistrot softened some of what had been hardened from all that. Outside the streets of Lyon looked entirely different. Robert went on to the white Cathedral and I walked about the shops and plazas in a daze. Later, on the train Robert wrote the following in his Journal.
The city had seemed sober and northern and monochromatic –completely without spark—when we arrived, hungry, into a gray noon, with apparently a fine mist between us and any color the city might have had. By the time we headed back to the train station at 4 PM, the invisible mist had lifted, my belly had been satisfied, I had sweated my way up to the city’s heights, my intellect, or rather my vision, had been braced by an extra post lunch coffee, the sun had grown stronger behind the clouds. So that now the martial rows of houses along the river revealed previously unseen blues, pinks, and yellows–still all very restrained. Gradually too, more direct rays had penetrated the weather and produced their shadows, and with them the facades and the very bend in the River Soane with its curving heights were revealing the nuance of a third dimension.
In Paris we had many fine meals but never one like the lunch in Lyon.
Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.
I met Shirley Lupton in a writing class and was impressed by her cool, sardonic (is “sardonic” a combination of “sarcastic” and “ironic?”) Dorothy Parker-ish take on life, at least as expressed in her manuscripts. The first story by Shirley I read had the wonderful title “Nicole Kidman’s Bathrobe,” and was every bit as funny as the title suggests, but it also contained some very interesting insights into human relationships. Later, as I got to know her as a friend, I concluded that my initial impression held up. Shirley proved to be as witty and as insightful in real life as she was on the page.
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Posted by Jim
September 24, 2008
What I Did On My Summer Vacation—In 1973
One thing I packed for my first (and so far only) international trip was my new camera, a Minolta 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex). The whole business of doing photography with such a sophisticated instrument, rather than my old Kodak Instamatic, was so strange to me at the time I had to refer to the manual whenever I attempted to use it. So I was careful to bring along the little white instructional booklet, too.
It was August, 1973, and I was on my way to Paris to meet my new girlfriend, having been introduced to her at a party the previous May. She was a schoolteacher out of class for the summer and living with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend (an Italian waiter the sibling had met in Rome), in a one-room apartment on the Left Bank. It was all very romantic, and the sisters’ were old hands at international travel, having made the European scene for several summers running. My girlfriend, with her knowledge of the country and her high school French would be my guide, or so I assumed. The tip-off that perhaps she wasn’t “in the know” so much herself was the fact that August was the month when well-off Paris residents abandoned the hot city, leaving it to hordes of low-end tourists. Actually, August was the only time most schoolteachers could afford to vacation in Paris. That was my situation, too, being a low-grade (in every sense) Visual Information Specialist at the Social Security Administration, one with child support payments to make.
As I boarded the Paris flight I promised myself that at no time during the eighteen days in France would I make a single “touristy” photograph of a famous monument, such as, for instance, the Eiffel Tower. If I did choose to photograph a popular site, I would figure out how to do it in a fresh way—as an abstraction, perhaps, or from a great distance framed by trees, or with something completely unexpected in the foreground, something ugly, like a wall plastered with handbills. The goal was to produce what on the surface appeared to be “bad” snapshots, but which in fact had required a lot of thought and would provoke an unexpected response in the viewer, a response at once intellectual and emotional. It wasn’t that (in “postmodern” lingo) I wanted so much to “deconstruct” the tourist snapshot—I doubt I knew the term back then—but I was determined to avoid committing that photographic sin of sins, the visual cliché. Of course all this was a tall order for an amateur photographer. Looking back, I now realize that rather than being a photographic trail-blazer I was simply a visual snob.
I was very young, though, and in love with love and at the same time passionately trying to master a new craft while in a new country where I didn’t speak the language and was completely dependent on my new girlfriend for even the basics, like food and lodging and where to find a bathroom. And after little more than two weeks of walking the streets of Paris, motoring through town after small town in Southern France and “making images” not “taking pictures” of cathedrals, castles rooftops and markets, I was homesick and more than ready to board the flight back to the U. S. I was also mildly depressed, having convinced myself even before I saw the processed slides that I had failed in my quest for a series of perfect “anti-travel” images.
It’s appropriate that this tale of misguided youth (but not misspent, since in retrospect I loved the experience) ends in irony. When my girlfriend asked me to pose for one last snapshot, I agreed, and of course she wanted the Eiffel Tower in the background. I’m too ashamed to show the resulting image, but at least that’s one creative sin which will be forever on her head, not mine.
“The E-Tower” is the first in a series of short travel-photo essays which will post on this site from time-to-time. (Click images for larger views.) Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.
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Posted by Jim