Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Gigolos

     In June of 1983, on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, my father rented a house on the Isle of Gigolos in the Sporades to which the family embarked en masse. We flew from New York to Athens where we took the boat from Piraeus to Gigolos, arriving in the late afternoon to a wild scene of dockside bedlam. A cacophony of horns and whistles merged with the roar of idling engines, motorcycles and shrieking stevedores, an exotic aural kakavia spiced nicely with the raging mandolins of “Never On Sunday” blaring from the café loudspeakers nearby.
Flanking the gangway on both sides as we disembarked, a hundred young Greek men, writhing astride their purring Guzzis and Hondas, Suzukis and Vespas, flattered and cajoled in a dozen languages the steady stream of seemingly unattached blondes flowing from the ferry like a pool of honeyed Oikos.
 While we stood in a small knot waiting for Dad to make a scene about our luggage or transport or whatever, one of these young men wheeled over, introduced himself with a radiant smile as Theologos Gorillas and offered to make any arrangements required to get us to our destination. In the brief moment it took my father to move from unabashed skepticism to resignation, I noticed that Theo had begun chatting up my sister.
     Gigolos rises steeply from the concrete ferry slip and main, commercial village in a series of stark, treeless hills and plateaus. Following Theo in a mini caravan of hired carts and canopied, two-stroke “taxis”, we wound through a couple of small squares, each with a café or two and tiny streets and alleys radiating precipitously away in all directions. Typically Greek, white stucco houses and courtyards lined these streets and squares, random and choc-o-block, sprouting from one another like mushrooms and unified by the ubiquitous glare, the arched doors and windows and the red tiled roofs. Most of these homes let rooms out to tourists and our rental was at the end of one of these small streets about two thirds of the way up the slopes; a lovely, spacious spot with a beautiful terrace overlooking the town below.
All went relatively well for that first week or so: Dad slathered on the Sea & Ski and occupied himself with his watercolors, Mom sat a few feet away alternately sketching Dad or reciting mangled phrases from the Greek-English dictionary – ostensibly to herself – which drove him to distraction. I explored the island in a vintage white linen suit from Cheap Jack’s on 4th Avenue and developed a taste for five-star Metaxa and those sour little Mediterranean pistachios. Theo showed up every morning and whisked my sister away on the back of his bike clad only in bikini, her Jackie-O’s and wide, straw hat.

     One evening while sitting at the café watching the ferry disgorge its cargo of adventurous damsels and the attendant swains jockey for position, I met a German girl, Gisla and her mother, who settled in at the next table. No doubt attracted by my fine, fine suit, Gisla soon made it quite clear that, Greek boys on scooters notwithstanding, she’d be delighted to spend an evening with me! One thing, of course, soon led to another - as things evidently did on Gigolos – and, as I balked at using the twin bed next to her mother’s, we absconded through the window on to the rooftop of the adjoining house. There, caressed by the warm Ionian breezes and bathed in Grecian moonglow we drifted off to sleep….
     Until about three in the morning when I awoke to a hot, stiff wind blowing the hard, stinging Sahara before it. Pulling on my jacket, grabbing for my glasses, I stumbled up from the blanket just in time to see my pants fly off the parapet, blend with a vortex of detritus and vanish. Naked from the waist down save for a pair of classic, two-toned saddle-shoes, I bid the confused Gisla a hasty farewell, barged back through the window, past her sleeping mother and out into the streets of Gigolos in hot, if somewhat undignified pursuit of my trousers.
The break of dawn found me scurrying about the alleys with my suit coat tied by the arms around my waist. I had long since given up on the pants and was just trying to find my way home when, rounding a corner I came face to face with my father. Clad in a lavender caftan, black knee socks and Tevas, Dad was shouting for my sister and cursing the Gorillas name with a litany of colorful oaths as he stumbled down the hillside toward the main town. So distracted was he that my appearance seemed to make no impression on him at all, as though finding one’s second son butt naked at daybreak in a foreign land was par for the course. With only that wild glance we passed each other in the half-light, I on my way back up the hill to slip undetected and relieved into my room, my father on his way down to create an international incident in search of my errant sister.
     It seems she and Theo had stayed out all night with the fishing fleet, lustily jigging for calamari and had lost all track of time. According to reports, my father was not only able to find the House of Gorillas at five in the morning, but, after much door pounding, produced not only Theo’s father but half the neighborhood as well. In wild polyglot passions raged until, at the end, all agreed that Theo was a cad who had brought dishonor to his family, while my own family’s honor had been restored despite my pantless midnight ramble.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nobunny’s Angel Now

     I’m looking at a photograph of my Grandfather’s family taken on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Inscribed along the lower right in big, bygone, fountain-pen cursive is the caption, “The Walter E. Edge Clan, Easter 1940”. The family is ranged across the photo, arm-in-arm in their Easter best, the very picture of high hopes and prosperity. My mother, between my Uncle Walter and my Grandfather, is fourteen in this shot. My grandfather, born in 1873, is sixty-seven. Although Europe is already in turmoil, there’s nothing here to suggest the dark future that would soon engulf the nation. Easter on the Boardwalk is sun drenched; we’re all smiles, looking sharp, and tomorrow will be even better! And that’s pretty much what Easter has always meant to me. 

   Having dipped our toes into Presbyterianism as youngsters at our parents’ insistence, my brother and I gained a working knowledge of mainstream Christianity at Sunday school. We knew who the major players were and what they were up to, but the why of it all was as illusive then as it is to me today. I have some theories that are none too charitable and best left for another screed. Mom and Dad ran my older brother through the Confirmation process when he was about thirteen in order to see whether the results would be worth all the trauma involved in getting there. Evidently deciding to the contrary, we soon dispensed with church altogether. 

   The lead-up to Easter, coinciding with the promise of Spring, was replete with fabulous props: palm fronds, ashes smudged on foreheads, hot-cross buns with those funky candied chunks in them, Shrove Tuesday when my mother would serve dinner wrapped in crepes, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday - all blended together in a pastel froth of warm sunshine, foil eggs and bunnies, profoundly flammable excelsior straw and chocolate! Spared by our sect of the gore, guilt and solemnity of even the higher Episcopalians, the Easter service was performed with dispatch and the congregation dismissed at once lest the Yorkshire pudding fall.

   This, in my opinion, was church as it should be; sun streaming in through the stained glass, huge vases of lilies and tulips, everyone dressed to the nines, birdsong from the green and fulgent churchyard filling the lulls in the minister’s sermon. Just enough religiosity to stick with a fellow should he need to trot some out later in life. A few rousing hymns and we’re off, before I get the giggles or wet the pew.

   Church may have been the only place where chocolate was not available that day. As soon as we awoke we’d be into the Easter baskets at the foot of our beds. I didn’t have much use for the jelly beans or licorice but devoured the bunnies, hollow or solid, and gorged to near satiation on the diminutive, foil-wrapped eggs. Indeed, these little symbols of Christ‘s yearning for sweets at Lent proved my undoing in a shoplifting incident a few years later and are still irresistible to me today. To end the festive, formal lunch, my mother would serve “Dusty Millers”: coffee ice cream coated in a proprietary hot-fudge sauce that immediately hardened into a leather-like substance one couldn’t chew but gnawed like jerky, all dusted with powdered malt. 

   Although I still love the idea of church on a warm, sunny spring morning, I don’t visit other than for weddings and funerals.  I do catch myself beseeching Him on occasion, with little more expectation of pleas fulfilled than I would have for the more pagan rituals of crossing my fingers or tugging on a wishbone. If there is a Heaven, I am confident that my mother is there, arranging the tulips and serving up the Dusty Millers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


My wife, Suzanne, can’t cook a meal without following a recipe. God help you if you suggest a bit more of this, a bit less of that; these TuttoRosso will certainly not do as well as San Marzano….Everything by the book. I collect cookbooks – have a whole wall full of them – and rarely crack one open save for those times when I just don’t know what to do with that rancid eggplant. Even then I usually don’t go much beyond the index, taking inspiration from an entry and creating the thing the way I imagine it might or could be. Sometimes this works out, sometimes….not so much. Often I’ll throw open the cupboards and just root around, putting together a bit of this and that and making a meal out of whole cloth, from the blank page, so to speak.

   As an erstwhile painter, back in the day, I would sit for hour after agonizing hour, chain-smoking and staring at that blank canvas in the hope that something would strike me before the overwhelming urge to pack it in and head to Fannelli’s  snuffed out the creative spark. Eventually I would make more or less the same painting as the one that had preceded it…which is more or less why I stopped painting. Because I insist on producing a proper dinner every evening, though, Suzanne says that cooking has replaced making art as my creative outlet. And whereas painting, like, say, poetry is entirely subjective and need only please or antagonize its creator; most meals I make should, at the very least, appeal to Suzanne as well.

Suzanne’s blank page is the dressmaker dummy upstairs in the sewing room. She heads up there after her coffee in the morning and I won’t see her again until I’ve made dinner. I have no idea how much time Suzanne spends staring at her naked dummy before draping that first bit of muslin across a shoulder, but I do know that whatever she ends up with will be different from what she introduced last season and will have to appeal to a great many people. At any given moment she is working on several designs at once and has been doing so now for many, many years. I never find her pacing, smoking or heading out to the bar; she just goes about her day, creating one amazing garment after another, every tuck, fold and stitch just so, every buttonhole and bar-tack impeccable. There are no directions on how to do this, no recipe to follow, just the stuff of the sewing room: the fabrics and notions, the pins and needles, pinking shears and pencils, the humming herd of machines. And the blank, unclothed dressmaker dummy.

   Sometimes I’ll sneak up there on little cat feet and peek through the door. Suzanne will be quite contentedly stitching away, one side of her mouth full of pins as the other side carries on a conversation with the murmuring radio. I will be afraid to startle her, lest she swallow those pins, so I’ll slink back down leaving the now beautifully gowned dummy a silent witness to my wife’s tireless and inspiring creativity. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I had to brake for a mink this morning. The sleek and undulate marmot streaked out from the shoulder gorse, pivoted in a wee plie when he saw the truck and vanished. But not before reminding me that it was time for my semi-annual haircut.  Not because the barber I had used for years doubled as the local taxidermist, but because a mink on the roadside must mean Spring, which means Opening Day, which means it’s time. I generally try to get the second cut around the World Series and, as the only sport left with a reliable season, Baseball has worked pretty well so far as a reminder.
   When we were boys, my father would take us around the corner on Saturday to Dominic’s on Second Avenue, next to the deli we knew only as Old Smelly’s. Dominic was a trim, neat barber with a thin mustache and lot’s of classic tattoos like broken hearts with daggers and girls’ names like Gloria.  Of course, there was a barber pole out front – that’s how you knew it was a barber shop – and the storefront was full of beakers and bottles with clear, blue and pink and chartreuse liquids in them that I never saw him use but always hoped he’d use on me. The wall in front of the three chairs was all glass and  mirrors so that everything in the place, the calendar girl, the posters for hair tonics, brushes and razors, the celebrity head-shots all flashed around in a riot of stuff that was masculine, somewhat secret and elusive to me as a nine year old. Baseball seemed always on the radio at Dominic’s; Mantle coming to bat, Yogi Berra selling YooHoo, the Miracle Mets stumbling around . I hated waiting for the open chair; sitting in the sunlight counting dust-motes or leafing through Popular Mechanics or Outdoor Life. I loved it when Dominic lathered up my temples and made a big production of stropping his razor and making two precise, raspy tugs at imaginary sideburns. I learned about the very solemn, adult act of tipping from my father at Dominic’s.
  Years went by when we didn’t cut our hair at all. During this period of social upheaval Barber Shops began changing, then disappearing altogether. They were replaced by Unisex Salons with names like “Golden Shears” or “His N’ Hers Clips”. The barber poles vanished together with the beakers of odd unguents.  You’d have to go to Grand Central or Wall Street to find a regular, old barber. In fact, the barbers themselves were being replaced at an alarming clip by…..women barbers, which, of course, seemed like an oxymoron. 
   Toward the end of the 70’s, after a minor ceremony at which the painter, Davi Schoffman and I removed the symbols of that age – my butt length pony tail and his massive, Rabbinical beard – I began the search again for a barber. With a barber pole. Entirely bereft of the words “Shears” or “Clips”. And a male, please. In Maine, that had become even more difficult as every lobsterman’s wife had suddenly gone into Hair, converting the daytime kitchen into a salon and hanging a shingle off the mailbox that might say something like, “Hair Today”. In Maine that meant the taxidermist, who still had a pole and where a few dusty, ratty examples of his craft replaced the mirrors and glass. Still had the endless, tiresome wait for the guy ahead of me to finish his gabbing, during which I’d thumb through the Sports Illustrated or Field and Stream, trying to be patient. He actually did a pretty good job for a few years before succumbing to coffee brandy and irrelevance and disappearing in the night.
  I’ve since been forced into something of a compromise. My current barber is, in fact, a woman. She cut hair at the Brunswick Naval Air Station until they shut down, which means her skills are somewhat limited to what she can do with the electric shaver thingy.  My wife will ask her to use scissors on occasion, just to bust her balls. There’s nothing particularly masculine about her shop – a couple of photos of her pudgy grandkids, the TV on relentlessly, RedBook instead of Field and Stream. But she does have a pole, which attracted me, despite calling her place “A Li’l Off The Top”. There’s never any waiting and she gets the very reasonable rate of a dollar a minute, starting out at a ten minute haircut for ten bucks and moving up to twelve minutes for twelve bucks. I give her fifteen and say, “Keep the change…”