Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Stage Door Bar & Grille

Across the street and next to the famous Schubert Theatre in New Haven sat the Stage Door Bar & Grille. It was called Stage Door because of it's location next to the alleyway of the Schubert Theatre.

The Schubert Theatre in New Haven was the last stop for any Broadway bound play or musical act. If you bombed in New Haven, your chances for succeeding in New York or even making it to New York were greatly diminished.
Extending out from the Stage Door was your basic neon sign, blaring out the name in big red letters over a black background. Nothing fancy, just your basic bar sign.

I was allowed access to the Stage Door any time, day or night. My mother's job at the White Tower 24 hour hamburger joint across the street gave me passage to most places, day or night, that any 10 year would never dream of entering, nor their parents allow.

The murky windows of the Stage Door facing the corner of Crown and College were covered half way down with old cigarette stained drapes. If you were tall enough, which I wasn't at the age of 10, you could peer over the draped partition and peer in.

The entrance to the Stage Door was an old heavy wooden door with a diamond shaped window 3/4 of the way up. Most times I had trouble opening the door by myself but if I waited a bit, some downtown neighborhood patron would come along and let me in, or I would wait for someone to come out from their daily dose of beer.

As I walked through the dense cloud of cigar and cigarette smoke I would begin to manuver through a sea of legs.
The smell of stale smoke and alcohol permeated the air.

A huge Seeburg jukebox was immeditately to your right, bigger than the one at the White Tower.It was a great big domed shaped record player with a music list to try and please all patrons. Rock and roll, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and whatever holiday music that was appropiate at the time. The juke box 45rpm records and could spin both sides. A nickel was all it took and if you were lucky enough to have a quarter, you could get 6 plays.

4 booths sat off to the left where the downtown people gathered to talk about their day or just sit in silence by themselves pondering over the drink in front of them
One such patron was Kathie, an Italian woman with black hair tied up in a huge bun on her head, fingernails as long as spikes and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
She would smile and say to me, "Come sta Lei"? I would smile back at her and say, "molto bene." I loved how she talked Italian to me, made me feel like an adult. My mother spoke Italian to my aunts when she didn't want us to know what she was saying. I had picked up a few words in those conversations.

Before I knew it, someone would always recognize me as "Mary's daughter" and I would be swept off my feet and plunked down lovingly on a bar stool in front of the bartender. "Hey kid," "How about a Coke and some chips"?

Within seconds Rudy the bartender would slide down a glass of Coke where it would stop right in front of me. Rudy sailed the drinks right down the bar like a pro shuffleboard athlete, knowing exactly where to make that drink stop. Rudy was a pro.
He knew everyone's drink and usually had it ready and waiting.

The guys at the bar would all offer to pay for my soda, but Rudy's remark would always make me smile. "The little lady can have whatever her heart desires. It's on the house."

I would sit there on the bar stool with my Beatles haircut well before the Beatles landed, dirty pants and shirt and scuffed sneaks from playing catch in my step father's parking lot with Helen the lesbian, listening to the clink of glasses being swept off the bar and taken from the patrons in the booths.

There was always laughter and conversation and camaraderie, no matter who was there.
It was a meeting place, a gathering of minds, from office workers, to the retail store owners in downtown New Haven to people just plain down on their luck.

A few of the regulars included Dave, the punch drunk semi-pro boxer, Stan the Parking Lot Man with the fancy rings on his finger and the brand new shiny Cadillac.
It was a haven of sorts.

One hot summer night as I was perched on the bar stool, the bar became silent.

Entering the door was a handsome lightly skinned black man who seemed so familiar.

I couldn't quite place him until I heard Rudy say, "Hey Johnny, welcome to New Haven."

With that Johnny Mathis strode up to the bar and shook Rudy's hand. "Pleasure to meet you," Johnny said. With that everyone crowded around Johnny and introduced themselves. Most of the guys had stories about their wives "swooning" over his records and pointing out to Johnny that his songs were on the jukebox.

At one point Johnny looked over at me, winked and said, "Hi Darlin."
Wow. That was cool then and it still is.

Everyone offered to buy him a beer, but Rudy insisted it was on the house. Johnny had just finished a show at the Schubert and had a bagful of White Tower hamburgers for his crew back at the Hotel Taft down the street.

Johnny said he just wanted to stop in for a quick beer and say hello.

When Johnny left there was one remark about his sexual orientation.
The remark was met with a host of comments to the effect that it didn't matter.
Johnny was a gentlemen and his business was no one else's.

Even at 10, I knew what this meant.
I was proud to be one of the "patrons" in the bar.

That night stands out in my mind for a several reasons. What I seem to rememeber most about that night is the value of acceptance.

For that night, in that bar, we were all equal. No one was any better than anyone else, whether you're a star who's sexuality is questioned, a lost soul, or a lonely kid.

The Stage Door was a place to be welcome, respected and recognized.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Mac Guy

Ed sat in the Yale New Haven emergency room watching the Peter Jennings news cast.

To Ed’s right double sided glass doors kept opening allowing the sick and wounded either to enter or exit from their visit in the ER.

Entering the ER through the glass doors you immediately stood in line at the triage desks on the right.

First stop was the nurse’s desk. Name, symptoms, how long the patient had been suffering and blood pressure were taken.
You could often hear the pleading of the sick and wounded to be “seen” as soon as possible as the pain were too much to bear.
Stock answers from the casually dressed uniformed nurses with their stethoscopes hanging around their neck were almost always the same. “ The Doctor will be with you shortly, please stop by the Admission Desk to fill out forms and then take a seat in the waiting room.
At the Admission Desk all insurance information was taken and forms for next of kin were filled out.

A security and a New Haven Police Officer sat a podium next to the Nurses station to monitor any form of annoyances from patients monitor entrance into the examining rooms itself. Friends or family of the sick were given Visitor passes once inside the exam rooms in order for them to leave or make phone calls while the patient was being seen by a doctor.

Yale’s emergency room is a desolate place to visit on any day or night, weekend or weekday.

Accompanying Ed on the uncomfortable blue and orange chairs were soon to be “patients” of all kinds. Sick children being held by their mother, adults coughing and wheezing, some bent over in physical pain, all waiting inordinate amounts of time to be seen by any doctor.

It was common knowledge that inside the swinging doors of the actual ER there were patients that took precedence over the waiting room patrons. Patients arriving by ambulance, gunshot wounds and stabbings were an everyday occurrence in New Haven regardless of time or day. Holidays were also busy times.

Ed was here for a schedule CT scan. He had pneumonia with a persistent fever for several months.
The prolonged condition caused concern among Ed's doctors and a CT scan was needed to see
exaclty what was going on inside his lungs.

Towards the end of the news cast Peter Jennings made a stunning announcement that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and would be undergoing treatment as an outpatient, beginning with chemotherapy. He vowed to his viewers that he would fight this hideous disease.

Watching this newscast at home I thought about Ed and what this CT scan would mean.
We knew what the worst possible scenario would be but just couldn’t mention the words “lung cancer.” Ironically Ed had also seen this newscast and knew that this could possibly be his fate also.

It was.

Ed was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away eight months later after
a hideous bout with chemotherapy treatments.

I met Ed at Yale. He was the “Mac Guy” but so much more than that.
He was a wizard when it came to computers. Ed and I became fast friends. He was tough, crabby and had great expectations of everyone’s work performance. But, he made sure we had the tools and resources with which to work with.

Ed was a 6ft+ burly guy. In his earlier days at Yale in the Computer Science Department he sported long hair and a pierced ear.

My first meeting with Ed was filled with fear. My then boss, John, sent me on a call to Ed’s office in Computer Science to install a new CD-rom in Ed’s Power Mac 7200 desktop. John’s words echoed from the moment I got the service call until I finished, “Whatever you do, don’t fuck up this call. This guy will have you roasted. He is big time.”

Yes, Ed was big time. He was promoted to Assistant Director of the Yale Computer Center losing the long hair and earring. He became my immediate boss.

After a year or so Ed was offered a Director’s job at the university I currently work at.
A few months later, he asked me to join him and I did.
He was appointed Director of Systems Technology and Planning.

This university changed both are lives for the good. Ed’s talents shone. His foresight regarding technology trends and innovation was incomparable to anyone’s
Ed was loved by everyone and feared by some. His low intolerance of incompetence of individuals in their appointed jobs was legendary. Thankfully only a few were on the receiving end of his wrath.

Ed became my father, brother and mentor. He was tough. He held high expectations of me, but coming from a family where I was invisible, this was a welcome gift.

Ed had no problem telling me what he thought about my life or me.
Hearing about my shortcomings was painful, but every “constructive criticism” conversation was always accompanied by his praise for my talent and abilities that I did possess.

We ate lunch everyday and spoke on the phone every night.
We could talk about anything, TV, work, sports, and sex. No topic was off limits.
Every weekend I would swing by his house and drop off a large coffee coolatta with extra whipped cream.
Ed’s wife often joked that if she didn’t know “I was on the other team,” she’d be worried.

Ed believed in my talent, my humor, and my soul. He showered me with his knowledge of computers; books, computers themselves and any new technological gadget he thought would enhance my art.

Ed passed away last December. I saw him on the night before he was taken to Hospice.
Knowing that I was leaving for France for 2 weeks, Ed asked me when I was leaving.

I told him I would be leaving in 7 days. He looked at me and smiled and just said, “OK.”
I saw Ed the next night in Hospice. He was barely conscious. I sat with him for a while and when I left, kissed him and told him how much I loved him.

Ed passed away later that night.

I know Ed chose to die while I was still in town.
It’s just something I know. No one can tell me any different.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Charting the Course

I have been stalling the beginning of my rewrite for my memoirs. Anything and everything was an excuse to begin another day.

I did however manage to go to Staples and purchase a 3 ring binder, (maroon) paper punch, highlighters, packs of paper and a new cartridge for the laser printer.
I even printed out every story double spaced and placed them in chronological order of a sort and placed them in the 3 ring binder.

A beautifully written blessing was sent along I could place inside the binder by SerenityTide.

I then brought the package to my shrink and received her blessing.

Was I ready to start? Should have been, but nope.

The excuses began rolling in...

1. Jury Duty
2. Jury Trial
3. Cold or Allergies
4. Dinners I had to accept (yeh,right)
5. Sleepless nights
6. TV I just couldn't miss (never mind I have TIVO)

You name it, I always came up with a reason to begin "tomorrow."

Until today.

Last night GoMama called and we commiserated about writing, blah, blah, blah.
I casually mentioned that I had taken her advice and gone to Staples and did this and that and I now had this "entity" sitting on my desk.
She was taken by suprise. I said that I had emailed her a week or so ago to tell her of the first steps taken. She said she hadn't received any email, but that this was indeed big news (I found out this morning I had sent it to the wrong address).
What she said next struck a chord.
"You did it." "You finished the chart."
"You fu-king finished the chart Jennfier had us do at the workshop in Portland!"


This morning, as I was cleaning the dog hair and what seemed like hundreds of copies of various stories printed, out of my computer studio, I came across the chart.

There it was, rolled up and creased from traveling back to Connecticut with all the stickies I had placed there. 12 points on an astrological chart with each sector representing what I wanted to write- the events, the characters in my life, and the final stickie, what I hoped to acheive by writing.
It was all there. I really had done it.

The very last stickie on the chart startled me.
It said simply, "I am happy."

So today I will begin the rewrite. Happy but scared.
I promise myself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Allow me to Introduce One of My Favorite Bloggers


I was fortunate enough to meet this man and he
is as captivating as his words.

Visit his site. You will keep returning.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Top 3 Ways to Be Excused from Being a Trial Juror

Contributed by my friends and esteemed colleagues.
(See previous post)

1. Walk into courtroom with my own gavel
and sit there hugging it like the “Log Lady”
in Twin Peaks.

2. Point out to the Judge that I am on medication
and cannot be out on an all day pass. (half true)

And my personal favorite:

3. Walk into the courtroom dressed as Judge Judy.

Other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trials of Life

The court clerk led the 14 people chosen for voir dire into the cold austere waiting area outside the courtroom. The huge window on one side of the room looked out over a cemented buiding next door, making the outside looking gray and dull even on a sunny day,

Each person quietly took their seat. Others either stood or sat on the floor. Within seconds most people pulled out a magazine, a book they had brought or a notebook they had been writing in.

It was if no one else was in the room. It was that eerie silence like an elevator full of people but no one connecting either visually or verbally.

I had it figured out from the very beginning. I knew exactly who would and wouldn't be chosen to sit on a jury trial.

The gentlemen on my right had 2 Jehovah Witness textbooks perched in his lap. In one hand he held a small black King James Bible and a small spiral notebook underneath it, all the while chewing on his 39 cent Bic pen.
He was impeccably dressed in a black double breasted suit with black shoes and socks. He wore a white longsleeve shirt with a dark maroon tie. He never once made eye contact with anyone. His focus was on the text books, the bible and the notebook.
He was a "By the book," "No nonsense." kind of guy.
He most certainly would be selected to be on the jury.

The student sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor was taking notes in a 3 ring binder from the book "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult. She was casually dressed in jeans and a red sweater. Could have been any girl next door.
My # 2 pick for the jury.

The tall gray haired gentleman, who looked like a model for LL Bean was standing s reading a book on
"Cabins and Cottages in New England"
My # 3 pick for a jury seat.

God, as I looked around the room at the rest gathered, all these people seemed pretty normal.

A young man in his 40's across from me was reading, "Searching for the Sound;My Life with the Grateful Dead." He had a mesh backpack with several Trail Mix Granola Bars showing through.
His rimless eyeglasses and beaded Indian necklace gave away his previous hippy life.
Now this guy would definitely NOT be selected.

A woman sporting an extremely short haircut, but with a long braid down to her waist was reading a romance novel by Kat
Martin. She definitely had the "business look."
Another "yes" for the jury.

Several middleaged women were reading "People" and "House and Garden." My guess is that they were married, had kids, and/or worked.
Count up 3 more for the jury seats.

A woman sitting directly across from me peaked my interest. She was a very attractive woman, probably in her early forties.
We had commented to each other before we entered the room that we had the same first name, Maria.
She began reading a book I had read a couple of years ago, "Journey of Souls" by Michael Newton.
During a 15 minute break for coffee we rode up on the same elevator together. I remarked that I had read the book she was now reading and enjoyed it. She explained that she was at a point in her life where she was finally beginning to enjoy what she was doing and was just so pleased to have found her passion. She then asked if I could recommend any other book that would point her in the direction of the same issues. I told her about " The Alchemist" that Carrie Link had so glowingly recommended. She thanked me and wrote down the name and author.
Okay- this was going to be the 2nd person that would not be picked. There was just something about her, that seemed to differentiate her from the rest. She seemed more "clued in" than the others. I liked her.

And I of course considered myself to be the # 3 option for sitting out this dance.

As the almost elected jury was called in to face the opposing attorneys and judge for questions as to whether or not
they would be suitable to serve on this trial, one by one, people were sent home, failing to provide the acceptable answers
to the legal inquiries posed by the court.

I was astonished!

The three who were chosen to sit on the jury trial from this group of 14 people?

Yep, you got it. "Journey of Souls" reader, " "Searching for the Sound; My Life with the Grateful Dead " reader, and me.

I was reading, "On Writing," by Stephen King.

Me, who barely knows the difference between voir dier and joie de vivre.

To be continued......

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Charlie's Dog House

Puddin’ was a little black girl who spent the summers with her Aunt Pearl next door to me on Henry Street. She was from North Carolina.
She was the only girl friend I can remember having as a young child. I was 7 and Puddin’ was 5. She was petite with lovely chocolate skin, which is why her family named her after a famous chocolate pudding- Amazo Instant Pudding.
I never knew what her real name was, but who was I to talk about names.

We became friends immediately after her first day of summer vacation.

Puddin’ always had 5 or 6 braids sticking out all over her head with different colored barretts. She usually wore a little white shirt with a peter pan collar and dungaree shorts with little white sneakers.
I had your basic rice bowl # 10 haircut from Johnny the Barber, striped short sleeve shirt and shorts. My sneaks were blue Keds, so I could run faster and jump higher.

Puddin’ and I kept to ourselves most of the time. My brother and his friends would continually make us a target of their cruelty, name calling and jokes, none of which were funny. They would call us vanilla and chocolate pudding.

Puddin’ would sit in my red wagon while I pulled her around the neighborhood showing her all my favorite places, Beaver Pond Park, the back lot of Baldwin School where I would roller skate, and Kane’s drugstore where we would sit at the soda fountain and order ice cream sodas.

Around the corner from where we lived was a neighborhood legend called “Charlie’s Dog House.” This was a tiny shack located in the middle of a parking lot that accessed two streets, Orchard Street and Dixwell. Charlie’s Dog House sold hotdogs, hamburgers and french-fries. Only open in the summer, it was the place to get hotdogs.
Charlie the owner was a gruff kind of guy, who took your order as a cigarette dangled from his lips. He could be heard outside yelling orders, “Two dogs to travel,” “One Frenchie with them.”
When Charlie fell on hard times, the Dog House went up for sale. Neighbors were worried that their favorite hot dog haven would be silenced.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the Dog House was purchased by the Farrells, the family who owned the row house we lived in.
Rose Farrell’s brother, Uncle Nick and her son Raymond took over the operation of the Dog House. Raymond would take the orders and work the grill, Rose would take the money from the customers. Nick would work in the back peeling potatoes and preparing them for french fries. He would place the peeled potato, one by one in a “chopping” machine that looked like a slot machine. It had a space to place the potato standing on its end, a lever next to it that you would pull down, and presto, the whole potato was sliced into long giant pieces that would then be thrown into the vat of boiling hot oil. God, they were good.
More than once Nick sliced his fingers while attempting to hold the potato in place as the guillotine came crashing down on Mr. Potato head.

One summer day as Puddin’ and I were sitting on the front steps of 139, Raymond came out with a bag in his hand and asked if I could deliver it to Nick at the dog house. He offered a dime to the both of us for this errand.
Jumping at the chance to show Puddin’ the inner workings of the Dog House,and hopefully a hot dog, I took the brown bag, took Puddin’ by the hand and walked around the corner to the Dog House.

Just as we neared the Dog House, Puddin’s Aunt Pearl walked out of Willie Mae’s Beauty Parlor. Eyeing the bag she asked what we were doing. When I told her of the errand we were on, she took the bag and opened it.

The next thing I knew Puddin’ and I were being dragged to the Dog House. As we entered the front door Aunt Pearl started screaming at Uncle Nick:

“What is wrong with you people”?
“I’m going to call the police and have you arrested.”
"My neice could have been killed."
“We came up north to avoid this garbage.”

With that, Aunt Pearl took Puddin’ and told us we would never be allowed to play together again.

Little did I know that inside the paper bag was a loaded gun.
Raymond wanted Uncle Nick to have it at the Dog House for protection.