September 2009

September Song

As the summer days melt away, so too do the blockbuster 40th anniversaries of the past two months. And that’s just as well, as it seemed that they had begun to run together, what with the endless media retrospectives:

“400,000 land on Max Yasgur’s Moon. Neil Armstrong’s first words:
‘…the brown acid that is circulating around us isn’t too good.’”

But not so fast. September of 1969 was not without its moments that too will live on in the culture and history. Let us never forget as a nation, that September 2nd marks the 40th anniversary of the first ATM installed in the U.S. This feat of “techno-fiscal magic” was accomplished by Chemical Bank in Rockville Centre, New York.

There is even a T-Shirt in commemoration (“I kid you not” as Jack Paar used to say. Who?). And you will no doubt want to “rush order” one, so as to have it in time for your ATM Party celebrations.

Don’t forget, that prior to the coming of this benevolent machine, if you wanted to get cash on a weekend, you would have to hold up a liquor store.






Conversely, we’re sure you’ll be saddened to know that Ho Chi Minh died on that same day. Yes, he for whom the former capital of South Viet Nam, Saigon, was renamed.

Today, it is estimated that about a quarter of a million U.S. tourists visit Ho Chi Minh City annually. For us, an irony as thick as any, and coated in a dry-blood rust.

On the pop culture front, the 23rd of the month brought the limited release in the U.S. of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This of course being in the pre-salad days of Paul Newman. The film is replete with devil-may-care repartee:

NEWMAN (Butch Cassidy): I'll jump first.
REDFORD (Sundance Kid): No.
NEWMAN: Then you jump first.
REDFORD: No, I said.
NEWMAN: What's the matter with you?
REDFORD: …I can't swim.
NEWMAN: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you. (Laughing)
REDFORD: Oh, shit...

Ah yes, a time of men behaving badly. But ever endearingly so.

The eyes also get moist over the discovery that just three days later on the 26th, The Brady Bunch would premiere on ABC. Which also happened to be the same day as the Beatles’ release of Abbey Road. Not only a great album musically, but its cover photograph has since become one of the most famous and most imitated in recording history.

Conspiracy theorists at the time, noting that Paul is bare-footed, has his eyes closed and seems out of step with the other three, and is smoking with his right hand (he was and still is, left-handed), concluded that this meant he was dead. To which we responded with smoke-induced laughter, while playing the album itself to death.


Forty years later, this London street continues to be a popular tourist destination, and can be seen 24 hours a day, via this cool webcam trained on that zebra-striped crossing.

We conclude what has turned out to be a three-month homage to 1969, and with a nod to a sentiment expressed in that classic American song, we move on:

When the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time
For the waiting game



Older Drivers Get A Bad Rap?

Editor’s Note:This month we present a guest essay written by Beverly Doran who resides in Glendale, California. We offer it as an example of good writing on an issue that most of us should be so fortunate as to have to face one day. And also, it suggests a life interestingly lived over a time of great social change in matters of gender and age. It appeared originally in February 2007, in the Red Cross Retirees newsletter.

This is only the second time that another author’s work has been presented in full at this venue. The first, was two poems by Pope John Paul II (May, 2005). But as we noted to Beverly, an appearance in our Muse-Letter will not make her famous or a Pope. Regarding the latter… well for one thing, at age 86, she is probably too young for the job.

There was a horrendous accident a few years ago at a street market in Santa Monica. An elderly man plowed through the stalls and pedestrians, not braking until many were killed or injured. You all saw the headlines and the story in the papers.

I knew then what it must feel like to be a turbaned, bearded young man who, with a glance, is labeled “Jihadist”. I felt profiled. I began to doubt my own ability to be alert and aware behind the wheel.

Driving has always been a source of my feeling capable and competent. I was one of only three or four women drivers in Ankara, Turkey in the late forties. I drove regularly from Tokyo to Yokohama in the fifties.

As an Air Force wife I’ve driven across the country alone with three kids and a cat in the car more than once. Each time I looked forward to the joy of a new adventure.

I’ve commuted in DC, driven alone from upstate New York into New York City.

We lived in military housing near Salt Lake City when my husband was training in jet planes in Wendover, Nevada. On Sunday mornings I could zoom across 100 miles of the great salt flats, where race car drivers practice, just so the children could go to church with their father.

In the 70s, living in London, I mastered driving on the left, roundabouts, and stick shift to become the “designated driver” for my new, over convivial, English husband.

But now, with this new label of Octogenarian, my confidence drained away. And then just before Thanksgiving in 2005, I had an accident. My fault. No way could I picture ever driving again.

My children said, “Sell the car”. It was only four years old with less than 10,000 miles on the clock. “Put the money aside just for taxis.” That was an echo of my mother’s voice as she persuaded her father in his late 80s to give up his car. It sounded so very sensible to me at the time. But now each of my children clamored to buy it for one of their teenagers. That introduced a whole new level of stress. Choose one and alienate the others? That’s when the “Not until my current license expires” ploy came into play.

It was time for “Plan B”. A half way step. I gave up driving and have kept my car. So far.

I registered with Dial-A-Ride in Glendale. For $1 they will pick me up and take me anywhere within the city limits round trip. Transport to a medical appointment is free.

Phone numbers for local taxis and for Prime Time Shuttle’s point-to-point service are posted on my fridge. Except for the latter, I have not yet used the first two options.

For Trader Joe’s and Barnes & Noble and other indispensable places, I “white knuckle” it with greater and greater caution and care.

My current license is valid until October of 2008. Then we’ll see. Maybe I’ll sell the car and put the money aside for a hunky chauffeur?

Sounds like a plan.


Kenyan Walkers

Mostly men
they mostly walk.
They walk the walk
beside the road.
Any road at any time.

Graveled in the morning light;
deep-ditched in the pitch of night.
Brown-grassed in the shimmering summer
pig-slopped with the rain of fall.
And they make their way past every obstacle;
past every point of no return.

Some of them might one day run
long distances under a distant sun
winning marathons in their antelope strides.
But for now who knows as to when and if
the road might end;
as to when and if
they will arrive.

Yet they put their faith in the way of the road;
that the journey will lead to their salvation.
In time. In time.
In Kenyan time.
More time than we on the bus can bear.


Mad Men Mesmerized by Ann Margaret

And so were we.

Spring of 1963…Radio City Music Hall… awaiting the start of Bye Bye Birdie…a movie that opened to great reviews and big box office… and suddenly… even before any credits began to roll…there she was.

In full yellow bloom and against a backdrop of electric blue, Ann Margaret came rushing in on our sensibilities and libido. The latter, at age 17, being a work in progress at best.

It is a cinematic moment, that in our testosterone-driven recall, we have begun to wonder if we now merit that sobriquet of “dirty old man.” But it is after all, a moment in a movie that would make Ann Margaret a star. So it wasn’t just us so smitten.

And so here we are, 46 years later on a Sunday night watching Mad Men, a program we had virtually shunned for the past two years (for reasons best saved for another time). But with this the third season, now setting its storyline against the backdrop of 1963, a watershed year in which “our way of life” would begin to irrevocably change— in effect, the 50’s coming to an end —we decide to give the show another shot. And it immediately begins to pay off, in a small yet evocative way.

To set the scene, a group of ad-guy characters (whom we, having actually worked on Madison Avenue in the 60’s, find a bit overblown) are viewing a piece of movie footage, as possible inspiration for a new ad campaign. And once again, she comes rushing in. All of 22 years old all over again, singing Bye Bye Birdie, and in that yellow dress—Ann Margaret!

The ad guys are taken with her, in a way that we were back then. She is at once sexy, yet innocent. A budding woman, yet still a girl. Down-home, yet absurdly theatrical. Or maybe it’s not really any of that, but something that can’t quite be defined—neither by the ad guys on the screen, nor us on the couch. We make a note to have another look the next day.

In this YouTube world, it was no surprise that that footage was easily accessible. And though what we found—including a reprise of the song at the movie’s end—is greatly diminished in sound, picture quality and by the “letter box” format, Ann Margaret still shines through. Have a look.

Maybe, as the characters in the Mad Men episode go on to acknowledge, it’s just a guy thing. Not that there’s anything wrong that. And it’s as good an explanation as any.


"Palin"-drome of the Month Club?

Someone pointed out to us, the inherent “Sarahness” in the word palindrome. And having noticed a recent tabloid front-page story about problems in Sarah Palin’s presumably Garden-of-Eden marriage, we could not resist the palindromic headline that could follow such a fall:

Groans may be sent directly to our attention.


Bye bye

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