Virginia Todd (1914-2007)

Two years ago they said she’d have only 6-8 months to live. Lung cancer first, bone cancer later, plus congestive heart failure. She stuck around for Christmas, as I’ve heard the dying can do – she was a planner, an organizer, so why should death be any different? The denouement after Christmas saw her decline rapidly. She made it as easy on us all as she could; only a couple of days in her own bed – no hospitals, no drama, not much more fuss than usual. Maybe subconsciously I knew there was a good reason to delay my departure to New York until the 7th.

She was the grandparent to whom I was always closest. We lived in the same neighborhood, so hers was a constant presence in my life. For most of my life she tended to her disabled husband, who suffered a stroke before I was born, and who left us in the mid-1990’s. She provided me with the creative gene, and her cleverness manifested itself in everything from conventional painting to unconventional dessert items. Her father was a Beaux Arts-trained architect in Des Moines who designed many beautiful buildings, most of which have been demolished now because that’s how America works.

Some of my fondest memories are her eccentric Christmas gifts: Balsa wood gliders[1], plants, meats and cheeses. I could always get her something cat-related or a book of cryptoquotes; she was always easy to please. She was really everything you could ask for in a grandmother: instructive[2] but not condescending, sweet but not saccharine, out of touch but not shrill, and most importantly she always had candy and snacks somewhere.

It’s a strange feeling not having grandparents anymore.

Virginia Vorse Todd

1.) Which I received annually from age 3 to age 29. We suspect there may be a cache in the house somewhere.
2.) She taught me the Lord’s Prayer before I even knew what the word “trespasses” meant.

Short-Sleeved in Memphis

Road trip back down South has been uneventful. My first stop was the Ikea in Jersey where I had to return something. After the previous day’s adventure I went with the only route I trusted: through the industrial wastes of Elizabeth. I stopped off at the port and took some pictures, including a Bay of Pigs Memorial. I’m not sure how many of these there are in the US, but if there is only one, it somehow fits that it would be located in New Jersey. I spent another night in Alexandria hanging out with Tracy, then headed for Nashville for a couple of days with Shelley, whose dog tore into my Sports Night DVDs while we were out. After that I headed south to Huntsville to hang out with Amy and Jeff. Mostly we watched episodes of the new Dr. Who series, with which I’m now obsessed. I really should have taken more pictures, but I did get a shot of the Egg Beater Jesus mosaic. Hoping to find some curiosities in rural Tennessee I took Highway 57 to Memphis, but only found a couple things worth shooting.

Memphis has been fun as always, and after the mid-30’s temperatures in New York, I welcome the fact that I could wear a short-sleeved shirt today. I’m staying with Chris, and today I got to catch up with Roy and Christy. I met Christy’s new twins, Vaughn and Colter. Christy was looking for something unique and liked my name enough to give it to one of her children. I think he’s the only other Colter I’ve actually met.

Tomorrow Chris and I will drive up to Blytheville to hang out with his cousin and my old college chum, Molly, who just had her second child. More babies! Oy vey.

Adventures in Brooklyn, Lower East Side, and…Jersey

Yesterday I wandered around Brooklyn with various guitar stores marked on my map to sort of belay my otherwise loose path. I found some great surprises, like the sad robot and the down-and-out Pooh. I walked up Flatbush Avenue, where I found a great Hamer guitar for $119 that I DID NOT BUY. I’m proud of myself. Of course, what I haven’t told many people is that I bought yet another guitar last month when Sigler Music went out of business. My old student Fred gave me an Eric Johnson signature Fender stratocaster at COST. Still more than I usually like to spend on a guitar, but this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. And if I don’t like it, I could easily flip it and make $300 or more. Here’s the guitar it’s patterned after, and the man himself.

But I digress. At the end of Flatbush avenue is Manhattan Bridge, so I went down to the river[1] and found a great little bookstore. I picked up some bargains – a photo journal of 50 years of living in New York, a graphic design annual, and Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body in hardcover. The former two I’ll slice up and make wallpaper out of eventually. From there I walked the promenade to the Brooklyn Bridge. Then back to the flat to prepare for a night at Arlene’s Grocery where my friend Mandy from Nashville played a show. We went to Piano’s afterward for rock trivia. The group I played with won, naturally. Who else would know that the bass player who co-wrote much of Blizzard of Ozz was Bob Daisley? Or that the original rhythm guitarist for Oasis was named “Bonehead”? I think I may have found my calling in life. Afterward we had sushi. Good times.

Today. Today was complex. I knew that getting to Ikea in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was going to be tricky, but I didn’t realize it was going to be an odyssey. I took a wrong turn when I got to New Jersey and ended up in Sayreville, hometown of Bon Jovi. My trusty road atlas told me that I wasn’t too far from Leonardo, which is where Clerks was filmed. I knew from previous research that the Quick Stop was easy to find, and sure enough it was. So that made the adversity worthwhile. Because Ikea was hard to find. It’s on Exit 13A, and when I saw the sign for Exit 13, it said that the next exit would be 3 miles. So logically the next exit would be called “Exit 14” or perhaps some higher number, right? Nope. New Jersey LIED to me. Never trust New Jersey. I didn’t trust New Jersey so I took Exit 13, which as you rise up above the freeway gives you a lovely view of Exit 13A. Jersey will punk a b*tch. If you need further proof, I got home and assembled one of my items only to discover that I apparently grabbed a box from the wrong bin. Oh well.

Also, for no reason at all…more windfarms! Naturally David Gallagher always goes everywhere before me, and gets the shots I never have the time or talent to get. These are the windfarms outside Palm Springs of which I didn’t get any decent pictures.

1.) A neighborhood referred to as “DUMBO,” for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”

Soft Opening

I’ve been taking it easy these first few days, running around during the day but not going out at night. Yesterday I walked from my place across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan as far as Greenwich Village, about 5 miles or so. No particular destinations, just taking everything in at a leisurely pace. I also visited my friend Arika, who lives about 10 blocks away from me.

Today I lazed around the apartment until about 2PM, reading up on my neighborhood[1], checking on airfare[2], and updating my profile at Aquent, a tech/creative staffing firm that I’m hoping to sign on with for temp gigs. Eventually I got out and wandered up Smith Street’s “Restaurant Row.” I settled on a nice Irish pub, Ceol[3], where I had a truly fine slow pint of Guinness and the requisite fish and chips. Walking back, I meandered through the pricey brownstones of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, where it was apparently trash night. One fine resident had set out some books for the taking, one of which was The Rough Guide: New York City. It’s a British edition from 2000, but I took it with me figuring that’s what I was supposed to do.

I may run out to Ikea in Jersey on Tuesday or Wednesday. After that I should be headed out of town on Thursday to make my way back to Arkansas with more time spent in Tennessee, Alabama and Virginia along the way.

Oh, and I almost forgot: meet my roommate.

1.) Red Hook has an Ikea under construction about 12 blocks from me! Oh the joys!
2.) I’m going to fly back here from Arkansas after the new year. January 7th to be exact.
3.) Pronounced “keel,” which is Gaelic for “music.”

Terra Firma

I’m now sitting in my apartment in Brooklyn watching a light snow fall. Pictures now on Flickr. The drive went well, although there was a lot of sleet and rain from DC to Baltimore. I think I paid $16 in tolls between Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. I only had to drive through Brooklyn for a few miles, so I only had a small taste of NYC traffic. The BQE[1] is one crappy, pothole-encrusted stretch of elevated freeway. Fortunately the apartment was easy to find, AND I got a sweet unmetered parking spot around the block that’s good until street cleaning on Thursday. Unfortunately there’s no parking on my street, but the parking spot is so close that I can only assume it’s part and parcel of the series of good fortunes that have brought me here.

I had a great time living at Tracy’s for a couple of days. We watched Ocean’s Thirteen and the first two discs of Sports Night. Tuesday night we had Thai, Wednesday night we ordered out (calzone and sandwiches), and Thursday night we made a proper dinner[2]. Good times.

Pictures of the neighborhood coming soon.

1.) Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Because I have to use the lingo.
2.) And by that I mean we picked up a rotisserie chicken and bag of salad from the grocery store, plus instant mashed potatoes.

On the Road Again

I haven’t said anything about Leg 2 of the road trip yet, because I didn’t really think it would start in earnest until after I’ve made it up to Brooklyn to check out the place and drop off my stuff.

So far I’ve been to Nashville, where I spent the night at Shelley‘s place. We went to the Broken Spoke Songwriter’s Cafe where she played a few tunes and we watched some other songwriters play their tunes. Very laid-back, very few people there – it was really fun. Then we went over to The Basement to see Hotpipes, who were very good. Shelley is an amazing singer and songwriter. Check out her tunes, especially “The Time” (a true story) and “Me.”

We were having breakfast on Sunday morning at a local coffee shop, and while we’re waiting for our food, she was reading the paper and started quietly singing “All is Forgiven” by Jellyfish. Now, Jellyfish is my favorite band in the world. I can’t recall if I’ve told her this but I suspect I haven’t. She just happened to have their CD, Spilt Milk, in her car’s disc changer. Anyway I started singing it with her, and afterward we drove home singing along with the CD. Life rarely gets better than that.

Of course, life also rarely gets better than eating fudge, drinking blackberry tea and watching snow fall, which is what I’m currently doing in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m staying with my friend Tracy, who works for the State Department analyzing information about Cuba[1]. It’s snowing pretty hard right now, and my people in Brooklyn say that it should hit New York tonight, so I’m going to delay a while. My future/potential roommate Hayden will be working late on Thursday so I’m going to stay here with Tracy until Friday.

I also stopped off in Roanoke, Virginia, for a night to hang out with my Internet chum, Trina. We met years ago on a Dweezil Zappa fan list. We share an interest in guitars and guitar players, especially Mike Keneally and Frank Zappa. I haven’t seen her since 2001’s maiden voyage road trip of my vehicle. We played tunes, made CDs, and jammed in her music room. She has the distinction of owning Dweezil Zappa’s 5149 1/2 “Shamer” guitar[2]. I got its sister, the white/black version. Dweezil had a big garage sale at a few years back and we picked them up dirt cheap.

So it’s only been a few days and I’ve had some big fun. No pictures yet, though. I’ll rectify that soon.

1.) That may be classified information, so you didn’t hear it from me.
2.) Non-guitar monkeys should know that this is Eddie Van Halen’s trademark style, but his was a “Kramer” and had the number “5150” on it.