Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pleasant Surprises

While mopping up the floor of the café, I found an unexpected note in the Comments from Mr. Bob Campbell, co-creator and producer of Matinee at the Bijou. It seems that Matinee at the Bijou is coming back, with Debbie Reynolds as host.

If you are a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you really must visit the Matinee at the Bijou site at It has interesting backstories on some lesser-known but great features, images of the original movie posters, and “Mini-Matinees” hosted over at You Tube where you can actually see the original introduction as sung by Rudy Vallee! (As a kid I never realized that was Rudy Vallee singing. There’s an interesting recollection by Rich Mendoza, who wrote the original theme.)

I am happy to report that, thanks to Mr. Campbell sending the lyrics to me and You Tube, I am now able to sing the complete intro a la Rudy Vallee crooning, and it is driving MP nuts.

Why are you still reading this? Go watch a movie already!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

La Pavoni Meltdown

Please excuse the café being closed this past week – For the moment, let us say that some unpleasant guests had arrived, began messing with the equipment, and nearly blew up the espresso machine. They, like all unpleasant guest who arrive here, were unceremoniously booted out, but what a mess… I imagine that I’ll go into more detail later, but let us not get bogged down by bad karma and sticky floors.

Fred, slot the Sarah Vaughan disc? Thanks so much. Back to our program.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Before there was Prozac...

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was no Prozac. There were no SSRIs, period. The only "lifestyle drug" available was cocaine. Understand that I was very small at the time, so my memory is not so good, but in those times, there were about 3 ways people dealt with depression: they committed suicide, they drank a lot, or they slogged through it.

Right now I want to say, unequivocally, God Bless SSRIs. For many people they are a lifeline, a ray of hope, that thing they need to get out of a paralyzing situation. I've used them. I know. But are we, as Americans all so deeply depressed that we need a daily lifeline -- for a lifetime? Do the Blues and the Mean Reds need to be cured? Is PMS -- oh, excuse me -- "PMDD" really a mental disease? "To Use, or not To Use..." It's a personal choice, and I will judge no one. But I am speaking about a Long Ago when there was no choice.

I think I was about twelve when my father took me aside and said, "These periods of moodiness you get, when nothing seems good and you don't want to do anything? It's called 'depression,' and you probably got it from me and my side of the family. It's just a thing you have to deal with. But you need to learn to recognize when it's coming on, and learn the things that will help you through it."

And this is how I learned about classic Hollywood movies.

Saturday night began with a bath, and then the TV lineup was the following:
7pm - The Muppet Show
7:30pm - The Pink Panther
8pm - I have racked my brains and I can't remember...
9pm - the Love Boat

After 10pm came the tricky part. 10pm was Fantasy Island, which I really didn't care anything about, but if I was very quiet (that is, I didn't stand on anyone's last nerve getting in a fight with my sister), I could stay up until 11pm, and that was when Matinee at the Bijou came on PBS.

I still remember Rudy Vallee crooning snippets of the theme song: "Andy Hardy never had to go hungry/There was no bank panic/at Tarzan's branch/Mussolini and der Fuhrer/couldn't have been obscurer/on the planet Mongo or the Melody Ranch." (My Search Fu has failed me and I cannot find the complete lyrics on the Internet - yet.) If I made it as far as the song, my Dad would turn to me and say something like, "Hey Mar, you ever seen the original Flash Gordon?" or "You should see this, Mar; this is a good one." ("Mar" is pronounced like "mare," and there's like four people on the planet allowed to call me that, and you are not one of them.)

Together we would watch this show, lights off bijou-style in flickering darkness. And I learned that the same guy who did Popeye cartoons also did Betty Boop, that the Bowery Boys were the Dead End Kids long before they were Junior G-Men, and that Gene Autry was a much better singer than an actor.

It's taken me a long time to unravel the secrets of my family, my parents. I thought my Dad stayed up late because he liked to watch old movies, but the truth is depression wouldn't let him sleep, and Errol Flynn kept him company. He wouldn't give in, and he wouldn't drink; like so many of his generation, he Slogged On. I am certain he learned toughness from Cagney, but he admired him just as much for his dancing. Not many people know about Jimmy Cagney's song and dance movies -- but my Dad does. Thanks to him, so do I.

And this is what he gave to me before there was Prozac: A love of old movies, and the knowledge of how to rest inside them, for an hour or two, while trying to build up the energy to face and move through depression. He had no control over giving me the genes, but he made sure I had the tools I would need not to go under.

Strange gifts from Father to Daughter. Thanks Dad.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"This childhood sponsored by..."

It's kind of hard to type when your editor is staring at you. He has rather unblinking eyes... And I think that's because he is seriously lacking in coffee. Let me see... Yep, I'm typing, his eyes are wide open, and he can't see a thing beyond the next cup of coffee. Let us take a moment and send a cosmic gift of psychic love to editors everywhere, who desperately need both love and coffee... Okay, that's it; don't overdo it.

MP is gone this week. He's 3 time zones away doing something desperately important for the government, leaving me to cook for myself, oh God... Now Fred the Editor is laughing at me. Thanks, Fred.

Well... I was thinking about my childhood and all those happy little Saturday morning cartoons, that warm friendly feeling in the morning before you needed coffee to get you up, and I wondered, where are those cartoons now? Because believe it or not, some have made a resurgence, and some have never been away. I decided to do a bit of digging.

And in my detective work, I made one of those discoveries that I suppose I've always known, but didn't need thrust in my face at 11:30 pm when I'm alone and have only had pepperoni with tater-tots and cocktail sauce for dinner: All these characters, save one, were created by greeting card or toy companies with the sole purpose of marketing products.

Then, as now, I am naive.

Rainbow Brite was a product of Hallmark in 1984. I think the last cartoon was '85 or so, but you can still find some Rainbow Brite stuff marketed. She also survives as a Halloween costume. (You follow this link at your own risk, because this is the stuff that kinky fantasies are made of.)

The Care Bears were an American Greetings creation from 1981. There are definitely still around, having undergone radical procedures to shave 10-15 years of their ages, plus tummy-tucks. You can find the new ones here. However, it's not the same if they can't do the "Care Bear Stare."

Jem and the Holograms is probably the most buried of the cartoons, but I did find some Jem and the Holograms stuff at Hot Topic recently. That ran from 1985-1988 and tied into almost as many girl fetishes as My Pretty Pony (rock star/fashion/ makeup vs. ponies/hair) The original songs that came with the dolls can be downloaded from here, in case you've had "Universal Appeal" running through your head for 20 years.

Strawberry Shortcake has had a resurgence after a major makeover, but the original was from American Greeting in 1977. As far as I know, they were the first scented dolls. She's just a hop skip and a jump away from the Care Bears now, along with Holly Hobbie. (Let's face it -- AG totally dominated kids programming in the early '80s)

Here's the one I didn't expect: The Smurfs are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Created by a Belgian cartoonist, they are lauded in countries across the globe. They too, are experiencing a resurgence in the US (I saw Smurfs at Ben Franklin and freaked) but when you read the history, you realize that they've never actually left.

Children are conveniently able to overlook really crappy animation (watch Speed Racer Lately?) and be drawn wholly into another world. I admire them for that, as well as their ability to ignore corporate marketing policies. So let's hear it for Saturday cartoons -- where a kid can be a kid!TM

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Receiving messages from the Universe regarding what you're supposed to do with your life and things you should pay attention to are fraught with confusion. I would much prefer it if large golden rays of light would break through the clouds and the Heavenly Host would sing a chord in a major key. In this way, there would be no confusion, and I could look up and say, "Ah yes. I should be getting a Clue along about now."

For the record: this is not how it happens.

My Sifu said that we should all of us relax, give it up, and focus on wholly being in the Now of things (Daoists are like that). I took this away with me, thought about it for a week, then went back and asked, "What if the Now really sucks?" Meaning, "What if you're, say, being tortured by an emotionally abusive family member and you can't get away?"

"Then be with that pain. You have to be with that pain and understand that pain until you can transform it into something else. That's very much part of the spiritual alchemy the Daoists studied."

Which may be true, but I was still left with the feeling that the Daoists could bite my butt. (For the record, I spend a lot of time wanting to smack my Sifu when he starts talking about Daoists. You could be bleeding and need a band-aid, but a Daoist will just smile and hand you a box of chocolates.)

A few days later I was talking to my acupuncturist, and I mentioned having strange dreams about the past and bizarre emotional reactions to cleaning out my closets. (Acupuncturists want to know this stuff. Seriously. It ties into bocked meridians and elemental excesses.) He replied that yes, out of balance meridians can keep us from performing the kind of alchemy that can transform a difficult past into something that can propel us into our future.

Alchemy is one of those "read only" words -- we all know what it means, but it doesn't come up in conversation a lot (Hey Bob, how you been? Haven't seen you in a while -- done any alchemy lately?). It wasn't the heavens opening up, but for two people to say that to me in the same week regarding difficult emotions... I don't think it's going to get much clearer than that.

So I've thought about this alchemy thing and what it may mean, and it comes down to this: we are so making this up as we go along.

And that's the point: we are making this up, not somebody else. If you want to accept chocolates from a Daoist or work on your stagnant liver chi, that's your business. Both the placebo effect and passive aggression are totally underrated. And if your past sucked and people hurt you, accept it. Assimilate it into your being by recognizing its existence and then use that alchemy to transform it into a better story.

Which, I suspect, is the root of much (though not all) art. "Use it," they tell you in theater, meaning, "Use this emotion and put it into your character when you act." As I writer I can never whine "There's nothing to write about!" (Though I will have to wait until everyone dies, or I'll be sued.) And as a visual artist, well... Open your eyes. Be in the Now.

Alchemy. I'm surprised we don't talk about it more.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Neti Pots

It's Monday. I'm doing a "coffee facial," which is essentially hanging your head over a large mug of coffee and absorbing caffeine through your pores while you try to wake up. It's a specialty here at Café Tor.

I was awakened today by a chuckling robin out in the yard. It's January, friends, and there are robins everywhere. While I admit that I dwell in a place not known for its skiing potential, it is nevertheless too early for any songbird to sit on my porch railing and announce its sexual intentions (the romantic exploits of birds on my porch railing is actually fodder for a whole other post, but nobody has had enough coffee for that yet, so let us move on). Rumor has it that it will actually reach seventy-three degrees in the next few days -- but only to plummet cruelly back into the forties by next week.

Which is to say, this mercurial weather really plays havoc with your sinuses.

I always viewed my neti pot as a sort of personal thing. I don't know why, it just never occurred to me that, standing around at a cocktail party, anyone would want to hear how I pour salt water in one nostril and out the other. But it appears that I'm wrong and everyone wants to talk about neti pots and how fab they are. Oprah has been talking about it. The New York Times had an article last week about the whole concept of the thing as well as all the pretty colors they come in (hey, it was the Fashion & Style section).

I mention this now for two reasons: One, I really thing that with the changing weather and humidity, I'll want to start using the neti pot again so my poor sinuses don't go nuts, and Two, I'm wondering if caffeine can be absorbed through the nasal membranes, because I really need the inspiration.

(No, seriously, don't try that. I mean, it sounds good and probably works, but seriously, don't try that. Just read the Times article and drink the coffee.)

Well. I'm off to run fifty million errands. I'll be back later, so brew a fresh pot -- I'll need it.

[FOLLOW UP: In case you were awake all weekend wondering what happened to him, MP is fine and got to and from his gig. $500 later my car is also fine, with shiny new wires and a distributor cap. I'm not happy about that part, because $500 is a really nice pair of shoes, and I'm not exactly going to open my hood for all my girlfriends and show off shiny new wires.

If it had been my sister's car, it would have cost $1000 dollars and she would have contemplated holding a bake sale to raise the funds, because it would be either have a car or pay the rent, but of course, you can't go to the job that pays the rent if you don't have a car...]

Friday, January 4, 2008


Philosophers, physicists, and intellectual pundits throughout history have long pondered a Unified Theory of Everything. If they would put down the particle accelerator and show up at Café Tor I would tell them what they wanted to know:

The cosmic love-honey that holds everything together is adaptability!

I mention this now because I had this one idea for a post all mapped out, and then Things Happened yesterday, and now I'm not in the mood. So the Muse will have to wait and sip her chai latte, because I will not be a slave to a List of Things to Write About ( I don't think she cares; she's found an old copy of People Magazine and is tapping her foot to Dizzy Gillespie).

This is an example of Adaptability in Action:

MP left for another gig yesterday. He does that all the time; it's nothing new, but this time he wanted to take my car because he had other people and things to take with him. So I clean out my CDs, fluff my car, and he takes off with it (leaving me with his car, a quarter of a tank of gas and a tire pressure of 15 psi. MP is going to have a real swell homecoming, I promise)

Five minutes later, I get a call on my cell. In the seconds it takes to actually answer the call, I have a terrifying vision of MP stranded by the side of the road in the bitter cold. "Tut-tut, Marianne!" I say to myself, "You worry too much."

It's MP. "I'm stranded by the side of the road in the bitter cold. Your car won't start."

Before I answered the phone, I was worried about him. After I answered the phone and it was confirmed that he was in fact stranded by the side of the road in the bitter cold, I was not worried at all. It was more like, "It's been five minutes -- How did you screw up my car in five minutes?"

MP managed to leave the car in a decent spot where it wouldn't cause trouble and got a ride with someone else. I stopped by later and, sure enough, the car wouldn't start. It's being towed somewhere by someone who can hopefully do something to fix it. Meanwhile, I have MP's crappy car, so I'm not stranded. It could have been a lot worse -- no one was greatly inconvenienced, the tow truck only has to go a mile to get to the garage, and no body parts were frozen.


(If this had been my sister, she would have been stranded in Fairbanks with the baby crying, no cell, and not a dime in her pocket. She would have last eaten four grapes seven hours previously and a pack of tundra wolves would be closing in. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between my sister and me.)

This entire gig of MP's has been one long exercise in adaptability, so I imagine he's rolling with it and is doing fine. As for myself, I can't wait to find out what happened to the car. I'm also mildly interested to know when I'll get back into the mood to complete the post I had originally planned... But the Muse appears to have begun a chess game with her sometimes-lover, Procrastination, so it may be a while.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

File-Card Method

Happy New Year, Happy New Blog. I'm thinking about the history of Café Tor and recalling some of my more... interesting café experiences. Being the last stop between reality and invention, there are bound to be strange people wandering between the tables. For your enjoyment, here's a little tidbit that got slashed from my novel. Just remember, don't get too wrapped up between what is real and what is fiction; there comes a point when the distinction is immaterial.

Sometimes sitting in the apartment is a comfort, but sometimes the voices of my stuff press in on me, and I can’t think. Café Tor, at least, offers escape. I suppose that’s why I wrote my Master’s thesis here.

I took notes using the tried and true File Card Method, as taught to me in English class my junior year of high school at Sacred Heart. Every time you find a valuable reference in one of your sources, you write it on a 3 x 5” note-card. When you compile enough notes, you take the file cards, sort them by subject matter, then order them into what, with complete sentences and transitional phrasing, becomes the rough draft of the thesis. Though I had a pretty good system of numbering, cross-referencing, and tracking the cards, you do this for six hours straight and you realize that coffee is not a luxury, it is an imperative. Nevertheless, the strategy of writing in Café Tor didn’t always work. Some days writing was too much, and I fell to looking at the other patrons, sipping my cappuccino and wondering who they were in their real lives.

The down side of doing mind-numbing things in a public place is that it’s… Well, it’s mind numbing. At times while writing my thesis, I became so involved in my work that I failed to notice who and what was happening around me – the kind of events that, if you were paying attention to them, cause you to drain your cappuccino immediately and seek shelter elsewhere.

Thus was the case when he walked in.

He made his presence known by materializing before me, leaning over my table and saying, “Excuse me…”

Deep into ferreting out references to Darwinian theory as expressed in Frank Norris’ Vandover and the Brute and fascinated how the advancing stages of syphilis plunged the main character into an animalistic regression akin to lycanthropy, the phrase, “Excuse me” uttered softly into my ear not only derailed my train of thought, but also sent it crashing down a steep cliff with all sixteen fully-laden cars of coal behind it. It took me a few seconds to recall where I was and to focus my eyes.

His face was stubbled, scarred by pockmarks as if his skin had been sandblasted. A dusty, well-worn, black leather jacket squeaked slightly as he held his hovering pose. Somewhere past thirty or thirty-five, he had all the appearances of benign friendliness. Then he smiled down at me and revealed long, simian, nicotine-stained teeth.

It was the teeth that caught my gaze, and I froze.

“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing you sitting here, and I was wondering… I’ve got some weed back in my truck. Would you like to come with me and smoke up?”

Despite the best of her intentions, there was no part of Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign that prepared me for this moment in my life.

I did not stand up shouting with moral indignation that I was not that kind of girl. I did not slap him, or tell him to get lost, or scream. Abruptly pulled from my scholarly research and still reeling from the disorientation his question caused, I reacted reflexively with scholastic methodology and asked myself, “What are the probable consequences of going with this man to smoke dope?”

With scholarly precision, probable events unfolded. I saw myself becoming stoned, then sodomized in every conceivable way. I saw myself as a footnote in the crime pages of the campus paper. I saw myself plunged into an animalistic regression akin to lycanthropy caused by the advancing stages of syphilis.

I smiled vapidly and answered truthfully, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to study.”

He returned my smile politely, regretfully, as any gentleman would. “Oh. Well then. That’s okay.” And turning, he walked out the door.

I want to know the stories people can tell, but even I know when to stop.