Wednesday, November 23, 2016


My mother was a very patient woman - a trait that was probably key to my parents’ seventy-two year long marriage. She was a planner and a worrier which motherhood forces many of us females types to be, and Thanksgiving turned out to be one of her biggest trials.

Yes, there was an overabundant dinner featuring turkey and ham, plus a surfeit of sugar: Aunt Catherine’s cheesecake, Aunt Elaine’s rum cake, and Cousin Anne, who was from Louisiana, always brought pecan pie. It was a swell party - especially for the blissfully unaware kids running amok confined to the basement as much as possible with the eldest child “in charge.” But as our numbers grew so did the anxiety. 

It started in August when my mother pulled her notes from last year fretting over the seating chart while crunching algebraic numbers on just how many pounds of mashed potatoes were consumed versus how many men were attending. She and my sister set the tables the Sunday before and troubleshooted. (What about that pesky table in the family room? It'll block the football game. How many kids are old enough to sit in a real chair?)

On Thanksgiving morning, my father would attach a rake to my brother Peter and strap himself to a leaf blower, and both would spend the entire day chasing autumn detritus from the yard even though it was dark by 5:00 which was party time.

Much to my mother's dismay, Dad was often in the shower when the first guest arrived -usually his brother Nick. (We could count on his car gliding up the leaf bare driveway at 4:55.) Fortunately, Peter would already be manning the bar set up near the front door. Uncle Nick would demand his vodka and tonic, and the party would begin with my mother hiding in the kitchen.  

Not a fan of crowds, she was in no hurry to greet her guests which tipped fifty to one in favor of my dad's Greek side of the family.  But Mom was always ready. She started cooking in September and finished just before 6 p.m. which was dinner time.  What drove her crazy was my father still buzzing around the patio at sundown, or that little incident one year when there was no hot water at zero hour. (Dad kept everyone on a strict schedule to save on fuel costs, and he forgot to over ride the timer on the water heater.)

 We knew the party was over when my sister corralled her sons to break down the tables and take the folding chairs to the basement which now resembled an abandoned battle field of cake crumbs and scattered toys. This usually happened around 8:00, but it felt like midnight.

This year if things get too weird or volatile at dinner (or if Thanksgiving just isn't your bag) here's an out.  Dave Chappell, DC's own overlord of the Telecaster, will be holding forth with his band at JV's in Falls Church. Dave's talent is something we can all agree on, and there's plenty of common ground in beer. Show starts at 8:00 which may feel like midnight, but there'll be plenty of good sounds to wake you up.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Resistance is Not Futile

Thank you, Lynn Thorp for turning me on to the new guerrilla art group "DC Resistance." Here's a crew determined to make sure sane voices are heard in a world turned upside down if the alt right has its way.

If your head is craving distraction, this weekend's picks include the short lived reincarnation of  Goin Goin Gone at Hank Dietle's Saturday night. Dietle's is a tiny honky tonk where you can lose yourself in suds and song.  And for all of you dreading Monday, treat yourself to the Dan Hovey Band playing JV's on Sunday.  Dan's been playing guitar so long that he's gotten to be really, really good at it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Light Not Heat

Wilson High Protest/ photo by Mark Noone

I think it's safe to say DC was rocked by the election last week. When I walked out onto 18th Street at 12:30 a.m. last Wednesday after attending a party, I had never seen Adams Morgan so still. A few police. No people. Dead quiet. 

My daughter called me sobbing. She knows misogyny when she sees it- just like people of color know racism when they see it. Back in the 1940s, my blue eyed Greek American father could pass for white which meant he could sneak his family into resorts like Beverly Beach where no Mediterraneans were allowed. (Never mind anyone else of any sort of color.) And I am pretty sure my father would have voted for Trump. Without irony.

(One silver lining of these times might be the fodder for satire here. SNL  has come up with two brilliant skits: "Black Jeopardy" and  "Election Night.")

I have talked to Trump supporters. As much as I find it hard to comprehend, there are women who voted for Trump. Sisters and mothers, people I love and respect, voted for Trump.  Why? I asked them. Here are some of the answers I got: Because that "basket of deplorables" statement really hurt. Because though global warming might be happening, we can't do anything about it so why not bring back steel? Yesterday I heard that if Hillary Clinton had been elected, the Republicans would have accepted the news quietly without the protest. Though my jaw may have been dropping,  I did not try to refute these statements.  I looked at these conversations as windows into worlds I don't understand.

The news of journalist Gwen Ifel's death was another blow this week, but her life has inspired me. Her mission was to “tell the stories that shed light and spur action.” One small comfort I was able to give my daughter was to look at Trump's election as a wake up call to activists everywhere. Yesterday Montgomery County kids walked out of school. Today Wilson High School staged a protest downtown. Too young to vote, they wanted their truly diverse voices to be heard- to show their unity. They were impressive in number, armed with light not heat. The students marched from the Trump Hotel down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. Donald Trump may have started this conversation. I hope America is listening. 

photo by Keagan Hall

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Signal Through the Flames

Last summer while wandering around San Francisco, I picked up this poem/postcard at City Lights- the iconic book store of the Beat generation. Co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and activist, once described himself as more of a Bohemian than Beat kind of guy, but his writing is not confined to the past. His poem "Pity the Nation" is so relevant to this election season that the words fairly leap off the page. 

The store seemed a lot cleaner than I remembered, but it's still holed up in North Beach and still a refuge for pensive souls during turbulent times both past and present. 

With the presidential election of 2016 bearing down on us this Tuesday, sound bites tend to drown out more articulate voices. Another of Ferlinghetti's poem might make a better meal for thought, and a reminder of how much we need our poets and musicians (thank you, Bob Dylan) as much as or more than politicians to speak out:

Poetry As Insurgent Art (I am signaling you though the flames.)
I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Civilization self-destructs.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....