I used to be intelligent, maybe even an intellectual. For example, I read James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” while still in college. And I’ve been to several off-Broadway plays.
But now I spend my Friday evenings sitting in front of a television screen watching a program called “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”
The premise: Young brides-to-be visit bridal-gown shops, one in New York City and one, for some reason, in Atlanta. They bring with them an entourage — best friends, members of the wedding party, mothers, future mothers-in-law, and even the occasional overprotective and prudish father, including one guy who kept saying that a gown his daughter had tried on was “showing too much of her skin.”
Assisted by store staff, the young women try on different dresses, then model them for friends and family who offers their comments and critiques — and catty remarks, insults and even the occasional threat.
And I happily join in:
“She looks awful in that dress!”
“I can’t believe she’s leaning toward the dress with all of those sequins!”
“Is she getting married or going to a costume party?”
“The ‘mermaid’ look just isn’t her. What the hell is she thinking?”
My companion looks at me, wonders whether she’s ruined me forever, then laughs and offers some comment of her own about the overbearing mother or the too-bubbly bride or the members of the bride’s entourage, who often closely resemble a school of barracudas.
I used to watch nothing on TV except PBS and baseball games. Now I watch “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”
Maybe this either proves or disproves the theory of evolution. Maybe it just says something about the simple pleasure of sitting together and laughing about the latest episode of the human comedy. Maybe I should confess that I’ve also gotten into watching “Something Borrowed, Something New,” in which brides-to-be have to choose between wearing the wedding gown of their dreams – or wearing their mother’s or grandmother’s original wedding gown, altered and updated and tailored to fit a modern bride.
Or maybe I’ll re-read “Finnegan’s Wake” – while watching the next season of “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”
A song Pete Seeger sings about gardening starts with these words: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make my garden grow, gonna mulch it deep and low, gonna make it fertile ground…” Pete has learned that much of life is about sowing, planting, cultivation, and reaping what ye sow.
I once had a big garden, a good-sized fenced-in plot, and there I grew tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, basil, oregano, bush beans, snow peas, eggplant, carrots, spinach and lettuce. Mixed in with the vegetable beds were patches of wildflowers.
I kept at it for quite a few years, but my digging and weeding and harvesting crew dwindled until it was reduced to one person — me, and I couldn’t handle all of that weeding and maintenance on my own, so gradually the garden plot got smaller and smaller.
Then came a time of great turmoil and great change, and I was uprooted, and I found myself sometimes like a dandelion seed caught up in a gust, like a maple tree’s seed pod helicoptering to who-knows-where and God-knows-what, and the house and its two acres were sold, and for all I know the people who bought the house may now have a horseshoe pit on that rectangular plot where my garden once grew, or maybe they’e simply let it go to weeds and thistles and grasses and brambles.
Recently I have found myself again planting things, albeit on a much smaller scale: two tomato plants, four pepper plants, a couple of basil seedlings. I’ve also dug up a couple of beds for flowers, and I’ve pulled some weeds, and I’ve trimmed and fertilized two old rose bushes, and I’ve planted a few perennials – including an old-fashioned flower called bee balm, which attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and bees.
It’s been good and familiar, to once more be breathing in the strong aroma of dirt and humus and garden manure, to again be reaching in to mix and blend and break up the soils. Pricking my hands on rosebush thorns. Getting my hands dirty. Looking at the plants every few days and being pleased to see that they’re still alive and have maybe even grown.
Inch by inch. Row by row. Gonna make this garden grow, this garden of delight. It has to do with cultivation — of hope, life and love. It has to do with nurturing and being nurtured. It’s about beauty, and the miracle of things that blossom, and deep gratitude for the things in life that bud and then burst into bloom.
Two more readings/book-signings are on tap for “Rip” and its itinerant author.
First, I’ll be heading up to Somers, N.Y., in northern Westchester County, on Monday, April 22, for a 6 p.m. appearance at the Somers Library, located at 80 Primrose St. I’ll talk about Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and how I came to write a satirical modern-day “retelling” of the classic tale, then read excerpts from the book. After an informal question-and-answer session, I’ll be available to sign copies of the book, which will be sold by the Friends of the Library, which will get a share of the proceeds. Admission to the event is free.
econd, I’ll be reading and signing books on Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m., at a great new venue in Central New Jersey — the To Be Continued Bookstore, Boutique and Cafe, located at 431 Main St., Metuchen, N.J. Admission is free — and, besides, it’s a great place to browse for used and vintage books, located in Metuchen’s charming downtown. Metuchen’s conveniently located just minutes from Interstate 287, Route 1 and the N.J. Turnpike. So I’ll be hoping to see some of my New Jersey friends.
The Port Jervis (N.Y.) Free Library, where I’ll be reading from my novella “Rip” on Thursday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m.
I’ll be hitting the road and heading north tomorrow, when I’ll be appearing at the Port Jervis (N.Y.) Public Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., reading from my novella “Rip,” taking part in an informal discussion about Washington Irving and my parody of his classic “Rip Van Winkle,” then signing copies of my book for anyone who buys one (they will be available for purchase). The event will take place in the library’s Community Room. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. The Port Jervis Free Library is located at 138 Pike Street. The phone number (for more information) is 845-856-7313.
On the heels of a very enjoyable reading before a very receptive audience Tuesday night at the library in Highland Park, N.J., next stop will be on the shores of the majestic Hudson River at Beacon, N.Y., where the illuminati (and literati) will shine Saturday (tomorrow) at 1 p.m. I’ll be doing a “Rip” talk, reading and book-signing at the Howland Public Library on Main Street, as part of year-long slate of events and activities celebrating the town’s 100th anniversary. Admission is free. Copies of “Rip” will be available for purchase and signing.
“Rip” reading and book-signing aside, Beacon’s truly worth a visit — it’s in a beautiful setting with a quaint and cozy downtown, and it’s home to the great folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger, as well as the amazing Dia Museum.
Be warned: My reading will take place weather and heating system willing! Seems like there’s a chance of a little snow — and the library’s been having problems with its furnace! — so check with the library first to make sure the snow is shoveled and the heat is on (the library phone number is 845-831-1134).
I’m happy to announce that my reading and book-signing at the Holland-Alexandria Free Public Library has been rescheduled. I’ll be appearing there on Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. I’m looking forward to returning to my old turf in Hunterdon County in western New Jersey — I lived in Alexandria Township for many years and edited the local weekly paper, the now-defunct Delaware Valley News.
Here’s an updated schedule of other scheduled “Rip” readings and book-signings:/em>:
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m., Highland Park Public Library, Highland Park, NJ
Saturday, Feb. 23, 1 p.m., Howland Public Library, Beacon, NY
Thursday, April 4, 5 p.m., Port Jervis Free Public Library, Port Jervis NY
Saturday, April 13, 2 p.m., Hunterdon County Library, Raritan Township, NJ
Monday, April 22, 6 p.m., Somers Public Library, Katonah, NY.
At each venue, I’ll read excerpts from my satirical modern-day “retelling” of “Rip Van Winkle,” talk a little about my longtime affection for the works of Washington Irving, answer questions, and sign copies for people who buy the book, which will be available for purchase after the reading. Admission to all events is free.
It won’t be “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but I just might be tempted to play or sing “Moon River,” which was featured in that film’s soundtrack and was one of my young father’s favorite songs back in the early 1960s.
That’s because I’ll be reading from my novella “Rip” and signing copies afterward on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m., in Irvington, N.Y., on the shores of my own life’s river, the beautiful Hudson, which became embedded in my heart and soul when I was a boy growing up a few miles downtstream from Irvington in Yonkers, N.Y.
I’m pleased to be reading in Irvington, for several reasons.
One, it’s the hometown of my friend Phil, whose family owned and operated the village pharmacy.
Second, the village is just south of Tarrytown, setting of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and is — of course — named after Washington Irving.
So I’ll be reading excerpts from a parody of “Rip Van Winkle” right in the heart of Irving country!
Third, and perhaps best of all, while my appearance in being hosted by Irvington’s public library, I’ll actually be reading in Irvington’s town hall in the beautifully refurbished and recently reopened Tiffany Reading Room.
The great room was in disrepair and was being used for storage until a local fund-raising campaign raised the tens of thousands of dollars needed to restore the room to its former glory — looking very much the way it looked a century ago when it was designed and furnished by Louis Comfort Tiffany with funding from none other than the daughter of Jay Gould!
So try to make it to Irvington-on-Hudson on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. The Irvington Village Hall is located at 85 Main Street, just down the hill from Route 9. Admission is free. Inspiration is by Washington Irving. Parody of “Rip Van Winkle” is by Nicholas DiGiovanni. Set design is by Louis Comfort Tiffany!
Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article about the Tiffany Reading Room’s history and restoration:
Happy New Year!