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This weekend’s Bad Girl Bad Movie was the cinematic masterpiece “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”. The accompanying cocktails were, appropriately enough, filthy martinis (Sinatra-size glasses; extra Queen size olives – it’s a meal in a glass!).

The title brain (or head) belongs to the unfortunate girlfriend of a scientist teetering on the edge of madness. While whisking her away to his mansion in the country, he has a car accident which he survives, but his girlfriend is inexplicably decapitated a la Jayne Mansfield. There is a very entertaining scene where the head rolls downhill and the boyfriend chases and catches it. Fortunately for him, the mansion is close enough for him to run to it, clutching his raincoat-wrapped trophy. After all, most car accidents happen close to home, right?

The “mansion” appears to be made of cardboard. You can see it shake when doors are opened and closed. The Mad Scientist puts the head in a tray of liquid, and upon waking up, the head immediately starts complaining. A head after my own heart. No explanation is made as to how the head can talk with no lungs, or what the Mystery Liquid is.

There is no better excuse to look for a body to attach the head to, though the movie doesn’t bother with minor details like how he’s going to kill the body of choice. His prowess in attaching limbs doesn’t give you a lot of confidence when you see how his assistant’s hand, which the Mad Scientist grafted on his very own self, looks a lot like a foot.

His girlfriend’s sudden head removal means that the Mad Scientist can now look for the perfect body. He applies himself to the task with the dedication of true love, visiting a Body Beautiful contest (in which there were 4 finalists, despite the MC saying there were 5), a “camera club” (think Bettie Page with more clothes on) and a strange place in which girls wiggle around languidly in Bunny-like outfits (sans tails & ears – everyone’s missing body parts in this one) and then retreat to their dressing room for a cat fight, capped with a real cat’s meow in case you missed the point. Also, is it just me, or did the hand slapping the girl that started the fight look like a guy’s? Are there (or were there) hand doubles?

Cruel Sports of the Past: Wrestling TV

A friend of mine is moving to a different city, so he’s paring down his worldly goods. He’s moving in with his girlfriend, who has way better stuff, so he’s only going to move the creme de la crap, which did not include his fairly large and fairly new TV. Actually, I was amazed that in half a century of life in an ultra-acquisitive society, he had so little to move. Once he’d given away the undesirables, all that was left were two suitcases of clothes, a box of articles he’d had published in his long career as a journalist, a trunk of sentimental souvenirs, and a few boxes of books. That’s it. The polar opposite of Me, who is as acquisitive as a particularly greedy magpie, especially when it comes to shiny things.

This is how I ended up at the opposite end of the city, wrestling the Donated Diversion Box down several flights of steep stairs. Suddenly, my friend had more stairs than I remembered, including a flight with no handrail, also a bad back, which meant that little Orphan Suzy was on her own with the big Orphan Appliance. For those of you who are foolish enough to want to try this at home, be warned. Wrestling a TV, unlike wrestling on TV, is not fixed, though you may well have to be after the battle is over.

Side effects include, but are not limited to: swearing, both below and above what little breath you have after the first few steps; sweating; disbelief in friend’s alleged back injury (why had I never heard of it before? Hmmm?); regretting day of birth (anniversary of which is only a week and a day away, you last-minute shoppers); partial to total destruction of manicure; miscellaneous scratches; aching muscles, some of which you didn’t know you had; a longing for continued ignorance of said muscles; relief at finally setting the damned thing down, only to realize you have set it on your foot; and finally realizing your brother is so right not to have a TV at all.

No wonder they invented delivery services.

Travels With Dad: London, March 1991

My father retired to his native England in early 1991, moving in with his beloved Margaret (who still survives at 79, in the same house). I promised him that I’d visit every year, and I did, sometimes twice. In the letter he left me to be read after his death, he wrote, “Your visits were always the highlight of the year.” This entry is the first one after his move.

London, March 16, 1991

Greeted most affectionately by Dad and Margaret at Heathrow at the ungodly hour of 7 am. After picking up fresh bread and croissants, we went to their house for coffee and one of Dad’s special omelettes. The house is beautiful, full of soft Oriental carpets and fresh flowers. I couldn’t help but notice that pictures of Beth, Megan, Jonathan & me are in silver frames in the living room alongside [pictures of] Margaret’s children and grandchildren.

My room [I always called it that, even though all guests stayed there] is a peach bower, with floral trim which is echoed in the bath towels and curtains. I have my own bath with parquet floors and a Jacuzzi with brass taps.

It seemed best to try & keep going, so we went to Chartwell [Winston Churchill’s former home; now a museum]. Margaret had never been there before & she was charmed. We encountered a fox hunt in full cry en route to Hever Castle. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we looked around Hever Church. It was built on the site of a Norman church, & therefore has been a place of prayer for 750 years. The church is the burial place of Anne Boleyn’s father, and his grave has been rubbed so many times that the church now provides copies and forbids the public from copying it, lest it disappear forever.

We had lunch at Ye Old Crown, an ancient pub [since 1327!] which used to house smugglers but which now houses noisy fruit machines. This was in a little town called Edenbridge. We went on to visit Coulsdon. [This is the village where my father grew up, and where his parents lived their entire married lives – 50 years.] It has, of course, changed, but it is still recognizable. I was delighted that the Lincoln sisters’ greengrocers was still a greengrocers [the four unmarried Lincoln sisters inherited it from their father and ran it until their deaths].

Grammie’s front door is still green, but her garden has changed, and not for the better. We took pictures of 88 [my grandparents’ house] & the street, as well as the cricket grounds where Dad played and his former public school.

Dad & I made lemon herb chicken for dinner, with New Zealand cabernet sauvignon. Tomorrow is Dad’s 60th birthday!

DogBlog

Really, I should change my blog’s name to DogBlog, since my almost-dog seems to be my favorite topic these days. I’ve had Miz Rita’s company for almost three weeks straight, so I’m beginning to feel less like the Other Owner (much like being the Other Woman, only without the guilt and scandal) and more like the Actual Owner. I pretty much take credit for her now when strangers admire her, and have even begun to accessorize her presence in my life by buying her a brush, bowls, and her very own bed.

Rita woke me up at 6:30 this morning, with a request for a walk. While dog walking is about the only thing I can do when pre-caffeinated, 6:30 is not, in my opinion, a good time to do it. I tried to explain to Rita that the only 6:30 I use is the evening one, when it’s time for cocktails, starting dinner (or thinking about starting dinner), and avoiding the evening news. I got the big eyes, so I hauled Self out of my cozy bed and pulled a coat on over my nightgown, shoving my feet into sneakers on my way out the door.

I was horrified to discover how many people are out and about at such an early hour. The construction workers were all convening to start on the daily ration of roar and racket at the site across the street, and they were feeling all friendly. I was feeling all embarrassed in my dog walking attire, which was even worse than usual. I was glad not to be a celebrity, since I would have been prime tabloid fodder with my un-brushed hair, no make-up, glasses, and next to homeless person outfit.

No fewer than three people stopped to pet Rita and chat within the space of one block. I couldn’t wait to get behind the building to the vacant lot where no-one would see me. And I sneaked back in through the back door, unphotographed.

I sure love that dog!

Campy Camp

The Bad Girl Bad Movie filmfest continues apace at Chez Suzy. Far more exclusive than that tiresome Cannes thing, and featuring classic American B movies and A class American cocktails. Instead of starving yourself to fit into an overpriced gown, you can wear your PJ’s (or, in keeping with the film, your birthday suit), and no photos, unflattering or otherwise, will appear in the tabloids.

This week’s gem was Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1960), which is so bad that it could have (should have) been directed by Ed Wood. The nominal notionette is that poor Blaze, exhausted by the demands of her fans (two teenage girls asking for her autograph!); publicity appearances (having to go to a party in a beautiful evening gown!); etc. (phone calls about personal appearances!), decides to take a break at a nearby nudist camp.

Nudist camp turns out to be a lot like reform school, only without the clothes. There’s the same sort of female frolicking – apparently nudist camps appeal more to girls than boys – but carefully filmed so as to only reveal T&A. Quite refreshing to see bodies that are innocent of plastic surgery, though I found myself hoping that Blaze’s truly frightening pair were an early implant experiment and not a particularly unappealing joke by the supreme mistress of them all, Mother Nature.

Either way, I had to wonder about Earl K. Long’s taste in girls, his notorious affair with La Starr having ended that year along with his life. Reminded me of governor-era Bill Clinton and his terrifying triumvirate. Oh, and rumor has it that JFK and Blaze were up close and personal – you guessed it, when he was a governor. Now who’s the one with the fetish?

Travels With Dad: Paris to England, May 1984

May 12, 1984

The weather was horrible, so we decided to go to England a day early. I am even more in love with Paris than ever. I was sorry to leave.

We had a pretty awful trip. We thought the train went on a ferry to get to Dover, but discovered that we & all our luggage had to get off the train at Boulogne and wait 1 & 1/2 hours for the hovercraft. The hovercraft was very strange – it came right up onto the sand and then the “cushion” it rides on deflated! It was like a “monster from the sea” movie.

It was a very rough crossing – the waves were three meters high at times – and it took twice as long as it was supposed to. There was a great jolt in the middle of the trip, and Dad turned pea green. In spite of gin and gravol, he had mal de mer. So much so that he hired a car to take us from Dover to Northiam. The driver didn’t mind the luggage at all (unlike the horrible cab driver in Milan).

We were warmly greeted by Great-Aunt Barbara [my grandmother’s sister], Great-Uncle George [her husband], and Richard [their son, who has Down Syndrome and lived with them until their deaths]. It’s good to be in England again. As any English person will tell you, there’s nowhere like it. If someone dropped me down here without telling me where I was, I’d know right away. I can tell that Dad is happy to be on home ground again, looking forward to cricket and seeing old friends.

Northiam is a tiny, Agatha Christie sort of village. Sheep, cows, horses, lovely old houses – some thatched, some half-timbered, and also the famous old Smugglers Cottage, the smallest house in Sussex, is just down the street.

Great-Uncle G. took us to Hastings, where Dad spent many of his childhood holidays, and showed us Great-Grandmother Smith’s house. There we saw a motorcycle accident. Two teenage boys wiped out going around a corner just as we got out of the car. Although other people were around, it was me who ran for an ambulance and Mom who took care of the boys. The younger one had his leg torn open to the bone from the knee down, but he had guts: he didn’t cry at all. The ambulance came soon and we stowed the bike on a side street. It was barely damaged at all, unlike its riders.

Fear of Fashion

“You’re being watched, but you’re unaware of it,” a deep voice says, right outside my window. “Being caught like that…it’s what makes it so exciting for a voyeur.”

Well, this is an unnerving way to wake up.

Imagine my relief when I peer out the window and see a fashion shoot going on in the courtyard. The model is leaning against my window. I’m sorry to say that she was wearing what appeared to be a ripped Army issue shirt with a wide yellow patent leather belt slung 80’s fashion across where her hips would be if she had any; also, pink platform boots. Don’t tell me that look will be in this spring. Or ever.

Mom Musings

My mother had this way of knowing when something was wrong. Seriously. I’d answer the phone, just say, “Hello”, and she’d ask right away, “What’s wrong?”

Sometimes I’d try and prevaricate, if I was busy or didn’t want to get into it, but she wouldn’t give up until I told her.

Last night, I dreamed that Mom and I were at the horribly named but beautifully equipped PetCo Park in San Diego, near where she used to live. Since it was dream world, it was irrelevant that Mom didn’t like baseball, and that neither of us had ever been to PetCo Park (except in our dreams).

So Mom and I were watching the Padres and she was giving me the “What’s wrong?” thing and I was trying to get out of it. Finally, I told her all the stuff that was on my mind lately, from wanting to get off the medication (and being told to take more and see a shrink again) to what a lousy daughter I’d been and that’s why I’m never going to have kids.

She put her arm around me and said, “We can’t change the past or control the future. All we have is the present. So live in it and be happy.”

Even though it was a dream, it really moved me, and I’ve been thinking about Mom, the real one and the dream one, all day.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

The Frivolous Day

What’s the cure for the bad mail bummer? A frivolous day with a fabulous friend!

I fled the city in the civilized manner, by train*, and arrived at K’s jewel box of a house just after high noon. Poor K really was working at home, being trapped on a conference call with a recalcitrant client, so I took the opportunity to lounge in her back yard, play with her dogs, and flip through fashion magazines.

When K finally freed herself, we went and had lunch at a charming Indian restaurant. It was very stylish without being overpriced or overpretentious, and the food was wonderful. We indulged freely in naan, lentil dal, and butter chicken, with a wicked glass of wicked South African wine.

After the splendid lunch, we visited the handbag store. Yes, K’s small town has a store entirely devoted to handbags, and you already know I am entirely devoted to handbags. So I have a teeny-tiny substance abuse problem. I couldn’t resist this number, deep red leather from Columbia, with a happy yellow lining. The only one in the store. And on sale. And he didn’t charge me tax, so it was practically free! Yes, I can justify almost anything if I really want it. But do you blame me?

As we left the handbag store, K, who had bought a summer bag and matching wallet, had an inspiration. First mani-pedi of the season! Off we went to the vibrating chairs and the ministrations of the manicurists, who made our fingers and toes things of beauty. I couldn’t resist having little paintings on my big toes**, and nagged K into getting some, too (hers were daisies). Nothing can cheer a girl up faster than spontaneous nail art and massage chairs. We went back to K’s house and admired our toes.

Then reality intervened, in the form of the laundromat.

I haven’t been to a laundromat in 15 years. Maybe more. My buildings always had their own. So it had been a while, and my, how times have changed! Instead of the slots where you’d put in your three or four quarters, there’s a display with times and the cost, upper and lower dryers, and I don’t know what-all. It didn’t take long for K to consign me to the change machine, where my lack of skills could do the least damage, and where I felt like I’d won the lottery, as the silvery change plummeted merrily into the holder. There was laughter at my expense. Maybe I should get a handicapped plaque that reads “Domestically disabled”, since I clearly am.

*If only they looked like trains do in Strangers on a Train and Leave Her to Heaven (though with different results)!

**Please excuse the traces of unsuitable shoes worn not wisely, but and too well. Look at the sparkly toes instead!

Death & Taxes

My mail is delivered to a post office box. Partly because the building was out of mailboxes when I moved in (remember, no-one is supposed to live here), and partly because I can go and get the mail when I feel like it, instead of having it just appear, like an uninvited guest.

The truth is that the mail is seldom fun, but it really outdid itself this time, containing the following (all in one box!):

  • A charming missive from my bank, returning a check I had foolishly attempted to deposit by mail, and informing me that they can no longer accept deposits by mail (even though they list an address for mail-in deposits on their website). I am beginning to think Kafka has been reincarnated as my bank.
  • A letter from my friends at the State of California Franchise Tax Board, trying to get me to pay $1,000 in import tax for “importing” the grandfather clock I inherited from my late father. Faithful readers may recall that I went down this road already about three years ago, and that the road ended in my not having to pay the tax and my stepmother giving me a sedative.

    Why they are trying it on again after all this time, I don’t know. The Governator must really need some cigars. Anyway, the paperwork from Round One is with the rest of my stuff in storage, so I asked my sister Beth to send me a copy of Dad’s Will, which specifies the clock is mine, and I can prove that I don’t owe them a thing, except my abiding contempt.

  • The Third Edition of one of my father’s books, Principles of Ecotoxicology, dedicated to his memory and with a forward praising his personal and professional achievements. I collapsed into tears. It’s amazing that almost 5 years after you lose someone, you can feel as bad as you did when it first happened. I hope I can face the copy of his Will with more courage than I could the copy of his book.

Travels With Dad: Paris, May 1984

I really could call these entries “Obsessed with Food & Snobby about Art”!

May 10, 1984

Went by the Eiffel Tower (still a yucchy color).

Dad, Meg and I climbed to the roof of Notre Dame. Meg and Dad climbed to the bell tower, but I couldn’t bear to climb it – it’s all wood & terribly old & you can see right down to the ground. The gargoyles are very wonderful.

We then went to the Musee d’Art et d’Essai. It’s very new, and the collection is beautiful: Lautrec, Seurat, Monet, impressionists and post-impressionists. Several of the paintings are from the Jeu de Paume & are part of the eventual collection at the Musee D’Orsay. The space is bright and airy, and the paintings show to good advantage against the white background. This is apparently to be the eventual presentation at the Musee d’Orsay, where the collection from the Jeu de Paume will be housed.

Discovered that the Musee de la Mode et du Costume was closed, contrary to all indications. There was supposed to be an exhibit called “Indispensable Accessories” & I was very disappointed not to see it.

May 11, 1984

Mom and I went to see an exhibit at the Grand Palais called “La Rime et la Raison” (Dad, of course, would not waste his time on Art Moderne). It was a partial collection of the Menil family of Texas, who must be very wealthy and discriminating, because it was a really wonderful exhibit, and just what I would have chosen myself, given money and opportunity. I bought the catalogue, which was book-sized. [I still have it.] There were all my favorites: Warhol, Rauschenberg, Calder, Johns, Rothko, etc.

I wish we had had more time, but we had to go and meet Meg and Dad, who had climbed to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. Took a boat ride down the Seine and took pictures of the graffiti series of little white men dancing round the banks of the river.

On the Street Where I Live

Escorting Miz Rita around has made me notice my surroundings more, especially now that she’s the Dog Detective, meandering along and sniffing thoroughly to discover who’s been there and what they’ve been up to. It seems that investigation is more interesting than chasing the ball these days, though she remains the terror of pigeons and squirrels alike.

While waiting for Rita to be ready to move on to the next scent, it occurred to me that the zoning on my street must be on the eccentric side, if not on the wild side. Within one block, there are:

  • A Domino’s Pizza.
  • A huge construction site with accompanying noise, from workers and machinery alike (Question: why are men so fascinated with construction sites? Even on days when no-one’s working, there is always at least one guy standing there, staring at the rubble as if the answer to the universe is there.).
  • Narrow Victorian row houses (former housing for workers in the former coffin factory down the street?).
  • A halfway house and daycare.
  • The former coffin factory, where I live (in what used to be the wood working shop). It’s an unofficial live-work place, housing artists, photographers, and miscellaneous businesses, including a one man printing press and a paint store specializing in reproducing antique colors and finishes.
  • An art gallery.
  • A City building, suitably bland, with a sign saying “Corporate Services”.
  • A restaurant with a sign that says “Speedy Restaurant” on one side and “Smile Restaurant” on the other. It’s never open. Once I saw an elderly Chinese woman scuttle in and slam the door, though. She wasn’t smiling, but she was definitely speedy.
  • Behind the Speedy/Smile restaurant is a slaughterhouse, which can be all too fragrant at times.

For all these things to be on one block, the zoning laws must be the legal equivalent of Miss Havisham, or Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria. No wonder I fit right in.