when the center does not hold

My neighbor.
"Mass Murder in a Missouri Town!"
 The heart of the country has been hollowed out. Not too many people are left in rural America.  Mostly the aging, the poor, the drug seekers and the hopeless.  And in the hills and hollers of the Ozarks, things have gotten really grim.  
    I should know. I was raised in the Ozarks until the age of eight. Then I moved to New York, where I became a writer for Life and People magazines. But when Life folded, I was drawn back to the area to write a story about white supremacists for the short-lived George magazine. The Ozarks felt like home. I still live in New York City, but I spend months at my disused gas station in Thomasville, Missouri, about an hour south of Tyrone. As in Tyrone, the gas station is gone, the post office is gone, the grocery store is gone, the bank is gone, the school is gone, the beer store is gone, the people are gone. There are only about 70 inhabitants left  in my town. They run a few cattle, cut a few trees, collect disability and social security and worry about Obama taking their guns.
   I wonder whether the folks in Tyrone wish somebody had taken Joe Aldridge’s gun before he shot seven of his kinfolk and himself on February 26. I wonder how people keep from going crazy in isolated places with no jobs and no future. My neighbor across the street in Missouri, who calls himself a hillbilly,  has never seen the sea or been in any state other than Arkansas, 20 miles away. He cannot read. Lately, he has begun to believe that I am controlling him with my computer. He lives on corn meal mush and venison from deer he poaches. He is a good shot.
    I wonder how it is that a sprinkling of desperate people in rural areas of the South and Midwest and West have become so important in national elections.  I wonder what is going to happen to Tyrone, when even in a small town in the middle of the Lord’s nowhere you have to lock your doors against your family members.
    I would like to go to Tyrone, just a few hundred miles from the geographic center of the continental U.S., and find out what is happening to rural America. I would wait until the TV trucks leave and the newspaper reporters have filed their stories, and the townfolk are alone again. I would like to understand this man, this family, these murders, this place, these United States.


mid century modernity

The Noguchi coffee table

The Eames chair
 The Design Not Within Reach catalogue appeared on my doormat again. I don't usually look at it, because the prices piss me off. But I decided to page through. I paused at the Noguchi coffee table to read the SALE! price. @$1700 Same coffee table that was thrown out  I took from the basement in NYC to Hannah's Hideaway in Block Island. Oh, and there were the Eames chairs. I've got several originals (vintage!) that are falling apart. I keep moving them from house to house. Then there was Chris's grandmother's Saarinen dining table, Hannah's grandmother's Corbusier chaise longue and the chairs I remember from my Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired childhood in Arkansas. Thank goodness we already have this shit, because who could afford it now that it's become really, really popular, per this NYT article!

The childhood memory


it's spring somewhere

Somewhere there is color. Somewhere the air is soft and green. Somewhere people's skin is not flaking off. Somewhere people are wearing bikinis. Somewhere life is stirring.
But not here, by God!


party animal

Comrade O'Barnes
A friend whose taste ordinarily runs more to serial killers and zombies got hooked on a show called The Americans,  which is apparently about a bunch of Russian agents posing as a normal American family next door. Okay, it was CBA. She decided to become a Communist. Code name: Comrade Mink. She sought out our local expert, and sent the following request:
"Da. Tovarishch Barnes: I would like your aid in designing successful symbol of my movement within this country. A blend please of fighting Irish and the Mother Country.  I suggest a clover with hammer and sickle superimposed.  thnak vas."
Comrade O'Barnes was happy to welcome Comrade Mink, and sent her a welcome note. The Comrade's accent occasionally devolves into an Indian rather than Russian or Irish one, but the recruitment message is stirring.  Please destroy after listening.


winter blues

Ice floats in the Hudson River. View of New Jersey from the front of the building.

Indoor activities seem preferable to those outdoors.
Getting antsy. Ready for spring. I guess I'm not the only one. My spring fever takes the form of home improvement. I'm thinking about the three houses that have to be opened up—the railings that need to be repaired, the plumbing fixed, the floors polyurethaned. Obviously, I've been balked at the starting gate. So I began urethaning here in New York. The weather was mild enough yesterday that I could leave the windows open. But today: Back into the freezer.


why i limp

The X-ray waiting room at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side.

Supposed to be space between bones.

Model of partial knee replacement.
People have been hocking me about limping for about five years now, but it wasn't til I came back to New York this fall and started walking a lot that it really hurt bad. So yesterday I went to the orthopaedist, got a shot of cortisone, got fitted for a a nice "unloaded brace," prescribed physical therapy and recommended for a partial knee replacement. Apparently my right leg is 6 percent off true, and I am bowlegged. Fortunately I thought to record what the surgeon said, since I only saw Himself for about five minutes.



 Happy New Year, Goats or Sheep or whatever! We celebrated with fireworks in NYC (above). Faithful readers may recollect my nostalgic post about my pal's daughter staying with my Chinese sister's friends in Taiwan. Well here they are (below), celebrating New Year's. Wish I'd had that dinner! Also in Taiwan: Chien-Chi.
Note bene: The new moon, Chinese New Year's and Lent all began yesterday. Not coincidence. Venus, Mars and the moon are all in Aries. Great time to take action. What do you want of yourself?
Elizabeth is now the third generation of connection between the Beauchamps, the Changs and me.


curiosity killed the carpet

One of the Miscreants
Dear Madam,
 It is I, Nose Bite Kitty, Esq., AdvoCat with the French firm, Les Felins por la Justice.  It has been brought to my attention that you, or rather, a member of your household has been the victim of abuse. The victim, your carpet, has reached out to our firm seeking justice.
Rest assured we have the four miscreants in custody. They would like to know how they can make amends to you for the grievous harm they so thoughtlessly perpetrated during their visit to your lovely home.
We await your response.
Sincerely, Nose Bite Kitty, Esquire

Dear Nose Bite Kitty, Esq.,
Not to worry. We have no need of legal services.  No redress is required. The four presumed feline felons actually have done me a huge favor. Their frantic attempts to claw their way to a Certain Party's sleeping quarters has FINALLY pushed me to begin the project of re-doing the Wing.  Because of their actions I now will change the GLOOMY wall color and remove the HORRID grey carpeting that I always have hated from the first day I saw it.  I'll get a new floor in its place and it will be cat- and dog-proof.  If the four hadn't tried to claw beneath the door, I'd probably not have begun the job.
   I have begun to cover the green walls of the CAT DUNGEON room with Kilz.  Once the walls are white (I'm trying Alabaster from Sherwin-Williams) in the whole wing, the carpeting can come up and be hauled away and out of our lives forever and ever.
Sincerely, Owner of the Injured Party (i.e. Carpet)


i don't wanna

Baby, it's cold
Some days—maybe every day this week, the way it looks—it's better just to stay inside and read and write if you can.
Things of interest:
The post-valentine roundup from Time: An absolutely hilarious review of the book Fifty Shades of Grey from Dave Barry. And views of real-life BDSM from photographers including our own Donna Ferrato, the dominatrix of Love and Lust.
For those of you who got a kick out of the 36 questions that can make you fall in love in the NYT, there is a mobile app  ( http://nyti.ms/1CnN2i6 ), too, in case you meet an intriguing stranger on the fly. And then there was the hilarious To Fall Out of Love, Do This in the New Yorker.
Milena Pastreich, stepsister of my stepson (can you follow this?) has her short film, coming-of-age story I Feel Stupid on line right now. It's about love, too. Watch and comment. NO BDSM.
Would be interesting to see the following map of the hardest places to live in the U.S. (uh oh Ozarks) combined with the geography of the $90 million weekend opening of Fifty Shades. I'm guessing escapism would be key in Mississippi.
As it is here in New York. And, I guess, everywhere.
 Especially everywhere it's freezing out.


everywhere a sign

Well, if Obama sleeps over he can have Hannah's room.

Apparently, even pets begin to feel a little housebound. And wonder why.
So, at sub-zero temps, what better to do than go out to buy ice cream and bring it home to eat in my overheated apartment? I am thinking of a picnic of egg salad or chicken salad today. Ice tea. Maybe some watermelon. Having my iced coffee now. I would be wearing shorts, but the apartment is not quite that overheated.
FYI, due to Popular Request (yes, that's you, Dianne), I have posted another bit of Gather Ye Rosebuds, starring The President of the Garden Club herself.


the valentine murder

Twenty years ago today, I wrote this op ed piece for the Times about a Valentine's eve murder. The city was different then—there hasn't been a murder here in 11 days. A bad week for journalists, though. It can still be brutal. I would tell the story differently now, of course. But here it is.

 The white breast of snow was splotched with blood, and my daughter had to step around iced red pools on the concrete as she walked, alone, to the school bus.
   The evening before, Keri arrived, breathless, at the door of our New York City apartment. On the street outside she had seen a man who had just been attacked. Police were taking descriptions of a white male in a black baseball cap who had run away. The man who had been hurt lay there in a pool of blood. "I should have comforted him," Keri said. "The police were so cold. I should have knelt in the snow and just patted him or something."
   My daughter ran over to the window and looked down to the street she walked every day. The blue lights circled, the ambulances waited. "He's gone," she heard someone say. She turned to me. "I think he's dead," she said. "This is my street. I thought it was safe here."
   "Nowhere is really safe," I said.
    This was a year ago, when Hannah was 12, the year she was beginning to realize that her parents were not all powerful, that we could not protect her from all harm. From stories about people with grave illnesses in the copies of the Reader's Digest she brought home from school she was learning that not all stories end happily, that people die no matter how much they are loved, indeed, sometimes because of how much they are loved.
   She did not remember the incident when she woke up the next morning, nor did I, or perhaps I would not have let her walk by that place alone. Her fears were all for the Valentine's Day dance that evening. "You don't have to go," I said. "You are only twelve." Her fears were about sex, not death; both are part of growing up.
   But I would have spared her the blood.
   The man had lived in our building; I had stood on the elevator with him many times. On Valentine's Day his door five floors below ours was sealed with white police tape. He lay in a white hospital bed in a coma, dying.
   Later that day my daughter called me from school. She had decided, after all, to attend the dance. Perhaps her "boyfriend" had come through with an invitation for the first dance, or perhaps her girlfriends, whom I could hear in the background, had talked her into it.
   "Did you see the blood on the snow?" I asked.
   "It was horrible," she said. "I almost threw up. The elevator man told me the man was dead. I called Dad to tell him I was going to the dance after all, but Dad wasn't home."
   "Do you know where he was?" I asked. "He was here, at the office, delivering a valentine to me."
   "Oooh," she said. "What was it?"
   "Candies. In a heart-shaped box. Red velvet."
   "Hey, everybody." I could hear her tell her school friends. "My dad went to the office to give my mom a valentine. Isn't that cool?"
   Hearts. Blood. Love. Death. Splotches on a snowbank.
   It was dark by the time she walked home again, after the dance, her father by her side. Too dark to see the salt soaking up the red to a fainter pink. A sketch of a man's face was taped to the door outside the elevator. The suspect glared menacingly under the words "Wanted for Murder."
   A year has passed. My daughter is 13, and tall. She takes two city buses to get to school. The last snowfall is melting and gray. There hasn't been much snow in New York this year, not like last year or when I was young. The murderer hasn't been caught, despite the fact that a detective from the 20th Precinct papered the area with posters asking for information.
   Neighbors speculated that the killing was a hit -- it had been too efficient, and the victim hadn't been robbed. It made all of us feel safer, to think that it was a personal matter, that the murderer wasn't lurking on the street. But I still don't like to think of the white male, 19-24 years, 5 feet 10 inches, 175 pounds, riding the bus with my daughter.
   She remembers the murder when she walks down the street alone at night. But these days she is thinking more about love than death, though sex and drugs are on the short list as well. There was a seventh grade dance last night, "the Decade Dance," and her only concern was whether her make-up really looked like it was from the 60's. "My friends say I look too 90's," she said. In the year 2000, she will graduate from high school.
   Childhood ends. No place is really safe. But we gird up and go out. We dance and dare to hope for days at a stretch that we, at least, are protected from terrible messages in the cold white snow.


where do i belong?

Found this chair in the building's trash. Wish I had four of them, one for every house. But there's only one lonelyhearts chair, and we have to choose.
 It's really kind of a nice aqua, not as green as it looks here, a color that appears in all of my places.
Hannah's Block Island?
New York City kitchen?
Claudia's Surf City, Block Island?
The Goose in the Ozarks?
Vote now. Vote often.


fun by the roll

So many patterns

So little space
I love this plastic stuff. I call it oilcloth, although it's not, because I don't know what to call it. Thick, gaudy plastic. I don't really use it for that much—covering outdoor tables, for the most part. Spreading on the floor so children can play with water in the house (or eat!).  And every time I go to Mexico I buy as much as I can fit in my backpack. It's heavy.
   This year I found a motherlode at the bottom of the crafts market. Many of the patterns I had seen before, but some were delightfully new.  I purchased one rather restrained pattern (the blue and white) to align with my new, classic wicker porch furniture purchased for me by my sister (!) but couldn't resist a couple of the wilder ones. Certain of my family and relations deplore my taste. To them I say: Suck it up.


uno mas

Bit of a roundup.
In photo news, here is a Guardian piece about Jane Evelyn Atwood and a Photo District News piece about Lynn Johnson's standing-ovation presentation at Geographic. And I'm working on another bio for Chien-Chi Chang.
A video about atheism.
A fascinating essay about female sexuality.
Why not to get pregnant in the upcoming Year of the Sheep.
The text of Bob Dylan's speech at MusiCares.
An interesting essay about being PC.
Ruby Montana makes the list of 10 best off-beat hotels in the U.S.
And an interesting article about the causes of addiction.
That should keep y'all busy!


the difference a day makes


New York City
Yes, I'm home, surrounded by piles of snow and  bills.


party queens

Mom (with an amigo from Tulsa) host a small fiests a su casa.

. . .aided by her efficient sidekick, Rosio.


cotton candy

Seems that mobile phone action is the same in age groups across cultures. Or so it was in the Jardin in San Miguel de Allende!
Need I spell out the metaphor? Like cotton candy, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, melt in your—well, maybe your hand— and vanish quickly and forever.



Candlelike ballons for sale at the Paroquia in the Jardin

Plants for sale, along with fertilizer and pots, in the park.
Yesterday was Candalaria. The park was banked with displays of potted plants and bedding out plants and shrubs for sale. Everybody was walking home with flats and bags of greenery and flowers to put in their gardens. It is also a religious haoliday, so people visited the church as well.


comida in bed

Sopes in San Miguel de Allende
One favorite in my mother's household in Mexico is sopes. Kind of like a taco only better. Here is a recipe, though there is a lot of room for innovation. However, when piled with beans, cheese, fab avocado, and etc, what could be bad? And if my mother, 88, doesn't feel like getting up to eat, she doesn't have to, gracias a Rosio.
Rosio in the kitchen