Naming a Room

Some rooms in a home are just better suited for specific seasons. Our library has become our go-to winter spot. Though, I’m still not sure if it should be called a library, study, den, or drawing room?

Drawing room is definitely too snooty. Its reclaimed cherry wood has an inherent warmth… and mystery: we’re not sure where it was reclaimed from. The books add their own density and warmth of stories told. And Alex centered the room with a furry white rug that you just want to put your toes in, or knead if you’re a cat (which Alex calls “making muffins”).

When we bought the house, I thought it was a nice room but I didn’t see us spending much time in there. Of course, I don’t have the vision my wife does, nor the decorating touch.

Being just off the main entrance, we didn’t want to make it an office with a desk and all the mess that entails. Back in the day, I suppose a room like this may have been used as a smoking room, but we don’t smoke. And a TV didn’t seem appropriate.

So on cold afternoons, we grab the book or magazine we’d been meaning to read, close the glass doors with just enough space to let the cats in, turn on the gas fireplace and kick up our feet. The room gets toasty like an oven, and the cats inevitably end up on the rug making muffins.

Maybe it’s the muffin room?

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Our Secret Language

My wife and I have our own way of communicating. There are words I use with her that only she would understand. We’ve been together so long that grunts have become part of our vocabulary. A quick “grrr,” means “I’m so frustrated I’m over this.”

Mornings start with “bubbly”, and no it’s not what you’re thinking. Bubbly is what I call Alex’s carbonated and flavored water. It’s just easier to say bubbly. Random people we see or run into doing our daily routines have secret nicknames:  there’s Slowpoke, Bubba, Crazy-Flower-Lady, Jackass, Wife-of Jackass, etc.

There’s a certain non-verbal dance we do when we approach a grocery checkout line. We both do a quick scan of the amount of items in each cart, age of customer (which usually determines payment type, ergo speed of transaction), and who’s working the register. If it’s Slowpoke at the register, I’ll immediately jump into the line next to us. Alex will notice my move, rescan the situation and either join me, or not, depending on her specific criteria. She’s got the extra burden of coupons, which sometimes supersedes my need for speed.

At home, we have a splash, meaning a glass of wine; the clicky instead of remote for the TV; and the cats are often called babies.

The cats have a whole subset of terms related to them. We have a screened-in porch that let’s our indoor cats be “outside”, which Alex calls the kitten-porch. Another cat-themed term we have is water-cave, which is not somewhere we put them when they’ve been bad. They used to drink our water from the glasses on our nightstand at night, so I found a little wooden box just big enough for a glass of water, turned it on its side, and voila: cat-proofed. I guess it would be better named as a “water-box”, but somehow water-cave stuck, and it is really hard to unstick such a thing.

I can just see one of us years from now, old but totally with it, trying to communicate with someone who thinks we’re going senile, using words that only the two of us would recognize as normal. “Take the bubbly out of the water-cave and find my clicky on the kitten-porch.” “Uh, we’re going to have to up your dose of meds sir.” “Grrrrr.” “Are you growling at me sir?”

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Hollywood Purgatory

Waiting for a Hollywood callback is a kind of purgatory. It’s like that trip you’ve saved so long and worked so hard for, but you’ve got that stopover in Atlanta, and a thunderstorm rolls through just as you’re walking down the interminably long terminal to your departure gate, and a God-like voice comes over the speakers and announces that your flight has been canceled.

Well at least in that scenario you get the courtesy of a cancellation call. With Hollywood callbacks, you will not even get that courtesy.

Our house was being considered for a movie. It started with a vague message from someone at the Georgia Film Bureau who asked if we would consider letting a director and a few others into our home to have a look. He said it was for a Robert Redford movie called Come Sunday.

A few days later we greeted four people at our door. They came in and said hello, but you could tell they were only half-listening after the initial niceties. They were eyeing our house like they were already shooting there. Taking pictures, discussing scenes from the script, trying to imagine the world on the page taking life in our home.

The problem was that the story took place in 1990’s Oklahoma and we live in today’s Atlanta. This caused much discussion on how to make this visual trick work. They talked about covering our granite counters with tile, covering the stainless appliances, hiding the 30-foot Tennessee stacked stone fireplace behind a façade of drywall… We weren’t quite sure why they would go to all this trouble, but hey, we’d lived in LA and worked in Hollywood before, and if someone had the funds- and Robert Redford attached- any harebrained idea was feasible.

We had three more visits, and each one got more serious. People from New York, people from LA, a European-accented director of photography, the production designer from the Twilight movies who asked if he could move all of our furniture into our garage for the shoot. We knew they were looking at another home, one that probably fit the time and place better, but we still thought we had it. Then the set designer asked if we had blueprints to our house and we figured it was a done deal, champagne time!

We didn’t want to jinx it at first so we didn’t tell anyone about it, but this was hard to hold in, especially when one of our friends was the biggest Redford fan out there. We told her not to get too excited since we were still waiting, but all she heard was “Robert Redford.” She couldn’t believe it. She even had an old copy of Playgirl magazine- of all things- that he was in: “I’m getting him to sign my magazine!” she proclaimed. A few days later, Redford, announced he would be retiring from acting after one last project: “He could be filming his last role in your house!” she squealed, “I’m going to need those blueprints too, so I can find a hidden spot to live in while they shoot!”

As you can imagine, these things pay bigtime, especially when they take over your whole house for weeks. We started to get ahead of ourselves a bit. We had our bills paid off in our heads and an exotic vacation already planned.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more… but alas, the final phone call never came. They were supposed to start shooting in early January. We held out hope until mid-month, but didn’t even get a “thanks, no thanks.”

Welcome to Hollywood purgatory.

And the irony of it all, the main character in the movie was a preacher who was controversial because he didn’t believe in hell. He felt that everyone had the ability to leave purgatory… Like when the storm clears the Atlanta airport and all flights are back on schedule.

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Songs of a City

Cities have songs and musical genres that match each place: sometimes seasonally, sometimes geographically.

When I lived in LA, a friend of mine asked me to write for a documentary he was doing about famed Brazilian musician Laurindo Almeida. We interviewed him weeks before he died and the documentary turned into a tribute concert. The man was a poet and reminisced about how diving with sea turtles in his native Rio painted his dreams and influenced his musical style. He then moved to LA where he had lived for many years, composing for films like the Godfather.

He told me just before his death, what painted his recent dreams in LA was the freeways, and he wanted to do some kind of musical piece that spoke to that. I guessed he was referring to the cars constantly moving in every direction, reflecting light during the day, and giving off light at night. Maybe the ocean-like sound it all created.

LA does have a vibe that you can feel from the road. If LA were a song, it could be a cool jazz samba, like Laurindo Almeida was known for, or it could be a folky tale about driving 500 miles today and never leaving LA, like in the Michelle Shocked song “Come a Long Way.” I’d say depending on where you are in LA, a different song could relate: maybe the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” for Santa Monica on a clear sunny day; some Jimmy Buffet for Marina del Rey; Joni Mitchell, CSN or Counting Crows for Laurel Canyon…

If Atlanta, where I now live, were a song it might be a rap or hip hop number by Ludacris or Usher. It could be any number of R.E.M. songs, or maybe an older southern rock number like “Champagne Jam” by the appropriately named Atlanta Rhythm Section. This song talks about partying with some “high class booze” and makes me think of the scrappy upbringing of this always growing metropolis with a chip on its shoulder.

What would your city songs be?

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Yorkshire Pudding is not pudding

I’ve got to admit, I didn’t know what Yorkshire pudding was either until my wife made some for a fancy meal years ago. We were entertaining a real food snob and Alex wanted to impress. Well, impress she did, as this guy had never had Yorkshire pudding outside of a restaurant.

So yesterday we were shopping for our Christmas meal and we got a standing rib roast. Just watching the butcher carve this beautiful meat, we decided to have him set aside a small portion for us to cook that very evening.

My wife is the chef and I am almost her sous chef. I prep stuff and clean dishes like no one’s business, but apparently that doesn’t get me the title of sous chef. According to Alex, I have to learn to actually put something together without her guidance, but exactly the way she would do it, before I can claim any such title.

I know my way around a kitchen, waited tables in some fine restaurants, and can even order in French when I have to, but I do not have the cooking finesse of my wife. The first thing I ever cooked her was a hastily broiled pork chop (yes I said broiled– I didn’t have a grill at the time). My second attempt was a pan-fried salmon, to only find out afterward she doesn’t like salmon. Third time was not a charm, as I did chicken and onions and zucchini with a Dijon-mayo sauce wrapped in tinfoil to cook. Maybe it was the presentation on that one, as the chicken came out pretty moist.

But I have yet to master Alex’s nuances. And trying to help someone like that is like trying to help Van Gogh paint. I’ll just clean those brushes for you, okay Vince?

I watched as Alex whipped up a couple eggs in a bowl, added some flour, and some milk. Then she turned to her magical spice drawers and grabbed a pinch of this and a pinch of that to add to the bowl before putting it in the fridge. Later, she pulled out the roast and told me to place the empty cupcake-looking pan in the still hot oven. “It’s empty,” I said. “I know,” she answered, as she does when I say something stupid. A few minutes later she had taken the drippings from the roast and had me remove the empty cupcake-like vessel so she could add a little pan dripping to the bottom of each cup. She then grabbed the cold egg, milk, flour and magic spice mix from the fridge and filled each cup with this concoction.

I saw all of that happen right in front of me, and I still don’t know if I could execute it. I did, however, help eat those perfectly puffed “puddings.” All of them. They don’t save, I swear.

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Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.

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Ceci n’est pas un Cheeseburger

When our French goddaughter was visiting recently, we wanted to show her some iconic Atlanta landmarks. She had been to the Aquarium and World of Coke; seen Centennial Olympic Park, the Margaret Mitchell House, Fox Theater, and MLK museum; she’d even eaten at a Waffle House and liked it. So, I figured we had to take her to The Varsity. Granted, I hadn’t eaten there since I was a kid, and my wife (being from California by way of Florida) had never set foot in the place.

But hey, locals rave about it to this day, so how bad could it be? It’s been there forever and was one of the few pregame fast food joints available to fathers and sons going to see Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets or Atlanta Braves games. Celebrities, president’s and president’s-to-be have all eaten there. The building was a cutting edge design when commissioned, and it still looks retro cool to this day. The sign and logo have that retro cool vibe as well. There’s the catchy “what’ll ya’ have!?” and ordering lingo that includes the gem: “naked dog walkin’.” I’ve even heard it was the largest-by-square-foot fast food place in the world at one time.

We were starving when we pulled into the lot, but I felt obligated to play tour guide to the newbies and offer a brief history. I pointed out the cool architecture, the carhops, and the size of the place. Our goddaughter Ines was impressed. We entered to a throng of people waiting to order and “what’ll ya have!?” being shouted over the din. Ines got a little intimidated by it all, so Alex ordered cheeseburgers, and onion rings for us. “What’s a frosted orange?” Alex asked me as the guy punched in our order. “It’s like a shake,” I said as she turned to add to the order, “but just get two, I’ll have a sip of yours.” Alex was looking at other people’s food coming out as she replied, “I think you’re going to want one.” To which I stupidly said “nah.” After many years together, I should know better and just take her advice.

When we got our food it looked like something from a public school cafeteria circa 1985. They may call it The Varsity, but the food is more JV, or peewee really. The bun was a smashed white bread of the cheapest kind. The cheese was still cold, and the thin burger disc (I couldn’t even call it a patty) was grey/brown in color and had those little grease bubbles that only appear on this type of meat. The onion rings didn’t look or taste much better. Ines wasn’t much to complain, but I swear I heard her mumble “ceci n’est pas une pipe” before digging in anyway.

Alex, after a few bites, took a sip of her frosted orange. “You can have my food, I’ll just enjoy my shake,” she said with a smile. I shrugged it off and gave it the old college try. About halfway through my onion rings, I noticed Ines had given up on her meal and was enjoying her shake as she looked at Atlanta’s skyline through The Varsity windows. I got up to order a frosted orange for myself and decided my wife was just as right about the shake as she is about most everything, and Ines was right about the cheeseburger not being a pipe– or a cheeseburger for that matter.

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Sounds of the City

The freeway hums 24/7 like a swarm of bees, dogs bark in staccato, and leaf blowers whine like mobs of Italian mopeds. Add an occasional helicopter chasing a criminal or circling a freeway accident, and this is the LA soundscape. Sure, you can drown it out with the ocean waves at the beach or maybe high up in the hills, but that’s just temporary for most.

When we moved from LA to Atlanta, we thought it would be more quiet, and it is in some ways- it’s not as 24/7 like LA- but Atlanta can have all those LA sounds and more; even in the outer suburbs where we are. We’ve got volleys of gunshots (probably deer hunters, but who really knows), dirt bikes and ATV’s roaming the woods, and the constant beep-beep-beep of construction crew vehicles creating new subdivisions and doing roadwork on seemingly every road in every direction.

Paris has its strange police sirens; Chicago has the noisy L-trains; and New York its Taxi horns (or did that go away with the advent of Uber?). If I were to pick one sound that stands out in Atlanta and its suburbs, it’s that beep-beep-beep. Even at the airport at 8am when you’re trying to calm down after fighting through traffic, parking shuttles, and TSA attitudes, you can’t escape the beep-beep-beep of airport carts.

Atlanta and LA have a lot in common: both are sprawling, car-centric places, with their own music, sports and entertainment scenes; both can be loud in their own ways. Hopefully, there’s just enough quiet to be found in either place for someone to remain sane. That, or I’ll just go deaf from the beep-beep-beeps—then my noise sensitivity won’t be an issue at all.

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Death of the Disco Kroger

I pulled into the parking lot in Buckhead after a long day with Alex hunting bargains at every Cost Plus World Market in Atlanta. This one was our final stop, right in the corner of a strip mall that I suddenly remembered from my youth. “This World Market used to be the hottest nightclub in Atlanta,” I told my wife. “No way?” she said, not quite able to imagine it. “The Limelight. It started out as a disco. They had giant speakers people danced on top of, and various rooms full of debauchery, a velvet rope, and valet parking right here in front,” I said as I pulled into a parking spot in the first row. “A friend of mine told me he woke up in his car here one morning with the sun shining in his eyes, not really knowing where he was or how he got there.” “That’s pathetic,” said Alex, who was possibly learning more about me and my old friends than she wanted.

Getting out of the car, I pointed to the large Kroger next door, “and that is the Disco Kroger.” Atlantan’s are known to nickname their Kroger’s: there’s also the Cruising Kroger, Hipster Kroger, Granny Kroger, even Murder Kroger.

Back in the Limelight’s heyday, the Disco Kroger was named because it was open 24-7, so people exiting the club would pop in for snacks or smokes or condoms or whatever a sweaty, ears-still-ringing, heart-still-pumping-to-the-beat-of-the-music kid needed at 3 in the morning.

Another friend of mine’s mother used to shop there late at night. Her advice to her son: “Nothing good happens after midnight. Only drunks and lunatics are out.” I’m not sure if she was the former or latter, but she had a point.

Walking into the World Market/Limelight we heard what sounded like Turkish instrumental music. Alex said only half joking, “I was kinda’ hoping they’d be playing disco.” There was an older employee sullenly stocking shelves. “He could use a little disco,” I murmured a little loudly. The man perked up when he heard this and smiled, so I asked him: “do you remember what used to be here?” “Do I! I was a regular!” he said; “still am, I guess.”

After a few crazy stories from his Limelight days, he informed us that this was all going to be gone soon anyway to make room for new office buildings or some-such thing. “That’s a shame,” I said, taking it all in. “How about the Disco Kroger? Will it stay?” “Probably not, they have a new spot just up the road.” “And the disco ball?” (Apparently the old disco ball from the Limelight was now in the Disco Kroger.) “No idea,” he answered, “but I hope someone keeps it. Boy, if that ball could talk…” he said, shaking his head wistfully as he went back to work.

The homogenization of Atlanta continues, but hey, the memories are stayin’ alive…. I’ve got a great idea for the new owners: Make the old disco ball the center-piece of the whole new development and call the place Disco Plaza! And hire the World Market guy to be a doyenne. Now that would help keep Atlanta quirky.

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Roswell GA not NM

When we moved from LA to Roswell, Georgia, our friends made jokes about hillbillies and aliens. They had the wrong Roswell of course: the only aliens in our Roswell are folks from other countries, like the Frenchman who started a gourmet market with his American wife; and as for hillbillies, they are further in the hills than this Atlanta suburb.

Roswell may not be our be-all end-all, but it has been a nice place to live. The main drag, Canton Street, is about one mile of franchise-free space. It has a unique walkable atmosphere with old houses and brick buildings made into restaurants, bars, art galleries and such. (Alex has some of her fine art photography in Roswell Provisions, the French market. You can see some of her photos here.)

On Canton Street there are always people walking from place to place, or lounging at outdoor tables. There’s an open-carry law, and not the gun kind, that lets you take your drinks with you as you stroll around. The area has even become a draw for the younger, hipper, city crowd. I met a girl in her early twenties at a business meeting who lived in the always desirable Buckhead. When I told her I lived in Roswell, I thought she’d say “that’s nice,” but instead replied, “oh, that’s so cool. We take Ubers up there all the time!”

We’ve found some hidden gems in the area as well. There’s an old mill that harnessed the power of an offshoot of the Chattahoochee river more than 150 years ago. The mill area has a covered bridge, trails and historic markers that lead to a dam. The dam creates a man-made waterfall. In summer kids swim under and even underneath the falling water. So far, the mill area hasn’t been lawyerized with protective fences and redundant signage, or monetized with parking and entrance fees.

There are examples of antebellum architecture in the handful of columned old founder’s homes that somehow survived Sherman’s fiery path. Bulloch Hall sits on probably the highest point in Roswell with a wide wraparound porch and sprawling grounds. Roosevelt’s mother lived here as a young girl. It’s a good place to have a picnic under the shade of its giant oak trees, or sit on a rocking chair on the porch and imagine you’re Rhett and Scarlett.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all old south antebellum either. Alex wouldn’t have moved here if there wasn’t easy access to a Costco, Trader Joe’s, Michael’s, or Jo-Ann’s. Places I’m sure Rhett would say he didn’t give a damn about, and then find himself following Scarlett around looking for fabric she could fasten into her next gown…just as long as he was able to have a mint julep on the porch when they got home.

We’ve found that Roswell has something for all the Rhett’s and Scarlett’s, LA expats, and even aliens and hillbillies.

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