January 26, 2016

Garbo, Beatniks and Camille

Thanks to all of you who sent me ideas for this blog.  I now have a lot to think about and, no doubt, will be writing about quite soon. This week I'm writing another reminiscence at the request of my son. Next week while I'm on vacation, my wonderful great-niece, Grace Cheney, has agreed to fill in for me. I'm sure you'll love it! 

I was once a beatnik. For a very short time, perhaps, but a beatnik none the less. Who remembers beatniks? The 1950's non-conformist generation of men and women who wore sunglasses, dressed in black, often topping their ensembles with berets. They played the bongo drums and smoked a lot. The men had little goatees and the women didn't tease their hair and wore it long. They read blank verse and listened to strange music in subterranean coffee houses.

At least that's the picture I remember. The Beat generation was about twelve years before my own teenage angst. I fell somewhere between beatniks and hippies and flower children. But, quite honestly, I was really just preppy - or as preppy as I could afford to be.

Part of this dress style (the not-a-beatnik part) was due to the fact that my mother disapproved of black and made me wear make-up. Her feeling was that since other people had to look at me it was the least I could do. The other part (not-a-flower-child part) was that I never felt comfortable in long flowing skirts. They are not attractive on ladies with Clover Butt Syndrome which afflicted me and my sisters. I did a few years later have a pair of bell-bottom jeans to which I attached a colorful trim at the hem when they shrunk, but that's about as radical as I got.

So in my dress, if not my politics, I was very conservative. Linda, my best friend, and I must have looked like fraternal twins much of the time. Pageboy haircuts (me, blond; Linda, black), Villager shirt-waist dresses, Bass Weejun loafers. We sometimes mixed things up a bit and wore A-line skirts with matching sweaters and knee socks. In no way could anyone have considered us 'out there' just by catching a glimpse.

This brings us to an afternoon at the Circle Theatre. The Circle was a wonderful movie theater. Located at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue it ran old movies for the unbelievable price of $1 for a matinee and $2 for an evening show. Linda and I were frequent patrons. We loved old movies. They were great and uncensored. I mean to tell you I saw full frontal nudity for the first time when Hedy Lamarr ran through a forest in Ecstasy.

We loved the great Greta Garbo. We saw her in Grand Hotel and Mata Hari. On the afternoon in question (a strange phrase since absolutely no one has questioned me about it) Linda and I went to see Camille.

Now, remember, we were very young and not always the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. The theater was almost empty, a few people down front and one older lady sitting a couple of rows behind us. We watched the entire movie with rapt attention. As it neared the end there was silence in the auditorium except for the sniffles of the lady behind us. Greta lay dying of consumption with Robert Taylor at her side. It was dramatic. It was tragic. Then Robert spoke her name, 'Marguerite'.

Perhaps our attention was not as rapt as we thought because Linda and I were stunned. We looked at each other and said in unison and quite loudly, "Marguerite? I thought her name was Camille!" At which the poor old lady behind us hissed equally loudly, "Shhhh! Beatniks!" So there you have it, my Jack Kerouac moment.

I never did become a Beatnik, but I have become an older lady who loudly shushes chatty people in movie theaters, but I never call them Beatniks.

January 15, 2016

Why I like to write

Wednesday evening I took part in an authors' panel sponsored by Sisters in Crime, a wonderful organizations for mystery writers and fans. It was held at the Beatley Library in Alexandria. 

This is a bit of a trek for me, especially at night. But my sister, Chris, went with me. She's a dead game sport, as my mother used to say, and always willing to accompany me wherever I might be headed from Rehoboth Beach to Alexandria.

We made the trip over without mishap. It was daylight and Chris could read the written directions I had printed. We had only one small hitch going the wrong way on Duke Street, easily corrected.

At any rate, we got there early as planned and had a leisurely dinner at a very nice Mexican restaurant. Then onto the library for the panel. I was nervous, as I always am when doing just about anything. Truth is, I get nervous writing this blog. But the other panel members - Art Taylor, Sherry Harris, Maya Corrigan, Claudia Lefevre - were warm and welcoming and very easy to talk to.

Art led the discussion and we had a lovely audience. The discussion was interesting, the other panelists knowledgeable, and I even sold a few books, which is always nice.

The trip home didn't go quite as smoothly as the trip over. I don't know Virginia roads at all. I am not comfortable driving at night really and my GPS had some serious issues about what constitutes 'keeping left'. We got rather lost.

Alone I would not have been a happy camper. But with my trusty sidekick in the passenger seat, we managed to find it all quite amusing as we wended our way through unchartered territory. And somehow we made it back, unscathed, no thanks to my Global Positioning System. I came home in a good mood.

The morning after I began to think about the discussion. I rather think I must have sounded like a scatty old lady. I'm pretty sure my thoughts weren't clear. My mind tends to drift from topic to topic, so my answers probably made no sense. I began feeling that I made an ass of myself. This may or may not be the case. Chris says I sounded fine, but what is she going to say? She's my sister. This is what I always do after speaking somewhere.

And this is why I love writing. My characters always say exactly what I want them to say because I get do-overs! Just like writing this blog. I get to edit, cut and prune. Choose the right word. Take out the wrong word. Clarify when necessary. Add the witty riposte. It's not that writing is easy. It's not. But it can be just so much fun, at times. And when I'm typing, not talking, I usually don't feel like an idiot.