Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home, Consolidated

A Good Sunday - A nice snowfall last night preceded by two hours of steady sleet left Kansas City with a solid base of ice, hiding ominously under the snow. Any spots where the plows didn’t reach presented morning drivers with a tricky challenge to be sure. So, after putting it off for two weeks, I figured it was time to finally stop into the Home Depot to grab a couple of sand bags for the Vibe's backside.

After lifting the two 60 lb. tube bags into the hatchback trunk, I headed downtown to the River Market, needing some fruit - lemons and limes, in particular. Okay, call me stingy but I simply refuse to pay .89 for a friggin' lemon. I don't know, maybe it's all those years working in the tomato and produce business; I suppose, I know too much. So, the River Market it was.

Seriously, I love this place. It’s not exactly Faniuel Hall/Quincy Market, where I worked for four years while a BU undergrad and then some time afterwards. But it’s a good reminder and, for now, that's enough for me. Something about marketplaces excites me, makes me feel good. People food shopping, selling their goods, produce, jams, pies, flowers, nicknack's. Just being in the bracing air gets the blood pumping and brings a wide smile to my face.

Sure enough, 5 lemons or limes for a buck, can’t beat it. Corollo’s Italian Deli sells produce so that's where I made my purchase, chatting for a bit with, Mike, one of the owners. I’d been in his store a few times before to get fresh Parmesan and pasta and it’s yet another reminder of home. The fresh bread, Italian meats displayed in the glass counter, cheeses, olives in the barrels; all kinds of olives oils and vinegars, coffees, sauces. I was pretty hungry (so, what's new?), but it was way too early for that kind of thing. (That's the almost 50 in me talking there). And besides, I’m in the midst of a campaign to clean up the diet so … much of that stuff is on hold for the moment. I do, however, see a fresh Italian hero treat in my future. And Corrolo’s is the place for that. I’ll be back. And the next time, it won't be for lemons.

Home, Consolidated
- "Chinatown Food Market" - I’d seen the sign on the large brick building every time I’d been in the market area, but never went in. There always seemed to be a reason to take the other turn. This morning? Fresh snow, clean air, my morning task completed ... it was time to check it out.

As soon as I walked in, things felt familiar. But not in the frantic way I remember it. You see, having lived in NYC for so many years, I'd often made my way down to Chinatown and was always stimulated by the visit. A subway ride downtown often left me feeling as though I'd taken a trip to another country. Seriously, for any of you who have been there, doesn't it feel that way? It's as though you've left the U.S. for a while to do some shopping. Sure, the heat's oppressive in July and the mass of people, the chaotic zig zagging of cars, bicycles, trucks. The noise, horns, engines rumbling, choking the street with fumes. You name the sense, it gets pummeled when you step into NYC’s Chinatown. And my hunch is it’s that way in any urban Chinatown. I always had mixed feelings when I trekked down there, extreme feelings; the "love-hate" thing again. Loved the food, (roast pork buns, in particular) smells, array of goods - the variety of people. Hated the noise, chaos - the mass of people.

Enter, Kansas City’s Chinatown Food Market. It’s as though someone drew a square box around NYC’s version, pushed in from each of the sides and then down and up from the top and bottom, cropping and shrinking the box so it would then fit into this one little (not so little, by the way) store in the Midwest marketplace. No chaos. No blaring horns. No car fumes. Just … good stuff. And lots of it.

Fruits, vegetables, many of them strange looking to me; canned and bottled goods of all kinds, sauces, marinades, oils, vinegars, noodles … I had no idea what many of the products were, by the way and certainly wouldn't know what to do with most of them if I bought them. So many strange names and images. One thing is certain - I really want to learn how to cook Asian style. With my kitchen here - finally, I have a chance to stretch my cooking wings - (i.e., I have a place to prep veggies, unlike the West 87th Street place where I had to balance a cutting board on the couch arm to prepare a meal) – so I figure it’s time to make the move; to experiment a little and to do it in a more healthy way. To do that, however, I figure it’s time to get a book to explain not only recipes, but directions in terms of what to buy and how to prepare it. As I browsed through the market, I found myself getting excited at the prospect of cooking great stuff and then inviting friends over for dinner to show it off. After a few practice rounds, no doubt.

Yes. Yes, I Miss The Ocean – I know, this isn't the same, but … I think I stumbled on the place to buy fresh fish in this town. And ... now I’m not sure ... but I think some of the fish I saw in the back may have still been moving. That's a good sign, right? I mean, not for the poor fish, but ...

It was ten on a Sunday morning and the place was pretty busy for a store that had just opened its doors. The first cars that drove up, it was as though all those people made a beeline to the back area where the fresh fish is sold. I snapped a few shots here where you can see customers ordering, the workers in the back gutting, slicing and preparing the orders to people’s specifications. It looked great and reminded me a lot of Haymarket in Boston and, of course, the old Fulton Fish Market in the city. There is nothing, I mean nothing like that smell. You either love or hate it.

On my way out, I met a nice young man at the register named Frank. Thin, glasses, broad smile - we started talking and, after I told him it was my first time there and how much I loved the place, he asked where I was from? It turns out Frank just returned to Kansas City from the West Coast, having spent time in school in LA. I ended up telling him about the book and, as always, figured I'd take a shot at an interview pitch. I mean, you never know, right? Getting Asian Eldercation participants has been a challenge right from the get-go because of the language issue. Frank said he may know a couple of people here so ... we’ll see.

I handed him a card.
Another seed planted; another morning adventure complete.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Part Of The Plan"

Two weeks ago, while working in the library, a song came on my iTune's 70’s radio station – “Part Of The Plan.” I leaned back in the chair, removed my hands from the laptop and looked out The Plaza Library window as the song played. For three minutes, I was back in Myles Standish Hall at Boston University - 1976 - sitting with friends - some getting high, some sipping a beer, some just sitting. Just about any time of day or night, you could walk down the Myles' hallways and hear tunes like "Part of The Plan." If people weren't listening to the likes of Fogelberg or Taylor, you'd hear some Steely Dan, Poco, Eagles, Hall And Oates, Doobie or Allman Brothers, etc ... Those days, there was so much great music to choose from, so many fantastic songwriters and performers. Still, for me, one singer/songwriter really stuck out. Who knows why that happens? We all have someone special - a band, a singer, something that just seems to hit us when it counts, right at the time we most need it.

I think "Stars" may have been the first of his songs I heard. One of my roommates had that "Home Free" record, the one with the face on the front cover that looked like an American Indian. I remember hearing "Stars" and heading directly down to the piano room, it must've been two in the morning and it was absolutely crucial that I learn that song and learn it right away. I must have plunked at those keys for an hour or two until ... well ... what can I say? Some songs just sound better on a guitar. "Stars" is one of those songs.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I have some bad news.”

I heard my brother’s voice on the phone; we'd just finished comparing notes about the Pat's game. Once Stuart assured me a family member wasn't involved, he told me that Dan Fogelberg died today. Prostate Cancer. He was 56.

I’m sitting here writing this tonight because, to tell you the truth, I feel I have to do something. Musically, Dan Fogelberg wrote songs that were not only beautiful - they actually affected me. Sure, for those of you who know me, Billy Joel is obviously still high on my list, as are the Beatles, Stones, Who, Eagles, and so on. But there was something special about Fogelberg’s music. Something that moved me, as well as so many others.

I learned and performed Judy Collins', “Since You Asked,” at my friend Larry’s wedding; it was the Fogelberg/Weisberg rendition that served as the motivator. "Stars," "To the Morning" – those songs carried me through my college re-entry after I’d taken a year off to find myself and take in a bit of the world. That was a hard and very special time for me and certain music is firmly embedded, dare I say it? In my soul. Once exposed to this man's music, I loved everything he released. "Souvenirs" is probably my favorite album – not one weak song on the entire LP. Now, how often does that happen today, if at all? “Part of the Plan,” "There’s A Place In the World for A Gambler,” “Mornin’ Sky,” “Better Change,” ... It’s silly to name every song. They're all terrific.

My Favorite - And then – there’s “Leader of The Band". I just pecked out those four words and my eyes started to well up, I swear it. I don't mean for this to sound morbid but, over the years I've often thought that when my father dies, I'm going to sing that song at his funeral service. And the fact is, I'm pretty sure I’ve already told him I’m going to do just that; this way he won't be surprised when it happens. A singer songwriter himself – I always felt as though Dan Fogelberg had somehow secretly studied my family and wrote a song about my father, as strange as that sounds. It turns out, (and I didn’t know this for sure until today) "Leader Of The Band" is about Fogelberg’s own composer father, Lawrence. And judging from the hundred’s of responses on YouTube under this song title, it’s apparent this composition has hit the “father” mark dead-on when it comes to the great parent/love songs of our time. If you've never heard this track, here’s a link to it. It’s worth a quick listen. Check out the lyrics. Sure, sure ... some of you will say it’s too soft, syrupy, schmaltzy, whatever. You know what? Call me square, but I liked the quieter and often softer times, too. Anger, franticness, tension, conflict - I find I tire of that stuff much more easily these days.

So Here's The Thing ... After I heard "Part Of The Plan" two weeks ago, I found myself browsing iTunes for Dan Fogelberg music. I think it must have been 25 years since I've felt that kind of strong desire to hear those songs again. At first, the quick 30 second clips satisfied my craving. But, after hearing a song or two again, it didn't take long to figure out that clips just weren't going to do the trick. One by one, I started to buy tracks– creating my own Dan Folgelberg’s Greatest Hits collection. And, once I got home, I made sure to burn a CD so I could listen to the songs in the car. And for the past two weeks, that's all I've been listening to.

So, when Stu told me the bad news tonight, I heard the words, paused for a moment and then couldn't help but smile. I told him about my recent Dan Fogelberg music run.

Strange, huh? I've hardly even thought about Dan Fogelberg all these years and certainly didn’t know anything about his illness. I figured with my rekindled interest in his music, it'd be easy to catch him on tour some day soon.

But that’s not going to happen.

"Papa I Don't Think I Said ... " - While visiting with my parents last week in Florida, I had a chance to chat for a bit with my dad one night at the dining room table. We had just finished speaking with my mom who was in the hospital and, after lighting the last night's Hanukkah candles, I thought it would be a good time to ask him some questions - something to add to the Eldercation interview I did with him a few years back. We ended up talking for quite a while about his songwriting and he shared some of his thoughts with me; new things I'd never heard him talk about before, at least not with me. He talked about his love for creating music for people, how he'd sometimes be on the subway in the city, and he'd hear people humming or whistling a line from something he wrote.

“When you die, it’s kind of like being a bit immortal. Your music is still here," he said. "You’ve left something real and special for others to enjoy - even when you’re gone. That’s a good feeling. To know that's what's going to happen.”

Well, thank you, Dan. You've left more than enough for us to enjoy for many years to come.

And when I head into work tomorrow, all I have to do is click on the CD player - the disc is right where it's been for the past two weeks.

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