Sunday, July 27, 2008

End of Mourning

Just like that, it was over. As an official sort of thing, anyway. In Jewish tradition, it is customary to be in mourning for 11 months after the death of a parent. Some traditions hold that it is 11 months from the date of death, others hold that it is 11 months from the date of burial, and yet other hold that it is 11 months from the date of death unless the burial is delayed by 3 or more days, in which case it is from the date of the burial (insert joke about having 2 possibilities and therefore 3 opinions here). We went with 11 months from date of burial.

So, stepping back to last September 1, the mourning period ended on Wednesday, July 23. I'm no longer required to say kaddish for my father except during yizkor and yahrzeit, and his name will no longer be read, except for yahrzeit. Or, perhaps more accurately, I'm required to stop.

Over the days approaching July 23, I thought quite a bit about this particular end. Typically, there's a ceremony at the synagogue to mark the end of mourning, corresponding with the final day; however, due to some communications breakdowns mine has been delayed until the 31st. I get a gift (a daily prayer book signed by the minyan regulars), someone -- the rabbi and maybe a regular -- says a few nice words, then I say something. So I've been thinking what I might say. Typically, while hoisting the fruit picker up the apple tree, or while reaching in for the raspberries -- things I can't much imagine my dad doing (and, considering that his last visit to Michigan was during the height of raspberry season and he went nowhere near the canes, I'm thinking my imagination is reasonably accurate on that one). I haven't yet figured out what I'll say, but in the meantime...

My dad, as I first remember him. I was about 10 when I took this picture, and to me it's the iconic image of him from when I was growing up. Never mind that the camera wasn't level, that my perspective wasn't the best or that I was shooting straight in to the sunset. That's dad, before he grew old, on a routine work day having just come home in the '64 Bonneville (visible behind him), carrying that day's haul of Tuscan Dairy Farms products in his handy carrying case. That's a one quart carton of Orange Drink clearly visible in the front right (not Orange Juice, which in later years I would consume by the half gallon), and it looks like a quart of Pathmark label milk at the back right. There was room in the carrying case for 3 quarts on each side, and it usually came home full. The Omaga watch was missing from his hand that day. Couldn't even guess why. Behind him is the basket he had put up a year or two earlier; it is still in the same spot, looking quite a bit less robust. Ever so slight a smile; whether it's family pride or placating the young photography, I neither know nor care. This was him, in his element, in the spot he had staked out for himself and his family.

Of course, it's not so simple. Nothing ever is. So I thought back, also, to our altercations -- and there were many. Varied in level of seriousness, but what I focused in on was one that was particularly not serious... though I suppose it was different for me at the time: music. In the early '70's, I confess it: I liked Dawn. They weren't known then as "Tony Orlando and Dawn," just "Dawn." I can blame my brother. It started with a song called "Candida," which he decided he liked because it was about a hope for clean air.

But "Knock Three Times," that was my song. From 1971 -- not long before I took that picture. Every hour on WABC 77 radio! The great horn flourish to kick it off, and that classic opening line: "Hey Girl what 'ya doin' down there." The 3 knocks and the twice on the pipe, the dramatic break with strings and, and, and, the key change! How could it be better?

My dad, who had grown up on Benny Goodman, among others (see my note from last year), hated it. He didn't just hate it, clearly, it offended him. He would prance around the living room, intentionally mangling the chorus: "Knock three times if you want me on the ceiling!!"

So, Wednesday was the last day for kaddish. Last day for reading the name. At evening services, his name was read one last time. Then on Thursday, not there anymore. I sat for kaddish, and for the first time in almost a year, had the sensation of listening as others recited the old Aramaic formulations.

Thursday evening, I left work 'bout a quarter to 6. Got to the car, flipped on the XM, and it was on the '70's station. It's one of my presets; I figure it's the era I know best, and also makes it easiest to switch to the '60's and '80's with the least amount of effort. A song was just finishing up, and... the horn flourish!! Now, I don't believe in divine intervention, and if I did, I'd expect that it'd show up in other forms. But at that moment, it sure seemed that it was more than just the XM satellite that was out of this world. So I did the only thing I could: I applauded the transmission from above. Then I realized that, after all these years, despite having bought that old Bell Records single when it was new, that I didn't actually know the words.

So I listened. ok, ok, I always knew the kyrics were a little ridiculous (hey Tony, if you like the girl, why don't you just go downstairs and knock on her door? Why the heck you asking her to knock on the ceiling or the pipes? You expect her to bang the pipes -- twice! -- just to say no? Gimme a break!). But Thursday evening, I just couldn't help laughing at the 2nd verse:
If you look out your window tonight
Pull in the string with the note that's attached to my heart
Read how many times I saw you
How in my silence I adored you
And only in my dreams did that wall between us come apart
Dangling a note out the window?? I see a restraining order in that man's future!

ok, so all's forgiven. And that Tony, maybe he's liable to end up on the ceiling. Knock three times if you want him there.

Me, I still like the song. Call it a guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Homegrown Tomatoes

The days are long and hot. I've gone through the cherries, and the strawberries, and on to the red raspberries and now my hands and arms are sore from the prickers of the black raspberries. The snap peas grew, were snapped up and devoured. Lettuce, too. I've done battle with the mosquitoes to get to the summer apples. And still, no tomatoes! Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Lori plants the seeds in February, they grow under grow-lights in the basement until April 1, but this year was later as the weather stayed cold. Then, outside in the walls of water. And, finally when frost is no longer a threat, uncovered. Sometimes the cherries will be ready first, but usually a hybrid variety called 4th of July. Every year, it seemed, we'd get a mention in the Detroit Free Press for early tomatoes; our best was one year when a cherry delivered on May 31. This year, though, there was nothing early. The poplars next door blocked out too much sun. Nothing in June. Got back from our Michigania sojourn on July 5, and, nothing! It got worse: I had to buy tomatoes in July.

Finally, July 19, there they were: Two red tomatoes!
Then, a couple more on July 20, and one or two each day since.
Summer, it feels like, is finally here.

I went out to iTunes and downloaded a Guy Clark song.
Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Van Morrison in Detroit

Van Morrison doesn't make it to Detroit very often. He was here in 2006, and before then, I have no idea, but it was before I first came here in 1991. I missed that 2006 show, and determined to see Van Morrison perform sometime in my life, joined his mailing list so I'd get a notice on a pre-sale should he ever return. That night happened on Wednesday, and I didn't miss out this time. Though, with Morrison's price structure -- $300 for prime seats -- I found myself 3/4 of the way back on the floor, where it was somewhat more affordable.

Two days before the show, I received a reminder email, including this notice: "There is no late seating for this performance. The concert is scheduled to start at 7:30pm sharp. Seating for late arriving guests will only be accommodated at specific intervals during the performance." Just like at the symphony, I guess. I didn't know quite whether that notice would be accurate, but I wasn't about to chance it. We got to the venue with enough time to grab a beer (but not dinner), only to discover the notice that there would be no alcohol served this evening at the performer's request. We were in our seats with 10 minutes to spare. By 7:30, the Fox Theater was nearly full.

Morrison's 10 piece band went on at 7:31, launching straight in to Wild Night The sound was crystal clear, and quite a bit below earsplitting volume. There was nothing at all wild about it, but it was nice enough to hear. Where I thought Van and the band really caught fire was during the presentation of material from the new album, Keep It Simple. Though there were only 3 selections played, Keep It Simple, That's Entrainment and Behind The Ritual all seemed more passionate live than on disc; in particular "That's Entrainment," with some intricate clapping routines from the background vocalists.

The setlist was short on "greatest hits," really only 3 included. Also included was his version of "Comfortably Numb," which went over well. Van played harp on a few selections, most notably a rave-up of Gloria (which included a snippet of "Who Do You Love", perhaps in tribute to Bo Diddley) to close the night; he also played saxophone -- competently if not inspired -- on a few songs. He didn't have a horn section, though one of his keyboard players doubled on trumpet; I thought this hurt Domino a bit, with the keyboard player having to jump from piano to trumpet and back throughout the song, and the horn parts being just Van on sax and the keyboard player on trumpet. The audience ate it up, though.

Not much speaking by Van, not even to introduce the band. He mentioned that "Comfortably Numb" had been on The Sopranos, and introduced Help Me by saying he was going to do Sonny Boy WIlliamson Chicago Blues song, and he had a few jokes about cowboys and a bunch of name checks of blues heroes, but not a whole lot else. The audience was fine and attentive; personally I just wish I knew his catalogue a bit better. He left on a high note with And The Healing Has Begun, and came back for just the one encore.

After exactly 91 minutes, it was over, and we spilled back on to Woodward Avenue with the sky still light and the ballgame across the street still in the 7th inning. So we drove over to Mexican Town to get our dinner. Driving down Trumbull, we passed by the old Tiger Stadium; demolition work had begun earlier in the day.

The setlist (picked up from another site):
Wild Night
Tupelo Honey/Why Must I Always Explain?
St. Dominick's Preview
Keep It Simple
That's Entrainment
Comfortably Numb
Behind the Ritual
In the Afternoon/Ancient Highway/Raincheck
Rough God
Help Me
The Burning Ground
And the Healing Has Begun

The Band:
Sarah Jory, steel guitar
John Platania, guitar
Paul Moore, bass
Paul Moran, keyboards + trumpet
Tony Fitzgibbon, fiddle
Bobby Ruggiero, percussions
Neil Wilkinson, drums
Katie Kissoon & Vanessa Haynes, background vocals