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The post with no name

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John, Julia and I recently attended a fabulous upholstery workshop in the Applied Arts department at UALR, taught by the wonderful Annie Evelyn (whose assistant was my friend Morgan Hill – both had driven in from Penland, despite the snow). This is my class product, a “lab rat,” which makes a very nice mediation seat, should I ever decide to try that route. But I hope reupholstery and helping John with is fine furniture-making is in the future. I prefer doing to sitting.

People keep asking, though it’s only been a week, how life after regular employment is going – and since I’m so far behind on blogging (though I’ve been writing like mad on another front) that seems as good an excuse as any to do a feeble little post.

So far, so good, would be the answer, and perfect timing in more ways than one. Slipping into that mode has been easy. And, actually, I’m still doing a some work from home, just in casual shoes and clothes.

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In the late ’60s/early ’70s, we just called them “Converse” or “All-Stars,” but these berry Chuck Taylors, which were on sale, to boot, had my name on them. The only pair left was in my size. Perfect retirement shoes, no?

Things are gradually getting a little cleaner around this old house, though soon we’ll make a big mess when the tiling project upstairs gets in full swing, so right now it’s still a losing proposition.

Next week I think I’ll tackle closets and drawers. So many options.

One of the best aspects is having more time for the kiddos.

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What a familiar pose. Like father, like son.

Today was the SoMa Mardi Gras parade – and my duties were nil, which is a nice feeling for a change. John and I walked the girls down, enjoyed the parade as mere spectators, then met the grands for some post-parade fun.

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The parade was fabulous – huge crowd of mostly non-neighborhood folks, it seemed – and great floats.

 

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One of the many SoMa Mardi Gras parade floats. Attendance was spectacular!

Tonight is a belated birthday dinner with Cathy and Paul.

And that’s it for now. Next time will be better. Or not. Time will tell.

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What’s going on?

This year started out crazy in January with Mother’s surgery and my step-father’s horrific death. Many days I find myself wondering if this craziness is the new permanent state of affairs and asking “what’s going on?”

At the macro level, sometimes I feel like I’ve landed in Bizarro World.

Remember Bizarro World Superman comics from a simpler time?

Remember Bizarro World Superman comics from a simpler time?

This isn’t even a major election year, but the political climate in our state and in the country just keeps getting worse, something that didn’t seem possible.

Unrest in the world keeps mounting. Rivers and oceans are rising and wildfires are raging. And what’s up with that storm last night? Arkansas is starting to feel like beachfront property weather-wise.

What’s going on? Have we passed the tipping point for things to be righted? Did we learn nothing from Marvin Gaye? The Vietnam War? The non-weapons of mass destruction and the melting polar ice cap?

Sigh. We do what we can in our daily lives and carry on as best we can. But we need to do better. Our grandchildren deserve it.

OK, I just put my soapbox away – I try to keep it out of this blog. But some days it’s tough.

What’s not tough is finding reasons to keep trying to make things better and to focus on the here and now. We have five of them 7 and younger.

Now, on to what’s going on at the micro level.

• John and I have finally become Bluth-heads. For years Ben and Liz told me how good it was, but we just recently started watching the old Arrested Development on Netflix. Yeah, kids, you were right.

Not only that, but we binge watch.

• And I’ve been staying up too late reading, still. We did stop watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report in bed, especially since our first-generation HD television has turned into black-and-white with a shrinking picture. I won’t tell you what I’m reading yet, though I will say after finishing Bruce, I binge-read a bunch of magazines that had stacked up. We’ll talk more books later. And we’ll save movies for another time soon, too.

• The grandkids keep us hopping and happy.

• And we’ve had more major changes in the house of late. Our upstairs floors are in the process of being sanded – we contracted Zaio’s Hardwood Floor Specialties to do the work – and will soon be polyurethaned. Hallelujah! Right now it’s sawdust central, but you can see how it will look from John’s prior handywork in my office.

Still needs baseboards and more coats of paint, but you can tell how it will look.

Still needs baseboards and more coats of paint, but you can tell how it will look.

After the walls were finished (sheetrock and paint) a while back, John's dream of a large mirror to reflect the double-helix stairs became reality.

After the walls were finished (sheetrock and paint) a while back, John’s dream of a large mirror to reflect the double-helix stairs became reality.

A glimpse of what's to come very soon!

A glimpse of what’s to come very soon!

Zuzu models the new floors. You can tell by the ears she's not so sure about her Vanna White skills. (I think she did just fine.)

Zuzu models the new floors. You can tell by the ears she’s not so sure about her Vanna White skills. (I think she did just fine.)

• Once again I’ve gone much longer between posts than intended. Part of that is because I work from home (I blog over at TheBerniceGarden.org, too, a real pleasure), in addition to having a busy life. But part of it is that I seem to be losing some steam. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the crazy year.

Maybe it’s the 58th birthday approaching in September.

Pooh. Anyway, I’ve got lots of things on my Lolly Diaries agenda.

• One last thing that’s going on: My nephew is in jail once again. He’s been a Crisco-coated eel for 16 years, slipping out of tights spots and sliding through cracks in the system. This time no one’s bailed him out and, though no one expects miracles, hope does spring eternal.

We know he belongs there, but it hurts. My heart aches for my sister and the fact that Mother has cried her eyes out makes me want to punch said nephew real hard. He was a loved child. Sometimes things just turn out crazy.

You’d never guess it to look at any of us, which is a good reminder not to judge people or make assumptions. Life is hard for everyone, and you never really know what’s going on.

You are the sunshine of my life

Today is Pam’s birthday, and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is her ring-song on my phone. That’s because from the time we met, just over 47 years ago when she moved in across the street on Blackhawk Road, we sang duets with or to each other. Not well, but heartfelt.

Stevie’s soothing tune was the last one we crooned to each other, taking alternating lines, during our senior year of high school, so in Laura logic, of course it announces her phone calls today.

Once we were little girls, giggling and silly. In junior high we worked up a killer (and we thought hysterically disrespectful) version of Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” which we performed in the street for the other kids. Pam and I hated country music then and really, really twanged it up, but when some neighbor kids, whose family was seriously into country told us quite earnestly that we should audition for a spot on Tommy Trent’s Fun Barn, we didn’t have the heart to tell them our performance was satire.

Today Pam’s a successful nurse practitioner with her own practice and a great yoga instructor, teaching at the lovely Just Breathe Yoga  in Heber Springs. I’m so proud of her. She knows that, but I want to say it again.

We still turn into giggling girls when we get together, and John tries to be quick with the camera to catch us in the act – but we’re quicker at dodging. We actually let him take this one last fall, but for some reason, it’s super-soft focus (otherwise known as blurry), and I swear we didn’t have him use cheesecloth on the lens.

Old girls

Old girls

We promised we’d live in the same neighborhood as adults and that our kids would play together, which we did and they did. We made a promise when we were kids that we’d remain friends, which we’ve done. We’re family by choice.

Happy birthday, Pam! Love you.

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Speaking of old girls, but on a workout note, I did a new one today,  Zayna Gold’s Boston Body Barre Sculpt Express. Really, really good and tough but gentle enough for girls in our age bracket. It’s a keeper, and I may have to get her other DVD. It’s like the Lotte Berke Method workouts, but with an age-appropriate friend taking you through the routines, instead of a perky young thing bouncing along or a drill-instructor young thing telling you to do things that will cause you injury.

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Two thumbs up – or, considering the nature of the workout, two butt cheeks up.

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And on one last note, my old man (that would be handsome Pop, my husband, John) will have two pieces of furniture in a StudioMain exhibit for a month, starting Friday at 5 p.m. If you’re local, come see us at the reception from 5 until 8 p.m.; it’s part of Second Friday Art Night, a lovely part of life in Little Rock. (That’s our friend Morgan’s chair, if you click on the StudioMain link.)

Last year his glass-topped coffee table was a big hit. This year it’s his beautiful liquor cabinet and super-fab chair. I’m very pleased for him. He’s a real artist.

I just wish the cabinet weren’t so well-stocked – it’s going to be a long month with all the bottles and glasses sitting on the dining table.

John's handiwork deserves to be exhibited. You can't by this one, but he'll be taking orders soon.

John’s handiwork deserves to be exhibited. You can’t buy this one, but he’ll be taking orders soon.

Main Street

In the 1960s and ’70s one of the coolest things we could do downtown – at 407 Main Street and 516 Louisiana – was go to the movies in style. I’d give, well, not anything, but a lot to have photos of those theaters, but, alas, the only pictures I have of them are in my mind’s eye.

The Center Theater on Main and the Arkansas Theater on Louisiana were old-school movie houses, with red velvet curtains that opened before the show; large, lingering-friendly lobbies; and ushers with flashlights.

I’m not sure if I ever saw anything in the Capitol Theater on the corner of Capitol and Spring or if I just remember seeing the sign after it was closed, but I have vague memories of that, too.

If you’ve never seen a movie in such a theater, you don’t know what you’ve missed. Going to the movies was something of an event back then, similar, in the smallest of ways, to going to “the theatre” in a larger town, or maybe to Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock to see a play or recital – minus the fancy-dress clothes.

Of course we also had the Park Theater in North Little Rock, the Heights Theater on Kavanaugh, three drive-ins, and, in the late 1960s, the “futuristic” Cinema 150 on the corner of Asher and University.

But the downtown theaters were the coolest for junior highers. We could ride the bus to town, hang out for the day shopping (mainly window shopping), grab a bite, then see a movie. If it let out too late, an accommodating parent would pick us up.

For daytime movies, we could take the bus home.

My first somewhat vivid memory of the Center predates junior high by several years, though. When Spencer’s Mountain debuted in 1963, the entire family dressed up to go, even little Cathy, who was 4. 

We should have left her at home, as it turned out, because she was traumatized by the movie and ruined the experience for whichever parent had to take her screaming to the lobby. (Spoiler alert!!!)

Though it was billed as family fare and later spawned the long-running hit TV series The Waltons, seeing Grandfather Spencer crushed by a felled tree was too much for my little sister, who started crying and yelling, “I hate this movie! I want to leave!” My mortified parents tried to hush her, then one of them scooped her up and ran to the lobby.

It was a full house that night, as I remember. I think Daddy wore a suit.

Another major Center Theater memory is of the time Mother had some kind of daytime party for her friends, who brought their kids for me to watch. I must have been 11 or 12 and the children ranged in age from 4ish to 9ish. The moms didn’t want the kids in their hair (Wonder what kind of party that was?? Or maybe they went golfing. Hmmm …), so my job was to take them to see Walt Disney’s Snow White. 

I don’t remember exactly how many kids were in tow, but I know they outnumbered the dwarves. Things went well; remember, these were kindler, gentler times. I’m reasonably sure Pam agreed to help me herd munchkins.

I know Pam was part of my next important Center memory. Mother took us at 12 to see a special presentation of Gone With the Wind. I had just read the book for the first time (of at least six readings so far), and Vivien Leigh had just died, tragically young at 53 and still beautiful.

The curtains opened before the show, closed for intermission, then reopened for the second half. For Pam and me, the experience was a heavenly glimpse of the heyday of Hollywood blockbusters.

But my memories of seeing movies with friends downtown are mostly from the Arkansas Theater, which was on Louisiana. That’s where Gina McDonald and I saw Little Big Man in the ninth grade. At night. One of our parents picked us up.

I was moved and shocked by the movie’s intensity, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. And the book by Thomas Berger is one that you must read, if you haven’t already. You owe it to yourself. Trust me. You’ll forget that Jack Crabbe is fictional.

But I digress.

I’m sure I saw Planet of the Apes there the first time (before the P of A marathons at the drive-ins later) and True Grit. 

As always, forgive me (and correct me!) if I’m wrong – this is all from memory, though I did look up street numbers of the theaters.

One thing I know I remember perfectly is seeing the press sneak preview of The Exorcist at the Center Theater. I had just turned 18 and working part-time in the Arkansas Gazette library, so I scored a pass.

People were screaming and jumping, but, having read the book at 16 (straight through – I stayed up all night reading in our downstairs den on Blackhawk Road), I was able to stay cooler than some.

I still jumped and squirmed, of course. Scary stuff, demons and spirits.

That glorious theater was still filled with a spirit of its own, even in its waning days of life. They both died in the late 1970s. I still miss them.

Downtown

When Petula Clark was belting out “Downtown” on KAAY (1090 on your dial) or on the Ed Sullivan Show – or on my little stereo, because, yes, I owned the album in elementary school – the lyrics weren’t far-fetched at all.

Even in Little Rock, Arkansas, before the late 1970s, downtown was exciting, vibrant, a place to be. Few things were more thrilling in junior high in the late ‘60s than getting up on a Saturday morning, getting dolled up in our mod clothes (and, once we were allowed to wear it, our mod Yardley of London makeup) and catching the bus from Indian Hills to downtown Little Rock for the day.

Oh, the stories I could tell, the memories I could share – and I will, but not right now. Because downtown is alive again, or at least waking up, and that’s what this is about.

Exciting times are here for downtown dwellers, thanks to people with vision – like our friend and Southside Main Street Patron Saint Anita Davis, she of Bernice Garden, the mural next to The Root Cafe, the Cornbread Festival, and a host of other SOMA projects.

Tonight was the fourth Bernice Garden Sculpture Party and Fall Fest. It was hopping and happening, and if you missed it, you missed out.

Bernice Garden has brought so much to the Southside Main Street area. Anita Davis, SOMA patron saint, is the owner – and the striking lady in black and white in the center of the photo, which I shot with my iPhone. Should have brought the big Nikon because the Sculpture party was a beautiful sight. And site.

We were a little south of the old downtown retail area of the bus trips of old, but I still managed to run into two high school friends, just like in the old days.

My friend Kerry owns Dreamland Ballroom, another downtown-revival dream-coming-true. We’re so proud of what she’s doing to restore a noble building with an important history.

Visiting with my friend Toni made me feel like a kid again, even as we discussed our impending 40-year high school reunion. (What? Us??)

This has been a good week for downtowners, and Tuesday was a huge day for the future of downtown. I was moved to tears by the presentation at City Hall of plans (and hopes and dreams) for the creative corridor that is in the works thanks to an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, matching city funds, private investments and more people with vision.

The photos of downtown in the glory days had to have made more eyes than mine misty, but the incredible vision of Stephen Luoni and Marlon Blackwell for the future that could await us is what moves me so – and fills me with hope.

The fences are up around the buildings between Capitol and Sixth. The Rep (where compadre and fellow downtowner Julia and I saw a great Henry V Wednesday night) is going to have artsy neighbors. It’s happening, baby.

Believe it or nay-say (as many continue to do), but exciting times are returning to downtown. You wait and see. The baby steps toward revitalization are getting a longer. Before you know it, we’ll be making great strides.

And someday my grandkids will be talking about the fun they have downtown.