Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

Say you receive a box of the finest chocolate in the mail. You try one or two pieces just out of curiosity because you're not really the candy type–you're more the beer-and-chips type. But you study the little diagram and you're intrigued. You try another one. You've never heard of anything like these concoctions.

Soon you've sampled each different kind and you know which ones are the best. You eat a couple more of those.

In bed that night you're ill. You wonder if it would be immoral to throw the rest of the candy away in the middle of the night. But this is expensive candy! And others will enjoy it so much–and you don't want to deprive others of pleasure. In the morning you have an idea. You put the box in a giant zip-lock bag and ask your husband–beg your husband–to hide the box. Somewhere where you'll never find it. He complies.

The next day you change your mind. You've recovered and you want just a bite before lunch as an appetite suppressant.

Your husband refuses to retrieve the candy for you. What should you do? Should you be grateful or should you be livid? You thought you were the beer-and-chips type, not the candy type. But now it's Halloween and you've come to know yourself better. You realize that you're definitely the candy type.


To celebrate Halloween we went to the Jewish Community Center and heard R. Crumb talk about his new illustrated Book of Genesis.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Back Home

The light has changed since I left. And the air is heavenly: at night with our windows open, and walking on the beach and the Coastal Trail.

I think a little part of my mom–a part that used to drive me crazy–took up residence inside of me when she died. When Tom and I were driving to Fall Branch from Chattanooga, I noticed the leaves changing and how piercingly beautiful they were. It used to drive me mad when I'd be going somewhere with Mom and she'd exclaim over the leaves or the flowers or the scenery. She would see a beautiful tree and cry out and I would nearly drive off the road. Now here I was.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Care Package

When my cuz took me to dinner a couple weeks ago she pulled out her Kindle to show me. I swooned.

We talked a little about books and she asked me if I had read Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and the other Girl book), and I asked her if she had read anything by Lorrie Moore. I hadn't and she hadn't, so she offered to send me the Girl books. I said, "Oh, no. Don't do that. Katy made me order Birds of America and it's waiting at the library already, so I'll pick up a Girl book there too."

During the past few weeks I had lots of e-mails like this one from my cuz:

Please let me know what practical help I can be when you figure that out. I am an excellent mover, packer, organizer, lunch bringer and drink pourer.

Then I got a phone call from her. I stepped outside my mom's room to talk. Things weren't going so well and she asked again what she could do. I didn't know! There really was nothing!

She asked if she could send anything. I thought of the books she had offered to send, and said, "Don't send those books. They're waiting at the library for me." But then I lightened up for a moment: "You could send me a Kindle. One just like yours." (That was the bratty little cousin coming out, the one who always begged to tag along to the Beatles movies with Carol and her pals and who sulked when she wasn't allowed.)

Guess what was waiting for me when I got home last night?

p.s. That's our grandmother (my mother's mother, Carol's father's mother) in the gold frame.

Three Sisters

Katy moved from New York to Limestone, TN about five years ago. Even though I've traveled to Chattanooga often during the past five years, I've never been able to drive up and visit her. This time, on my way to Fall Branch with Tom on Saturday, we made sure to stop by. Both of her sisters were there!

That's Katy on the left, the artist and photographer. She made Assam tea. Faith, in the middle, sells antiques. She brought a box of homemade oatmeal cookies, fresh out of the oven. And Sarah, the beekeeper, brought us two precious jars of honey, which we wrapped in swaddling clothes and checked at US Airways counter.

Katy's mother's gorgeous house, built in 1835, is for sale.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


From: Linda
Subject: Mom
Date: October 20, 2009 4:00:32 PM EDT
To: Gwen

Hi kDish:

Mom died around 6:20 this morning. I had spent the night at the hospital and am so happy that I was with her.

I woke up around 5:30 and heard her breathing slow. I went over and told her I loved her; then her breathing stopped. I thought, "How perfect," and then she started breathing again and her morphine alarm went off. So a nurse came and replaced the morphine cartridge, and I said, "She's breathing less and less." About 6:20 I woke up again and heard no breathing, so I went over to her and stayed by her for awhile. Her forehead was still very warm–but I really had the feeling she had stopped breathing. So I went out and got the nurse, who came in and listened to her heart and pulse and nodded at me that she had died.

We haven't planned a service yet, but I'll let you know about it when we do. I just wanted to tell you what's going on–I'm fine, Tom's here, Aggles is running around taking care of details ... I'm so glad that Mom isn't suffering and fighting anymore.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


It was hard to find Mom a single room at any of the hospitals around, so she's on a floor with stroke patients. Besides pneumonia, she has MRSA and isn't supposed to be around other patients. Mom was brought to this hospital on a crazy night–lots and lots of patients were being admitted. The nurse said that the temperature had dropped about ten degrees outside, and that every time there was a change in temperature–up or down–it brought on strokes.

Two weeks ago we had a full moon. This was when Mom was still in the psych unit, and one of the techs remarked that every time there was a full moon, they admitted twice as many people as usual. I couldn't help thinking, "Silly wives' tale." Aggles asked Mom's nurse here at this hospital if there was any truth to more people turning up in hospitals during the full moon, or if that was an old wives' tale. The nurse said, "The only people who believe that's an old wives' tale are those who don't work in the health profession. If you work in the health profession, you know it's true."

Aggles and I are in the room with Mom and hospice is giving us all comfort and support. Mom isn't able to talk or swallow. Years ago she had signed papers that stated she never wanted to have a feeding tube–so she hasn't had food or water for three days. Still, at first the fact that she wasn't being fed in any way was shocking and very upsetting. After I had dinner in the hospital cafeteria that first evening, I called Tom in tears. I was sure that even with morphine and Ativan, she must be suffering greatly. Tom immediately e-mailed me an article that explained that it actually doesn't cause suffering to a person in Mom's condition to go without food and water.

As of yesterday she has a drip attached for morphine, and we can push a button if we think she needs a little more. Today is the first day she's seemed peaceful–and it's a completely different experience being in the room with her. 

Everyone says that hearing is the last thing to go, so we play soft music and say the things we want to say to her.

SuperAggle, my little sister, has been taking good care of both Mom and me.

Don't Miss Mary Ann at Borders

Mary Ann Stein reads her story Halloween Hell at Borders Union Square today at 3:00. The story is from a newly published book of creepy essays called Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. I'm so upset about missing it that I could stab myself with a bloody rubber dagger.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mother and Daughter

From: Barbara

Subject: Mother and Daughter

Date: October 15, 2009 9:58:37 PM EDT

To: Linda


Here is a Caracara with offspring. The bird with the pink bill is the young one.

Larry took these photos on our way to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on the east coast of Florida, close to the Space coast (where they fly the shuttle). He took them on October 4th of this year around 9.00 am. We were driving along and I saw them, so we turned around and went back and shot them. (we almost did not turn around!!).

Luv, Barbara

Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview With Mark Alan Stamaty

FOR HIS EIGHTH birthday, Mark Alan Stamaty’s parents gave him his very own radio. Little did his mother realize that that innocent-looking plastic box would one day be the gateway for a new kind of sound that would “rock” her nearly out of her mind. . . .

Mark first heard the howling thunder of Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog on the radio one lazy day and his life was forever changed. Soon he was styling his hair like the King and practicing his dance moves with a tennis racket as his pretend guitar in front of the mirror. But his mother lived in constant fear that her son’s new love of rock ’n’ roll would turn him into a juvenile delinquent. Could Mark’s performance at his Cub Scout talent show change her mind?
–Knopf Books for Young Readers

There are scads of brilliant cartoonists and illustrators around, but I like Mark Alan Stamaty the best because he has the most heart and soul. His new book
SHAKE, RATTLE & TURN THAT NOISE DOWN!: How Elvis Shook Up Music, Me and Mom will be out January 12, 2010. But I can't wait that long. I have to ask him some questions now.

Please tell me more about hearing Elvis for the first time. Where were you and how did it affect you?

The first time I heard Elvis Presley's Hound Dog, I was in my room in our house on the Jersey shore. I'd never heard anything like it. The year was 1956 and I was either 8 or 9, depending on when exactly that record was released. According to my research, the release date was probably July 13th, but it's hard to nail that down for sure. On August 1st of that year, I turned 9.

My reaction to Elvis was a powerful one. His music overtook me, filled me with a very happy feeling, made me want to move and dance. I was an instant fan. My mother's reaction was completely the opposite. In my newest book, SHAKE, RATTLE & TURN THAT NOISE DOWN! I tell the story of how Elvis exploded into our home and set off passionately opposing reactions in Mom and me while he was also, by the way, changing the world.

Initially, my mother forbade me to own any of his records. I could only hear him on the radio. She couldn't stand his music. She thought it was just a lot of screaming. My mother's musical tastes were of the previous mainstream era of the Big Bands like Glenn Miller, etc. and singers like Bing Crosby, Helen O'Connell, Perry Como, etc. She didn't think Elvis' records bore any relation to music. Plus, she was afraid that Elvis would turn me into a juvenile delinquent–a prevalent fear among many grown-ups of that era. She couldn't stand his "sneer", etc., etc. But then he came out with Love Me Tender and she was stunned. She couldn't believe he could sing such a sweet ballad like that and she actually let me buy that one Elvis record. But, in so doing, there was one little factor she didn't think of. And suffice it to say, when that little factor manifested–I'm being a little mysterious here–she finally surrendered and let me buy all the Elvis records I wanted. But she still worried and got upset. She still feared that Elvis might be my ruination.

The book already sounds like a classic.

SHAKE, RATTLE & TURN THAT NOISE DOWN was a labor of love for me. It is a very personal story, but I think it is also kind of universal in its depiction of a classic sort of generation gap–a parent not only not appreciating, but, in fact, being horrified by the music and idol of her child. And a child not understanding how his parent could be so upset by something so clearly wonderful. The book also gives some sense of the importance of Elvis in the history of popular music and culture, while at the same time making mention and paying homage to the great musicians who preceded him and the great musicians who, because of Elvis' breakthrough, were able to enjoy much wider popularity in the mainstream of American and world culture. Elvis didn't create Rock 'n' Roll. My book is very clear about that. What he did do was popularize it. And that was no small achievement.

You did your Elvis impersonation for President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. How did that come about?

Our visit took place on Saturday, March 13th, 1993 in the midst of a huge blizzard that was burying Washington in heavy snowdrifts. We were a group of political cartoonists who were in the nation's capital for an annual cartoonists' dinner that was hosted by The Washington Post. It was a small group of about ten or twelve cartoonists, each allowed to bring one guest. Normally, we would meet for dinner on the 9th floor of the Post building. Normally in attendance, in addition to us, were the owner and publisher of the Post, the editorial page editor and a few well-known journalists from print and TV. Added to this each year were two currently prominent political figures - senators, cabinet members, etc. and their spouses. These were one-time invitees. Through the years, the special guests included Sen. Howard Baker, former VP Walter Mondale, Dick and Lynne Cheney (before Cheney had been VP), Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Al Gore (before he was VP), Sen. John Glenn, etc., etc. (The party had originally been started by the former managing editor of the Post, Howard Simons in the early '70s.)

After the meal part of those dinners, the floor would be opened for any of the guests to say whatever he or she might like to say. But essentially this was the time when the cartoonists in particular were kind of expected to tell funny stories. I think this expectation might have originated from the fact that in the early years of this party, Jeff MacNelly and Mike Peters, once they got going, were two hilarious guys. And some of the others could, at times, be too. My political cartooning career started later than some of the other guys, so I got invited into the club after it had been going for a several years. And while on occasion I could come up with a funny story, the thing I could bring to the evening that no one else could was my Elvis impersonation which I had been doing since I was a kid. So, at the very end of every one of those dinners, I would be called on to do my Elvis impersonation to finish off the evening. Meg Greenfield, my editor at the Post, called it "the benediction."

More details, please

The day of our White House visit it was just us cartoonists and our guests. Not everyone had been able to get to Washington on time because of the blizzard. Our group included these cartoonists: Jeff MacNelly, Jim Borgman, Mike Peters, Doug Marlette, and myself. Also with us was the legendary animator of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and creator of the Roadrunner, Chuck Jones, who had been a regular attendee since Mike Peters had befriended him and invited him into our group years before. Tony Auth might have been with us, but I can't recall for sure.

So, first off, we got a tour of the White House and met Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin somewhere downstairs. He was very friendly and spoke with us a bit.

When we finally entered the Oval Office, President Clinton was on the phone and seemed rather preoccupied when he finished and joined us. He was wearing a sweater. He seemed relaxed but rather low-key. We started talking about one thing and another. I asked him a question about health care reform. At some point, Al Gore came in and joined us all. After a while, the Vice President spoke up and said: "In his lifetime, Elvis only visited the White House once, but he's here among us today." I had actually known Al Gore since 1982 when he was in the House of Representatives and professed to be a fan of my comic strip WASHINGTOON that ran on the Washington Post op-ed page every Monday.

So this was my cue to do my Elvis for the president, who, as I understand it, is an Elvis fan. Somewhere I'd heard that the president did an Elvis impersonation–I'm not sure if that was true–so I asked him to do his Elvis but he demurred. So I stood up, took off my jacket and tie, unbuttoned a few shirt buttons, turned up my collar and did my a cappella version of All Shook Up.

What was Clinton's reaction?

It seemed to go over quite well. The president liked it so much he sent an aid up to the closet of his bedroom to get an Elvis Presley necktie he had there, which he signed and gave to me. When we were all leaving and he shook my hand, he leaned in close to my ear and said quietly: "You made this day." As we were heading out of the office, the defense secretary and several other advisers were hurrying in for an emergency meeting about the situation in Bosnia.

What kind of music are you listening to now?

These days I suppose my favorite kind of music to listen to is Blues. I have a lot to learn about Blues, but I love it. Especially a lot of acoustic Blues. And Blues from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Every now and then I hear some contemporary music that really moves me, but the music I love best includes Bob Dylan, James Brown, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Prince, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Simon, the Beatles, Brenda Lee, Tom Waits, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, the Chantels and a bunch of those women's groups from the past. It's a longer list than this. I do mention some of my other favorites in my new book. I love a lot of R&B and doo-wop from the past. And Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock, etc. And I also appreciate Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, which I didn't appreciate until I was in my 30s. I have to admit I have not followed popular music very closely for many years. I think it's generally a hormonal thing that we get formed musically during a certain age range of maybe ages 5 to 25. And after that, a lot of popular music that younger people are listening to starts to become a bit of a blur and everything seems to sound alike.

Do you like to dance?

Sometimes I like to dance. I like to dance when I hear music that makes me want to dance. Al Green, James Brown and Prince are three musicians who can, with some of their records, make it hard for me to stop myself from dancing. So it depends a lot on the music. There are some kinds of music that just don't reach me at all and I can't understand why people are dancing to it. And I like to dance to great slow songs like At Last, etc.

What are you reading these days?

Lately, I'm reading a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, because my next book will be about that subject.

I enjoy reading novels and graphic novels. But I happen to be a very slow reader. I'm not sure if it's the fault of the school system or if I might possibly have some form of dyslexia. But since the first grade when we started reading, I always read slowly and this has been a great frustration in my life because I love to read and I love to learn. So sometimes I reads parts of books and don't have time to finish. I have lots of books that I want to read. I'm trying to think of the last novel I read–it might have been six months ago. But there are a lot of novels and other books that I hold in my hand and want to read and start reading and have to put down to keep up with the race with time.

Among my favorite novels that I have read in the past are: A Confederacy of Dunces, Another Roadside Attraction, Bleak House, and The Catcher in the Rye. I've read lots of others through the years–and longed to read a lot more–but these are favorites I can recall at the moment.

Who are your favorite painters and sculptors?

My favorite painter is Henri Matisse. I think he is the greatest painter of the 20th Century. Other favorites of mine are Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffman, Jackson Pollack, Richard Pousette-Dart, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Fernand Leger, Max Beckmann, Red Grooms, Henri Fantin-Latour, Jean Dubuffet, Wolf Kahn, Sue Coe, Stuart Davis, Jean Dufy, Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley, Marca-Relli, Terry Winters, etc.

When I was in art school, my favorite painter was Chaim Soutine. I still appreciate his genius but he is no longer my favorite.

On the negative side, I think Clifford Still is possibly the most overrated painter in the history of American art.

My favorite sculptors include: Alexander Calder, David Smith, Mark Di Suvero, Kenneth Snelson, Jacques Lipshitz, Picasso, Henri Matisse and Degas.

Of course, I also love Saul Steinberg, George Grosz, Jules Feiffer, Ronald Searle, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and a long list of cartoonists and illustrators. But I've said that in other interviews. I enjoy the chance to talk about painters and sculptors here, because I spend a lot of time in art museums and engaged in the visual world of "fine art."

Shoes. Do you have any in blue suede?

I had a pair of blue suede shoes that I bought in Greenwich Village back in the 1980s specifically for my Elvis act, which I used to do periodically with a band of cartoonist friends. But those shoes killed my feet. They were terrible. Simply walking in them would have been bad enough, but wiggling around doing an Elvis act in them was a life lesson in the dangers of style-over-comfort.


I was first introduced to Mark Alan Stamaty through his book
Who Needs Donuts. Here's a great interview from Rands In Repose all about that book. And here's a wonderful interview from The Education of a Comics Artist by Michael Dooley and Steven Heller.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


We thought Mom might be moving out of the geri-psych hospital yesterday or today–but suddenly, pneumonia. We decided we did not want to treat it–but that was after they had already given her bags of antibiotics in Emergency (before they figured out what it was). Today Aggles showed up with the Sunday paper; I with 55 Mozart piano sonatas freshly downloaded to my iPhone.

Mom was wearing an oxygen mask and was more "with us." But she couldn't begin to comprehend the catheter, which instead of providing comfort caused her considerable upset. The doctor had taken her off all her medication yesterday, thinking that the high white blood cell count might have been due to something she was taking. She was not calm!

Last week I had gotten an oversized book of National Park photos out of the library to show her. I put her glasses on her nose, propped the book on a pillow and turned the pages. When I got to a photo of a river running through the Grand Canyon, she said, "G. O. S. H."

So while Aggles and I were going through her apartment at the Terrace, I found a Scrabble game and poured all the little wooden tiles into a cup. I took them over yesterday. I set her glasses on her nose and spelled out the word "L. O. V. E." This was the worst day and I got no response. I was so rattled that I couldn't think of another word in the world to spell. But then the second most important word in the English language came to me, and I spelled out "F. O. O. D."

At one point today Mom said (it was hard to understand her), "I don't know what to write!" So we decided to each say 3 things that we felt glad about, and I'd write them down. When it was Mom's turn, she said, "My mama. That I got the car down." (What?) "That I was able to get the car down. I believe I did ... ice, and Margaret."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Cousin Carol

Let's take a break and have some fun. My cousin Carol drove up from Atlanta on Sunday. She took me out to dinner at a great joint called Public House.

But listen to this: She just got a patent! For a credit card that releases an aroma (or distinctive smell) when swiped.

And on top of her full-time job she volunteers as an English teacher. I received this e-mail from her today:

From: Carol
Subject: My English classes
Date: October 6, 2009 2:48:22 PM EDT
To: Linda

Linda... as I sit here on a conference call, planning my next class, I
thought I'd share the experience from last week's English class...

I had one of the most challenging English classes...ever. When
I got there, my relatively low-language student from Bangladesh was
there, then came my higher student from Mali, and then the Iranian
couple, then a new student from Mali...we got started and then in walked in the Somali contingent! Five women, their children ranging from ten-ish to babies, and a man I think is their grandfather...who speaks and understands no English...but smiles a lot...all gums.

We started with "tell me about your first job"...that was a treat. One man insisted he had his first job at 51, another said he had been a babysitter all his life, many women never worked...

After that we had a debate, "Is it better to have a job you love, or to make a lot of money?" I assigned teams so they could work together, but that concept didn't go too well since people kept switching sides! "Yah! He is right! I change to him!" Noooooo. Finally, the astute woman from Mali decided that she wanted both and wouldn't make a choice.

Several women had interesting observations that women marry for money so what is the difference in that and a job... (hmmmmm....) They went on to explain that if a man has no money, you should leave him. Then the Iranian man accused the Africans of only caring about money because look how they sold out to Rus-sa.

This was all above the chorus of whiny, tired children, and my constant fear of stepping on the two babies crawling on the floor. (Their moms gave them small, hard round balls to suck on to keep them heart! I about had a stroke.)

Anyway, at the end of a looooong class, the Somalis swore that they had a great time and would be back; the other students said they would return, but wanted a class w/o the Somalians..."too many children!" and the Iranians stayed to ask if I would give them private classes without anyone else. And I volunteer for this??? My plan is to request two separate levels of classes. I think I mentioned that I have invited all the teachers and staff over for "festive beverages" this weekend to get to know them better (and to increase my chances of getting substitutes)!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hello Again

I saw Mom Thursday and I had the feeling that she was dying. Maybe I'm wrong and she'll make a remarkable recovery. When she smiled I couldn't resist getting in bed with her and taking photos. Aggles drove up late that night, and when I showed her the photos her eyes got wide and she informed me that no cameras or cell phones are allowed in the psych ward.

When Mom tries to say something to us we can barely hear her. She worries that she's taking too much of our time and that our grades must be suffering. Yesterday she whispered to me, "Haven't I been through this two or three times lately?" (Yes.) She worries about being able to pay for it. Luckily, Medicare and her insurance are covering her hospital stays. She also talks about "colored blocks"–she asks if someone has offered us any, and we're trying to figure out what she means by that. (Jello?) She isn't able to walk and she can't eat unless someone helps her.

I've been beside myself the whole time I've been here. On Friday morning we had an appointment with Mom's doctor. When I walked out to the rental car, I was shocked to find that I had left the back door wide open the night before. I had lifted my suitcase down from the back seat and just never bothered to close the door–it had been standing open all night long. I was afraid the battery would be dead, but the car started fine.

Is this only Saturday? Today Aggles and I had a tour of St. Barnabas and then walked at the Greenway. I could not pull out into traffic or park in a straight line to save my life. I completely lost my nature and my personality and my confidence. Does this ever happen to you? Luckily Aggles was with me and could laugh and steer me in the right direction. She went to see Mom during visiting hours this afternoon by herself, and I went to the Redbank track and literally ran around in circles for an hour. That helped immensely, along with Aggles' leftover salmon fettucini from last night, and the broccoli cheddar soup from lunch today and the box of Bandit Pinot Grigio.