Monday, November 22, 2010

A Window! My Kingdom For a Window!!

I live in a safe, pretty quiet place. Or at least I thought I did. And then on Friday I was awakened by a phone call telling me my car had been broken into. The driver’s side window was obliterated and a honeycomb of shiny aquamarine colored glass was strewn across both seats and the dashboard.
Bits and pieces of window saved for future artistic projects.
 The maintenance staff was already cleaning up the shards on the pavement around my car and helpfully putting a temporary plastic covering on the space where I’d formerly had a window. They pushed the black plastic back so I could look around and see what, if anything, was missing.

**Before I continue, let me make this disclaimer: I am the girl who locks her car no matter where it is, including her parents' driveway in Minnesota. I am also the girl who keeps her car in meticulous condition, inside and out. I love my car and treat it with great care. It is neither an old car, nor a customized car of any sort.**

Right, so where were we…? Oh yes, I was going to tell you what was missing. On first glance the only thing missing was an ancient 2nd generation iPod which I use only in the car and worked about, oh, say 50% of the time. It’s been obsolete for a few years now and it honestly never occurred to me in a million years that anyone would actually break into a car to get it. Everything else seemed to be intact, from my full little Liberty of London coin purse to a Dunkin Donuts gift card that was also pretty full.

Annoyed as I was, I came inside and called the police and was informed that this was a pretty typical crime, some kid looking to pawn something to buy a “dime bag” of some drug. I’m not actually sure what most of that means, but it suffices to say that it was unlikely I was going to get my iPod back. The policeman never even got out of his cruiser, looking over at the mess with a disappointing nonchalance. He then handed me a card with a number on to get the police report.

Excellent, I figured, police report taken care of, I’ll call my insurance company and file a claim and get working on a replacement window.

Um, not so fast. I have a $500 deductible and while the replacing of said window is not cheap, it is under $500. Okay…not amused but, that’s the deal. After a few calls to dealers and glass places, I settled on a national company--recommended by my insurance company--that said they could be out that afternoon. Huzzah and Halleluiah!!

Well, readers, let’s just say that things went down hill from there. I barely got the final chorus of Halleluiahs out when, while doing a more thorough check for missing items I found that the bastard thieves had also taken a small good luck piece--a tiny gold wishbone pin--that had been given to me by someone whom I love very much and which had, in turn, belonged to someone whom he loved very much, his mum. The small pin had been given to her by her father and had watched over me from my car's visor for a couple of years now. I’d not been angry about the iPod, but with this discovery I could immediately feel hot, angry tears streaming down my face and a sourness churning in my stomach. Insult had been added to injury and on top of everything else I needed to break the news that the pin had been stolen. I figured that once I had the window back in and the glass cleaned up I’d take care of that difficult task.

The glass company (to remain nameless for the time being) sent out a very nice gentleman who got straight to work and told me what to expect, etc. About 45 minutes later he calls me back down to the car and tells me there is a small problem--the window wasn’t the right one. It was the right shape, but two small holes, needed for bolts at the base, were not there. He did a quick little plastic treatment and told me they’d reorder the part and someone would be back out the next afternoon. I wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t his fault and I went about my business after a bit of a rant on Twitter.

Saturday morning rolls around and lo and behold, a call from the glass guys. The part had come in wrong again. It was going to be Monday (today) before they could get the part from a dealer or dealer’s vendor. Less amused than ever, but I was polite and thanked them for letting me know.

Morning came today with a renewed sense of hope and feeling that I was going to have a car with all four lovely windows in place once again. Alas, it was not meant to be. This morning’s phone call alerted me to the fact that the dealers hadn’t told them this was a special order and was going to take an additional 3-5 days…and when you add in the holiday, well, it was going to be ANOTHER WEEK. Next Monday. Meaning my car was STILL vulnerable and by the end of this all it would have been so for 10 days.

I really didn’t know what to do upon hearing the news this afternoon. I was furious beyond reason, but no one else was going to get me the glass any sooner at this point since it clearly had to be ordered and shipped in. After a few phone calls to area dealers I realized I was just going to have to suck it up. I asked the young woman on the phone if someone could come out and do a “new and improved” window treatment to get me through the next week…one that is forecast to include inclement weather. She said absolutely and they sent out a very thorough repairman who gave me about as sturdy a temporary window as a girl could hope for. Not perfect, but with any luck, it’ll do.
The "new and improved" temporary window, thanks to Paul!
As for blame…well, I’m as upset with myself as anyone for leaving even a crappy old obsolete piece of electronics in a visible spot in my car. As far as I can tell both the glass guys and the car dealers are equally responsible for how long it will take to get me an actual window, so that’s a wash, I guess. What is always interesting to me, though, especially in a time of crisis, is who steps up. Who comes thru and who doesn’t. It’s a good reminder of who has one’s back, isn’t it?

Oh, and the pin…I did finally tell him about the pin being gone. I sobbed through the telling of the whole sordid story and he interrupted by telling me it was going to be all right. I sniffled through more details and he said of course he was disappointed that the pin had been stolen, but what was most important was that I was okay. This induced more tears at which point he said, ”the pin may be gone, but the sentiments behind it still remain, okay, no one can take those.” 

That'll do...that'll do. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Queen Mum

Ah, there's nothing like a match between an attractive, talented, elegant and well-bred young couple to send the media into a minor feeding frenzy. The speculation about offspring and heirs is quickly zipping across cyberspace and every punter has an opinion.

Zenyatta paddock schooling on November 4, 2010
with her groom, Mario Espinoza. Photo courtesy of Frances J. Karon. 
No, no, I'm not talking about Wills and Kate, though I'm sure the punters and speculators are having their fun with them as well--not to mention the boon to the commemorative china trade. I'm referring to the lucky stallion who will get to be the sire of Zenyatta's first foal and take the meaning of royally-bred to an entirely new level. Who will it be? Who could possibly be good enough for Zenyatta? One of the most poignant moments of Mike Smith's pre-Breeder's Cup 60 Minutes interview came when he was asked about Zenyatta's future in the breeding shed. His response was heartfelt and honest, something you'd expect to hear from any proud human one was good enough for her, not for his special girl.

Z and Mario arriving at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Frances J. Karon.
And she is special. She's brought nothing but joy, grace, and inspiring athletic achievement into the skeptical and often jaded world of racing. But the Queen is now off to bigger and better things, which got me to thinking, anthropomorphically, of course, about what kind of offerings her prospective suitors might bring...

Typically it is the bride's family who worries over a dowry or fortune (see Maureen O'Hara's character in the The Quiet Man for the ideal portrayal of this) but in Zenyatta's case, I think the stallion's connections ought to be, for lack of a better expression, ponying up big time for a chance to be romantically linked (to put it delicately) to a mare of this stature. They ought to come bearing precious gems, special hybrids of apples and carrots, the softest straw and the tastiest oats. Perhaps they can offer up deals with Guinness or luxury bridles and blankets from Hermes. Or maybe one of the stallions is connected to a peppermint manufacturer and brings that to the table, along with just the right balance--an alchemist's secret formula for that magical combination of speed and stamina. And let's not forget the dancing, this girl has serious moves and any worthy male must possess not only the elegant agility of Fred Astaire, but also the sweeping athleticism of Gene Kelly.

Trainer John Shirrefs chats with Z. Photo courtesy of Frances J. Karon
While I realize that equating human comforts and traits to a horse might seem a bit silly, I can't help but want a happy and comfortable future for Zenyatta. I'm personally saddened that I won't get to see her race again, but I take heart in knowing that she'll be as well cared for in motherhood as she was during her racing career and that's how it should be. This wonderful horse who has buoyed spirits and made even non-racing fans sit up and take notice deserves nothing but the best, she's more than earned it.

For those of you who haven't checked out the piece in The Thoroughbred Times about her likely mates, here it is...Zenyatta Retires. And a special thanks to Frances for her up close and personal photos of Z that she kindly let me use for this piece.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hold on a minute...

Still autumn here in southern New England, let's enjoy it while we can!
I got into my car yesterday to run a few errands and switched on the radio. It was still tuned to one of my favorite XM presets, 40s on 4, from the weekend. Instead of hearing a swingy melody from Benny Goodman or a forgotten treasure from Bing Crosby, I heard Dean Martin singing Silver Bells. Huh? Wah? All due respect to Dino, whom I truly do love, but WHAT THE HELL?? It was the only 15th of November, still 10 days out from Thanksgiving (!), and my radio was already pushing Christmas at me. 

Well I'm stopping the presses and slamming on the brakes this year. Autumn transitioning into to winter is my favorite time of year. From the hazy, warm, Indian summer days that are sprinkled throughout October to the first snow flakes, I relish every bit of it and I enjoy taking it in. 

And yet, even as I mulishly dig my heels in to slow the progression of the coming weeks, I know that outside forces will be conspiring against me. Okay, that sounded a wee bit paranoid, but you know what I mean. The always lovely Christmas windows at Lord & Taylor in NYC were unveiled last night--complete with an appearance by Santa. Target barely got the Halloween candy into clearance aisles before restocking the shelves with Christmas candy. And let's not allow the television adverts off the hook, they've jumped the gun entirely by bombarding us with Christmas products. I mean really, don't we deserve a little breather between the bellicose and cringe-worthy political campaign advertisements and the silly, over-the-top commercialism of the holiday season? 

I always assume that Americans are worse about this than other cultures because of our general state of rushing about and hurrying in, but in truth, I suppose all of Western culture is guilty of this non-stop quest for what is next or new. In the process, though, we rarely seem to stop and enjoy the present, the now. And I'm as guilty of this as anyone, always longing for, say, the start of the summer season in Saratoga or looking forward with great anticipation to the first snowfall each year. It's great to have things to look forward to, but I know that I sometimes I do so to the detriment of the present. This year, though, even the moody fall days that blow in on a chilly breeze will get their due. It is, after all, autumn in New England. So enough of the pre-Thanksgiving Christmas rush, there'll be plenty of time for Christmas after Thanksgiving, I promise. So save your Christmas tunes and colorful lights, your holiday cards and candy canes, please, until November 26th, at which point I will joyfully and happily share in the countdown to Christmas. 

In the meantime, how about a little lost Bing Crosby-Judy Garland treasure that celebrates my beloved nutmeg state, hmm? 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Legacy

I've been besieged of late, for lack of a better word, by multiple thoughts on the nature of legacy. Musing on the nature of how a story is told or interpreted is nothing new for me, it's been part of my work in both the museum and publishing worlds, but for the past week and a half everything I've encountered--from election results to horse races--seems to boil down to that double-edged sword of a word, legacy.

This entire thought process began about 10 days or so ago when the Snow Monkey and I visited Springwood, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's estate in Hyde Park. I've been there many times, most often to wander around the grounds and soak up some inspiration, but himself, well, he'd never been there so we opted to take the house tour in addition to having a good walk around the grounds. As we meandered through the home it was interesting to eavesdrop on the quiet comments murmured between our fellow tourists and the inquiries made to our guide...there was an air of unspoken respect for the man and for, I hope, his place in history. I'm always amused by his well curated and somewhat cheeky collection of 18th and 19th century British political cartoons; just as I'm always moved by the dumbwaiter (originally used for cumbersome steamer trunks) that was re-purposed as an elevator to allow a wheelchair-bound FDR to get himself to the other levels of the the home. He pulled himself upstairs, essentially, in a small dumbwaiter car, using a rope that must have tested and tired the strength of his entire upper-body. Once outside, amidst the rolling hills and ridiculously beautiful views of the Hudson River, it's nearly impossible to leave Springwood without a sense of the Roosevelt legacy of Franklin and Eleanor. Stop to consider that in addition to repealing Prohibition (my personal favorite of FDR's myriad accomplishments) he also is responsible for creating Social Security, Unemployment Insurance,  the CCC, the WPA, the SEC, and the March of Dimes for starters. And for as much as I fully understand the flaws and foibles of FDR's alphabet soup of recovery programs, this time I left with a sinking feeling that some of the things he'd fought for and left in trust for future generations were actually in a kind of danger.

Yes, I said in danger. Prior to that Sunday afternoon, pre-2010 election, I had read of and watched politicians from a handful of states stumping and advocating for the dissolution (or serious dismembering) of programs like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance. These upstart sorts, to my mind, were tampering not only with FDR's legacy of compassion and social responsibility, but they were also, in their own way, demolishing important and necessary safety net programs that people count on. Beyond that, we (yes, WE) have also contributed to these programs all of our working lives. This isn't charity, it's something that working people have earned. The Roosevelt administrations of the 1930s and 40s fought hard for us to have these's one of the most important parts of his legacy as far as I'm concerned. Seeing these necessary and enduring pieces of legislation challenged and almost made light of by cavalier and common politicians was worrisome, to say the least. It seems we all need reminders that vigilance is the price we must pay to ensure the future of important legacies handed down to us for protection.

And then, nearly a week after our little Roosevelt excursion, there was the big upset of this past Saturday, Zenyatta being nosed out of her 20th victory and a Breeder's Cup Classic win, by a horse called Blame. For those of you who don't follow horse racing and are now wondering who these horses are, I'm a little sad on your behalf. Go ahead...Google Zenyatta, watch ANY of her races, and then come back, we'll wait for you to get up to speed.

Impressive, right? Kind of makes you want to go back and watch all of her 19 brilliant victories, doesn't it? It's'll find yourself a little teary and most likely cheering wildly for this amazing mare in spite of the fact that you know she's going to win all 19 in style--patented Zenyatta style--coming from behind, her long, rolling strides seeming to eat up the ground.

So this brings us to her 20th start in the Breeder's Cup Classic against the boys. There was talk that she might retire to the breeding shed after this race, and surely with a win, her legacy of greatness would be cemented. However, as most racing fans learn early on, the racing gods and goddesses can be terribly cruel. Heartbreak is built into both baseball and horse racing, it's part of the bargain we accept for the pleasure of sweet swings or an amazing turn of foot. Just as there was no joy in Mudville when the Mighty Casey struck out, there was no joy at Churchill Downs (or anywhere that racing fans congregate) when Zenyatta lost. The elegant, smart, stylish, and cunning mare who had so nobly borne all of our wishes, dreams, and hopes for perfection on her well-bred shoulders came up a nostril short.

Her legacy? Absolutely untarnished for this fan. She's a wonder and a marvel and she has more than earned her place in history with her incredible record of 19 consecutive wins. Race fans will debate and debunk the sometime rivalry of the mighty Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, but at the end of the day, Zenyatta's record speaks for itself. I have such love and respect for both these mares and their connections that I mostly just consider myself lucky to have been able to watch them race so many times. I often bemoan not being around to watch in person Secretariat's Belmont blow-out or Seabiscuit's match race against War Admiral, but instead I've been able to watch Zenyatta and Rachel. Not such a bad trade off, all things considered.

My hope is that when Zenyatta does eventually make her way to the breeding shed that she'll throw beautiful and talented foals for us to marvel at and cheer on for generations to come. Now that's a and stunning little mini-Zenyattas making their way to a racetrack near you in 2014 or 2015!

On a closing note, a much smaller, but more personal legacy that I consider myself the keeper of--along with my family, of course. The photo of the clothespins above was taken on the porch of my maternal grandparent's home in Fountain City, Wisconsin. The porch looks out over the Mississippi River, rather lazy at that spot, and bears witness to seasonal voyages of numerous barges and the occasional long ago visits from the Delta Queen, a historic sternwheel steamboat, complete with calliope. The twine clothesline and clothespins pictured are a tactile representation of my grandmother's philosophy and work ethic. Hand embroidered dish towels, plastic baggies turned inside out for reuse, and colorful--if threadbare--aprons were fixtures on that length of twine. After big dinners with lots of cousins and family present the day would end with the lines covered with wet dish towels, or pieces of butcher's paper--all hung to dry with a view of the river rolling calmly by.

The sight of an old wooden clothespin never fails to remind me of my "Grandma K" and her own little legacy of daughters who sew, embroider, and quilt (to this day) and grandchildren who cherish and recall fondly her handiworks, fresh bread, popcorn parties, and chaotic fishing expeditions.

Legacies can be national, political, ordinary, and even equine in nature. More important is that we recognize the pieces of history, large and small, that are entrusted to us to care for and nurture for coming generations.