Month: November 2006

Farewell, Miss Anita

Anita O'Day

About five or six years ago, I found myself in severely reduced circumstances. The SAG commercial strike and ensuing fallout had eviscerated my bank account; for the first time in a long time, I found myself unable to scrape up the considerable cash required to get my usual cut and color (single-process, nothing fancy) at the high-falutin’ salon. (Well, it was that or booze, and you can pick the horse that’s gonna win that race.)

My boyfriend at the time, The Youngster, had found an unusual hair stylist in Hollywood. Tony’s initial allure was the 24-hour service he promised in his yellow pages ad, and The Youngster needed a 6am haircut or somesuch to make an 8am appointment.

It turned out that one needed to give Tony a bit of advance notice to book 16 of the 24, but not much. It also turned out that Tony, who had been Stylist to the Stars back in the day, charged a mere $20 for a ladies’ cut, $40 if you threw in a color and brought your own. Which I did, happily.

One day, The Youngster came back from a cut (no color) all a-fluffle. Tony had let slip the name of one of his more famous clients, hell, maybe his sole famous client: Anita O’Day.

If you are not a jazz fan, the name might not mean anything to you. Anita O’Day never got big-big like Ella or Billie or Dinah or Sarah or any of the one-name songstresses. No matter. A complete iconoclast in her phrasing, her dress, her very life, she was she-bop itself, jazz-cool from her head to her toes. As one of the talking heads in the docu of her life points out (trailer on YouTube), she was the first vocalist on the Verve label, the first, and what she lacked in vibrato she made up for in every other way. She had a way of bending a song to her will so that it was almost unrecognizable…and yet, once you heard it, you had a hard time imagining it sung any other way.

My personal favorite was her rendition of “Johnny One-Note,” an old showtune she grabbed hold of and forever blew the hokum from. The most famous example (caught on film, anyway) is probably her dazzling take on “Tea for Two.” (You can catch a clip of her famous performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival here on YouTube, and how exactly did we obsess over people before YouTube, anyway?)

Of course, I wasted no time blabbing my love for “Miss Anita” (Tony’s name for her), and Tony, ever cool, mentioned he might be able to arrange things so I could meet her. Sure enough, a month or so later, I got a call from him suggesting I hightail it over.

I tried to be cool when we were introduced and failed miserably; for her part, Miss Anita was as down to earth as you could want musical idol to be. Plus which she looked twenty times better than I did. Thirty. It was pouring rain, and she was getting ready to call a cab when Tony flashed me a look. I immediately offered myself up as chauffeur, and moments later, we were tooling over to her apartment in my Corolla, me and Miss Anita O’Day.

Me!!! Inches away from an 80-something star who had sung with Benny Goodman, who had beat heroin and hooch, who had gone from from the heights to the pits and back and was just as nice and normal as the day is long…except for that glow. Star wattage.

I have no idea what we talked about during that ten-minute ride; I only know it ended too soon and cheered me for months afterward.

Despite Tony’s assurance that we’d someday take in a show, that day never materialized. She was ill or I was ill, it was a time of illness, I guess. But it’s almost better that the last real-life memory I have of Miss Anita is of her climbing out of my old car in the rain. I like my stars up close and in person, and sometimes, even a little damp…


Anita O’Day, 1919–2006
(official website | wikipedia)

Image of Anita O’Day at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival from the York University website.

I am caffeine’s bitch


In the pantheon of Not Getting Things Done, this weekend was King-Daddy Slackoff. Part of the problem was a profound and unanticipated Need For Rest; another part was Family In Town (which is to say, not a problem at all, these are fun relatives.)

The biggest culprit was a return of my old pal, the urinary tract infection. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a UTI, imagine a white-hot poker being shoved up your urethra while your bladder is full of pee, and someone squeezing on your belly to keep you from releasing either. And that’s the part you can discuss in mixed company.

I was raised to fear medicine, and so will put up with eight other kinds of pain, post-surgical, pre-colonoscopic, etc, but I am a baby when it comes to white-hot pokers up my urethra. When it became clear that two glasses of cranberry juice and an extra trip to the can was not going to right matters, I phoned my OB/GYN doc’s answering service and, after a brief but tense exchange (“I’m sorry, we don’t have 24-hour emergency contact for yeast infections”), got her to call the doc on call, who immediately called back with a prescription for my new best friend, nitrofurantoin. Sweet relief, right?

Well, sort of. The white-hot poker has been exchanged for mind-bending headache that threatens to blind me, a side effect of severe caffeine withdrawal for which there is no cure…save caffeine.

I thought I would make it. Really, I did. I AM TOUGH!!!! And I was tough until about 4pm, when it was either stab my own eyes out or give in to a cup of Barry’s. Weak Barry’s, for a weak communicatrix.

So it’s clear that I need to add this to the list of things to grapple with in the not-too-distant future. Caffeine isn’t exactly nature’s RX for Crohn’s disease, I know; I just hadn’t realized how off the diet I’d actually gotten.

Crap on a cracker. Coffee, tea, reality television, what am I not addicted to…?


Photo by kana* via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Second annual Thank Your First Commenter Day

shut down

Neil Kramer knows that we are nothing without our commenters. And I know I am nothing without Neil Kramer, who is not only one of my more loyal commenters, but one of my most famous, if you count blogging as some kind of fame. And I do. Oh, boy, do I ever.

And so, on the eve of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, I am participating in Neil’s second annual Thank Your First Commenter Day.

My great thanks this year go out to my pal, Heseon Park, journalist extraordinaire and fellow student in Sewing for Total Idiots at LACC, who commented almost exactly two years ago on my post about one of the last shows I was to act in, the 2004 iteration of Ken Roht’s annual “99¢ show.”

My great thanks almost went out to Mari, who left a comment on an earlier post about listmaking. But Mari didn’t leave her comment on my November 10th post until May of the following year. And in the blogosphere, timeliness is everything.

So I’ll trot off to Neil’s now, to leave my own timely comment on his timely post, lest what happened to Mari happen to me…


P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by maxcady808 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Scanning my #$@! photos, Day 21: Intrepid exploratrix


Do I make it look easy? It is. And it isn’t.

I went through hundreds of photos today, looking for the perfect photo to wrap up this salute. And I found some gems, boy howdy. (The fashions! The hairdos!)

But what is most notable in the aggregate (which is the point of this 21-day thing) is the strange and wondrous collection of emotions that going through the photos brings up. And what is most important, I see, at the end of these three weeks, is having gone through them, day by day, photo by photo, scan by scan.

Or, in plainer words, it’s all about the journey. Once you know that, picking the right photo is easy…


Scanning my #$@! photos, Days 19 & 20: If you don’t remember the ’70s, your grandparents weren’t there with a camera

As penance for missing another day (what is it about Fridays, anyway?), a fashion bonanza for lovers and haters of that shining hour for fashion, the 1970s.

Our first stop? The fireplace dyptych. Whether saluting my love for “plaid”…

…or my 1/124th Aztec heritage…

…I did it with verve, pluck, and a certain, Chicago-ey je ne sais wtf?

And speaking of Chicago, let me note right upfront that no matter how chic I was, my Midwestern practicality forbade foolish extravagance. Even without the aid of modern ‘styling’, I knew almost instinctively, how, with the mere replacement of vest and beaded choker with a saucy yarn ‘belt’, to transform my look from ‘wintry elegance’ (above) to ‘springtime sass’:

yarn belt

Of course, stitch wizardry is every fashionista-on-a-budget’s bestest secret weapon. Some girls have Armenian seamstresses; I had “Mom”, who not proved invaluable come Halloween, but was instrumental in creating holiday magic at a price:

Nancy girl

Of course, as I grew up, so did my taste. I started approaching fashion with a more playful eye, and began pushing the envelope when it came to traditional holiday garb:


Summer! Winter! What were these to me but seasonal ‘suggestions’?! I would wear “summer” in “winter”, and “powder blue corduroys” and “Quiana print shirts” whenever the hell I felt like it!!!

Quiana shirt

About this time (age 15-16), I also discovered the subtle allure of fine, French perfume (see Jean Naté spray bottle, above), as well as the sultry allure of a not-smile: what an upside to buck teeth and braces!

Armed with these secret fashion weapons, I was all but unstoppable. It was not until I discovered the culotte, however…


…that my undisputed reign as Queen of Cowtown Style truly began…


Scanning my #$@! photos, Day 18: A face like a map of Old Russia

i love bos ton

It’s been interesting noting what I think and feel as I go through these old, medium and less-old photos.

Sometimes I’m wonder what I would tell the Colleen of That Particular Past were I given the opportunity. Sometimes I struggle to recall how I felt when the photo was taken, and whether or not I actually felt that way or am imposing freshly-minted thoughts and feelings on a ‘memory’ that exists only as a photograph. When the photos are of people and places that pre-date me, I wonder how I would enjoy time-traveling to that spot, whether the people in the photo would like me and I them, whether time travel itself will be possible at some point.

When I pulled this photo out, I debated over whether or not to scan and post it. There’s nothing notable about it really. It’s not funny or striking, and there’s no great story behind it. It was taken by a friend on a trip to Geneva, IL, a distant suburb of Chicago, some utterly forgettable street-art-city fair our excuse for the excursion.

But just as I was about to toss the snap back onto the growing pile in the center of my living room floor, the title of this post flitted (flit? floated?) through my brain. I don’t remember who described my face that way, but I do remember having been vaguely baffled and mildly offended by it. I am the issue of a classically beautiful gentile woman and a classically handsome Jewish man (proof right here, if you can overlook Stupid Period Crewcut) and I ended up looking mostly like the man, which, let’s face it, was not the card to pull in 1961 Chicago if you were planning on being Miss Illinois one day. Which I was, of course, along with Famous Writer, Famous Artist, Famous Actress and Famous Celebrity.

I know it could be worse, which makes me feel worse about feeling bad about it at all. Between my younger sister (who looks like our mother) and me, my parents had a daughter who was born with spina bifida, club feet and Downs. She lived only three months, and given that they started in 1964 or ’65, that was probably a good thing. I’m grateful to look as good as I do and since I got diagnosed with the Crohn’s, I’m even more grateful that I’m as healthy as I am.

Still, it’s always rankled a bit, this looking almost pretty. This sometimespretty: pretty when the light is right or the camera angle great or my mood superb or some mix of the above. It’s ridiculous, because not only have I not suffered from being sometimespretty, it’s largely responsible for a healthy and longish career in acting, as well. In fact, it may have been my first commercial agent who made the remark.

So the reason I paused when I saw this is because I saw it there, finally, that map of Russia. And not only do like it, I’m almost proud of it, although of course what I’m really proud of is that I feel good about my face looking just the way it does.

This is not, in case you’re wondering, a fishing expedition, although it shames me a bit to admit that certain other of these posts have been just that: Here I am, adorable at seven! Here I am, adorable at five! For the love of all that’s holy, please confirm that at the very least, I was adorable at seven and five! I curse this culture and what it does to girls without the persistent and aggressive intervention of responsible grownups (and sometimes, despite it). My mother banned Barbieâ„¢ from the house and was given to pronouncements along the lines of anything given you by Nature can be snatched back in a heartbeat by a speeding truck and a swath of asphalt. (At five she said this! and seven!) But let’s face it, when Mom has the face of a porcelain goddess, it’s hard to take her too seriously.

Speaking of which, that’s probably enough seriousness for one day. I think I’ll go see if I can dig out that meeting of Grampa’s wife and his mistress, or maybe another one of those pictures of me digging for gold south of the equator…


Scanning my #$@! photos, Day 17: The other Miss Ciccone

You know that whole vogueing thing Madonna lifted from the gays back in the 90’s?

Fuck Madonna.

I didn’t need videos or bustiers to strike a pose; I worked my shit in polyester turtlenecks and matching red barrettes from Walgreens.

Poker Butt

And those big, elaborate shows she’s so famous for? Ha! Cast your eyes on this, peoples. I didn’t have to go hire expensive backup dancers: I got my sister to dance and play lead!

Tamborine dance

Nor did I need an elaborate production as backdrop to strike my poses. I just hit the stairs, grabbed the nearest walking stick and worked it. In my Sunday-Go-To-Meetin’ clothes, no less. Take that, Material Girl!

cane dance

And just in case you think all that early vogueing was a fluke, that she didn’t blatantly steal my act and run with it, I would like to point out that I was doing yoga in 1970, back when only skinny Hindu dudes and that Lilias chick did it:

Enough. No need to rub it in. Clearly, I have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt who staked out this territory first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go adopt an African infant…