I brag about my children. It’s fun. It comes from being proud of them. The next best thing to bragging about your children is bragging about their friends.
Elle King and my daughter Camelia became friends in high school. Now I feel sure that Elle King will become a superstar. Her debut EP will be released on June 12th. Currently, she has three songs on iTunes including “Playing for Keeps” which has been selected as the theme song for a new TV Show “Mob Wives Chicago”.
Elle King has a molten voice and eyes as blue as the Mayan cenotes. If I had to use one word to describe Elle, it would be – EXHUBERANCE. I remember the college road trip we took in upstate New York. Elle and Camelia spent hours in the woods building a fort. Later that night when we were sitting around a bonfire, they laughed about how into it they were, hardly talking while they worked, intent upon building that fort like children, schlepping wood and sweating under their jackets in the cool autumn air. Elle does everything “with feeling”, so no wonder her music is so true.
I hope that the next time Elle plays New York, she will invite me backstage. I will bring her roses, and then I will delight in bragging about that. cierto.
I love this video of her singing “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers.
May 11, 2003, on the anniversary of my mother’s birth in the year of her death, I was walking home with my daughter Camelia in the late afternoon sun. The street trees in front of the apartment building were heavy with brand new leaves. They cast dappled shadows on the sidewalk in front of our door, so that at first we did not see the little dove standing there. We approached her slowly and she did not move. We were surprised that she let us get so close. Suddenly, she flew up like a helicopter into the tree. She was clumsy and it was clear she was not used to flying. She then soared off the tree and slammed into the garden fence. This stunned her and she fell to the ground. I was able to pick her up. I cupped her in my hands and brought her inside. While Camelia unlocked our front door, the little dove’s pupils dilated wildly with fear and her head turned all the way around like Regan in the Exorcist. I told Camelia to go fetch the dog kennel from the basement to put her in. The dove was home.
My mother had a ringneck dove she named Cucu. She and my father found the dove sitting on the hood of their car in the garage one cold morning in late autumn. They could see that it was not a wild animal and it would not make it through the coming winter outdoors. Like mine, it was an escaped pet. The dove allowed them to capture him and cup him in their hands and bring him inside. Cucu became a beloved pet who had free range of my parent’s house. When my mother died, a friend of hers who lived alone promised us that she would let Cucu fly free in her house and so she took him in. At the time, it seemed for the best. But I secretly regretted not having taken Cucu myself.
At the time of our dove’s arrival, it was the first mother’s day I would experience without my mother. The dove is a presence. A gift. She is a balm to my heart.
The brick wall in the hallway looks different now just from the coat of the stucco veneziano in bluish teal. It is as though the brick has come alive. Oona, ever the artist, said “Of course it has come alive, that is the magic of a complementary color”. I see the brick in all its glory for the first time. Every color in every brick and every stroke of the blue plaster pops. I can see nuance in the brick colors that before were in shadow. I see russet colors, greys, creams and even lavenders. This brick was probably laid between the mid-1800’s to the late 1800’s during the boom time in the Lower East Side of New York. As homesteaders in the early 1980s, we unearthed this brick in the interior walls. It was covered in a century’s worth of plaster and wallpaper. We chipped the layers away by hand with a hammer and chisel for a long time till we got to the pure brick. We didn’t work on our individual apartments, we worked collectively, so we were on plaster chipping duties on these walls for months.
I was shitty carpenter. I was bad at measuring and I wasted wood, so I was put on mortar duty. Mortar is more forgiving. The mortar crew was headed up by Smitty, who was an experienced construction worker and he trained a small team of us. We did all of the brickwork in the building. In the warm weather, homesteaders with older kids would bring them in and corral them in a safe part of the building while they worked. I kept an eye on them while I mixed cement. Then they started helping me mix. They made a game of it. We kept the mortar crew supplied with bucket after bucket of cement.
All around us buildings were coming down, victims of the criminal neglect of the landlords who had abandoned them. When a building was torn down, the homesteaders in the vicinity would spread the word and we would all head over there to rescue the brick. We had an enormous canvas mail cart that had been confiscated from a post office. The mortar crew would wheel this cart out and head over to the fallen building. We would find other homesteaders, squatters and gardeners there also rescuing the brick and the stone. We would pick through the rubble to find intact bricks and then stack them on the first floor like cordwood. Our building was restored with the bones of other buildings that didn’t make it.