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More about my daily walks with Jake…

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Of all the walkable places we frequent, the green space at the Jefferson Clubhouse and City Park delivers the most action.

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The Clubhouse, which the city makes available for parties and meetings, sits atop a hill adjacent to a large woods. At the base of the hill are the Boy Scout building, the peewee league ballfields, and a large duck pond.

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Much of the area is grass-covered and under a canopy of trees. The city keeps everything nicely maintained, so it’s a pleasant and picturesque spot.

Better still, Jake and I usually have the place to ourselves. Unless an event is taking place at the clubhouse, or the Scouts are meeting, or the playground is occupied, all is quiet.

For that reason, we often come upon deer grazing on the slopes. Sometimes, we will emerge from behind the Clubhouse building and there, mere yards away, will be a few whitetail deer looking at us.

For a few seconds, time stands still. Then Jake reacts and strains at the leash, and the deer scamper off into the woods.

Deer sightings are a special treat for Jake, even though they happen all the time. Once or twice a week, he watches groups of them pass through the woods beyond my back fence.

Inevitably, he gets excited, and running ensues. Seeing deer, like encountering fellow canines around town, never gets old.

The situation was different with the ducks at the city pond. For a while, Jake was excited and curious and wanted to approach them.

Although he’s a herding dog, his intention when chasing cats and squirrels clearly isn’t to herd them. I’m always careful to keep him restrained.

But with the ducks, the novelty soon wore off. A duck isn’t a deer. Now he ignores them.

When we arrived at the Clubhouse one morning recently, a light rain was falling. The rain gear came out, and we started down this slope behind the Clubhouse.

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Simultaneously, from deep in the woods, came the baying of hounds.

Apparently, several dogs were in pursuit of unknown prey. For a time, their vocalizing moved steadily through the woods from right to left.

Then, abruptly, the baying stopped. We could hear the dogs crashing and snuffling in the undergrowth. They had lost the scent. The prey had eluded them, probably doubled back.

An image came to mind of a fox being pursued by hounds. I imagined the appearance of men on horseback and cries of “Yoicks and away!”

Well, no hunters appeared, but a fox did.

He had, indeed, eluded the dogs and doubled back. He popped out of the woods not 10 yards from us.

He was a large, yellowish-red adult, sleek and healthy. He briefly looked us over, but we were a secondary matter. His first priority was losing the dogs, who were not far away.

He turned and sprinted back to the left across 20 yards of grass, veered into the woods, and was gone. This was a fox with strong survival skills.

I thought Jake would want to take off after the fox. But, like me, he simply watched the drama unfold. We could have been watching television.

The fox was gone, and we heard no more from the hounds. The rain had let up a bit. We continued on to the duck pond to see what we could see.

A few weeks ago, we had arrived at the pond to find a dog on the loose, barking hysterically and chasing the ducks. Feathers flew as they flapped and quacked in panic, but the dog never came close to catching one.

As we watched, a man came running from the adjacent neighborhood. Shouting and cursing, he herded the dog back home. The ducks calmed down, and the pond was its pastoral self again.

Another day, another adventure.

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Happy New Year.

 

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Every day, my dog Jake and I go for a morning walk somewhere around Jefferson.

The walks last about an hour, and Jake proceeds at a faster clip than I prefer. On the positive side, I need the exercise. That, and he pulls me up hills.

The walking habit developed last spring when I adopted him, and it’s irreversible now. Which is fine. We go rain or shine. We both have rain gear.

As you might expect, this ritual is the high point of Jake’s day. He is delirious with joy about every aspect of it: putting on the walking harness, riding in the car with his head out the window, seeing all the people, patrolling for cats and squirrels, the wonderful sights and smells.

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And we walk all over the place. Jefferson is a small town, but it consists of many miles of streets, sidewalks, medians, parks, church and school grounds, etc. We have plenty of choices.

We walk various loops downtown and around the historic districts. We walk at the city reservoir, the civic center, the baseball fields, and the cemeteries. On weekends, we walk around the school grounds, which are sprawling, green, and nicely-maintained.

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We found a grassy path that runs behind the baseball fields.

Being on foot instead of in a car gives you a unique perspective. I’ve learned more about Jefferson in the last few months than in the previous decade.

I’ve had occasion to walk down streets I didn’t know were there. I’ve exchanged pleasantries with numerous strangers — joggers, bike riders, fellow dog-walkers, and people we encounter on their porches.

Jake and I know which houses have dogs and whether the dogs are friendly. We know where various cats live, which of them will flee, and which will stand their ground and give us the evil eye.

We know a house where three parrots live in a cage on the front porch. The parrots ignore passing cars, but not Jake and me. When we come into view, the chorus of squawking begins and continues until we are out of sight.

When the cage was moved indoors for the winter, Jake was baffled. He looked at me as if for an explanation.

High on our list of walking spots is the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm, located a few miles outside of town. The farm is a collection of historic buildings preserved to illustrate life in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in the days of a farming economy.

In addition to the usual barns and sheds, the farm includes a cotton gin, grist mill, blacksmith shop, sawmill, schoolhouse, and other buildings, all from the old days. An ideal spot to wander for a while.

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To Jake, the farm’s resident horses are of special interest.

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The first time he saw them, he was frightened and wanted to be somewhere else. What the heck are those giant beasts? All it took was a sudden whinny, and he bolted. Almost yanked the leash from my hand.

But, after a few visits, he understood they are not only friendly, but fenced in. The fear dissipated. Before long, I expect to see them greet by touching noses.

In my next post, more about our adventures afoot.

 

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“Useless Christmas Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Puritans managed to get Christmas banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree began in Germany, probably during the 1600s, but most of Europe considered it “pagan mockery.” In 1848, Queen Victoria helped everyone lighten up by displaying a tree at Windsor Castle. The fad caught on and soon spread to America.

The word Xmas, which many bible-thumpers claim is sacrilegious, actually is legit. The Greek word for Christ begins with the letter Chi (X), and “Xmas” has been an accepted abbreviation for centuries.

In 1881, a drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast defined how Americans see Santa Claus. That image is the prototype of the Santa we know and love. With a major boost from Coca-Cola.

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The Bing Crosby song White Christmas is the best-selling single in history.

Robert L. May wrote the story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949.

The Poinsettia, popular at Christmas for its red and green foliage, is native to Mexico. Its name derives from Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought it to the U.S. in 1825.

In 1999, the town of Bethel, Maine, set a new record for the world’s tallest snowman. His name was Angus, and he was 113 feet (10 stories) tall. Bethel topped its own record in 2008 with a SnowWoman, Olympia, who was 122 feet (11 stories) tall.

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The first song broadcast from space was Jingle Bells. Astronaut Wally Schirra played it on a harmonica on December 16, 1965, as Gemini VI was preparing to reenter the atmosphere.

In England, before roast turkey became the traditional meat for Christmas dinner, the most popular dish was roasted pig’s head, usually on a bed of greens, slathered with mustard.

Alabama was the first U.S. state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.

Christmas is a popular secular holiday in Japan, and the traditional Christmas meal there is a takeout order of KFC fried chicken. The fad began in the 1970s when a KFC promotion somehow caught fire. During the Christmas season, consumption of KFC in Japan increases tenfold.

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Merii Kurisumasu, y’all.

 

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Homo sapiens! Greedy, pathetic fools with a genetic mania to destroy all the sanctuaries that feed their souls. Well, hell, I don’t give a damn if we’re blotted out. I don’t want to be a part of the human race when I see the pimps in government and the whores who do their bidding. I’d rather be a coyote.

— Katie Lee, ardent conservationist

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Last November, when I heard about the death of the indomitable Katie Lee, the news hit me harder than I expected. I rarely respond so emotionally when someone famous dies.

Katie Lee (1919-2017) was an actress, folksinger, writer, photographer, river runner, and environmental activist. She was a nature lover and a glorious free spirit. To anyone with a heart and a shred of concern for the planet, she was an inspiration.

She certainly inspired me. I admired her passion, her dedication, and her willingness to live life her way. This is a woman who, at age 80, bicycled nude in downtown Jerome, Arizona, in tribute to a deceased friend. The license plate on her Toyota Prius read DAM DAM.

Consider what she did in her 98 years…

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Kathryn Louise Lee was born in Illinois, the daughter of architect Zanna Lee and Ruth Detwiler Lee, an interior decorator. When Katie was three months old, the Lees moved to Tucson, Arizona. Katie grew up there and learned to understand the importance of the natural environment.

When cast in a play in high school, she discovered that she not only had acting skills, but relished the limelight. She had the added advantages of being likable, attractive, and uninhibited.

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After earning a degree in drama from the University of Arizona, Katie moved to Hollywood, the mecca of the young and hopeful. She never attained major stardom, but she acted regularly in small stage and screen parts, as well as in dramas and musicals on radio.

In the 1950s, Katie also began writing and singing folk and country music. Due in part to her engaging personality and irreverent sense of humor, she became friends with many of the music stars of the time. Burl Ives reportedly said, “The best cowboy singer I know is a girl: Katie Lee.”

In 1953, after a performance in Tucson, Katie watched a home movie of a high school friend running rapids on the Colorado River. Katie was smitten, and she pleaded with her friend to take her on his next trip. He did.

Over the next several years, Katie rowed, paddled, and motored the Colorado and San Juan Rivers regularly. She became just the third woman to run every rapid in Grand Canyon.

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She also became enchanted with Glen Canyon, upstream of Grand Canyon. “That’s when the 186 miles of pure Eden that is Glen Canyon captivated me and made me its slave,” she wrote.

Katie adored Glen Canyon’s majestic cliffs and intricate side canyons. She explored them all, bathing nude under the waterfalls. The breezes, she said, were like voices speaking to her. She wrote books and songs celebrating Glen Canyon and the crucial role of rivers everywhere.

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Then, in the early 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began constructing Glen Canyon Dam, which would generate power at the expense of submerging Glen Canyon beneath Lake Powell. Katie joined Edward Abbey, David Brower, and other conservationists who opposed the dam.

I had a cause!” she said later. “A cause that didn’t center on me-me-me. One that asked nothing of me, really, yet was far from mute. I’d never had a cause before, but now there was a place, almost a person, that needed my help.”

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Attempts to block construction of the dam failed, but Katie Lee remained a constant voice in opposition to the dam’s presence for the rest of her life.

There are good dams that are built for the right reasons and in the right place, but this dam was built in the wrong place for the wrong reasons,” she later said. “When you kill a river, you kill everything around it for many, many miles.”

The only reason she didn’t blow up the dam herself, she often said, was that she didn’t know how.

After the dam was built, Katie used music, books, and film to disparage government bureaucrats for destroying Glen Canyon. Her protests were constant, fierce, and creatively profane. She became one of the national symbols of the movement to protect natural places from being destroyed in the name of progress.

When they drowned that place, they drowned my whole guts,” she said. “And I will never forgive the bastards. May they rot in hell.”

She refused to visit Lake Powell, calling it an abomination, and she never again rafted the Colorado River below the dam.

Katie was married twice. Her first husband was race car driver Brandy Brandelius. After his death, she married and later divorced businessman Eugene Busch, Jr.

For a time, Katie lived in Aspen and other Colorado mountain towns. She performed locally, singing and playing guitar, and was often seen driving her vintage Thunderbird.

When Aspen became too rich and haughty for her taste, she left. In 1978, at age 59, she set out on a trip around the world.

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In Australia, she met Joey van Leeuwen, a Dutch immigrant 12 years her junior who worked at a furniture factory in Perth. The attraction was powerful and immediate.

By 1980, Joey and Katie were living in Jerome, Arizona, population 444, a quaint old mining town favored by retirees, artists, and hippies.

The names of Katie’s record albums through the years are revealing…

– Spicy Songs for Cool Knights, 1956
– Songs of Couch and Consultation, 1957
– Life is Just a Bed of Neuroses, 1960
– The Best of Katie Lee Live, 1962
– Folk Songs & Poems of the Colorado River, 1964
– Love’s Little Sisters, 1975
– Colorado River Songs, 1976
– Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, 1977
– Fenced!, 1978
– His Knibbs and the Badger, 1992
– Glen Canyon River Journeys, 1998
– Colorado River Songs (Again!), 1998
– Folk Songs from the Fifties, 2009

So are the titles of her books…

Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story & Verse, 1976
– All My Rivers are Gone: A Journey of Discovery through Glen Canyon, 1998
Sandstone Seduction Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, 2004
Glen Canyon Betrayed A Sensuous Elegy, 2006
– The Ballad of Gutless Ditch, 2010
– The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, 2014

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Katie usually is remembered for her folk and protest songs, but many were humorous and satirical. Consider these lyrics from “Stay as Sick as You Are.”

I love your streak of cruelty,
Your psychopathic lies,
The homicidal tendencies
Shining in your eyes.

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Stories about her abound, but nothing showcases the real Katie Lee, or is more revealing of her character, than “Kickass Katie Lee,” a 10-minute documentary made in 2016.

Katie’s partner Joey was a skilled woodworker, and he continued his carpentry work when he moved to Jerome to be with Katie. Over the four decades they were together, he made repairs, helped care for the city parks, planted trees around town, and served on several city boards and commissions.

Quiet and polite by nature, he had a special love of birds. He made paintings and wood carvings of them and even wrote and illustrated a book, The Birds of Jerome.

Joey was widely admired and respected, and he was seen as Katie’s anchor as she continued her activism into her 90s.

On November 1, 2017, Katie Lee died peacefully in her sleep. The next day, Joey van Leeuwen committed suicide. He was 85.

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As the Dog Barks

As the Dog Barks: A Soap Opera.” That was how my son Britt described the events that unfolded recently when I began looking for another dog.

You have your dramas, I have mine.

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Early in 2016, I lost my friend Paco, the best dog I ever saw. The loss was profound and painfully slow to diminish. Even now, if I let my guard down, tears will flow.

For a year and a half after that, my heart told me it wasn’t time to get another dog. I checked often, and the answer was always the same: not yet.

I don’t know what finally precipitated the change, but one day, I realized it was time.

My first choice was a rescue dog, a young adult, male or female. I would consider any non-aggressive pooch that I connected with and would be content as a roommate and hiking buddy.

So I spread the word. I told the people at Paco’s kennel, his vet, and other places around town to be on the lookout for me.

I began checking the local animal shelters. I found Paco at a shelter; maybe luck would be with me again. Twice, I sent applications to local canine adoption agencies. They seem to be everywhere.

Two months passed. Over that time, I inquired about and looked at an array of adoptable dogs. But I didn’t come across even one that seemed right.

At that point, I began to question my tactics. And I turned, rather reluctantly, to a resource I had been holding in abeyance.

My ex-wife Deanna has a friend in South Carolina who breeds and trains border collies for herding competition. This woman is truly connected. She knows every border collie person in the Southeast and most of their dogs.

As Deanna explained, when people in the business identify a dog that doesn’t have a strong enough herding instinct, or simply lacks the skills, they don’t waste time trying to train it. They re-home the dog as a pet. And Deanna’s friend always knows when such dogs are available.

Why was I reluctant to contact the friend? Because I would prefer to save a shelter dog. This time, that didn’t seem to be happening, so I emailed the woman and told her my story.

Within 30 minutes, she replied with the name of a possible adoptee.

The timeline of events tells the story…

— Saturday 10:30 AM. I email the trainer.

— Saturday 11:00 AM. The trainer gives me the name of a local man who owns Trace, a 5-year-old male border collie. Trace suffered a hip injury that hasn’t responded to treatment. He is no longer suitable for herding competition. The owner wants to find Trace a new home.

— Saturday 2:15 PM. I email the owner to inquire about Trace.

— Saturday 7:30 PM. I call the owner’s home phone. No answer.

— No response from the owner on Sunday. I am puzzled.

— Monday 11:45 AM. Owner answers my email and provides details about Trace. Owner says he brought in a new male border collie to train, and Trace resents it. “Instant fight.”

— Monday 2:00 PM. I reply and ask owner when I can see Trace.

— No word from owner for several days. I am perplexed.

— Friday 8:00 PM. Email arrives from owner. He provides contact information and asks when I would like to see Trace. I am baffled.

— Friday 8:30 PM. I reply and suggest Monday morning.

— Saturday 11:00 AM. Owner replies that he prefers Sunday afternoon.

— Sunday 10:30 AM. Owner calls. He apologizes and says he has changed his mind. He is too fond of Trace to let him go. I tell him I understand and wish him luck. I am bewildered.

— Sunday 7:15 PM. Owner emails me to apologize again, this time for “letting emotions block good sense.” He has re-reconsidered. He suggests that I keep Trace for a week as a trial. I accept. I am mystified.

Until the trial period began the following Friday, I had not seen any photos of Trace. He turned out to be a striking, classic black-and-white border collie with a velvety coat and hypnotic eyes that would give pause to any sheep.

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At first, he was uncertain and uneasy, having been abandoned in a strange place with a strange human. But he soon adjusted and warmed to me. He was friendly and affectionate.

I gave him plenty of attention and ample time to run in the back yard. When I drove to town on errands, he rode with me. Twice, we went walking around Jefferson. At night, he slept beside me. A daily routine took shape.

By the third day, I tried leaving him at home alone while I went to lunch. When I returned, he was extra happy to see me, but nothing in the house had been disturbed.

On the morning of day four, when I let him outside, he and a squirrel surprised each other. The squirrel quickly escaped up a tree. Trace appeared shocked.

He circled and paced in hound mode, looking up, seemingly fascinated that creatures ran freely in the treetops. Maybe he had no experience with squirrels. Are sheep pastures normal habitat for them? Beats me.

From then on, his first act when he went outside was to look skyward and check for movement in the canopy.

Having a dog around the house again felt right. Trace was good company.

But finally, reluctantly, I had to admit that he was not The One.

I came to that conclusion because Trace is all border collie — an exuberant, high-energy, dynamo of a dog. And the more comfortable he became, the more his border collie nature surfaced.

My neighborhood is secluded, but kids, dogs, cats, and squirrels are everywhere. Even deer are common.

It’s quiet here, but the silence is often broken by the sounds of children, passing cars, delivery vehicles, school buses, the mail truck, and more.

Trace was aware of every sight and sound, eyes ablaze, ears at attention. Sometimes he reacted silently, sometimes he barked or growled.

It’s fair, too, to call him high-maintenance. Briefly, he would be content to watch me do chores, putter around the house, or sit and read. Before long, however, he would appear with a tennis ball, ready to play.

Or he would bark to go outside, only to decide that nothing of interest was there, and he was ready to come back in.

The reality: Trace is a trained herding dog who would be out of a job in my world. Worse, considering my routine and habits, he would spend a fair amount of time at home alone. I couldn’t always take him with me. That was worrisome.

All in all, I was compelled to conclude that I wasn’t right for Trace, and he wasn’t right for me.

In retrospect, I had been fooling myself. My previous two border collies were mellow and low-key, but they were not typical of the breed. Finding another border collie like them would defy the odds. I simply made a mistake.

The decision made, I turned to the task of breaking the news to Trace’s owner. Composing the email wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sure I explained my reasons properly.

But it didn’t matter.

This is proof there is a God,” the owner replied. “I was trying to compose a letter that would convince you to let me have my dog back.”

Trace is gone now, back with his owner. After they left, I put away the food and water bowls, the treats, and the toys. The house is quiet again.

Dogwise, I am back in search mode. No telling what will happen next.

Hasta la vista, Trace. You’re a very good boy. I’m glad we crossed paths.

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You have your dramas, I have mine.

 

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Wicked Week

I just got back from a road trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Most of it was new territory for me, so I went slow, took my time. I had a wicked good week.

The only downside to the trip was getting there from Georgia, which meant two long days of miserable Interstate driving. But, once I arrived, rural New England was peaceful, pleasant, clean, and green.

The residents probably would take offense at this, but I saw little difference between the three states. Basically, the terrain, the weather, the architecture, and the accents were all the same.

Everything there has a decided Yankee vibe. An interesting change from back home.

In New England, I noted, Dunkin’ Donuts is like McDonald’s in the rest of the country.

Firewood is for sale everywhere.

And I had the feeling that the locals were enjoying the pleasant summer weather only guardedly and temporarily. They were poised, I sensed, to switch back to winter mode at any time. After stocking up on firewood, of course.

 

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Typical green scene in Vermont. Or maybe New Hampshire.

Having no special agenda, I drove a number of off-the-beaten-path routes (as recommended by my copy of National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways) and ended up in some interesting places.

In Burlington, Vermont, for example, frivolity reigned.

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Burlington, I discovered, is a major haven for hipsters, hippies, and other free spirits. Back in the 80s, Bernie Sanders was Burlington’s mayor.

The highest peak in the region, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, is the “home of the world’s worst weather.” The summit is accessible via a harrowing eight-mile auto road, which was extra scary the day I drove it due to dense fog. I took these photos at the top in a chilly rain.

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One of the most magnificent places in the area is Acadia National Park, which takes up most of an island on the coast of Maine. It combines lush greenery with the rocky and majestic Atlantic coast.

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Probably not so serene and idyllic in January during a nor’easter.

Weather wise, this is the most pleasant time of year in New England, so Acadia was maxed out with tourists. Even finding a place to stop and get photos was a challenge. In another month, the crowds of leaf-peepers will triple the traffic.

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The tourist mecca of Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia. It’s a quaint harbor town and home to a sizable lobster fleet. Maine lobsters, they say, are more abundant today than ever before.

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Which brings me to another reason I made the trip: to enjoy an authentic New England lobster roll.

I succeeded. Three times.

FYI, lobster rolls come in two varieties: Connecticut style (served warm with melted butter) and Maine style (served chilled with mayo and a splash of lemon). Most locals prefer the Maine variety, and, in fact, I never came across a place that served them warm.

The first two times I had them, they were delicious, but somehow, a bit lacking. They were stingy on the meat, and the buns were lined with shredded lettuce, which diluted the taste.

Moreover, I had them in restaurant settings, which was all wrong. Too civilized. And the food was prepared out of sight and brought to my table like some ordinary meal.

I wanted genuine. I wanted rustic. I wanted the thing cooked where I could see it. I wanted it served outdoors, on a paper plate, as I assume all self-respecting Maineiacs prefer it.

And, fortunately, I stumbled upon a place that, in my mind, served lobster rolls in the proper manner.

It happened as I drove back to the mainland from Acadia. Up ahead was a small trailer in a gravel parking lot. A large, hand-lettered plywood sign out front read LOBSTERS.

The trailer was surrounded by tables and chairs under awnings, and a dozen people were queued up in a line that disappeared into the trailer. I pulled into the parking lot.

Behind the trailer, teams of people were carrying baskets of lobsters from several pickup trucks to a table behind a row of steaming pots.

Under a canopy, two men handled the cooking. Under another canopy, teams of pickers deftly collected the meat.

After a few minutes in line, I was inside the trailer. A stern, matronly woman with forearms like Popeye took my order: lobster roll, chips, a pickle, and a beer of my choice from the display case. The bill was $14. She took my money and sent me outside to find a table.

While I waited, I wandered around and observed the proceedings.

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Then, dinner was served.

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And wicked good it was. Ample meat, lightly seasoned, nicely chilled, no extraneous filling, and sublime taste.

My beverage, by the way, was from Sea Dog, a brewery in Bangor. I chose Wild Blueberry in honor of the small, sweet New England variety of blueberries currently in season.

I savored the meal slowly and deemed the trip a success.

———

Finally, what road trip would be complete without souvenir t-shirts?

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For the return to Georgia, I decided to follow the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina. This would take longer, but it would spare me a lot of Interstate driving.

I was rewarded with an early-morning bear encounter on the Skyline Drive. That story in my next post.

 

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In the 1970s, American singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson owned a small apartment in the Mayfair district of London. 12 Curzon Place, Flat 9 was a swanky address in a fashionable part of town.

According to Nilsson, the two-bedroom apartment was just a typical London flat, “but it was in a great neighborhood. It was across from the Playboy Club, diagonally. From one balcony, you could read the time from Big Ben, and from the other balcony, you could watch the bunnies go up and down.”

Being popular and connected, Nilsson had plenty of famous friends. When he was out of town, he often allowed one pal or the other to use the apartment. Typically, Harry was gone for half the year. Flat 9 was rarely empty.

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One of the pals who stayed at Flat 9 was singer Cass Elliot, formerly of the Mamas and the Papas, who was in London for a series of live solo performances in July 1974.

Even before the Mamas and the Papas broke up in 1971, Elliot had begun a solo career, and she was doing well. By 1974, she had released five albums on her own. That July at the London Palladium, she appeared before sold-out crowds.

On July 29, after a successful evening performance, Elliot returned to Nilsson’s Mayfair apartment and retired for the night. The next morning, she was found dead in bed. She was 32.

Elliot, if you recall, had a weight problem. She was 5′ 5″ tall, and her weight sometimes reached 300 pounds. Although the notoriety factor probably helped her career, she battled the condition constantly.

Elliot regularly shed pounds with crash diets and week-long fasts. Each time, the weight rapidly returned.

Back in 1968, she had dieted for six months and lost 100 pounds in preparation for her live debut performance in Las Vegas. But she became so weak and ill that the performance closed after one night.

Ultimately, the constant cycle of gain-loss-gain was too much for Elliot’s constitution. Her death in 1974 was ruled a heart attack from “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity,” exacerbated by her severe dieting and, of course, celebrity lifestyle.

When Elliot’s body was found, the first doctor who examined her unintentionally triggered a rumor about how she died.

He told reporters, “From what I saw when I got to the flat, she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking a Coca-Cola while lying down — a very dangerous thing to do. She seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich.”

In spite of medical findings about the condition of her heart, and the absence of food in her windpipe, an urban legend has persisted over the decades that Elliot choked on the ham sandwich.

Moon the Loon

Four years later, in 1978, a second entertainer died in Flat 9 in the same bed. It was Keith Moon — Moon the Loon — the hard-partying drummer of The Who. Ironically, Moon also was 32 when he died.

Keith Moon was legendary for both his drumming — he was voted the 2nd-greatest rock drummer of all time in a 2011 Rolling Stone reader’s poll — and his appetite for booze, drugs, and full-throttle, self-destructive behavior.

In addition to non-stop partying, he was famous for smashing his drums and equipment after performances, passing out on stage, and trashing hotel rooms. He also liked to drop cherry bombs into toilets.

Moon once described a typical day to his doctor:

I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs, and I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it’s about 10, and I’ll have a nice nap until five.

I get up, have a couple of black beauties [used by truck drivers to stay awake], some brandy, a little champagne, and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We’ll wrap it up about four.

On the evening of September 6, 1978, Moon and some friends went to see an advance screening of The Buddy Holly Story, then embarked on a night of the usual revelry.

At 4:30 a.m., he returned to Flat 9, swallowed a large number of Heminevrin tablets, which had been prescribed for alcohol withdrawal, and went to bed.

At 7:30 a.m., Moon awoke and asked his girlfriend to cook him a steak. She complained about being asked so often to cook for him.

Moon cursed at her (undoubtedly his last words) and cooked the steak himself. He ate it while drinking Champagne and watching the movie The Abominable Dr. Phibes. He then took more Heminevrin tablets and went back to bed.

Hours later, his girlfriend discovered his body and called the police. According to the autopsy, he died of an accidental overdose, having taken at least 32 Heminevrin tablets.

Apparently, a second death in Flat 9 was too much for Harry Nilsson. He never entered the apartment again. He sold it to Pete Townsend, Moon’s band mate, and moved to Los Angeles.

Nilsson’s reaction to the loss of his two friends had little to do with disapproval of their lifestyle. His own appetite for drugs and alcohol was second to none.

Fellow musician and friend Marianne Faithfull once said of Harry, “We used to do drugs together. And when I say drugs, I don’t mean those airy-fairy drugs they do nowadays. I’m talking about narcotics.”

Nonetheless, Nilsson managed to live longer than many of his contemporaries. He survived a heart attack in 1993, but died of a second attack in 1994, at the relatively ripe old age of 52.

During his funeral in Los Angeles, those in attendance felt several aftershocks from the Northridge earthquake. They joked that the rumbling was caused by Harry, when he discovered there are no bars in Heaven.

Originally, Flat 9 was one of three apartments on the top floor of 12 Curzon Place. They were furnished by ROR, a trendy design company owned by Nilsson’s friend Ringo Starr and designer Robin Cruikshank. (ROR meant Ringo Or Robin.)

The three apartments survived until 2001, when a developer renovated the fourth floor into two luxury flats. The next year, They went on the market for $1 million pounds each, with a lease of 125 years.

Back in those days, when I would read about the drug and alcohol excesses of assorted rock stars, I at first suspected the stories were exaggerated. After all, in that business, to appear daring and brash and death-defying was good press.

But when so many of them began dying early — Jim Morrison of The Doors died at 27 — I had to concede that the over-the-top behavior was for real.

I guess my brain isn’t wired to understand.

Cass Elliot (1941-1974)

Cass Elliot (1941-1974)

Keith Moon (1946-1978) with his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax.

Keith Moon (1946-1978) with his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax.

Harry Nilsson (1941-1994)

Harry Nilsson (1941-1994)

12 Curzon Place, Mayfair.

12 Curzon Place, Mayfair.

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