Literary Up: Birthday Reading

My sister Catherine has a knack for finding ideal birthday gifts for me in old book stores and flea markets. My tastes are quirky, and I don’t discuss them with her a lot, yet she invariably nails them. It’s as if she wrote on a shopping list “Hunt down obscure volumes of early 20th century pop culture for Chris.”
This year the haul included:
• The Improper Bohemians, Allen Churchill’s 1959 history of the radical art (and just plain radical) movement in Greenwich Village. Admittedly, I’ve read and owned this book a few times in my life, but never with these bizarre markings on the title page:

• Six Curtains for Strogonova, the last book in Brahms & Simon’s series of comic mystery novels about the Stroganova Ballet company. One of those unassuming orange-and-white Penguin Books editions, not one of the cartoony-cover reissues from the 1980s.

• A poster celebrating cartoonists and comics writers who hailed from Oklahoma. Here’s a scan of the upper half of the thing; what the cropping mainly misses is Bill Mauldin in an Army private’s uniform standing in a foxhole at the feet of Chester Gould (in yellow Dick Tracy coat, natch):

• a souvenir newspaper (“The Daily Herald”) published by the Outgamie County Historical Society in Applewood, Wisconsin. Applewood was the birthplace of Harry Houdini. The lead story in the eight-page paper concerns the magician’s death, and the rest of it is devoted to his life and tricks, including an award-winning article on “Harry Houdini and Wisconsin” by Kimberly Louagie.

My daughters recently, and independently, became big Houdini fans, largely due to Sid Fleischman’s biography Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini and Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel Houdini The Handcuff King (though the more grown-up Houdini: Art and Magic by Brooke Kamin Rapaport has also had an impact.). So this was that sort of mystically timely gift that my sister Catherine has become known for.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Occupied Signposts

With so many Occupy encampments around the country being shut down or modified into insignificance by local government entities, it’s worth noting that Occupy New Haven’s presence on New Haven Green hasn’t been altered or diminished—unless you could the members whose arrests in New York City during Tuesday’s anti-Wall Street protests kept them off the Green for a day.

Channel 8’s upbeat story “Occupy New Haven Still Going Strong” is here.“>The New Haven Independent continues to provide the best ongoing coverage; NHI reporter Thomas MacMillan even accompanied New Haven protesters to the Wall Street demonstration.

Occupy New Haven’s own website is here, though nothing’s stopping you from talking to these folks directly on the Green, or grasping their message through old-fashioned viewing options such as protest placards.

My favorite, glimpsed during one of Occupy New Haven’s routine streetcorner rallies last Sunday:
“I’m So Angry I Made a Sign.”

Birthday Pie

Wednesday was my birthday, and I maintained my tradition of baking a personal comfort-food dish for myself, even if my family doesn’t particularly care for it.

It’s a vegetarian variation on s kidney pie. My mother (who’s still alive; I put this in the past tense because she doesn’t cook anymore) would make it fairly often, skimping on the ingredients so that it wasn’t really a STEAK-and-kidney pie, mostly kidneys and mushroom soup.

I do it differently every birthday, and not at all during the rest of the year. Here’s how I did it Wednesday:

Prefer a piecrust (I had a sourdough bread rising Wednesday, so just used that dough; bread dough’s excellent for meat-pie crusts).

Saute a large chopped onion and one minced clove of garlic. Add an 8 oz. container of mushrooms (sliced, if you prefer.) Then add half a block of tofu, diced, a handful of frozen peas and corn. Finally, stir in a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, undiluted. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Put the mushroom/tofu/vegetable glop in the prepared pie plate. Add a top crust. Carve something symbolic in the crust. (I did “51” this year.) Bake at 375 degrees for not very long—a half hour should do it.

Eat nostalgically.

Rock Gods #232: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

We nearly fainted when everyone yelled “Surprise!” at the “Artie Capshaw Appreciation Party”— our birthday!—Wednesday at the Bullfinch. We’d been told to check out a band at what we thought was the regular Open Mic nite. Turns out everyone was there to check US out. Non-stop fun, fellers. Just don’t do it again, OK? Not sure our gin-soaked heart can take it.

Macabre Propensities and Syllabic Sound at the Bullfinch… Recrudescent and Knocked for a Goal at Hamilton’s… Lindsay in His Congo and Skippy’s Treasure—half man, half machine—at D’ollaire’s…

Listening to… Native Speaker


Native Speaker, Braids. Chatty vocals over a swirly techno backdrop. The arrangements have a minimalist Laurie Anderson feel, and tracks like “Glass Deers” and the thumping, slowbuilding and absolutely mesmerizing “Lammicken” are more like sonic experiments than they are songs. Makes me immediately wonder what this would sound like in a concert hall. It would certainly be better to experience this in an acoustically ideal hall than in a club, the better to appreciate the dense, layered approach to music-making. Native Speaker does an awful of texturing in these seven tracks, which run from four and a half to eight and a half minutes in length.

Literary Up: Kali fawning

Kali Dakos is one of the finest poets of a generation, and that generation consists of folks 50 years younger than she is. I feel privileged to be raising kids at a time when Dakos is still publishing fresh verses. My daughters love her work. They relate to it. They quote it. Sally, who’s seven, was doing dramatic readings from If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand just last night.

Kali Dakos nails the anxieties and insecurities of childhood. She makes fun of teachers and parents too. She grasps the priorities that children have. She celebrates the underdogs and lost souls. (She has several poems about items languishing in the Lost & Found Box.) And she writes with innate rhythm and flair. She’s an inspiration to her young readers, but more importantly she empathizes with them.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Well, ex-Scoozzi!

I remember when Scoozzi restaurant was new. I worked at a all-night bookshop just down the block, and the waitstaff would come buy magazines after their shifts. These were the days of Fitzwilly’s, Gentrees, the lobster restaurant at the Colony Inn, that high-end breakfast place on Crown, the handmade chocolate delicacies at Thomas Sweets… There were distinctive dining opportunities on every block downtown—and if you think New Haven’s reputation is (undeservedly) bad now, it was even worse back then. Yet there was an unbeatable food-based economy, and Scoozzi’s was riding the new wave of upscale dining. As the years went on, it aged into the role of old standby, though the fare never became traditional.

Live jazz. One of the more adventurous wine lists of its kind. Nouvelle cuisine that you could taste, and could even fill you up.

Mostly I remember the celebrities. I ate at Scoozzi because it’s the site the Yale Rep preferred when I was scheduled to interview an actor or director or playwright over lunch. I’ll never forget standing in line with Anne Kaufman Schneider, the daughter of one of my theater idols, George S. Kaufman, for an after-party at Scoozzi’s on opening night of a rare production of Kaufman (& Katharine Dayton)’s comedy First Lady at the Rep. I had lunch with entire casts of Yale shows at Scoozzi. I regularly interviewed then-Dean of the School of Drama Stan Wojewodski there, and would always try to get him to break into one of his boisterous laughs and see how much I could disrupt the conversations at adjacent tables.

But my most memorable night at Scoozzi’s was the evening I spent with someone I hitherto knew only from mutual friends and amusing faxes: Colleen Van Tassell. She wanted to write a piece for the Advocate, but (for perhaps the last time in her life) lacked confidence in her writing. We met at Scoozzi’s and dissected her work over dinner.

I think I blew my entire week’s paycheck on that meal, but it was worth it. Our waiter turned out to be a local actor whose work I’d seen, and thus was especially attentive. Colleen and I closed the restaurant, and then the bar. The piece got published and was a smash. Colleen eventually came to work at the Advocate. I credit Scoozzi.

That was the Scoozzi I knew. The place abruptly closed last week. The owner has yet to make a formal statement as to why, which has meant that instead of waxing nostalgic, folks are just gossiping. Except me.  Twenty-four years is an extraordinary achievement for any business in any city. I don’t need to digest anything more than that.


Hat’s All

I don’t know why more people don’t wear hats. Besides the obvious benefits of convenient fashion distraction and shelter, you can’t beat the band. A hatband is better than a wallet or pocket as a place to put theater tickets or business cards so you’ll remember where you put them.

Men used to stuff newspapers in their hatbands for added comfort or a better fit. I’ve read some great old news stories from the papers ice found in hatbands.

If you were very careful, you could probably even fit a garter snake in there.

Or maybe that’s more of an argument for bringing back garters.

Rock Gods #231: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Game, match and set. A famous tennis player spoke on campus last week, then headed to Hamilton’s for a warm-up. We’ve never understood why every sportsman who swings a racket thinks they can play guitar just as well. The intruments may superficially resemble each other, but are strung rather differently.

The pro ingratiated himself into a set with that night’s cover band, The Babolats. His first number—a blues standard nobody would know if a certain celebrated electric guitarist hadn’t put it on a live album 30 years ago—devolved into a ten-minute guitar solo. (People forget that the song was originally written for harmonica.) The solo on the next tune, an early rock riff, took closer to 20.

The former champ continued to regress with excess. Many of us turned away from the stage, since he seemed to take the most casual sign of acknowledgement that he was still onstage as an invitation to play “just one more.” After an hour of such ball-chasing, there was no love between Mr. Backhand and his shattered admirers. Give us a football player hoisting fanboys while singing hardcore anytime.

Torn Tree and The Dry Maxes at the Bullfinch… The Polar Lobsters and Wha Sa at Hamilton’s (No rackets, no service)… Prince Thorlo and Gamma Head, a Hamilton’s-style band that somehow cracked the bigtime, at D’ollaires, with Perry Puma…