Similar Cinderellas

She is the kind of woman you want to kiss on a train platform, as she darts off to the big city while you go back to the cabin to finish answering fan letters about some new novel that, frankly, isn’t selling all that well.

“It’s not me, it’s her,” you gush in your thank you notes.

Muses like that don’t come along every night. And they usually flee by train.

Honestly, I won the lottery when it comes to women. I had an amazing (and rather flashy) mom. Terrific aunts. Great sisters. World-class wife. Wonderful daughters and nieces (also flashy and amazing).

Growing up, even the neighborhood moms had mojo.

Point is: A man is a better man when surrounded by great women who – let’s be honest – can drive you a little crazy sometimes (see “wife” and “daughters” above).

Yet, they are the touchstones. They are your conscience, your Magna Carta, your sizzle, your moonshine.

We get our fortitude from our parents. When you mess up, a good dad will kick you in the fanny. But women will knee you in the mind.

You know about the Greek word “ichor,” right? Ichor was the blood of the ancient gods, a golden fluid that flowed through a single vein.

It rains all through Greek mythology, this ichor, through their wonderful stories, which were the how-to manual for Shakespeare and Graham Greene and Joyce Carol Oates.

Critics love to credit Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy for giving glory to the language, for taking out the stiffness and the starch.

Give the Greeks a bit of credit too. They invented irony, tragedy, melancholy, love. I know. I was there.

The other night, I was reading bedtime stories to my granddaughter, who I’m pretty sure will be the next Euripides.

Cakes just turned 2, so her sentence structure doesn’t have the sophistication you might expect of a future playwright. Yet, there are some people who speak elegantly with just a few words. Cakes is one of those people.

You should hear the winsome way she says “flamingo,” for example. Or, “I love sea lions, Papa.”

Cakes is not squirmy when we read bedtime stories. She does not heckle, hoot or make a fuss.

When we are done reading, I sing her lullabies. Her favorite: The Chicago Bears fight song.

Bear down, Chicago Bears,
make every play clear the way to victory…

As you may know, the Bears fight song is a rousing Wagnerian march — a ride of the Valkyries. By tradition, it is sung by angry pipefitters (and their mothers) with schnapps and beer dripping from their chins.

The theme to this particular fight song – as with most Midwestern art – is that winter is closing in, gray and awful to your brain and bones, yet containing a certain magic as well.

Ever see the way the sun lights up an icy drunk on Wacker Drive? Ever seen a Chicago Bear receiver go up for a catch, disappear into an icy fog, then fall back to Earth with the winning touchdown?

Not often enough. But it happens. I’ve seen it.

Here’s the thing: Great writing usually has a cadence, a rhythm, a glow. Almost everything does. A hit song has that. A great game. A famous opera.

That’s what I’m trying to get across to Cakes with these bedtime rituals. Cadence. Rhythm. Glow.

Bedtime stories are only a step or two away from lullabies. And lullabies are only a step or two away from rousing fight songs and a lifetime of camaraderie.

And what does it matter, anyway, if it taps the human heart?

Speaking of that, Suzanne, the ethereal woman on that mythical train, eats her buffalo wings with a knife and fork.

Never seen anything like it.

Cakes, meanwhile, eats her dog’s food right out of the bowl with her fingers.

Never seen anything like that either.

Cherish them both. They are similar Cinderellas – who happen to be at different stages in their lives when it comes to forks and spoons.

Look, what do I know? I still belong to the Columbia Record Club. I cheer for doomed dogs in old Disney movies.

Schweitzer found a godly glow in the trembling of a leaf. I find it in the bubbles of my Bud.

For 50 years, I’ve parted my hair in the exact same spot, consistently crooked, like a gash of lightning across the summer sky.

“Keraunos,” the Greek call such thunder bolts.

Those thunder bolts were Zeus’s fastball, the way he controlled all of mankind (FYI, Zeus was the Greeks’ Koufax, their Kershaw, their Musk).

And don’t forget, Zeus was married to Hera, his touchstone and the queen of all the heavens.

Drove him a little crazy sometimes.

Clockwise from upper left: A blue cheese Bloody Mary; wings; Finn and the lovely and patient older daughter; Cakes; my mom; Da Ditka.

Happy weekend as we ease toward July. Try sprinkling a little “Everything But the Bagel” seasoning in your guacamole, a trick Smartacus taught me. And speaking of sprinkles, crumble some blue cheese atop that Bloody Mary. Also, never freeze a good steak if you can help it. That’s all I got for now. Next week: summer nights and weddings. For books and really great gin glasses, please go to Cheers!

16 thoughts on “Similar Cinderellas

  1. A delightful meander through women, wings, Greeks and lullabies. Who but you could make all these themes flow together so beautifully? I think Suzanne, your children and amazing Cakes are all fabulous muses for you, and we are grateful to them. Love that picture of your mom, too.

  2. I had not thought about the Colombia Record Club in years. In the later 1950’s and early 1960’s, mom would order records like the “South Pacific” soundtrack and “Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall” from that club. Those albums were frequently played before dinner when she was cooking or when we were eating.The nearest good source for albums was Wallace’s Music City in Hollywood, which was an hour plus drive from our house in Northridge.

    Thanks for the memories!

  3. Dating ourselves with admitting even knowing about the Columbia Record Club, but I was a member too. I remember when I first hesitantly joined and thinking “I hope this isn’t a scam.”. But it wasn’t. Wasn’t a bad deal at all.

      1. The best part was that the records were mailed to your house. It was streaming 1950’s style.

  4. Lovely column today. Particularly loved the musical progression section. What a humanist you are as well as a guy who pushes us into reminiscences of the best kind. Columbia Record club!!! We’re only slightly ahead of you in the grandparent department but I loved your comment t about my grandson zevis first visit to a ball park. Life truly is a series of circles. And zyrkles should you choose to celebrate Hamburger Hamlet.

  5. I think a third of the albums now in the iTunes library on my phone came from the Columbia Record Club [which were then reissued as CDs]. Absolutely great when running or on long trips in the car.

  6. Cakes is just adorable! My little sister regularly ate our dog’s Milk Bones growing up. She had the best teeth in the family.

  7. I never joined the Columbia Record Club. When I wanted a .45, I would shine four pairs of my father’s shoes and he would give me a dollar. Then I would walk to the record store (summer, winter) to buy it. I loved those old record stores which don’t exist anymore. Lately I’m missing so many things I took for granted growing up. Those beautiful movie palaces I saw so many movies in that have been replaced by multiplexes. What a shame.

  8. The title and that image of your mother resonate with me…

    I was raised by women. A lovely bathing light goes out for me when a woman leaves a room. My father—the tall, slender collegiate tennis ace, linguist of charm and whimsy, creative design engineer—cultural polymath, left for the navy in ‘42, and never really returned. I have a childhood memory of his singular presence, on leave, lying on his back in front of a big Zenith radio console , riffing along with Benny Goodman. Dad was a mean jazz clarinetist. He could play anything by ear, and mimic genius…

    My mother, pretty and fair with a flair for lightness, was a furrier’s model and also, amazingly, a full charge book keeper who seemed to me to work all the time. My remarkable grandmother, the first female college head librarian in the state of Missouri, presided over my formative days, backstopped by a cloud of aunts. The bifurcate perceptual framings and sensitivities i thus acquired have proven to be the gifts of a lifetime. In countless instances, i have seen and thus experienced things my companions have not, to meaningful advantage. How great is that?

    By the way, I missed my father most when a teen competing in sports events with no one to cheer for me. Wouldn’t you know it?—my teammates’ parents graciously took up the slack. Looking at both ways, I somehow knew they would.

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