Friday, April 27, 2007

The Drake Matriarch

Tonight I am on WXPN until 11pm and then a quick dash home to regroup, grab a short nap, and head off to the airport for a 6am flight to Bar Harbor, Maine (via Boston). I'm heading up there to see the Drakes, but mostly to join in celebrating my Nana's 100th birthday on Sunday!

Ethel Drake has always been a powerful rock for the Drake family ... born in 1907 in Philadelphia, she met her husband-to-be while training to become a nurse; he was a young doctor and together they married and had two boys, in 1936 (Uncle Jack) and 1939 (my dad, Robert Sr.) ... my grandfather went off to Europe to serve as a a doctor in WWII and Nana and her boys managed to live on their own, like thousands of other mothers during those years.

Upon his return, they bought a home and he began a private practice. Sadly my grandfather passed away in the 1950s and Nana was left to raise her boys alone - something she had practice with, thanks to the War.

I was born in 1963 and lived in Nana's house with my mom and dad until first grade, when my parents split and I moved with mom to NE Philly. With me and my parents out of the house - Nana decided to sell both her home as well as her summer cottage in Somers Point NJ and join her other son Jack in Maine ... he had moved up there in the mid-60s.

She's been there ever since and began another chapter as great-grandmother as Jack's kids had kids and - for the most part - all decided to claim Maine as their home, albeit different towns. Jack and Nana remained in Bar Harbor - that is until Jack's kids all left the big house and he, just like Nana, decided to sell and build a smaller space for his wife and himself to retire to ... a great spot, still on Mt. Desert Island, but away from the 'hustle' of Bar Harbor's tourism trade.

So - Nana.

Nana has been a widow for over 50 years. Let that sit for a minute.

She has learned how to be the strong, independent element in our family - which shined brightly during moments of family strife, such as the divorce of both of her sons to their first wives. Jack remarried - my dad never did. He too was an independent spirit and between them both, I believe that is where I got much of the personality I have today. Very independent and very much a solo traveler through life.

When Nana was in her 80s she was in charge of feeding the elderly throughout the Downeast region of Maine - she ran the Meals On Wheels program for the shut-ins and it was always amusing to listen to her vent about these 'old folks' when in fact many were younger than she. She lived in her own apartment until last year, when faced with the reality that it was becoming too much of a challenge, she agreed to move into a nursing home that overlooks the bay.

She has faced some major obsticles; buring both her husband and her youngest son (my dad) being the hardest I'm sure. Over the past decade, Nana took a fall and broke her hip at 90, but came through and healed (almost unheard of at that age!). She faced major internal bleeding and was near death twice - but pulled through each time. Her wit is strong and her memory, although fading, is still there. She no longer gets around without a wheelchair, but she is surrounded by the love of the Drake clan, as well as a ton of island friends.

I know she is looking forward to seeing me - probably more than I am to see her, since I know that this might be the last time I see her. She was truly my rock in my childhood - when everything else in my young life was falling apart, Nana was there. She kept me strong and showed me how to grow. She taught me values that I carry to this day. She is an amazing person and I owe much of who I have become to my Nana, Ethel Drake.

So, Happy 100th Birthday Nana!! You are an incredible spirit and I am humbled to carry the family name along for my ride here...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spring Has Sprung

So, after what was the dullest, yet neverending winter season I can recall - spring has finally sprung over Philadelphia this weekend. Sunny skies and afternoon highs around 80 each day.

It's amazing what a change in weather can do to a community. As I sit at my desk in my bedroom, I face a window that looks out, over the roof of Fat Tuesday and down Passyunk Avenue. Cars are lined up as far as I can see - always a sure sign that the weather has changed for the better ... since the only time one sees this many cars at once during winter is if it's a Saturday night.

As for me, I spent much of this first weekend of spring indoors. Knowing that everyone and their brother would be out soaking in the day, I found solice in a quiet home and decided to open the windows and let the house exhale the stale air of winter and breathe in the fresh scent of spring.

While at my desk, I've also noticed a family of bumblebees traveling past my window to my roof - the assumption is that they are building a nest under my roof deck. Grant it, I know that bumblebees rarely sting (only if their nest is being threatened) so I am not concerned - however it is truly fascinating to watch these creatures at work - up and down - past my 3rd floor window - toiling away for the Queen. In a month or so, most of these bumblebees will be dead.

Really puts things into perspective.

When reading up on bumblebees, I learned some interesting facts (I've added my two cents, naturally):

The adult male bumblebee (in common with most adult male insects) has only one function in life - that is to mate. (just like a man!) He will fly in a circuit depositing a queen-attracting scent (CK 1) in suitable places (Woody's), usually in the morning, and replacing the scent if it rains.

New queens emerge about a week or so after the males (they're on gay time). The new queens leave the nest to forage for themselves, returning to the nest for shelter, but they do not add to the existing nest provisions. (talk about coasting!) When the new queen is ready to mate she flies to where the attractant chemical has been deposited by the male and waits for a suitable mate (I wonder if she can turn down nonsutable mates?). Then the two mate. (what, no foreplay?!)

Bumblebees queens generally mate only once, though Bombus hypnorum sometimes has multiple mates (she's what ya call a bumble ho').
Not all nests go on to produce males and queens, many fail in the early stages, some are damaged, and some never build up enough reserves to produce reproductives.

Some nests produce only queens (they are located in Chelsea), others only males (ditto), and some nests produce both males and queens (disaster in the making, or another reality series for Bravo). By this time the old queen is almost bald
(hahaha- I got nuttin) and may have lost some of her influence over the persistent or larger workers (so she goes to the local gay dive bar in search of a $pecial $omeone), then gradually the stores dwindle and the remaining workers and old queen die. (roll credits).

I never thought bumblebees were so fascinating.

Happy Spring, Y'all!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Reading Rainbow For A Stormy Sunday

As anyone in the Greater Philadelphia region - strike that - the mid-Atlantic region ... ah, screw it. As anyone east of the Mississippi knows - today was a washout as a late-season Nor'easter barreled its way through the area dumping a flood of water in its path. I went to bed last night with the thought that I would spend this day trapped inside productively, by cleaning my room and reorganizing my closets which is long overdue.

Besides a sea of t-shirts and unworn items from years past, my little room also plays host to a 30 pound box of Dum-Dum pops, 100 feet of hot pink plastic wrap and 10 pounds of pink beaded necklaces (all for this Friday's pink party) among other unique items. So, I needed to get a hold of the room as it has totally gotten a hold of me over the winter.

However, that was not to be - I woke with pelts of rain hitting the windows - the roof overflowing the drain spout above me (I'm on the top floor) and a waterfall cascading down the back of the house, but not before bouncing off my aluminum siding windowsill outside. Talk about water torture!

I got up - used the bathroom and crawled back into bed, allowing the sensations of the storm around me to take control of my environment - - i even cracked open my bedroom window a bit, to better hear the rain and smell the wetness in the air. Then I decided to pick up a book that was on top of a stack of recent review copies that I brought home from work.

That was 8am. I read all day and into the night, never leaving my room except for short bathroom breaks. No morning coffee - no breakfast or lunch or what have you. Just some water and millions of words on thousands of pages. I read 6 books today and I'm into my 7th - but it was 9pm - thirteen hours later - and I decided to take a break and go get something to eat - I called in a 'pick-up' order at my local Chinese restaurant, because I felt like I needed to step outside at least once today. So, now I'm enjoying some brown rice and lemon chicken and afterward, I'll hop back into my personal Reading Rainbow until it is time to sleep.

But I also wanted to post quick reviews of what I read today - mostly for myself, but perhaps for you as well.

Mississippi Sissy
by Kevin Sessums

Author Sessums is best known for his celebrity profiles in the pages of Vanity Fair and Allure. He was also executive editor of Interview magazine back in the day. This book is a memoir of his childhood — growing up gay in the deep south in the 60's in an America struggling with civil rights strife and the assassinations of a president, a cultural leader and a would-be president. Kevin Sessums was orphaned at the age of 8 with the sudden deaths of his father (accident) and a year later mother (cancer). This book chronicles that loss, along with the awkward journey of a young gay adolescent, yet Sessums' experience is framed by a disarming wit and the lush and racially-charged backdrop of rural Mississippi, that in turn provide the route for a young gay man searching for a way out. A wonderful read that was truly hard to put down!

Men Who Love Men
by William J. Mann

This book picks up from Mann's previous novel The Men From The Boys (although you don't have to read the others to read this) - it follows the story of Henry Weiner, who is facing the 'shoulder season' of gay life by slowly leaving the young years and entering that dreaded middle age bracket. His best friends Jeff and Lloyd have been together for years and are planning to finally marry outside the guesthouse that they own (and that Henry manages) in P-town. Twists and turns happen in this fast-paced tale of love, understanding and friendship. With Men Who Love Men, Mann tackles the big questions of contemporary gay life, delivering a beautiful, thoughtful book about love, sex, commitment, friendship, and fantasy, about the lives we engineer and the joyful surprises that happen when we least expect them. I really enjoyed this book and stared at the ending page for a few minutes once done, just basking in a good story.

Still Life With June
by Darren Greer

I've had this book for some time and just got to reading it - in online research I see it won a few awards in 2004, the year it was published. And well deserved, I'm sure. Still Life with June is the fictional story of a struggling author, Cameron Dodds, and the unraveling mysteries surrounding his life and the people he encounters. Included are: Dagina, a woman from his writers' group; Darrel, a deceased drug addict from the treatment center Cameron works at; and Darrel's estranged sister, June, a woman with Down syndrome now living at the Sisters of Good Hope care facility. This is one of the best novels I have read in years. It is utterly original, with something unexpected happening on practically every page. The author has written it in a fully unusual style, with short chapters, sometimes only a sentence or two, stories within stories, and lists. And the ending is terrific.

The Suburbanization Of New York
edited by Jerilou and Kingsley Hammett

As a lifelong Philadelphian, I cringe when I see some of the history of our city wiped away for the shining promise of the future. As many of you who read this know, I have a torch for South Street as it used to be - but realize that everything changes. This collection of essays was a charming yet frustrating read for me - since it explores the slow erasing of New York City. Anyone who has protested things like the Casinos coming to Philadelphia - or perhaps the rise and fall of mega-chains in our city would appreciate this book, which features some of NYC's smartest (and wittiest) analysts and activists and gives a spotlight on the city that never sleeps, before it began its current suburban nap.

Lipshitz 6 Or The Angry Blondes
by T Cooper

This book is unlike any turn-of-the-century immigrant novel I have ever encountered and T Cooper is unlike any author I have every read. The first part is simple enough. in 1907, Esther Lipshitz and her family arrive on Ellis Island from Russia, ready to start a new life. Unfortunately, things get off to a bad start when their blond, non-Jewish looking son Reuven is lost getting off the boat. Years go by and Esther comes to believe that the man who just accomplished the first trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh, is her son. Esther's life becomes so consumed with this belief that she spirals more and more into her fantasy world and leaves her family behind.

We then fast forward more than half a century and we meet T Cooper, the great-grandson of Esther Lipshitz. Much like Esther, T idolizes another blond, the rapper Eminem. T is putting off writing a book by instead hosting bar and bat mitzvahs impersonating the famous rapper when a letter arrives in the mail that his parents were killed in a car accident. While in Texas for the funeral, T does some growing-up however, once back in New York, T is again the entertainer Slim Lindy, until an accident brings to life an even more confusing identify issue.The two parts of this book are so completely different that it's hard to imagine they were written by the same person. However, as written elsewhere in an online review, 'while Esther's story makes for a good book club discussion, T's part of the book is what will keep the reader remembering'. How true indeed!

Waiting For Snow In Havana
by Carlos Eire

Another book I've had around but never read - this tells the personal journey of Carlos Eire who was part of Operation Peter Pan. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962, 14,000 children were airlifted out of Cuba to start new lives in the United States. This forgotten episode of American history was called Operation Pedro Pan. It was an appropriate codename. Whisked away from parents and home, forced to negotiate immigration procedures and foster care in a strange new land, these children must have felt like the lost boys of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale. One of these children was Carlos Eire and this award winning book is his memoir of loss and redemption. What a powerful read that personalizes a forgotten chapter of 20th century American history.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Audio Flashback

So in searching some various sites that I check up on every so often ... I stumbled upon this audio flashback (Real Audio required) - it's from a site that celebrates classic radio air checks - and totally a flashback for anyone old enough to remember ...

While exploring the site I found this Philadelphia radio composite - You’ll hear an assortment of Philly radio stations recorded in January 1977 - all scoped (songs/spots edited out) - the coolest thing is that this flashback taked place when I was a freshman in high school and listened to all of these stations constantly .. a special moment is hearing JIM O'BRIEN once again ... soooo good.

On this feed you'll hear what was certainly the first BIG FM station in Philly, WIFI 92 - you’ll also hear WFIL, WIBG and more. Plus a great spot for the WFIL Gold LP series ... complaining how LPs are now $6 bucks!!!

Gotta love how diverse pop music was then - rock, disco, soul ... all crammed together - and in that classic radio style ... talk after EVERY song! Also when you listen to the WFIL and WIBG portions you can TOTALLY see how tight the playlist was with their format (two words: Mary McGregor; grant it her hit Torn Between Two Lovers was a few weeks away from being Number One in America)

Plus there are TONS of dated references by the jocks ... and you gotta love how excited callers get to win $20!

It's great radio and a wonderful audio flashback to Philly when I was 13 :)

Brings a tear o' joy to this DJ's heart!! ;)