The Tender Trap

Get this song out of my head! Try as I might, it won’t let me be.

You see a pair of laughing eyes,
and suddenly you’re sighing sighs.
You’re thinkin’ nothing’s wrong
You string along
Boy, then snap
Those eyes, those sighs,
They’re part of the tender trap.

I watched part of The Tender Trap starring Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Sunday. A romantic comedy/musical from 1955, not earth-shattering, no profound message. Now I can’t get the theme song out of my head.

Neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks would refer to this phenomenon as a “brainworm” or “earworm” (I prefer the former).

Here’s what Dr. Sacks has to say on these “worms”:

Earworms, or brainworms, may start as very meaningful, but they become mechanically repetitive. One is then seeing helpless loop activity in the brain, which resembles seizure activity.

Advertisers are wicked specialists in the production or earworms. So much music is designed to be manipulative—film scores, advertisements, theme songs. I think it’s a perverse use of music. 

Composer Jimmy Van Heusen and lyricist Sammy Cahn, you have a lot to answer for here. Your cute little ditty is driving me nuts! Well, they’re both deceased, so I can’t exactly call them to task on this.

Have any of you been plagued by brainworms? If so, which songs or jingles have wriggled their way into your gray matter?

Matisse, MoMa and the Art Witch

witch drawing

timies art

Lorin’s Mom was in town over the weekend and invited us to see the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (“MoMA”). We had a great time with her and her friend “B” who were visiting from Savannah, Georgia. It was a welcome respite from grimmer tasks related to the passing of Lorin’s father; after the museum excursion and brunch, we would head back to his dad’s apartment in Corona to continue cleaning, packing and throwing things out—he had a lot more stuff than we expected.

Lorin and I hardly ever venture into the city on weekends, tired from the weekly bus commute and general mayhem of the city. But when we do venture in, like most things in the Big Apple, it is never dull.

We arrived early, at Members Only hour, since Lorin’s mom is a member. Nevertheless, the Matisse exhibit was packed; in fact, the museum was going to be open 24/7 throughout the weekend so art aficionados could view the artist’s later works, including cut-outs from La Chapelle du Rosarie de Vence in France.

chappelle de VenceLa

Chapelle du Rosarie de Vence. Photo: Carmen y Marco

Scanning the crowd, which was sometimes panic attack-inducing, I felt myself entering a Woody Allen movie, with different camps emerging:

(1)  cultured Upper West Side couples of varying ages with / without children,
(2)  young hipster males in skinny pants and sweater vests with shabby chic coifs and glasses,
(3)  art curators and/or critics, and
(4)  eager-eyed young artists and art students.

Leading camp #3 was the Art Witch (“AW”), with a sleek silver bob and piercing gray eyes, a black pointy witch’s hat (excuse the stereotype), a large silver pin impaling the rim, black leggings, wrap and booties. Her entourage consisted of a silver-haired gentleman with an nose and suspicious air, as well as sycophants of varying ages and types. AW glided from room to room, the entourage always a hair’s breath away clinging to her every word, taking her emotional temperature, so as to remain useful.

The Swimming Pool

In the late 1940s, Henri Matisse primarily used cut paper as his medium, and scissors as his tool; these new works came to be known as “ cut-outs. A cut-out of grand scale was The Swimming Pool, taking up an entire room at the exhibit. I found it soothing, with the blues and tans.

the swimming pool

Photo by Jonathan Muzikar 

While in The Swimming Pool, Lorin overheard another patron say, “I could spend all day in this room just turning around and around.”

Hmmm. Personally, spinning around in that room all day would make me nauseous and dizzy—that goes for any room. That guy must have real stamina or else he’s full of shit.

Forrest Gump’s mom said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” I say, life is an art show. You never know what or who you’re going to see.

Say Something

Fourteen year old child protégé Jackie Evancho and Cheyenne Jackson are singing “Say Something”  on PBS, a taping of the concert “Awakening” at Longwood Gardens.

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

Now she’s singing “Open Fields of Grace,” the voice of an angel. The music transports me. Transported is where I want to stay.

Tired of the usual, the mundane. Take me to that fantasy garden on stage where she sings “Take Me There.” That’s where I want to be.

I just returned from a visit with mom, cut short by her unkindness. I will no longer stay when she is abusive and unkind.

The visit started out okay. We drank chai tea and ate Choco Leibniz cookies, her favorites. We took a spin around the floor.

Gina was shrieking in the dining room, “Leave her alone! Get out of here.”

James, one of the nurses, said, “She does this morning, noon and night. Our hands are tied,” and he motioned with his hands.

“I know, nothing you can do,” I said, as Mom and I wheeled by.

Ronald wheeled by, eating a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles. She said, “I don’t like him. He’s an old fart.”

As I listen to Jackie Evancho, I think of how Mom and I used to sing together. She had the voice of an angel. Where did that Mom go? I miss her.

“Do you want to go to the concert upstairs?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. Why didn’t I listen?

“Come on, Mom. We’ll only stay a little while.”

“Whatever you say,” she said.

Jackie is singing Bono’s “With or Without You,” the most heartfelt version I’ve ever heard. She smiles after each song, and says, “Thank you.”

She’s being interviewed and asked what she thinks her purpose is, and she says, with all the bad things happening in the world, she thinks it’s to make people happy and give them a release. She’s so unaffected, respectful and humble. How refreshing.

Mom and I arrive at the concert in the Music Cares Salon. “Do you want to go in?” I say.

“No,” she says, a scowl in her voice. “I want to watch ER.”

“Okay,” and we head back upstairs and return to her room.

Raymond enters her room. “I can’t make it in,” he says.

Mom is blocking him with her wheelchair. “Don’t let him in, he’s been bad.”

“Okay. Raymond, do you want a cookie?” I say.

“Yes,” he says, and I hand him one. He nibbles the chocolate off the edges of the cookie greedily.

“He’s been bad. He soiled himself and smeared it all over someone else’s room,” Mom said.


Jackie is singing Ave Maria. I’m tearing up.

“I don’t want him in here.” She turns around and sees him.

“Raymond, she wants you to go out. I’m sorry,” I say to him.

He shuffles to the door, confused, cookie in hand.

I feel bad for him. Mom used to say how much she liked him.

“I’m all alone,” Mom says. “Nobody cares about me.”

“I’m here, Mom.”

“You’re never here.”

“I can only come on the weekend. I have a full-time job.”

“Why do you have to work full-time? I give you money from my social security check and food stamps.” She is getting angry.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I give you money every month.”

“No you don’t.” I have forgotten the Alzheimer’s rule: always say “yes, and,” as I learned in my improv training. I’m angry now.

“You’re all alone, you don’t need that money.”

“Whatever you say, Mom.”

“You have no idea what it’s like.” She is glaring at me.

“Okay, Mom. You obviously don’t want me here.” I pack up my stuff.

“Go ahead. You don’t want to be here anyway.”

“Whatever you say, Mom,” I say, as I head to the door. She doesn’t turn to look at me.

I tell James, “She’s being a real bitch, so I’m leaving.”

He nods and says, “Your mom’s been very combative in the morning. She doesn’t want to get dressed or out of bed. She fights and curses at the aides.”

“What can I do?”

“The doctor’s thinking of giving her something to calm her down in the morning.”

“Okay, let me know what I can do.”

“Have a good night,” I say.

“You too,” he says, smiling kindly.

Jackie twirls in her gorgeous white gown with pink vines climbing up and down it, raising her arms, bowing graciously as the audience applauds. Big smile on her sweet, bright face.

Sexiest Man Alive – My Picks

I admit that I know NOTHING about the guy who has been hailed 2014’s “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine. Sorry, Chris Hemsworth. Honestly, I don’t find him at all exciting. It’s all a matter of taste, I suppose. As Salon rightly pointed out, the only person of color ever to be named SMA was Denzel Washington in 1996.

Besides my husband Lorin, who will not allow me to post his photo here, here are my choices:

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Hands-down, my first choice. Lorin will attest to the fact that I made him sit through an entire season of “Dancing on the Edge,” a very poorly written mini-series on STARZ, simply because Chiwetel starred in it. I like to call him by his first name . . . Chiwetel. I first saw him as a doctor in the riveting film, Dirty Pretty Things. What makes Chiwetel sexy? Everything. He is intelligent, handsome, a very good actor, has a sensuous mouth and he can play a drag queen (Kinky Boots), and I still find him sexy.


photo: Vivien Killilea, getty images

Raza Jaffrey. Smash star Raza Jaffrey now plays Aasar Khan in the current season of Homeland. Aasar Khan is the lieutetnant-colonel in the Pakistani intelligence service. If you didn’t catch last week’s episode, sparks were flying between him and Carrie. What makes him sexy? The smoldering gaze, masculine bearing, the fact that he needs Carrie to believe him and he calls her up in the middle of the night to tell her so (oh my).


photo: Magnus Hastings

Ian McShane. I first became enamored of him when he played Al Swearengen on Deadwood. He makes me go weak in the knees. Okay, he’s 72 years old now, but who cares? He’s got the voice of a god, the looks, bedroom eyes, intelligence, roguish grandeur . . . enough said.


photo: Albert L. Ortega

Okay, those are my choices.

What are yours? Or do you think that Chris Hemsworth truly is worthy of the title, Sexiest Man Alive?

Rubber Tramps in Training


(photo: Molly V / flickr)

By L.E. Swenson

We love to get away. We love to get in our gas-guzzling SUV and drive for hours to some remote location and stop for a while. Usually we have a reason to go, but we have taken some trips on spec.

We just love the road trip. I hate to fly. My wife less so, but I have made something of a road convert out of her. It’s the meditative freedom of long stretches on the open road. She has embraced the journey, and we tend to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. We also get lost a lot. It makes for spontaneous and unplanned adventures.

Most recently, en route to Myrtle Beach, I made an ill-advised exit from the interstate in search of gas. I had waited too long to refuel and although there were no road signs showing gas or food or lodging at the exit off 95, I took it anyway.

We found ourselves in the middle of what appeared to be fields of cabbage on an unlit country road in the backwaters of Northern Carolina. The sun seemed to decide to take that exact moment to set completely, leaving us benighted with an empty gas tank and not an Exxon in sight. Tech to the rescue. In older times I would have flagged down the truck passing us precariously on the narrow road and asked for directions (I am not that guy, I do ask when I have to). I pulled out the trusty Iphone and went on yelp, typed the word “gas,” and yelp led us to the nearest open gas station. No easy task on a rainy Sunday night in the North Carolina countryside.

It was great. The Gas Station That Time Forgot. The pumps seemed to be circa 1981 and the little country convenience served the obviously hard-working folk of the area. 

gas pump in NC

(gas pump in NC, photo: Erica Herd)

Had I not been an idiot, we would not have had this great charming experience. We took local roads from there all the way to Myrtle Beach. The main event along the rest of our journey was that at first I noticed a light on the horizon and assumed Myrtle Beach was near, as there were few other light sources on the back roads. As we crested the rise, we found the brightest light for miles was cast by a giant prison. We did not linger to observe the prison. Attempts to identify the prison afterward proved unsuccessful.

Over the years we have discussed the retirement RV, the early retirement RV and the get-out-of-the-rat-race and sell knick-knacks RV plan. Basically, we love the romantic idea of being rubber tramps. Getting rid of the house and crap and taking our weird little family consisting of us and the four Brothers Fuzzman (cats) on the road. It makes for a great fantasy.

We missed the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, AZ this year. Maybe next year.

L.E. Swenson received his bachelor’s degree in English from S.U.N.Y. Buffalo. He went on to study Theater at the New School for Social Research and received his Masters of Fine Arts in 1999. He has performed in regional theater at Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theater and Shakespeare in Delaware Park. He has written, acted, coached and stage managed in the New York area and continues to write and work in New York.


Free Falling

In the wheelchair
pushing forward from the hips
seeking that thing
that fell to the ground
in the day room
after breakfast
Was it a last bit of muffin
or a hidden gem
no one else could see
but she knows is there
She reaches, straining
nobody notices
they never do
She leans forward, harder
wishing it with all her might
that feeling of flight
forward motion
ever forward
she is going somewhere
despite her shrunken legs
which fail her
She will fly
and not shield her eyes
why would she
shield her eyes?

It was worth the cut
and the swollen red eye
They will think she
was in a fight–
how exciting!
They will take her to the hospital,
patch her up
She forgets what happened
doesn’t know why
but she will not lose
the will to fly

The Cat Show

7956080732_a35a31f911_z(Sakura Ishihara,

Lorin and I went to the Garden State Cat Show and Expo in Franklin, NJ on July 19. I’ve never been to a cat show before. We were quite smitten with a Singapura kitten that kept reaching her long skinny arms out of the cage. She reminded me of the alien in the movie Paul with her big blue eyes, oversized head and ears and skinny body. The furry homunculus could not have weighed more than a pound or two. Lorin put his face close to the cage, and she grabbed his nose with one tiny paw.

A stern-looking African-American man wearing a backpack and thick glasses sidled up to us and said, sotto voce, “The breeders don’t like you to touch their cats.” As if it were a state secret.

Lorin said, “We saw some signs that said. “Pet Me!” so we thought it was OK to touch them. We didn’t mean any harm.”

The man said, “The breeders don’t like you to touch their cats.”

I walked further on to visit the other contestants. Lorin caught up with me and said there was something not quite right with that man. He had tried to reason with the man, but to no avail. We wondered if he went to various cat shows and took it upon himself to police reprobates like us. Citizen Cat Police. We have been adopting needy cats for years and would never hurt them, but he didn’t know that.

Each breed had a row designated for them, consisting of two long parallel tables with tent-like cages on top. Some of the tent-enclosures were elaborately decorated with gauzy netting and colorful fabrics, giving them a kind of Thousand and One Nights feel.

These cats were pampered, but they deserved it. The cats waited (some reaching their paws through the bars in an attempt to escape) in cages on a rectangular shelf behind the judging area which consisted of a table—probably reminded them of an exam table at the vet’s office—and a pole covered with cardboard or bark for them to run up as a test of their spunk. The judges poked and prodded, pulled up their tails, fluffed their fur and checked all orifices. After examining each cat, she would spray the surface with Windex and wipe it down. One of the cats tried to flee while being judged. Can you blame him?


The cat agility tent had an obstacle course—hoops, loops, bars and cushy tunnels—to go through and under, but the cats had to be coaxed through them with a laser pointer, a wand with feathers on the end or some kind of treat. One cat climbed excitedly on top of the bouncy tunnel instead of through it, and seemed to have no idea what he was supposed to be doing. Others stared at the trainers/handlers as if they were nuts, rather than even bother to engage.


Later on we returned to Singapura Row and spoke with the owner of the kitten we liked. He said that Singapuras were incredibly affectionate, talkative and intelligent and would be your constant companion. He said the kitten curled herself around his neck and slept with him at night. We learned that “Singapura” is the Malaysian word for “Singapore,” the island country of their alleged origin. If she were our kitten, I think I’d name her Scheherezade (after the legendary Persian queen and storyteller), but we are well-stocked with felines. We don’t want to exceed the 4-cat limit and be known as the crazy cat people who go to cat shows.

Catching Out

By L.E. Swenson

My sweetie and I are young at heart. When we met, two of the things we had in common were the wanderlust and a love of reading. Never did we imagine we would have a house in a very quiet bedroom community that is maintained by our day jobs while we dream artistic dreams.

So there I was, sitting in our car at the train crossing in our town. The train crossing can be a nuisance because the rail line is for freight and so the trains seem to be miles long as you wait for them to pass. As I watched the stream of tank cars and boxcars float by my front window, I noticed something.

The cars of this freight train that passes regularly through our town were covered in hobo marks. I don’t mean a bit of graffiti here and there. I mean covered in symbols and signs left for future weary wanderers. Sometimes it was just a road name painted in big bold letters or date of travel by the hobo riding that day.


I was caught up by the present desire to “catch out” (hobo vernacular for hopping a train). I know the train goes somewhere northwest in Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t the destination. In my mind, I abandoned the car at the railroad crossing and started running alongside the train with all my might. My mind then realized that I have been sitting for a living for the last 15 years, and my body has no business running anywhere, much less alongside a moving freight train. My mind let my body stumble and fall face-first into the dirt.

I came back to the car just as the signals started to fade and the zebra-striped bars of the railroad crossing started to rise. I then remembered the errand I was on when I first stopped at the crossing.

As I stepped on the gas to go about my business, I had a final realization. Boy, I need to get in shape and so does sweetie, so that one day we can catch out for real.