Sunday, September 27, 2009

Switching Hats

Last night I was a banjo player, this morning a dog walker and homemaker. At the moment I'm blogging away on my home computer and in a matter of hours I'll be in Pennsylvania with Dad. It would appear that I slip in and out of these roles rather easily considering the time factor, but I have way too much overlap between transitions. Were that not the case, I would have been on the road hours ago. Instead, "Road Joan" has to reconcile herself with "Home Joan" and attend to important tasks like cleaning the lime buildup on the kitchen faucet and laundering two pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks. Gotta have that closure, or these things will tug at my brain like a three year old on a shirttail. Have I mentioned that I'm a bit anal?

Punctuality has never been my forte. My mother always said, "You'll be late for your own funeral." She was one to talk. She rarely made it in time to catch the beginning of a movie. The ticket booth attendant, concerned about her blood pressure as she barrelled into the theater, took the pressure off by allowing her to come in and see the start of the next screening. Of course, this allowed for a little mall prowling and dysfunctional purchases, but that's fodder for another blog.

As I wait for my laundry to dry and decide which 15 shirts I will take for a two day trip, I'm afraid I will have to wind up this entry. My visits to my father have been dictated by a very loose schedule (mine) and it's been of no particular consequence if I arrive 7 hours late. This time, however, I need to help him change the Fentanyl patch which delivers a steady narcotic to ease his pain. His macular degeneration makes the simplest tasks monumentally difficult, and believe me, whoever designed the patch and its packaging is a little out of the visual impairment loop.

I will apologize in advance for the absence of blogs over the next few days; I am about to enter The Land that Technology Forgot and will not have access to a computer. A cordless phone and an answering machine are about the only devices which date Dad's house past 1977. He has been making some noise about getting a flat screen TV to "enjoy whatever time I have left". I'll keep you posted on that saga.

So "Road Joan" is about to give "Packing Joan" a kick in the keister and get the next carnival started. Well, she better do it soon-I feel another hat coming on.

Photo: After mom passed away and I went through the closets and closets of clothing, I began to pay irreverant homage to her by photographing Grace in her outfits. I can imagine Mom looking at this photo and saying, "That hat is a real gasser."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Death of a Salesman

Would you buy a used car from this man? Hard to believe, but at one time a lot of people did. After retiring from his career of 43 years, my father took a part time job at a local used car lot. He had spent the bulk of his adult life at the helm of a company that customized heavy machinery and dealt with the headaches of specialized production. The idea of "it is what it is" had a certain allure for him; if the car wasn't what the customer wanted, they could look at something else or look elsewhere. His no-nonsense regular guy approach had a certain appeal at the lot; many of his customers repeated their business time and again. It also didn't hurt that he really knew what he was talking about.

My dad left high school 3 weeks short of graduation. " A 36 Plymouth was more important." he said when I asked him why. He returned from the war and went to work for a construction empire with a heavy equipment division. Initially a mechanic, his knowledge and work ethic came to the attention of the company's president. The next stop was the sales department and from there he worked his way up to vice-president. A high school dropout taken under the wing of a construction magnate - you don't hear too many stories like that these days.

My brother and I heard "I'm going to throw in the towel" so often that we would chant it at the dinner table. We couldn't possibly understand how hard he worked to deal with the production aspects of the job as well as the revolving door of shiny new talent came and went. He outlasted most of them and had to clean up their inevitable messes when they left. But he stuck it out and provided us with a comfortable life. We weren't rich, but I was spoiled enough to be the only one in the neighborhood with a unicycle, stilts and a pogo stick. Yeah, you're envisioning the kid you hated-and you're pretty much on target.

All his years of hard work did not save my father from the ravages and trials of old age. My mother developed dementia and spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. Six months after she went into the facility, my dad's macular degeneration took a turn for the worse, making it necessary to take himself off the road. Never a mass transit guy, he figured out the bus schedule and made his way to visit my mother even in the worst of conditions. She passed away over two years ago, when fluid around her heart took her in a mercifully short three day period. He knew she was in a better place, but he's never completely recovered from the loss.
He has since weathered the decline of his eyesight, spinal stenosis and a prostate biopsy revealing the presence of prostate cancer. Several months ago a CT scan and an MRI revealed a mass in his left chest. His physician and a consulted oncologist have diagnosed a malignancy, possibly non-small cell lung cancer. Not wanting to undergo an invasive biopsy and subsequent treatment, my father has opted to let the disease take its course. His pain is at times incredibly intense and he is often overcome with emotion. We have enlisted the help of hospice and I am doing my best to deal with the situation from a distance. My brother and I are tag-teaming in an effort to keep him in his home as long as possible. It's a little tricky, but at least it's only a 3 hour car ride and not a plane ride.
We're doing our best to take it a day at a time. I'm a newbie to this cancer game and I'm finding out how much of a straight line it isn't. Yesterday he was in agony from the pain of a sleepless night. This morning he was talking about making French toast. How many obituaries have you read that mention a "brief battle with cancer" or a "extended illness"? You never know what goes on between those words until you walk the walk. I'm sure I'll have done a lot more walking before this is over. It's a good thing I'm in decent shape.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hair Brain

I may not be Paris Hilton or J-Lo, but I have a team. Okay, so maybe I don't have a stylist to chase after stray hairs or monitor my wardrobe choices, but I do have people. From the crazy endocrinologist to the clerk who checks out my groceries, they all provide a support system for my so-called life and keep me amused in the process.

Today I'd like to shine the spotlight on one of the most important members of my team- my hairdresser. Call me superficial, but we all know the power of a great hairstyle. Donald Trump's infamous pile of dragged wisps come to mind; they haven't affected his financial status, but they have attracted their share of attention. And I've always questioned Martha Stewart's coiffure, although she has been looking better since she did her stint in the pen.

We've all been the victim of a bad haircut at some point in our lives. Nearly fifteen years ago, I moved from New York City to Dutchess County, New York. For several months, I continued to drive two hours to have my hair done by an upper-East side hairdresser I had come to trust. I then sported 23 inch long tresses punctuated by startlingly straight bangs. The overall effect of the cut combined with a too-dark shade of brown was that of a grade school Elvira. Very scary, boys and girls.

There's little room for error when it comes to straight bangs. One misstep can lead to serious questions about your IQ. My hairdresser made one such mistake in the form of a "notch" in the center of my forehead. When I questioned it, he smoothed it down and made some sort of glib comment about it growing back. I drove upstate with my notch, questioning my commitment to this man. The next day I went to work at a local restaurant and provided my co-workers with no shortage of entertainment. By night's end, I had been dubbed "Nell", the wild child portrayed by Jodie Foster in the film of the same name. Unbelievably, I even had a customer ask me what I called my hairdo. It never fails, when something is bothering me, someone is bound to pick up on it. I'm not terribly religious, but it is at these moments that I believe in a higher power. Or some giant freckle-faced bully at the controls of the pinball machine of life. Whatever the case, I am one easy joke butt.

A wisecracking waitress who was having her share of fun at my expense, was momentarily kind enough to suggest that I see her hairdresser. I took her advice, and started a relationship with my hairdresser that has lasted 14 years. I'd change gynecologists before I let someone else touch my hair. Now there's an endorsement for the window of a beauty shop.

Lori Ann Gannon Fracasse is the owner of the Gallery Salon in Poughkeepsie. She is incredibly driven, smart and funny. Just the kind of lunatic you want on your team. When I first encountered Lori, she was working at a well-known day spa. She has since opened her own beautiful salon and staffed it with a wonderful collection of stylists and assistants able to handle any type of hair you can throw at them. The Gallery is polished yet not pretentious. The cast of characters is warm and welcoming and there is always a healthy amount of laughter in the air. Most important are the great haircuts that keep walking out the door.

The mother of two terrific young girls, Lori runs her business and home with a fun-loving yet disciplined attitude. She is not afraid to take the bull by the horns (or the hair). She is devoted to her customers and they to her. On my most recent visit, I spoke with a client who told me how her husband suggested a trip to the salon while she was recovering from surgery and the loss of her father. Her eyes teared as she told me how Lori took such incredible care of her and how much better she felt after being pampered. Such is the power of a great haircut. I guess it's not such a superficial thing after all.

Photo: Lori Gannon Fracasse with client Linda Schmidt

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good Medicine

I don't know too many people who look forward to a trip to their veterinarian's office. But then they've never been to see my vet. Barbara is funny, hip, and often irreverant; some folks might consider her an acquired taste. I, however, revel in her humor and marvel at her unflappable nature. She can handle them all- from the craziest of cat ladies to the stalwart backwoods hunter. Sometimes grace shows up in the darndest places.

Don't get me wrong- this woman really cares. When my 5 year-old Golden Retriever Emma became sick, Barbara suspected she had a spleen tumor and wanted to do surgery right away. I agreed, and left my beautiful dog as they inserted the intravenous needle into her leg. About an hour and a half later, I received a phone call from Barbara that Emma's liver was gone. She cried as she told me of the advanced cancer and apologized for her tears, saying that she wasn't prepared to see it in such a young dog. Emma never woke up.

Two days later I had Gracie. Even though I had Bonnie, a terrier mix, I so missed Emma and her golden dispostion. An ad in a local Pennysaver led me to a breeder who had two pups left for sale and I went to "take a look". Well, you know how that worked out.

A few months after her second birthday, Gracie had her first seizure. Barbara was with me every step of the way as we waited to see if another would follow or if it was an isolated incident. Two weeks later, she had three seizures, seven hours apart. Two weeks after that, she had a cluster of five, four hours apart. We decided to put her on phenobarbitol and she has had only one seizure in the last five years. An increase in her medication has kept her seizure-free for the last year or so. We always have our paws crossed, and know that they could start up at any time. To quote Barbara, "You know, medicine is not an exact science... don't you hate that?"

After losing Emma so suddenly, Barbara knew I was a little gun shy and paranoid. She never let me feed into my fears, however. When Gracie's seizures started, Barbara said, "You can handle this. You've been through worse." Simple words, yet I refer to them often these days.

Thanks, Barbara.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oops- our website is I forgot my .com in the previous post. I have a feeling that won't be the last thing I forget today.

Over and out.

I'm With the Band

Got a late start today. It's the dog's fault. It's always the dog's fault. She was in no hurry to pull herself out of bed this morning and I took my cues from her. I've always been an easy mark for peer pressure.

I had a gig last night with my bluegrass band "Too Blue". Since banjos are mentioned in the subtitle of this blog, I may as well come clean and admit that I do play one. In public. As a matter of fact, it's been just about 14 years since I was introduced to a great flatpicking guitarist and songwriter named Betsy Rome by Ben Freed, a mutual friend and terrific banjo player. He felt we had a lot in common musically and he was right- we've been a musical team since 1995 and along the way added Michael Sassano on mandolin and Jamie Doris on bass. We have a great time playing together and actually enjoy hanging out with each other after the music stops. Believe me, that's not always the case with a band; we're pretty lucky and we know it. After all, none of us are getting rich so if it ain't fun, there's no point in doing it. And you can quote me on that. Or not.

We played at the Westchester Bluegrass Club, a monthly event produced by fellow musician Mike Burns. On the third Saturday of the month, a featured band plays a set at 9:00 while the audience members get to jam at 7:00 and take part in an open mike at 8:00. It's a great way to get everyone involved and it puts a lot of knowledgable and supportive people in the audience. Last night was no exception. Our crowd was enthusiastic and responsive and made it so much fun to play. And you know my stand on having fun.

Of course, there is a price to pay for having said fun and that would be a lazy beginning to this particular Sunday. It's not the dog's fault after all. She wasn't the one out whooping it up with her band. At least not that I know of...

Please visit to see our schedule and to hear soundbites of our music.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Night Owl

I'm tired. Tired of playing the game. Ain't it a fwiggin' shame? I'm so... let's face it. Everything below the waist is... KAPUT! Lily von Schtupp (Madeleine Kahn) in "Blazing Saddles"

I should be tired. It's almost 2 a.m. and a 9:30 Pilates class comes mighty early for us vampires.

Forget about the feet over the head thing on top of a wine buzz. Yep- I gave in to the call of the wine opener as I was editing some photos. No major harm done, but Mary Poppins may not show up at the gym tomorrow morning.

Today pretty much came and went and managed to go down as middle of the road. Walked the dog, took some photographs, worked out and sat down in front of the computer. No records set, but not bad overall.

And so, instead of straining to squeeze some wit out of September 18, I think I'll take Grace out one last time and attempt to get some beauty rest. I have to think of that poor soul on the mat next to me in Pilates after all...


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Doing It With Grace

In an episode of "Seinfeld", Elaine is looking for a new job. During one of the interviews she is told that she has no grace nor has she any chance of acquiring it. You simply have it. Or you don't.

Or you have a dog named Grace.

That would be me.

Gracie and I have been together about seven years now, and are celebrating our fiftieth birthdays together. "A fifty year old dog?", you shriek. Rest assured that she is not a treasured carcass preserved in formaldehyde, guarding the foot of my bed. My absence of a dedicated life leaves me the time to find such useful information as a canine/human age conversion chart on the Internet. Gracie's age (7 in November) and her weight (she is a 65 pound Golden Retriever) put her at 50 in human years. Sure, buy the premise, buy the movie. I do it every time I get on the elliptical trainer and have complete confidence that I've burned 500 calories when the machine says so. I turned 50 a few weeks ago and an internet chart says my dog will do the same in a few months. It may not be gospel, but I love a coincidence.

I will do my best to avoid weepy sentimentality in this blog, although I do get a little verklempt when I imagine life without Grace. She is a butthead, a bonehead and just about any other head that conjures up the image of a fun loving, "in the moment" goofball.

As I begin my second 50 years, I can't promise that my life will always be an incredibly interesting one, but I do keep myself generally amused and will try to do the same in this blog.

Gracie and I welcome you to come along for the ride.