So I’m back in England, living the full-time rural dream. I started my new job on Monday, which means I spend a lot of time in the car commuting now. Most of the ride I’m like James Herriot driving through picture postcard country lanes to that zippy music of the opening credits of “All Creatures Great and Small.” Only my car is a little more air-tight, which is handy since it was 24 degrees yesterday. It’s so cold I have crafted a special outfit for evenings around our drafty cottage (note to self: learn to build a fire). It consists of my black imitation Ugg boots, pale pink Chinese silk pajama pants, crusty oatmeal jumper with protruding long sleeve orange t-shirt, topped with a glen plaid LL Bean bathrobe. I look like a hobo who’s stolen a Russian dancer costume from a cut-rate production of The Nutcracker. It’s probably good for our marriage that husband isn’t going to be here much during the week.
Back to the commute. This morning I was getting a bit bored with Radio 4, England’s NPR, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and give Lenny’s Christmas gift, Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession a spin. Now I know it’s not nice to speak ill of a lady who died of cancer, but Laura has not dated well. It reminded me of The Carpenters on amphetamines, all full of exhortations to “get happy!” or “come on down to the stoned soul picnic,” which is apparently replete with moonshine and sassafras. Plus a generous dollop of flutes and tambourines. I took Lenny’s advice and skipped the bonus tracks.
Today was my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party. It was held in an anteroom of the Arrowhead Country Club whose decor, prime rib menu, and bartender, Manny, had not changed since I was last there roughly thirty years ago for my grandmother’s retirement party. There were thirty-three family members and friends in attendance, most of whom were elderly women who had outlived their husbands. The handful of men included a neighbor who is rich from selling Italian tractor parts, my father, and my great uncle and his two sons, one of whom is the notorious Lenny.
Lenny came half an hour late, which would have offended most grandmothers on the occasion of their ninetieth birthday but he had already done that when he displayed the same margin of tardiness at my grandfather’s funeral five years ago. When he did arrive today he was at least bearing belated Christmas gifts. As with last year it was a CD, this time of Laura Nyro. And as with last year’s Neil Young which came with a burned copy on which he had re-edited the track order to “improve” it, this one also came with very specific instructions to ignore the bonus tracks.
“It was called the Thirteenth Confession for a reason,” he informed me.
Like Neil Young and T.C. Boyle, Laura Nyro is in Lenny’s canon of artists on whom he is forever pontificating. I tuned out somewhere between Lenny missing Laura Nyro’s Woodstock performance because he had to work in a steel mill to pay his way through college and the declaration by an “authentic rasta man” that his son was the chosen one in the family and had recently reeled off an epic poem comparable to Blake in twenty minutes. To be fair to this son, he has forever been in the shadow of his Ivy League student body president/McKinsey Consulting/Gates Foundation/Harvard Business School sister, so it was strangely sweet if slightly deluded to hear his father championing him. (Come to think of it, our entire family is in his sister’s shadow.)
As we said our goodbyes, Lenny separately directed both my sister and me not to “look for homogeneity” and to “expect variegation” in our new Laura Nyro CDs. In the country club parking lot my sister, an FBI agent in another state, told me how Lenny had left several frantic messages for her earlier this year. When she called him back he reported that his girlfriend had lost her wallet. My sister informed him there was nothing much she could do, omitting to clarify for him that most FBI agents are busy with other stuff like, umm, trying to prevent another 9/11. Instead she calmly directed him to a website which walks you through the steps you need to take, esoteric things like call the police and cancel your credit cards. I’d like to expect variegation in next year’s annual visit with Lenny, but somehow I am expecting homogeneity. Maybe Neil Young or Laura Nyro with their voices edited out and Lenny’s in their place, droning on.