Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fashion Show

At Christmastime, Marshall Field & Company had a fantastic tree decked out with shining ornaments and brilliant lights. It towered over the Walnut Room, my dream for lunch when we went Christmas shopping. You had to stand in line a long time, but less if you were a party of two. I always ordered the chicken pot pie. It would be a long time until next time.

There was another dining room, the Narcissus Fountain Room. This was everything the English-inspired Walnut Room was not: light blue with white iron tracery on the walls, a thick pastel carpet, lots of light from the windows that faced Michigan Avenue a block away. Pots of flowers everywhere, maybe hydrangeas. The Narcissus Room often held a fashion show at Christmas.

My Aunt Anne, an unfortunate woman whose mental illness never was treated until late in life, liked to go to the fashion shows. Since my sister and I were the only two children on my mother's side of the family, we were shopped out as surrogate daughters, maids, companions, cooks, and house cleaners. On this day, I got to be the fashion show date. I didn't mind; I thought it would be fun and the ad in the Tribune said they were serving tea. So my aunt and I trudged downtown on the slow Archer Avenue bus. When we arrived, the chic hostess asked my aunt for the name on the reservation. We had none.

My aunt begged for a table, but the show was sold out. She gave the hostess a long story about how far we'd come and she didn't want to disappoint her little girl. I got more and more nervous by the minute. I wanted to leave. People were starting to stare at us, but on and on my aunt went. Finally, the Narcissus room gave us a tiny little table at the back of the room and we sat there to watch as much of the show as we could see. But, the hostess said sternly, we could sit there but could not stay for tea.

The models were beautiful, tall and slim with slick hair and lovely shoes. Navy blue dinner dresses with shawl collars were enhanced by 3/4 lemon yellow cotton gloves and tiny navy hats with skinny veils worn up. Some models wore fuschia shoes and matching gloves and no hats. The pages of Vogue did not hold more beautiful or more sophisticated women unless maybe you counted Carmen Dell'Orifice. Later on, I cut the pictures out of magazines and hid them in my drawers. After a while, I couldn't find them anymore. Marshall Field's is Macy's now. My aunt died several years ago. The fashion shows are gone along with those splendid models.

But Christmas will be here soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red-Eye Radio Nights

Insomnia led me to Doug McIntyre and Red-Eye Radio on WABC during the last two years. Tonight I learned that the gods of the air are moving McIntyre to mornings in Los Angeles. I will miss his voice in the night -- calm, well-informed, very different from most radio hosts. I really don't know much else about him, but I am glad he has been there.

I stumbled across his show one hot summer night when sleep was miles away. A radio friend. I was thinking about all the shows I listened to on my mother's kitchen radio when I was home sick, or on Christmas vacation, or during endless, hot, school breaks. When I was home alone, the radio was always there. It was more immediate than television, more comforting, and I could do my homework while listening to music or a talk show or the news. Today, I still listen to the radio a lot, many different stations, many points of view. During the power outage in New York several years ago, my transistor radio and I were the hit of the block. I balanced it on top of a mailbox and we huddled around to find out the latest news about the outage that rolled east across the country from the Midwest.

I listened to the most old-fashioned shows when I was a kid: Arthur Godfrey (ancient even then!), Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, various interview shows. I also listened to the top-ten on WLS Radio in Chicago -- a powerful station that stayed with us on car trips as far as Ohio. I listened to rhythm and blues on the low-wattage stations and all the news on stations such as WCBS. I loved all those voices.

When I moved to NY in the 1970s, I discovered "Radio Mystery Theater" and its sponsor Shop-Rite. Who could forget this jingle: "Hey mom, what's for dinner? Hey mom, what you got? She loves her family/She does her best?/She something ... something ... something .../ She lets Shop Rite do the rest!" The jingle still haunts me. It's almost as good as "self-styling Adorn .. A-dorn."

Bye-bye, Red Eye Radio. The show ended less than a half hour ago. I'll miss McIntyre's great music and his grasp of the news of the country and the world, his mellow voice in the night.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The New-York Historical Society Library - continued

The West Side Rag just published an online story about the new rules and regs at the NYHS Library. You can read all about it (and my own experience) here:

I invite your comments. Right now, it doesn't seem I will be able to use the library -- and I'm a member of NYHS -- any time soon. Sad but true.