Friday, June 09, 2006

Heading to the West coast/ stories from the East

Ken and Cappy at Kiehl's/Boston
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
I'm going out to the West Coast again in July, for a few events in San Francisco and Portland. If anyone out there has any ideas for me, speak now.

Meanwhile, I'm finally getting back into the swing of things after doing my little Northeast jaunt last week. My flight--American--was delayed as usual, so I got into JFK last Thursday at 6pm, and took a cab directly to Housing Works where someone had to announce that do to the force of the rain outside, no one should go into the bathrooms. Yikes, I thought, what would happen in Manhattan had a hurricane?

After an interesting discussion of how much dog makes your work "about dogs", I headed out into the rain, crashed at a friend's house, woke up at the crack of dawn and headed up to Boston by train. During this ride, I had to endure a long conversation several seats down, about how this man's kids didn't do well with pets, unless they were "computer pets." "They like those," he said. He also had their universities picked out for them. Harvard and MIT are too competetive; he wants them to have a social experience. Of course, by the time they reach college, their only experiences may be with computer pets and computer friends.

After taping an interview at WGBH, I headed to Kiehl's, where I sat with Cappy from the MSPCA, and met several other dogs, including Josie, a black and white pit bull who looks just like Sula. I kept thinking how nice Boston is, even though it was awfully chilly. And then it occurred to me that the nice quality had to do with the lack of burning buildings and debris. (Not that the people weren't nice too!)

From there it was back to NYC, where I did a morning signing with Bide A Wee and an afternoon signing with BARC in Brooklyn. The afternoon was particularly great, because in spite of the rain there was a stream of volunteers stopping by to walk dogs and a few families coming around to look for something to adopt. And I got to tell everyone about Brando, who was a BARC dog himself. And the wonderful Maggie Estep came by!

The next morning I was in Philadelphia with the Animal Alliance. Alison Pace and I did an outdoor reading, with Harley's circling us and some kind of fog/tug boat horn punctuating our sentences. Alison's book, Pug Hill, sounds really great, although she warns me that some of it may be too girly.

I went out to dinner with Jill W, who helped put the event together, then collapsed and heading back south in the AM.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Encountering my childhood in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

Fun Home
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
The strange thing about reading a memoir about someone you know--even just a little bit--is that you are constantly spotting yourself just off the page. The book, obviously, isn't about you, but there are scenes where, if the lens were a little broader, you would be visible, standing in the corner with your arms crossed, observing the conflict at hand. Or, you discover the things you didn't know where happening--"that must be the night I ran into them and no one was speaking!" If you do show up at all, it is only because the character-version of yourself is able to further the narrative in some way, which is even stranger than not being included at all. Just ask Case Miller.

When I first read about Alison Bechdel's book Fun Home last week, I was startled by these words: "her father, who committed suicide". Bruce Bechdel's death, after toppling over in front of the house into oncoming traffic, was one of those horrible landmark events of my youth. Proof that bad, unexplained things can happen. Proof that you can't count on anything going the way it should.

But Alison's memoir, serious as it is, is also a whole lot of fun. Despite the dark secrets, it mostly celebrates the strange and wonderful house and family that I remember visiting. We visited often. The three Bechdel kids went to school with the Foster kids through the sixth grade. Alison was in my sister's class; Christian in my brother's; John in mine. So it was more or less decided that the six of us would be friends, because it was convenient for our parents. (We also spent a lot of time with the other trio of kids, the "Gryglewicz" kids, according to the book.) And those are the details that really knock me over in the book: Helen Bechdel preparing for her role in "The Importance of Being Ernest" (we were staying at their house that week, and she would play scenes for us and ask advice); the huge, artifical granduer of their house, which made it seem like another world, everything bigger and more dramatic; the oddness (to me anyway) of the fact that they had no TV room, but rather a small TV that was housed on a bookshelf, with a chaise lounge positioned in front of it.

We built small dams in the runoff of their long driveway. We all wrote letters to each other even though we only lived 20 minutes apart. When my mother was ill and in the hospital for a few days, we moved in, unexpectedly, and Bruce Bechdel, ususally invisible during our visits, suddenly materialized to assign each of us chores. Then, as we successively turned twelve, we left elementary school and went to separate high schools, where I imagined they were all having a much better time.

But earlier, one afternoon, Alison gathered the six of us together and she painted a group portrait, including herself in the tableaux, even though she was on the otherside of the canvas. Sort of like her book now, too. But I'd love to get my hands on that old painting, to see again what it was she was seeing then too.