Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

Key West - No, I'm not talking about the democratic primary or John McCain though things are getting pretty wild. Every day it's something else. I'm still ardently supporting Barack Obama (see my post of April 1). And with the Indiana and North Carolina primaries looming I've been obsessed. If I weren't working on a tight deadline I'd be in one of those states right now. Instead, I have very different Wild Things (forgive me, Maurice) in mind this morning. Key West is a small city and we live close to our neighbors on small lots so I've been surprised, to say the least, by some of our recent visitors....


Yes, this creature sometimes allows me to see him. Here he is at our outdoor dining table, right outside my study. Interesting, isn't he? So prehistoric!

I've been told that after iguanas eat they need to rest their bellies on a warm slab in order to digest. Concrete around a pool is a favorite choice on a sunny day. And once they've digested -- well, they're ready to poop. If you're lucky they'll let it out on the concrete, not in the pool (they love to swim). Not that I'm happy having to clean up iguana poo around the pool, but I'd be less happy if it landed in the water.

I know where "Iggy" lives. In a tree near the pool. And I know what he likes to eat. He's especially fond of a flowering vine climbing the wall outside my bedroom. I know he's got friends, too, because sometimes they congregate on the roof of our house. Not that I can resist watching when he's around but I've been warned he, like all iguanas, carry salmonella on their skin, so no touching!

Free Range

George parked the jeep at the post office in town and when he came back he found an egg on the seat. An egg! The post office is a favorite hang-out for local chickens. For those who don't know, chickens are protected in Key West. They're all over town. If I were a chicken I'd want to live here. So George found this egg in the jeep and knew it was unlikely that some passerby had dropped it there. This means while he was gone a chicken flew into the jeep (it's open) sat down, laid an egg, then left. George was pretty excited. He brought the egg home, refrigerated it, and meant to eat it right away. But by the time he got around to it a week had passed and without thinking he mixed it in with his scrambled eggs one Sunday morning. I kept waiting for something bad to happen. But nothing did. After all, it was truly an egg from a free range chicken.


We were awakened at 4:30 in the morning by screaming and splashing in the pool. Our bedroom is at one end of the pool and we sleep with the doors partly open. You know how it is when you're awakened from a deep sleep -- neither of us could figure out what was going on. But when we looked we saw what appeared to be two animals at the side of the pool, and another in it. They were screaming in distress. Pretty scary, actually. George ran for his camera but he's like one of those guys with a gun who keeps the gun locked in one place and the ammo locked in another. He finally managed to get his camera out of its zippered case but finding and attaching the flash was something else. Meantime, another of the animals either fell or jumped into the pool, trying to rescue the first. My initial reaction was, we have to save them! But at this point we didn't even knowwhat they were. By the time George got it together and stepped outside with his camera, the two who were poolside (by then only one was left struggling in the water) lumbered off, leaving just the one screaming swimmer.

When he finally made it out, George caught him on camera. Looks like he was in shock (the animal, not George). We put the picture up on the computer screen but it wasn't clear to us at 4:45am what it was. Wolverine? George asked. Do we have wolverines in Key West? We went online to check. No wolverines. But look at that face. Raccoons? Yes. there's a south Florida raccoon -- a smaller, blonder version of the kind we know so well from the northeast -- but these guys were neither smaller nor blonder. They were the real deal. If it hadn't been the wee hours I like to think we'd have spotted that striped tail from the get-go. Wet and bedraggled, here's our 4am swimmer!

All of this on a small, heavily populated island just 90 miles from Cuba.
xx Judy

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dancing Queen

Key West -- On Friday mornings I take a tap dancing class. My teacher, Bruce Moore, is the best! I come home singing and dancing every week. And Bobby Nesbitt is in my class! Bruce and Bobby are a talented duo who perform in Key West, sometimes together. Bobby is a piano man with a great voice. Bruce was a Broadway baby, who sings and dances. The rest of my class is a varied group -- everyone from grandmas, to brave guys who've always wanted to tap, to anyone who loves to dance and can get out of work from 11-noon.

Some learned to tap as kids and their feet have never forgotten. Some started last year when Bruce announced his class. I started when I moved from New Mexico to New York in the mid '80s and discovered a tap class over the local bagel shop. I was 45 at the time. Little did I know that Bob Audy was one of the best tap teachers in the city. I stood in the last row of the basic beginner class for the longest time, learning from those in front of me. For a couple of years I was obsessed. Forget about writing. Tap was all I wanted to do.

(Back in the day - 25 years ago!)

Many of the students were Broadway hopefuls. Some were preparing for auditions. I've never been in such good shape as I was then. I was determined to do double pull-backs for my 50th birthday, but I didn't make it. Oh well.
Growing up in Elizabeth, NJ, I took ballet lessons, starting in the baby class with Elsa Heilich. Miss Heilich (as we called her) wore beautiful outfits to teach. I remember her all in red with red ballet slippers. Her hair was pitch black (now that I think of it, probably dyed). There was piano music. We wore dotted swiss ballet dresses.

In 3rd and 4th grades, when I lived in Miami Beach, my mother found a dance/acrobatic studio. But it was nothing like Miss Heilich's. I was enrolled in a Saturday morning class. The star of our class wore a tutu and could do perfect cartwheels and backbends. She had toe slippers! I hated her. Okay, I didn't really hate her, I envied her. No matter how many times I practiced my cartwheels up and down the beach I never got both legs up straight.
That year we all saw Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charise in The Unfinished Dance. The local shoe store claimed they had the actual slippers that Margaret wore in the movie. They held a contest -- I've written about this in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. The winner would get a free trip to Hollywood and maybe a screen test (my memory is vague here, confused between reality and what I wrote in the book). But of this I'm sure -- my fantasy was winning that contest. Alas, my feet were too narrow to fill out Margaret' s slippers. Big disappointment.

Back in New Jersey I wanted to take tap class but my mother considered tap vulgar. Jewish girls took ballet, others took tap. So I never learned.
Cut forward -- I stopped going to Bob Audy's tap classes after 5 years when he moved his studio to midtown and I realized my writing was suffering because my focus was on tapping. Soon George and I were coming to Key West for the winter. I always packed my tap shoes just in case. Once or twice I wore them to parties where I threatened to dance but never did.

And then, magically, Bruce Moore announced that he'd be giving tap classes! His classes remind me of Bob Audy's. Okay, there's no piano. And we're in a small room at the back of a gym (Body Zone South) in a strip mall . And sometimes there's a guy grunting on a mat on the floor. But none of that matters. Because we're dancing!

There's nothing like tapping to take you out of whatever else is going on in your life. For one hour you're thinking only of your feet, the beat, and the thrill of learning a new routine. Better yet, you're not thinking at all. It's just happening! Thanks, Bruce, for bringing tap to Key West!

Twenty-five years have past since my first tap class. But here I am with Bruce, doing a triple time step.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why I Support Obama

Key West -- if you've been reading my blog you know I'm supporting Barack Obama for President. Some people have asked why so I've decided to share my reasoning with you.

Integrity + Intelligence + Inspiration = Obama

The first time I was old enough to vote in a presidential election John Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon. I was 22, married, expecting my first child and living in suburban New Jersey. My husband, a lawyer, belonged to the Young Republicans club. He expected me to help his cause by making phone calls urging people to vote for Nixon.

I never made those calls. And on election day I was thrilled to pull the lever, casting my vote for Kennedy. I’ve never responded well to being told what to do. I prefer to make up my own mind.

Like so many others, I was inspired by John Kennedy and excited about the possibilities for our country. Coming out of the sleepy, complacent fifties, he made me believe that change was possible. I believed in him the way my parents believed in Roosevelt. I remember the night Roosevelt died in April, 1945. I was seven years old and just recovering from chicken pox. When my parents heard the news on the radio, they fell into each other's arms, crying. I cried, too, although I didn't have a clue.

My generation wept the same way when we lost John Kennedy. Then Martin Luther King. Then Bobby Kennedy. We mourned what might have been. In the dark days that followed, those of us who were young and idealistic were forced to grow up fast. I watched the Vietnam war unfold on TV as I played on the floor with my two small children. I became a skeptic about politics and politicians. Yet there was never an election when I didn’t vote. For me, voting was both obligation and privilege.

I’ve never spoken publicly about my politics. But I’m speaking out now because at last we have a candidate who makes me believe again. A candidate who I see as America’s best hope, a candidate with the potential to be transforming, one who inspires not just my grandson’s generation, but my own, and my children’s. Friends who know Barack Obama personally, friends whose opinion I trust, tell me he’s the real deal, and I believe them. As Bill Richardson said when he endorsed Obama, “There’s something special about this guy...”

I have friends who disagree. They tell me it’s disloyal to support Obama when we have the chance to elect the first woman president in this country. They say I’m betraying the Women’s Movement and all that we fought for. I would be the first to stand up and thank the Women’s Movement for giving me the courage to change my life, and I am forever grateful to those who came before me.

There was a time when I supported Hillary (in her run for Senate) but that was before she voted to authorize war in Iraq, then supported Bush a second time in his confrontationist policy on Iran. This election is about choosing a leader whose judgment we respect. I can't respect or trust the judgment that led to those votes. And I'm deeply disturbed by the growing anger and resentment of some Hillary supporters. I’m starting to believe them when they say they’ll vote for McCain (or not vote at all) before they’ll vote for Obama. What does that say about their agenda?

My daughter experienced sexual harassment on the job as a young, commercial airline pilot. She'd planned on voting for Hillary in the Massachusetts primary. I respect her right to make her own decisions. But days before the election she was bombarded by fliers from Hillary's campaign, so negative and hateful she began to rethink her vote. Like many feminists she’s discovered it’s not always about gender (any more than it should be about race or religion). Feminism means we get to make our own decisions. We get to decide who we’re voting for based on our belief in who will make the best candidate, who will make the best president.

Whoever is elected in November is going to face a daunting challenge. No one person can clean up the mess it took 7 and ½ years to create. That's why I want the calm, thoughtful candidate I believe will surround himself with the best and the brightest. I believe the decisions Obama makes will be made based on what’s best for this country. And he's not bringing eight years of baggage into the White House.

I want a president who can make us proud as Americans. How great would it be after 7 and ½ years to have an articulate leader, an eloquent speaker, one who is not only willing to talk, but to listen? I believe Obama will be that kind of president. Plus, he has a sense of humor. He has two young daughters and a working wife. He's smart. And let's not forget the magic. Nothing wrong with having the ability to connect with people around the world --young, old, and in-between.

You know, every year at this time I’m asked to send “words of wisdom” to graduating seniors around the country. I tell them I think the single most important part of their education is to learn to think for themselves – to weigh the pros and cons then make up their own minds. I ask them to take responsibility for their own actions. I’d like to see all our candidates do the same.

In some ways an election is like life – a lot of muck comes your way. It’s hard sometimes to slog through it. It’s exhausting. It can be scary. You can feel like you’re drowning in it. You’ve got to work hard to pull yourself up and out of it, then to rise above it. We need a leader who can help us do that, then pull us together. That's why I'm supporting Barack Obama.

All I ask is that you make an informed decision. This election is too important for us, and for our kids and grandkids, to decide in any other way.