Sunday, November 20, 2011


Yesterday it was my birthday,
I hung one more year on the line;
I should be depressed, my yard’s a mess,
But I’m havin’ a good time.
I’m digging and weeding and planting,
I’m exhausted from gard’ning so well;
I should go to bed but a voice in my head
Says, “Oh, what the hell.”
                               with apologies to Paul Simon

            I have conducted a life-long love affair with Paul Simon’s music. His lyrics have spoken to me since the 1960s, when I knew all the words to all the songs from “Bookends,” “The Sounds of Silence,” “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” (Still do.) I convinced my teenaged self that I was the Kathy on the bus from Pittsburgh in “America,” sans cigarettes. A term paper entitled “Themes of Alienation and Loss in the Songs of Simon and Garfunkel” turned in when I was a junior in high school brought me my first important accolades as a writer: so impressed was the English teacher that she made it required reading for her senior classes.

Fortunately, I had no social life at the time anyway so repercussions were insignificant.

What angst-filled adolescent didn’t thrum in harmony with “And a rock feels no pain / and an island never cries”? Or “You read your Emily Dickinson / and I my Robert Frost, / and we note our place with bookmarkers / that measure what we’ve lost.”  And “The Boxer”!

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
‘I am leaving, I am leaving’
But the fighter still remains.

Only the Beatles (with “Hey, Jude’s” nah-nah-nah-nah nahnahnah-nah), could command three minutes of radio airtime with nonsense syllables the way Simon did in “The Boxer”—lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, over and over as the orchestra swelled in the background. Tears still prick my eyes when I hear it.

Mincers Pipe Shop on the Corner,
Charlottesville, Virginia
Never attended a concert given by the boys, but I did once see Art Garfunkel. He drove into town from his home near Charlottesville, Virginia, every Sunday morning to pick up his copy of the New York Times from Mincers Pipe Shop on The Corner, hard by the University’s Rotunda. Mincers was just up the street from the U Diner, where “grills-with”—fried-ice-cream-with-glazed-donut-heated-on-the-grill—could be had for a dollar or so all day. On my way home from a post-Saturday-night sugar fix, I spotted Art (may I call you “Art”?) getting into his car, a hefty hunk of newsprint under his arm.

In later years, I wondered by what Machiavellian contortions he managed to get the New York version of the Sunday New York Times delivered on Sunday. Mere mortals had to wait until Wednesday.

In one of those simple twists of fate (old, pre-Christian Dylan’s a favorite, too), I recently rediscovered knitting. I grew up in a crafty family, and don’t remember not knowing how to knit, crochet, embroider, crewel, cross-stitch, needlepoint, petit-point, macramé and sew. Never cottoned to machine sewing, because it requires, well, a machine; but I’m still pretty adept with any sort of hand-held needle. This has come in useful over the years, especially for keeping beloved jeans and overalls in service.  I’m one of probably six people left in the world who actually knows how to darn socks.

Blue penguins wearing their protective jumpers
A few weeks ago, Tim, who trolls Google News most mornings, sent me an Attention All Knitters appeal for tiny sweaters for oil-coated blue penguins, victims of the latest disaster to befall New Zealand. The coverings keep the birds from ingesting the crude oil clogging their feathers until rescue workers can dip them in Dawn. Tim thought I’d like the picture of the jumper-clad birds: to his amazement, I leapt out of my chair to rummage around in the old blanket chest where I keep memories and things I might use again. Someday.

Piglet modeling my best effort
Ah, vindication! I emerged with 30-year-old knitting needles, single-pointed, double-pointed and circular, insisting we drop everything to go to our nearest JoAnn’s Fabrics—in Wilmington—to buy 100% wool yarn. (You see, the last time I knitted anything was around the same time double-knit polyester was all the rage, so the billions of skeins of yarn I kept are all acrylic or some even-more-sinister synthetic fiber.)

After a few false starts (like about 20), the stitches came back to me, as did casting on and binding off. Had lots of practice in picking up dropped stitches, and in un-knitting to correct mistakes. Must be like riding a bike, kinetic knowledge stored in one’s cells. The tiny penguin jumpers took shape. More or less.

Checked in with the lady at Skeinz, The Natural Yarn Store in Napier, NZ—a town I remember with great fondness for superlative fish-and-chips—who said the response from all over the knitting world had been tremendous, and every oil-coated penguin had an extensive wardrobe at his/her disposal. Oh, dear. No, no, she said, send your creations on: we’re dressing stuffed-toy penguins to sell, with a hundred percent of the profits going to the Penguin Rescue Fund. (I've already ordered two, at $25US a pop, for Christmas gifts. Click on "Take Flip Home" under Featured Products on the website linked above.)

Another penguin day, another penguin dollar
on the Otago Peninsula (photo by John Burke)
Why did I care? I’ll never forget the late afternoon I stood on a windy escarpment of the Otago Peninsula, watching yellow-eyed penguins coming home from another day of making a living in the Pacific. They resembled nothing so much as city workers disgorging from trains as they trudged out of the wave-break and trundled up the shore. All that was missing were the rolled-up newspapers and the briefcases.

Will I use some of my precious time to help them in their time of need? You betcha.


Marvelous Allium schubertii
            Anyway, yesterday was my 58th birthday, and I spent a chunk of it outside in the garden, personalizing lyrics to Paul Simon songs, such as the one in the epigraph. I’m trying ornamental alliums again, despite years of one-season ponies (Simon, sort of, again), excepting the chive twins, garlic and onion. A sucker for any species of onion, I ordered Allium flavum, a 1759 heirloom, yellow-flowered, mid-summer bloomer; A. carinatum pulchellum, A. flavum’s younger (1810), red-violet-flowered cousin; and the Brent and Becky’s web-exclusive A. hyacinthoides, which was a no-brainer choice for me because it’s supposed to have blue blooms. Well, duh. Splurged on another five A. schubertii, an 1896 introduction with the most bizarre of all of Allium's bizarre flowers that, despite its cold-hardiness Zone 7-9 reputation, refuses to perennialize chez Fitz. Also treated myself to five more Scilla peruviana bulbs, a scilla with a secret yen to be an allium.

Happy birthday to me!


            Since recovering (to a large extent) from the hormone-induced miseries of adolescence and the self-induced dramas of adulthood, my love for Paul Simon’s way with words endures. Unsurprisingly, his solo opus “Still Crazy After All These Years” provides the soundtrack to my maturation.

            So I sit by the window and watch the cars,
I fear I'll do some damage one fine day;
But I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers,
Still crazy after all these years,
Still crazy, still cra-aaa-zy,
Still crazy after all these years.

You better believe it. Thanks for dropping by.