Enclaves of the Heart


 Last night was a struggle to sleep and when it finally happened, moments later I woke with a start from the sound of lovers on the roof next door.  Peering out through my closed wood blinds to see if it was true or imaginary, in the filtered moonlight, their standing silhouettes cantered in the dark with a distinct long white female arm that braced against the half wall separating us.  “On the roof?” I thought to myself.   “Really?”


Today I found myself standing at a locked iron gate on Charles and Greenwhich streets dreaming at the diminutive Colonial crackerbox with a lovely garden.  Both are dwarfed by a painted brick apartment building that looms over its backside.  Therein is crammed with centuries of memories and history, including over four decades of my own.

When first I caught site of this nestled structure, the wall shown here did not exist.  My ex-husband and I discovered it while riding bikes in the late sixties.  The windows were boarded up.  The lawn had only bare soil, no plants or trees, not even dead ones.  There was a For Sale sign stuck in the ground: $15,000.  We screeched to a halt and entered into a short fantasy while a hot wind blew the dust of the yard in the air.  At the time, even that amount was a stretch for a couple of hippies.  And the house, a room tinier than it is now, could not have accommodated two tall people and an art studio.  We rode on.


As I stood there today, I noticed the cherry tree full of fruit, hanging over the wall.  It took me back to a night in June, late eighties or early nineties, when an old lover was visiting and we walked by this little enclave.  He reached overhead and picked a handful of the sour fruit and we ate them in the dark.  Later, too restless to sleep, we carried a foam pad, pillows and sheets to the roof of my building, and spent the rest of the night under the stars.  When he heft town, he put a note under a bowl of cherries on my table.


It’s said that home is where the heart is.  My fortunate heart exists in many enclaves that gently pull its’ strings: sites, sounds, smells, smiles, colors, memories of  richness in people, places of the past, present, and future, and cherries.

May we all spread what we have in our hearts to those who have little, and our smiles feel like home to those alone.

The Longest Day

Today is June 21st, 2013 and it’s my Dad, Sol Urdang’s, 90th birthday.  His girlfriend of many moons, Lynda Owings, was born on the summer solstice too.  She is… well, considerably younger.  Each capable of filling a room with the brightest light or the darkest night, I like to fondly remind the two sets of Gemini twins on their common birthday, ‘it’s the longest day of the year.’


From 1977, off to the  inauguration of Missouri Governor Joseph Teasdale.

Dad in the early 40’s Coast Guard, going to war and making Sal Mineo eyes before I was even a little twinkle.

IMGAt the end of September, 2001, in NYC for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera. Most people were afraid to fly in the immediate days after 9/11, but he was determined to show the terrorists they could not stop him.  That’s my dad.

IMG_0001Rather than being referred to as our father, he prefers to be called, The Producer.’  That, too, is my Dad.

To read more about the man who keeps saying, “Steph, did you ever think I’d live this long,” please read The Tower of Sol by scrolling down a few posts, or continue here reading Ol’ Fuzzhead, one of my first entries.


In the fall, my eighty-nine year old father ended up in a rehab center in Kansas City with another cardiac issue.  There was only so much normalcy that one could bring into that room.  So I did my version of what our family is known to do in tough times: get in the car.

But there was no way to lift him safely into any vehicle by myself because as frail as he is, he is still very dense.  Instead, I put a jacket on him and rolled him in his wheelchair through the door of his room, down the hallway, past nurses, doctors and other ‘inmates,’ into the elevator, down another long series of hallways, right by the front desk, and out the sliding doors.

Hitting fresh air like we’d just dug through a mile long tunnel, we quickly crossed the parking lot into the vast acreage of the surrounding hills.  Going up, I pushed with every ounce of strength I had, arms stretched way out and body at a total slant.  “Steph, you’re panting down my neck,” Dad said.  “I hope you don’t die of a heart attack doing this.”  Downhill was even more labor intensive.  Keeping him in his chair and a good grip on them both involved more strength than my life normally requires.

Twice we made variations of the same rounds, but the third day I decided to cross Nall Road, a six lane major thoroughfare.  From there we went into an upscale neighborhood.  As I pushed, we talked, more than usual.  We talked because we weren’t face to face and it was easier to communicate through the grief that hung between us like a wet wool blanket.

“I miss Gretchen, Steph.  Do you ever think about her?” Dad said.

“Every day, Dad.  I miss her too.”  Gretchen, my youngest sister, died eight years ago in a fire.  Even from behind him, I could tell Dad was softly crying.

“Getting old is not for sissies,” he said for the hundredth time.  “But that’s life.”

“Yeah, I guess so.  What else can you do?”  I could feel my heart breaking in two.

By then we had reached a small man-made lake.  When we came to a little footbridge, I nearly dumped him in the gap between the sidewalk and the wood planks.  Halfway onto the bridge I thought to myself, I need to document this one.

“I’m going to take your picture, okay?” I said, stopping.

“Make sure I look good.”

“It’ll be from the back, Dad.  Your face won’t even show.”

“Okay, but take one from the front too and be sure you get my good side and don’t make me look toothless.”

I took the two photos under his direction.

“Ol’ Fuzzhead,” he said when he looked at them on my camera, images his eyes could barely see.

“Yeah, Ol’ Fuzzhead halfway there,” I said, through a sheet of blinding tears.


An Ocean Of Rose Perfume


In my days of doing monologues, there was one in which part of the story was sung like a haunting lament.  The first two lines were: There was a week of nights that Bleecker street was filled with the scent of flowers.  It reminded me of the Marquez story, where one morning the ocean smelled like roses.

Marquez’s whole fishing village awoke to the ocean of rose perfume, and nothing was the same.  The scent was an omen for change.

Living in the sometimes stilted metropolis of New York means that  year after year, the  musky perfume of  the white lilac treechanges everything for the better in June.  Here we are again and it’s heavenly.  It’s not just on Bleecker.  It’s everywhere I walk, it comes through the windows, so prevelant it’s as if it originates in my mind.

I have always heard that the part of the brain that registers smell is close to the seat of the memory and they often work in tandem.  If something changed and the trees didn’t arouse my senses at this time of the year, annual chapters might be lost. And then what?  Chaos, I assume, just like in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story.


  These days, I seldom perform but when the opportunity arises to get on the stage to tell a story, I possess more courage than before.  Life has handed it to me as a reward for living, for remembering, for climbing the illusive mountain again and again.

The word courage actually comes from the French le coeur, meaning the heart.  Living with heart means living with courage and the opposite is the same.

Jeanne D’Albret said, “Nothing is impossible to a valiant heart,” and Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Living Art


As early as six years old, when the delicate threads of femininity, personal power, and self reliance were not yet integrated, I decided that marrying an artist would expose me to the kind of creativity I craved.  Little did I know that what was really plucking my strings was to be an artist myself.  But first I would have to marry one to figure out that existence through someone else’s visions, instead of finding my own and a compatible relationship, was unsustainable.


Since then, I’ve put all the pieces together, pinned them in place and have surrounded myself with a variety of compatible people, many artists amoung them.

These photos are of the work of a relatively new friend, Ran Adler.  He forages and assembles plant materials, a very time consuming practice, and does on site installations The above piece belongs to my sister, Melanie, who has known Ran for forty plus years.  I have only known him for one and a half, but it feels like a lifetime.  This one is made of the inner hard petals of the Mahogany tree strung through raffia, and secured into place at the top by barbs.

wall of crosses

This is the first one I saw, crosses of horsetail cut and pinned to the wall with barbed thorns.  Melanie and I were in Sarasota, February, 2012.  We have been going for years but this was the first time we drove down to Ran’s studio in Naples.  The wall, a cross for every lost loved one, was so poignant, my phone camera seized up in the frenzy of capturing the fleeting fragility and absence of so many lives.

cross close-up

Detail of that wall of tears.


And this row is now in my apartment.  I have assigned seven loved ones to the same number of crosse.  But to symbolize loss, I probably need more.  And at this rate, a bigger apartment is inevitable, even though in the name of sustainability, I have chosen less real estate as more.

For better photos of Ran’s work, to discover his personal countenance, to become familiar with his incredibly beautiful process, click here: ranadler.com

Cozmo is Concerned

W.C.Coz copy

My Dear Readers:  Coz’s concern is because he thinks he’s W. C Fields.  Mine has to do with Facebook.  If you rely on them to connect to my posts, you may have missed the last seven because they didn’t go up on that site.   I tried disconnecting and reconnecting and now it’s working, so feel free to read backwards from here to May 1st which is the last one facebook announced.  That one was called Time After Time, but there are some good ones in between. and thanks to all of you, my reasons for doing this.

The Tower of Sol


On the descent into Kansas City, Missouri, to see my father for what he thought would be a final goodbye, I felt my backbone soften into a column of meringue.  What was before me could very well require more fortitude than a lifetime supply.


My dad can be a harmless bovine, skipping through life with great charm and a convincing dose of masculinity.


Or one of his other characters can hit the stage and suddenly the comedy turns tragic, or  childish and petulant.  One can never be sure.   The only thing about him that’s flexible is his mood.  And his idea of humor is only funny if one is cruel and unusual.


Barking orders, Dad commanded me to dial a phone number for him.  The recipient, Mick, is an old friend in his late eighties and in a home for Alzheimer’s patients.  When the front desk asked who was calling, my dad said, ‘His father.”  With his old man voice and New York accent it sounded like he said ‘his farther.’  Confused already, Mick had the switchboard  operator ask again who was calling and Dad said, “Tell him it’s his father!” Then to me he said, “Jeeze, these people, Steph.”

For fifteen minutes, he attempted to converse with Mick.  As they talked,  Dad covered the speaker with the receiver in his lap, shaking his head.  “Steph, this is so sad,” Dad said.  “He’s in really bad shape and  doesn’t know who I am.”

“Just tell him your name, Dad,” I said.

“Mick, it’s Arnold,” Dad said into the phone.  Dad’s name is Sol: Sol Urdang. In all honesty, he and Mick called each other Arnold for years.  But from Dad’s end of the conversation, it didn’t sound like Mick ever comprehended who he was talking to.


My Dad’s health is failing but his mind is as sharp as ever.  He despises being old because it doesn’t fit into a lifelong model of physical vanity.  Where I like to think I will age with grace, his approach waivers between rage and utter despair.

Everywhere I looked during this trip to Kansas City, towers were in my view.  Like the lyrics of a long ago song playing over and over in my head, noticing towers in a town not known for them spoke to me.  As old and sick as my dad is, he’s still standing tall, if not strong, in  his idea of what it means to be a man.  On Junes 21st, he will hit ninety, and the only thing I know for sure is, I can’t imagine what that’s like.