Through the wonderfulness of a friend I scored a ticket to the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera season. This was a particularly exciting opening night because of course last year there was no season at all. Still, I might not have gone; opening night is fancy and I’m not a fancy kinda gal. But the season opened with FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES, Terence Blanchard’s opera based on Charles Blow’s memoir. I very much wanted to see it, so I accepted the challenge of dressing as though I almost fit in. Silk shirt, silk trousers, embroidered silk Chinese slippers — I don’t wear heels — and there I was, among the ball gowns, capes, embroidered sequined jackets… and you should have seen the women, too. No, seriously, everyone looked great.
And the opera? I’m far from knowledgeable enough about opera to be qualified to review it, but it seems unfair to tell you I went and then not tell you how I felt about it. So: the performances were great. Angel Blue, especially, and Will Liverman, were mesmerizing, and Walter Russell III, who plays Charles as a child, has probably had his life ruined by getting a standing ovation on opening night at the Met. The music I also loved. Blanchard drew on many sources and handles his transitions seamlessly. I was disappointed in the libretto. An opera’s not about the libretto, and most are probably disappointing but luckily in languages I don’t speak. I’m probably too word-oriented and placed too much emphasis on it.
The most interesting thing about this opera, though it’s by a Black composer based on the memoir of Black man and performed by an all-Black cast, is that it’s not a Black story, if by Black story you mean a story about racism, a story that defines Black people in terms of how they’re situated in the White world. This opera is about making choices, about a child becoming an adult, about leaving, or not leaving, the past behind. That these universal themes are dealt with in the context of a Black man’s life, instead of the default White life, is, if you ask me, the real cause for celebration.
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height
My skin can itch, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of buzzing and ideal sprays.
I loathe thee to the level of each day’s
Most quiet need, by citronella candle-light.
I loathe thee freely, as I slap at night.
I loathe thee purely, as thou escape’st my gaze.
I loathe thee with the passion put to use
In my old bites, and with my childhood’s tears.
I loathe thee with a loathing I don’t lose
When summer wanes. I loathe thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but loathe thee deeper after death.
I just typed “shellshocked” in a new chapter, and then checked the spelling to make sure the word doesn’t need a hyphen. Turns out it does. Okay, fine. But Spellcheck also gave me the choice of spelling it as two words without the hyphen — or, in case “shell shocked” were not the two words I wanted, it offered “shells hocked.”
And bingo, I was off. What shells could be valuable enough to hock? Would all pawnbrokers recognize them, or you’d need a specialist? Or maybe these aren’t seashells, they’re mortar shells. If you had mortar shells, why would you hock them? Because you knew you were about to get raided by the FBI…
It ain’t easy corralling this kind of brain.
It’s spring and the waterfowl on the river are busy as bees, or beavers. This morning two pairs of mallards were swimming around, with a male Gadwall in attendance. One of the male mallards swam away from the little flock, which caused two events. First, the female he’d been with zipped over to him, swam right in front cutting him off, and then settled in right beside him, reminding him who he belonged to. The Gadwall, meanwhile, came over to harass them. That left the other mallard pair on their own, but not to worry: a female Gadwall came flying in, landed behind them, and started annoying them. What does this say? That the Gadwalls, as they’ve done before, are nesting in the bushes by that stretch of river and the mallards were getting too close in their own search for a nest site. Also, that female mallards like to keep their males in line.
And speaking of nesting, those of you who remember the goslings born last year on the rocks by the Sanitation Pier and raised in the park by Mama and a very fierce Papa may be happy to know M and P have nested again, and I think she must have eggs in there because he’s been swimming back and forth patrolling for enemies. This is the best photo I could get so I’ve circled them in red. Papa in the water, Mama in the upper left of my circle right up by the wall. Just after I took this a crow flew in and landed near her. Papa lifted out of the water and flapped over, practically sat on top of it. It left in a hurry. Hatchlings coming, I hope!
Got my second shot Moderna
And I’m feeling kinda great.
Got my second shot Moderna.
I was early, couldn’t wait.
Got my second shot Moderna
Up on St. Ann’s Avenue
Where the golden sun was shining
And the sky was brilliant blue.*
Got my second shot Moderna
Up here in Mott Haven
Across the Bronx from the small house
Wherein Poe wrote “The Raven.”**
I checked in with my QC code
They said, “SJ, welcome back!
Just go on in here to the school,
Talk to the man in black.”***
He waved me to the lunchroom
Where the tables were all set up
And nurses, docs, and volunteers
Were wearing sterile get-ups.****
The nurse at table number 5
Swabbed my arm and stuck it
Then she smoothed on it a Band-aid
And said to me, “Good luck! It*****
Might swell up a little
And you may start feeling sick
But if you do, don’t worry —
That part is over quick.”
Then she sent me to the gym to wait
A fifteen minute span.
I sat there and I people-watched,
Enjoyed my fellow man.
When time was up I headed out
To E. 138th
To get café con leche
And some cake to celebrate(th).”******
So as of now I’m fully vaxxed
And it’s a happy day
And I hope you all soon get your shots
And COVID goes away!
*You saw that coming, right?
**Irrelevant, but true.
***It wasn’t Johnny Cash, no.
****Just cut me some slack, okay?
*****Not what you were expecting?
******Okay, that one’s awful.
I got a COVID vaccine shot the other day with the help of a friend. Another friend asked me for advice so I put this together for her. Now I’m sharing it with anyone who wants it. It might help, it might not. I hope it does. This info is mostly for NYC residents, though the NY State website is also here. For other states, I’m sorry but I can’t help. Wish I could.
It’s 2021. Well done, all. Here’s to peace, good health, and good work in the new year.
Standing third from the left, Parnell Hall one of the ways I remember him best: on the basketball court, where he had a funny (of course) one-legged stork shot that always went in. I remember him at the poker table, too, where he’d shake his head sadly at his cards, sigh at his luck, and leave at the end of the night with great piles of other people’s money. He was one of the first people I met in the crime-writing world. I was a last-minute substitute on a panel at Bouchercon Seattle in 1994. My first book had been out about an hour, I hadn’t expected a panel assignment, and I was terrified of being up there with the grownups. Turned out nothing I did mattered. Parnell and Donald Westlake spent 40 minutes being hilarious and ended the panel with a cream pie in the face. Parnell’s face, of course. He was generous, kind, funny, smart, and I’m going to miss him terribly.
Campaign for the American Reader did a Q & A with me and all you need to do is click the link to read it.