Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Moments in Parking

You know it is time to get off the street when you have had three bad parking experiences in a row. Yesterday morning at nine, I had to move my car from a swiftly expiring Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot to an 8:30-10 spot before work. I went up one block and down another before finding a spot between a Dodge Caravan and a Toyota Camry. It was tight—those Caravans are so massive that it is hard to parallel park behind them—and my first try did not go well, so I pulled out and tried again. There was no one in the Caravan, and it looked like the Camry was unoccupied, too—that is, until I gave its front end a little kiss with my back bumper. Oops.

“So sorry I nudged you,” I said, jumping out of the car to apologize. The woman behind the wheel scowled and got out of her car to see the damages. Her car was a later model than mine, but its front license plate was every bit as mangled from parking on the street as the Éclair’s, and any smudge I left could easily have been attributed to a preexisting condition. She had to have seen me struggling, and there was a good two feet of clearance behind her, so I said, “You could have backed up a little.” Mistake.

“Well, I was reading the paper and you didn’t have the courtesy to ask me to back up,” she said. She was mean: heavy, with messy gray hair, a rumpled shirt the shade Crayola calls Orchid, and blue polyester pants. A big bunch of keys dangled around her neck, giving her the air of a prison warden.

I shut up and got back in my car, and read my own newspaper. The Times had a story about Dennis Kucinich, saying that in anticipation of his district's being eliminated in Ohio he was investigating the possibility of a run for Congress in the state of Washington. Poor Cousin Dennis. He had to give up his run for the Presidency in 2008 to protect his seat in Congress, and now he might have to leave Cleveland, our ancestral stronghold, to stay in the game at all. I bet he could win in Washington, even as a carpetbagger. Though the Times ignored him when he was running for President, now they are admitting that he has name recognition.

At 9:40, the Warden got out of her car and zipped up a fleece jacket with a Navajo print. She was way overdressed for alternate-side parking—it was a steamy morning. Maybe that's why she was so crabby. Her newspaper was a freebie tabloid that she wadded up in a big ball and threw away. I kept hoping she’d leave, and a cop would come and give her car a ticket. But she patrolled the street as if it were a cellblock and her shift was up at two minutes to ten.

This was the third of three unpleasant experiences, one of which was vicarious. Last Friday, Baby Dee was in town, and we both had to move our cars at seven-thirty in the morning. Dee gave me a ride to my parking space and then went off to find her own. I got home at a little after eight, and Dee didn’t make it back until almost eleven. “What happened?” I asked. “Just a little bad luck,” she said. “There were a million people driving around in that hour or so before the alternate side thing kicked in. I should have done that thing of putting it at the meter until the change came. We did that once before.” I somehow hadn’t had the energy that morning to suggest the three-step parking routine and offer her four pounds of quarters. Usually there are free spaces on Fridays, because people are leaving for the weekend. Dee had driven around for almost two hours, she said. Then, “I found myself behind the street sweeper and all the cars were lining up for a spot to wait until 10:30 and I realized that was as good as it was going to get.” She parked a mile away and had to walk home. Later, she said she had seen a lot of young people in caps and gowns, and figured that their parents had come to town in for graduation and were taking up all the parking places.

As if to punish me for not giving my spot to Dee and trying my own luck, when I wanted to leave for the beach on Saturday, my car wouldn't start. That was the day the world was supposed to end. Was the first symptom a dead car battery? The steering wheel was jammed and the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition. I couldn’t even roll down the stupid automatic windows to get some air while I agonized. I was about to call AAA when a guy drove up beside me who wanted my space bad enough to help. He knew how to unjam the steering wheel (stomp on the brake and give the wheel a good jerk). But still, when I turned the key, nothing happened. I tried jiggling the cutoff switch, an anti-theft device that I have never mastered. Eventually, with some combination of jumper cables, the right key, and a flick of the cutoff switch, the car started and I drove off, bequeathing my spot to the Good Samaritan.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


This review on the online calendar of Cliff Bell's (, where Dee appeared on Friday night, is worth reposting. The author is Kurt B. Reighley.

"It takes nerve for a grown woman to bill herself as “Baby” and expect to be taken seriously—unless you’re Baby Dee. If anyone’s earned a moniker like this, it is she. In her storied career, the Cleveland, OH, songwriter has worked circuses and sideshows. Yes, her cackling laugh and wild eyes can unnerve, but she doesn’t seem the sort to lock her older sister in an upstairs room and serve rats for supper. She’s too good-natured for that.

As curious as she is—there aren’t many transgendered harpists who love a good cigar—Baby Dee doesn’t peddle “outsider” music. And even though she’s releasing records on Drag City these days, she still runs in the same circles as Current 93, Little Annie, and Marc Almond. Her Art-with-a-capitol-A speaks of a commitment to discipline and stylistic choices far removed from traditional indie rock.

With its references to German lieder (particularly Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”), Baby Dee’s 2008 breakthrough Safe Inside the Day flirted with classical music. Regifted Light embraces it further. Eight of the 12 selections are instrumentals, arranged for small ensemble: piano, cello, a few winds and brass, glockenspiel and other percussion. Producer Andrew WK contributes pump organ. The instrumentation may evoke programmatic favorites like “Peter and the Wolf,” but the execution—particularly in the lively mid-section of standout “Yapapipi”—rings closer to Stravinsky’s theater piece “L’Histoire du Soldat.” As for the vocal works, it isn’t difficult to imagine some earnest young mezzo-soprano warbling “On The Day I Died” or the title song in a recital hall. But even a singer with superior technique couldn’t top Dee’s performance of “The Pie Song,” which brings surprising depth and range of feeling to a seemingly frivolous little ditty. And that is the magic of Baby Dee: she illuminates her music—however you define it—with a mix of childlike exuberance and hard-won experience few others, in any discipline, can match." -Kurt B. Reighley

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Morning After

“It was like a ferris wheel ride where the operator keeps letting you go around once more.” That’s how J. Kathleen White described Baby Dee’s show on Tuesday at Joe’s Pub. Dee is touring with a cellist (Matthew Robinson) and two guys from Mucca Pazza, the Chicago marching band: a percussionist (Jon Steinmeir) and a bassoonist (Mark Messing), who had also brought his Sousaphone. An ear-splitting fire alarm went off just as Dee was starting her first lovely slug song, “Regifted Light”; we didn’t have to evacuate, and when it stopped, she simply started over. The false alarm would not have bothered a slug. Dee has played Joe’s Pub so many times, she said, that she has gotten used to feeling the subway rumble underneath, and wonders if the people on the train below ever think, hearing music from above, “I could get used to that.”

The instrumentation was more conducive to funny songs than to dirges. Little Annie made an appearance; she and Dee are working on an album together. And, after playing most of the songs on the new CD (“Lullaby Parade” was especially beguiling), as well as "The Early King" and "Teeth Are the Only Bones that Show," Dee got out the Baby Dee Hymnal: she did the Mormon Underwear song, led the congregation in “Pisspot” (to raise our self-esteem), and sang “Jesus Got a Plan for You” (“He’s gonna fry your fat ass in Hell”). She finished with “Tranny Girl,” a song that, when I first heard it, back in the nineties, made me want to dive under the table. When I realized what she was playing, I thought, Oh, no! I’ve invited all these people from the office! But they enjoyed it! Even I enjoyed it—which says at least as much about my evolution as it does about Dee's delivery.

A few days later, Dee and company were on their way to Cleveland to play a house concert, and I was back at my post on Little Kiss Street (formerly K Street), behind yet another black S.U.V., this one presided over by a woman of a certain age who wore a black sweatsuit and a green hairband. She was very bossy, but she lives on the block and she had my interests at heart, so I can’t complain. In front of her was a small white car whose owner had incurred her wrath by not showing up on Monday, thereby complicating our parking maneuvers, the son of a bitch. She showed up on Thursday, though, and we all joined forces against a guy who tried to insinuate himself into our lineup. He had been too close to the fire hydrant, and when the Broom came, he backed all the way up the street and stood in the spot that I had been planning on occupying while the Broom went by (followed closely by a Lay's potato-chip truck in a big fat greasy hurry). The bossy S.U.V. owner and I had no choice but to go into wedge formation and block the guy from taking one of our spots.

“That guy has never parked on this block before,” a man said when eight o'clock came and we all trudged off, having earned our spots until next Monday. "He doesn't know the drill."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Little Kiss Street

Last week, when alternate-side was suspended for Passover, I found a highly vulnerable spot on K Street, just around the corner from the avenue, the Éclair’s back end protruding slightly into the crosswalk. The cop who came last Friday morning was super friendly. (I had found room to move the car up out of the crosswalk by then.) “Do you know this guy?” she asked, indicating the black Nissan Murano in front of me. I said I didn’t know him. (Nor do I know why an S.U.V. should be named after an island of glassblowers.) “Why can’t people wake up on time?” she wailed. She was an attractive cop, with loops of long brown hair tucked under her white metermaid cap. “I like to give them a few minutes, you know?” She wrote the ticket slowly, and had placed it reluctantly on the windshield when a harried-looking guy approached carrying a baby girl. Everyone felt bad about the ticket, with the possible exception of the little girl, who thought it was fun to sit in the car with her father first thing in the morning.

I was back out there at 7:30 A.M. on Tuesday, having been lucky enough to score a spot after I returned from Rockaway, this time on the other side of the black Murano, better protected from turning buses. There was a beige Toyota Corolla in front of me, and a potbellied guy with a Mini-Cooper in the spot up at the corner. The street sweeper came, and we pulled diagonally across the street in the time-honored fashion. Getting back into my spot was a bit tricky, and I did something I've never done before: I accidentally grazed the bumper of the Toyota. Oops. I got out of the car to apologize and inspect the damages. There was a gray smudge on the bumper about the size of an eraser. The guy wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t insane, so he accepted my apology.

The Murano was still there today, but the car in front of me was a black GMC pickup called a Canyon. So I was between Murano and the Canyon. When the street sweeper came, it idled in my spot, because a car farther down the street had not moved, and the Canyon owner, a big guy who looked like a K.G.B. agent, refused to pull up a little and let the street sweeper squeeze behind him. Meanwhile, the Murano had returned to its spot, and somehow the Canyon also got back in before I did. It sometimes happens that somebody’s spot shrinks after the street sweeper goes by, and today that happened to me. "I don't know why it got so tight," the Murano owner said, as I parallel-parked with his guidance. I tapped the bumper of the Canyon in front of me. Oops. (This is getting altogether too much like the Bump'em Cars concession at Coney Island.) I got out and went up to his car window to apologize. “Sorry for tapping you,” I said. And the K.G.B. guy's face split open in a big gaptoothed grin, and he said, “Little kiss!”