Murder She Wrote

I recently finished watching all 264 episodes of Murder She Wrote. I started doing this because I often have insomnia and watch television to fall asleep. At 11 pm, after the prime-time programming of the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel ends, they show several of the one-hour episodes of the show. Don’t judge me for my viewing habits but eventually I succumbed and started watching Murder She Wrote episodes to fall asleep. It often worked and then I got interested enough that using Peacock, which I get as part of my Xfinity account for the Internet, my landline phone and TV, I was able to watch all the episodes.

Murder She Wrote originally aired on broadcast TV from 1984 to 1996. In 1984 I was 30 years old and by 1996 I had a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. I was busy and didn’t have time to watch that much TV. I did not watch Murder She Wrote during its original broadcast run. I’m pretty sure I thought she was an old lady and was not particularly interested.

Now of course I am an old lady myself and this is probably one reason why I find Murder She Wrote more appealing. Jessica Fletcher, the main character played by Angela Lansbury, is a widow and a very independent woman. She has begun a second career as a mystery writer following teaching high school English. The fact that she does this when the actress herself was 59 when the show started and 71when it ended is inspirational. It provides a role model for middle aged women beginning second or third acts.

Another aspect of Jessica Fletcher’s independence is that she solves the mysteries on her own with little or no help from anyone else especially men. Many of the Hallmark mysteries that currently air in prime time involve female amateur detectives, but they always have a male romantic interest who help them solve the crimes. Jessica Fletcher did not really have a romantic interest although William Windom played her best friend. Curious and inquisitive, if she gets herself into a jam while trying to solve a murder, she gets herself out of it, usually with no help from anyone. This independence solidifies her being a feminist role model.

I have also enjoyed watching the episodes because I got to see the technological changes that occurred during the twelve-year time span of the series. In the beginning she wrote everything on a typewriter. There were basically Rotary phones and a few wall phones. By the end there were computers and large cell phones. Seeing in real time the rapid technological changes that occurred from the 80s to the 90s is compelling.

This is not a technological change but the clothes that JB Fletcher wore evolved. In the beginning she presented as a pedestrian Maine native, flannels and jeans. Because Cabot Cove, Maine could not be the scene of weekly murders, the show took its’ heroine to many different domestic and international locales. Jessica Fletcher also lived in New York City for a while. Her clothes became increasingly sophisticated but were not high couture or sexy. No stiletto heels or low-cut gowns.

Despite the typewriters and Rotary phones most of the episodes do not seem dated. One area that does not reflect current sensibilities is the show’s treatment of Native Americans. For one thing the show calls this ethnic group Indians and for another it plays very stereotypical flute music anytime a Native American character appears. Once again viewing in real time we get a sense of how things have changed although of course we have so much more to do to redress the harms and mistreatment of Native Americans.

Because I can be compulsive, once I had seen a lot of the episodes I decided to see if there were any books that Angela Lansbury or her fictional character Jessica Fletcher had written. Angela Lansbury wrote a how to how to live your life better book, Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being (1990). I read and enjoyed it. The book contains mostly common-sense advice about staying active, doing things you enjoy and watching what you eat. Probably she has taken her own advice because she is still alive at the age of 96.

If you ever need to feel asleep or want to see an independent middle-aged woman doing exciting things, tune in to Murder She wrote.

 

 

 

Cold

As many of my readers probably know, I attend writing groups that Nerissa Nields runs. She always starts her groups with a writing prompt. The prompt can be a poem, or an excerpt from prose writing. In October she read from  This is One Way to Dance by Sejal Shah. The book is a memoir told through essays. I haven’t read it, but I would like to.

Nerissa’s prompt dealt with Shah’s feelings about the cold. To escape the cold, she goes so far as breaking into an unlocked car to find something warmer to wear. I am posting the free writing I did in response to the prompt from Shah’s book.

Cold

I hate being cold. In the summer when we use air conditioning, I often sleep in a winter nightgown and use a heavy blanket.

In the fall of 2009, we spent a month in NYC. It was a busman’s holiday since we were both doing research. Despite that, we also got to enjoy the city. Fall weather in New York can be very unpredictable. One day – 75 degrees, the next below 60.

I got dressed one morning to go to the 42nd library for a day of research. The previous day it had been warm and sunny. Dressing for the last battle, I put on capris and a short sleeve shirt. I didn’t even bring a sweater, something I usually do. I was already cold before we even got to the library. The building was freezing. I was so uncomfortable I couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t get warmer. Eventually we left.

Being physically uncomfortable and not being able to settle in your own skin is extremely unpleasant. Acute or chronic pain as well extreme temperatures can produce those unpleasant feelings. I have experienced all these things at various times in my life due to accidents, illness and not dressing properly for the actual temperature. All these experiences show me how deeply connected the mind and body are.

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 26

Today began with an unfortunate occurrence. While eating French toast and bacon for brunch, my temporary crown fell out. This was distressing, to say the least, and it took me a while to get it back in.

Since I still see a dentist in New York, (long story – don’t ask), I was glad I could get the crown back in because I didn’t want to travel to New York this week. I still have NaNoWriMo for a few more days, my writing groups, skating and ten people coming to my house, a week from today.

If I sound stressed, it is because I am. I plan on only eating soft food for the next few days. I definitely don’t want it  fall out again.

I ran some errands to try to clear my head and wound up writing 436 words today. Since Halloween, I have written at least 20,000 words or 80 pages.

 

September 11, Twenty Years Later

I am sorry that I am a day late with my weekly post. We are still dealing with the consequences of our flooded basement. On Labor Day, I discovered that my paper files were all wet. Three file drawers got soaked. One had much of my research for my current project. This has been a traumatic event.

Because today is September 11, I do realize that many things have happened in the past twenty years that are far worse and much more devastating than my flooded basement. In memory of all the lives lost on that terrible day, I am reposting something from September 11, 2009.

September 11 – Eight Years Later

Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrible events of September 11 2001. This is a particularly poignant day because we are in New York. Eight years ago, I had been in New York the day before, September 10, and woke up, at home, on the morning of the 11th to hear my husband’s voice on the answering machine, ” I don’t know if you have heard what happened in New York but my parents are okay.” As everyone knows, September 11 2001 was a picture perfect New York fall day and the 10th was as well. I felt very steeped in my New York roots because I had spent the evening of the 9th reading about the  pending city elections while I waited for my friend who I was visiting to come home.

Today, September 11, 2009, is not a beautiful day. The weather is  very bad, with high winds and heavy downpours. Because of these bad conditions, we have been unable to attend any commemorative event. Many of them were outdoors.

Despite that, since 2001, I have felt that this day should not be like every other day.  Apparently President  Obama and Congress agree with me. In March the federal government designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.  I really hope that this takes root and becomes how  people commemorate September 11th in future years.

My thoughts are with all the people who suffered a loss on that fateful day and it is my sincerest wish that nothing like that will ever happen to any person or country again.

Citibank

As part of the responsibilities I have had taking care of my aunt following her accident, I have been trying to exercise the power of attorney so I can use her funds to pay her bills.

She banks at Citibank. When we were still in Florida, I took the documentation to her local branch and tried to activate the power of attorney. The person I spoke to acted like he had never seen a POA before and told me he would have to send it to legal; it could take up to 48 hours to receive an answer.

This was Monday afternoon. I informed the bank clerk that I was leaving Florida early Thursday morning. I requested that they try to rush the proceedings so I could get this completed before I left. Late Wednesday, the person from the Florida branch called and said legal had okayed the POA. He then informed me that I had to tell him the name of the nearest Citibank to where I live. It turns that is Bridgeport Ct. which is two hours away.

Once I returned home there were several back-and-forth calls to Citibank. Eventually I spoke to a manager who said she would be sending me checks. I asked if there was anything else I had to do. She advised me to go to a Citibank branch and fill out paperwork, essentially a signature card, so I could be added to the account.

I had to be in New York on Wednesday May 19 for something else so I picked a branch near Grand Central Station and asked if I could go there. She said she would email the manager of that branch all the information.

I arrived at the branch, spoke to someone who asked repeatedly if I had the original document, took my identifying information, and then disappeared. An hour later, I looked for her and she was in the manager’s office. He informed me that they couldn’t do anything without the original document. I told him Citibank’s legal department had already approved the POA and that my aunt’s lawyer had the original.

I got the lawyer on the phone, but the bank manager refused to talk to him, saying “I won’t talk to someone I dont’ know”. I angrily took back my papers and left in a huff.

The next day the lawyer sent a demand letter to the branch in Boca Raton and gave them 10 days to respond. Today, in the mail, I got the checks. The lawyer tells me this means we are all set; there is nothing else to do.

From the beginning of this saga, Citibank has been completely unhelpful, and very incompetent, wasting a lot of my time.  I am going to advise my aunt to change banks. Citibank is too large and  has terrible customer service.

Schaefer Beer

Pabst, which does not brew any beer but owns the rights to many iconic brands from the 1950’s and 60’s, is bringing back Schaefer Beer. Schaefer is associated with Brooklyn, but it is not being brewed there. F.X. Matt in Utica, N.Y. is producing the beer. You can read more about it here.

This is an excerpt from Brewing Battles, about Rudy Schaefer and Schaefer beer during World War II.

Rudy Schaefer, the owner of Schaefer Brewing, had become president of the USBA in 1941. Schaefer Brewing had begun in 1842 and was one of the country’s first lager brewers. Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer emigrated from Russia and eventually operated a brewery near Grand Central Station. Rudolph, Maximilian’s son, took over the brewery in 1912 and moved it to Brooklyn in 1915. During Prohibition, Rudolph Schaefer died, and his two sons, Frederick and Rudolph, Jr. took over. In 1927 Rudy, a Princeton graduate, gained sole control of the brewery. Having survived Prohibition, the company expanded with additional plants in Baltimore and Albany. In 1938 the brewery produced one million barrels and was consistently one of the nation’s top ten breweries. Rudy Schaefer was a long time participant in the USBA.[1]

At the beginning of 1942, Schaefer, in his capacity as president of the USBA, offered his assessment of the state of the brewing industry and its planned participation in the war effort. The good news was that “public acceptance of beer as an essential food” had increased. Tax increases were a less positive development. Schaefer maintained that the industry could not withstand any additional taxes, and that an increase would have a diminishing effect on federal revenue. After all, the industry paid over four hundred million dollars in state and federal taxes in 1941, making beer brewing the fourth most heavily taxed industry in the country. Despite this strong participation in the country’s economy, Schaefer wanted the industry to make a specific contribution to the war effort, and pledged sales of defense bonds to all of the over 60,000 employees in the industry. On a personal level, Schaefer became vice-chairman of the carbonated and fermented beverage committee of the Red Cross War Fund of Greater New York.[2]

[1] Jos. Dubin, “The War’s Effect,” Modern Brewery Age, December 1941, 8-9.; Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press., 1980), 166; F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company, To commemorate our 100th year : the F. & M. Schaefer brewing co. : America’s oldest lager beer (Brooklyn, N.Y. : The Company, 1942); Will Anderson, The Breweries of Brooklyn: An Informal History of a Great Industry in a Great City (New York,: Anderson, 1976), 6, 7.

[2] Modern Brewery Age, January 1942, 18, 82, 85; “Beer is Accorded Wider Acceptance as a Food, Says President of Brewers,” New York Times, January 2, 1942, 39.

© Amy Mittelman October 7, 2020.

Here is Louis Armstrong singing the Schaefer Jingle, from MjayzToonz:

September 11, 18 years later

This is a post from ten years ago. That fall we were spending a month in New York City. This fall I am at home. In the past ten years, a lot has happened to both me and the country.

What is very surprising to me is that we are still involved in both Afghanistan and Iraq. We also have a president who has no clue how to run foreign policy. I fervently hope Trump will be a one-term President and then we can try to undo all the harm he has done.

My sympathy goes out to all who suffered a loss on that terrible day. May all of their memories be for a blessing.

September 11, 8 Years Later

Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrible events of September 11 2001. This is a particularly poignant day because we are in New York. Eight years ago, I had been in New York the day before, September 10, and woke up, at home. on the morning of the 11th to hear my husband’s voice on the answering machine, ” I don’t know if you have heard what happened in New York but my parents are okay.” As everyone knows, September 11 2001 was a picture perfect New York fall day and the 10th was as well. I felt very steeped in my New York roots because I had spent the evening of the 9th reading about the  pending city elections while I waited for my friend who I was visiting to come home.

Today, September 11, 2009, is not a beautiful day. The weather is  very bad, with high winds and heavy downpours. Because of these bad conditions, we have been unable to attend any commemorative event. Many of them were outdoors.

Despite that, since 2001, I have felt that this day should not be like every other day.  Apparently President  Obama and Congress agree with me. In March the federal government designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.  I really hope that this takes root and becomes how  people commemorate September 11th in future years.

My thoughts are with all the people who suffered a loss on that fateful day and it is my sincerest wish that nothing like that will ever happen to any person or country again.

Stop The Bans

Yesterday I attended a  Stop the Bans rally in Northampton. Similar demonstrations  were held all over the country in response to the draconian anti-abortion laws that Alabama and other states have passed. It is very depressing to me that  reproductive rights are so threatened in 2019 when I can remember marching for the right to have an abortion in New York City in  the late 1960’s.  Abortion became legal in New York State in 1970.

Abortion was not legal in Massachusetts until Roe v. Wade in 1973. Massachusetts was also one of the last states to legalize birth control. However, last year, Gov. Baker, a Republican signed  the Nasty Women Act which repealed several old laws regarding abortion and birth control.  Nasty stands for Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women; legislators felt  the bill was necessary in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh ‘s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Several of the speakers at yesterday’s rally spoke about pending legislation in Massachusetts, the Roe Act.  This legislation would remove the requirement of parental consent for  an abortion for people under the age of 18.  The Roe Act also provides health care coverage for abortions for people who don’t have Mass Health.

Current Massachusetts law does not provide abortion coverage after 24 weeks. The Roe Act would extend that time period in cases of fatal fetal anomalies. Other provisions of the bill include ending the currently required 24-hour waiting period, and codifying the principles of reproductive freedom into state law. You can get more information about the Roe Act here.

World’s Fair

One of my goals for 2017 was to work more regularly on my book on faculty wives. Recently I have been able to do that and I have run across an interesting subject. Various World’s Fairs have come up in my research because the fairs have often been contested spaces.

The chapter I am working focuses on African-American wives and their clubs. Beginning with the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and going on until at least the NY Fair of 1939, African-Americans sought a seat at the table. Women, both black and white, also sought representatives.

The fair that is most interesting to me is the St. Louis Louisiana Exposition of 1904. Josephine Yates, President of the National Association of Colored Women, (NACW) negotiated with the Fair managers to have a World’s Fair Day for the organization. Other African-American groups also arranged for days.

Hallie Q. Brown, a member of NACW sought employment at the Fair and was refused. This prompted Margaret Murray Washington to urge the NACW convention to boycott the planned event. This became the official position of NACW, however many convention attendees did visit the fair. Interestingly, Booker T. Washington disagreed with his wife, feeling that cries of racism were over stated.

Over 10,000 people picketed the offices of the NY World’s Fair in 1939 demanding employment for black people. The women had more success, happily attending  a National Association of Colored Women Day at the Fair.

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Book Review: Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith is a memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer.  They lived together in New York City from 1967 – 1972. Their real experiences occurred during the same time frame as the fictional characters of Marge Piercy’s, Small Changes. 

The artistic and musical worlds of New York City were very different from the political and counter-cultural worlds of Cambridge Massachusetts. Although Patti Smith had different encounters with a variety of men she does not write about her experiences from a feminist perspective. Despite the fact that it was very unusual for a woman to front a rock band in the 1970s she does not write about those experiences through a feminist lens. 

Her goal, when leaving her small town in rural Jersey, was to become an artist. While living on the streets, she met Robert Mapplethorpe and they began to purse artistic careers together. While they worked on various artistic projects, they met many people who were already famous and some who became, as they did, famous later. To some extent they were in the right place at the right time. 

In many ways Andy Warhol was the epicenter of the avant garde art world and Robert, especially, sought to enter his orbit.  They went repeatedly to Max’s, a night club, where they did not directly encounter Warhol but met many other artists and musicians. 

Both Patti and Robert were twenty-one when they met and their years together represent the searching and developing of their artistic bent. Robert eventually focused on photography, particularly erotic pictures of men. Patti was more eclectic but became most known for her music. Many people consider her the ‘godmother” of punk rock. 

On one level, Just Kids is a love story. Although Patti and Robert were not always intimate and Robert realized his homosexuality during the time they lived to together, on an emotional level they were deeply connected. 

I enjoyed reading the book and realized I had never really heard her music. I got the album Horses and listened to it. The first time I did not like it at all but the second time around I found some interesting things.  It is clear that, as she says in the book, she was trying to merge poetry and rock.

 

 

 

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