Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering Frank McCourt

I am saddened today by the news that author Frank McCourt passed away. I read his first Memoir, Angela's Ashes, not long after it came out and it immediately became my favorite book. It was one of those rare reads that reaches you so deeply that you feel like you have grown as a person. The kind you finish in a day or two and immediately begin to buy copies for everyone you know. I am sure that some of you reading this blog have read the book upon my recommendation, or perhaps on your own accord. At any rate, I hope it reaches you the same way it has reached me.

I know some people did not enjoy the book as much as I because they found it depressing. The situation is most certainly heartbreaking - being raised in Ireland in such poverty, siblings starving and even dying in the bed next to him. What I found so inspirational about the memoir was Mr. McCourt's ability to shed light to his story by bringing humor through his innocent perspective as a child who knew no other life. There is nothing in my lifetime that could ever compare to what he endured in his childhood. If he can keep that in perspective and share his experience in such a moving memoir, I have no excuses to let anything hold me back. That is the inspiration his words bring to me. He was a wonderful storyteller and through it all he kept his sense of humor. Or perhaps that is how he developed one.

In 2006, Frank McCourt came to Iowa City through the University of Iowa Lecture Series. I attended his lecture about his years teaching and he was an inspiration as always. Afterward, some friends and I went to a local bar and before I had finished my first drink, I saw Frank McCourt walk in the door. Of course, I did what anyone does when they run into someone they idolize, I told everyone who would listen, "That's Frank McCourt! You guys, Frank McCourt is here! Oh my God I don't know what to do, Frank McCourt is sitting across the room from me." Then I remembered to breathe.

Normally I hate being in these situations because I do not want to invade anyone's privacy. As much as I want to let someone know how much I appreciate them and how much of a fan I am, I do not want to interrupt anyone's free time to gush incoherently about how great they are. I think fame would be a curse. I can't imagine not being able to go about my normal life without being interrupted and having to act interested in what people have to say when really you just want to eat a sandwich. That would be difficult, but I really did want to meet him.

Luckily, icebreakers are much easier when the person is Irish. How do you let an Irishman know you appreciate him? You buy him a drink! I asked the waitress to bring is next drink on me. When she brought it over she pointed me out and we did a "cheers" across the bar. I'm sure I blushed from head to toe, but I was honored to buy the man a drink.

Later (after his meal) when I was getting up, Mr. McCourt waved me over to his table. He was sitting with a couple of people on the UI Lecture Committee and a young man who worked for his publisher and was traveling with him. I sat down and talked to them a bit and Frank McCourt was every bit as charming as I expected he would be. He ended up leaving shortly after but the rest of us stayed and had a few more drinks together.

I exchanged emails with the guy who worked for the publisher but it has been a long time. When I heard the news today, I found the email address and explained that I had met them in Iowa City. I expressed my condolences and asked that he let Mr. McCourt's family and loved ones know how much he was appreciated by so many of us. Frank McCourt truly was a national treasure.

I was not sure if I would get a response or if the email address was still current. To my surprise, he responded right away and told me he remembered the night. After a few email exchanges back and forth, he confessed what Frank McCourt whispered after he waved me over to the table. The following is from his email...

But I distinctly remember when the waitress came by and said that there was a lady that wanted to buy him a drink. And his response was, "Tell her I accept." When the waitress came back with the drink he suggested we invite you to come by the table. As you were approaching - he could see you, and I couldn't... he said you were my type.

I'll never forget him saying that he thought you were my type, and that since he was happily married, he'd happily be my 75 year old Irish, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning wingman! And whatever happened in Iowa City, stayed in Iowa City.

This morning I was sad when I heard of his death, and today I have had a good laugh to know that when I met this man I have so much respect for, he was acting like a frat boy. (How many senior citizens know what a wingman is?!?!) The man truly was someone who comes along only once in a lifetime. There will never be another Frank McCourt, and I know at least one person who will have a hell of a time finding another 75 year old Irish, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning wingman.

May he rest in peace. He's always been an inspiration to me, but I could not adore Frank McCourt any more than I do at this very moment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Reluctant Barber

The way I feel about going to get a haircut is the way most people feel about going to the dentist. I know I have to do it on a regular basis but there's always some level of pain involved. My hair is naturally thick and curly and no one knows how to deal with it, including me. So once or twice a year - when it's too long and I can't take it anymore - I go in and someone new tells me what would look great on me. Then they proceed to tell me unconvincingly why this is going to be the perfect haircut. I have gone to expensive salons and spent a small fortune and I've gone to cosmetology schools and spent $7.00. Doesn't matter where I go, I always end up with shorter hair that is no more manageable. I've had some really really bad haircuts (perhaps some of you remember them as well.) But I've never walked out of a salon and said, "Awesome! I love my hair!" It's generally not bad, not great, but much better than the mop I walked in with.

The time has come once again when I couldn't deal with the length anymore so I walked into Supercuts to get it taken care of tonight. It's my natural inclination to turn around and run away from a haircut, but it wasn't until after I was settled in the chair that I realized... there were some logical indicators that would lead a person to turn around. The first of which being the fact that everyone in there was bald. Two guys - one with male pattern baldness, the other had a shaved head - were sitting waiting, my barber had a shaved head, and another barber was giving a kid a mohawk. A guy in sunglasses came out from the back room and asked me, "You ready?" and invited me into the chair. I was curious why the guys were waiting while I got right in, and apparently that kept me too preoccupied to question why the guy about to cut my hair was wearing sunglasses. I'm not talking about fashionable lenses or the tinted kind that change in different lighting. I'm talking dark - block out all the light - Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder sunglasses. I decided he wasn't blind b/c he saw me standing there. But it was a little suspicious that even in his license photo he was wearing sunglasses. There were a few times he looked real close at my hair before he cut it; maybe squinted a little bit. But what the hell, even a blind person couldn't cut my hair worse than some in the past. The months when everyone called me Lyle Lovett were very difficult. But it always grows back.

When I was sitting in the chair, he looked over it closely - and I mean that literally. He said, "Now you just want this trimmed, right?" I said, no I'm tired of it. Do whatever you want with it. He said, "I don't want to cut it. I'll trim it but I don't want to cut it. You have great hair." I wasn't that cool with a trim and he wasn't that cool with cutting it short so we proceeded to negotiate for about five minutes. "No, if you leave it long you can do this... and this... and do you know how much money people pay for hair like this? And you want to cut it off?" He wanted to cut a half inch, I wanted several inches so we compromised and now it's a little longer than shoulder length. Is this normal? I kinda' don't think it is but I have never had normal hair and nothing feels normal about a haircut anyway. I hate haircuts.

So, Blair (that's what his business card says - no first or last name, just Blair) told me exactly how he would give me the perfect haircut. I have to give the guy credit, he took a lot of time to work with my hair. He seemed to really enjoy his job. It was great to watch him work because he conducted himself like he was creating a work of art. He was very careful and was adamant that I had to keep my hair long. He showed me many different things I could do with it. "Don't ever pull it back like this. If you're gonna pull it back, do it up like this instead. See the difference?" The whole time he was cutting it he was making comments like, "You are going to like this. You're going to be dangerous! People will be coming back here and saying, 'Blair, I want you to make me look like her' and you're gonna have to tell them, 'no you can't look as good as me.'" This went on for quite some time with various colorful expressions of how awesome my hair was going to be and when I come back for another haircut I'll either have twenty boyfriends or an engagement ring. Maybe both. Who knows what sort of trouble this haircut will get me into in the imagination of Blair the Barber and his magic scissors.

In the end, I think it was a pretty decent haircut but I never really know until the next day. He put a lot of time and effort and I am comforted by the fact that he seemed to be enjoying himself. I don't think he was blind, but I can't help but wonder about the glasses. I believe he may have had some sort of visual impairment. He definitely was hilarious. All in all, I paid about $30 to have a decent haircut and listen to a man compliment me and tell me about how hot I'm going to look. You just can't pay enough for that kind of service.