Author: susanaronsonnussbaum

Home Movies

My first piece of original art that I ever paid to have professionally framed was given to me as a gift by a 23 year old, divine, Canadian artist, Lupe Rodriguez, who I knew for a brief, but fun, 7 weeks one summer, 42 years ago. It’s called, “Home Movies”.

That painting has hung on every wall of every home that I’ve ever had.

When you slam the mudroom door in my house, the paintings on the walls sometimes shift.  I was straightening that painting recently when I realized that I never saw her again after that summer.

“What ever happened to Lupe?” I wondered.

In the early months of college in 1977, I started to worry about what kind of summer job I could secure so that I wouldn’t have to go back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and scoop ice cream at Isaly’s again.

I saw an ad in the back of the New York Times Magazine section for summer instructional counselors at a sports and arts camp in Parry Sound, Ontario.

Something about the arty aspect of the ad appealed to me, so I applied, old school, with a letter that highlighted my brief work history (scooping ice cream, waitressing, working at the college equipment checkout desk) but which also emphasized my major in Film and TV, as well as having to master an understanding of the principals of still photography. Wait. I even mentioned that I was a field hockey player in high school and could easily teach that if called upon. My 20 year old self was throwing it all on the table.

No such thing as overselling when it comes to applying for summer jobs.

A couple of weeks later, I received a letter requesting my references and asking me to call the director of the camp for an interview. (No cell phones in those days’ folks).

I wish that I had been able to record the phone interview.  To this day, it makes me think I should have gone into sales. I was offered the job as the Photography Instructor/Counselor. They would secure the necessary papers that would allow me to work in Canada and would pay me in Canadian dollars, which at the time, was about a plus ten cents on the US dollar. It was something like $1200 for 7 weeks of work and all the bug juice you could drink. I did have one small negotiating point that I brought up at the end…I had a boyfriend who was an amazing basketball player and recent college grad.  He would make a fabulous Instructor. Could they take him, too? Bingo! My summer was set.

Lupe Rodriguez was one of the first people I met. She had been hired as the Studio Art/Painting Instructor and she was, in my mind, the movie star version of an artist.  Not only was she incredibly talented, she towered over me and had this European essence that made me laugh at my plebe-y self. We would take respective breaks from our Studios and meet outside to just howl about ridiculous stuff and smoke cigarettes.lupe2.jpg

lupe1.jpg

Lupe was a few years older than me and had just finished art school. We compared notes about our dreams of what our futures would hold. She was going to be a famous artist and I was going to be a filmmaker…None of that starving artist bullshit.

When you’re in your 20’s, anything is possible.

Towards the end of our seven weeks, she emerged from her studio with a signed painting for me called “Home Movies”.  She had painted it on a piece of linoleum and ran it through the press two times. I got the first one. I don’t know what happened to the second one. I am hoping that I gave her something, too, but I can’t remember.

42 years had gone by when I launched a search for her on the internet.

The first thing that came up was her name and the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Canada. I clicked the link and landed on the exhibit Lupe Rodriguez: Radiant Passion. She did become famous and her paintings were stunning. The opening paragraph on the home page went like this:

As artist, educator, arts reporter, world traveller, cultural celebrity and serious aficionado of historical and contemporary art, Lupe Rodriguez shared her extraordinary passion and remarkable insights with thousands of people in Toronto, the GTA, across Canada and around the world. Her vivacious personality and love of art and life was infectious. Many of those who have known her have remarked that her exuberant and colorful artwork directly reflected the radiance and passion of her character.

I became aware of the Dreaded. Past. Tense. I held my breath and read on:

On October 4, 2008, Lupe Rodriguez passed away after a courageous battle with leukemia, leaving a great void in the lives and hearts of many – but also leaving behind an astounding body of artwork that embodies the spirit of a great life lived.

A wave of sorrow came over me. The only comfort was discovering that she had married, had two children and lived, what sounded like, a most amazing life in spite of it being cut short by cancer. She was cherished. She was loved, which was way better than our 20-year-old selves looking for fame.

I dug into my old black and white negatives from that summer and digitized those that had not disintegrated.  I wished I could have shared these with her.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer as to why we never reconnected.  I hate to say the very trite life happens, but it does.

This has reminded me to always be thankful for the small gifts that you receive. Lupe will live forever in my “Home Movies” and in the hearts of everyone she touched, including some 7- week friends, like myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Gloves

It’s amazing where your mind goes in the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The other day, I was looking for a pair of white cotton gloves to wear at night to keep some super-rich, moisturizing hand cream on my dry, wintery paws. The second I found them, I had an instant, Pre-Teen-Terror Flashback.

Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

Outside the Concordia Club, in 1969, in the back seat of a Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, with arms folded, a scowl on my face, wearing a party dress, white socks, patent leather shoes and of course, white gloves, my eleven-year-old self proclaimed to my parents that I would NEVER make MY kids take ballroom dancing classes.

Sitting next to me was my beaming, twelve year old sister, who would have worn a dress and crown everyday, if she could.

Truthfully, I was a bit of a tomboy, so being forced to put on a fancy dress once a week, comb my hair, let alone having to DANCE and HOLD HANDS with a boy, caused me more anxiety than I care to admit and to which I probably carry with me to this day. Seriously, Kenny Diamond used to repetitively take his thumb in and out of its joint as I was holding his hand. Ew.

The fancy husband and wife team who taught us were straight out of central casting. Although I don’t recall their names, I can envision her big hair, her red lipstick, her black stilettos, and her husband, who I think had a mustache and big hair, too, but I may be incorrectly recalling some 40’s gangster film. With her very smokey voice and his very crisp finger snaps, they would sashay across the floor and show us the moves.

“Balance and a, Left, (SNAP) Right, (SNAP) Left, (SNAP) Balance and a…”

WTF were my parents thinking?

My mother would tell you that this was how young children learned to behave in society. You know, the Etiquette drill. Bull shit. The only thing I learned there was the Box Step and the Fox Trot. Two skills that I’VE NEVER USED.

On the very plus side of this recounting, I’m happy to report that fifty years later, I have stayed true to my word. I NEVER made my children take Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

As for the many other things I made them do, well…that’s their story to tell.

Catching Some Rays

Of all the photographs I’ve taken, this is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a picture of my Dad, catching a nap, on his cherished, Thrift Drug, foldable chaise lounge chair. During the summer, he would zip home from the office at lunchtime, whip off his dental gown, and catch a few rays on our back patio. He really loved the sun.

“Bald heads look better with a tan”, he used to tell me. In those days, he didn’t wear sunscreen and from the look of his chest, can you blame him?

Photographs can tell you a lot. This one not only reminds me of my Dad’s ability to chill, but it also reminds me of why I spent years in electrolysis. Genes are a powerful thing, you know.

It’s been ten years since my Dad left this earth. He died in an I.C.U., tethered to a bunch of life saving equipment that ultimately failed to do its job. I am not the only one in the world who has witnessed a parent or loved one leave life this way. It is nothing short of horrible and if you’re not careful, it can burn a haunting image in your memory.

Thank goodness for the power of strong visuals. I have found that old photographs can provide the necessary assistance for coping.

Frida Kahlo mustache not withstanding, this photo always makes me smile and is the one that I have buried in my heart.

 

 

The Dress I Yessed

30 years ago, I had my wedding dress professionally preserved. I was told that a lot of women make this investment for two reasons: 1) you paid a shitload for the dress, so why not? And 2) if you have a daughter, she may wear it one day. At the time, I think it cost me a hefty $250.00 for this service.

It took about 6 weeks to preserve the dress and it arrived at my doorstep in a sealed, archival bridal box that immediately went into my spare closet of no return.

I have a good friend who wore her mothers wedding dress to her own wedding. When she speaks of it, you can tell that she cherished it. The possibility of that never even crossed my mind when I got married and I could have had a choice of three dresses from my mom—need I say more.

When my only daughter got engaged this year, I realized that my archival-ly preserved dress didn’t have a shot at being re-worn. Not only is my daughter much taller than me, she has a specific style gene that definitely does not scream 80’s.

“Maybe we can re-purpose some of it, Mom”, she diplomatically offered.

Well, maybe, but where was that box now?

After some digging in the closet of no return, I found it. I remembered that another friend, who was downsizing after her kids flew the coop, said that she photographed everything memorable before she gave it away or threw it out. I call it the digital preservation of clutter. Because I knew that I wanted to donate this dress, I decided to film the opening of the archival box with my daughter at my side.

A flood of memories hit me when we broke the seal.

On my wedding day, as I was getting dressed for the big event, I carefully stepped into my gown. As I was pulling it up, the elastic on the left sleeve ripped. Since it was an off-the-shoulder number, this elastic was critical to keeping the dress up.

If ever there was a need for a wardrobe supervisor, this was it. I wasn’t smart enough to travel with an emergency sewing kit…the only emergency thing I ever carried with me were tampons. Good luck with that.

I went a little ape-shit in the bathroom, because I had spent a fortune on the dress at the infamous, formally-Brooklyn-based, Kleinfelds. And now, here I was in Pittsburgh, on a Sunday morning with a teeny tiny safety pin that my sister found underneath the vanity in the bathroom at the synagogue. P.S. Major shout out to that pin.

When we opened the archival box, you could see the snapped elastic but the teeny tiny safety pin was gone…it was probably removed during the preservation process.

The dress was clean, but it had yellowed. A lot.

“OMG, Mom, it’s pretty ugly”, my no-filter daughter observed.

“It looks like you were an extra in “WESTWORLD”, my husband chimed in from afar.

I have to admit; it was kind of thrilling to see that dress again. It looked so tiny…but WTF, I was 20 pounds lighter when I got married. Nonetheless, it brought a huge smile to my face and some honest to goodness belly laughter.

We gently pulled the gown out of the box and a small silk flower that was attached to the elastic of the shoulder floated to the ground.

My daughter picked it up and with the straightest face ever said, “I can use this”.

I’ve left the dress hanging in the closet for now. Maybe some fresh air will bring it back to life before I pack it up for donation. If the air doesn’t do it, perhaps a fresh, tiny, body will.

wedding1wedding2wedding3wedding4wedding5wedding5

And here is the short film:

 

 

 

 

Can’t Bear The Thought

On a recent getaway to Nova Scotia, my friend, Marian, and I decided to rent bikes and explore some of the “off-road” Trans Canada Trails. The TCT are repurposed defunct rail lines that snake through parts of Canada. It’s a cool way to traverse the country while taking away the danger of biking on paved roads. I’m not a fan of biking in traffic. It makes me so anxious.

Five minutes into the trail, we were deep in the woods, with not a person in sight. Our well-worn hybrid bikes had seats that were super hard on the tushy, so I insisted that we only go 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back to prevent our precious pelvic floor from too much trauma…after all, the trail was a little gravel-ly. You could feel every bump.

I noticed a small bell on our handlebars and I started dinging it. Marian thought I was being annoying.”It’s a bear repellent”, I teased. “Or, a Moose repellent”, I added. And I dinged some more.

As we rode deeper into the woods, Marian accused me of being a drama queen.

“For someone who loves the outdoors, you sure have some issues”, she rightfully accused.

Marian didn’t realize that behind our idle biking chatter, I was having visions of getting trampled by a moose and being eaten by a hoard of wild coyotes.

About five miles out, and without seeing a soul in sight, we decided to turn around. We stopped at a clearing and took some pictures…mostly of each other taking pictures. A mile into our return, and about 20 yards ahead of us, a seven foot black bear came out of the woods and blocked the trail. We both saw it at the same time and abruptly stopped. The bear looked up at us and under my panicked breath I said, “Marian, we have to turn around”.

Without looking back, we took off like a rocket and biked away from the bear. I have to say, for us old bitches, it was Tour De France qualifying. We must have gone about two miles in the other direction when we came across a place where the trail intersected a paved road. We ran into a local on an ATV and trying to catch our breath, we told him what happened.

“Bears won’t do you no harm” he said, “but you have to watch out for the pack of wild coyotes. They ate a young girl here two years ago.”

So.Over.This.Ride.

We called the hotel and they sent two people to come get us and our bikes. The kind local stayed with us until they arrived.

Wouldn’t you know it, that the first thing everyone asked us when we got back was DID YOU GET A PICTURE?

WTF?

Now that a week or so has passed, I’ve used my emerging photoshop skills to recreate what Marian and I neglected to photograph.

marianbear.jpgThis is Marian taking a selfie.

But…because I’m a DRAMA queen, I did two other versions:

marianbear2.jpgLook closely at the left.

And finally, my favorite of the trip:marianbear3.jpg

Bears aren’t the only things that shit in the woods.

 

 

 

Participation Trophies

I have a shelf of my kids Participation Trophies in my family room that I keep for laughs. Why? Because I proudly admit that I raised my kids in an era where “everyone’s a winner” . Some of my children were amazing in sports and some were not. That’s how it shakes out in most families. In spite of that,  I made them all play something because I am a big believer in exercise. Were ego’s crushed due to lack of skill? Possibly. Maybe. Probably. But…they still got a trophy!

Now that my kids are grown and out of the house, I sometimes long for those days of sitting on the bleachers and screaming, “WAY TO GO!” (Yes…even when they got hit in the head with a ball). I miss the kids, I miss the crazy-ass parents, I miss those hot sweaty gyms…well, maybe not so much, but those were times that weren’t really about trophies and winning. They were about team play, growing up and a lot of fun, sideline-socializing.

Believe it or not, one of my kids still plays Rec Sports. During the week, he’s an emerging corporate executive, but on the weekends, he’s playing basketball in an adult league on a team that includes many of his former high school rec team ballers. Last week, for the very first time, I went and watched these “adult” rec ballers play in a sweaty, Hell’s Kitchen, public school gym.

Some of these guys were really hairy and bald all at the same time. Not quite how I remembered those idyllic high school games. In the absence of other parents, I cheered from the sideline and shot a bit of video from my new iPhone. Needless to say, my son’s team lost by more than 20 points. A “blow-out” so to speak.

When I got home, I edited the few filmed highlights together. I added some sound effects and created a new kind of Participation Trophy. I think the JUST KRISTAPS Rec team is all that and then some. They’re all winners as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.