Hammock Life

The end of summer. It’s been a real summer, but I never once used the hammock. When my daughter and her friend were visiting, I looked for the hammock — in the breezeway, in the garage — but couldn’t find it. Yesterday, walking up the hill towards our house, with an almost autumnal wind blowing in from the east, over a fence in somebody’s else’s backyard I saw…a hammock. Not just any hammock, but the exact same one. My hammock?!

Who steals a hammock? And how? I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw it, but feel sure I packed it up last summer (or was it the one before?) and tucked it in its special carrying case into the garage with window screens, folding chairs and that fifties windmill piece of yard art we need to repair someday.  But maybe I’d never put it away at all. We came and went so much last year, I lose track. I know we had a hammock. Now here it was.

I stood there for a minute staring at the hammock. It had to be ours! It was faded to the exact same colors. This was a special hammock too, not just any one you could buy at Walmart. The audacity was stunning. Our hammock, in their yard, in broad daylight.

Right, I thought. Mama needs one ride in a hammock this summer (I never actually referred to myself this way but felt deep in my bones that I was in a Netflix series). I made a vow to liberate our hammock from this trashy backyard and put it where it belongs, in our trashy backyard. I pictured me and Eric parking the truck alongside this yard late at night and just shoving the whole thing in the back.

But first, how about I appear at these people’s front door doing a customer service satisfaction survey: “Hello, we’re following up with folks who purchased our hammocks —I just need to see your receipt and then you’ll be eligible to win a weekend getaway at Lake George…”

Maybe offer a hammock laundering service — it hurt a few summers back when my young goddaughter Daisy climbed into the hammock with me and said “Eww, it smells sort of…musty.” (She’s English and her observations can be a little pointed: “They seem to know you quite well in there” she remarked after she came into Catskill Liquors with me to buy a bottle of wine.) Anyways, I scrubbed the hammock fabric with lavender detergent and tried to bring it in when it rained but—but I could tell these people we do a cleaning service and just… never bring the hammock back?

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Cute chairs but…they’re no hammock.

Oh why didn’t we build a fence around the backyard? I thought it was just deer we needed to keep out.

But who steals a hammock?

I could tell the people I’m starting a hammock appreciation club and we’re going to meet at our local cafe once a month to share stories of hammock life. The first meeting, we go around the circle and everyone tell how you got your hammock. “Mine was a Christmas gift from my brother and his wife,” I’ll say, a little misty, my eyes gleaming, boring a hole of honesty into the thief’s brain. “I’d never had a hammock of my own before…” When it came to be their turn, they’d collapse on the floor weeping, and confess.

I’ve got to get that hammock back. Let me just clear these bags of stuff out of the back of the truck and shove them in the garage so we have space to load the hammock in.

Wait. What’s this zippered black case filled with metal poles and slightly musty but lavender-scented striped fabric?

Oh good – they felt guilty and put it back.

If you want me, I’ll be in my hammock.

Past Is Prologue

My family met in Pittsburgh last weekend for our annual get-together. Usually we find a lodge somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, but that drive of a few hours has been getting too hard for my father, just about to turn 92. I drove the Subaru (Eric had to fly to England at the last minute. No, it’s not like that – he loves my family). There was construction a lot of the way and I got sucked into Scranton thinking it would be an easy place to grab a coffee, so I’d already been driving about five hours when I saw a sign saying PA WILDS where we’d rented a house two years before. I still had three hours left to drive. I was listening to a not so good book, which wasn’t helping. If it had been good I’d have been fine with driving all the way to Ohio and beyond. I switched to local station WYEP — like WFMU in Jersey, FUV coming down into Manhattan from upstate, WXPN approaching Philly or WWOZ rolling into New Orleans, radio stations are my beacons. 

I met up with everybody in an Italian restaurant on a steep hill across from a hospital. That describes pretty much the entire city of Pittsburgh right there. Oh, there were drawings of Steeler football heroes on the walls— again, that doesn’t narrow it down at all. We all shouted at each other over the din of an already noisy restaurant while my dad sat looking like he was in agony and my stepmother smiled valiantly.

We all went back to the B&B that my dad was treating everyone to — a turn of the century mansion on the North Side of Pittsburgh. The place was immense and lovely, with ensuite rooms for everyone. There was a Caribbean theme and it was a little incongruous to hear reggae music pulsing from speakers tucked along the tall ceilings in the common areas. Sometimes it’s a blessing that my dad can barely hear anymore.

My sister in law Karen and I picked my daughter Hazel up at the airport. When we got back my dad and his wife had retired for the night and the whiskey bottle was out. There was a piano. There was a steel drum. There were top hats. Full use was made of all of them until the innkeeper, a very nice guy, came in to say the hats were off limits.

The place had at one time been a Knights of Columbus Lodge. My room had a closet full of these big ceremonial robes. I had weird dreams and wished I’d drunk a little more whiskey. I woke early and when I looked on my phone for a coffee place, there was a new espresso bar literally across the street.

It didn’t seem fair. At every family get-together Eric has been a good sport and suffered through my loud, relentless family singing The Old Grey Mare and making him wear a monogrammed baseball hat.To help him survive ,we usually spend hours driving little country roads into ghost towns with nothing but a Walmart and a megachurch looking for a cafe with slight Christian overtones and the lone espresso machine in the county. Here was a shockingly professional, correct place mere feet from the front door of the inn.

We all had breakfast while the reggae played and everyone went off to do activities: thrift shopping, the Phipps Conservatory, more eating and drinking. Since I’d arrived, my family had been so nice to congratulate me on my book (what – you thought you’d get away with me not mentioning this thing? It’s like a friend who just had a baby, sorry, that kid is not going away any time soon!) My dad has been asking me about the book for years: why am I writing it exactly. Isn’t music hard enough. Is he in it? Why was I writing it again? Do I mention my mother? I’d even read him an excerpt a while back and he was surprised. “Why that was nice! I even laughed, it wasn’t bad at all!” I think he imagines me settling scores that I’m too old to even remember. Anyway, I think my main goal on this trip was to keep him at bay. Yes he would get a copy all in good time. (this was around when I posted my question on social media regarding my varying options in relation to my father.  The answers were all incredibly astute and helpful and I still don’t have a clue what’s the best thing to do.)

More food and beverage was consumed at a restaurant overlooking the city. Growing up, Mount Washington was the place you went for special occasions: prom night, dinner with the family, maybe a wake. The view really is one of a kind. To get there, we passed a gravel quarry and a truck depot, then drove up a hill so steep we all squealed. That’s Pittsburgh: topography. A place you feel in your shins and the pit of your stomach.

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The city looked stunning. The portions were huge. My dad still looked miserable, even though we all took turns coming to sit next to him, like a summer stock version of The Godfather: “I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen…”

More whiskey, steel drums and piano back at the inn. It was so nice to see everybody and I felt lucky to have such a great gang that all gets along. Just wished Eric was there to have a (shhh) go at the top hat.

My older brother John moved back to Pittsburgh some years ago, and has been conducting bike tours of the city every summer through a local bicycle shop. A couple of us got up early the next morning to take his tour. I felt like a tourist in a place I partly know and barely know. We rode along one side of the Monongahela River where growing up there’d been nothing but steel mills: flames leaping in the air and smoke everywhere. My brother explained the birth of the city from Revolutionary War times and I felt myself getting choked up: mostly pride in my brother’s storytelling abilities and his passion for history, but partly a pride in the place where I grew up. The strangers on the tour were tourists, visiting the city because they thought it would be fun and interesting. It was! We crossed a bridge called the Hot Metal Bridge and rode back down the other side of the river, eventually crossing the Smithfield Street bridge, down around the Point and into downtown. This place is wonderful, I thought. Even the jail looked attractive.

Back at the B & B, we ate and drank some more. We brought takeout into the mansion for dinner and my dad seemed happier. I read a little scene from my book to everybody and managed to get through without breaking down crying. My dad had gone to bed by then. I wanted to revise the book and incorporate a love letter to Pittsburgh but maybe the only way to move forward is to lay the past to rest.

Girl To City comes out October 8.

July Is The Cruelest Month?

I used to dread it when he’d show up. Summer just settling in, everyone in high spirits and then this shadow in the doorway of the bookstore/bar. “Take off that ridiculous scarf – it’s July!” I wanted to shout. I admit I’m partial to red and white stripes, so he won a few points with his sweater, but the knitted beanie cap? Dude—it’s ninety degrees out.

But like fruit flies around the beer taps, I’ve come to accept Where’s Waldo as part of summer at Spotty Dog. July is Waldo month and kids come into all the Hudson stores to find a little cut-out of the character. It culminates at the end of the month with prizes, and maybe even an appearance by whoever is willing to dress up in the stripes, scarf and beanie. I understand – you need to keep kids busy in the summer, give them a job. If finding Waldo (Wally to the English) helps, it’s a good thing.

A few years ago I bought this red and white striped canvas for the bookstore display. “And at the end of July, I can sew some cushions for the back porch.”

This July 1, I dutifully trotted out the red and white striped canvas for the Waldo display. The back porch remains cushionless. Last year we were away most of the summer, this year I’m too busy preparing for my book publication October 8 to do any sewing. Last July, Waldo turned thirty, and it could very well be that approaching Waldo’s fortieth birthday, I’ll shake out that canvas yet again and drape it as a backdrop for the Where’s Waldo display. The kids who were seven when I first started this job seven years ago are now fourteen, and in seven years will be legal to drink beer and cider in the bar where they looked for Waldo as kids. I’ll be the town’s oldest bartender.

I tended bar last night and it was busy for a little while. As I filled the glasses with beer, cracked cold cans of sake and hurled pretzels into bowls, I actually felt calm and happy for the first time in weeks. I felt like I knew what I was doing. People smiled when I set beers in front of them and said “you’re good.” I love being the world’s oldest bartender!

 I’ve never put out a book before. It’s a labyrinthian process that makes releasing records feel so simple, and each step of the way I’m reminded how I don’t know what I’m doing. I wish I had a publisher I could fume at when it became clear that they didn’t know what they were doing. Next week I’m making my book available to pre-order. I’m not even sure exactly what that means, I need to read a few thousand more helpful online tips—like Waldo, the answer’s in there somewhere— but it’ll happen and I’ll make the info available here.

When I put this all behind me, I’m going to sew some red and white striped cushions. Then I’ll put those behind me, too.

Girl To City: A Memoir coming October 8.

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Don’t Play Misty For Me

This is an excerpt from Girl To City: A Memoir which comes out October 8th. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my dad and it was in writing my book that I realized how much he’s always been on my side.

My brothers all tried out for sports but I had piano lessons from Mrs. Parrish instead. I loved playing the piano, but I didn’t want to work at it. I learned to read music but couldn’t see the point of all those pesky exercises when all I wanted to do was play “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “My Favorite Things.”  I kept at the Popular Song book that began with “Alfie”, went through “Green Green Grass Of Home” and other favorites, made room for “Misty” and ended with “Windmills Of Your Mind” 

“Misty” was tough. Anyone from Pittsburgh knew it was written by Errol Garner, who’d grown up in the Hill District. There weren’t many internationally successful Pittsburgh artists—just the painters Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol and um…Erroll Garner—so it was important to know when one of our own did something that won acclaim from the outside world.

I was trying to pick my way through “Misty” one afternoon, hunched over the piano keys, reaching for notes that were always out of reach, when my dad passed behind the piano bench on his way into the room he used as an office. He cleared his throat. I kept on at “Misty.” My dad’s office chair squeaked as he leaned back and shouted through the doorway. “Amy, could you please play something else? Anything!”

He was usually tolerant—I thought my playing must sound worse to him than it did to me. “I’m really sorry, Dad. I’m trying my best.”

“Oh, it’s not your playing,” he said. He’d come in to stand behind me. “It’s just that song.”

I looked at him. He seemed to like most music as long as it had been written before 1963. What could be wrong with “Misty”?

“When I was a boy, I was overweight, with red hair and glasses.” I don’t think I’d ever heard personal information like that from my father before. He continued. “There was an older kid who liked to beat me up.”

“And…`Misty’?”

“He always whistled it while he was hitting me,” he said. “Either that or `Sentimental Journey’.” He shook his head. “I can’t stand either of those songs.”

I hated the thought of my father being singled out for punishment. He wasn’t easy to please but I still felt protective of him. “I bet that kid picked on everybody,” I said helpfully. 

“Nope. Just me.”

Music had the power to change my mighty dad—the ultimate authority—into a trembling victim? That was some pretty strong stuff.

me and dad 14th street
East Fourteenth Street, June 1985

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Throwing Shades

Must see Rocketman. Can’t see Rocketman. Should I see Rocketman?

I’ve been meaning to see the Elton John biopic since it opened in the UK two weeks ago. The timing seemed perfect but I just couldn’t get the spare couple hours. I was too busy helping Eric clear out his mother’s house and then we managed to spend two nights in a nice Airbnb near Hastings, mainly so we could be somewhere with decent wifi to keep our tiny empire of records and shows running.

I got to see Eric’s wonderful sold out London show at the 100 Club (I think I got up and played a few songs with him and his able sidekick Ian Button, I’m so tired right now I don’t remember for sure!) Went to Brighton for the gig on his 65th birthday, I know I brought some gluten-free cupcakes and candles out on stage, but the rest is a blur. I remember checking into a manor house turned Hilton with a wedding do going on: men with shirt tails hanging, women in bare feet wrapped in shawls, everyone swaying through the lobby clutching bottles. I shamelessly told the Scottish desk clerk that it was my husband’s birthday and voila he presented us with drink vouchers so we got to join the crowd in the lounge and then out in the parking lot when some joker pulled the fire alarm. “The Britain the tourists don’t see,” said Eric. This is so us, I thought. This is our idea of romance!

Developed a raging eye infection just in time for my gig in Brighton and then flew to Sweden in agony. I know self-acceptance is supposed to be a big part of getting older and this may be the point where I dump my eye makeup forever, or at least til the swelling goes down. Thankfully this time it affected the eye I can’t see out of anyway. I think I’m starting to resemble Jack Nicholson in one of his crazier roles…

Malmo was lovely and I had a nice day with my hosts Mats and Zuzan, getting to have coffee and aperol spritzes in a garden, a rare chance to see the town I’d be playing in, usually it’s all glimpsed in passing “Look, there’s people, living life! What must it be like, to be sipping a beverage, laughing with friends, in this place?” (Sweden is dangerous, I find myself adapting my language to sound Swedish even though every person you meet there speaks perfect English)

I felt so happy after playing both shows, Brighton and Malmo. It’s the in-between times that are hard right now. I feel wracked with insecurity. Trying to keep upbeat and positive to get my book out into the world but seriously depleted of energy. I need to go on a diet, exercise more, heal my eye. My friend Karen made me go to the doctor in England and it seemed to help a little bit. Then there was more house clearing. On the plane back from England I finally watched Bohemian Rhapsody and cried so much the French guy next to me tapped me on the shoulder and offered me his cocktail napkin to wipe my eyes, or at least one eye. Then I made the mistake of watching the film about journalist Marie Colvin. I was drawn in by her glamour, the eye patch, the bravery of a war correspondent. By the end of the film I felt sure I was going to lose my eye too, not because of a selfless need to expose the truth and share stories of struggle but because I have a thing for eyeliner.

IMG_2912Maybe for the next time?

The French couple next to me asked “How can we get to this place, Jersey City?” From JFK? Ah, you need to get the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, take the LIRR to Penn Station and then get another train. Insane, right? I looked at their terrified faces and then remembered that was exactly what I needed to do to get back home and I was in danger of missing the last train upstate due to a flight delay. My eye was swelling up and I felt if I didn’t get a bottle of water before I got on the last train I would die.

There’s a spot in Penn Station where you line up for the upstate NY Amtrak train only. It’s the most bedraggled group in the station aside from the homeless population. People with bizarre luggage, ballcaps, a few haughty sophisticates. As I skidded to my place in the line and saw Hilton Als with his headphones on join the queue I was as good as home. I slept a few hours and went to the doctor.

So Rocketman opened yesterday in the US and I wanted to go but by the time the first showing rolled around I was too tired to get in the car. I’m going down to NYC today to open for Ian Hunter, it’s his 80th birthday shows at City Winery and they asked me and Eric to do one but Eric’s still in England dealing with his mother’s house sale. It will be strange to play for this crowd on my own, together Eric and I have opened for Ian, who’s a hero to us both, loads of times. A guy posted on FB “Amy Rigby is opening for Ian Hunter on Sat. Who is Amy Rigby?” maybe just innocently asking a question but giving the impression I had no right to be there because he hadn’t heard of me. I’d wear dark glasses but that’s Ian’s thing. With one eye I’ll stare the crowd down and say “I’m Amy fucking Rigby.” (probably not, I’ll likely shuffle my feet, duck my head and say something embarrassing. It’s my way. The songs are the sucker punch.)

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Maybe tomorrow I’ll go see Rocketman. 

The Ian Hunter show at City Winery tonight is sold out, but you can see Amy Rigby on Fri. June 7 at Dawson St Pub in Philadelphia and on Sat June 8 at Outpost in the Burbs, Montclair NJ. I’ll have genuine pop legend Wreckless Eric on bass & the also legendary Doug Wygal playing drums.

Local Artist

People often ask if I play around here much, and the past few days I’ve had the perfect illustration of why the answer is…”uh.” You’d think it would make sense, there are friends and neighbors and venues, fans even within easy driving distance. But – it’s fraught. You don’t want to be a nuisance (“what, her again?”) like you have nothing better to do.  In another town, people don’t see you looking like hell at the post office or buying toilet paper in the supermarket. You can maintain some aura of mystery, But the worst is, you make yourself vulnerable getting up there. It’s easy to put that out of your mind when you separate daily life from the hour or two you perform.

I went into work at the bookstore/bar the other day and I saw that the poster I’d put up a few weeks before for my HiLo show in Catskill had been taken down and replaced with one that said “Do you enjoy humor? Do you like being funny? Join us to talk about it.” And they’d torn off almost all the tabs on the bottom, to make it look like people were interested. Who tears down another person’s poster? And I work here, bitch! And people aren’t funny because they enjoy it. I had a good mind to call the number on one of the last remaining tabs.

Oh well, I thought. I can’t let these things get to me. My poster probably just fell down, and those nice comedy people found a clear spot to put theirs up. I probably handed them some tape to do it last time I worked and didn’t even realize.

But then the other morning, when I walked into our beloved local cafe, the very place I’m playing – BOTH of my posters were gone. Just, physically removed, by some person who clearly has a vendetta against me. Who have I annoyed/angered so much that they would go out of their way to mess me up? I mean, it’s only the second time in a year that I’ve played around here, so I don’t think I’ve been a nuisance. Did I cut in front of someone in line to get coffee? Take a person’s stuff out of the dryer at Clothespin Laundromat?

Maybe it’s a Trump supporter? I hear they play “The President Can’t Read” on the local radio station a lot. Disturbingly, this is the only comforting scenario.

I admit when Eric and I lived in France, we used to occasionally take down the posters of this duo called Vis a Vis. But they played nothing but annoying covers. And they put posters everywhere. I don’t take any solace in the idea that whoever took down my posters feels the same sense of justification.

Will the person (or persons! Maybe it’s a whole team saying “Let’s get her!” Oh shudder…) who’s messing with me be there at my Catskill show tonight? Will anyone be there? I mean, there were posters, but…

Copy of Add a subheading

Reader, I Wrote One Too

A publisher’s representative calls the bookstore/bar to check up on an author event/reading:

“How many would you say attended?” she asks, cheerily.

“Oh, it was full – very full!” I say.

“Great, how many would you say exactly, or at least ballpark?”

“Well, I wasn’t actualy there, but everyone who was said what a great night they had!” I’d in fact heard that it was kind of light crowd-wise as these things are usually packed, but it was the middle of a cold, rainy spell, and in solidarity with the author in question and all authors everywhere, I lie.

“And how many books did _________(author) sell?”

“I think they must have done well, cause the stack’s looking a lot smaller than before the event,” I say, hoping my vague optimism will satisfy her.

“Could I get a definite number there?”

I’m curious now and look it up in inventory. Umm…again, in solidarity, I double that number, no wait, triple it – oh hell, I give her the tripled number quadrupled and hang up before she has a chance to ask how the other authors did at the event, so she can compare and possibly decide to drop any further promotion efforts for their author who thanks to our tiny bookstore event is either a dud or a king.

*

A local author with a national reputation and publisher calls regarding an upcoming library event in town:

“I need to know you’ve got my books to sell and someone to sell them! It’s going to be a well-attended event, very well-attended.”

“Let me just check on that for you-“

“I can’t talk now, I’m catching a flight, and I need to know when I land in two hours – will there be books? I need to know there’ll be books!”

I picture him, movie star handsome, dressed in tweed, running across a jetway, a laptop slung over his shoulder, books to research his next project bulging from his roller bag as he shouts into the phone: “It’s going to be a well-attended event, WELL-ATTENDED! We need books! BOTH OF MY TITLES!”

*

A pretty young blond woman browses the shelves. The man with her looks over his shoulder to make sure she’s occupied, out of earshot. “Do you have any copies of _________?” he asks.

“I’m pretty sure we do!” I say. “I love that book.” It’s been a New York Times bestseller for weeks.

“She wrote it,” he says in a whisper. “She’s too shy to ask.”

*

An older couple shuffle around the bookstore. They share one beer, look at every book in the place.

“Excuse me, do you have a local authors’ section?” the man asks.

“Sure, it’s right over-“

They’re both wearing survival wear, as if they’re spending a month in the Australian outback. Floppy hats. Hers is tied under the chin with a leather cord, his sits at a rakish angle.

“I don’t need to SEE it,” he brushes me away, literally swats at me with his hand like an outback fly. “You see, I’m publishing a book soon and thought you might like to carry it.” I start telling him to bring a copy or two in for consignment but that’s not aligning with his dream, which is me or anyone falling to their knees and saying “You brilliant, brilliant man! We’ll get carpenters in at once to erect a wing for this mighty tome, the likes of which the world has never seen!”

“Author events – do you do those?” he asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “I might want to talk to someone about setting one up.” He flicks through the table of new age-feel-good-impulse buy-easy-wisdom books that in the last year have started giving way to miniature copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. “Though I see this is a pretty wholesome spot and my book is about decadence.” I start to say how we do serve alcohol, but quickly shut up as I picture that senior Satan-worship group from Rosemary’s Baby in the all-together except for bush hats plus bifocals, socks and sandals. Then I start busily folding Curious George onesies to emphasize our family-friendly, anti-decadence atmosphere but he and his companion are already hauling their stringy khaki-encased thighs up the street to find a more amenably seedy atmosphere that will give his brilliant treatise its rightful dank platform.

*

A cheerful woman approaches the register. “I’m the editor of __________!” she says, almost giddy with happiness. “I see you have it up on the top shelf – how’s it doing?” I tell her it’s been selling well (in a store this size, that could mean 3-4 copies but, y’know it’s good to be positive – it definitely hasn’t been ignored!) I apologize to her for not reading it yet, but tell her it looks compelling. I love every book in the store so much, just for the sheer act of existing. If you’ve done anything to get marks on paper down and in print, you’re okay in my book – you wrote a book. Better than okay – you deserve…a reader. So sometimes it makes people a little shameless.

Author, publisher, self-publisher, bookseller. Editor, agent; reader.  It’s a miracle when the right book finds its way into the right hands. But it happens all the time. I’ve seen it all my life as a reader, and for the last seven years working in a bookstore. There’s no shame in making that happen. I admire and aspire to be a person who makes a book. I love people who love books.

I navigated the world of book proposals and potential publishers with the help of an agent for the last several years and am proud and terrified to announce that my own book will be published – by me – in October. There’s no shame in it, right?

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I’ll start doing pre-orders and give more info in June. In the meanwhile, come see me play in May or June if I’m in your neighborhood. Before I don my survival gear.

  • Thu May 9    Catskill NY   HiLo  (w/Tim Higgins)
  • Fri May 10    Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s
  • Sat May 11    No. Andover MA  Crossroads Music Series
  • Thu May 23   Brighton UK  Prince Albert
  • Sun May 26   Malmo Sweden  Folk å Rock
  • Fri June 7       Philadelphia PA   Dawson St Pub
  • Sat June 8      Montclair NJ     Outpost In The Burbs