Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Finding consolation in a console

My parents have embarked on a major downsizing project, an exercise in sorting through both the tangible stuff and the memories that have accumulated in the house they’ve lived in for the past 45 years.

That house, a center-hall colonial, may seem like standard-issue suburbia– half-brick/half-siding with four bedrooms and two baths upstairs, family room, kitchen, living room, dining room and powder room on the main level, and a basement — but it’s really a family treasure chest in disguise. And boy, has that house worn some disguises.

Built in 1972, the house made its debut in Orange Hunt Estates clad in pale green siding with forest green shutters, its second-story overhang propped up with a set of square, pale green pillars. The front door opened into a foyer covered in whitish wallpaper with an ornate floral pattern in olive green and gold. If you left that jungle and headed to the left, you entered the family room, which welcomed you by rolling out the multi-colored shag carpet, with patches in various shades of brown, black, rust and mustard. That carpet not only camouflaged a multitude of spills but tolerated years of me and my siblings horsing around, playing board games with our friends, building card houses, watching sitcoms on our rabbit ear-antennae’d TV when we were allowed to (which was infrequently), and tearing open presents on Christmas morning.

A mustard-colored recliner Archie Bunker would have envied sat in one corner of the family room, complemented by a hanging lamp whose shade, as I recall, was white with multi-colored spots. Dad liked to read The Washington Post in that chair, and all of us liked to curl up there when it was vacant. The pièce de résistance in the family room, furniture-wise, was a sofa covered in an off-white nubby fabric patterned with vertical green stripes of varying widths. The sofa lent itself to naps, in part because it was the most comfortable piece of furniture in the history of furniture but also because the color scheme in that room made you want to lie down and close your eyes in self-defense. I don’t remember Mom spending a whole lot of quality time in either the recliner or on the sofa, probably because she was too busy making sure we kids didn’t kill ourselves or each other, but I digress.

If you’d headed right instead of left when you walked through the front door in 1972, you’d have found yourself in the living room. It also had a shaggy carpet, but in a neutral monochrome to let everybody know that it had some class. An octagonal wood combination table/cabinet sat on that carpet, flanked by two wingback chairs that, in a decorative leitmotif, bore the same green-and-gold floral pattern as the foyer wallpaper. In case you’re wondering what lived inside the octagon, Mom and Dad stored the liquor there. With four kids spanning eight years, I can understand their wanting ready access to booze.

The living room led to the dining room, whose early decor I don’t really remember because of a glorious console stereo that sat against one wall and stood out from everything else. Six feet of wooden chic, the console held a turntable, an AM/FM radio, and a whole lot more. That console was Christmas, giving us the smooth sounds of Johnny Mathis’s “Winter Wonderland” while we decorated a tree we’d cut down at a farm in the Virginia countryside. The console let our family follow Barry Manilow on countless musical trips to the hottest spot north of Havana and comforted us with the knowledge that Barry couldn’t smile without us. When Barry and Johnny weren’t hogging up the rotation, Simon and Garfunkel and Billy Joel made regular appearances on the turntable, too. Then the ’80s came and the console gave us Hooked On Classics, because it knew the only thing that could make Beethoven’s Fifth sound sound better was a disco beat.

 

The house changed disguises over time: wallpaper came down in favor of neutral paint, the incomparable green-striped couch was swapped for something bluer and prettier but not quite as comfortable, the shag carpet made way for plush brown in the family room and a nice Persian rug in the living room, and the square columns yielded to round white ones. We also got a piano, which meant the console stereo was stereo3relegated to the basement. But that didn’t stop it from cranking out the songs we lived by, songs that made us dance, sweat, swoon and laugh. Long after new-fangled technology like boomboxes, CD players and shelf systems had arrived and doomed the console to obsolescence, I still regarded it as a monument to my family’s happiness and never tired of seeing it.

The minute I realized Mom and Dad were serious about downsizing, I lay claim to that console, and I moved it into my house last weekend. It lives in the basement, just like it did my parents’ house, and it’s still home to songs by Sinatra, the Kingston Trio, and the Village People, as well as soundtracks from the Muppet Movie, Grease and Annie, and albums like Free to Be You and Me and The Stranger.

Sure, it needs a new needle and hasn’t cranked out any tunes in a while, but that console can still crank out dozens of happy memories just by keeping me company. If that’s not a family treasure, I don’t know what is.

Barry Manilow: still the hippest man on the planet (and those are still his original hips)

My “I’ve Gone Further For Less” file was getting a little thin, so I decided to beef it up last week by flying to Seattle for a Barry Manilow concert.

My dear friend Michelle happens to be a Fanilow too and she lives in Seattle, so it all made sense. Besides, I always enjoy visiting the Pacific Northwest because it’s the only place on Earth where I appear to have a tan. But really, it was all about Barry.

Regular readers know that my love affair with Mr. Mandy dates back to my earliest memories and has almost never wavered. I say “almost” because Barry presided over my only karaoke disaster to date, which took place in 1999 at my sister Lynne’s 30th birthday party. I love Lynne dearly, but you know those buckets people are always carrying tunes in? Well, let’s just say that hers has a perpetual hole in the bottom. For reasons I still can’t explain, I agreed to take the stage with Lynne and to convert “I Can’t Smile Without You” to a duet. As boos rained all over us, an audience member offered us money to give the stage back and pointed out that, whether or not I could smile without Lynne, I should definitely consider singing without her.

Despite that setback, Barry and I somehow made it through the rain and I could hardly wait to see him again. As Michelle and I were finding our seats at the Key Arena last Wednesday night, she mentioned this tour might be Barry’s last. He’d recently had hip surgery, and let’s face it: he ain’t getting any younger.

When we sat down and found out that Barry’s opening act was a smooth jazz musician named Dave Koz, it sure sounded like a death knell to me.

I love music and find some redeeming quality in most genres, but not smooth jazz. I’m sorry, but I just have to say it: smooth jazz is a musical sociopath that lays ruthless waste to every song that was ever worth hearing. Don’t believe me? Before Barry took the stage, smooth jazz mowed down the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life.” Then it decimated “Let It Go,” though I think we can all agree that was a mercy killing. Don’t get me wrong: Dave’s an incredibly talented musician. I just wish he’d lend his talents to regular old bumpy jazz.

Fortunately, my worries that the opening act spelled doom were unfounded. Barry delivered such a gem, it’s hard to believe that he’s 72. So is the average Fanilow from the looks of things, but that didn’t stop one of them from tossing on stage a pair of white underwear of such enormity that I mistook it for a sail.

Speaking of sailing, Barry had a steady hand at the helm as he steered us through wave after wave of emotion and cheese. He set us atop a crest with “It’s a Miracle,” dashed us on the rocks of heartbreak with “Weekend in New England,” and then set us down gently with “Somewhere in the Night.”

When he sang “I Write the Songs,” backed up by the entire glowstick-waving audience and a gigantic gospel choir, I thought he might be bringing us home. But no, he wasn’t going to let us leave the Key Arena without stopping at the hottest spot north of Havana. And for all four minutes of that glorious encore, we were young and we had each other: Who could ask for more?

No swan song is complete without a confetti cannon!

Glow sticks, confetti cannons and granny panties: Barry’s goin’ out in style.