Are You a Refugee from February?

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

You see, you don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)
Tom Petty

Are you a refugee from February?

I’ve devised a perfect escape plan.

WHAT TO READ:  It’s cold, so go South. The critics and I esteem the elegant prose of James Wilcox, whose nine quirky novels, set in the mythic town of Tula Springs, Louisiana, never fail to make me laugh.  In Modern Baptists, the first in the series, Mr. Pickens, the middle-aged manager of Sonny Boy Bargain Store, is stoically facing what may seem insolvable personal problems.  His half-brother, F.X., a failed actor and drug dealer, has been discharged from prison and has moved into Mr. Pickens’s den; Mr. Pickens has a crush on his  new employee, Toinette, and steals her watch as a joke, but now she has reported it; he has a mole shaped like the state of New Jersey, which may be cancerous; and his mother, a senile resident of Azalea Manor, mistakes him for a gentleman caller and also asks him to install a Coke machine in her room. Wilcox writes spare, witty, perfectly-shaped sentences, and the humor in Modern Baptists is endearingly cozy, as well as offbeat. 

WHERE TO GO:  I like a good travel magazine this time of year. At Forbes, Katherine Parker-Magyar writes about “The Top Six Travel Destinations To Visit In Winter 2020.”  From Hummingbird Highways in Central America to snowcapped deserts in Central Anatolia, read on for the top six destinations you should visit this upcoming winter.”  The photographs are  heavenly. 

WHAT TO WEAR:  Naturally, it’s best to wear timeless classics:  turtleneck, cozy sweater, corduroy pants, moccasin slippers.  The  look says “Preppy Refugee from the ’80s,” but you’ll stay warm.  And you might try slightly more fashionable outerwear:   swirl out the door in a stylish Shawl Wool Blend Winter Coat (I saw it at People magazine), or that less complicated garment, the Pea Coat. I bought my pea coat at the Army-Navy store, but you can get yours at The Gap or L. L. Bean. (Consult The Preppy Handbook for more fashion advice.)

Biking in the snow.

WHAT TO DO:  So many fun things to do!  Cross-country skiing (fun, I hear, though I can’t keep my balance)! Bicycling in the snow (I did this years ago, but it’s much safer now because you can buy special snow tires)!  Check out Time’s list of “the 11 New Books You Should Read in February” and tread one of them.  Or binge-watch Black Books, my favorite bookish TV series.  Then there’s always Mahjong…

So you can be a refugee from February!

Winter Weekend:  Books, Coffee, & Podcasts

“Come on in,”  I yell, trusting it is not a political canvasser.

The door bangs in the wind, reputed to be blowing at 46 miles per hour.  A many-layered quasi-human creature, looking twice her size in a puffy down parka recommended by Oprah, stomps in and curses the book that falls on her foot.

No need for formality. It’s my cousin, Megan the librarian, who staggers in with 2 Starbucks coffees, a box of chocolates, a bottle of whisky, and  an ARC of the new Donna Leon. Her furnace has broken down, so she’s temporarily living in the mud room.

“Did you bring more blankets?”

She turns up the thermostat.  “There’s your answer.”

Although she is not exactly company, we’re not soulmates.  We politely played cards, but now we’re in family mode, i.e., ignoring each other. The plan:  drink  Irish coffee, read light books,  and then listen to podcasts.  Then sleep for 12 hours or so.  Then repeat.



PATRICK DENNIS’S Genius (1962).  Although Patrick Dennis is best-known for Auntie Mame, a witty novel made into a hilarious movie with Rosalind Russell, his  novel Genius is even funnier.  In fact, it’s so funny it’s really a humor book.

The narrator is the crusty, witty author himself, wintering in Mexico with his wife, also a writer, who is referred to as “my wife.”  They inhabit a huge, eccentrically furnished apartment, which is located in a former convent, in “one of those bogus Spanish colonial establishments in Lumas, where all good revolutionary generals and their mistresses go to retire.”

There are many eccentric characters at Casa Ximenez, including the proprietor, Catalina Ximinez, a middle-aged ex-movie star known for her starring role as an Indian deaf-mute in the art film, Yucatan Girl.   And, coincidentally, the washed-up director of Yucatan Girl,  Leander Starr, also lives there, supported by his starstruck manservant.  Starr cannot return to the U.S., because he is indigent and is on the run from the IRS and his ex-wives.  Anyway, the goofy set-up leads to the making of another art film, co-written by Starr and Patrick. Lots of high-jinks!

Patrick also spends two pages, with footnotes, satirizing the commercial fiction in women’s magazines.  He keeps procrastinating his writing.

It was a light, frothy piece for a famous women’s service magazine that will buy any piece of fiction, no matter how bad, as long as it’s wholesome and the author’s name is sufficiently well-known to beef up the front cover.  They have a something-for-everyone formula that is one hundred percent foolproof.  While the ladies in the fiction department put away about a quart of gin apiece at lunch before dashing off to their analysts, the stories they insist on printing are simon pure….  In the nonfiction department, however, anything goes, and the closer to pornography the better.

He gives examples of such titles as “Syphilis in Our Nursery Schools,” “Is Your Daughter a Teen-age Prostitute?”, and “The Orgasm and You.” 

I think I’ve read some of those!

ALSO ON THE READING LIST are the “Shouts and Murmurs” humor pieces in our neglected New Yorkers, Cornelia Otis Skinner’s humor book, Nuts in May, E. M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady books, and the new Donna Leon.

Here’s a RECIPE FOR IRISH COFFEE at the Food Network.

Here’s our favorite PODCAST,  Tea and Tattle.

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