The Process of Elimination

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‘What to do when the blog clock is ticking’

People sometimes ask if I have trouble thinking of things to write about. Nope, I have the opposite problem — too many random ideas doing battle in my brain. Usually I look through photos to help me decide. But today that only made things worse. I kept finding photos I’d wished I’d used in previous posts. Like, here’s one that would have been perfect for last week, when I wrote about good times in and on the Lake of My Youth:

Look! I found a photo of the front of Sir Launch-A-Lot, complete with sign. That’s Gramma Henry, flanked by Only Sister Laura and Only Mom, um, Mom

Oh, and here’s one that would have been dandy to include in my riff on weddings (“I do, I do. I really do like weddings”)

Looking “back” on my first, “Polio-Shot” wedding. This was the rehearsal. But I guess you could say that about the whole marriage: that it was a “rehearsal”

And then I found this gem of Little Me in the bathtub. Photos like these were — and perhaps still are — prized by parents. (I believe this one, like the “potty shot” featured at the top of this post, was sent to my father when he was an Air Force Guy stationed in Korea, so he could share in my developmental milestones from afar.) These kinds of photos were also prized by my brothers, because they could use them as taunting/teasing props. Very effective when the subject (me) was an older sister.

The kind of photo that parents think is super-cute and that siblings think is blackmail

That potty shot was complete and total Older Sister Rage Bait. (It didn’t help matters that it said “Big Girl!” on the back.) On any given rainy day when we were allowed to rummage through the big box of snapshots — a pastime I’ve written about before, in “In an alternative universe, I would have been a redhead”, if you’re interested — one of my brothers would invariably find this photo and show it to me. (Shove it in my face, more likely.)

Then the fun would begin. When I would try to grab it, Brother One, laughing and shrieking, would pass it to Brother B, who would run away with it. I’d be wailing “Mom…Mom! Make them stop!” in total frustration. Mom in her wisdom would reply something like “Just ignore them.” Which, of course, did not happen.

Me. A potty-picture-victim, if there ever was one

This game only got more interesting when I got older. Picture me in high school, entertaining a friend — a friend who happens to be a boy — and out comes the Potty Picture. It’s a wonder that poor little black-and-white snapshot has survived all these years, what with all the grabbing and hysterical weeping it had to endure.

When it was even MORE fun to wave the Potty Picture in front of my face

But look! I not only have gotten over my Potty Picture embarrassment, I’ve actually featured said picture at the top of this post (!) How incredibly mature — or desperate — of me. Next week I promise to move on to one of the other thoughts buzzing in my blogger brain: The Time I Wanted to Be Brenda Starr, maybe. Or the one about how Everything in Australia Can Kill You. And there’s always When We Left The Child by The Side of The Road.

Unless, of course, it’s raining. And I get distracted by random snapshots from days gone by.

The End. (Featuring another Suitable-for-Blackmail snap, this time captured by The Dude)

Amagansett, New York. June 2017

“Yet’s go to Ye Yake”

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‘Gosh. Illinois’ largest lake has been around for 50 years’

Now before you Whippersnappers out there start in with “Hey, isn’t Lake Michigan Illinois’ largest lake?” Or even “What’s so all-fired old about 50 years? There are lakes (see afore-mentioned Lake Michigan) that have been around for, like, a zillion years,” let me point out that Carlyle Lake (or if you’re feeling fancy “Lake Carlyle”) is the largest lake within the borders of Illinois, and that it’s a man-made lake that’s been around since 1967. So there.

This picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows the Carlyle Lake dam and spillway in all its glory. Nice stats, too, if that floats your boat

Carlyle Lake is also the only lake named after my personal home town, Carlyle, Illinois. But I’m not going to get into Fun Lake Facts. My mission here is to entertain. And so, actually, was (and is) the Lake’s. Oh, there was some serious flood-control going on. But for my family and friends, The Lake was really all about fun and games.

Oops. There was in fact some serious Lakley stuff linked to us. Our Dad was one of the visionaries who made said Lake happen. I won’t go into details, but if you’re interested, you can click here for the full story featured in the fuzzy old news page below (which my newsman Oldest Younger Brother Scott dug up). Or click here for the Wikipedia entry on The Lake.

That’s my Dad, Dale Henry, smack-dab in the middle in that group of super-grainy news photos

Anyway. Back to fun and games. Speaking of ‘floating your boat’, one of the first things my Dad did (after doing his bit to make the Lake exist) was to buy a houseboat. Bet you five bucks you can’t  come up with a name as good as his: Sir Launch-A-Lot. This shot of Sir Launch is of the back, so you can’t see the nameplate. But, trust me, it was there, proudly displayed front and center.

Yup. Here it is. Boy, if those pontoons could talk

Now, I have bittersweet memories of Sir Launch-A-Lot — and The Lake itself, for that matter. See, I was a tad long in the tooth when the Lake became a reality. I was actually in high school when it was dedicated, um, fifty years ago. (Stop doing math, this instant!) Which means that I didn’t get to spend Golden Years of Youth frolicking on the Lake and/or in the houseboat like my younger siblings.

Me, at the Lake’s dedication ceremony, in one of my favorite sewn-myself outfits. The short dude shaking my hand was soon-to-be-Governor-but-only-Lt.-Gov-at-this-point Shapiro

The title of this piece, in fact, is something my Youngest Brother Doug used to say practically every summer day to our mother: “Yet’s go to ye Yake!” (Translation: “Let’s go to the Lake!“) He was there so much that the Yake was the inspiration for his Man-to-Man Talk from our Dad. Doug (upon seeing male mallards, um, ‘courting’ the females by biting their necks and, double um, hopping onto their backs): “Daddy! Those ducks are hurting those other ducks. Make them stop!!!” Dad (buying time): “No, son. They’re just playing.” Nice try, Dad.

Youngest Younger Brother Doug (middle) enjoying poker and brews on Sir Launch-A-Lot with (left) Best Bro-in-Law Dave and (right) The Dude. I’m pretty sure Doug knew about the ducks and the bees by this point

Yes, I may have missed Childhood on The Lake, but I got my share of Young Adulthood Fun whenever I visited my fam back in the Midwest. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Southern Illinois and its climate, but I can assure you that it’s hot and sticky as all get-out there in the summer. Why, I can remember the metal handle of the fridge being hot to the touch. But we kids didn’t mind so much. We of the pre-Lake Generation just hopped on our bikes and rode to the public swimming pool. A frozen Milky Way savored on the ride home helped a lot, too. (If you’re interested in how we Midwestern Millennials, Last Century Version, spent our summers, see “Remembrance of Watermelons Past“. We had a heck of a lot of sweaty fun.)

So. Because it was so all-fired hot, I spent a goodly amount of time on that boat when I visited my parents. Why, sometimes we didn’t even take the boat out of the dock. I remember spending long afternoons lying on its roof leafing through my Mom’s women’s magazines (Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and the like) which invariably featured a luscious photo of some fabulous dessert on the cover next to a headline that said something like “Melt Away 10 pounds in time for Swimsuit Season!”

That’s me, cooling off during Swimsuit Season when I was, oh, 25 or so. I know, I know, that water looks brown. It was, kinda (it was river water, you see). But it was indeed refreshing on a 90-plus-degree day

I need to wrap this up, partly because the house where I’m writing this is about as air-conditioned as the house in Southern Illinois where I grew up (which is not at all), and it’s getting hot here. Also, there’s so much about our houseboat and the Lake in our family history I can’t begin to tell it all. Like, there was the time we rocked our Dad’s huge video camera back and forth and filmed ourselves almost sinking in a ‘storm’. And the time the barbecue grill slipped off the back and sank when my Dad mistakenly put the Sir L-A-L into reverse and bonked into the dock. And the many times we watched Fourth of July fireworks from up top. And the time a big ole bare foot was imprinted into a cake my Mom was going to serve. And the time one of my brothers ran full tilt into the glass sliding door.

G-Rated goings-on featuring Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn and Middle Younger Brother Roger

And I’m sure my brothers and sister have many memories of floating hijinks with their friends aboard, details of which I, but more importantly our parents, are blissfully unaware.

Yes, the Lake is now officially 50 years old. There was an anniversary dedication ceremony just this last weekend, to which my family was invited, my Dad being a big figure in its development and all. But alas, nobody in our family lives there anymore, so we passed. Not sure if the Governor showed up, or even his lieutenant. Though someone told me Dad’s name was mentioned. Which is nice.

And Sir Launch-A-Lot? When my parents relocated to the Oregon Coast, they sold — or maybe even gave — the houseboat to friends. Who continued to enjoy it, like we did, for many watery years.

That’s The Dude and The Child, jumping from the top of Sir Launch-A-Lot into the sunset — and Lake Carlyle

Amagansett, New York. June 2017

 

 

“I do, I do. I really do like weddings.”

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‘After all, what’s not to like about a big ole party with champagne and dancing?’

There was a long dry spell there for a while. But I’m happy to report that not only is June bustin’ out all over, but so are the weddings. Not only are we going to a dandy weekend-long affair in a couple of weeks, but we just found out Nephew Chris and Squeeze Sarah are engaged. (I was going to use some corny euphemism like ‘getting hitched’, ‘tying the knot’, or maybe even ‘making things legal’, but restrained myself. Though I could not resist saying ‘Squeeze’. Oh well.)

Nephew on the left: engaged to be married. Nephew on the right: just got married. Yes, this is how I picture them in my Auntly Mind’s Eye

The long dry spell was because The Dude and I are long past the stage of going-to-friends’-and-relatives’ weddings and have finally broken into going-to-friends’-and-relatives’-kids’ weddings.  (There was a blip in there with a few do-overs, including my own, but not many, I’m sad/happy to say. My First Wedding is now a fond memory and funny story called ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage.’) Continue reading

“Swim, Sandy, swim!”

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‘Equal time for dogs’

My Porn Star Name is ‘Sandy Peterson’. In honor of Sandy the Dog, the beloved Pet of My Youth, pictured above in a moment of not-unusual adorableness.

But before we get to Sandy, a quick word about that word game. Maybe you played it too. It’s the one where you take the name of your beloved pet, add your mother’s maiden name, and, voila!, you’ve got your Porn Star Name. (The Child’s is ‘Tuna Henry’.)

I must admit ours are pretty tame. Over wine at my dining room table I’ve heard some easy-to-imagine-clad-in-fishnets doozies: ‘Pinky Parker’, ‘Missy Goodbody’. Though the Dude’s is ‘Duffy Miltner Flockmaster Cromartie’, which is pretty darned racy.

But back to pets, which is the point of this piece. A couple of weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about felines of yore in ‘The Cat Who Ran Away from Home and Broke My Heart’.

I finally found a picture of me with Aunt Marilyn’s Herkimer, the first cat I adored. And tortured with two-year-old abandon

Continue reading

“Come as you are.” Or, um, maybe not

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‘Decoding the dress code on party invitations’

Who doesn’t love getting invited to parties? Well, maybe The Dude, actually. He’d much rather relax in his jammies in the comfort of his own home than head out to a party after a long work week. But the last two Fridays in a row have found us helping two Birthday Boys celebrate very Big Birthdays at a couple of very Big (and very nice) Parties.

One of the nice things (aside from the free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres) that we appreciated about these two parties in particular was that there was no dress code. At least, not a dress code that was spelled out on the invitation. I guess the hosts (or hostesses, in these cases) figured that guests old enough to go to a birthday party without holding someone’s hand would be able to figure out how to dress.

Now, me, I love parties. And I look forward to getting party invitations of almost any kind. Including the ones with the little notes on the bottom of the invitation that tell you what to wear.

Should I wrap myself in cellophane like a bouquet from the corner deli?

Or should I make like a rosebush?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker-of-40-years-and-counting, I’ll probably just don my wear-to-pretty-much-every-party basic black. Maybe I’ll carry a nosegay. Or wear rose-colored lipstick.

But back to those dress codes. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of these. ‘Jacket and tie’, ‘Formal’, ‘Semi-formal’. (Does this mean half of you is dressed up, and the other half not? You know, like a suit jacket with jeans — a look I rather like, actually.) And then there is ‘Business casual’, which, honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out, except that when I was working in advertising, being ‘casual’ while doing ‘business’ (like on Casual Fridays) inspired the guys to dress like toddlers — in tee shirts, shorts and Teva sandals. At least most of them skipped the socks.

Some girlfriends and I were discussing the more creative party dress codes the other day over lunch. One of them (hi Sue!) had us all cracking up over her interpretation of ‘Casual Chic’. She said that when she sees this on an invitation she’s tempted to show up in something like sweatpants and a head covering. And what’s ‘Beach Chic’? Rudolph Valentino in a bikini?

Speaking of ‘Casual Chic’, The Child tells me that when she was in college she and her friends kept getting invited to events calling for ‘Casual Chic’ attire, and she said it got to be a running joke because they never knew what it meant either. Though they do seem to ‘get’ ‘Formal’.

The Child and her pals at a decidedly NOT ‘Casual Chic’ event

Oh, while we’re on ‘Formal’, my favorite party of the year is one I call The Prom because I get to really dress up, which I love. It’s a dinner dance and the dress code is ‘Black Tie, White Tie, or Full Military Dress’. Which tempts me to wear combat boots with my taffeta skirt.

Me in my One Long Skirt. Without the combat boots

That picture was taken at one of my late belated Tree-Trim parties, which is how I got my Christmas tree decorated Back in The Day. (I hate decorating, but love parties, so combined the two with great success. If you’re interested, I’ve got a funny story about this called ‘(No) Tannenbaum.’ These days, with no Santa-believing Child at home, I not only skip the decorating, I skip the whole tree.

But when I did send out invitations to those Tree Trims, I admit that I was guilty of adding a little note to dress ‘Festive’. Which, to me, meant dragging out the ole taffeta skirt.

And to everyone else, ‘Festive’ meant pretty much anything they wanted. Why, my guests didn’t even have to wear the festive little crowns that came in the Christmas crackers if they didn’t want to.

The Child appropriates all the Christmas Cracker Crowns, thus saving other guests the indignity of wearing them

Nowadays I’m even more casual, if that’s possible, in my interpretation of ‘Festive.’ Given a ‘Festive’ occasion, I pretty much wear whatever I want — jeans, even — and slap a tiara on top. Yes, I actually have a tiara. My Favorite Sister got it for me a few birthdays ago, and now I wear it not only on every birthday, but pretty much every chance I get. Nobody gives me a second glance, because at my age I’m invisible anyway.

Oh! Before I go, I should explain what occasion The Dude was dressed for in that picture at the top of this post. No, he wasn’t on his way to a ‘Come as you are’ event, though that would have been wildly entertaining for our hosts. He was dressed for a birding excursion. On his motorcycle.

New York City. May 2017

It’s lonely at the top of the Coliseum

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‘The time we went to Rome and no one was home’

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s been thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster, so I guess it’s safe to tell a somewhat-amusing story about it. After all, New York Times Journeys is selling tours to the Chernobyl site. The group is ‘departing’ (nice choice of words, Times writer) May 27, so there’s still time to sign up. If you’ve got $5,495 and a hazmat suit.

I think I’ll skip this, tempting though it may sound to stay in ‘the only hotel in the town of Chernobyl’

So what could Chernobyl possibly have to do with a nice thirty-something couple in New York? Well. The Dude was a freshly-minted doctor at the time and was preparing to give his first big lecture at his first big medical meeting. This meeting, of ophthalmologists from around the world, was to be held in Rome — a city that sounded darned nice to visit, meeting or no meeting.

So The Dude got his notes and slides all prepped and polished and I found us some nice cheap plane tickets and a nice cheap hotel. (These were the days when we were living ‘Barefoot in the Park’-style in that fish-bowl ground-floor apartment, remember, and the Hassler was not in our budget. Still isn’t, actually.)

Then one day a week or so before we were supposed to leave, we read in the paper that a nuclear reactor had melted down somewhere in Russia, Chernobyl to be exact. We of course felt bad about this, but as was our wont, we went on with our lives and didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Until we heard about the Radioactive Cloud.

This was, basically, a super-nasty airborne plume of ‘hazardous isotopes’ that floated away from the Chernobyl disaster kind of the way a balloon floats away from a birthday party. Except that, instead of getting trapped in a tree and causing an eyesore, this nasty balloon was going to poison crops and cause cancer.

Nobody knew where the plume was going to land, but scientists thought it was going to be ‘somewhere in Europe’. So trips were being cancelled left and right — including trips to The Medical Meeting. We thought about it maybe for a second, and decided that bailing was not an option. Money had been spent. And besides, The Dude had that talk all practiced up. So off we went to Rome.

I’ll skip the part about what it was like to fly coach in the ‘non-smoking section’ on Alitalia back in the Eighties. (It was the last row way back by the not-too-clean toilets — and yes, it was just one row.) And I’ll gloss over the part about what Leonardo Da Vinci airport was like back then, except to mention that this was only about a year after an infamous TWA hijacking, so the place was swarming with teens in uniform toting machine guns. Sort of like any airport in these post-9/11, post-Trump days, I guess. But back then it was unusual.

But we made it to our comfy-but-cheap hotel, settled in, and headed out on the town for some pre-meeting fun.

All I can remember about this place was that we could afford it

Well. First thing we noticed was a surprising lack of, well, people. No matter where we went, Rome looked like a ghost town. A wonderfully well-stocked-with-antiquities ghost town, but still definitely ghostly. The Palatine Hill — deserted. The Forum — empty. The Vatican — you could shoot a gun and not hit anybody. Only The Coliseum was full. Of cats.

The Palatine Hill (I think; it’s been a long time) — and me

Me, making like a Vestal Virgin. (Vestal Virgins were thin on the ground that day)

The good part about this was a lack of crowds. The bad part was the lack of fresh food. Here we were in Rome with, basically, nothing to eat. The restaurants were thrilled to welcome us — we would be greeted with happy cries and even hugs when we entered any trattoria or ristorante. Once we were even treated to complimentary grappa, which I thought tasted kind of like tennis shoes. Tennis shoes that had been kept in a damp basement.

But there was no fresh food. No tomatoes, no milk, no fruit. Because of the toxic plume, you see. No one was sure if anything fresh was safe to eat. So there we were in Rome, eating canned peaches. Oh well, at least we were in Rome.

Nope. I don’t even see the Pope. Maybe he was craving fresh mozzarella, and left town to get some

Since our hotel was next to the train station (travel tip: many inexpensive hotels are next to train stations), we did leave Rome to go on a day trip. Went to Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este. Which were equally empty.

No people and no produce at the fountains of Tivoli. No cats either. Oh well, cats hate water

We were starting to feel a little lonely when we finally went to The Medical Meeting. Where, you’ll be happy to hear, there were at least a dozen or so intrepid souls in attendance to take in The Dude’s talk. He wasn’t nervous, not one bit. But then again, it wasn’t exactly a big scary crowd.

And what happened to The Big Scary Cloud? It settled, eventually. But not anywhere near Rome. It glommed on to Scandinavia. And, even though they ‘got’ the cloud, I’d rather visit the Swedes than, as the Times Journeys description puts it about their Chernobyl trip, “gain an unparalleled perspective on this seminal world event, and emerge with an informed view of nuclear power”.

I’m afraid that’s not all I’d ’emerge’ with.

New York City. May 2017.

 

Just because it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it

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‘When everything in your closet is “vintage”‘

It’s getting to be Spring here (finally), so the other day I was participating in a seasonal ritual particular to New Yorkers (at least New Yorkers in apartments with small closets) — The Switching of The Clothes.

Which is when you dig your Spring/Summer stuff out of storage and switch it with the Fall/Winter stuff. In my case, “storage” is the second closet in The Child’s room. She has never realized that she has two closets; she grew up thinking it perfectly normal that Mommy’s out-of-season clothes lived in her room.

BTW, Switching The Clothes in Spring absolutely guarantees a cold snap. Today, the 9th of May, it is 48 degrees out, and where are my sweaters? Stowed away in The Child’s second closet. Sigh.

But back to the topic at hand, which, I suppose, is Age Comes Out of The Closet. See, in years gone by, The Switching was a pretty easy chore. I’d just grab everything — and switch. I wouldn’t even try things on to make sure they still fit; I’ve been basically the same size my entire Adult Life. Not because of anything I’ve done; I follow no annoyingly virtuous regimen or routine. It’s because I’m (mostly) a Swede. And it’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t get fat. We shrivel. As we age, we sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky.

And the past few years, yes, beef jerkiness has been quietly sneaking up on me. Except for the odd arthritic twinge now and then, I don’t feel all that different. And like most people, I don’t realize I look any different (er, older). Except when, say, I see my reflection in a store window and wonder “who is that old woman who looks just like me?” Then I realize — good grief — it is me! Oh, and The Dude once thoughtfully got me contact lenses (he’s an ophthalmologist) which I gave up wearing after I scared myself silly glimpsing myself bare-faced in the bathroom mirror. Blue glasses cover a multitude of sins. And eye bags.

But lately people have been offering me The Senior Discount. (Attention, those of you in the Service Professions: if someone wants the Senior Discount, trust me, she will ask for the Senior Discount.) Even worse, people have started offering me their seats on the bus. Sometimes, if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll look down, pat my stomach, and say “Oh! Am I showing already?” Then I smile. And remain standing.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. I’ve come to notice, if not embrace, my Older Self. So this time when I Switched, I paused and actually looked at my clothes. Some, like The Dress pictured below, I’ve had — and worn — for decades. These days I can definitely identify with one of my bosses, who once said to an uppity Whippersnapper Account Executive, “I’ve got belts older than you.”

But a belt — or even The Dress — is one thing. A pair of hot pink paisley pants (which I actually owned, until last week) is another. Before, the only risk in wearing a favorite item year after year was that people would recognize it instead of me. I was once introduced to a woman at a party who said, “Oh, I think I met you last year — I remember that dress.”

These days, the risk is that I might, as my gramma used to say, “scare the horses”. True, I live in New York, where pretty much anything goes. (See Betsy Johnson.) But, alas, I’m no Betsy. (See Much-Missed Role Model Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I just don’t feel comfortable wearing hot pink paisley any more. At least not out of the house.

Interestingly, I picked the photo at the top of this post because, if I still had it that outfit (which, alas, I don’t) I think I could still get away with wearing it. Though maybe with a bra these days (not that I need one any more than I did then). And there’s a pleated skirt I remember from high school that I would kill to have saved. It was one of the few clothing items I owned that I did not sew.

I even sewed this dress for Homecoming: crushed velvet with blue satin sash. I no longer own it, though I do, in fact, own a similar crown

I saved up babysitting money and bought the skirt at Topper’s, which was sort of the Barney’s of Southern Illinois. It was lime green and hit just at the middle of the knee. I used to roll it up once I got to school so it would be super-short; now I could wear it as is and it would be perfect.

This proper Englishwoman and I are roughly the same age. Noticing the above-the-knee skirt, she asked ‘Aren’t your legs cold, Dear?’

So, this latest Clothes Switching Time, to avoid gathering unsolicited comments from Englishwomen — or appearing, as another Gramma saying would have it, like “mutton dressed as lamb”, I edited out the short skirts, the tight pants, the bare backs. Put them all aside for The Child and her friends.

What I wore to my first — and only — wedding rehearsal. No danger of your seeing it again. It’s long gone, as is the First Husband

Interestingly, it’s the stuff that I thought was really cool that she and her pals rejected. And the stuff that I think is dowdy that they wanted. The sober Joan and David nineties-era pantsuit? Grabbed. That short silver cocktail dress I bought on a shoot in Australia? In the Bargain Box pile.

And anything “vintage”? It used to be fun to scout thrift shops for choice vintage pieces. But it doesn’t work for me anymore. No one gets that I’m being ironic. They just think that I’ve owned that sixties jeans jacket or seventies wrap dress for a long time and haven’t gotten around to donating it yet. And they’d probably be right.

New York City. May 2017.