Signs of Spring (Fever)

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‘An it’s-too-nice-out-to-be-chained-to-a-computer story featuring funny signs, though not necessarily about Spring’

Okay okay. I have a zillion ideas for stories that should amuse the bejeepers out of you. I’ve got trip stories, like the one about when we went to Rome right after Chernobyl and nobody was there. Or the one where we left The Child by the side of the road next to a pueblo.

I’ve got ad-biz stories, like the one where we went to South Africa for a diaper shoot and the baby wrangler would only eat foods that started with ‘C’. Or the one where I got lost finding my office in the new Ogilvy digs at Worldwide Plaza and wound up in a British documentary.

And of course I still have plenty of fuel left in the family-story tank — plus major holdings indeed in the growing-up-in-a-small-town memory bank.

But. It is Spring. And Spring is distracting. I’ve been so distracted that the photo at the top of this post was mistakenly snapped by my iPhone-clutching hand while strolling along checking out Spring in New York City. (Actually, I was in a rush to deliver some crutches to The Child, who had just sprained her ankle badly in a fall from a climbing wall — but that’s, ahem, another story.)

Photo taken while wandering lonely as a cloud. If one can ‘wander’ while on a bike

And then this weekend, while on a bike ride out in Amagansett, hoping to clear my head and focus — focus, already — on a story, I found signs of Spring springing out at me from every which way.

But then I had it: Signs! I’ll pack a post with signs, and then I only have to write the bits in between. See, the other thing I do when I’m out and about is ‘collect’ signs that I find amusing. Here. I’ll stop writing and show you one.

This one’s in the thanks-but-no-thanks category

I see lots of at-least-to-me amusing signs while on walks. In fact, I have a whole sub-category on dry cleaning establishments alone. For some reason, I find that dry cleaning signs just beg for wisecracks. ‘Hand Laundry’ — how specialized! ‘Joseph Cleaners’ — but what if Mary gets dirty? ‘Delta Cleaners’ — wow, big job! And then there’s this recent one:

Now that’s a niche market, for sure

Of course, my very favorite, the Dry Cleaning Sign of All Time, which I spied before I wised up and started taking pictures of them, was (I kid you not) ‘Wong Cleaners’.

But wait, there’s more. Because, trust me, even if all the dry cleaners went bust, the streets of New York are full of comic material. As well as purveyors of knockoff ‘designer’ handbags, costume jewelry, and fruit. Lots and lots of fruit, sold by guys from carts who take breaks in trucks.

This guy was apparently trying to ward off the parking-ticket-pushers. If you check out the dozens of slips under the wipers, you’ll see his method wasn’t entirely successful. Maybe he needs a new sign

Speaking of trucks, I sometimes spot ‘my’ signs from a moving (or stuck in traffic) vehicle. Here’s one I spotted on the ramp leading down from the Queensboro Bridge. It’s rather subtle, but as a former advertising writer and creator of slogans, I find it rather unintentionally amusing.

Maybe I’m the only one who finds this one unintentionally amusing. But no, Doctor Dude did too

Reminded me of the sign I see every time I leave the City to go to Amagansett. I’m usually jockeying for traffic position, so I haven’t been able to get a good shot, but I did send it in to the New York Times.

Printed in the Metropolitan Diary, a feature that appears on Mondays in the Times

Of course New York isn’t the only City with amusing signs. Here’s one I just love, taken on a not-recent-enough visit to my Mother’s place in Seaside, Oregon:

Taken on the main drag in Seaside, after a delicious dinner (not featuring donuts or Bud Light) across the street at Dooger’s

But you don’t need a streetscape to find good signs. If you keep your eyes and your mind open, you’ll see them practically everywhere. Those of you who have read my stories for a while know that I have a particular fondness for ‘Danger’ signs. (Check out ‘Oh no, Danger Man’ for hilarious examples.) Here’s a shot of a ‘Danger’ sign that combines two pleasures — a visit with family and civil disobedience:

Nobody-Doesn’t-Like Jen defies the sign in classic married-to-a-Henry-so-that-explains-it fashion

I could go on and on, but even lazy-butt Spring-Fever-induced blog posts crammed with signs have to end sometime. Besides, I have to get outside and check to see if the magnolia blossoms are out yet. (We have some rather spectacular specimens right outside our front door, as you can see from this photo taken during another equally-distracting Spring.) Oh, and you never know. I might see another silly sign to snap.

Wishing everyone a super-distracting Spring, with little or no Fever

New York City. April 2017

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”

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‘Unless, of course, they come with a chocolate bunny’

That quote up top is from Thoreau. I don’t know much about little Henry David’s family or what they did for Easter, but I’m thinking he may have felt a tad better about new-clothes-requiring occasions if he’d had a nice mommy who sewed him a sport coat. Not to mention a Bunny to leave him an Easter basket.

Younger Brothers Scott and Roger and I show off our Easter finery, which was most likely made by our mother. No, that’s not the Easter Bunny. That’s Sandy, the Dog of Our Youth

Last weekend was Easter. It was also my Youngest Brother Doug’s birthday. Since he is waaaay younger than me, and I wasn’t around for many of his Easters, I don’t have a photo of him lined up with the rest of us wearing Easter duds. But I do have this shot of him in his (almost) birthday suit.

Doug, looking clean and shiny and very proud of himself indeed. Maybe getting ready to dress himself for Easter. (Note string tied to bathroom door as an escape mechanism in case the latch caught)

Easter was a big deal when I was growing up. Not as big a deal as Christmas, of course. But when we were kids, any occasion when adults insisted that Jolly Old Elves or Big Bunnies were going to sneak into the house and leave you gifts was pretty darned exciting. The Tooth Fairy was cool, too, what with the money left under your pillow and all. But nobody, as far as I know, has made a chocolate effigy of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe because of the tooth thing. But probably just because nobody knows what the Tooth Fairy looks like, except kind of like your dad, in pajamas.

An early Easter. When the crowd of dressed-up Henry Kids consisted of, um, me. Good thing I was too young for Dad’s Tooth Fairy duty; he was away, doing other duty off in Korea 

And any occasion that required new clothes was also a big deal. Easter was a biggie. Mom usually made our outfits as well as her own. She famously made my brothers sports coats — and matched the plaids. Which, if you sew, you know is very hard to do. I made my own clothes too, when I got big enough for my foot to reach the treadle. Where we grew up, sewing kind of came with the territory. Especially if you wanted to wear anything, well, trendy. My HS BF Norma sewed a ‘granny dress’ but she got in trouble wearing it to school because it didn’t meet the dress code — it was too long.

Nope, it’s not Paris. It’s me at another new-clothes-requiring occasion: Prom. I’m with High-School Hunk Brad, wearing a dress I made myself. Thank goodness it had dots, not plaids

But back to Easter. On Easter morning we’d wake up to find an Easter Basket by our beds. It didn’t matter how old we were; this happened every Easter. Even when I was a Hulking Proto-Adult home from college on Spring Break, I would wake on Easter morning to find an Easter Basket by my bed. And I bet if I’d been back home for Easter this year I would have found one there too.

There were little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in these baskets, plus a big old chocolate bunny, but no dyed eggs. The dyed eggs were for hiding. They were hard-boiled eggs dyed in the kitchen with our Mom, using food coloring (these being the days before those dying kits with dissolving pellets, and way before the advent of those horrible pull-apart plastic eggs). We used to draw on our eggs with white crayon — our version of batik — the crayon wax would keep the dye from ‘sticking’ to the designs, and we could create some pretty nifty effects.

Our Mom — or in later years, the Big Kids — would hide these eggs. I have to confess that I much preferred hiding to finding. It was a blast to think of clever places to put the eggs. I remember one in the crook of a tree that remained undiscovered for weeks. (Our family liked to put things in crooks of trees; my Dad once put the ‘portable phone’ — remember those? — in a tree crook, and no one found it for months.) Besides enjoying the hiding, it was also super fun to traipse around on Easter morning behind the Little Kids going ‘you’re getting warmer…cooler…warmer again! You’re hot! very hot!’ while they searched.

And what did we do with these eggs? Well, we didn’t eat them. Eating was for the chocolate eggs. And the big ole bunny. Our family was divided between the eat-the-bunny-right-now faction (my brothers) and the save-some-bunny-for-later group (pretty much only me). As a ‘saver’, I would nibble on, say, one chocolate ear, then hide the rest. Of course, my smarty-pants brothers knew where to look and would eat my bunny as well as theirs.

As years went by, I got better at foiling them, though. I once hid a big pinwheel lollypop I got at the Clinton County Fair so well that I forgot all about it. Till I heard scratching and squeaking coming from a dresser drawer where a family of mice had established a sort of rodent condo — with my sweaters as their bed and the lollypop as their pantry.

Anyway, about those dyed eggs. Even if we hadn’t had the chocolate eggs to distract our taste buds, we kids weren’t overly fond (if at all) of hard-boiled ones. Especially dyed hard-boiled eggs. If you’ve ever shucked yourself a home-colored HB egg, you’ll know that the dye tends to seep into the egg itself, and a blue-tinged egg can be sort of a deal-breaker when you’re, say, seven. Even adults find purple egg salad a tad off-putting. So, as the Little Kids found the eggs, they’d slip them to our Dad, who would rouse himself from his supine-on-the-couch position to peel them and pop them whole, Cool Hand Luke-style, into his mouth.

Oh, when it rained, we didn’t cancel the hunt; we just hid the eggs in the house. One year, about a week after Easter there was this horrible smell in the living room. Turns out one of the eggs had been hidden too well, and was still buried beneath a couch cushion. We didn’t give that one to Dad.

Jump ahead to Easter with The Child. Even though we are not what you’d call ‘religious’, we did get a kick out of dressing up and going to church with Aunt Eleanor. That’s because Aunt E went to the Methodist Church, where they sang awesome Easter hymns. Really resoundingly good ones, like that one that goes ‘Christ the Lord is risen to-daaaay…ha ha ha ha HAH lay-eh ooo ooo yah!’ We would drive home from the service with the sunroof open ‘hallelujah’ing our hearts (and lungs) out.

Ready for some Easter-hymn bellowing at Aunt Eleanor’s church, headgear and all. I’m ashamed to admit I did not make The Child’s dress, though I did knit the sweater she’s wearing in that shot at the top with the giant chocolate bunny

This post is getting about as long as a Lutheran hymn (six or seven verses, all sung in a mournful minor key, even the joyous Easter ones), so I’ll wrap this up with another cute Mom-and-Child Easter photo. I didn’t make The Child’s dress. Like the one in the picture above, The Child’s Doting Aunt Linda bought it for her. And no, I did not make my suit. Don’t tell the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Tradition continues, sans hats. But definitely with Easter baskets (not shown)

New York City. April 2017

“You bet your sweet bippy!”

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‘”Screen time” in the Olden Golden Days’

Even more of a shock to me than Chuck Berry’s recent demise was to open the Times and see an obit for one of the Really Cute Girls who used to dance in bikinis on Laugh In.

Remembering Chelsea Brown — and Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne — ‘go-go’ dancing their little hearts out got me to thinking about how much fun we used to have watching TV back in those days.

See, TV back then didn’t mean streaming a show on your iPad with your earphones in. It meant sprawling on the living-room floor, consuming huge cereal bowls of ice cream (usually vanilla, but sometimes a flavor called ‘Neapolitan’; the green stripes being my favorite) or sharing a giant washtub of popcorn (Littlest Brother Doug was the designated Popcorn Chef; he popped it in a battered aluminum pot on the stovetop, shaking it energetically and listening carefully for the last ‘pops’ so it didn’t burn).

Littlest Brother Doug (with Major Moseby) taking a break from his corn-popping duties

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“I’m watchin’ him!”

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‘The “Playdate”, back in Midcentury Modern Times.’

Last week I wrote about the Midcentury Modern custom of sending a high-school social studies class on a field trip to a maximum-security prison. I say “custom” because, frankly, I was astonished to find that many of you readers out there had done the very same thing. (And that’s not counting those of you who went to the very same high school as me.)

This week I’m curious to see how many of you grew up experiencing the Midcentury Modern version of the “playdate”.

“Playdates”, for those of you who don’t have, haven’t had, or don’t know anyone with children, are when parents or caregivers (what we used to call “babysitters”) set up specific times and places (“dates”) for kids to get together to “play”.

I just love that there is an actual Wikipedia entry for “playdate”. If you don’t feel like clicking, here’s what it goes on to say: Playdates have become common because the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in.

Hmmm. Just what “kind of play” was this? Continue reading

That’ll teach you

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‘My high school field trip to the state penitentiary’

So I was having my hair cut last week and telling Anthony about last week’s post — the one about driving and road trips — and had gotten to the part about how in my high school the Drivers’ Ed teacher was always the same guy who taught gym and something called ‘social studies’.

Drivers’ Ed/Gym/Social Studies teacher Mr. K

We got to talking about how different high school was way back when, even in Brooklyn, where he grew up. How we had classes like Industrial Arts (AKA ‘Shop’) and Home Economics (‘Home Ec’) and organizations like FFA, which stood for Future Farmers of America.

I don’t know whatall went on in Shop (except that it looks a tad oily) since Shop was strictly for boys. In fact, boys were required to take either Shop or Agriculture. Girls had no choice, but were similarly required to take the aforementioned Home Economics. I don’t know where the ‘economics’ came in, since basically we were taught cooking, sewing, setting the table — all skills designed to make us better wives and mothers. Interesting note: Home Ec was taught by a Miss Ford, who was neither. Continue reading

“Drive,” she said.

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‘On the glories of the Open Road’

Last week’s tribute to my Male Parent and his napping powers included a memory of Dad piloting us on those long drives up to Gramma’s house. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott remarked that Dad was the only person he knew who could ‘simultaneously nap and smoke a cigarette while driving.’)

So true, Scott, so true. But I failed to mention why Dad would get so sleepy on those drives. It was because it was at least six hours to Gramma’s — on charming-but-small-town-clogged two-lane highways — and we wouldn’t start the drive till he got home from work. Sometimes, I remember, we would pull over to the side of the road so everybody, not just Dad, could sort-of-safely sleep. I remember that when we lived in Memphis, and the trip to Gramma’s was more like twelve hours, we had a mattress in the back of the Ford station wagon for the kids to crash on. Very Joad-like, but that’s the way it was. Continue reading

Let sleeping dads lie

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‘Remembering my Dad, who took napping to a whole new level — mainly horizontal’

Last Friday would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary. I say ‘would have been’ not because they didn’t stay married. No, it’s because my dad, alas, is no longer with us. Dad made it to 80, which made him pretty happy. But just barely, which made the rest of us pretty sad.

The last photo my Dad ever took. That’s Older Younger Brother Scott — and Me — at Dad’s 80th Birthday Party. Taken with my camera, by Dad

Anyway. This past January 13 got me thinking about my Dad. And if you too knew him, whether as ‘Dad’, ‘Uncle Dale’, ‘DJ’ or ‘Deej’, ‘Henry Dale’ (which is how his mail was often addressed and how our friend Regina insisted on addressing him), or even as ‘Scotty’ (he apparently had a tartan plaid fixation as a child), you know that you can’t think about him without also thinking about some of his, well, ‘quirks’.

Yes, quirks. Dad was full of them. For example, he couldn’t stand the sound of crunching. Raw vegetables being consumed in his presence made his head spin around. (Ice? OMG.) He hated crunching so much that when he went on a trip to drum up business for the civil engineering firm he helped found, the still-going-strong Henry, Meisenheimer and Gende, we Stay-at-Home Henrys would take advantage of his absence to go crazy chomping down on every raw carrot or celery stick and/or pretzel or cracker we could get our teeth into. Continue reading