The Movie Disease

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‘More and more beautiful as you reach The End’

Some people say Fall is here when you spy your first red leaf. I say it’s when I need to whip out the grill light to cook my dinner. The Best Sister on The Planet gave me this gizmo a couple of years ago, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it as summer winds down.

My handy dandy grill light. I can’t show it to you on my actual grill, since Hurricane Irma or Jose or Maria or Whomever is out there whipping up a wet mess

A couple of nights ago, as I was out there sizzling up a weenie or two and engaging in a bit of grill-light-assisted reverie, I got to thinking yet again about Summer Turning Into Fall. Which I know I’ve written about more than once, but, darn it, I do find the topic fascinating. Bittersweet and sometimes even outright sad, but fascinating all the same.

Oh. Here’s that Sign O Fall of which I spoke. Thanks MJS!

I’ve compared the shortness of summer to the fleetingness of childhood. I’ve likened August to Sunday night, and September to Monday morning. And now I’m going to tell you how Fall is like the Movie Disease.

The Movie Disease was invented by a fabulously funny publication called Mad Magazine back in 1970, when ‘Love Story’ came out.

‘Love Story‘ was a movie based on a best-selling weeper by Erich Segal about a mismatched young couple (He’s rich and preppie; she’s working-class and still manages to look pretty darned preppie in cute short pleated skirts and tasseled hats) who fall in love (duh) and get married against family wishes. Then she gets sick and dies — gorgeously.

It was, according to Mad, a very bad case of Movie Disease: the sicker she gets, the more beautiful she becomes. Until she is just too stunning to live another second. So, bye-bye Ali. She never gets to see Paris (“Screw Paris”, she death-bed-whispers to devastated Ryan O.) And then, when Ollie (Ryan’s character, whom Al Gore famously said was modeled on him) says he’s sorry she’ll never get to see Said Paris, she says, even more famously, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

Ryan (‘Ollie’) and Ali (‘Jenny’), before she gets Movie Sick. You can tell she’s healthy because her teeth are still crooked

I don’t want to even get started with that silly phrase. Instead, here’s another Mad Love Story sendup zinger: “It won’t be long now.” the doctor says, “Look, her teeth are getting straighter.”

According to Mad, the Movie Disease has its roots in old Hollywood films, where characters ”used to die beautiful glamorous deaths.” So true. Just the other night I was re-watching ‘Wuthering Heights’, which, in my opinion, with its Merle Oberon and its Laurence Oliver, dances Movie Disease rings around ‘Love Story’.

Merle (Doomed Cathy) literally glows (see pix at the top of this story for proof) until Larry (Equally-Doomed Heathcliff) scoops her in his arms and stands her at the window where she gets to stunningly wilt into oblivion as they gaze together at the moors for the very last time. Sigh.

Another beautiful Movie Disease Victim: Greta Garbo in Camille

And remember Garbo as Camille? She even coughs gorgeously as she gloriously wastes away. But before I get carried away with examples (and not by Larry or the Movie Disease) I bet you can see already how Fall is like the Movie Disease.

Everything gets more and more beautiful: the leaves glow feverishly red and gold, the sky shines with an otherworldly blue, and the nights swoon with harvest moons and sparkling stars.

From another fabulous fall, when the year was fading fast

It’s not just that summer is over. It’s that the whole year is reaching The End.

Just like, goshdarnit, this post.

Amagansett, New York. September 2017

“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

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.

Close, but no cigarette

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‘Malapropisms I have known and loved’

As I darkly hinted last week, I was thinking about writing a piece about the Common Cold. Specifically, about how the Cold is the Rodney Dangerfield of illnesses. You know, it “just don’t get no respect”.

For those of you who don’t know who the heck I’m talking about, that’s Rodney, with one of his quips. He was famous among some of The Dude’s college buddies for appearing in the movie Caddyshack. But he was even more famous for “insult humor”. He even had the temerity to insult Frank Sinatra (who, thank god, laughed); you can read about this is a famous essay called ‘Frank Sinatra has a Cold’, an essay by Gay Talese so good it is taught in journalism schools.

And yes, in this piece Frank Sinatra has a cold. Just like me! (The Common Cold being probably the only time ever I will have anything whatsoever in common with Frank.)

But I won’t elaborate. Because, if you’ve ever had a cold (and they are, in fact, pretty common, especially in New York this winter), I’m thinking you know exactly what I mean. I don’t know about you, but if I hear one more time that I should be glad that “it’s only a cold” and that at least I “don’t have anything more serious” I will do more than insult that person. I might do something truly evil, like lick their phone.

But back to malapropisms.

Continue reading

The Breakfast of Champions

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‘Some random thoughts on The Think Drink’

So. I’m walking into my apartment lobby and run into a couple of neighbors. Well, I didn’t literally run into them, which is a good thing because I was clutching an extremely large container of coffee. A venti quad skim latte, to be exact. Which is four shots of espresso and some frothy skim milk. It’s really big, and really good, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Well, after making some remark about coming by later to ‘scrape me off the walls’, my neighbors waltzed off to buy Christmas cards or wrapping paper or evergreen fronds. Or something. While I came upstairs to write this piece. (And sip my coffee.)

I love coffee. If some doctor told me I couldn’t drink it, I would have some pretty serious issues. I think it’s delicious, and I also think it gets your brain firing on all cylinders. I’m not the only one. Years ago there was an ad campaign for coffee with the tagline ‘The Think Drink’. And, to this day, Young Attractive Persons use coffee as a study aid. (See photo at the top of this post as proof; Attractive Person pictured is the son of one of my friends, preparing for a final exam.)

Proof that coffee fuels creativity as well as study. Note mug on table as well as spoons on noses

I grew up with Attractive Persons who were always drinking coffee. ‘Would you like coffee?’, ‘Coffee’s in the kitchen’ or even a simple ‘Coffee’s on’ was how one was greeted at the door. In fact, while digging out pictures for this post, I realized that it was a rare family photo that did not feature a Henry or Peterson adult clutching a mug. Continue reading

The gift that keeps on giving

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‘It really is the thought that counts’

First, I must extend my heartfelt apologies to The Child for using that photo up top from a Christmas-morning-in-her-early-teens-when-she’d-dyed-her-hair-an-unfortunate-hue. But it’s the only picture I could find of her actually presenting us with Christmas Coupons. So I simply could not resist.

As for the Christmas Coupons themselves, here’s one I had the foresight to save. Too bad it has, alas, expired.

I don't have a photo of The Child presenting me with this, but she was not a teen, and had normal-tinted hair at the time. I'm thinking maybe 8 or 9

I don’t have a photo of The Child presenting me with this. But I’m betting she was 8 or 9 at the time, with untinted hair and pretty impressive cursive

The Child came up with the idea of Christmas Coupons when she was barely able to scrawl with a Number Two pencil on lined paper. Instead of going to the Ben Franklin store to buy her Mommy a teensy vial of Evening in Paris (like I did for my mom, and which she probably still has), The Child would inscribe small bits of paper with promissory notes, usually for personal services. (Her foot rubs were in great demand, by her Dad anyway; I’ve never been able to let anyone anywhere near my feet.)  Continue reading

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

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‘Practice practice practice. But please don’t fake your practice notes and forge your parents’ signatures’

If there’s anything I’m more tired of than reading about the election, it’s writing about the election. So this week, I thought I’d switch gears and write a story that makes fun of inept people in positions of power. It also involves some lying and cheating.

It’s about the time The Child faked her violin practice notes.

First, I have to say that the whole situation was absurd from the get-go — the fact that she had to take the violin. See, The Child had been playing the piano basically from birth. And playing it very well indeed, I’ll have you know.

The Dude introduces The Child to Mr. Piano

The Dude introduces The Child to Mr. Steinway. She is, oh, two days old here

 

Here she is, actually touching the keys. This piano was in the soon-to-be-pummeled-by-storms teeny-tiny beach house

Here she is, actually touching the keys. This piano was in the soon-to-be-pummeled-by-storms teeny-tiny beach house

She played the piano so well that she played in competitions and gave recitals. She and some of her fellow piano prodigies once played for the residents of a nursing home in New Jersey, where a little boy was startled enough to almost miss a note when he was in the middle of Chopin’s Fantaise-Impromptu and all these oldsters started swaying in unison and singing ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’. Continue reading