Eat. Or be eaten.


‘Up close and personal with paranha, army ants, and other Amazon locals’ 

“Don’t look now, but there’s a half-naked man with a machete up ahead on the path,” fluted Paul in his Upperclass Brit Voice. And yes, there certainly was.

This was on, oh, Day Two or so of our Amazonian Adventure. The one where we spent two weeks on a boat traveling to the upper reaches of the Rio Aripuana, dubbed The River of Doubt by none other than Teddy Roosevelt.

Me, channeling my Inner Teddy on the Rio Aripuana. That’s our Base Boat, the Tumbira, in the background, a tad far away for comfort. For me, anyway

As the days went by we became more familiar with ‘men with machetes’, and actually quite happy to have them around. (In the Amazon, carrying a machete is kind of like carrying a Swiss Army Knife.)

“You call that a knife? THIS is a knife!”

There was a guy we met on another path on another day who even gave our Fearless Leader Bret a bit of a pause. I was transfixed by his Chicago Cubs hat and did not notice that he had been carrying a rather large firearm. Turns out he was out scouting for a jaguar that had been terrorizing his village.

Yup. A jaguar. Terrorizing a village. We also ran into wasps (well, we didn’t actually run into them; we detoured around them — with the help of the Men with Machetes) and army ants and some really pissed-off water buffalo.

No, I did not take this photo of the water buffalo. (Fearless Leader Bret Whitney did.) I was skedaddling down the slope to the Tumbira as fast as my little hiking boots would take me

About those army ants. We actually sought them out, since exotic birds, known collectively as antbirds, are drawn to them. No, the birds don’t eat the army ants. They eat the critters that are trying their darnedest to get away from the army ants. See, these ants eat anything and everything that is too slow — or too dumb — to get out of their way. Anything.

Nope, that’s not an antbird. It’s Micah, with a Margarita Frog, neither of which was in the path of the army ants. Thank goodness

I’m pretty sure that this is an antbird. Which kind? Um, duh. There are about 30 types. (The Dude would know, but he’s not here right now)

The army ants do such a great job of ‘cleaning up’ that some villagers welcome their hordes. They just remove the stuff that they don’t want the ants to eat, and then get out of their way. A couple of hours later, voila, your house is free of pests and whatnot. Oh, and the water buffalo? Villagers sort of leave them to fend for themselves on islands in the middle of the river. You kind of don’t want to surprise them.

Me, mid-skedaddle. Walking the plank, which was one of two ways to enter/exit the Tumbira. Very handy when escaping water buffalo

The other way to get to the boat and/or birding trails: these tippy little boats, which, believe it or not, I grew rather fond of

But about those piranha. I know you want to hear more about those. Like many of you, I had heard stories about piranha. But I always thought the stories were, well, exaggerated. You know, like stuff about the feeding frenzies. Or the don’t-ever-ever-trail-your-hand-in-the-water warnings. Well, turns out that all this is true. Not blown even the teensiest bit out of proportion. (Note: the fish in the picture at the top of this post is not a piranha. It’s some benign fish that was caught in a net, then released because it was too small to eat. I just thought it was a cool photo, what with Junior (the Tumbira’s owner) holding it and all.)

I even have some footage of a feeding frenzy. The Machete Guys held a chunk of meat in the water. And, well, you can see for yourself what happened:

Want to hear a great piranha story? When the villagers drive their cattle across the river, they pick out an old and/or sick specimen and intentionally feed it to the piranha. Which gives the rest of the herd time to get across safely. Seriously.

But I’ve saved the best part for last. The part about ‘eat or be eaten’. See, we actually ate some piranha. Junior, our host and the Tumbira’s owner, caught a whole mess of the finny little critters (they are quite small, but with very very sharp teeth) and we ate them one night for dinner. So there, piranha!

One unlucky piranha. Destined for the dinner table. So, who’s scared now?

So what did the piranha taste like? Kind of like alligator.

Amagansett, New York. November 2017


It’s a small world, after all


‘It took me nearly as long to get to Roosevelt Island as it did to get to the Amazon River’

I didn’t get his name, but I’m betting it was ‘Tony’. He was the guy manning the gate that lets you into the waiting area to ride the tram back from Roosevelt Island.

One of my besties (hi, Laurie!) and I had spent a most marvelous time strolling around the Island, checking out the new monument to Mr. Roosevelt, the old Smallpox Hospital (where they used to quarantine the poor sufferers, bless their hearts), and even the new Cornell Labs (where they let us in, but only so far in; they have very nice light fixtures in their cafeteria).

Monument to Mr. R. One of my other bestie’s sons really really wants to skateboard here

You can’t go in because it is ‘unstable’ (not that I’d want to), but here is the Smallpox Hospital in all its tumbledown glory

Anyway, Tony and I got to chatting, as is my wont when dawdling with friendly strangers, and found that he used to work for a film editing studio where I would occasionally be involved in a TV commercial edit. Ah, the Six Degrees of City Separation!

But back to Roosevelt Island, figuratively if not literally. I hate to admit it, but it was my very first trip there. Which is pretty amazing, since I’ve lived in New York like a zillion years, and R. Island is really close by: it’s just one subway stop away, and the tram is about 8 blocks from me — and those are the short blocks, not the long crosstown ones.

In all my years of New Yorker-ness (more than 30; less than 50), I had also never been to the New York Botanical Garden. About a month ago another pal (howdy, Ms. Smith!) coaxed me up there to see the Chihuly exhibit, which had Chihuly’s clever glass sculptures dispersed amongst the flora. (That Chihuly-adorned ‘fauna’ at the top of this post is me, posed artfully in front of one of his works.)


What the heck, here’s another one. Cool, huh?

This garden is also really close by. It’s called the New York Botanical Garden, after all. But it was (and is) in the Bronx, which means, to me and many of my fellow Manhattanites, that it might as well be on the moon. I have, however, been to Staten Island. Twice. Once to get to the beginning of the New York City Marathon, which yes, I did in fact run — more than one time, even. And once to get to a lovely graduation party thrown by the parents of one of The Child’s Stuy High buds. But I have yet to ride the Staten Island Ferry, which is how you get to the Statue of Liberty. Which — nope — I have not been to yet either.

Even my Favorite Sister, who doesn’t even live here, has been on the Staten Island Ferry. AND visited the Statue of Liberty (visible in the mists in the background)

Even The Dude has been to Brooklyn more recently than I have. He went there with The Child to check out an electric motorcycle. Which he liked, and bought. (No, it doesn’t have ‘a really long cord’.) The Child told me later that she had to keep hushing him. He tended to exclaim out loud in wonder at the hipsters. (‘What is that guy thinking with that neck beard!’ Etc. etc.)

The Child hushing her Dad deep in the heart of Hipster Williamsburg (as opposed to Colonial Williamsburg)

And Queens, the remaining of the Five Boroughs? Queens, we go to nearly every week, that is if you count zooming (er, crawling) through on the Long Island Expressway. But we have been to the U.S. Open (tennis, not golf) which is held in Flushing Meadows, which counts as Queens.

But what’s that about the Amazon River, you may be asking? Well. If things worked out, technology-wise, you are reading this because I successfully ‘timed’ this piece to publish all by itself this week. Because The Dude and I have wrenched ourselves away from Manhattan and are smack-dab in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. On a boat on a river, tracking down elusive and exotic birds. Yup, birds. And hoping not to get eaten by fish. (Yup, there are piranha in the Amazon. For real.)

Very ‘African Queen’, eh? Our home away from home for two weeks. Photo copyright Bret Whitney

See you next week. I hope!

New York City (virtually, anyway). November 2017

Why not ‘Grape Nuts Arena’?


‘I contemplate the New Now of corporate naming’

I was on a Goodbye Call to The Child when we got to talking about the World Series. She was somewhat surprised that I have been watching, since I’ve never been a baseball fan, or much of a Team Sports Person at all. (‘Why not give both sides a ball, since they want it so bad?’ is my take on football. And basketball? That’s the game that uses the round orange ball, right? As opposed to the pointy orange one?)

But hey, it’s the World Series, I tell her. The game the other night was in Houston, where the Astros play in this stadium called, I kid you not, Minute Maid Park. She not only knew this, but, Millennial that she is, found the naming of an arena after a fruit juice not surprising in the least. What’s next, I ask her, Grape Nuts Arena?

I grew up when the Yankees played in Yankee Stadium, and the Dodgers played in Dodger Stadium. Naming was simple: you named the place after who played there. Of course, sometimes teams move (like the Dodgers used to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and played in a place called Ebbets Field), which can mess up that naming method. Just imagine if the Astros moved to LA and had to play in Dodger Stadium. Harsh. Especially if they lose this series.

Yankee Stadium, then

Still ‘Yankee Stadium’. But that’s a mighty big ‘Gatorade’ sign

Sometimes stadiums (or is that ‘stadia’?) and other buildings were named after people. See above Ebbets Field. Or Shea Stadium. Maybe it was the team owner (Charles Ebbets) or some other Baseball Biggie (William A. Shea), but they were people, not fruit juices.

Of course, even the business of naming stuff after people can get well, interesting. I personally am rather fond of the The Elmer and Mamdouha Bobst Hospital of the Animal Medical Center, which one can see from the Queensboro Bridge (excuse me, the ‘Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge’) when entering Manhattan from the East. But it is rather a mouthful. And yes, the building is inscribed with the whole moniker. (I wish I could post a photo for you, but they wanted $19.99 for it, and that’s a bit rich for my blood.)

And sometimes the naming-things-after-people thing comes with some pretty tight strings. Just a couple of years ago, this Very Wealthy New York Couple offered to bail out this financially-strapped little college in Upstate New York, called Paul Smith’s College, after its founder. They’d give the college $20 million bucks if they renamed it the ‘Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College’. When the college refused, they withdrew the offer. Even though it wasn’t a stadium, I’d say that wasn’t very sporting of them.

Now, for some reason, no doubt financial, there’s this spate of naming-things-after-corporations-and/or-the-products-they-make. There’s Toyota Center, also in Houston. And MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. And, of course, Citi Field, which is where the Mets now play. (To add insult to naming injury, Shea Stadium was torn down to make a parking lot for Citi Field.)

And my favorite: Staples Center. This one is named after the corporation (Staples, Inc.) who paid for ‘naming rights’. Personally, I think this is hilarious, since the corporation in question is an office supplies company which is named after an item that they actually sell. Since they also sell tape dispensers and file folders and the like, the company could easily have had a different name altogether — and so could the stadium. ‘Paper Clip Park’, anyone?

And say, can just any corporation with enough cashly clout buy ‘naming rights’? If so, where could this lead? Will we have Huggies Hall or WonderBra Boulevard? The Viagra Viaduct? And what will Preparation H want to slap its name on?

Okay, I suppose I should stop, since I’m starting to sound a tad fuddy-duddy-ish. Maybe the Corporate Naming Thing isn’t so bad. Not when you consider what naming things after people has wrought: Trump Tower, Trump Plaza, Trump International Hotel, Trump SoHo, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just here in New York.

But what, you may be asking, did you mean up there at the beginning when you referred to a ‘Goodbye Call’ to The Child? Is she going somewhere? Well. She is always, pretty much, ‘going somewhere’, but this time it’s The Dude and Me. We’re going on a trip — a trip where we will not have cell service or internet for two whole weeks. So, unless I can figure out how to time a post for next week (and write one to ‘time’), this is the last you’ll be hearing from me till mid-November.

Bye-bye, and enjoy the rest of the World Series. Which it looks like I’m going to miss the end of, darn it. And it’s been a good one to watch, too, that is if you can hear the game over the sound of my snickering every time some announcer mentions ‘MinuteMaid Park’.

New York City. October 2017

The Pick-up Artist


‘The ole Creep-O-Meter gets a workout on the streets of New York’

I bet I still have his business card stashed away in a drawer somewhere. Yup. I was in my twenties, fresh off the ‘boat’, as it were, when I was approached by James Toback, former sort-of-famous writer/director and now much-more-famous sexual predator.

I’m not going to show you a photo of this extremely creepy guy, partly because you might be eating your lunch or something (he’s pretty gross-looking now, and he didn’t ‘present’ much better thirty-odd years ago either, trust me) and partly because I can’t find a public-domain picture of him. If you haven’t seen the news, you can read about his ‘technique’ in the full L.A. Times story by clicking here (Warning; there is a photo of him). 

Here’s an excerpt:

‘His opening line had a few variations. One went: “My name’s James Toback. I’m a movie director. Have you ever seen ‘Black and White’ or ‘Two Girls and a Guy’?”

Probably not. So he’d start to drop names. He had an Oscar nomination for writing the Warren Beatty movie “Bugsy.” He directed Robert Downey Jr., in three movies. The actor, Toback claimed, was a close friend; he had “invented him.” If you didn’t believe him, he would pull out a business card or an article that had been written about him to prove he had some juice in Hollywood. That he could make you a star.’

Well, in my case, like I say, I was fresh to The City — this was back in the 80s — so he couldn’t have used exactly that line. (He hadn’t ‘invented’ Robert Downey Jr. yet.) As I recall, I was walking home from my newly-secured, extremely fun Ad Job at Ogilvy via Madison Avenue. (I have to say, if you are a young reasonably-attractive woman* in New York City, walking on Madison Avenue is livelier than any singles bar; that’s how I met Steve Martin. Who was not a creep, BTW.)

*See photo at top of post for example. That’s me — not James Toback — complete with Very Bad Perm, at about the time this story takes place

So I’m strolling along when this fat sloppy guy stopped me. I seem to recall him actually tapping me on the shoulder. At any rate, I paused, politely, thinking he might want spare change. Or maybe directions. (I get that a lot. See ‘The Accidental Tourist’ for some wacky examples.) Anyway, he tells me he’s a movie director. (Yeah, and I’m Meryl Streep, I’m thinking.)

I must have looked as dubious as I felt, because then he whips out a business card and starts telling me his ‘credits’: like he’d directed a movie with Jim Brown called ‘Fingers’. (Gosh. I just checked Toback’s Wikipedia page, and found out he went to Harvard. Yikes! Thank the Campus Gods and Goddesses that there was no possible way that he could have been there at the same time as The Child.)

Then he gets to the point. He wants to ‘audition’ me for his next movie. I’m supposed to call him (the number is on the business card) and he’ll see if I’m ‘right’ for the ‘role’.

Well. I wish I could say that it was my impeccable judgment and street smarts that kept me from taking him up on his offer. But you among my faithful readers know that this wouldn’t have been the first time I’d been picked up on the street. (There was that infamous guy-who-was-in-The-Jerk episode, after all.)

My trusty Creep-O-Meter was, to be sure, going off like gangbusters. But I have to admit the main reason I didn’t ‘bite’ was that I knew I was terrible, wooden, and hopelessly awful at acting. I had humiliated myself once when I tried out for a play in front of my whole class at school, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it again, even if only one other person would be in the room.

Me (the one in back with long hair) looking wooden and uncomfortable in a still photo — much less in an audition

So yup, I dodged that bullet. And lived to fight another day. No, I never ‘worked with’ Harvey Weinstein (whew). But, like many of you #MeToo’ers out there, I had my share of Unwanted Attention in The Workplace. Check out ‘The Boss Who Got Banished to Belgium’ or the classic Weinstein-esque ‘The Naked Boss and the Pussycat Lounge’ for witty takes on male abuses of power.

The semi-autobiographical movie Toback eventually made without me in it. Look! It’s Robert Downey Jr!

Thank you for reading. It felt good to get that off my not-very-starlet-like chest. Now I have to go take a shower.

New York City. October 2017

Touch ‘M’ for ‘Murder’


‘The time I out-teched my Techie daughter’

Boy, are my arms tired. I just flew back from the Coast; the Oregon Coast, that is, where I spent a most marvelous three days with two of the coolest women on the Planet, my Mom and my Favorite Sister Laura. (I’ve told her many times that she would be my Favorite Sister even if I had more than one sister, which I swear is the truth even though I can’t exactly test my theory.)

Favorite Sister, pictured at left in tiny hat. Mom, on right. All on the Oregon Coast, just 3 days ago (sigh)

The reason she’s my fave — today’s reason anyway — is that she gave me the idea for this post. Which is about the time I out-teched the most tech-savvy person I know, a person in her mid-twenties who holds a seriously important job at a company so techalicious that I have absolutely no idea what it is they do. It is called Kensho, and you can, if so inclined, read about it here. My brain, as well as my arms, is way too tired to try to ‘splain it to you.

The Person in Question is, of course, The Child.

The Child gets introduced to Technology at an early age

Continue reading

Take me home, country road


‘You can pick your friends, and you can (urk) pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose’

Apologies for the less-than-elegant subhead, but it seemed perfect for this piece. So I just had to (urk again) pick it.

See, we just spent another glorious Columbus Day Weekend in glorious Upstate New York with friends we must certainly have ‘picked’ most carefully, since we have been together for decades now. For the purposes of this story, and to protect their identity and their feelings (though they both hate social media and are sure never ever to even glimpse this story; why, they wouldn’t even click on it if I sent them the link), they shall be known here as J & P.

Truckin’. Even the trip Upstate has its charms. Here we are in the ‘passing’ lane

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Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.


‘I know because I had my share of stinkers.’

I don’t want to embarrass The Child. Well, not any more than I have to. But I must say that she has excellent taste in boyfriends. So far, fingers-and-all-toes fervently crossed, she has managed to choose ‘dates’ who have not inspired The Dude or me to put on that Fake Nice-to-Meet-You Face. Or not very often, anyway.

(I put ‘dates’ in quotes because I don’t think that’s what Young People call ‘guys you go out with’. But, for my purposes today, it’ll have to do.)

Now, before I dig myself in deep here, let me say that this is not going to be a story about The Child and her ‘dates’. (I can hear her ‘whew’ all the way from Cambridge.) Nope. It’s going to be about me and mine. Continue reading