A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

A batch of Henrys bids good-bye to the Phil branch that had to snap off early

For more about what happened at the party before it (*sniff*) came to its cake-crumbs-on-the-floor and wine-dreggs-in-the-glassware end, check out last week’s story, “So far, so good”.

And as for the end itself? My branch of the Henry Family Tree, all three twigs of it, was one of the first to leave on Sunday morning. Very early Sunday morning. Too early, in fact. Which should come to no surprise to those who know me. I’m one of those get-to-the-airport-early people. Once I allowed four hours to get to JFK for a 10AM flight to Bonaire. When we got to our gate at 7, I thought my family was going to suffocate me with a plastic bag.

The driveway that led to the road that led to the highway that led to O’Hare

Well, this trip I was worried about returning the rental car and about catching the shuttle to get to our respective terminals. (I’d been told to allow two hours for this.) Well, turns out the only two hours involved here was the two hours too early that we got there.

But hey. I promised a Ray of Sunshine, did I not? When we scampered to the Place Where You Catch the Shuttles, there was a shuttle, ready and waiting. But it served Terminal 1, where the Kids were going, and not Terminal 3, where I was headed. The Child and her BF and I were engaged in a heartfelt goodbye hug on the sidewalk when we hear a booming voice over the shuttle loudspeaker:

“This shuttle goes to Terminal 1…and to wherever it is that Mom is going!”

The driver, bless his Mom-loving heart, did indeed take all the now-very-smiley passengers to Terminal 1, where they all nodded and wished me well as they disembarked with their wheelies and whatnots. Then Sterling — for that was his name — took me, all by my lonesome, off to Terminal 3.

“Here you go, Mom,” he said, “Have a nice flight!”

And so I did.

Lake Michigan, looking just about as sparkly as Sterling’s soul

New York City. October 2019

 

 

 

My Main Squeeze

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‘He’s about to get squeezed a whole lot tighter.’

When folks from my former homeland, The Great American Midwest, visit me here in New York, they are apt to be amazed by how little space we New Yorkers inhabit.

“Where is the rest of it?” questioned one dearly-beloved sister-in-law, when visiting our apartment for the first time. “This is your kitchen?” exclaimed another equally-beloved SIL. (No, I am not being ironic; I do in fact love these two sis-in-laws, in spite of the fact that their homes are vastly more vast than mine.)

The Dude and I share a meal in the dining-room-living-room-office-music-room of our first apartment

I find this interesting because, on a New Yorker scale, this apartment — where I am sitting right now at my sunlit desk cum china cabinet — is considered rather comfortably large. It’s what they call, in Real-Estate-Agent-ese, a “classic six”. That means it has six rooms: living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a “maid’s room”. Honest. These pre-war (that’s WWII, and yet another example of colorful NYC real estate lingo) apartment buildings were built when no home was complete without its maid.

That’s my desk in the background, ready for writing. That’s the table in the foreground, ready for Christmas. This is in, ahem, the big apartment we live in right now

Well, maid shmaid. What I really want to talk about today is the, well, going-backwards-ness of our personal space. As it pertains to living arrangements, that is.

The trajectory of our married living arrangements has gone from very small to medium to large and, now, with this latest pied a terre acquisition (which I first mentioned in my bake-some-brownies post, “And Then There Were None”), back to very small again. I feel rather like Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”: “I am big; it’s the movies that got small.” Only, in our case, our apartment — or at least the one we’ll move into if all goes according to plan — just got very very small.

Me, reflected in the make-the-room-look-bigger (hah!) mirrored wall of the 13×11 living room of the if-all-goes-well new apartment. No, that’s not any of our stuff, thank the Lord of Moving

Very shortly, if all goes well (tons of paperwork to deal with for the closing!) we will be moving from an approximately 1600 sq. ft. apartment to one that is around 350, give or take a precious foot. Adjusting to such a small space will not be a small adjustment. And not only because we won’t have room to swing a cat, but because we won’t have room for our stuff. Any of our stuff.

We weren’t always so stuff-stuffed. In fact, we started out rather spare, with thrift-shop finds and hand-me-downs. Wayne found his couch at a garage sale. And I didn’t even have one. So we slipcovered his, thinking one day we’d replace it with a “real” couch that we picked out from a real store. Well, that was more than 35 years ago.

The Dude’s slipcovered garage-sale couches in action. Want ’em? Child and cat not included

Quick note: When we lived in the one-big-room-with-everything-in-it place and were thinking about having a baby, I asked “but where will we put this baby?” and The Dude, quite reasonably in Dude Reasonableness, answered, “We’ll put the baby where the TV is.” Which is, ultimately, what we did.

That first apartment, Child added. Yes, her bed is located right about where the TV was. And the dining table and the desk and so on and so forth

But time moves on. And so did we. To this apartment of twenty-six years. And twenty-six years of gradual acquisition. Surfaces have been populated, couches have been pillowed, bookcases have been booked. Let’s face it, if you think Nature abhors a vacuum, you haven’t met a New York City apartment.

We have art books piled on top of pianos, which are, in turn, topped with hand-turned pottery, accented by silver whatnots, side-by-side with souvenir statues. Don’t get me started on the candles and their attendant holders. And, if you read last week’s post, “Sitting Pretty”, you are familiar with my crack-cocaine obsession with chairs.

Honestly? It’ll feel good to, shall we say, “de-acquisition” some of this. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by for a scented candle. Or five.

New York City. October 2019

 

Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

Oh. Before I forget. Those of you who expect a weekly story to be posted by me every Tuesday (bless your hearts) were no doubt wondering what the heck happened yesterday. Well. My lack-of-posting wasn’t entirely because of downsizing-related stress. (And I wasn’t even too busy making brownies to write a story. See downsizing story — and brownie recipe — here.) Nope, GoDaddy was having some WordPress-related technical difficulties. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I am glad to have Somebody Else To Blame. (Because I actually was too stressed to write coherently, much less amusingly.)

But back to this chair-chocked tale.

I use these to display my (ahem) needlepointing skills

The reason I happen to have so many chairs isn’t due to some fear-of-no-seating phobia. It’s just because, well, I really really like chairs. It seems that, there for awhile, every time I’d go to a thrift shop or an antiques fair or just about any place old chairs could be found — I’d fall for a new “find”. I say “new”, but I don’t really mean new. All my chairs — all twenty-one of them are old.

One of a set of extremely fragile Pennsylvania Dutch dining chairs. I use place cards at dinners so the few fat people I know won’t sit on these

And each and every one has a story. One I salvaged from Great-Gramma Whitmore’s barn. One is a leftover from my Starter Marriage. Another followed me all the way from Kansas City.

I toted this baby all the way from the Heartland. And then on to, hmm, three different apartments

But the chair that has the best story is the leather wing chair that came from the East Hampton Antiques Fair. See, East Hampton used to be not nearly as trendy and fancy as it is now. Why, there was a time when there wasn’t even one Ralph Lauren boutique there, much less four. (Yes, there are, in fact, four Ralph Lauren stores in EH. I kid you not. I guess Ralph wanted to make sure you could find an American-Flag sweater without panicking.)

So. This is the Time Of Which I Speak. When there was an antiques fair in East Hampton with actual beautiful antiques that Normal People could afford. (They still have these fairs, but I can’t even afford the admission, much less the antiques.)

My Very Good Friend Who Moved to New Jersey used to accompany me to these antiques fairs. We would have big fun together scoring Bakelite bangles and crocodile handbags and Fiestaware and such. And yes, for me anyway, chairs. (Green tufted leather ones for the library, blue painted stools for the kitchen, even child-sized ones to hold magazines in the bathrooms (try it!) and so on and so forth.

I found out the hard way that the red paint on this chair comes off on your butt. So I use it to hang things on

BFWMTNJ and I were strolling about — she encouraging me to buy John Boy Walton’s cowboy hat (it fit, and I did); me encouraging her to buy butterfly-wing jewelry from the 40s — when I happened upon this chair.

It was (and is) amazing. A wing chair of gently-worn (oh, okay, really worn) caramel-hued tufted leather. Very Downtown Abbey, even though Downton Abbey hadn’t been invented yet. I could picture myself curled up in it by the fire, book in one hand, wineglass in the other. I sat down. I enquired about the price. Hmmm, not bad. But I decided to abide by my “If God Wants Me To Have It, It Will Still Be Here After I Walk Once Around The Fair” Rule.

Friend and I go walkabout, only to find upon completion of our round another woman sitting in “my” chair — busily writing a check.

Well.

I chatted her up, got her name and number, and sweetly suggested that if the chair didn’t “work” in her apartment that she give me a call and I would take it off her hands for her.

A week later, sure enough. She calls. The chair indeed didn’t “work”. And it’s been mine ever since.

The lovely leather wing chair, “decorated” at a Christmas long ago by one of my favorite people

I have a sneaking suspicion that our new majorly-downsized digs (potential only! fingers crossed the deal goes through!) won’t be able to accommodate this chair — not to mention, I’m thinking, around twenty of the other twenty-one in this much larger apartment.

Maybe I should look for that woman’s card and see if she wants “her” chair back?

New York City. September 2019

 

 

“Why do you want to know?”

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‘How to deftly handle the odd impertinent query’

When I first moved to New York, there were quite a few things that took some getting used to. But the most startling thing wasn’t the garbage trucks clanking away at five AM or the fact that a “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar — or even that panhandlers sometimes panhandle with cats on their heads. (See “The Cat is The Hat” for hilarious details.)

Wombat, who looks exactly like the cat in “The Cat is The Hat”, perched not on my head

No, the most startling thing was the way New Yorkers were so preoccupied with how much things cost. “How much rent do you pay?” “What did that Jag set you back?” (not that I had a Jag, mind you). Even (gasp) “How much money do you make?” And it hasn’t stopped. Now that I’m no longer gainfully employed I get “How much do you have in your IRA?”

Me, when I was promoted to Vice President at Ogilvy and started making “none of your beeswax” per year

Why, when you compliment a friend with a “nice skirt” or a “wow, I just love your coat” she won’t go “Oh, this old thing?” or “This? I’ve had this for years” like a Midwesterner. No, she’ll tell you how much it cost — with emphasis on how little she paid for it. “This? Oh, this I got at Loehmann’s — on the sale rack. The once-yearly clearance sale rack. Also, it was Loyalist Day. Plus I used my Aunt’s employee discount. And had it sent to my Mom’s in New Jersey so I didn’t pay sales tax.”

Feel free to compliment The Child and/or her Gal Pal. They won’t tell you how much they paid for those party outfits — because they get them from Rent the Runway

By the time she gets done it sounds like the store paid her to take the darned thing. Which actually does happen in New York sometimes. But not to me. (Though I did score some pretty choice free items from advertising shoots. Like a Gucci suit that was used in a Pantene commercial. Seriously. It fit me — brag brag — so Wardrobe let me take it home.)

But I digress.

Back in the Midwest, where — and when — I was raised, it was considered incredibly crass to discuss money in what was called “polite company”. Sex and/or religion, too. Oh, and no politics either, at least not at the dinner table. And, unless you were a census taker or an employee of the DMV, you certainly didn’t ask anyone, especially a woman, her age.

My mom and I at my first wedding. At the time, I was almost exactly half her age. Which is so not the case today

The title of this piece is the reply that my wise — and polite — mother used to give when Some Person Who Didn’t Know Any Better would ask, “Myrna, how old are you?” She would smile sweetly and reply, “Why do you want to know?” Which would usually nip that line of inquiry right in the ole bud.

Now me, I’ve reached an age that nobody ever even asks me about anymore. No, well-meaning people just assume that I’m entitled to the Senior Citizen Discount. But I still have my little payback strategies. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but what the heck. Nowadays, when a Nice Young Person offers me a seat on the bus or subway, I smile sweetly, look down at my tummy, and say, “Oh! Am I showing already?”

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

 

The first time The Child rode the subway

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‘Featuring a darned good “Lutheran Lie”, if I do say so myself’

First thing Monday morning I took part in a nature walk in Central Park. Our little group was listening, rapt, to our leader, an architectural historian no less, when a rat the size of a healthy young chihuahua weaved its way between our collective feet and disappeared under an ornamental shrub.

Me, the morning after my Close Encounter of the Rattus Kind. (Those are actual dogs frolicking in the background)

No one flinched. Though our leader, after a beat, did say, “They’re okay off-leash until 9:00.” Continue reading

A Night at the Opera

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‘Where everyone falls in love with the wrong person, and dies a horrible death in the end’

Maybe you’ve heard this joke. It’s the one about the guy who goes to the ballet and asks, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

Sorry. My dad used to tell that one, and I don’t know any opera jokes. I do remember there was an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that was a parody of Wagner, but actual opera jokes? Hmmm.

I wanted to start with a bit of levity because, most of the time, opera is sort of the opposite of humorous. But that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to like about poisonings and sword fights and firing squads? And brutal stabbings with daggers — of bad guys (take that, Scarpia!) and of one’s self (poor Butterfly). Oh, and let’s not forget the jumpings to one’s death off parapets. That’s in Tosca, my very favorite opera. 

Anna Netrebko rocks the house as Tosca. Here she is soaking up her zillionth curtain call after jumping off that parapet

Anyway. I’m not going to get into a lot of Opera Stuff. Except to say that I absolutely love it. Except for maybe exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon, opera is quite possibly the most exciting thing I do. At least with all my clothes on. Opera is even exciting before it starts. Just check out this video taken from the balcony of the Met: Continue reading

The friend who had a nanny for her dog

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‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

So help me God

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‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: jury duty in New York City’

Excuses, excuses. This week I’m late because I have to keep chasing a darned turkey out of my yard. Sorry if some of you out there like turkeys in your yards; not me. They leave too many ‘gifts’, if you get my drift.

Anyway. On to this week’s story. Which is about jury duty in New York. Now before you start yawning, let me assure you that it can be pretty darned fascinating. For one thing, they changed the rules a few years ago so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — gets out of serving. So it’s quite possible that you can find yourself killing time doing the crossword in a big ole waiting room with the likes of Madonna or Sir Paul or maybe even The Donald back when he lived in New York (But wait; He still does live in New York. But I don’t think he does the crossword.)

Used to be that you could get out of serving if you had a little kid at home, were a doctor, or owned your own business. (Check all three boxes for The Dude; now that those exceptions have been eliminated, he has to serve and it drives him nuts. He thinks up all kinds of “you may be excused” answers to their questions, like “Yes” to “Do you believe that everyone who is tried in this court is implicitly guilty?” and it just makes the lawyers love him all the more. He almost always gets picked.) Continue reading

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.) Continue reading

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. Continue reading