The tunnel at the end of the light

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‘I’ve changed my mind about Swedish Death Cleaning’

The Peterson half of me is very put out with the Henry half — blaming those French forbears for allowing drawers to fill, shelves to overpopulate and closets to clutter up.

Why, it must have been the Henry side of my brain that foolishly ignored the call of Swedish Death Cleaning back in 2018 when this book came out:

Premise: Get rid of your stuff now so your kids don’t have to deal with it after you’re dead. Suffice it to say that it is not a comic memoir

I even wrote a piece pooh-poohing this phenomenon, called “Out with the Old Year, but not out with the Old Stuff. Yet.”

Oh, silly silly me.

Those of you who read my stuff regularly — bless you — know that we’re downsizing, and that I’ve had two sweeps of movers come to remove things from the Old Apartment. The first time was when all my most beloved belongings got purged by the Stagers. (See “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for heart-breaking details.)

This was pretty much the only piece of furniture that made it into the new apartment. It used to be a bridge table. Now it is the only table

The second time was a couple of weeks ago when my posse of wiry Big John’s guys carted all the Big Stuff — buffet, dining table, china cabinet, designer anvils, and so on and so forth — out to the Amagansett House (which could use a little Death Cleaning itself, I’m thinking).

A really big (and seriously heavy) piece was this 9-foot dining table, seen strewn with lamps and shades. You can almost hear the moving men panting

But the Big Stuff was just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the stuff — the contents of all those drawers and shelves and closets I mentioned, and the cubbies and pantries and medicine cabinets I didn’t — would sink the Titanic faster than you can say “Jack Dawson.”

The (partial!) contents of One. Single. Cabinet

I found this (my Ad Biz sample reel) in a drawer, took a picture of it, then (gulp) threw it out

Dude Man and I have been packing and unpacking and repacking boxes of 27-years-in-residence detritus and toting it thither and fro for weeks now. (Note: those “banker’s boxes” you can get online? Worth every darned penny. We’ve used and reused ours till we’re blue in the face — but they’re still holding up.)

Banker’s boxes. Use ’em once, use ’em again and again. And one more time after that   

I almost forgot — in case you are wondering why I switched things around instead of saying “the light at the end of the tunnel,” here’s the story. Besides the fact that it seems like no end is in sight re: our move — Dude, yesterday: “Let’s finish packing tonight; we’re about done, after all.” Me: “Are you kidding? We haven’t touched the cleaning supplies. Or the pantry. Or the closet in the hall with the sheets and towels and laundry stuff.” His Dudeness: “Oh.”

Some fancy clutter finds a new home. Yes, yes, I’m going to prune this collection. Somewhat

Besides that fact, it reminds me of the first time I switched the phrase around. Which was back in the Before Times when Dude Man and I were on a birding tour of the Brazilian Amazon Basin. It is wildly gorgeous there, but, in all seriousness, the hottest place I have ever been. Even hotter than Borneo, and that’s saying something. We were mostly in the shade, it being the rainforest and all, but at the end of a particularly sweltering morning, we had to cross a field that had been cleared for growing something-or-other. (Manioc?)

As we staggered, Bataan Death-March-style across the sun-blasted field, I said, pointing to the shady trail on the other side, “Oh look! There’s a tunnel at the end of the light!”

Yup. A tunnel at the end of the light

New York City. September 2020

The one about the Indian and the teepee

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‘It was one of my Dad’s favorite jokes.’

Last week I regaled you with tales of my wiry little moving crew schlepping huge heavy loads up multiple flights of stairs. Did you know there is a moving company in New York called Schleppers? I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t use them for their name alone, though those Big John’s guys were real sweethearts. (“Ma’am, where do you want me to put this anvil?” is something they were probably thinking but had the good grace not to say.)

Some of the tons and (literally) tons of boxes our movers moved

This week I’ll take a break from toting multiple loads of shopping bags, wheelie suitcases, and boxes stacked on dollies — to regale you with tales of toting shopping bags, wheelie suitcases, and boxes stacked on dollies.

Well, hello dolly. You’re lookin’ swell, dolly. Also quite loaded

See, we didn’t think it made sense to hire movers to move our stuff over to the Ken and Barbie House. After all, it’s only three blocks away from our former digs. And, since it’s so small, we couldn’t move any big furniture there. (The biggest thing we moved is my former bridge table — now turned (ahem) dining table. And it’s, oh, about 2′ x 3′.)

Our very long, very narrow wallpaper-bedecked hallway. Just begging to be bonked and battered

Also, there’s the fact that our hallway is seriously narrow. Even really careful moving guys have been known to bump and bonk. (The guys who moved stuff for the stagers when we put the old apartment on the market — see “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for the sad sad story of “staging” — dropped my green buffet, gouging a chunk of floor. Ooops.) Now we have that gorgeous wallpaper in the new place, and thought it best to hold ourselves responsible for any gouging that might occur.

So, The Dude Man and I are, like, “Hey, we can do this move ourselves! We’ll just move a little bit every day, and it’ll be done in no time!” Well, the “little bit every day” has turned into five or six trips per diem, because, basically, moving all the big stuff out of the old place meant we had no bed, no table, no chairs, no nothing. So we had to start staying in the new place. Which, until we schlepped it over box by dolly-fied box, had no bedding, no tableware, no — well, you get the idea.

A stack of toted boxes ready to be dealt with. That’s me — or at least my Van’s-clad foot — contemplating the task at hand

I have to wonder what the friendly cops at the 19th Precinct think. We see one or two of them out surveying their domain every time we trundle past. With my bad back (herniated disc; I don’t recommend it) I usually am “toting”, say, a vacuum cleaner tube or a lamp. (Last night I cradled my ostrich egg painted like a globe.) This is while Dude Man is pushing or pulling the dolly, which sometimes has six or seven boxes stacked on it. Yesterday, he dollied over the safe.

Still life with lamp and Starbucks

Of course, once we start unpacking (which because my toting is limited I’m pretty much in charge of) we jolly well have to repack a lot of it and tote it right back — because, goldarn it, it just won’t fit. It’s kind of like when you over-order at dinner, that is if you can remember what it was like to order dinner. This has happened with a couple of pans, a rolling pin, a (what I thought was small) mixer, a meat-loaf tin, and assorted other odds and too-big ends. My kitchen “eyes” were bigger than my kitchen “stomach.”

Some sad items that didn’t make the kitchen cut

But, you are probably asking by now, what the heck does all this have to do with an Indian and a teepee? Now, please don’t judge me too harshly. It’s a pretty awful joke, but if you knew my Dad, you probably heard him tell it. Most likely while doing his “whoa back” move, where he gets closer and closer to you while winding up to the punchline. (You can read about this in “Let Sleeping Dads Lie.“) And if you like silly jokes (most much better than the one I’m going to tell you), check out “Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar.”)

Okay, here goes. There was this Indian who really loved living in his teepee on his little patch of wilderness. His life was simple, but it suited him just fine. Well, along came some City Folk who wanted to buy his land, probably for some dumb development. They offered him a good price, but the Indian — whose name was “Bowels” (Don’t say I didn’t warn you) — said, “No deal. Bowels no move.” The City Folk offered him more money. Still the same answer: “No deal. Bowels no move.” This happened again and yet again. The City people were desperate (and devious). They really really wanted that land. So they slipped some Ex-Lax into Bowels’ hominy. And lo and behold, next time they offered to buy his land, he stammered out, “Bowels move now. Teepee full of S**T.”

Well, Dad. Lately I’m reminded of you — and your joke. Because, goldarnit, our teepee is definitely full of S**T.

In closing, here is a concert by Piano (Dude) Man. You can’t hear it because he’s using headphones. Yes, that’s a vacuum cleaner to his left. And yes, that’s a bourbon on the floor next to me in the picture at the top of this post

New York City. September 2020

As my Favorite Sister says, “The only way I’m leaving this place is toes up!”

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‘Only she doesn’t say “toes”‘

I’m really sorry I didn’t do a post yesterday. (This apology is for those of you who count on and eagerly await my Tuesday missives. Bless you.) But I have a good excuse.

Where I am resting in the photo at the top of this post: our new “Eames Chair.” It’s a reproduction; so sue me. Have you priced the real ones?

Yesterday the guys from Big John’s Moving came to move our old-apartment stuff that’s too big to fit into the Ken and Barbie House. (Which is pretty much everything we own that hadn’t already been “disposed of” by the stagers — see ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ for tales of staging woe.)

Ready for you, Mover Guys! The tip of the iceberg, box wise

Three intrepid (but, oddly, not really very big) guys showed up promptly at nine. Then packed, trundled, dollied, and hoisted unwieldy furniture and sundry boxes all morning then drove the load out to Amagansett.

Where they did this all over again, only backwards and up two flights of stairs (sometimes three if the stuff was destined for the attic.) The rest of the house was already pretty darned stuffed from having been lived in for 25 years.

So most of it went to the attic. The heaviest stuff for sure, like around a zillion shelving units involving metal poles and thick wood planks. 

Said shelving units being taken down a few months ago. They then went into the basement storage room — and now they are in the attic in Amagansett. Why? “We might need them.”

Me: “Can’t we get rid of all those extra poles and shelves?” Dude Man: “We might need them.” 

Important Note. When you are sorting belongings for a move, divide things thusly: 1. Things you need. 2. Things to give away. 3. Things to trash. Trust me; you really don’t want a Number 4. Things you might need. 

Guess which category this chair fell into? (And I do mean “fell”) It was literally the only place to park while the movers toted, wrapped and trundled

But if you’re married to a Dude Man Type, you’re going to have skinny wiry moving guys straining up three flights to an airless attic bearing seemingly countless loads of iron and wood like little ants bearing loads of leaves. (They didn’t complain; I tipped them generously.)

And, when all was said and done, they got done. And sooner than I thought they would — though it was around 6 PM. I’d had nothing to eat all day but a pricey Starbucks banana (no wonder it’s called Star “bucks”), scarfed mid-morning while “supervising” the movers — and a granola bar I gnawed during the three-hour drive, left over from our trip to Borneo in March. (Who knew those things got so stale? I almost broke a tooth.)

I was starving, but I made myself unpack a few boxes before I showered and ate. (I thought about combining these activities, I was so tired. But I did not relish eating soggy food, no matter how hungry I was.)

Instead, I poured myself a bourbon, put my feet up, and thought cheerful thoughts about the Ken and Barbie House and about how I am never ever moving again. Cheers! And I promise to be on time with a new story next Tuesday.

Amagansett, New York. September 2020

Alice doesn’t live here anymore

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‘I’m a stranger in a strange staged land.’

My Favorite Only Sister, who is a real estate agent as well as an all-around swell person, once told me that when you put your house on the market it isn’t your home anymore.

I’m pretty sure she meant that you had to stop thinking of your place as home—not that it literally would stop being home. But that’s what happened to our apartment—it got transformed into a completely alien place.

The Dude and The Child chez nous in happier days. Just a couple of years ago, in fact

I was reminded of this just yesterday when I made what was my second visit back to the City since the Pandemic hit. (I’m lucky to have been able to “self-isolate” out in the Family Place in Amagansett for the duration.) I walked into “our” apartment and was hit anew by how foreign and alien it felt—how decidedly “unhomelike” my old home feels to me now.

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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.

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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.

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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

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“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.”

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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