“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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‘I wonder what little Harry Houdini’s answer was.’

Way back when the earth’s crust was cooling and I was a youngster, there was a show on local TV called “Texas Bruce.”

The full name was “The Wranglers’ Club with Texas Bruce.” Texas Bruce showed cartoons and did silly jokes and suchlike, and had a whole peanut gallery of kids (The Wranglers) on hand. I remember that his sign-off was “Hasta la vista, mis caballeros,” a phrase whose meaning, of course, was a mystery to us Clinton County kids. We gathered it was something like “good-bye,” since Texas Bruce would be waving while he said it.

Anyway. One of his “bits” every show was to ask the boys and girls in his studio audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.

So glad Dude Man did not grow up to be a snake charmer. Tho he is a charmer

The TV station was in St. Louis, which was then — and still is — a very Catholic town. How Catholic? Well, when “Hair” played St. Louis, they had to cut the nude scene.

So. Texas Bruce would be going down the rows of Cub Scout-outfitted boys and Brownie-dressed girls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To which they’d answer, “A nun.” “A priest.” “A nun. “A priest.” “A priest.” “A nun.” Honestly, I’d say at least 70% of every audience answered “priest” or “nun.” Which led one to worry about population trends for the greater metropolitan St. Louis area.

What does this have to do with Harry Houdini? Well. I used to work on the Kimberly-Clark account at Ogilvy. In fact, I’ve written about this before in a rather amusing piece titled “Hoohah Time is Story Time.” In that story I mention, among other things, that on client trips to Appleton, Wisconsin (KC’s headquarters), we Ogilvyites would stay at the Paper Valley Hotel. (There was no valley anywhere near, but they did make paper there.)

Speaking of Kimberly-Clark, Huggies had a campaign with babies acting out future careers. Here’s The Child as a magician. Which she sort of is

The Paper Valley was one of those hotels where they put little paper tent thingies everywhere: one to tell you to reuse your towels, one with the TV channels on it, one to tell you not to smoke, and so on. (I guess, being a paper-making town, the hotel got a deal on these.) And there was one with famous Appletonians. No kidding. There are famous people from Appleton. Edna Ferber. Willem Defoe (really!). And my fave, Harry Houdini.

Houdini was such an Appletonian that he claimed to have been born in Appleton when he was really born in Hungary. Appleton Street was renamed in his honor, and there was a Houdini Historic Center I’ve been to because Ogilvy hosted one of their Christmas parties there for the Kimberly-Clark clients. (Since then they’ve changed the museum name, maybe because they’ve added some exhibits on Senator Joe McCarthy. Who was also an Appleton boy.)

God forbid you should ask little Teddy what he wanted to be when he grew up. Other than a U of Washington Husky, that is

Side note: I always wondered why we hosted the KC Christmas parties in Appleton instead of New York City. Maybe the clients didn’t like to travel? Or maybe they just didn’t like to travel to New York. I distinctly remember one rare occasion when a KC client came to New York for a meeting and asked if we could have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But back to those Paper Valley business trips. I would sometimes gaze at the Harry Houdini paper tent thingie and muse about what would happen if Texas Bruce asked little Harry, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Would he answer, “I’d like to be bound with chains and dropped to the bottom of a river”?

Grown-up Harry realizes his childhood dream

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say “a priest.” But that’s probably because his father was a rabbi.

New York City. May 2022

 

Remembering Betty White

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‘She was a real softie in a couple of Q-Tips commercials’

Okay. So maybe her work as Sue Ann or Rose is more memorable, but I will always treasure the experience of working with Betty White.

Q-Tips — along with Shake ‘n Bake, another brand blast from the past — was one of my first writerly assignments when I came to Ogilvy in 1979. (Read all about how I got there in “Take A Letter, Miss Henry.”)

70s KC Me, dreaming of a job in the New York Ad Biz

In those days (and probably now, too) you couldn’t write a commercial for Q-Tips that mentioned cleaning your ears — even though that’s what most people did with Q-Tips — without including a rather harshly-worded warning:

An actual Q-Tips Box with the actual warning. Only it’s too small to read, so I’m putting it here, too:

So we did these rather namby-pamby spots with mothers and babies that talked vaguely about “softness” and included cloying scenes of an adoring mother tapping the Q-Tip on, say, a little girl’s nose. I was responsible for at least one of these, called “Still My Baby.” Forgive me; here it is:

Well. After my co-workers and I got through cracking ourselves up with parodies like “Not My Baby,” “No More Baby” and the lovely “It’s Not Really A Baby,” my partner and I decided to break out of the Baby Box and try something new. Continue reading

My Night at The Museum with Jeff Goldblum

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‘I almost forgot my mantra’

The other day I was messing around on Facebook and saw that some genius has invented Jeff Goldblum jigsaw puzzles. Yes, now you can spread Jurassic Jeff all over your coffee table and have hours of Fandom Fun. “Look! I found the piece with his glasses! See? There’s the reflection of the dinosaurs in the lens!”

No, not Jurassic Jeff of the Jigsaws. This is, instead, one of the few royalty-free photos of Jeff I could find. Though, since he is Screen Royalty (at least to me) I still might get sued

This photo definitely does not give Jeff justice. Though it does have a certain, well, twinkle. As does Jeff in the flesh. See, I had a close encounter years ago with His Jeffness. And yes, I’m going to tell you about it.

First, though, a bit on Jeff. Continue reading

The Pick-up Artist

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‘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). 

Continue reading

Crime ‘n Stuff

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‘Waves of summer mayhem out East Hampton Way’

Well. No turkeys-storming-the-birdfeeder excuses today. I’m late because Labor Day Weekend brought me a full complement of competent Twenty-Somethings to liven things up here around The Compound. And after they left I had to immediately erase all traces of their occupancy (change the sheets; wash the towels; wipe up the avocado-toast crumbs) — or feel super sad.

These turkeys are welcome at my ‘feeder’ any ole time. I miss ’em already

So now that I can walk around the house without feeling assaulted by reminders of a rollicking good weekend (oops, somebody left her wineglass out by the pool; er, that would be me), let me get down to the actual topic of the piece. Which is crime.

Now this is a crime: floaterless pool floats

Yes, crime. Out here on the Eastern End of Long Island, otherwise known as The Hamptons, we do have our share of crime. In the summertime much of it has to do with road rage, which is understandable when you consider that the local population explodes from around 20,000 to upwards of 60,000. Some sources say 100,000, even. All I know is that they all have cars and that all summer long it’s impossible to leave my driveway without doing that queen-wave-with-a-smile gesture that means “You’d better let me out now, if you know what’s good for you and that shiny finish on your passenger door!”

Why, just the other day I watched in wonder as a Range-Rover-wielding Botox Fan backed out of Brent’s Deli (home of the Best Fried Chicken on the Planet) right into a hapless Camry waiting at the red light. I hope she at least bought him a bucket. With sides. Continue reading

“Yet’s go to Ye Yake”

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‘Gosh. Illinois’ largest lake has been around for 50 years’

Now before you Whippersnappers out there start in with “Hey, isn’t Lake Michigan Illinois’ largest lake?” Or even “What’s so all-fired old about 50 years? There are lakes (see afore-mentioned Lake Michigan) that have been around for, like, a zillion years,” let me point out that Carlyle Lake (or if you’re feeling fancy “Lake Carlyle”) is the largest lake within the borders of Illinois, and that it’s a man-made lake that’s been around since 1967. So there.

This picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows the Carlyle Lake dam and spillway in all its glory. Nice stats, too, if that floats your boat

Carlyle Lake is also the only lake named after my personal home town, Carlyle, Illinois. But I’m not going to get into Fun Lake Facts. My mission here is to entertain. And so, actually, was (and is) the Lake’s. Oh, there was some serious flood-control going on. But for my family and friends, The Lake was really all about fun and games. Continue reading

“You looked so nice I almost didn’t recognize you.”

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‘Appearances can be deceiving. Or something like that.’

So. Today is February 14. And yes, I did get something red and shiny for Valentine’s Day: my nose. Maybe by next week — when it’s (fingers crossed) only a miserable memory — I’ll find this cold amusing enough to write about. We’ll (sniff) see. In the meantime, I’m going with what I originally planned.

Which is a riff on Being Compared to Someone Else.

You know. Like when someone comes up to you at a family reunion and says something along the lines of “You remind me so much of your Aunt Net”. (A real Aunt of Mine whose name was Annette. She wore a hairnet, which is how she got that nickname. Or so we kids thought.) Continue reading

Lost Cat: Answers to the name ‘Mango’

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‘Or “Salmon” or “Steve”. Or maybe just “Kitty.”‘

I’m kicking myself that I can’t find that poster. The Child made it herself, when she was, oh, ten or so. See, we had this most amazing cat at the time. His name was Mango. And he went missing.

He was an orangeish tigerish marmalade cat. So The Child named him Mango. She was very good at naming cats. She was responsible for the late lamented Tuna (whose runner-up names were ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Lipstick’), and our current cat-in-residence, Wombat. When I was a kid, I was terrible at naming cats. I would give them names like (barf) ‘Buttercup’. And then everyone, including me, would just call them ‘Kitty’. We had two littermates once called ‘Black Kitty’ and ‘White Kitty’. They were both brown; one was just darker than the other.

Alienation of Affection, feline style. The Dude captures the heart -- and fur -- of Kitty

The Dude captures the heart — and fur — of the kitty in residence when we met (the ‘Kitty’ whose real name was supposed to be ‘Flicka’)

When I was pregnant with The Child and considering names for her As-Yet-Unbornedness, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott would tease me and say ‘Why worry about names? You’ll just end up calling her “Baby”‘. (He wasn’t far off the mark, since I do in fact refer to her as The Child.) Speaking of names for The Child, remind me sometime to tell you about how The Dude wanted to name her after a Greek goddess. (‘Persephone’ was one of his suggestions.) Continue reading

Thanks a bunch, Bill

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‘The time The Child got her hands on the Starr Report, and I had me a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do’

The news as I write this is, deservedly, all about the late great David Bowie. But as much as I love ‘Modern Love’ and get a big kick out of la Bowie’s turn as a sexy vampire in ‘The Hunger’, I don’t, alas, have any amusing David-Bowie-related stories. So I’m gonna go with the one about Bill Clinton.

See, Bill Clinton, AKA Hillary’s Husband, was in the news recently too. It seems some transcripts were just released of phone chats between him and his Best Brit Bud Tony Blair. And the Times thought this was pretty juicy. (Okay, I have to ask: If you were president, would you tape your telephone conversations? Holy Tricky Dick, I honestly do not understand this.) Continue reading

La Dolce Vita and Me

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‘The time I flew to Rome for a wedding in the Vatican’

The Dude is still kicking himself that he was ‘too busy’ to go. A friend of ours, who happened to be one of the Pope’s attorneys, invited us to his wedding. (This was way before Pope Francis, so he wasn’t one of his attorneys. But, come to think of it, I’m not sure Pope Francis needs attorneys.) Anyway, this friend was getting married to a woman from a Great Italian Family — and because of their well-connectedness, they were getting married in the Vatican.

We found out about it when we got this amazing wedding invitation in the mail. Calligraphy, of course. On parchment. Several sheets of parchment. In fact, this invitation was more like an illuminated medieval manuscript than anything else. There were pages and pages. The woman from the Great Italian Family needed a whole page just to list all her names.

There was a page for the ceremony, to be held in one of the chapels in the Actual Vatican Itself. (Not the Sistine, but close.) And pages listing all the other fun stuff planned for the wedding guests: A Ball in a Palace (“white tie or full military dress”), Rehearsal Dinner in a Private Club (“black tie”), Private Tour of the Sistine Chapel (“Appropriately Modest Attire”), Reception at the American Academy (“Whatever You Wore to the Wedding”, or something like that). Etc. Etc. Etc. Continue reading