“Straight up from the warthog”

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‘Oh, how I miss those wacky birding trips.’

I know I’m really late with this week’s post. But just today New York lowered the age requirement for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and I wanted to make sure I got a shot (haha, very funny) at it.

Among other reasons to get poked, like not getting sick or dying and being able to see my friends and family in 3D, we have a birding trip coming up.

Our last birding trip–last weekend, at Sagg Main Beach–was a wild goose chase. Literally. We went looking for the White-Fronted Goose and didn’t find it

See, last year’s all-bought-and-paid-for exotic birding adventure (to the Galapagos) was, of course–like everything else fun in 2020–cancelled. But the good news is it’s rescheduled for this summer. Except you can’t go if you’re not vaccinated. Being a physician, Dr. Dude got his shot a couple of weeks ago so he’s all set. But, unless I wanted him gallivanting off without me, I had to score mine too.

I was on that website for about an hour and a half. The slots kept disappearing while I was applying for them; I guess I wasn’t the only newly-qualified 65-and-up banging away on her computer.

Last March in Borneo. We were masked, not because of Covid, but in preparation for entering a bat cave. It was about as delightful as you can imagine

Anyway. I know that hiking through the rainforest in godawful heat and 100+ humidity while being swarmed by flies and/or mosquitoes, peed on by bats, and squirmed on by leeches isn’t for everyone — but I confess I absolutely heart those trips.

Sometimes you need more than masks to protect yourself from the local fauna

You hang out every day with a tight little band of people from all walks of life — biologists and doctors and teachers, career military and architects, and a guy who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hey, Larry!) You’re with each other pretty much every waking minute. You sit together, eat together, take bathroom breaks together (well, not together-together, at least not all the time). Come to think of it, it’s a lot like jury duty. There’s even the part at the end where you exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch — but do you?

Merry band of new best friends boards plane

(I was going to say where else can you forget about makeup and your hair and not worry about what you’re wearing, but that’s been pretty much my house these past several months.)

You get to ride in pop-top Range Rovers and luxury houseboats and seaplanes and dugout canoes. You hike where no one’s hiked before, hear no traffic or planes, and see no one who looks like you for days and days on end.

You even get to walk across flimsy bridges — some so much higher than this that I could not let go to take a photo

And there are the colorful characters. The female birder with the perfectly-good name Deborah who insisted on being called “Raven.” (I, of course, pretended I couldn’t remember and kept calling her “Sparrow.”) There was the lady who fell in a pit of ants. There were the two guys who kept fighting and had to be separated. When I remarked to this guide, “Gosh, it’s a lot like kindergarten,” he replied, “No. Worse.”

Hipster Birder at work

This guide himself was colorful. He had lots of tattoos, shoulder-length hair he often man-bunned, and practiced a martial art called “grappling.” We called him “Hipster Birder.”

Hipster Birder at play

Oh, and of course I can’t forget Warren, more-or-less affectionately known as “Where Ya Lookin’.” As in: “There’s the spoonbill!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Red Bishop at three o’clock!” “Where ya lookin’?” And my very favorite: “Check out the elephant!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Straight up from the warthog!”

Nope. Warren wasn’t in this boat. But these were a pretty colorful batch of characters too

And yes, there were the birds. Technicolor ones a guide called “Fancy Birds.” Big ugly ones that looked positively prehistoric. And my favorite, the really sneaky birds it took a lot of time to find — so that, when you finally did spot one, it gave you a real rush.

Anyway. It’s getting late and I want to get outside. Even if “Outside” is a ten-minute walk down my driveway. At least I won’t have to fend off leeches.

See you next week. Same place, earlier time.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

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‘I Holiday Cheer myself up with a (very) little decorating’

I flunked Plank.

“No no no! my indefatigable PT instructor Jennifer cried, while Zoom-watching me flounder on the floor demonstrating my form, such as it was. “The Plank is not for everyone,” she added, hoping to soothe my fragile ego as she deleted it from my program.

Toned-by-Jennifer Me, decked out in Tracksmith duds

I may have flunked Plank, but still I’m set to graduate from PT at the end of the month. I should be thrilled that I have made such fantastic progress. I can now rock a pair of Tracksmith tights like nobody’s business. (And my back? Oh, it’s better.) But I have bonded with Jennifer the PT Girl; she’s seen me sweat and “squeeze my bootie.”

The Dude shows off his Holiday Bootie

“I already miss you!” I cried at the end of our session last week.

There’s was only one thing to do: decorate.

Let’s start in the kitchen, where I dragged out the Christmas Plate. And put the one remaining almond rocha on it to drive The Dude crazy. (I hid it last week after he’d polished off the rest)

Those of you who’ve followed me over the years know that I hate to decorate. So much so that I used to have a party where I would treat friends to champagne while they decorated the tree — then reward them with a big ole pot roast dinner when they were done. (See “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” for scrumptious details.)

The reward for decorating my tree

That’s how “I” decorated until Her Childness left for college. Then I basically didn’t bother. She didn’t get home for Winter Break until basically the Night Before Christmas, and no, I didn’t want to have one without her — either the Party or the Tree.

Candle(s) as Tree. A theme repeated many times

So we got by with slapdash decor for years, reverting to our Little-Tree-in-a-Pot formula we’d followed before The Child’s advent. Honestly, the Amagansett property, which belonged to the Whitmore Parents back then, is studded with ex-Christmas Trees in Pots.

And in the City? Well, some years it was just Bowls of Shiny Objects or maybe, just maybe, Lights on The Mantel.

Last year’s decor was particularly spare. The apartment was Being Shown to prospective buyers, and it had been staged beyond all recognition. (See “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for sordid details.) When I mentioned to our real estate agent that I’d bought a tree, she asked, “How big is this tree?” Then went on to suggest rather strongly that we do no further decorating. (“Twist my arm,” I thought, but did not say.)

Can you find the Christmas Tree in this picture?

I must admit that all those years of bare bones stripped-down Christmasses didn’t really bother me, partly because (again, as you Readers know only too well) Thanksgiving is the Holiday I really love. (See “Turkey Shoot” for irrefutable reasons why.) In fact, some years we even skipped Christmas by going on a trip. (The Child was fine with this arrangement once she met The Beau and had his family to celebrate with. See “I’ll Be (at Somebody Else’s) Home for Christmas” for *sniff* details.)

Christmas on the Amazon River. Yes, fish was served. But also turkey! (And champagne)

But this year Thanksgiving was rather a wash. Oh, it was lovely, what there was of it. After all, what’s not to like about a turkey dinner with all the trimmings? (Turkey trimmings being much more my style than Christmas ones.) But it was, well, kind of sparse.

Last year’s extremely non-sparse, extremely fun Thanksgiving

I think The Dude felt the same way; he came home last weekend with not only a Christmas Tree (small, in a pot, but still) but also a poinsettia of rather monstrous proportions.

Holy poinsettia! No decorations needed (!)

So I went up to the attic and dug out the lights and some other festive stuff.

There’s that bowl of ornaments again. (Oh, and the Christmas Tree — there in the distance)

Voila!

Oh, and lest we forget. The Ken and Barbie House got its own small (but festively effective) infusion of the Christmas Spirit. And we didn’t have to lift a finger — except to turn it on.

Thank you, Elf Theresa, for a much-appreciated surprise

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

Lockdown with a capital “L”

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‘When my Mom did some prison time’

My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.

My Mom when she got “capped,” which is like graduation for nurses

I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)

Mom, with one and a half kids

Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids. 

Mom had plenty on her plate, with kids ranging from Big (me) to Little (Toddler Doug) and three more in between. That’s Middle Bro Roger sporting a muscle tee on the left

But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.

I was gone by then, both physically — off to college — and emotionally — totally absorbed in turning into a Grownup — and I wasn’t very tuned in to what was happening with the folks back at home.

Was Mom working at the prison when this was taken? I was getting ready to bolt for New York, so of course I have absolutely no idea

For example, there was a period when a foreign exchange student was living in our house — a foreign exchange student  (from Chile? Peru?) who came and went — and I never even met him.

So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I wasn’t all that up to speed about the various nursing-related jobs my Mom had. I do recall that, for a time, she drove around to people’s houses conducting physicals for an insurance company. I remember that job because my Mom said that, invariably, the people she was supposed to give physicals to lived on remote farms with furiously barking dogs. Huge dogs that would lunge at her car door, leaving scratches on the finish and drool on the glass. “Come on out, he’s friendly,” these people would insist as my Mom cowered inside.

Mom and getting-pretty-big Doug visiting Independent Scott (who took this photo) in Oregon

So no wonder the job in Vandalia sounded more, well, normal. She could drive to work, park in a parking lot, and do her nursing in a nice clean nurse’s office. The fact that the office was inside a prison didn’t faze her in the least. Mom became a prison nurse. Which is kind of like a school nurse. Only they don’t send you home when you have a fever.

(Speaking of prisons, if you haven’t read my piece “That’ll Teach You,” you might want to take a look. It’s about the time I spent in prison — locked in a cell.)

Like I say, I was gone from home by then and starting my climb up the Advertising Ladder, so I was a tad fuzzy on the details. I knew my Mom “worked in a prison,” but somehow I pictured this as one of those “campus”-type institutions. You know, those places where they put the Bernie Madoffs and the Enron Guys.

Well, the years went by. I was sitting around the kitchen chatting with my Mom — back when Times were “normal” and I could actually visit her — and she happened to mention that she gets a pension from “The State.” Having reached “pensioner” status myself by this time, I was rather interested. “Was that from the time you worked in the prison?” I asked.

Sometimes I feel like I’m catching up to Mom, age-wise. People have ahem) mistaken us for sisters. Mom, of course, loves this

“Yup,” she replied, taking a sip of warmed-up coffee.

“You know, I never asked, but what kind of prison was that, anyway? What kind of criminals were there?”

“What kind? Well, I remember there was this one guy who killed his wife, then cut her up and fed her to the pigs.”

It’s a good thing I hadn’t just taken a sip of coffee myself.

Amagansett, New York. October 2020

 

“Lean to the left, lean to the right. Stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!”

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‘Feeling the pain; paying the price’

I’m a day late with this post — and, it would seem, way more than a dollar short. I was in the City yesterday seeing a Pain Guy about my herniated disc. Turns out I need to have a rather pricey procedure involving an injection in my spine.

(Of course it’s not just the $$$ that was distracting me from coming up with a Fun Tuesday Topic; I am beyond nervous about getting a shot in my back — I’m sweating so much my fingers are sticking to the keys on my poor ole Mac.)

In the midst of my last marathon. I’m enjoying myself immensely, believe it or not

My more than twenty years of running around sixty miles a week is probably the culprit — though the packing, lifting, shifting and so forth that goes into moving apartments certainly hasn’t helped matters much.

The only way I am supposed to be moving furniture around the new apartment

And there’s the fact that, unlike Young People Today who “cross-train,” back in my Running Days, I would basically just get up in the morning, throw on my running duds, and take off. No stretching, no limbering up, not even any cooling down — and definitely no “working on my core.”

Me, modeling my racy Quick-Draw back brace. Didn’t help. Not nearly as much as bourbon

Oh, before I forget. The photo at the top of this page shows me not only slouching like the Teen that I was, it shows me back when I dearly wanted to be a cheerleader, cheerleading being the surefire fast-track to popularity back then. (Maybe it still is.) But, alas, I was — and am — singularly uncoordinated. I could barely follow the directions for the cheer in the title, much less execute a “cartwheel.” Goodness knows I never even tried a “split.”

Payoff to all that training: The Time I finished the New York Marathon in 3 hours, 23 minutes (in the top 100 women that year). Maybe my back hurts as punishment for all this bragging (!)

Until last month, when I started doing physical therapy (via Zoom, which is a virtual miracle for PT, and, honestly, the only way I ever want to “Zoom” — cocktails are meant to be sipped in person, if you ask me. Or all by myself, thank you very much.) Until last month, if you told me you were “working on your core,” I would think you meant you’d just about finished your apple.

PT…or not to PT…that is the question

Funny story about PT. (Yes, even Physical Therapy has its silly side; mostly when I’m trying — and failing — to do something like The Bridge.) Jennifer, PT Instructor Extraordinaire, in my very first session, had me lie on my back and asked me to “tighten my abs.” So I say, “Where on earth are my ‘abs’ — and how the hell do I tighten them?” Honest. I had no idea.

No problem locating this person’s “abs”

Well, after doing PT with the Amazing Jen twice a week since August and faithfully following my at-home program every single day I can now not only find my abs, they are my new Best Friends. I am constantly aware of them and can pretty much keep them nice and tight all the time. And after doing all those Bridges and Chair Squats? I now proudly claim Buns of Steel. Why, these cheeks could positively crack walnuts. (No worries, I don’t have a video — or even a photo — to prove this.)

Out on the trail, demonstrating both birding zeal and abysmal coreless pre-PT posture

But (pun actually intended) my pain, alas, has not subsided. Hence the specialist Pain Dude consultation yesterday. And (gulp) the appointment to get That Shot next week.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep on keepin’ on with the PT. And I’ll try my best to summon up something at least moderately amusing on Tuesday.

Goodness knows, since Tuesday is Injection Eve as well as my regular posting day, I’ll need some sort of distraction. Other than cocktail knitting, that is.

It doesn’t count as drinking alone if you have some knitting to keep you company

Amagansett, New York. October 2020

 

A la recherche du Coppertone perdu

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‘Proust and I wish you and yours a most odiforous summer’

Before you correct me in the comments, yes, I know that “odiforous” isn’t a real word. According to Evil Spell-Check, it should be “odorous,” but I’ve been saying “odiforous” for years and, if you ask me, “odorous” isn’t any fun at all.

So what’s with the odors, “iforous” or not?

Well, unless you’ve been spending the last 75 days alone in a cabin in rural Vermont, you know that losing your sense of smell is one of the symptoms of Covid-19. But before we get into that, how about that guy, huh? True story. Daniel Thorson emerged after spending March 13 through May 23 in isolation at a monastic retreat and asked, “I’m back from 75 days in silence. Did I miss anything?”

Once he heard I bet he skedaddled right back into that cabin. Kind of like the Groundhog and his shadow. Except in Poor Daniel’s case it would be the pandemic and the protests. Not to mention the fact that there’s no major league baseball.

Wouldn’t this scare you if you just emerged from 75 days alone in a remote cabin?

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“How about never? Is never good for you?”

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‘Managing one’s schedule in these Corona Calendar Days’

I’m featuring a photo of Wombat here because my “date” with her is the only event on my calendar since March 14 that’s taken me further west than the town dump. Or taken me out of the house, for that matter.

Calendars may be empty, but the roads out here sure aren’t

Yes, I had to get in the car, yowling cat carrier in hand, and drive to the vet clinic in Bridgehampton. I called from the parking lot; gloved and masked vet came out, gloved and masked me handed over the cat. This transaction felt even more like a drug deal than when The Dude and I scored that Mexican meal back in late March.

While I was waiting for poor little Wom to be poked and prodded, I got to thinking about how different my calendars look for this Spring and last.

“Dr. Katz” (Yes, my vet’s name is Dr. Katz) on May 30 is the only calendar entry that’s taken place offsite (“site” being within my own four walls) since mid-March. Now let’s take a look at the same calendar “page” for May/June 2019, shall we?

A calendar so chockablock, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And, dear reader, I’m sure I’m not the only one with huge calendrical contrasts. Why, last year I had bridge classes and museum tours and lunches with girlfriends and the French Open to watch. This year the event that occurs most frequently is “Call Mom.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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“No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

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‘Yogi must have had a crystal ball.’

I’m sure there are many of you who do not remember Yogi Berra. Maybe you do remember Yogi Bear, one of the most cleverly-named cartoon characters of all time, or at least in my opinion. (Incidentally, I just found out by reading this Wikipedia entry that the Human Yogi sued the Cartoon Yogi’s creators, who claimed the name was “just a coincidence.” Yeah, right. And the Kirwood Derby wasn’t a goof on Durwood Kirby. Read more about him in my piece “Eenie Meanie Chili Beanie.”)

But back to the Yogi of Yogi-isms fame.

A study in checkerboard: my foot and the floor of the Mexican Place in Amagansett that was so crowded that no one went there. Well, except that one time

To cut to the chase, Yogi was a Hall of Fame baseball player and manager. (You can read more about his amazing career right here.) But even if you’re not a fan (and, yes, there are people out there who don’t like baseball; they also hate tv and eat pizza with a fork) — yes, even if you’ve never even seen a baseball game I bet you know some Yogi-isms.

Yogi’s the guy who said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And “It gets late early out here.” Also “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

“Take it with a grin of salt,” Yogi would have said

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Apocalypse Now

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‘There is no Danger Man sign for this. Yet.’

I had a fun phone chat with Contractor Man yesterday. (That’s all he and I can do these days, work having screeched to a halt on the Ken and Barbie House weeks ago; bathrooms half-tiled, kitchen cabinets all made up with no place to go, etc., etc., etc., whine whine whine. I know; one-percent problems at their very worst. I’m done now.)

Decisions, decisions a century ago. (We went with the checkerboard, and it was actually a few weeks ago, though I’m hard-pressed to believe it today)

Anyway. It felt really good to at least talk to Contractor Man. And I think I got him to laugh when I asked him, “Remember when deciding whether to go with charcoal or black grout was keeping me up at night?” Ah, grout nightmares. Those were Innocent Times indeed.

Today, instead of choosing grout, I’m rifling through my dresser drawers for suitable social-distancing mask materials. (That’s The Child, sporting her safety solution at the top of this post.)

Maybe I could repurpose this schmatta, donned only a few weeks ago to pretend I’d climbed Mt. Kinabalu

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Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

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What could possibly be worse than a rainforest full of leeches?

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‘Well, how about a cave full of bats?’

If you are the least bit squeamish, you may wish to skip this week’s much-belated post. Belated, because I’ve been bird-hunting in Borneo.

Through a glass, but not darkly, I spot my target: perhaps a hairy drongo?

Borneo boasts lots of lovely avian species, but has less than adequate WiFi. Not that I’m complaining; it’s actually refreshing to be less-than-connected, especially when the news Back Home is of political plotting and pandemic panic.

Speaking of panic, here is the interior of the plane we took from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei, where I started writing this piece

I’m in an airport lounge (thank you, AmEx) writing away while awaiting our plane to JFK — which will be 14 1/2 hours in duration, two hours less than our flight to get here.

As I mentioned, the Bornean birds are beauteous. But one must deal with — gasp — leeches. And, although we took the Proper Precautions (see my piece “Leech Sock it to Me!” for ghastly detail), the little buggers weren’t daunted. Leech socks, as I squeamishly explained, are supposed to keep leeches from inch-worming their way up your pant legs.

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