“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

And Yogi’s the genius who came up with “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” — the inspiration for today’s photo at the top of this piece. I came to that particular fork in the road when I was out on my morning walk the other day. Yes, I took it. And then put it in the trash.

My beloved Favorite Sister Laura doesn’t throw her corks in the trash: she uses them to make smiles. Follow her at uneedtheschneed on Instagram

But the Yogi-ism I find myself pondering most in these days of sheltering-in-place is “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.” Which kind of sums up social distancing, n’est-ce pas? (And yes, please pardon my French.)

“Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.” Which I hope to be doing again sometime in the not-too-distant future, along with having coffee with a person — in person

As I say in my subhead: Yogi must have had a crystal ball. Because no one is going anywhere much nowadays — everywhere we used to go is just too darned crowded for our own good.

There was nothing in this road — not even a fork — but this was rural Illinois, where every day is social distancing day

Which brings me to my last Yogi-ism for today: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” You can sure say that again, dear Yogi.

Amagansett, New York. May 2020

 

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

Not that I need a mask all that much. I was telling someone just the other day that even before the Time of Corona I hardly ever went out. At least not here in Amagansett. Even in normal times I’d pretty much stick to The Compound. I’d glom all my errands together and do them once a week in what I call my “Vector” — I’d load up the Honda and drive to the dump. Then I’d drive to the post office/IGA/liquor store where I’d load up and drive home.

But I acted like that then because I’m basically a socially-averse curmudgeon. Now it’s because it’s not safe out there. As Andrew Cuomo, our governor and my New God, said just yesterday while warning New Yorkers to keep on social-distancing, “This virus doesn’t spread itself.” So, sure, I still do my Vector, but now the post-office ladies work behind sheets of plastic and I have to stand in a socially-distanced line to get into the IGA, where they limit customers to 30 at a time. Oh, and Maureen, the only clerk at the liquor store, is out sick with, yup, it.

Even my beach isn’t safe. This is Indian Wells at the end of my road. (Photo taken by my friend Durrell Godfrey whom I haven’t clapped eyes on in ages)

So, yes. I’ve been trying not to go out. Instead I stay in and read (Hilary Mantel; all the Wolf Hall books), cook (my freezer is full of soups and stews), knit (two sweaters so far, and counting). And of course I’ve been consuming many soothing beverages.

Apocalyptic chili. Vats of this are in my freezer

Apocalyptic cocktail hour. A Manhattan pairs nicely with baby-sweater-knitting

Streaming? Sort of. If what I’m watching doesn’t mess up my knitting. (Yes, I started on Tiger King. But I confess that I find Friends more addictive.) Oh! Have you seen John Krasinski’s SGN? The one with the original cast of Hamilton is wonderful. In my opinion. The Child hated it. I asked her, “You hate John Krasinski?” “No, I hate Hamilton.” “You hate Hamilton??? Now you’re going to tell me you hate kitties.

Oh. Now might be a good time to ‘splain about Danger Man. Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while (bless your faithful hearts) may recall a story about this.

“Danger Man” is that little stick figure who is always getting swept away by tornadoes or tsunamis or crushed by falling rocks or falling fridges or getting his butt licked by flames in airports. You see him on signs just about everywhere, warning you from all kinds of danger.

Why, just a few weeks ago Danger Man and his entire Danger Family was being pummeled by falling fruit

Well, I haven’t seen a Danger Man sign for coronavirus. Would it be Danger Man coughing superimposed with a big circle with a line through it?

Maybe something like this? Except it’s Danger Man and he’s coughing, not prancing around naked

Got any good Danger Man ideas? Your suggestions are most welcome. Now, mind Danger Man; grab that bandanna and those gloves and stay six feet away from each other. Better yet, stay home. If you get bored, I’ve got an archive chock-full of amusing blog posts you can explore.

Amagansett, New York. April 2020

 

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

Most of these strange fruits were pretty tasty, if weird-looking (at least to the innocent gringo eye). Like the litchi, which rather resembles a cross between a plum and a sea urchin — and tastes rather like neither.

But then Hamit moved to the rear of the vehicle and had Fruit Man open the trunk.

There’s a reason this fruit is in the trunk. And isn’t because there’s a lot of it

We should have realized there was something fishy going on with that trunk. For one thing, it smelled fishy. Well, maybe not “fishy”, exactly. More like a septic tank full of fish. Fish that had been laced liberally with garlic. And then left out in the sun for a really really long time.

“What the heck is that?” our little Birder Band collectively gasped. “It’s durian, a Malay delicacy,” Hamit smirked. “Wanna try some?”

Well, before I tell you what happened, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the durian:

Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away 

Yup. That’s about right. But, believe it or not, there were those of us — myself included — who decided to give the durian a go. “Hey, we’re over here for an adventure,” we agreed. “We may never get to Borneo — or get a chance to taste a durian — again!

One of our Band tries a taste while taking a selfie. He claimed to like it. (Note cigarette-smoking Fruit Guy. He claimed to “eat a durian every day”; he also had very few teeth)

Yes, as I mentioned, I too tried a taste. I did not document my durian sampling, since my iPhone-filming hand was busy holding my nose. Suffice it to say that I was not a fan. Even while blocking my nasal passages to avoid the smell I thought it tasted (at best) like creme brulee with a burnt garlic glaze.

Not everyone, of course, agrees. Or no one would be buying Fruit Man’s durian stash. Wikipedia also says:

The nineteenth-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described its flesh as “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”

Apparently, there are many Durian Fans in Southeast Asia who agree with Mr. Wallace. There are Durian Festivals and Durian Fairs and the fruit is used to flavor ice cream and candies and puddings — there is so much Durian Appreciation that social controls have had to be enacted:

The persistence of its odour, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia

Nope, that’s not a sign warning against durian consumption. Tho it very well could be

So. Maybe if there is a mask shortage and a dearth of Purell, we should just import a bunch of durian and have every man, woman, and school-avoiding child here in the States — particularly in crowded urban areas — crack one open. Trust me, we couldn’t get six feet apart fast enough.

Amagansett, New York. March 2020

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.

The Hokey-Pokey, leech-sock style

But, even though we leech-socked ourselves to the hilt, er hip, all but two of us got up close and personal with at least one leech. One of our party got three — yes, three — leech bites. It seems those enterprising leeches, attracted by our body heat — which was considerable — were leaping from the bushes and even dropping from the trees.

Me, sporting the Red Badge of Leech Courage. The critter had inched its way thru a vent in the back of my shirt, sucked its fill, then dropped off. So I didn’t even get the satisfaction of stomping it

Oh — there was a silver leech lining, so to speak. Each of us who were bitten got a certificate from Resort Management thanking us for “donating blood” to the local ecosystem. (Interesting note: Prince William and Kate spent their honeymoon at this resort. I bet Kate looked smashing in her leech socks.)

My legs were protected, but my shoulder most definitely was not, leading me to suggest an invention: the leech suit. It would resemble a hazmat suit; full coverage, with two little eyeholes for one’s binoculars. (Don’t steal this idea; I’ll sue.)

But I must say that leeches, though they do (quite literally) suck, came in second in nastiness to the bat cave.

Now, I admit that I’ve never been one for caves at any time or in any place — did you read Tom Sawyer? Does the name Injun Joe mean anything to you?

Well. On this trip we visited a cave festooned with swiftlet nests. These are the nests used in birds’-nest soup. I will spare you the gory details about the nests’ actual harvesting, except to say that sleeping inside a pitch-black cave is involved, since the very expensive nests must be guarded 24/7 against thievery. (I just checked, and you can buy a box of birds’-nests for $690.)

Birds’ nests for sale at Kota Kinabalu airport. Nope, I didn’t buy any

This cave is not only pitch-black inside, but is filled with gazillions of bats, which are constantly producing gazillions of pounds of bat guano. (Which is bats–t, you know.) Seriously, the cave floor is covered with mountains of the stuff. There is a walkway running around the sides so you don’t have to step in it, but the walkway as well as the guano is alive with crabs and cockroaches and rats and snakes. One dare not slip, since one would be required to grab said handrail. (The Wit of our group suggested making Guano Angels with our arms and legs if we were so unlucky as to fall in.)

I actually have a photo of the cockroach-covered handrail, but will not inflict it upon you — here’s a much-less-disgusting proboscis monkey instead

To top things off, one must wear a mask (to avoid inhaling bat fungus) and carry an umbrella (to avoid being drenched in bat pee). One of our group worked in a biology lab; right behind me on the walkway she quietly muttered, “This is my worst effing nightmare.” Only she didn’t say “effing.” I hear you Karen.

Yes, we actually paid good money to go inside this cave. Which must mean we’re even battier than the bats. And how was it? As I remarked upon exiting, “That was most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Kind of made me nostalgic for the leeches.

Seems like everything in Borneo is out to get you. If not leeches, then it’s Falling Fruit

Taipei, Taiwan and Amagansett, New York. March 2020

 

 

Yep, there is a place called Yap

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‘But can you find it on a map?’

Please forgive the Green Eggs and Ham cadence; I couldn’t help myself. Everyone’s been so crabby lately. We’ve got the Secretary of State yelling at NPR reporters while waving maps — “Go on, Missy! Find Ukraine! I double-dog dare ya!” (She does, then tells on him. What did he think she’d do — she’s a reporter.)

Then we’ve got Our President congratulating the Kansas City Chiefs — from the Great State of Kansas — on their Super Bowl win. This time Claire McCaskill got a little testy:

I’ll let that one slide since she was pretty hilarious, and also because she used to be a senator from, ahem, Missouri. Which is where the Chiefs are actually from. (I used to be from Missouri, too, having spent my formative post-grad new-to-advertising years there. But those are whole ‘nother stories. Which you can find under the “Adland Lore” tab in the sidebar if you are bored and it’s raining like it is here.)

Me, doing something Important as Creative Director of a fair-to-middlin’ size ad agency in Kansas City, Missouri

“But what about Yap?” you may be thinking. Is that Yap up on that map? Well, yes it am, Sam I Am. And why do we care about Yap? Well, I was chatting away on the phone with my mother and we got to talking about the Henry Family. There are waaaaay more of them (my father having been one of eight children) than we’ve got on the Peterson Side.

A mere fraction of — tho quite a few — Henry-Side-People were on hand for my afore-mentioned mother’s 90th birthday celebration last fall

Anyway. We were talking about how we get such a kick out of those Henrys but we’ve lost track of a lot of them, and not just because there are so many. They also have a tendency to move Far Away. We’ve got members of the Henry Family Tree not only in places like Detroit, we’ve got a branch in Spain and even a twig in Montenegro. (Which is next to Albania; I just looked.)

And then Mom mentioned the Cousin in Yap.

It’s a good thing I had just finished my coffee, because I would have spit some all over the rented oatmeal-colored staged-for-selling-the-apartment couch. “Yap?!? There is a place called Yap?” “Yes, there is indeed a place called Yap,” my mother assured me.

Another map. Of Yap. Note there is a town called Maap. I’m dying here

And not only is there a place called Yap, my dear mother continued, “but I’ve been there.”

“You’ve been to Yap?” I was beyond astonished. You think you know a person, right? Well, I’ve known this woman for, well, all my life and I had no idea she’d been to Yap. Will wonders never cease. Or maybe it’s “still waters run deep.” Whatever. I was gobsmacked.

A Threesome of Henrys. So glad they don’t live in (on?) Yap, since they wouldn’t have made it to the party. Or maybe they would have?

I was laughing so hard I didn’t get the details about what on earth my mother was doing on the other side of the earth in Yap, of all places. (I think it had something to do with a plane layover during their trip to Australia and New Zealand years ago.) And I most definitely did not get the full story about the Cousin Who Lives There. (I think she’s the daughter of a cousin; a first cousin once removed — removed all the way to Yap.)

I promise to ask Mom next time we’re on the phone. If I can stop laughing long enough.

New York City (definitely not Yap). February 2020

 

No, a “shower body” is not what you think it is.

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‘And, yes, it’s easier to find a unicorn than black and white tile’

I was almost a day late and a dollar short with this post. See, this little “coat-of-paint-and-new-appliances” project spiffing up the Ken and Barbie House is turning into a giant all-consuming time-sucking nightmare. Well, actually, it’s not technically a “nightmare” because I don’t sleep. If you don’t sleep, you can’t have a nightmare, now can you?

Also, I am technically a “dollar short,” actually many dollars, since everything costs more than you think it will. What do The Dude and I do when told an amazingly gobsmacking number for, say, ripping out the awful substandard ancient wood that was under the awful substandard ancient cork tiles so we can lay down a nice new floor?

An excellent example of a “cabinet” with “plumbing”. (See below.) I don’t dare ask how much it costs

We shrug and say “okay.” Our reasoning? This is our Last Apartment — at least the Last Apartment We Will Choose For Ourselves — so we might as well “do it right.” Even if we empty our bank account while doing it.

Today I woke before five thinking about how on earth to find a carpenter. I interviewed one last night who got very sniffy when I admitted that I did not have a “design” or a “plan.” He also smelled mightily of a strong men’s cologne. Deal-breaker, even if he hadn’t kept me waiting 45 minutes.

The night (er, morning) before it was this thing with the “shower bodies.” After a bout of googling, I found out more than I ever wanted to know about valves and diverters.

That’s a diverter. Or is it a valve? Whatever. It’s pricey

Last week it was The Great Black And White Tile Quest. See, once we (actually, our contractor) pried up those cork jobbies and the underlying icky wood, I decided a nice idea would be to “do” the whole apartment — that is, if a 500 sq. ft. apartment can be called “whole” anything — in black and white tiles. Very Parisian, I thought. (Versailles has black-and-white tiles.) Very Downton Abbey too. (The room where Edith does her telephoning has black-and-white tiles.)

See? Black and white tile. Not in Downton Abbey, but in Architectural Digest. Which is pretty close

Turns out that black and white tile — unless you are springing for marble black and white tile — is rare as hen’s teeth. Go ahead; I dare you. Google black and white tile and see what you come up with. Plenty of options in peel-and-stick, but in porcelain? Not so much. “It isn’t in fashion,” sneered one Showroom Showperson. (I think she must have been related to the uppity carpenter; she also wore too much cologne.)

Another gorgeous be-tiled room. Because why not?

After hours of fruitless prowling of the internet, The Dude and I decided to go on a mission. We piled in the trusty ’98 Toyota and drove to Southampton, where we hit each and every tile showroom we could find. We had vowed not to return to Amagansett tile-less, so it’s a good thing that Southampton Gallery of Tile had some in their, um, gallery.

We find some tile! We went with the “marble” version. (The ones with my foot protectively guarding them from escape)

We celebrated with a walk in the woods. Although at each and every step I was thinking about plumbing. Or cabinets. Or cabinets with plumbing. (See Adorable Vanity photo above.)

The Dude and I on a rare break from Tile-and-Valve Hunting

Next up in the Obsession Queue is The Kitchen. Though I do have a pretty good idea of what I want. Now I just have to find someone to do it. Any carpenters out there?

Black and white tile calls for a black and white kitchen. No, I don’t have any exposed brick. Not yet anyway

Now, instead of going on and on about tile and stuff, thus snaring you in my Nightmare Trap, I’m going to end with a little concert. The Child has acquired a Very Small Piano and has been sending us videos of choice performances. This one I call “The Apple Doesn’t Play Far From The Tree,” since I swear to You-Know-Who it features The Child playing Maple Leaf Rag.

You may recall from my story “Please Don’t Play It Again, Sam,” that this is a piece that The Dude likes to play. “Likes to play” as in every night of our 35-years-and-counting marriage — over and over and over again. And not only do The Child and The Dude both play Maple Leaf Rag, they both do the same Thing With Their Mouth while they’re at it.

Enjoy. And “see” you next week. If I survive the Shower Body Search, that is.

New York City. January 2020

 

 

Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

Another photo of the parakeet socks. Cause I’m sure as heck not going to show you any leeches — or leech socks, for that matter

See, my experience with leeches has never been an up-close-and-personal one. I’m more of an “I remember them from that scene in The African Queen” kind of person.

Our floating home on the Amazon, seen here with seaplane at the ready, was up quite a notch or three from The African Queen

And what I remember about leeches from that movie isn’t good. But our trusty trip materials went on to say that leeches “most commonly crawl through loosely-woven material, like socks” and that “leech socks are worn over one’s regular socks and tied at the calf or knee”, that they “keep leeches from penetrating, thus causing them to crawl up instead onto your pants, where you can see them.”

Another picture not of leeches or their socks. Here is a checkered foot instead. With a nifty checkered-floor background

Oh. Okay. Then what?

“You can usually feel them inching along; they can be rolled into a ball and flicked off before they can really attach.”

Um. May I ask who will be doing this “rolling” and “flicking” — of leeches?

Oh, wait. There is an alternative: “Touching their bodies with a bar of repellent will cause them to loosen and drop off.” (I’m so buying a “bar of repellent” — at any price.)

Let me take a small Leech Break to show you what, up until now, has been the scariest thing I’ve encountered on one of these trips. I didn’t have to roll anything “into a ball and flick it”, but I did kind of roll myself into a ball while clutching my armrests for dear life:

The Leech Section of our trip materials concluded by stating that “all in all, their repulsive reputation has been exaggerated.” (Not by me!) And by saying that “if you do get bitten, however, their anticoagulant can cause persistent bleeding. You may want to carry a styptic pencil to curtail the bleeding; a small supply of Band-Aids can protect your clothing.”

Oh. Right, I feel so much better now. I wonder if it’s too late to get back on that seaplane.

New York City. (Not Borneo. Not yet, anyway.) January 2020

 

 

 

Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

When we had trouble getting to where we wanted to go (this was at the beginning of the trip), our intrepid guide sort of whipped up a bird-bedecked alternative. This was where we got to cross the Amazon — a river that is so wide it makes the Mighty Mississippi look more like Mighty Mouse — in a boat that I wouldn’t trust to go water-skiing on good ole Carlyle Lake. (Note: there is no bridge across the Mighty Amazon; a boat is one’s only choice.)

Mighty Amazon, at the point where the “black water” meets the “white water”. And I almost meet my Maker (or so I worried)

We crossed so that we could spend a day on the Tupana River, an unscheduled stop, but well worth our while — and worth our chances of getting dumped in the Amazonian Drink.

The Yellow Circle marks our unscheduled spot: the Rio Tupana

Of course, after we had our fun we had to retrace our steps, including getting on another boat that was, in my opinion, too small for comfort. But nobody asked my opinion, so I just clung to my life jacket and thought about Other Things. Like new kitchen cabinets.

Incidentally, we got grounded another day. So what did we do? Check out the photo at the top of this post and you’ll see. Yup, birders gotta bird. Even if it’s from the roof of the airport hotel, standing on fake wicker pool chairs. (Out of view: a bunch of befuddled spandex-sporting German tourists.)

Eventually, Intrepid Guide Man gave up on Bad Local Airline and chartered us a plane so we could get to where we were supposed to go. (And see more than airport-hotel-area birds.)

We finally make it to Sao Gabriel and the Rio Negro

We hung around Sao Gabriel just one day instead of the planned three. But, secretly, I was pleased. Because instead of staying at a decidedly-local-color-infused “hotel” in the center of bustling Sao Gabriel, we got to decamp to our floating hotel, the Untamed Amazon. Which was so luxurious — and such a welcome contrast to the Hotel Deus Me Deu, bless its little heart:

Of course, not every second spent on the Rio Marie was so relaxing. There were the two days we (or at least The Dude and I) got up at 3 so we could track down the Nocturnal Whatnot. Which we did find, but could not photograph. Because it was night. Or at least 3:30 in the morning, which is the same diff. And there was the time we chopped our way upriver (or our faithful local guides did), African Queen style:

Well, it’s getting late, and I need to get back to obsessing about bath vanities. Tonight I’m hoping I’ll wake up thinking about the time we stopped smack-dab in the middle of the godawfully-wide Amazon River to take pictures of the Meeting of the Waters.

It’ll make a welcome change from grout.

New York City. January 2020

Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

But Erica got along just fine, thank you very much. In fact, she assimilated so well that she married a Dartmouth guy, one of The Dude’s fraternity brothers (Kappa Kappa Kappa), a guy named Kevin.

While The Dude had fond memories of both Erica and Kevin, I had only met them once, six or seven years ago at a fraternity reunion held in New Jersey. I honestly couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. But heck, I was sure happy to go to their party.

The Dude (at left) with frat brothers at what appears to be an “Artmouth” reunion in New Jersey. Kevin must be in there somewhere

So, on the appointed Party Day, we get all gussied up and head over to Erica and Kevin’s.

Here I am, all gussied up for a party where a guy named Teddy is a “guest”

As we enter the building lobby, I get even more excited. It’s Party Central — we see several Gorgeous People hanging up coats and heading up elevators, since there seem to be at least two or three parties being held there that night.

We’re directed to the appropriate coat rack and elevator and ride on up. The elevator opens into one of the loveliest New York apartments I’ve ever seen: beautiful paintings on the walls, beautiful people circulating in the halls. The waitpersons are even beautiful.

“Hey! I know that woman,” I think, as a vision in silver approaches, handing me a glass of wine. After we air-kiss, I exclaim, “Erica! I didn’t know you went to Dartmouth!

She gives me a puzzled look, then moves on to greet other arrivals. Meanwhile, The Dude has moved into the next room to find the host, his friend Kevin.

He comes back and whispers, “That guy in there is not Kevin. I mean, he’s Kevin, but not Kevin!

“But I know that woman. She’s Erica — of the Erica-and-Karen Erica, the ones who run that website Lustre that I write for. You know.” (By the way, do check out that website, it’s lustre.net; you’ll love it, and not just because I occasionally write stuff for it.)

Erica is somewhere in this group of Dartmouth reunion-goers (that’s me, top left). Just don’t ask me which one she is; I only met her the one time

“She must also be married to a guy named Kevin. And we’re at their Erica-and-Kevin Party instead of at our Erica-and-Kevin Party. At this point, a waiter approached with a tray of particularly tasty-looking hors d’oeuvres. “Don’t touch those!” I said, slapping The Dude’s hand away. We’re at the wrong party. We have to fess up.”

Well. All’s well that ends well, party-wise. When I told Erica that I was really really sorry and that we were at the wrong party, she said, “Oh no! You are at the right party. Kevin and I invited you. Honest! Welcome. Have some champagne!”

And so we did.

But on the way home, we just had to wonder. What are the chances of knowing not one, but two, Erica-and-Kevins?

New York City. January 2020

 

 

The emperor’s new produce

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“Is that a banana on the wall or are you just glad to be at Art Basel?”

I was a little late to the party on this one. By the time I was aware of this notorious artwork — the one consisting of a banana and a strip of duct tape — an art critic/prankster had eaten it. Seriously. So the artist, Maurizio Cattelan, withdrew the piece, or what was left of it. (The peel?) BTW, I just love calling this artwork a “piece”, since it so definitely was a piece–of fruit. (Though others might call it a piece of work.)

Yes, I ate my banana too. Here it is, genteelly sliced into a bowl. Not ripped from a wall at Art Basel

What it was called was “Comedian”, and it was fetching some pretty hilarious prices. (I say “prices” because the clever artist issued three “editions”, involving, I am guessing, three different bananas as well as three different strips of duct tape.) Last I heard, one had sold for $150,000.

Incidentally, the photo at the top of this piece is not the real “Comedian.” I was afraid of violating copyright laws by posting a photo I found online, so I just grabbed a banana and made my own — lending new practical meaning to the critical expression “Hey, I could do that.” (If you want to see the original “Comedian”, just click here to read a Times piece about it.) Actually, I think I like my version better; I used green duct tape, which, to me anyway, feels more “of a piece” with a natural banana than the silver that Cattelan used.

Cattelan, oddly enough, has a history of people pilfering his works. His other notorious piece, a solid gold toilet, has also gone missing. But I doubt if anyone ate it.

My banana, continued. Yogurt and granola added. No duct tape required

Speaking of yogurt, I once visited a show at MoMA which featured yogurt lids on a wall. There were also, in the same show, a whale skeleton suspended from a ceiling, an elevator cab stranded in the middle of a room, and — best of all — an empty shoebox just, well, sitting there on a floor.

The curator’s description of the whale skeleton. When they say “graphite”, they mean the artist drew on it with a pencil. A Number 2 pencil, to be exact

I actually made a little movie of my visit that day. Which is pretty darned entertaining, if I do say so myself. It’s called “MoMA’s New Clothes”, which kind of gives you a hint about how I feel about the exhibits. You can spend a few minutes chuckling while you watch it:

 

Or, if you’re pressed for time (which, let’s face it, most of us are around this time of year) you can just snicker at my screenshots.

Here’s one of the yogurt lids. My Flip video camera was moving around, so it’s a tad blurry, but I think you’ll recognize that Dannon-like shape for what it is

The best exhibit of all was the empty shoebox. Yup. Like I said — an empty shoebox. It was just sitting there. On the floor. All alone, except for a beefy guard. Who was trying to keep people from what? Certainly not eating it, like the ill-fated banana. Maybe stepping on it? Putting their shoes or (more likely) their old check stubs in it? Whatever. I got some pretty fun reactions from bystanding MoMA-goers. (I take it back. You should take a couple of minutes and watch the video.)

There it is. The empty shoebox, in all its glory

You could watch it while you eat a banana. Just make sure to take the duct tape off first.

New York City. December 2019