Driving the Unicorn

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‘I’ve never bought a car. Not a new one, anyway.’

A couple of weeks ago I revealed to all and sundry that I have never, in all my grownup life, bought a couch. (See the aptly-named “I have never bought a couch” for deets.) Not buying a couch, I mused, meant that I’m probably not really a grownup.

Well, today I’m going to admit that I have never bought a car, either. Well, I have bought a car — an old Austin America, which I’ll tell you about in a sec — but I’ve never bought a new car. Where you go in a showroom and talk to a car dealer. You know, like that guy Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo”.

I remember going to the showroom with my whole family to buy this Ford station wagon. It was brown and cream and smelled amazing

I got to thinking about this whole new-car thing because we just got back from our annual Best-Friends-in-the-Catskills Visit. (See “Take me home, Country Road” for a nice tale about them.) Said Best Friends always have a new car — they lease a brand-new Mercedes every year. (Something to do with business or some such.)

Whatever the reason, they always have a new car — and each new car is more intimidating (at least to me) than the last. The current model has a dashboard that looks like a fighter pilot’s, with flashing lights and LED displays and GPS maps. It talks to you, this car. (“Fasten seat belt, please”) And it “helps” you. It not only has a rear-view thingie that “assists” in backing up, it can also parallel park itself. I am not making this up. Oh — and it has no car key; just this sort of fob thing that kept getting lost all weekend.

The part that really got to me, though, is how this car “corrects” you if you veer across the yellow line or onto the shoulder. Honest. If you stray, it steers itself back into the lane. It also brakes itself if an obstacle presents itself suddenly. (Think deer here). It will even drive itself — staying in the lane and keeping at a constant speed. But it “warns” you (with a jerk) if you take your hands off the wheel for 30 seconds. I guess even the Mercedes Makers think some civilities must be maintained.

Sheesh. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to drive a car that thinks it’s smarter than me. (Shades of “Christine”.)

Nope, not the Austin America. This was a Chevy Vega that I also did not buy. The Guy Before The Dude and I are getting ready to drive off in it on our honeymoon. Sigh

One car I did buy on my own was a definitely not-new brown Austin America, which was the shape and size of (and kind of looked like) a bus shelter. Sadly, I do not have photographic evidence of ownership of this car. I bought it for 800 bucks — cash — from a woman who was saving up to run away from her abusive husband. She tucked the cash into a Ritz Cracker box in the pantry and handed me the keys.

Me, around the time I bought the Austin America

This car was Trouble from the word “go” (or in this case, “no go”). For one thing, the engine was mounted sideways. Which meant that, when it rained, the alternator would get wet (are you surprised I know what an “alternator” is?) and the thing would, well, just…stop. This happened once at three in the morning on Interstate 70 halfway across Missouri. A trucker stopped to “help” me and offered to let me sleep in his bunk. Um, “no thanks”, I said and asked him to ferry me to the Truckstop up ahead instead. To this day, I shudder to think that I got in the truck with him.

Also, (less dramatic, but still) the driver’s-side window wouldn’t open. One day I needed to get gas right after having some fairly major dental work. When I drooled “fiww ih uh” to the attendant at the gas station through a crack in the door, he gave me quite a look.

Not the Austin America either. But somewhat reminiscent of the overall effect

Back to the New Car Thing. Though I haven’t bought one on my own, The Dude and I have bought new cars together. The first was a Honda CRX, which was a sporty little two-seater. The Dude’s Dad took one look and asked, “Where are you going to put the baby?” “What baby?” is what we thought (but did not utter aloud). Of course, as luck would have it, we did in fact pop out The Child shortly after buying this polar opposite of a “family car”. But we simply strapped her baby seat into the cargo hold with windsurfing bungie straps. I’m dying that I can’t find a picture of this work-around.

So what is this Unicorn for which I have titled this story? It was (and is) the last new car The Dude and I bought together: a ’98 Toyota 4Runner, which (pause for drama) we bought in the Fall of 1997 and is the same car we drive today. The Car Guy who takes care of it for us calls it a “Unicorn” because cars like this one are rare indeed and guys like him love to work on them. (Lots of mechanical stuff; very little electronic stuff.) Guys who look like they really know their cars actually offer to buy this car on the spot when we’re stopped at a light.

The Toyota has a nice plain ole car key. But no bells, no whistles, and definitely no voice that talks to you. It doesn’t help you back up, can’t park itself and wouldn’t dream of scolding you if you took your hands off the wheel. The Dude and I plan on driving this puppy till it won’t drive anymore.

Maybe, instead of a new car, I’ll buy me a can of new car smell. (Somebody told me you can do this.) Because that’s the only thing I miss when I get behind the wheel of The Unicorn.

Off into the sunset with The Unicorn

New York City. October 2018

 

The Coat of Many Stories

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‘Ratty and faded, but I just can’t bear to part with it’

I can understand why some people might be into the so-called “life-changing magic of tidying up”. But I’m no Marie Kondo. Not when it comes to discarding certain tattered treasures in my closet, at any rate.

Take this coat. Please. I bought it at the Gap, along with a teensy matching version, way back when The Child was actually a child. As you can see, we had a kind of Mother/Daughter Thing going on.

Two peas in their pods. Er, bright, shiny, new, and very red coats

Well, time went by and The Child grew out of hers. I’m sure we “handed it on” to some even-smaller child somewhere. So we never got a chance to see it get faded and tattered. But mine?

The Child, still childlike here, has outgrown and passed on her coat. Not me. Not sure if Middle Younger Brother Roger and gorgeous Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jen still sport those snappy jackets

Why do I stubbornly hang on to this coat? Is it because it’s…red? I ask this because I have another article of clothing I can’t bear to part with which happens to share the same hue — as well as some of the same history.

Or is it because the coat, like the sweatshirt, has seen itself worn to bits on only the happiest of occasions? Like strolling on the beach with Rog and Jen at Favorite Younger Sister Laura’s.  And walking on the (gulp) railroad tracks with The Dude.

The Dude and I waiting for the train. (And hoping the engineer will notice all that red)

Or hiking in the Walking Dunes. Which is where that picture at the top of this piece was taken, probably on a Thanksgiving. Which, as you Faithful Readers know by now, is absolutely The Best Holiday Ever (See “Turkey Shoot”) and my Favorite Family Time by Far (See “Flipping the Bird”). (Well, except maybe for weddings. Hard to beat a good wedding. Even if most of the time no turkey or pumpkin pie is on the menu.)

A look back — and down — on a hike with The Coat

So, this memory-infused article of outerwear has gotten outerworn until it’s worn plumb out. It got so shredded (and so ventilated) that I finally did buy a replacement last year. But have I thrown the old one out? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Me, still in my coat, next to The Child, who probably wouldn’t fit into it even if I did deign to give it to her

I thought of all this yesterday because I happened to be happily sporting my favorite flip flops (never ever call them “thongs”, saith The Child) when they self-destructed.

I blew out my flip flop. But did not, fortunately, step on a pop top

Sadly, a flip that’s flopped is no good to anyone. So on to Flipflop Margaritaville they went. But I was sorry to see them go. These two have been everywhere. There’s a Panamanian thorn embedded in one that I could never remove; every once in a while, if I stepped Just So, I’d feel it and think of the bull goring I witnessed that day. I was able to dig up a little Panamanian film clip where the flip flops — but sadly, neither bulls nor goring — make a cameo appearance. Water shenanigans are involved:

Well, I guess that’s about it for this week. And for that red coat. I’ve decided: now that I’ve paid it this blogging tribute, I can finally toss it out. (Marie will be pleased, as will The Child, who is a Kondo Fan.) But first I have to get busy turning another pair of old jeans into cutoffs.

These jeans are probably older than you

New York City. September 2018

Gorilla My Dreams

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‘The Silverback makes my previous Ape Alpha Male look like Chimp Change’

You may recall my relatively-recent story about that Playboy Monkey the Alpha Male Chimp. (It’s called ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’.) Mr. Alpha was one fascinating fellow; he postured, he posed, and he made satisfyingly movie-sound-track-like crazy chimp sounds as he ran around slapping tree trunks to show off his chimp cojones.

One of our merry Birding and Chimp-Tracking band made a little movie on his iPhone and was just about to play it back when the leader of our Primate Patrol cautioned him against doing so. The crazy chimp squeals on the soundtrack would cause Said Alpha to attack us. Oh.

But intimidating as he was, Mr. Head Chimp was an organ-grinder’s sidekick compared to the Silverback. Who is Head Dude of the gorillas, and well, a whole different animal. (The ‘gorilla’ featured in the picture at the top of this post is about as real as a unicorn. Though we did get to see Real Gorillas. And we were much much closer to them than we were to that silly gorilla statue.)

No, we weren’t camping. Nor were we in ‘executive budget rooms’. But we did find us some gorillas

This get-to-know gorillas experience occurred when we were in the Buhoma area of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our tour company, the inestimable Field Guides, had warned us that the Mountain Gorillas were hard to find, even though they were “habituated”. Which meant that they were (sort of) used to people. We could spend an hour with a gorilla troupe, provided we could find one, and, um, provided with suitable protection.

No, she is not a guerrilla leader — she was our gorilla leader. And yes that is a machete she’s holding

We were provided with a kick-ass leader (seen with adoring me above; I have forgotten her name, but not the fact that she was carrying ample weaponry along with her walkie-talkie) as well as porters and a couple of guys in front and back of our group carrying rifles. I like to think the rifles were only there to scare away elephants, but our Hipster Birder Leader said that, in a previous year, on a previous gorilla trek, a Silverback took umbrage at something he said or did and charged him. (He was told to stand perfectly still, a command which he obeyed, though I’m thinking he got pretty sweaty and it wasn’t just from the hike.)

Hipster Birder Leader takes a hike break after not being charged by a Silverback — not this time anyway

Yes, I said ‘hike’. As in long and steep. We hiked virtually straight up a mountain, our leader whacking away at the undergrowth with her machete to make us a trail, for three and a half hours to find the gorillas.

The Dude. On his way up, or on his way down. Can’t tell; we were equally sweaty either way

Then we got to spend an hour observing the troupe. After which, of course, we had to hike three and a half hours down. (The ‘down’ was harder; it was slippery as well as steep.)

Nope. That’s not the Silverback. That’s a momma gorilla. Yes, she was pretty darned big. And yes, we were that close

There was some drama in our troupe, though not of the charging-a-human kind, thank goodness. But drama nonetheless. It seems that, in gorilla society, females of breeding age leave their troupe and join another. Good for the blood lines, and all that. As with any immigration policy, though, problems can arise. If a female gorilla already has a baby, she cannot bring it with her to the new troupe. And they don’t just separate mom and child at the ‘border’. If she brings her baby ‘with’, the Silverback will kill it. Or her. Or both of them.

In the movie clip above, you can see Mr. Silverback charging a recently-arrived Momma and Baby. We didn’t stick around to see the ultimate end of this movie, though we were told it probably wouldn’t, alas, be a happy one.

Speaking of happy endings, I’d like to switch gears here and tell you what happened the next day, which was The Dude’s birthday. Ordinarily, Dude Man hates any kind of undue attention, especially of the Birthday Kind. In fact, he made me promise (among other things) when we got married never ever to throw him a surprise party. Well. Good thing he’s not married to Hipster Leader. Because HL did just that: staged a Birthday Surprise. But, as you can see in this clip, Birthday Dude didn’t seem to mind. Well, not much anyway.

New York City. June 2018

The A-Hole Car

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‘Dealing with a gang of turkeys on Amtrak’

Actually, I wasn’t sure what to call that bunch of turkeys. Except not to call them for dinner (ba-da-bum). So I checked good ole Google. Turns out there are a variety of terms: ‘muster’, ‘posse’, ‘rafter’ being among them. The only one I decided against was ‘school’, since the ‘gang’ I’m going to describe seemed decidedly uneducated. At least in the mores and folkways of polite train-riding.

The story I’m going to tell happened when Dude and I were Amtraking our way home after spending a most delightful day and a half with The Child up in the Boston/Cambridge area where she lives and works. Continue reading

The Process of Elimination

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‘What to do when the blog clock is ticking’

People sometimes ask if I have trouble thinking of things to write about. Nope, I have the opposite problem — too many random ideas doing battle in my brain. Usually I look through photos to help me decide. But today that only made things worse. I kept finding photos I’d wished I’d used in previous posts. Like, here’s one that would have been perfect for last week, when I wrote about good times in and on the Lake of My Youth:

Look! I found a photo of the front of Sir Launch-A-Lot, complete with sign. That’s Gramma Henry, flanked by Only Sister Laura and Only Mom, um, Mom

Oh, and here’s one that would have been dandy to include in my riff on weddings (“I do, I do. I really do like weddings”)

Looking “back” on my first, “Polio-Shot” wedding. This was the rehearsal. But I guess you could say that about the whole marriage: that it was a “rehearsal”

Continue reading

Yup. Even Slackers get the Labor Day Blues

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‘Summer, I miss you already’

I know, I know. Summer isn’t officially over till, like, September 21. But even if yesterday wasn’t Labor Day, I say that if I have to grill my burgers by flashlight it’s Autumn. Okay? And today it’s back to Reality (and the Big City), since even sporadically-employed freelancers like me have obligations and responsibilities. (See ‘I love the smell of SoftScrub in the morning’ for envy-inducing examples.)

But before I go, I’d like to recall a few of the summery things I miss already, along with those white bucks I never got a chance to wear:

Glam home upgrades. Look out. If the Southampton Hospital Designer Showhouse Committee gets wind of our new propane tank, they’re sure to come calling.

Nope. It's not the Oscar Meyer WeinerMobile. It's our snappy new propane tank. Now everybody's gonna want one.

Nope. It’s not the Oscar Meyer WeinerMobile. It’s our snappy new propane tank. Now everybody’s gonna want one.

Newsy neighbors. Due to an amazing stroke of parental luck (The Dude’s Dad had many famous–and grateful–patients*), we live in a neighborhood of BoldFace Names. One of our neighbors was recently on the front page of the Post for erecting an electric fence to protect the ‘Hillary for Prison’ signs he put up in his yard. Another, Jerry Seinfeld, was in the East Hampton Star’s Crime Log for running an illegal lemonade stand: Continue reading

I love the smell of Soft Scrub in the morning

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‘An Advertising Executive cleans up’

To be honest, not having been raised with ‘Help’ (Hah! If anything, my sibs and I were the ‘Help’), I am a tad uncomfortable with same. For one thing, I never know where to go when the Cleaning Person is there. I feel a little odd going out for coffee all morning.

And there is that Lutheran Guilt Thing. If I’m not working (as in Earning Money), I feel funny not cleaning. (Though I don’t seem to have a problem spending The Dude’s hard-earned money on Starbucks lattes.)

Besides, I have a dirty little secret: I’m really really good at cleaning. And I kind of like the fact that when you’re done, everything looks gorgeous and smells good. Totally different from advertising.

In fact, I’m so good at cleaning, that one time, when I was ‘between jobs’, I toyed with the idea of starting my own cleaning business.

I have no idea what this sign was referring to. But Mom instilled in us all a strong (house)work ethic

Looks like Mom had my business idea even before I did.

Continue reading

‘Is it safe?’

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‘Mommy hit me with a plate’ and other dental tales

So. I was toying with an idea for a post involving Helen Mirren, whom I adore. But I’m smack-dab in the middle of getting a crown (and I don’t mean the royal kind), and dentistry is, understandably, on my mind. So Helen will just have to keep. Shouldn’t be a problem. She’s done very nicely so far (see awesome photo for proof):Helen Mirren, looking fantastic (of course)

Too bad we can’t see her teeth.

Speaking of which.  Continue reading

Auld Lang Sally

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‘A very Harry New Year to you and yours’

The Dude and I rarely venture out on New Year’s Eve (‘Amateur Night’, he calls it. Though I think it’s really because it’s impossible to get a cab.) You can see from the rather undignified photo at the top of this post that this was not always the case. (If it looks a little blurry, that’s because it is. Unless, of course, you’ve already started celebrating. In which case, it’s really blurry.)

Instead, we like to stay in and drink champagne and watch movies then drink more champagne and watch more movies. Though one year we did drink champagne and build a paper model of the Empire State Building on the coffee table. I think watching the movies is marginally more exciting.

Speaking of which, the movie to watch on New Year’s Eve is, in my humble opinion, ‘When Harry Met Sally’. It’s one of Nora Ephron’s funniest scripts and a much more successful directorial effort on Rob Reiner’s part than Continue reading

Oh no, Danger Man

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‘Somebody’s gonna get hurt’

As some of you blog fans know (‘blog fans’; ow, how unattractive does that sound?), I was toying with the idea of writing about Scots and New Yorkers. But I thought that might be a tad incendiary, at least before The Vote. So Danger Man it is.

You’ve seen Danger Man. He’s everywhere: not riding his horse, not riding his skateboard, not riding his motorcycle.

Danger Man has kids who walk to school. He has a wife who lives on bathroom doors. He has dogs, cats, farm animals, and lots of machinery. But most of all, Continue reading