No, you don’t have to put your white bucks away after Labor Day.

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‘Not if you never even got them out in the first place.’

Perhaps some Labor Day will roll around when I won’t say how amazed I am that it’s already Labor Day. But somehow I don’t think so.

In fact, I think my tendency to mutter such things as “boy, this summer sure went fast” and “I can’t believe it’s September already” will only get worse. I have this theory about why time  seems so much shorter and goes so much faster the older you get. See, when you are twenty, ten years is half of your life. When you’re my age, ten years is, well, I won’t get all mathematical, but the fraction would end in an “eenth”.

Me, back when I bought the white bucks. When ten years was still a significant chunk of my already-lived life

Not that I mind. I rather like that time is now so pacey. The calendar rolls along in such high gear that if I get stuck doing something I’d rather not do, I just know that whatever it is will be over in no time. And then I’ll get to complain about it. Dental work? A blink in time. Delay at La Guardia? A mere pause in the clock. Excruciatingly bad musical theater? Well, there was the show last season that had me counting the fake bricks in the scenery. But even that ended, and now lives on as a party anecdote.

When I do feel rather gobsmacked by time’s ever-increasing rapidity, is when I, say, look in my closet and realize that I never even wore my white bucks — and now it’s time to put them away till next summer.

Gosh. White bucks would have looked pretty nice with that stripey-shirt-topped outfit. But I bet I was wearing my blue Birkenstocks. Which I, um, don’t put away. Ever

I know a couple of extremely astute women who run a website called lustre.net who claim that you can wear basically what you want to wear — white, and (I’m assuming) white bucks included — whenever the heck you want to wear it, calendar be darned.

Well, I respect these women and their mission, but I’m gonna stow the white bucks. I figure wearing them could go either way. Either people on the street will think I am original and daring and brave and funky and fun. Like, you know, Betsey Johnson. Who is ten years older than me and wears tutus. Often.

Or (more likely) they’ll think I’m a batty old lady who doesn’t know better than to switch to the brown bucks, already. (Yes, I have brown bucks; bucks and brogues of all shades and degrees of shininess are quite the Thing among women of my set — or at least in my personal closet.)

Incidentally, I thought about going to my closet right now and taking a picture of my bucks and brogues to share with you. But, nah. That would be a seriously batty old lady thing to do. That picture at the top is the closest I’ll get — that’s me (or my feet, anyway) modeling my other Summer Footwear of Choice: flipflops. Which The Child taught me to say rather than “thongs”. For reasons embarrassingly obvious to her then-teen self but not to me, until she ‘splained it. (“Thongs” are underwear, Mom!”)

Speaking of underwear. Speaking of embarrassing. Fortunately, those aren’t thongs

Well, enough about me and my closet and my unworn white bucks. It’s time to bid both you — and the summer — adieu.

What I’ll miss even more than not wearing my white bucks: not getting to see summer sunsets like this one until next year

New York City. September 2019

 

 

The Summer Selfie, Seventies Style

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‘Taking a look–and a photo–back in time’

It’s funny how genetics works. My Dad was a numbers guy; a civil engineer who worked with a slide rule designing bridges and roads. My Mom was a science-y person too; she was a nurse who in another time and place would surely have been a doctor.

My siblings and I? Not so numbers-y, science-y. My Only Sister is a writer turned real estate agent, my Middle Younger Brother a filmmaker, my Oldest Younger Brother a photographer. And me, you know enough about former copywriter ad girl me.

The only one who followed that science-y path? My Youngest Younger Brother, a neuroscience nerd turned optometrist, who in grad school was studying the effect of cocaine on the brain. Or maybe it was heroin. Whichever. All I remember is that he had to go to the lab several times a day to make sure the rats got their “fix”. I also remember that he would joke that he wanted to outfit the rats with itty-bitty doo-rags and switchblades.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug takes a houseboat break from his lab-rat drug-dealing duties

So anyway. Enough with the genetics. The reason I’m going on about this is that my Photographer Brother, recently retired from his news-photography career and looking for something to do besides go on zillion-mile bike rides every day with his gorgeous squeeze in the equally-gorgeous countryside around his home in Marin County, has started sorting through his photo files dating back to 1965.

Said Scott, “I just bought a new scanner…this should be interesting”

This new scan-gajillions-of-photos project reminds me of something Scott said when our Dad was presented with a computer at his retirement party: “There go the roses.”

Dad was a prize-winning rosarian. Until he got that darned computer. (Note: Scott probably took this photo too)

Well, I don’t know if Photo Bro has any new-hobby-endangered roses, but he has been busily posting discoveries from his stash almost daily. He generously posts them on a family share site for my sibs and I to enjoy.

Photo Bro (in middle) at some forgotten wedding with my Dad and his brother, my Uncle Mike

Invariably, when I check the site I find not only great photos (my bro was and is an excellent photographer who has had his work published in the New York Times, among other places) — but visual evidence of times and places and people that I have forgotten all about. It’s kind of scary that I have such big memory lapses. Almost as scary as seeing myself looking so, well, young.

Impossibly-young-and-almost-unrecognizable-me (again) with Youngest Younger Bro and Only Sister. This time I was the one who remembered the occasion; Scott didn’t

The picture at the top of this post is a perfect example. Not only had I no recollection of what the heck was going on in this photo, but I did not recognize myself. Honestly, I had to show the picture to The Dude and have him verify my identity. “Sure, that’s you,” he said. “Who else could it be?”

Our houseboat, the Sir-Launch-A-Lot (seriously; that was its name) pulled up to a sandbank on this day of photo fun

When I asked my brother was what going on, he said that he had brought a 20-foot cable release home to Carlyle (the town where we were raised and where this lake with our houseboat on it is located) and had us all snap “selfies” with it. (If you look closely at the houseboat shots, you’ll notice we’re holding something with a black cord on it. That’s the cable release.)

Even Mom and Dad got into the act. Note what Dad is holding. Besides Mom, I mean

So heck. I don’t remember this outing, or taking these “selfies”, or even that it’s me in that photo up there. But at least I don’t put the carton of Haagen-Dazs back in the microwave instead of in the freezer like certain Other People Who Shall Remain Nameless did just yesterday.

Amagansett, New York. September 2019

The Back-Up-Plan Beau

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‘I promised to marry him in 5 years — and clean forgot’

So I was swiping through the New York Times the other morning (I get the paper on my iPad while out here in Amagansett, hence the ‘swiping’) and saw a piece in the Modern Love column called “Let’s Meet Again in Five Years”.

Well. I’d barely started reading the darned thing — which is about these college sweethearts who “thought college was too soon for lifelong love, so they scheduled their next date for a little later”, like five years — when these little bells started going off in my head.

Gosh, I remembered all in a rush, there once was a guy, way back when, who made a plan like that with me. Except that it wasn’t a college sweetheart, and we didn’t schedule a date — we agreed to marry each other in five years.

It happened like this.

I was, in those days, the Head Creative Director of an advertising agency in Kansas City. Now, I don’t mention my big fancy title to impress you. After all, it was a very small agency, and in Kansas City to boot. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Kansas City, mind you. But, as far as advertising goes, let’s just say they didn’t set Mad Men on the Country Club Plaza.)

That’s me, acting all Head Creative-Directory for a company brochure

I mention my big fancy title so you’d understand why I got sent to a big fancy advertising conference in, of all boondoggley places — Aspen, Colorado. Now, for those of you who didn’t work in advertising back when advertising did things like this, a “boondoggle” is a “business trip” that is “coincidentally” held in a wonderful location. Like later, while at Ogilvy, I got sent on a multi-city tour to sample fried chicken. (I was working on the Shake ‘n Bake account at the time.)

This time I got sent to this gorgeous place — Aspen — to “confer”. I remember that the first thing I did when I got there — this was on the getting-to-know-you “Free Day” — was go on a white-water rafting trip. (We could also choose golf or tennis; this was summer, so skiing wasn’t an option.) The guide warned us that one of us was sure to get launched into the water, and, when it happened, to immediately curl up into a ball so our limbs wouldn’t snap off on the rocks. Well, guess who the lucky launchee was on that trip?

Well, after I dried off and spruced up, I launched myself into a two-day white-water whirl of talks and panel discussions and conference-related whatnot.

It was during the last event on the last day — a send-off, see-you-maybe-someday cocktail party — that I met this Incredibly Handsome Guy.

I don’t have a picture of the Incredibly Handsome Guy. So, what the heck, here’s another bosslike shot. This is me sandwiched between my bosses, the two guys who ran the agency

Where had This Guy been all conference long? He not only was “important” enough to be attending a meeting like this, but he had the most amazing Paul Newman blue eyes and black hair. (He told me later he was “Black Irish”, which, you can imagine, sounded unspeakably exotic to a Midwestern Girl like me.)

We got to talking about, of all things, running. This was back in the Seventies, you see, when running was a pretty sexy sport. Talking running talk back then was kind of like chatting about Brooklyn Boulders. Hot stuff.

We were well into a swooningly interesting conversation about marathon training techniques (I was training for my first marathon, happening that Fall in Kansas City), when it was time to part. We exchanged smoky looks and business cards and went back to our respective cities. (He lived in Santa Barbara.)

I don’t have a photo of me running in the Kansas City Marathon. But here’s me a year later, running my first New York Marathon

Speaking of running, I’ll cut to the chase. Back in Kansas City, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy. So I bought a copy of a then-popular book about great places to run in cities all over the country, paper-clipped a note inside (“Let’s get together and do a little running around”) and sent it to him. (I had his business card, remember?)

Well. The next thing I know, I’m opening an envelope from him. Inside is a plane ticket to San Francisco.

Honest. I could not, as they say, make this up.

Of course I went. We clicked like crazy, and had a wonderful time. We even did a little running. A few months later he came to visit me in New York — where I had relocated, having gotten a taste of The World Outside Kansas City on that conference. (The story of my relocation is a pretty good one, too. It’s called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.)

Now, it might seem hard to believe in this day and age, but back in those Wild and Crazy Seventies, young people like me — and the Incredibly Handsome Guy — weren’t exactly what you would call monogamous. So, while IHG and I were conducting our long-distance relationship — him coming to New York; me going to Santa Barbara — we were, of course, “seeing other people”.

So. We didn’t promise each other unfailing loyalty. But we did get along so well and liked each other so much that we made a pact that we would get married in five years.

Well, I don’t know what happened with the Incredibly Handsome Guy (bless him, I don’t even remember his name), but I kept my half of the bargain. Because, yes, I did, in fact, get married in five years. Just not to him.

And here’s the Dude who made me forget

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

Only if the plane was on fire

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‘When Whitmores say something is “exciting”‘

There’s a scene in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies (I’m thinking it’s Annie Hall) where Woody’s character asks his date to name her favorite sport. She says “swimming”, and Woody says, “Swimming? Swimming’s not a sport. Basketball’s a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks!”

Well, Woody, I hear you. I feel similarly about parachute jumping. I can think of absolutely no scenario where I would jump out of a plane. Unless it was on fire — and I’m not sure I’d do it even then.

Obviously The Child feels differently. There is photographic evidence (see the shot at the top of this post) of her smiling while she’s jumping out of a plane. And guess what? She did it again a few years later with a bunch of work buddies.

Not sure if this was before or after that second jump. Those could be smiles of relief — or terror

Anyway. I bring all this up because The Child never ceases to amaze me with her daring. Though, honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised when she does stuff like jump out of planes, leap off cliffs, swing from trapezes, or face off with large animals. She is, after all, a Whitmore.

The Child, outstanding (er, squatting) in her field: staring down danger

Now, some of you are no doubt protesting, “Hey, you’re a Whitmore!” But I am a Whitmore only by marriage. The Child’s Whitmoreness flows through her very veins.

Are Whitmores daring by nature? Well, let me just say that this is a family where a Whitmore Mom (our beloved Aunt Eleanor) would drive her small sons and their equally small cousin (Wayne, the future Dude) out into the Montauk woods and drop them off to fish and camp on their own. She’d return in a day or two and toot the horn, never worrying for a second that they wouldn’t come running. And this was when they were, oh, eight or nine years old. 

As you can see, these Whitmore cousins, seen here at around the age they camped solo, weren’t afraid of (shudder) snakes either

Don’t get me started with snakes. I’ve written whole pieces devoted to the Whitmores’ reptilian fascination. (You can read a really slithery/funny one called “The Year of the Snake”, if you are so inclined.)

Let’s just say that, early on in our relationship, I learned that when a Whitmore says something is “exciting” and asks if you want to participate in said “exciting” activity, you should always always shake your head ruefully and say that, unfortunately, it’s your day to wash your hair or brush the cat or paste in Green Stamps. Anything, anything but join in on something “exciting”.

If your Whitmore Friend jumps off a cliff, should you jump too? Not if you don’t want to break a vertebra. Which that guy up there on the right did

I learned this when The Dude asked if I wanted to go for a Hobie Cat ride. “Sure!” I inanely said, not stopping to think that a catamaran ride on the ocean with a Whitmore would be any scarier than a ride on a lake with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. After the ride, when I remarked, breathless and wet, that I was “afraid we were going to turn over there for a sec”, and The Dude answered “I was trying to tip over” — well, let’s just say that I learned the true meaning of the Whitmore term “exciting”.

Yup. That’s The Child. (The one wearing a top and dangling)

I bring all this up because The Child just completed yet another “exciting” adventure: she hiked a 220-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail (called the John Muir Trail). It took her 20 days, and she did it alone.

The Child, with just a bunch of rocks for company, somewhere along the John Muir Trail. It’s a selfie, of course

I wasn’t rigid with fear (well, not rigid, anyway) because we could follow her progress every day via the wonders of satellite tracking. But even without GPS, I like to think I wouldn’t have worried too much. She’s a pretty capable kid. And besides, I had plenty of wine on hand.

We could even “see” where she was with aerial views like this one where she’s camped by a frozen lake

She made it to the end of the trail and capped off her achievement with a nighttime hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, which she reached in time to watch the sunrise.

Speaking of “made it to the end”, I think I’d better wrap this up and go get some coffee myself. But before I go, here’s a couple of examples of the kinds of “exciting” things I’ve been dealing with this summer.

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand

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‘Yes, we have no bananas’

I miss The Bonacker. Especially when I get a craving for corn.

The Bonacker was this crusty old guy who’d set up a card table on the grassy verge of the road near the power station and pile it with sweet corn that he’d haul over every morning in from, I’m assuming, his farm.

I don’t have a photo of The Bonacker, but he was a dead ringer (no pun intended) for my Grampa Henry. Come to think of it, I never saw them on the same tractor at the same time

I’m assuming he was a farmer because he sold corn. But other Bonackers (AKA “Bubs”) were baymen who, instead of hauling corn, would “haul-seine”) bluefish and sell them right on the beach. Actually, many men of the Bonacker persuasion did both. They also raked clams which their wives would make into clam pies. (I have never tasted a clam pie, and have no plans to do so.)

But I did taste — and savor — my share of Bonaker corn. I’d stop by The Bonacker’s on my bike and fill up my basket. I remember it cost 10 cents an ear. If you bought a dozen, he’d throw in a bonus ear. I also remember that we rarely had any left over. Which was sort of a shame, since Corn Salad is one of my favorite creations. (You can find the recipe, which is actually more of a “method”, at “Friends, Romans, Countrymen: lend me your ears”.)

As rare as Bonacker accents at my house — leftover corn

The Bonacker was so cool that if you forgot your money (which happened to me more than once) he would simply tell you to pay him next time. As for “telling you”, understanding him could be a bit of a challenge. The Bonackers, including “my” Bonacker, spoke a dialect that harkened back to the 17th Century when the first working-class English came over.

Bonackers left out pronouns, called each other “Bub”, and pronounced “ie” like “oy”. (That clam pie would be a clam “poy”, but I still don’t want to taste it.) They also used archaic English words like “wickus” for rascal, and “cattywumpus” for, well, cattywumpus.

Now, my Bonacker may be gone, but you can still find damn good corn out here at many a farm stand. My favorite — and not only because it’s close enough that I can still hop on that same trusty (now pretty creaky) bike to go score me some — is the one I (sort of) affectionately refer to as the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand.

The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand is run by surfers. Or at least farmers who surf — or who surfed at some point

I used to call it the Twenty-Dollar Farm Stand because, no matter what I bought, it cost twenty dollars. Me: “I’ll take that piece of cheese and those cocktail napkins” Farm Stand Guy: “That’ll be twenty dollars, please.” Or: “I’d like a pint of olives and some of that fresh mozzarella.” “That’ll be twenty dollars, please.” I’d hand over the twenty I’d tucked into my sneaker and off I’d go.

This is one reason I ride my bike: Road rage at the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand. The more stuff costs, the more people want to buy it. I guess

But that was the old days. Now I need two twenties — one in each sneaker. (If the prices get any steeper, I’ll need to grow another foot — and I don’t mean in height.)

Fortunately, the items that cost the earth are usually things I don’t buy except once in a blue moon for a hostess gift — things like jams and pickles. And their pies. I haven’t seen a “clam poy” there, but their other pies are so pricey you might as well just pile some dollar bills into a crust with sugar and butter and eat that. Yum.

I’ve got to give the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand credit, though. Expensive though their items may be, they don’t sell anything that isn’t made or grown locally. Once, at a different, not-so-scrupulous farm stand, I was standing behind this Fancy City Lady when she held up a hand of bananas and asked if they were “local”.

Oh, and the F-D FS corn is still pretty reasonable (at least you don’t feel like you’re chomping on an ear made of money) — and absolutely delicious. Besides, what’s not to like about a farm stand with a dog named Blue? (See the photo featuring blue-eyed Blue at the top of this post.)

Shucking corn using a Mom-tested, Bud-fueled method

And, speaking of methods, you can find an absolutely foolproof way to cook corn by checking out “To Hell with Kale”. Honest to the Bonacker Gods, you’ll get perfect corn every time. (Hint: gin and tonic is involved.)

Wineberries. Which you cannot buy at a farm stand, even if you stuff your sneakers with twenties. But you can find them in my yard in August — if you are really nice to me

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

The time my (Austin) America let me down

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‘In the middle of my twenties in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night

Oh, and if that weren’t enough “middles”, it was also in the middle of a rainstorm.

But before I start my exciting tale of alone-by-the-roadside automotive woe, let me tell you exactly what it was that sparked this sodden, scary memory.

See, The Child is in her fourth day of a three-week hike along the John Muir Trail in California. It’s 200+ miles through High Sierra wilderness — and she is doing it alone.

The Child, on top of Half Dome, at the end of her first day on the John Muir Trail. Fingers crossed that a bear did not take this photo

A view of The Child and her 47-pound pack, pre-hike

The Dude and The Child’s friends, not being mothers, are all “wow!” and “isn’t this exciting!” and “good for you!“, while I am all “but there are bears” and “must you do this alone?” Trying to reassure me, The Child said, “But I’ll be running into other people on the trail all the time“, and I said, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

The Dude and I out on a trail in the wilderness. But with other people. And rum

Like I say, I could relate to being in my twenties and taking a trip by myself. Though mine wasn’t on the John Muir Trail, but on I-70, which is the interstate highway that I would drive from Kansas City, Missouri, where I was living at the time, to Carlyle, the small town in Illinois where I grew up.

Me with my Dad at about the time of this story. We look pretty hot and sweaty, so this must have been a summer visit

I lived in Kansas City for close on to seven years, and made that drive so many times it became easy-peasy routine. Except for this one time.

On this particular trip, I was driving my Austin-America. No, no, not the Aston Martin, which is that James Bond car. And not even the Austin-Healey, which Wikipedia says Helen Mirren drives. No, the Austin-America was a British car that was supposed to be a competitor to the VW Beetle, but wasn’t nearly as sleek, as sexy, or as reliable. Tiny, boxy, and (in my case) brown, it was probably the clunkiest car ever to park in a driveway. (Ever wonder why it is that you park in a driveway, but drive on a parkway?)

How I happened to have this car is a pretty interesting story in itself. I bought it for $800 cash from a woman who was saving up so she could flee from her abusive husband. And how did I know this woman? I worked with the husband.

I showed up, as instructed, when the hub wasn’t home. She took me in the kitchen, where I handed over 800 one-hundred dollar bills. After counting them carefully, she folded those bills and hid them inside a Ritz Cracker box, which she then put back in its spot on the shelf.

You wouldn’t be lonely for long if you broke down in the middle of this highway. Though probably no one would stop to actually help you

Me, I walked out with the keys to the Austin-America. Which I drove without major incident (except this one time I’m going to tell you about) until it finally conked out a few years later. When it did, it had absolutely no trade-in value, though I briefly considered turning it into a planter or maybe a bus shelter. It did get great gas mileage — so great I probably only had to fill it once. Which was fortunate because, among other things, the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down. Which meant I had to speak to the gas station attendant through the little flip-out wing window.

Anyway. Back to the “major incident”.

I was driving back to KC after visiting my parents. I’d lingered a bit too long in Carlyle, probably enjoying another slice of my mother’s excellent banana bread, and got a late start. So late that, when it started pouring — and in the Midwest, if it starts pouring, we mean pouring; like some Rain God is emptying a giant pitcher over your car and everything around it — it was, like, three in the morning.

I’m soldiering along though, not tired one bit, squinting through the sheets of water slashing my windshield, trying to keep my spirits up by listening to Top-40 Radio KXOK, when the car starts slowing…and slowing some more. Before it can coast to a stop, I wisely steer it to the shoulder. Where I sit. What on earth is wrong? I wondered. The lights are on, the gas tank is half full.

No one has invented portable phones, much less cellphones, so there is no way to call for help. So I turn off the engine and lock the doors — and sit there.

Me, a few years and a completely different hairstyle later, still living in Kansas City, but now with a Mercedes. And yes, there’s a story there too

This being the middle of the night, there are very few cars on the road, even though it’s an interstate. Where are all those Highway Patrol Guys when you need them? But there are truckers. And, sure enough, after about half an hour a big ole rig pulls up on the shoulder just ahead of me.

I roll down the window as he approaches the car, and explain the situation. “There’s a truck stop up ahead,” he says. “I’ll give you a lift so you can get help.”

I do see a glow of mercury-vapor lights on the horizon, and he didn’t look too terrifying, besides which I didn’t relish the prospect of sitting in a wet car all night, so — bless my heart — I got out and went with him. And sure enough, as he boosted me up to the truck’s cab, he says, “You know, I’ve got a bed in back. You’re welcome to stay here if you want.”

Gulp. I can’t remember now how I managed to gracefully get out of that one, but he did indeed take me to the truck stop where a helpful mechanic listened to my story and goes, “Oh, one of them little Brit cars, eh? They’ve got their engines mounted sideways. Which means the alternator can get wet when it rains as bad as this. You just wait till it stops. It’ll dry out, and you can drive it on home.”

Which I did. And, trust me, I never drove that car in the rain again. Not even in a sprinkle.

But back to The Child. So far, she’s shown pretty good judgment, so I just have to cross my fingers and trust that she’ll be safe out there on the Trail all alone. At least I can console myself with the thought that it’s highly unlikely she’ll run into any truckers, helpful or otherwise.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

“Why do you want to know?”

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‘How to deftly handle the odd impertinent query’

When I first moved to New York, there were quite a few things that took some getting used to. But the most startling thing wasn’t the garbage trucks clanking away at five AM or the fact that a “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar — or even that panhandlers sometimes panhandle with cats on their heads. (See “The Cat is The Hat” for hilarious details.)

Wombat, who looks exactly like the cat in “The Cat is The Hat”, perched not on my head

No, the most startling thing was the way New Yorkers were so preoccupied with how much things cost. “How much rent do you pay?” “What did that Jag set you back?” (not that I had a Jag, mind you). Even (gasp) “How much money do you make?” And it hasn’t stopped. Now that I’m no longer gainfully employed I get “How much do you have in your IRA?”

Me, when I was promoted to Vice President at Ogilvy and started making “none of your beeswax” per year

Why, when you compliment a friend with a “nice skirt” or a “wow, I just love your coat” she won’t go “Oh, this old thing?” or “This? I’ve had this for years” like a Midwesterner. No, she’ll tell you how much it cost — with emphasis on how little she paid for it. “This? Oh, this I got at Loehmann’s — on the sale rack. The once-yearly clearance sale rack. Also, it was Loyalist Day. Plus I used my Aunt’s employee discount. And had it sent to my Mom’s in New Jersey so I didn’t pay sales tax.”

Feel free to compliment The Child and/or her Gal Pal. They won’t tell you how much they paid for those party outfits — because they get them from Rent the Runway

By the time she gets done it sounds like the store paid her to take the darned thing. Which actually does happen in New York sometimes. But not to me. (Though I did score some pretty choice free items from advertising shoots. Like a Gucci suit that was used in a Pantene commercial. Seriously. It fit me — brag brag — so Wardrobe let me take it home.)

But I digress.

Back in the Midwest, where — and when — I was raised, it was considered incredibly crass to discuss money in what was called “polite company”. Sex and/or religion, too. Oh, and no politics either, at least not at the dinner table. And, unless you were a census taker or an employee of the DMV, you certainly didn’t ask anyone, especially a woman, her age.

My mom and I at my first wedding. At the time, I was almost exactly half her age. Which is so not the case today

The title of this piece is the reply that my wise — and polite — mother used to give when Some Person Who Didn’t Know Any Better would ask, “Myrna, how old are you?” She would smile sweetly and reply, “Why do you want to know?” Which would usually nip that line of inquiry right in the ole bud.

Now me, I’ve reached an age that nobody ever even asks me about anymore. No, well-meaning people just assume that I’m entitled to the Senior Citizen Discount. But I still have my little payback strategies. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but what the heck. Nowadays, when a Nice Young Person offers me a seat on the bus or subway, I smile sweetly, look down at my tummy, and say, “Oh! Am I showing already?”

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

 

To clean, or not to clean?

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‘The best way to get ready for house guests’

I remember vividly the time I was chatting happily away on the phone with my Middle Younger Brother Roger when I caught myself and said, “Darn. I’ve gotta go. Wayne’s sister and her squeeze are coming for the weekend, and I have to clean.” At which my wise brother said, “No, no. You’ve got that backwards. You don’t clean before guests come — you clean after they go.

Major crumb-producing loaf. When The Dude’s Bro visits, we go through one of these puppies each day

Well. How smart is my Middle Younger Brother? He was absolutely right. Guests — even beloved, dear, wonderful guests — make messes. Where I am, here on gorgeous Eastern Long Island (the land some folk call “The Hamptons”), guests produce not only crumbs on the countertops and hair in the showers but also sand on the floor. (And often there is sand in those showers too.)

Whattaya gonna do? It’s a sandy place

If you clean before guests come, you’re in that awful Hostess Place where you’re following your guests around with, like, a sponge or a cloth, trying to deal with crumbs and sand and whatnot, thinking “Oooooo…I just vacuumed that floor!” instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself — and them.

Big ole messy family birthday celebration. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about crumbs

Whereas, if you clean after the guests go, you’re not only less stressed, but you’re — voila! — instantly ready for your next guests. If you’re like me, and own a house in a location that’s House Guest Bait, and actually enjoy having (most) house guests (see my piece “The House Guest Hall of Fame” for some notable exceptions) — your house won’t have time to get dirty before the next batch arrives.

Why, in a two week period in June alone, I was hostess to a bunch of bridge buddies, my chocolate-factory-owning nephew and niece and their three adorable spawn, and The Child’s gorgeous girlfriends. Whew.

Girls just wanna have bread. A new loaf is back in crumb-producing action

So. Thanks to my brother, I’ve developed this system where I clean after my guests go. And I mean immediately after they go. Sometimes the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway mingles with the sound of my vacuum cleaner, I’m so eager to get cleaning.

I’m hot to get going with the vacuum and the Soft Scrub because that way I can erase any traces of their visit. See, the older I get, the more nostalgic and sad I feel when guests leave. If I have to pass by an open guest-room door and see a rumpled bed, I catch myself getting all weepy while thinking, “She was just sleeping there a few hours ago, and now I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again. *Sniff*”

A batch of beauties (AKA house guests) after I dropped them at the jitney stop. I raced home and immediately started cleaning

Why, the last time The Child was here, I had her room all spic and span and ready for her next visit before she’d reached the LIE. Probably even before they’d passed out the granola bars and itty-bitty bottles of Evian.

So, in hostessy summery summary, if you’re expecting house guests, don’t waste time cleaning. Save your energy for what’s much much more important — grocery shopping.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen Wayne

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‘The Dude by any other name would be just as sweet.’

Hmmm. Not sure if I would call The Dude “sweet”, especially after he’s come back from one of his marathon bike rides. But he is an awfully nice guy, even super-sweaty.

Good thing this isn’t Smellavision. The Dude indulges in a refreshing chunk of bread and Diet Dr. P after a zillion-mile bike ride

Now, if you’d told me when I was a mere slip of a girl that I would some day marry a guy named Wayne, I’m not sure how I would have reacted. For one thing, I didn’t know any guys named Wayne. There were certainly no Waynes who went to school with me in Carlyle, Illinois. There were plenty of Marks and Dans and Steves and Garys and even a Barry and a Stanley. But the only Wayne I’d heard of at the time was John Wayne. And he was old. Plus, Wayne was his last name. And not even his real last name. Good ole Duke was born Marion Morrison.

I have a pillow named Wayne, thanks to my Favorite Only Younger Sister. Thanks, Laura!

To be honest, I always thought Wayne was sort of a nerdy name. You know, the name of a guy whose pants are too short. Or who collects plastic dinosaurs and keeps them in his locker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Young Wayne (my Wayne), attired in appropriately-short trousers. (Also displaying seriously pilled slipper-socks — remember slipper-socks?)

Oh, and of course there are all the serial killers with Wayne as a middle name. John Wayne Gacy is perhaps the most famous.

But there are so many others that when I googled “serial killers with Wayne as a middle name”, up popped several clickable options. It appears that the Wayne-as-the-middle-name-of-a-serial-killer Thing is, well, a Thing. One was from the guy who wrote Freakonomics. He wrote a blog post called “The next time your daughter brings home a new boyfriend, be sure to ask his middle name”, which you can read here. I don’t think he’ll mind.

So whew. I’m sure glad that The Dude Man’s parents gave him Wayne as a first name. Though his family must have been somewhat conflicted about that, since he grew up with the nickname “Bone”. Which was short for “T-Bone”. His Older Brother Bill bestowed this on him because he was so skinny and, well, bony.

The Dude, looking decidedly bony, on his named-him-Wayne Dad’s lap. That’s nickname-bestowing Older Brother Bill on the right

It was his college roommate who gave Wayne the nickname “Dude”. Which was not a reference to The Dude in The Big Lebowski. (Couldn’t have been, since Dude Man was in college waaaay before that movie came out.) No, he was dubbed “Dude” because he wore a tie to the Freshman Mixer. At Dartmouth, made famous by another movie of which you may have heard — Animal House. Oh, the roommate had a nickname, too. It was “Crud”. No, I don’t know how he got this one. And I’m not sure I want to find out.

My first-and-only Wayne and I shortly after we met

Oh — before I forget — the photo at the top of this post was taken a few years ago in the Rain Room at the Museum of Modern Art. You’d wait in a long line in the heat (this was in late July/early August) and then enter this special exhibition space where it was raining everywhere except where you were walking. (There were sensors or some such.) Honestly, though, it was so hot in line that you kind of wished there would be a glitch and you’d get a little wet. The Rain Room was a cool thing to do (literally), but don’t get me started about whether this was “art”.

The Child not getting rained on in the Wayne (er, Rain) Room

Speaking of The Child. (Who also has a real name — Samantha — and no, she was not named after a character on that TV show Bewitched.) One time when she was in the midst of her Terrible Twos I happened to pass by The Child’s room where she was standing on tiptoes trying vainly to reach her stuffed Elmo who was perched just out of reach. She was screaming “Wayne…WayneWAYNE!” at the top of her lungs. She didn’t know “Wayne” was his name (that would be “Daddy”) — she just thought “Wayne!” was what you screamed when you were very very upset.

Oooops.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019