“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears.

Back when Tentlike Tops meant One Thing, and One Thing only. Mom and Me, with future Oldest Younger Brother Scott in there somewhere

Well. After what felt like the longest elevator ride in history, we finally reached my floor. The doors open, she steps out ahead of me — and proceeds to walk down the hall to the very room where I’m headed. Yes, you guessed it. She was also an Advertising Judge. And, as the panel consisted of only five of us, it turned out to be three very long days of judging.

I had broken one of my mother’s cardinal rules. Which is don’t assume anything. Do not ask Certain Questions unless you are absolutely sure of the answer. Unless that be-tented woman is lying on that elevator floor timing her contractions and panting it is best not to ask “When is your baby due?” And maybe not even then.

Which of these women is preggers? You can guess, but never ever assume

Another example, speaking of babies, is if you see one accompanied by a Woman Of A Certain Age. Do not assume said baby is her grandchild. Do not make well-meaning remarks about the pleasure of grandkids and how you can play with them and just hand them back when they poop. If you do, even if that Woman looks older than dirt, it could very well turn out that she’s the mother — and she won’t be pleased. (This happens a lot in New York, where Older Mothers, of which I am one, abound.) If you absolutely must say something, ask “What’s your baby’s name?” If it’s the mom, you’re fine. If it’s the grandmother, you’ve made a friend for life.

Grandma? Or Mom? Trust me, in New York City you wouldn’t want to guess

I have firsthand experience of how an Open Mouth can get stuffed. Once I took the about-seven-year-old Child to a podiatrist for some reason I can’t recall. What I do recall is the look on The Child’s face when she was asked while being escorted to the exam room, “Do you want your Gramma to come in with you?”

Is that a Gramma? In the good old days, it was easier to tell. But you still wouldn’t want to guess wrong, now would you?

I don’t think I have to tell you not to ask people’s ages. (I certainly hope not, anyway.) One time, when I was on (a very long) line at the Brazilian embassy to get a visa, an official-looking gentleman approached and asked, “How old are you, Ma’am?” When I recovered and coughed up the number, he told me that my answer got me punted to the front of the line. But, unless you work for the Brazilian embassy, I’m telling you: don’t go there.

What I look like when someone asks me how old I am

And while I’m on this topic, don’t — repeat don’t — ask anyone if they “want the Senior Discount”. Trust me. If someone wants the Senior Discount, he or she will ask for the Senior Discount. Are you listening, Movie Ticket Seller Girl?

Before I wrap this up, let me tell you about another foot-in-mouth pitfall that looms now that I’m in the age group that gets asked about the Senior Discount. Say you run into the female half of a couple you’ve seen off and on socially over the years. Don’t — just don’t — ask “How is your husband?” Because, more likely than not, she’ll answer, “He died.”

And remember, when in doubt, just repeat to yourself the immortal words of my marvelous mom, “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”

My Mom, who is wise beyond her years. Don’t ask — she’ll jolly well tell you if she wants the Senior Discount. Or the cat

New York City. November 2018

 

The first time The Child rode the subway

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‘Featuring a darned good “Lutheran Lie”, if I do say so myself’

First thing Monday morning I took part in a nature walk in Central Park. Our little group was listening, rapt, to our leader, an architectural historian no less, when a rat the size of a healthy young chihuahua weaved its way between our collective feet and disappeared under an ornamental shrub.

Me, the morning after my Close Encounter of the Rattus Kind. (Those are actual dogs frolicking in the background)

No one flinched. Though our leader, after a beat, did say, “They’re okay off-leash until 9:00.”

This whole blasé-about-rats thing got me thinking about New Yorkers and how we get used to just about anything. And how sometimes it takes some fresh eyes to, well, see things “fresh”.

Like the time The Child was introduced to the subway.

The Child, subway-ready, tatts and all

She was about three or maybe four years old at the time. Now, I realize that for some of you fellow New Yorkers out there who read my stories (bless you a thousand times), “three or maybe four” may sound rather long in the tooth for a first-time subway rider. After all, I see babes in arms — and in carriers and strollers — all the time “down there”.

But our little family had the advantage of living fairly close to all the stuff The Child needed to get to, like classes (“science” at the 92nd Street Y!) the Central Park Zoo (ahem, “Wildlife Conservation Society”) — even her assorted “playdates” (don’t get me started, but please see my piece “I’m watchin’ him!” for my views on this aspect of Modern-day Child-raising.)

And for the stuff she needed to get to that was too far to walk to, she and I — or she and The Dude, or even she and Our Caregiver — would take the bus. (Little kids love the bus. One can be driven quite mad in Manhattan, at least mid-day when I’m riding, by the chorus of little voices squeaking “The wheels on the bus go round and round” over and over and over.)

No, I don’t have a photo of The Child on a bus. But I do have this one (and the one at the top of this post) — of her on a cable car. Which is perhaps even more fun, depending on whether you’re the Child or the Parent

Also, little kids can look out the windows on the bus. “Look, Honey. There’s a policeman on a horse.” “Look, Sweetie. There’s a lady with a snake around her neck.” “Look, Doll. (Or maybe not.) There’s a man running up Second Avenue wearing only fishnet hose and sneakers.” All actual bus-window sightings, I might add.

Oh, sure. The subway does have windows, but there’s not much to look at except other subways whooshing by. Which actually is pretty cool, come to think of it.

But I digress. Back to The Child and her first subway ride.

I was working in advertising, literally on Madison Avenue, since that’s where DDB/Needham was at the time, when I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. A party where children were invited. (Trust me, this hardly ever happens in the world of advertising. Or at least not back in the crazy booze-and-controlled-substance-fueled days when I was in it. So how could I refuse?)

This party was to take place down in SoHo. And the best way to get to SoHo from Madison Avenue, or just about anywhere in New York City, actually, unless you happen to be in SoHo already, is by subway.

How New Yorkers get around — to The Village, in this case. Which is equally as subway-a-rific as SoHo to this Upper East Sider

So I get Our Caregiver to bring The Little Cherub (AKA The Child) to my office, where I tell her we’re headed to the subway.

“What’s the subway?” she asked. (Seriously; I guess all her Little Friends walked and bussed everywhere too.) “It’s a train that runs under the ground” I answered. “Under the ground? Doesn’t dirt get in it?” “Well, um, yes. Actually, it does.”

We get to the subway entrance and descend. It really is a “hole in the ground”, as the song “New York New York” would have it. The Child is fascinated — staring with wide little child eyes at everything: the buskers, the panhandlers, the hapless crowds of exhausted commuters. She’s thrilled when I let her put the token in the slot in the turnstile, since this was well before MetroCards. (Gosh, Child, you’ve reached the age when you can do that “way back when I was a kid” thing!)

The Child, “way back when”, on a slide. No, it’s not a slide that goes into “a hole in the ground”, thank goodness

Did I mention that it was Rush Hour? Now Rush Hour in Manhattan is not nearly as bad as those pictures you’ve seen of Rush Hour in Tokyo, where guys in uniforms push people onto the crammed cars with white-gloved hands. But it’s pretty close.

And, speaking of close, that’s how we’re “arranged” on this subway car — once The Child and I squeezed our way onto one, that is. We’re so tightly packed together that you didn’t really need to hang on to a strap (they had those then, too). The mere proximity of your neighbor kept you upright.

But, even though this subway car was packed tighter than Vienna sausages in a can, it was quiet as quiet could be — everyone was in his or her little New York After-Work Bubble, just hanging in there till they could get home already.

Except for this one little baby-duck-like voice that kept piping up. Yup, it was The Child. And she had a lot of questions. “Why isn’t anybody smiling?” “They’re busy thinking, Sweetie.” “Why does it smell so bad?” “Because you can’t open the windows, Bunny.”

And the Best Question of All, asked when she spotted a noisily-snoring man zonked out, covered with newspapers, and occupying four subway seats while everyone gave him as wide a berth as possible — “Why is that man sleeping?

Well. Here’s where that Lutheran Lie comes in. All faces expectantly turned to me as I explained, in best Mommy Fashion, “Well, Sweetheart. It’s been a long day. And people are very tired from working.

No one flinched. But I did get some pretty good smirks.

Is this the face of a Child ready for a lesson on The Homeless? Well, pardon me, but I didn’t think so. Lutheran Lie to the rescue. (If you’d like an explanation, check out “Lutheranliar explained”)

New York City. October 2018

 

My Night at The Museum with Jeff Goldblum

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‘I almost forgot my mantra’

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

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

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

First, though, a bit on Jeff.

In case you’re one of the few not already Jeff-enraptured, Mr. Goldblum was (and still is, at least for me) the Original Intellectual Hunk. He has a huge fan base; just check out this guy’s Pinterest page (!) The first time I remember seeing Jeff — and being immediately smitten — was in Annie Hall, where he had a most memorable spoken line. (Hint: it’s the line I stole for the subtitle of this piece. I promise to end with the scene itself. Kind of a Jeff Fan Reader Reward.)

Speaking of words, though, Jeff doesn’t even need them to make an impression. Check him out in Nashville as ‘Motorcycle Man’. He doesn’t say a darned thing. And who cares? (He was also very cool in The Big Chill, but I simply must stay on Jurassic Point here.)

Jeff, looking intellectual with the Big Chill Gang. Happy to see he got Third Billing — and some lines

I’m thinking Jeff might be having a bit of a renaissance — and inspiring jigsaw puzzle designers — because this year marks the 25th anniversary of the movie Jurassic Park. (Last year was the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which is a far better movie, except for the fact that it doesn’t have Jeff Goldblum in it. It doesn’t even have Jeff Bridges in it. I guess I have a ‘thing’ for Jeffs.)

Anyway, Jurassic Park holds up pretty well. I watched it again just the other night. The dinosaurs are still pretty scary (unlike the animatronic shark in Jaws, which, in my opinion, Speilberg should have scrapped), and there are some nifty scenes with them stomping around and chomping on bad guys. One especially nice touch is when the really big dino bites right through an outhouse where the Cowardly Guy Who Abandoned the Kids is hiding. I really don’t like whiney kids in movies, and these two are pretty whiney. (Even whiney kids don’t get chomped in Spielberg films, more’s the pity.) But Guys Who Abandon Them certainly do.

My kid, The Child, at about the age when this story takes place. She was (mostly) not whiney

Side note about those kids. One of them, Joseph Mazzello, was cast in an Alpha-Bits commercial I did way back in my Ad Days. This was before Joe-as-child achieved lasting fame as dinosaur bait. (Check out the almost-fatal hide-and-seek scene in the kitchen! It’s fabulous!)

Me, far right, at about the age I was making Alpha-Bits commercials

So. Jurassic Park was a huge hit. Even though Laura Dern’s character does not have the good sense to fall for Jeff’s Ian Malcolm. Who, in my humble opinion, is far more interesting/sexy/appealing than watery old Sam Neill.

JP was such a huge hit that fans begged for a sequel. Or maybe it was the studio who was doing the begging. Whatever, a sequel was made, and Jeff was in it. It was called The Lost World: Jurassic Park. (It too was successful, so much so that the studio went on to make many more JPs. Though Jeff lost interest and moved on. As did I.)

But I was interested enough back in 1997 to go to a members’ only evening that was held at the Museum of Natural History. This was an event for families, where kids could check out dinosaurs (natch), but also dabble in some science. I was like, “oh that sounds sort of interesting” until I noticed Jeff Goldblum’s name on the invitation.

See, the Museum quite smartly deduced that a co-promotion with Whatever Studio Brought Out Jurassic Park was a “great fit”. It also did wonders for their attendance figures, as I recall.

But for us (well, me anyway) the Draw was Jeff. The Dude and I grabbed our invitation, grabbed The Child, and off we went.

Me, at a Museum of Natural History party. But, alas, not with Jeff. That’s another Hunky Guy named Teddy

I don’t, alas, have photographic evidence of this event. But I am happy to report that Jeff was, if anything, even hunkier in Real Life. (Many movie stars are surprisingly small when encountered in Real World; see my story “The Jerk and The Dude” for proof.)

Another photo of The Child at about Museum Party Age. Because why not? Oh, that’s not a dinosaur she’s playing with

Jeff was tall, he was buff, he had lots of (real) hair and wonderfully white teeth. (He smiled a lot, so you could catch them gleaming.) He was also super nice. He even helped the kids — including mine — make those volcanoes where “smoke” comes out when you combine baking soda and vinegar.

Aaaah, science. So sexy.

Well, that does it for my Jeff Encounter. OK, maybe it wasn’t of The Third Kind. And maybe it wasn’t as star-studded as my Steve Martin Experience. But it did make a greater impression on me than my Vladimir Horowitz Thing. And it was definitely a more positive memory than my #metoo moment with James Toback.

Here, as promised, is that Annie Hall Jeff Clip. (Watch it and drool.) See you next week — maybe at the movies, if not at the Museum of Natural History.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

The time I lost my office and found myself on TV

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‘I make a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance in a British documentary’

Last week I attended an event called, I kid you not, The Ogilvy Ancients reunion. This was a nice luncheon held sort of in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the ad agency I worked for longest and to whom I owe my funniest ad-biz stories. (See ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’, ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’, ‘My Head Feels Funny’, or practically anything in the tab labelled Adland Lore for hilarious examples.)

I’m thinking this reunion was called ‘Ogilvy Ancients’ because the organizers believe in truth in advertising. Though none of us in the room were on hand when the late great David Ogilvy founded the place in 1948, many of us in attendance could easily identify with the characters on Mad Men. Honestly, there were four people at this shindig who started at the agency in the fifties. (No, I was not one of them. Though I do admit to being alive in the fifties.)

D. O. Himself holding forth at my very first Agency Christmas Party — which was not in the fifties. OK, ok, it was in the seventies. (Same diff, you say)

I don’t think I was the only one at this ‘do’ who had worked in all three Ogilvy New York locations, but I’m thinking there weren’t many who could make that claim. I started out (see ‘Take a Letter, Miss Henry’ for deets) at the Original Ogilvy on Madison Avenue, next door to which was the infamous watering hole Rattazzi’s, which was the model for the bar on Mad Men. Everybody used to go to this bar after work — even the married guys who commuted to Connecticut or Westchester. (Actually, they were the ones you could count on to always be there.) Little weenies were served with big drinks, and Ideas were, quite literally, thought up and scribbled down on cocktail napkins.

But I digress. This Gathering of Ancients took place in Ogilvy’s current location, which is a converted chocolate factory on the Way West Side of Midtown. There wasn’t much there before — except for car dealerships, crumbling wharfs, and other disused factories — but now it’s the kind of nabe you’d want to live in if you were, say, a hipsterish 25. It’s cool and trendy and somewhat spotty — you can still nod ‘hello’ to confused-looking halfway-house residents on your walk from the subway — kind of like non-Colonial Williamsburg (the Williamsburg that’s in Brooklyn) used to be before it got full of strollers. Continue reading

Working for Doctor Dude

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‘The job I was just not cut out to do’

I’ve worked at a lot of jobs, over a lot of years. I worked at ad agencies in New York and, before that, in the Midwest. Before that I worked at my hometown newspaper. And before that I was a babysitter. Heck, I’ve even worked as a “cleaning lady” — and not just in my own house. Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I ‘did’ my Dad’s office back when I was a kid in grade school. (I can’t remember what we got paid, if anything.)

But nothing I had worked at before in all my many years of working prepared me for serving as a receptionist in my husband-the-doctor’s office.

Yup, The Dude is a doctor. An eye doctor (an ophthalmologist), in fact. If you’re going to be a doctor, it’s a pretty good kind to be. For one thing, there are hardly any emergencies. No matter how often your mom warned you, it’s really not that often that kids poke each others’ eyes out with pointy sticks. Another thing that’s good, at least from The Wife’s perspective: no one gets naked. Nope, you’ll hardly ever hear an eye doctor say “Let’s get that top off; I need to examine your retinas.”

The Dude’s extremely adorable office mural, made for him by the extremely adorable Child

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The Pick-up Artist

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‘The ole Creep-O-Meter gets a workout on the streets of New York’

I bet I still have his business card stashed away in a drawer somewhere. Yup. I was in my twenties, fresh off the ‘boat’, as it were, when I was approached by James Toback, former sort-of-famous writer/director and now much-more-famous sexual predator.

I’m not going to show you a photo of this extremely creepy guy, partly because you might be eating your lunch or something (he’s pretty gross-looking now, and he didn’t ‘present’ much better thirty-odd years ago either, trust me) and partly because I can’t find a public-domain picture of him. If you haven’t seen the news, you can read about his ‘technique’ in the full L.A. Times story by clicking here (Warning; there is a photo of him). 

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Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens. Continue reading

“Eenie Meanie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak”

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‘The time Rocky starred in a Hershey commercial’

I was all set to write about the origins of the Henry HooHah when, oh no, I saw in the Times that June Foray had died.

I’ll be back. Tune in next week for the origins of the HooHah

Now the name “June Foray”, no doubt, does not ring a bell. But for those of you, like me, who grew up watching the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’, you’ll know her as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, AKA ‘Rocky’. (Yup, Rocky was a girl.)

Now, it may be hard for those of you who did not grow up watching this show to understand not only how hilarious it was, but also how, um, culturally pervasive. Well, at least at my house. We kids would torture each other — and our parents — by endlessly repeating the show’s catch phrases, “Eenie meanie chili beanie” being just one example. And the puns? Ouch. Here’s the Times, from that juicy June obit:  Continue reading

HooHah Time is Story Time

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‘The one about the Big Midwestern Paper Company’

First, big fat apologies for being late with my story this week. I was Out West for a big ole family reunion (referred to in my fam, with infinite fondness, as a ‘Henry HooHah’). Many adventures were had which I honestly do not have the time nor the photos (yet) to go into right now, including a last-minute extra bonus day with my Favorite Sister Laura, courtesy JetBlue:


The one thing I can report right now is that, yes, many amusing stories were told at this HooHah, most while holding a glass of wine, and sometimes, if the story-teller was really really lucky, with an extremely cute baby in his or her lap.

Me, mid-story, no doubt, pacifying fussy-yet-still-adorable teething baby with nice cold wine bottle (chewy rubber spatula not having done the trick)

Oh, before I forget. The picture at the top of this post — the one showing me not really smoking but scaring my teensy niece by pretending to do so, was taken at one of the very first Henry HooHahs, held in Amagansett in, oh, I’m thinking, the early 90s. Yes, I was telling a story at the time. The one about the Chicago Manicurist shouting “Hold on to your son!” after being frightened by the sight of Middle Younger Brother Roger wearing a beret. (Someday, maybe, I’ll tell this one. But it involves using an accent, in a non-PC way at that, which would be tricky to relay in a blog post.) Continue reading

Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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