Alice doesn’t live here anymore

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‘I’m a stranger in a strange staged land.’

My Favorite Only Sister, who is a real estate agent as well as an all-around swell person, once told me that when you put your house on the market it isn’t your home anymore.

I’m pretty sure she meant that you had to stop thinking of your place as home—not that it literally would stop being home. But that’s what happened to our apartment—it got transformed into a completely alien place.

The Dude and The Child chez nous in happier days. Just a couple of years ago, in fact

I was reminded of this just yesterday when I made what was my second visit back to the City since the Pandemic hit. (I’m lucky to have been able to “self-isolate” out in the Family Place in Amagansett for the duration.) I walked into “our” apartment and was hit anew by how foreign and alien it felt—how decidedly “unhomelike” my old home feels to me now.

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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.

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The Dude thought “Leave it to Beaver” was a porn movie

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‘What happens if you grow up with no television’

Well, I suppose “no” television is somewhat of an exaggeration. I believe The Dude and his sibs (he is the fourth out of six) were allowed a soupcon of TV. Like, if there was some educational show on about, say, snakes. (Yes, that family had a reptilian bent. Read about it if you dare, in “The Year of the Snake.”)

The Dude (back left) and the rest of his clan in their living room. No TV, but they did have that De Kooning there behind Bill’s head

We Henrys considered Sea Hunt or The Wonderful World of Disney educational shows. After all, you got some geography, right? And then there was The Three Stooges. Highly educational. Curly, Moe and Larry taught my brothers all kinds of fun tricks. Nyuck nyuck nyuck. Interesting that The Dude’s parents thought TV was harmful, but thought nothing of throwing their multiple children into a car without seat belts. Ooops. That’s not fair; my parents did that too.

Me (and my Mom) in the Henry living room. Our TV (uncharacteristically dark) serves as a festive backdrop for a flurry of Christmas-gift unwrapping

We spent many a happy hour stretched out on the carpet in front of a room-dominating television set, bowls of ice cream balanced on our tummies or a washtub of Younger-Brother-Doug-popped corn placed strategically so all hands could reach it. Along with the corn and the ‘scream, we lapped up Bonanza and Hullaballoo and Batman. I Spy and Mission Impossible. Get Smart was a fave, with jokes that often zoomed right over our heads. (See: “Agent 86”)

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I’m gonna miss Van. Shaun Cassidy, not so much

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‘I hadn’t thought about record albums in years; now they’re stuck in my mind like a Monkees tune’

Once, when The Child was, oh, eleven or twelve, she happened to be standing in front of the bookshelf — probably looking for the chess pieces, bless her smarty-pants heart — when she pulled out one of the large square objects pictured below and asked, “What is this?”

When I told her it was a “record album” she looked totally and completely blank. So I said, “You use them to play music. With a turntable.” Seeing her still-baffled countenance, I added, “kind of like an earlier version of a CD.” “Aaaah,” she remarked. “I get it. And look: there’s much more room for liner notes!”

I’ve had record albums on my mind lately because, as you probably know by now (and maybe are tired of hearing about), The Dude and I are in mid-life downsizing mode. Going from a respectably-sized New York apartment to, basically, a Barbie-and-Ken playhouse. We’re talking telescoping down from 1600 sq. ft. to, oh, 350. Give or take a square foot — or toe.

Barbie’s playhouse kitchen. Yup, that’s a two-burner stovetop

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My Main Squeeze

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‘He’s about to get squeezed a whole lot tighter.’

When folks from my former homeland, The Great American Midwest, visit me here in New York, they are apt to be amazed by how little space we New Yorkers inhabit.

“Where is the rest of it?” questioned one dearly-beloved sister-in-law, when visiting our apartment for the first time. “This is your kitchen?” exclaimed another equally-beloved SIL. (No, I am not being ironic; I do in fact love these two sis-in-laws, in spite of the fact that their homes are vastly more vast than mine.)

The Dude and I share a meal in the dining-room-living-room-office-music-room of our first apartment

I find this interesting because, on a New Yorker scale, this apartment — where I am sitting right now at my sunlit desk cum china cabinet — is considered rather comfortably large. It’s what they call, in Real-Estate-Agent-ese, a “classic six”. That means it has six rooms: living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a “maid’s room”. Honest. These pre-war (that’s WWII, and yet another example of colorful NYC real estate lingo) apartment buildings were built when no home was complete without its maid.

That’s my desk in the background, ready for writing. That’s the table in the foreground, ready for Christmas. This is in, ahem, the big apartment we live in right now

Well, maid shmaid. What I really want to talk about today is the, well, going-backwards-ness of our personal space. As it pertains to living arrangements, that is.

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Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

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The friend who had a nanny for her dog

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‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

Please don’t play it again, Sam

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‘Living in harmony with the Piano Man’

Even the most wonderfully wacky honeymoon — spent driving around Portugal and Spain checking out caves (well, make that one cave) and mooching off Malcolm Forbes in Morocco — has to end sometime. And then you have to get back to Real Life.

Which The Dude and I did. We lived, as we do now, in an apartment here in New York City. Not the same apartment as now, though. This one was on the ground floor of the building right next door, which is an oddity I won’t get into right now, for lack of space (mine) and patience (yours).

Anyway. I mention the Ground Floor Thing because it meant that any pedestrian striding by on his or her way to work or class (hospital down the street, school across it) had a clear view through our windows of anything we happened to be doing. I remember getting our living room ready for moving in — this was before our blinds were installed — and feeling, you know, watched. I glanced up to see a whole Peanut Gallery checking out my floor-polishing technique. So we pretty much had to keep those blinds shut. Which made the apartment feel rather like that cave we visited on our honeymoon. Continue reading

The Agent of Destruction

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‘Dealing with the drama of domestic disaster’

Those of you who (virtually) tagged along on our recent African Adventure may recall that The Child proved her mettle in more mature ways than one. While we were away she dealt with a couple of disasters, a feline medical emergency and a fire in our building.

Well, she’s back in Cambridge now, dealing with her own (disaster-free, I hope) life, while we soldier on. Wombat’s crisis, except for the rather unfortunate bare patch that remains on her butt, has passed. Continue reading

Three, and you’re under the host

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‘Dorothy Parker was right about those martinis’

Lately I’ve been missing the good old days when The Child was in elementary school. No, I haven’t been missing the struggles with those terribly-hated absolutely-required socks every morning. Nor have I been missing the phone calls from the Headmistress, like the one informing me The Child had been forging her violin practice notes. (Story on that little incident coming soon. Or not.) And nope. I most certainly have not been missing discovering notes in her backpack five minutes before the bus comes that say things like ‘You may send your daughter to school today in a simple Halloween costume‘.

No, I’ve been missing the martini parties.

You see, The Child went to a Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School in New York City, whose name I choose to omit for fear of embarrassment (mine as well as the school’s). In her class were some terribly nice girls (some of whom have remained her close friends; yet another reason to omit the School Name). And there were these terribly nice parents who had this idea to throw a get-acquainted-with-the-other-parents party. These parents lived in a glamorous apartment right across from the Museum of Natural History, and they were quite sophisticated. (Still are, I’m guessing). Continue reading