“While we’re still young”

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‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.

Me, getting longer in the tooth every second I stayed stuck in Kansas City

The Child, same age as me, above, yet looking long in leg — not in tooth

Yes. I thought I was old — at 27! But, like I say, when it comes to age, everything is relative. Speaking of which, my Favorite Older Relative, my own personal mother, had three kids by the time she was 27. And she didn’t start all that young, at least not for the 1950s.

My Mom was forty when her daughter (me) got married. I was forty when my daughter was born. And see my Grampa? I’m older than he was in this picture — right now

I used to warn The Child that if she waited to give birth till she was the same age I was when I had her, I’d be too old to hold the baby. Or I might drool on it. After all, I’d be (gasp) eighty. But now I have friends who are eighty, or at least pushing it — some damned good bridge players among them — so that joke falls rather flat.

Back when Grampas and Grammas looked, well, like Grampas and Grammas. And not like my fellow bridge players

And my Mom? Well, as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, she and I are starting to, well, look a whole lot alike. People might think we’re sisters, and not mother/daughter. Or buddies. Like two Ladies of a Certain Age who like to hang out together. Which, I guess, is what we are.

Same three Henry Gals, having a great time together, as usual. Tho now I’m older than Mom was here

Speaking of hanging out with similarly-aged people, I used to babysit for one of my mother’s friends. She was (and is) a woman younger than my mom (she had little kids when my Mom had high-schoolers). Anyway, after I grew up, she kept telling me I could stop calling her Mrs. Meisenheimer and call her “Ruth”. You know, since we were both grownups. But I couldn’t do it; she was Someone For Whom I Had Worked who was a Friend of My Mother’s. So Mrs. Meisenheimer it was. Until the day I turned 60, and Mrs. M sent me a birthday card that said she thought it was about time I cut it out. So, hi, Ruth!

I want to note here that The Dude has his own version of “while we’re still young” — it’s “while we still can“. Which is what he says when we go on our adventures. We go to these exotic places — like Uganda, and Guyana, and the Amazon — to hike and search for rare birds. Sometimes these trips are arduous and even treacherous. But The Dude, bless him, insists we go “while we still can”.

And so it goes. See you next week — when, dammit, I’ll be even older. But then again, so will The Child.

The Child and BF celebrating her birthday in Boston — because why not?

Dude Man and Me celebrating my birthday in the wilds of the Amazon — because we still can

New York City. April 2019

 

 

 

Harvey and the grilled half goat head

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‘A practical joke that backfired, bigtime’

The other day the Times ran a story about procrastination. About how when you put things off it’s not really about laziness — it’s about more emotional stuff, like fear of failure.

Gulp. Got me, New York Times. I started writing this blog instead of writing a book. I told myself I actually was writing the book — only story by story instead of all at once. And that when I had enough material, I’d figure out how to magically turn it into an actual book.

Speaking of “material”, I’ve got scads of stories about growing up in the Midcentury Midwest. Check out “You Make a Better Door than a Window”

Well, that was almost five years ago. And I have yet to get my turning-this-stuff-into-a-book act together. I was talking this over with The Dude on our trip up to Boston this past weekend to help The Child celebrate her birthday. Told him I was thinking of shutting down The Blog and focusing on The Book. Then he asked the key question: “Have you run out of stories, then?”

The Child and The Dude duke it out in a game of Birthday Chess

“Oh, I’ll always have stories,” I replied. Like this one. It’s about a very colorful boss I worked with years ago. His name was Harvey. Usually I disguise the names of real figures from my past. But Harvey’s essential, well, Harveyness meant he couldn’t be anything other than “Harvey”.

I don’t have a photo of Harvey, but I do have this one of a bevy of ad beauties who worked for or with him. The pic at the top of this post was taken when he got me a promotion

Harvey was a prominent art director — he and his writer partner came up with the famous “Hilltop” commercial for Coke. The one that goes “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. He was also, well, quirky. He was from the Bronx and was such a died-in-the-wool New Yorker he made Woody Allen seem like he came from Kansas.

Harvey used phrases like (for a boring TV idea): “I gotta tell ya; it lays there like a lox.” Even more boring? “It’s Wheatena. High praise would be: “You took a flower and made it a meadow.” Harvey was so New Yorky, he once got a ticket in LA for jaywalking.

Speaking of LA, this was back when working in advertising was really fun. So fun, in fact, that I have a story titled “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On”, which you can read when you’re done with this one. (Or in my book, if I ever figure out how to make it happen.)

Me, back in those Fun Days. The shirt is from a studio in LA. Yes, I am wearing it tucked into sweatpants

Yes, I have a zillion LA Ad Stories. Like “Eenie Meanie, Chili Beanie, the Spirits Are About to Speak”. Oh, and one that everyone seems to get a kick out of is a tale of Ad Revenge called Karl Malden’s Nose”.

But today’s story takes place in New York. As I mentioned, advertising was way fun way back then. It still might be, I suppose, if you enjoy open-plan offices and working all weekend on internet banner ads. But I digress.

One of the Fun Things we did was have Group Dinners. That’s when our Creative Group would eat out in some fun restaurant and our Creative Director Boss (in this case, Harvey) would pick up the tab.

Harvey was treating us to dinner somewhere in Little Italy — I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember the name of the place; Perugia maybe? — anyway, we were in this restaurant with a linoleum floor and big long communal tables and waiters who didn’t speak English.

We’re going around the table, placing our orders. There were about a dozen of us, including these two guys, Shap and Gruen, a great art director/writer team and also very funny. (Yup, those are also their real names, because why not?) Anyway, Shap and Gruen decided to play a joke on Harvey.

While everyone was talking and laughing and carrying on, Ad-Fun-Style, S and G surreptitiously ordered Harvey a grilled half goat head.

Well. We continue to talk and laugh and carry on, and pretty soon this waiter brings over an honest-to-god half goat head plopped on a big ole plate. It looks like someone sliced this poor goat’s head right down the middle and, well, grilled it — eyes, tongue, nose, the whole (well, half) darned thing. And it looked like it because that’s what somebody actually did, darn it. Grilled a half goat head.

Shap and Gruen are seated on either side of Harvey and they’re thinking this is pretty funny when Harvey goes, “Capozelle! My favorite!”

He then proceeds to eat said Capozelle, enjoying it lustily while offering choice tidbits to his neighbors Shap and Gruen. “Here, try the eye — it’s the best part!

I guess you could say that Harvey, um, got their goat.

And that maybe I should leave this one out of The Book.

New York City. March 2019

Happy Birthday to my Selfie

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‘Reflections on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.’

Honest Injun. I was going to write a piece about iPhones and ringtones anyway. But as I was reading the Times (er, procrastinating) with my zillionth cup of coffee, I happened upon the news that the iPhone came out ten years ago today.

My my my. It seems like just yesterday that I was sharing a (very tiny, so it’s a good thing we got along) freelance office with an art director I dubbed Svenska Boy, who was the very first person of my acquaintance who had an iPhone. He waited hours in line outside the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan to get it. Sigh. Technological memories are so bittersweet.

Take that early selfie at the top of this post. Please (!) It’s not only fuzzy, it’s taken in a mirror. Because the phones back then didn’t have that reverse camera. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it was there. Oh well.

Selfies before iPhones. I take a picture of my reflection with a thing called a camera. Actually it was a Flip Video Camera. Remember those?

But back to the reason I was going to write about phones in the first place. It has to do with sounds. I was at the Amagansett IGA a few days ago, stocking up for my umpteenth wave of weekend house guests, when I spied a woman who used to date one of The Dude’s cousins. (Hey, I’m alone all week. When I run into someone I know, even vaguely, they simply must be prepared for a bit of social interaction.) 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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Sixteen Candles. Plus another sixteen. Or so.

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‘Thinking flaming birthday thoughts today.’

I would light the candles on my cake this year, but I’m afraid I’d trigger the sprinkler system. I have reached a remarkable age. An age that is somewhere between ‘Can I please have a tea set for my dolls?’ and ‘Can I please leave a tea set for my Child?’

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t appreciate having a birthday. After all, as our good friend Andy (who is a heck of a lot older than me) says: ‘Any day above ground is a good day’.

Andy, in fact, doesn’t just say this. He has it printed on birthday pens and birthday tee shirts and even birthday chocolate bar wrappers. Andy is into birthdays, big time. He’s also a Trump Supporter. So there’s that.

Andy’s attitude toward the inevitable accumulation of more and more birthdays is, alas, the opposite of my own late lamented father’s. He, when wished ‘happy birthday’ (or even when not wished ‘happy birthday’, like just on any ordinary, random day) would often remark: ‘Don’t get old’. Which, um, sort of triggers a response of ‘Hmmm. Okay. But I’m kind of not into the alternative.’ Continue reading

‘Here’s your trouble’

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‘My upside-down Kit Kat Birthday’

It’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t age, we just shrivel and sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky. But we do have birthdays, whether we like it or not.

By this point in my birthday-blessed life, I’ve had all kinds: dressed-up and dressed-down birthdays in restaurants (one was at our favorite Japanese place where the waiter, dressed in a bunny costume, presents you with some fruit with a candle stuck in it) and extremely-dressed-down birthdays in jammies.

I’ve celebrated birthdays at work, on vacation, at my Mom’s. I even spent part of one natal day waiting in line at Immigration. (Taciturn customs agent checking my passport: ‘Why, happy birthday, Alice Henry Whitmore.’)

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

Sunday’s was a drinking-champagne-in-sweatpants-while-watching-the-Mets-lose-the-World-Series kind of birthday. (Sorry Mets. Maybe you should have sent me a card.) Continue reading

‘Roger did it’

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‘It’s a wonder every Middle Child isn’t an ax murderer’

To have a Middle Child in your family you need, at minimum (duh), three kids. Mine had five. We had the Big Kids (Scott and me), the Little Kids (Laura and Doug). And poor Roger — who, incidentally, just had a birthday Saturday– was the one stuck in the middle.

That's Roger, right there in the middle. Literally, and figuratively

That’s Roger, right there in the middle. Literally, and figuratively

I say ‘poor Roger’ because this is the kind of thing he’d hear all day: ‘Roger! Stop bothering those Big Kids. They have homework to do.’ Or: ‘Roger! Stop teasing those Little Kids. They might get hurt.’

Well, we Big Kids didn’t really mind our homework getting interrupted. And the Little Kids? They didn’t get hurt. Not physically, anyway. Though that Roger was a world-champion teaser/tormenter. I can still picture (and hear) him trailing Laura all around the house blowing on his trombone: ‘Blat blat blaaaaaat…blat blat blaaaaat!’ Over and over and over again. It drove her absolutely wild. Laura: ‘Moooooooom!!!!’ Mom: ‘He’s just practicing, dear.’ Laura: ‘But he won’t stoooooop!’ Mom: ‘Just ignore him.’ Like that would work.

One of the Big Kids (me) condescends to 'play' with Roger. That's Laura lurking by the picnic table. And that's Doug's playpen. (Remember those?)

One of the Big Kids (me) condescends to ‘play’ with Roger. That’s Laura lurking by the picnic table. And that’s Doug’s playpen. (Remember those?)

Poor Roger. Stuck in the middle. Not only did he get squeezed out of exclusive Big Kid and Little Kid activities, he got blamed for pretty much every naughty thing that happened:

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‘Where do you keep your cake?’

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‘Questions for my Oldest Younger Brother on his Day’

Those of you who are my Devoted Readers (bless your hearts) know by now that I like to speak softly and poke fun at my Family with a big stick. Today, because it’s your birthday, it’s your turn, King Tut (er, Scott).

It’s been a long time since you and I fought over who got the top bunk. (Yes, Scott was my first Roommate of the Opposite Sex.) And a long time, even, since you and I smuggled a motorcycle into a motel room. (I see a pattern of co-habitation here. If you readers are curious and/or titillated, you can check out that story here.)

But, back to you and your birthday. And those questions.

1. Did you recover fully from having watermelon ‘jammed down your throat’? See, when Scott was just a tyke, he, like many small children, was not into trying new, unfamiliar, or weird-looking foods. He thought that red food — tomatoes, watermelon — looked particularly unappetizing. Our less-than-patient father got particularly exasperated one hot suppertime, and told Scott to ‘try that delicious watermelon right now, or I’ll jam it down your throat’. Not sure I’d recommend this technique to some of you New Parents, but hey, it worked. Continue reading

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen birthdays

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‘But I’ve never seen James Taylor and The Dude in the same room at the same time’

If you run into James Taylor today, you might want to wish him “Happy Birthday”. Because, if you happen to be on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it’s probably The Dude that you’ve run into, and it is indeed his birthday today.

James Taylor’s was in March, and he is a few years older. But, if The Dude’s heard it once he’s heard it a thousand times: “Hey! Did you know you look just like James Taylor?!?” Who knows? Maybe people are constantly stopping JT with: “Hey! Did you know you look just like this guy called The Dude who turns up in Lutheranliar’s blog?!?”

Even James’s ex, Carly, did a double-take when she passed His Dudeness on the street one day. (I heard this straight from The Dude’s mouth. And he would never ever tell a lie, not even a Lutheran one.) And I once went to a Yo Yo Ma concert here in New York (the real Yo Yo Ma, not my invented syndrome), where guess who was a surprise guest performer? Yup. Someone who looked just like my personal husband, dressed in a very expensive-looking tux over a black tee shirt. After that, I got The Dude a black tee shirt. That’s one great look on a tall baldish guy, tux or no tux.

Enough kvelling. Let’s truck out some photographic evidence, and let you be the judge. Don’t these two look rather incredibly similar, diabolical eyebrows and all?

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Confessions of a B-Team Mom

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‘You never step in the same family twice.’

Apologies to Heraclitus, for mangling (er, adapting) his line. He said something like ‘No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.’ I’d actually never heard of Heraclitus till I googled that quote, which I had floating around in my head. (Um, brief aside: Am I the only one who thinks ‘Heraclitus’ sounds a tad, well, unseemly? Or do I just have jet lag?)

See, last Thursday was my Little Brother Doug’s birthday (he’s the guy squirming in my lap in the picture at the top of this post.) And last Friday I got to go out west to visit our Mutual Mother, who now lives in a quaint little town on the Oregon Coast. But no more of that for now.

On the endless plane ride out there, I got to thinking that, since I am almost 12 years older, Doug and I were, for all intents and purposes, raised in completely different families. (Those of you who’ve been along for my Blog Ride know by now that I am the oldest of five: Scott/Me are the Big Kids, Laura/Doug are the Little Kids, and Roger is stuck in the Middle Kid position.) Continue reading