The Dude shares a bird-day

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‘Felicitations to a newly-minted 70-year-old, his cousin — and some future purple martins’

Last Thursday Dude Man celebrated a Very Big Birthday — his seventieth. (Gosh, that birthday is not only big, it’s really hard to type.)

Oh. If any of you are shocked — shocked, I say! — at my “outing” my husband’s age in this public way, let me assure you that I’ve already outed myself. I turned big ole scary 70 last November — and boldly and unabashedly wrote about it too. See my story “Skirting the Issue” for proof. (And fun party details.) See also “Doing the Math” for how one’s attitude changes upon reaching this hoary landmark.

 

Me, celebrating 70 in style — and with a heck of a lot of veuve

But enough about my birthday. We’re here to celebrate Dude Man and his 70 trips around the sun. Speaking of the sun, he happens to own a gizmo called a “sun scope” which he sets out on the second-floor deck and commandeers all and sundry to come up and squint through. Yes, you can see the sun. Okay, fine. But somehow I don’t quite get it.

The sun scope wasn’t a present. No, we’ve reached the stage in our relationship where we pretty much get what we want on our own. (Like that, um, sun scope.) Though I did get a request from The Dude. He wants a nice notebook in which to record the antics of his gift from Mother Nature — a flock of martins.

Dude Man’s martin house. There are martins in there. Finally. And yes, that’s the ocean in the background. I mean, what martin wouldn’t want to live here?

It was about fifteen years ago when The Dude got his martin house. And every year he’s cleaned it and doctored it (more gourds, fewer gourds, higher gourds) and watched over it. He’s opened the little doors, closed the little doors, mounted some of the gourds on the roof. Last year he played a loop of martin songs on an old iPhone that he rigged to a tree. (Incidentally, you can see the martin house over The Child’s shoulder in the photo at the top of this post.)

Nothing. For fifteen looooong years.

Then, this year two showed up. Then three, then four. They chased away some wren interlopers and kicked out a pair of flycatchers who’d settled in, eradicating their nesting materials with contemptuous tosses of their beaks.

And, on Dude Man’s birthday, this happened:

Martin eggs. Yes, you can lower the whole martin rig and open little doors on the gourds to look inside. The martins don’t mind. At least I hope not

Even more exciting (for me anyway) somebody else besides martins flew in. Last Sunday I got a call. Child: “Hey, what are you doing for Dad’s birthday?” Me: “I offered him a party, but he said no way. So we’re going to Smith & Wollensky.” “Really? Would it be okay if we came? It’s a Big Birthday.” “Of course you can come. He’d love that!”

News spreads of The Child and Hub joining us. But no, that bird is not a martin

Now, Her Childness lives in Flagstaff, Arizona — which is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away. Which is why I hadn’t bothered to mention this dinner to her. But guess what? She booked herself and the SIL on a flight that got in the afternoon of the dinner. And when that flight was cancelled, they drove to Tuscon to catch a flight that would get them there.

“But what about the cousin?” you may well be asking.

Here’s the cousin (in back) sharing a snake — instead of a cake — with Young Dude (in front)

This cousin — a Whitmore; no doubt he puts his hands on his hips Backwards-style — has a birthday a couple of days after Dude Man, so we often get together in Amagansett to commiserate (er, celebrate.) And this year was no exception.

The other end of the birthday table, featuring Dude and SIL — and Carvel cake

So. Birds flew in. Kids flew in. And a cousin was the icing on the cake. Happy Birthday times were had by all!

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

 

Skirting the issue

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‘Celebrating Seventy in style. A very old style.’

“I’ve got belts older than you,” one of my bosses once said, reprimanding a young whippersnapper of an assistant account executive (the lowest rung on the Suit Ladder) for having the nerve to change my copy.

Well, I’m here today — the day after my Big Old Birthday (and I do mean “old”) — to tell you that I’ve got a skirt older than you.

Yup. That’s the same skirt as the one seen at the top of this post

Yup, that apricot confection you see here in multiple fashiony iterations could very well be older than you. The Skirt was purchased back in the early nineties and played a shimmering role at many a “do” right up into the aughts. Any time we were invited to a Fancy Shindig, out it came. Because I could mix it up with various tops, it was less likely to prompt a comment like, “I remember you. I recognize that dress.

The Dress that got worn — and recognized — on numerous occasions

The Skirt got coupled with a black sweater, a gray sweater, a black velvet top, a shimmery paillette-strewn tank, a crisp white shirt, some lime brocade thingie, and even a little sweater I knit myself out of ribbon. Continue reading

Narrowing the Generation Gap

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‘Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom get together again’

Pictured above are a daughter, a mom (who is also a daughter) — and her mom. Three generations of a family who, like many others, loves nothing more than to get together but hasn’t been able to in ever so long.

Same trio, same positions — Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom — on another visit long ago. Which doesn’t actually feel that long ago

The last time this threesome was in the same room at the same time — not to mention the same positions — was in October of 2019. When the extended Henry Clan gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s ninetieth.

Same room, same time, some celebration (!)

That was some shebang. (You can read all about it in “So far, so good.”) There was cake, there was wine, there was dancing and joking and all-around foolishness and hijinks.

Dancing in pjs. A must at any Henry party

One can only wonder what we would have done differently had we known it would be the last time we’d see each other for more than a year. I certainly can’t think how we could possibly have enjoyed ourselves more.

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“Never trust anyone over thirty.”

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‘Unless, perhaps, she is your own daughter’

I’ll always remember my very first Big-Time Ad Biz TV commercial. It was for Q-Tips, and was called “Still My Baby.” I didn’t even try to find it on YouTube, not just because this was ages ago, but because it was a pretty awful commercial.

It featured this mom who has a baby on a changing table and a jealous preschooler sulking alongside. To mollify the older child, she asks her to “help” by handing her a Q-tips Swab. Then Mom reassures the child (a girl, natch) by thanking her and saying, “Such a big girl. But you’re still my baby.

Here is The Child at sulky older sister age. She is not sulky, though, since she didn’t have a baby sibling to be jealous of

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A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

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Dad and the Magical Mystery Trolley

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‘It’s been ten years since he rode off into the Sunset’

Ten years ago tomorrow (June 12, 2009, it was) my Dad was pretty darned happy. He’d made it to 80, and he was the guest of honor at a big ole party at the assisted living place.

Oldest Younger Bro Scott (and me) at Dad’s Big Birthday Party. This is, famously, the Last Photo Ever Taken By My Dad. He borrowed my camera and shot it from his wheelchair

Dad loved living there, which may seem hard to believe. But he was kind of like their Prom King; he ruled at Scrabble and Rummikub and Trivial Pursuit, but mostly he regaled his co-residents and fans with jokes and stories. He knew lots of jokes and stories.

Dad was a whiz at games. And only partly because he cheated

Yes, Dad cheated at games. He would reach into the Folger’s can where we kept the Scrabble tiles and sort of “Braille-read” the letter faces for the Zs and Qs and Js. He had a very good sense of touch. Which did not diminish with age.

Anyway. Dad was living at the assisted living place because he’d been diagnosed with dementia. It took a long time for him to be diagnosed. Those of you familiar with dementia (so sorry if you are) know that it can be notoriously difficult to pin down. One of the symptoms is a bad temper (though they call it “agitation”), and, bless his heart, my Dad had rather a short fuse his whole life. (He used to explode if somebody scraped a pan or chomped a raw carrot or served him semi-thawed-out-frozen-for-economy’s-sake-bought-in-bulk-from-the-factory-store Bunny Bread, for example. And this was when he was, like, thirty.)

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The Dude celebrates another bird-day

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‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

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“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.  Continue reading

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