Splendor in the Grass

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‘When family photos were snapped “en plein air”‘

Part of the pleasurable pain of downsizing is sorting through zillions, even gazillions, of family photos. Deciding which to keep, which to “gift”, which to strip from their soon-to-be-donated frames and consigned to the manilla envelopes and file folders of history.

One of the things I’ve noticed while sifting is a years-ago trend to pose hapless members of one’s family (mostly helpless babies) smack-dab in the middle of a patch of grass. I’m not sure exactly why this isn’t done so much anymore, though I’m betting that chiggers and deer ticks might have something to do with it.

Me, smack-dab in the middle of a patch of grass. Before the invention of ticks and chiggers, I’m hoping

Another photo fashion I’ve encountered repeatedly while scanning and sipping a big ole cocktail (scanning being rendered much less tedious when accompanied by bourbon) is a propensity to pose subjects with cars in the background. (Even that last photo had a car in the background, albeit a toy one.)

Look at me. In the grass: check. Car in background: double-check

Here are some more for your viewing pleasure:

Yup, grass. Yup, car

Well. I am in the grass in this one. But that’s a cat, not a car

Here’s one with the requisite car(s), but with a stylistic variation: baby in gravel, not grass

The photographer’s shadow in that last one is a nice touch, n’est-ce pas? Speaking of French, that phrase found in the subhead, “en plein air”, means, in case you don’t know already, “out in the air” or just plain “outside”. Kind of like “al fresco”, only not Italian.

Sometimes a whole extended family was lined up in front of a car

My forbears were more Swedish than French and not Italian at all, but they sure did like to put us kids outside and snap away. Maybe the light was just better?

Hmmm. Nice shot, cute kids, but that flash glare is a tad distracting

Speaking of flash, indoor photography in those days required flashbulbs, which were actual bulbs that went off with a loud pop and a blue glare so bright it left an afterimage on your retina, prompting Infant Me to try to grab it while shouting “moon moon!”

Let’s go back outside. Here’s a dandy with not only cars–but a motorcycle. And a great-aunt for good measure

Anyway. I could go on and on. But I have more sorting to do, and it’s not of fun photographs. Hint: drawers full of receipts are involved — and it’s too early for bourbon. But before I go, I did happen to find a quasi-contemporary photo of cute kids on grass:

The Child and her Cousin, plopped 50s-style in the grass. Cute enough to compensate for the lack of a car — or even a cat

Oh, and I found at least one example featuring yet another years-ago photography trend:

Kids posed in a tub. Definitely no risk of ticks or chiggers. But blackmail entirely possible

New York City. December 2019

 

 

 

Yes, some people can live by bread alone

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‘That craving for carbs simply must be genetic’

Some years ago, The Child (who was an actual child at the time), started fussing peckishly in her highchair while I was on the phone with my mother. “Hold your horses, Honey,” I said. Mommy’s getting you your bread and water.”

The Child, getting close to the age when she would demand bread and water

“Bread and water!” my mom exclaimed, spluttering with over-the-phone laughter. “Are you punishing that child?” She was astonished when I explained that B&W was The Child’s snack of choice.

Not much has changed since she was in a highchair. Snackwise, anyway

You see, everyone who shares The Dude’s genetic material — every one I’ve met, anyway — has this very same breadlike compunction. Wayne’s Older Bro Bill has the most extreme case I’ve seen. When he sails up here from Florida, the first thing he does when we loan him our ’91 Honda wagon is tool on over to Citarella and buy a whole loaf of their sourdough peasant bread. They only offer one uncut loaf per day (because normal people only buy a quarter — or at most a half) so Bill makes sure he’s at the door first thing in the morning when they open so he can grab it.

Yup. It is indeed a big ole loaf. And I can’t believe he eats the whole thing

Then the very next day he’s there, lurking around at opening time, again. That’s because he — with some help from The Dude and The Child — manages to wolf down that whole loaf in just one day.

Check out the photo at the top of this post, and you can admire The Dude’s wolfing method — chomping a chunk au naturel, while marching around the house. His Bro Bill, on the other hand, likes to carve off a slab (with the world’s longest bread knife, bought special for me one Christmas by Dude Man), cram it in the toaster, slather it with butter — and then march around. I sometimes hand him a plate. But then he leaves the plate somewhere outside, like on a lawn chair or a stair step, or perched on a surfboard. So mostly I skip it, since I’d rather find some crumbs than lose a plate.

Bro Bill, who remains one of my Favorite People, even festooned with bread crumbs

Needless to say, my method of cleaning after house guests leave rather than before they arrive, which you can learn about in “To Clean or not to Clean?,” was invented just for these occasions.

The Child loves bread so much that sometimes she orders a side of bread to go with her…bread

The Child, as eluded to before, has inherited this Bread Fixation. And she has passed it along to not only her BF but her Gal Pals. When they visit, which is not nearly enough, they head out first thing to score a Citarella loaf of their own. I swear to god I have never known such a contingent of bread-friendly skinny people.

I must say, aside from the crumbs crunching underfoot, it does my heart good seeing people enjoy a foodstuff so much. And at least, unlike my brownies (which you can find the recipe for right here), the crumbs are beige, and kind of blend in with the floor tiles. Except for the crunching underfoot, you wouldn’t know they were there.

No, this is not Citarella. Just the normal IGA bread aisle after 4th of July weekend — or after a Dude Relation Visit

Speaking of Breadlike Objects (the actual name The Dude and I gave to baked goods back in our early courting days), we have had a long history with same. To this day I go into a Proustian reverie when I bite into a cinnamon-raisin bagel, which was our car snack on the way to the Hamptons in our courting days.

Back in our dating days, skinny enough for many stops for bagels and coffee

We would stop at this place on 2nd Avenue right by the entrance to the Upper Roadway of the (then) Queensborough Bridge for fresh hot bagels and sort-of-okay pre-Starbucks coffee. This was such a long time ago that The Dude and I would fashion a “sippy lid” out of a plain old takeout coffee lid by tearing a wedge-like opening in it. (Where are our royalties? It was completely our invention!)

I still like to chomp into a cinnamon-raisin bagel now and then — the chewier the better — but I must admit that I enjoy watching The Dude and his fellow Bread Lovers chomp on their bread more than I enjoy eating it myself. They tend to go into a sort of food-induced trance: their eyes glaze over, and if it’s Bro Bill who’s indulging, make little murmurs of bliss.

But there is a treat that even Breadaholic Bill enjoys more than sourdough. A treat that makes him do a little happy dance while standing at the kitchen counter, spoon in hand. Specifically, it’s a treat that starts with “Haagen” and ends with “Dazs”.

The Child’s BF, enjoying what might possibly be the only rival to bread in The Dude Food Universe

New York City. November 2019

 

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.

The trajectory of our married living arrangements has gone from very small to medium to large and, now, with this latest pied a terre acquisition (which I first mentioned in my bake-some-brownies post, “And Then There Were None”), back to very small again. I feel rather like Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”: “I am big; it’s the movies that got small.” Only, in our case, our apartment — or at least the one we’ll move into if all goes according to plan — just got very very small.

Me, reflected in the make-the-room-look-bigger (hah!) mirrored wall of the 13×11 living room of the if-all-goes-well new apartment. No, that’s not any of our stuff, thank the Lord of Moving

Very shortly, if all goes well (tons of paperwork to deal with for the closing!) we will be moving from an approximately 1600 sq. ft. apartment to one that is around 350, give or take a precious foot. Adjusting to such a small space will not be a small adjustment. And not only because we won’t have room to swing a cat, but because we won’t have room for our stuff. Any of our stuff.

We weren’t always so stuff-stuffed. In fact, we started out rather spare, with thrift-shop finds and hand-me-downs. Wayne found his couch at a garage sale. And I didn’t even have one. So we slipcovered his, thinking one day we’d replace it with a “real” couch that we picked out from a real store. Well, that was more than 35 years ago.

The Dude’s slipcovered garage-sale couches in action. Want ’em? Child and cat not included

Quick note: When we lived in the one-big-room-with-everything-in-it place and were thinking about having a baby, I asked “but where will we put this baby?” and The Dude, quite reasonably in Dude Reasonableness, answered, “We’ll put the baby where the TV is.” Which is, ultimately, what we did.

That first apartment, Child added. Yes, her bed is located right about where the TV was. And the dining table and the desk and so on and so forth

But time moves on. And so did we. To this apartment of twenty-six years. And twenty-six years of gradual acquisition. Surfaces have been populated, couches have been pillowed, bookcases have been booked. Let’s face it, if you think Nature abhors a vacuum, you haven’t met a New York City apartment.

We have art books piled on top of pianos, which are, in turn, topped with hand-turned pottery, accented by silver whatnots, side-by-side with souvenir statues. Don’t get me started on the candles and their attendant holders. And, if you read last week’s post, “Sitting Pretty”, you are familiar with my crack-cocaine obsession with chairs.

Honestly? It’ll feel good to, shall we say, “de-acquisition” some of this. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by for a scented candle. Or five.

New York City. October 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

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

A rose by any other name is, well, a rosé

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‘More fun with mispronounciation’

Yes, yes. I know that it’s really “mispronunciation”. I just wanted to mess with you a little. And to see if you (like me) are operating on less than all your mental cylinders.

Red, white, and blue-sky blue. That’s me in Summer Mode

See, it’s hard to focus on stuff like a Weekly Blog when it’s as gorgeous as it is here, both weather-wise and scenery-wise. Though having one of my stories published in an actual newspaper — the kind that uses actual ink and is sold on actual newsstands and lands ker-plunk on actual doorsteps — gave me a nice boost. Here’s the story in case you are not one of the East Hampton Star’s many discerning subscribers: it’s called House Guest Hall of Fame.

One of the ways it’s NOT so gorgeous out here. Traffic like this is one of the reasons I almost never leave The Compound

Speaking of house guests, it’s also been hard to focus because I’ve had my share of them lately. And, thank the Hospitality Gods, they were all good guests. First I had my Bridge Buddy Pajama Party. (No photos exist, thank the Embarrassment Gods, since we did get up to some negroni-fueled hijinks.) Then the Chocolate-Company-Owning Nephew and Niece with the Three Adorable Daughters paid a visit.

Then, after that, I got my yearly dose of Twentysomethingness when The Child’s besties came to stay. (They are also “besties” in that they are some of the best house guests ever to dirty a beach towel.)

The Child, draped with a Bestie’s limbs, tries to decide whether to go out on the town

And if that weren’t enough, The Championships, Wimbledon started yesterday. I cannot myself wield a racquet, but am absolutely obsessed with the major tournaments, and the grassy Big W is my absolute unmissable fave. I once woke at 5 AM every morning of a Fun Family Reunion so I could get my Fed Fix.

What I was busy doing this morning at 6:00. That’s a Sloane Stephens match

Anyway. All this yammering is to explain why, instead of coming up with a rare gem of an original observation or a ripping tale of my Ad Biz Days or even a nostalgic trip down Small-Town Midcentury-Modern Memory Lane, I am going to treat you to some more mispronounced words. (These are either ones I forgot to tell you about a couple of weeks ago — or ones that some of my clever and thoughtful readers sent in via the Comments.)

No, that’s not an “EE-gret” or even an “e-GRET”. That’s the sandhill crane that’s been hanging around these parts

The piece I refer to, “Paging ‘Arry O’Nassis”, is about how people can mispronounce words if they’ve only seen them in print, and haven’t heard them said out loud. Almost everyone I know has some word they remember embarrassing themselves with, usually when called upon to read aloud in school. My mom’s was “de-pot” for “de-poh“. A Blogger Buddy (fancypaperblog) admitted mortification at getting “schooner” wrong.

Nephew Phil insuring that his Adorable Daughter does not humiliate herself with mispronunciation by reading aloud to her (and, presumably, saying the words right)

Dear Friend Ruth wrote in to say that hers was “fatty-goo” for “fatigue”. She also reminded me of the time a local radio announcer asked his listeners to look out for “one lost cha-hoo-a-hoo-a dog”. (Go ahead; say it out loud.)

Which made me remember the time a good friend told the waitress at lunch that she would like the “quish” — with the “crude-ites” to start. (She was such a good friend that not only did I not correct her, I didn’t laugh. Or not out loud anyway.)

I’m pretty sure that “crudites” are vegan. Though I’m thinking they wouldn’t make very good jerky

But the winning example is the one my Wine Guy told me when I was in his shop on the last leg of my weekly Summer Vector (dump-farmstand-postoffice-grocerystore-wineshop), which is the one time each week I get in my car because of the god-awful aforementioned traffic. I had picked out a nice case of mixed “ro-says” and was regaling him with “yar-mul-kee” and “Prowst” when he says that once, while ordering a steak, he asked for some sautéed “shit-take” mushrooms on the side.

Yum.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

“What’s that smell?”

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‘There’s something rotten in the State of Illinois’

It rained this Easter. Which wasn’t really a problem, not for me anyway, since I don’t have any little kids to take on an Easter Egg Hunt. (More’s the pity.)

But I remember very well, being the Oldest Kid and all, what happened one time when it rained on our, er, Easter Parade.

But first, a word about Easter.

My family was Lutheran. Which is sort of like being Catholic, but stripped-down and rather basic — kind of like the black-wall tire of religions, or like being the Catholic B-Team. We were jealous of our cousins who were Catholic and enjoyed the full-on religious package; they got to have First Communion and wear fancy dresses and patent leather mary janes and hats with (gasp) veils and get sprinkled with Holy Water. They even got to kneel. (When you’re seven, you think kneeling is incredibly cool.)

I remember that purse. I loved that purse; I distinctly remember putting my collection envelope in there — and (gasp) am I wearing a hat?

Continue reading

Random Acts of Kidness

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‘Making your bed might actually be overrated’

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who simply has to make her bed every morning. I make my bed if I’m running late for bridge class or if I’m leaving to catch a plane. (Of course, I’m never late catching a plane; I’m also one of those people who leaves for the airport hours before her flight is due to take off.)

If I don’t make my bed I feel itchy and uncomfortable all day, kind of like I forgot to brush my teeth. Even when I was single, and nobody else was going to see my bed (hahaha), I couldn’t leave home without making sure it was all neat and tidy. Yes, I’m one of those people who has been known to make the bed in my hotel room.

I’m not alone in my bed-making mania. Some ex-Navy Seal even wrote an inspirational book called, I kid you not, Make Your Bed.

Funny story. When The Dude and I started sharing a household and its chores, we decided that whoever got up last would be in charge of making the bed. (Come to think about it, it would be sort of hard to do it the other way around.)

It’s kind of hard to make the bed if you’re the first one up

Whenever the task fell to Mr. Dude, I would marvel that a person who was so neat and tidy in so many ways — and a doctor, at that — would make such a lumpy bumpy mess of making the bed. Continue reading

“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