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

The time we left The Child by the side of the road

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‘The terrors of taking a toddler on a trip in a car’

Last week I wrote about the dangers one encounters on a trip to the Tropics. This week I to thinking about another trip we took — Out West, this was, years ago when The Child was about two — and those Bullet Ants started sounding downright cuddly. Because there’s nothing quite as dangerous as a Toddler Tantrum on a road trip.

Notice that I don’t say “The time we almost left The Child by the side of the road.” Nope. We honest to goodness left her. Not for very long, and no, there wasn’t anyone else around, but still. If we did this today, we’d no doubt get into some deep doodoo — like that hapless New York Times reporter who left her screaming spawn in the car while she ran into a 7Eleven.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yes, still Before Road Trip, we hang out with The Dude’s Aunt Elsa, who had the Toddler Touch, even on a trip to the children’s zoo

It all started when we flew out to Arizona for one of The Dude’s Doctor Meetings. (You can read about another childlike meltdown on another of these Doctor Meetings in “Let me go; I want my mommy!”  Why, oh why, did we do this kind of thing — and more than once?) Continue reading

The time the New Year almost started without us

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‘Cancelled flights, skidding limos, and a surprise side trip to a Holiday Inn in Jamaica’

Somewhere there is a photo of a seven-something Child, slumped in one of those ‘exotic’-looking high-backed wicker chairs that corporate decorators like to install in chain-motel lobbies in the tropics, looking a tad tired and more than a little pathetic. The Child, not the chair. Well okay, maybe the chair too.

I can’t find the picture, and to be honest, it’s probably just as well.

It was New Year’s Eve sometime in the late 90s, and, instead of being in Bonaire as planned, We Whitmores had been shunted unexpectedly to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Where the only room to be found anywhere was in the Holiday Inn.

No, we’re not at the Holiday Inn. No pictures exist of that memorable New Year’s Eve. Not that I can find, anyway. Here we are, celebrating in New York City sometime in the mid-nineties

If memory serves, the whole shunting-to-Jamaica Thing was due to weather. Or maybe an Air Jamaica malfunction. Or both. Whatever the reason, we were (sort of) grateful to have a roof over our heads, what with the Holiday Crowds and all. Believe you me, that Holiday Inn was packed. And packed with families. Continue reading

Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading

“Is that for me?”

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‘A post about knitting, of all things’

What with Holiday Nonsense and all, my stats’ll probably be in the basement this week anyway, so what the heck — I’ll write about knitting.

Yes, knitting.

Knitting is actually a rather comfy cozy thing to do, especially when it’s cold out and you’re sitting in front of a roaring fire.

Somebody enjoying a roaring fire while not knitting

But I’ve also done my share of knitting elsewhere. I used to do a lot of it on TV commercial shoots. See, on shoots they have this thing called “craft services”, which is basically a big ole table loaded with every kind of tempting snack and/or treat you can think of: chips, cheeses, little pastries and sandwiches, candies of all types, including bowls and bowls of M&Ms. Our producer on a Hershey shoot once got in hot water by stocking M&Ms instead of Reese’s Pieces, which was the client’s product. She had to explain that the client on that particular Hershey shoot had requested the M&Ms. Continue reading