“If you’re cold, put on a sweater.”

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‘And keep your paws off that thermostat.’

The other day I rushed home from an event and found myself stripping off layers as I strode through the door, said event having taken place at a particularly overheated venue. Every stitch I was wearing had to go in the laundry or the (ka-ching) dry cleaning pile. (The Child, on her last visit home: “Mom! Do you know what they charge at that dry cleaner’s on Lex?”)

Honestly. I swear I don’t know what’s happened this winter. Every place I go — restaurants, museums, busses, the subway, the opera even — has the heat cranked up to the absolute max. Could it be that people are cold from all those outdoor activities during Covid? (I must admit I did not take part in these, at least not voluntarily. Oh, there was the occasional outdoor restaurant date with Concerned Covid-Avoiders, but few in my cohort really got into Outdoor Covid Stuff — unless it was something that usually happens outdoors anyway. Like, say, a picnic. In summer.)

Here’s someone who looks really cold. An not because I turned down the heat, but because it was, like -29 up there in Canada

While I can’t control the heat in public places, I like to think I can do so at home. But there’s the indisputable fact that I do not have exclusive control of the thermostat.

Nope. Dude Man lives here too. And, as I like to say, our marriage runs hot and cold. As in I’m always hot, and he’s always cold.

(And before you get all kinds of snarky ideas about the state of my hormones, my overheatedness has nothing to do with that.)

One of the reasons he’s always cold: Dude Man wears a tee shirt, no matter the weather. At least here he has a nice warm kitty to hand

It’s just that I’ve always “run hot.” My mom was the same way. In fact, she’s the one who used to say not to touch the thermostat and if you were cold to go put on a sweater. Of course back when I was growing up, keeping the thermostat on the low side was done more to save money than because everybody liked a cool house. This was even more apparent in the summer, when the air conditioning was not only set to a high temperature, but only turned on when company showed up.

Sometimes, instead of sweaters, my family would put on spoons

So yes. I tell Dude Man to go put on a sweater when he’s cold. Of course this is a guy who likes to sit around in a tee shirt even in the depths of winter. Often clad only in his underpants as well. (See “I’m the sheik of Araby.” for hilarious — and swear-on-a-stack-of-Bibles-true — details.)

Helmet: check. Shirt: check. But pants?

You may or may not know this about me, but I am never not knitting a sweater. And, trust me, I’ve knit The Dude dozens: pullovers, argyle vests, grampa sweaters with pockets, even a camel number with leather buttons stamped with little camels. Which he never ever wears.

My latest sweater, featured in an Instagram post by the pattern designer. Nope, it isn’t for The Dude

On the rare occasion when I can get Dude Man to put something on over his tee shirt, it’s invariably something in polar fleece. So, no. I don’t knit him sweaters anymore. (See “Is that for me?” for more.) And while I’m beefing, what is it about Cold People always marrying Hot People? Personally, I have yet to meet a couple who is thermostatically matched.

Someone who actually wears the sweaters I knit. (And not just for a photo, like His Dudeness is in the shot at the top of this story)

Someone else who actually wears my sweaters. But then, he is a baby and has no choice

But, as I’ve pointed out in the past, I am rapidly turning into my mother. (Heaven knows I am looking rather uncannily more and more like her every day.) And Mom has gone from running hot — to She Who is Always Cold.

That’s Laura on the right. That person on the left morphing into my mother — is me. (Note Mom swathed in warm scarf)

Perhaps, one day, it will be my turn to be She Who Is Always Cold. Until then, I’m hogging the thermostat.

Amagansett, New York. January 2023

 

Chilling Effect

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‘The Icebox Cometh. The Refrigerator Taketh.’

Harrison Ford is 80.

Yes, that Heartthrob of the Seventies, he of Han Solo and Indiana Jones fame, is old. Older than me, even.

“Ain’t he neat?” Harrison when he was not old. In my favorite role — that uncredited drag-racing devil in American Graffiti

Even if they hadn’t given his age in this interview I read in the NY Times, he would have given the game away, age-wise, by referring to a certain kitchen appliance as an “icebox.”

Incidentally, Harrison gave the interview to promote a new role of his — playing somebody’s great-great-great uncle — which is also a rather elderly thing to do. But, hey. More power to you, former carpenter-who-made-it-big!

I’m just glad you’re older than me, Harrison. So few people are these days. Well, my mother is, but I get mistaken for her sister. A lot.

“My sister” “My daughter” “My sister” “My daughter” (movie reference!)

But back to “iceboxes.”

Chances are, O Reader, you are too young to remember when these contraptions were called “iceboxes,” much less why. (It had something to do with cooling with actual ice, which came in blocks, delivered by an iceman. Hence The Iceman Cometh.“)

I too am too young to remember iceboxes, thank god. (It’s nice to be too young for something.) Oddly enough, The Dude’s family didn’t have an icebox either, but he calls our SubZero “the icebox” all the time. And he — you guessed it — is younger than me.

Youthful Dude when he was genuinely youthful, yet still younger than me

I do remember that our refrigerator had a very important ancillary function in my childhood household. It was used as sort of a chilling area. No, mom wouldn’t stick a kid in there. But if, say, we’d fight over a toy, that toy would get put “on top of the refrigerator.”

As in, “If you two don’t stop, that cap gun” — yes we owned toy weapons — “is going on top of the refrigerator!” See, the top of the refrigerator was too high for a child to reach, so it was the perfect repository for Things That Were Taken Away From Kids.

Cap guns got put up there. Yo-yos. Sets of jacks, decks of cards. Chocolate Easter Bunnies. Pretty much anything we’d grapple over. Messy or annoying toys went up there too. (Play-Doh and harmonica, I’m talking about you.)

Thank your lucky stars, O Child. If you’d had siblings, that tiara would have ended up on top of the refrigerator for sure

You might be asking, why not just stick these things in a closet or drawer? Well, for one thing, we kids were pretty good at finding even the most well-hidden treasures. (Birthday and Christmas presents were famously “hidden” under the parental bed.) But the most important reason was the inherent reprimand of having something you dearly wanted put in an inaccessible place where you could see it and thus be constantly reminded that you were naughty enough to have had it taken away.

Pretty perfect parenting trick, that. I’d recommend it, but these days refrigerators tend to be built in to a bank of cabinets. So there’s no way to stick something up there in a tauntingly reprimandish way. Oh sure, you could stash that slingshot in the fridge-top cabinet, but if your kid can’t see it and whine to get it back what’s the fun in that?

I’ll end here with a shot of two kids who look like they did get stuck inside the refrigerator — or maybe even an icebox:

Amagansett, New York. December 2022

Social media, Sixties-style

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‘My Mom and Magazine Club’

A couple of weeks ago I told you about how my Dad loved to go out on his houseboat, the Sir Launch-A-Lot. He’d fill ‘er up with clients and/or family members and tool around Carlyle Lake for hours, regaling one and sundry with jokes and stories.

My Dad was pretty entertaining on land, too. Here he demonstrates his favorite trick

Mom liked the houseboat, too, but her favorite thing was to go up on the roof with a nice big stack of women’s magazines — Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Family Circle. and the like. There were seven of these magazines that were extremely popular back in the Sixties — they were actually referred to as “The Seven Sisters” — and my mom took several. She liked company while she did this, and I was happy to oblige. We’d work our way through the stack making small talk — jumping in the Lake every once in a while to cool off.

Favorite Sister Laura and me up top of the Sir LAL, demonstrating an early selfie, courtesy Oldest Younger Bro Scott

While paging through the issues, we’d make (mostly snarky) comments on the fashions and the celebrities — no Kardashians, but plenty of Kennedys — and the ads. This was back when they ran those ads that showed some gorgeous woman in a bra with a headline that said, “I dreamed I painted the town red in my Maidenform Bra.” And there was a feminine hygiene ad that showed a box with just one copy line: “Modess: because.” I used to wonder, “because why?” We’d even make comments on the magazine covers, which always seemed to feature both an outrageous dessert — “Scoop Up Double Chocolate Brownie Sundae!” — and a fad diet — “Get Ready for Swimsuit Season in One Week!”

I don’t have a lot of photos of the inside of the house in summer — it was so darned hot, we spent most of our time outside

There were also cool regular features in these magazines that were fun to read bits of aloud. One of our faves was “Can This Marriage Be Saved” from the Ladies Home Journal. We also liked to scope out interesting recipes — leafing though women’s magazines was how we discovered Jello Cake, which is one of the most delightful creations ever. I was going to say “dessert” creations, but in our family, Jello Cake never made it to dessert. It got eaten as soon as it “set.” One Jello Cake that was destined for dessert (to grace a client houseboat outing) was found marred with a big bare footprint right in the middle. It got eaten anyway. (Jello Cake is that good.)

Mom on the porch with Grandkids Leo and The Child. Look closely at the coffee table and you’ll see a big ole stack of magazines

Mom and I could go for hours paging and commenting, paging and commenting. It was Sixties Social Media, you see. We were being social while engaged with media. And we were hooked on it well before the internet was a gleam in some nerd’s eye.

As entertaining as those houseboat social media sessions were, Mom’s Magazine Club took the whole thing up a notch. She and her friends would meet once a month and trade magazines and stories while eating a nice lunch. (Serving a nice lunch meant a chance to try out some of the recipes they found in those magazines. They’d also serve lots of coffee. I couldn’t find a shot of my mother actually present at Magazine Club, but the shot at the top of this post does show her wielding a coffee pot.)

The closest I can get to a picture of Mom at Magazine Club. I bet she wore outfits kind of like the one in this family portrait

Mom and her friends would take turns being the hostess and also giving talks about articles they’d read in the magazines. Mom told me she remembered giving a particularly well-received presentation on evolution inspired by a magazine article. I’m betting it wasn’t from Ladies Home Journal.

Oh — before I go, a little announcement. The blog and I will be on vacation until the end of July. Here’s hoping you find plenty of social media (preferably the in-person kind) to keep you occupied till Lutheran Liar Looks at Life returns.

New York City. July 2022

 

 

If at first you don’t succeed, pretend you’re a squirrel.

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‘Third time’s the charm for this tenacious little critter.’

Apologies for being late this week, but I’ve got a good excuse. Rather, several good excuses — and they’re all named Whitmore. Basically, we had Whitmores coming out our ears — staying with us (Dude Man’s sis and squeeze), eating with us (cousins and such) — and celebrating with us (various and sundry).

The fete at the Eleanor Whitmore Early Education Center had Dude Man and Cousin Girl rapt (Hi, M! It was great seeing you!)

We were dining out and going out till I, for one, felt quite like copping out.

The inimitable Aunt Eleanor, founder of the EWEEC, in a rare moment of repose

But, as they say, be careful what you wish for. Because now I’m sitting here all by my lonesome, wishing for all the hub and the bub — and the people who caused it — to come back.

The Child *sniff* just about an hour ago. I’ve already cleaned her room, erasing all traces of her recent occupation — a technique I highly recommend for beating the just-left blues. (See “To Clean, or Not to Clean?”) 

Of course a little blog-writing can also help keep me from deeply sighing as I pass The Child’s empty room. So here goes.

This is the story about the crazy squirrel that I was going to tell you last week — until I remembered that June 21 was the anniversary of my Dear Dad’s passing on to the Great Rosebed in the Sky. (See “Remembering Dad and the Sir Launch-A-Lot.”)

Dude Man tends the rose bush that Dad gave us

There are several species who frequent our feeders — but they’re intended for birds, not squirrels. In fact, The Dude has fortified these feeders with very efficacious squirrel deterrents.

The Dude hand-feeding the species for whom the feeders are intended. (Yes, they land on his hand!)

So, imagine my surprise when, while devouring my New York Times one morning, I spied a squirrel wrapped around the bottom of the biggest feeder, holding on to the bird perch thingies with three paws while transferring bird seed from the little feeder holes to his mouth with the remaining paw.

Squirrel taking a break from hanging from the feeder, no doubt getting ready to chomp on a deck chair

How on earth did he get there? I wondered, as, having eaten his fill he casually dropped to the ground. I went back to reading about the untimely death of Roe vs. Wade (no, we’re not going there today) and — wouldn’t you know it — I glanced up and there he was again.

This time, The Child parked herself in front of a window and waited, iPhone camera trained on the scene, to catch Mr. Squirrel in the act. Here’s the surveillance footage. Be sure to watch till the end:

Well. Dude Man was not having this. For one thing, they are definitely not going hungry — there is so much seed that gets spilled on the ground, those squirrels are practically round they’re so well-fed.

Fat sassy Squirrel Man digesting on our deck

These are the same furry culprits who have been eating our deck furniture and even our house. Seriously. I caught them red-pawed one day, gnawing away at the siding.

Gnawed-upon corner of the house. Fortunately, a friend told us about a spray that makes the wood taste nasty to squirrels (Thanks, Ken!)

So. You think you can just jump up there and devour all our bird seed, Mr. Squirrel? Hah! Let’s see what happens when we raise the feeder a couple of inches. I mean really. Let’s see what happens:

Kinda looks like somebody threw him from behind that tree trunk like a furry little football, doesn’t it? But you’ve got to hand it to that squirrel. He never — ever — gives up. Remember him when you’re feeling frustrated or ineffectual. Or just hungry.

Speaking of hungry, I could use a taste of those berries The Child is offering her Whitmore Grampa. Actually, forget the berries, I could use more Child

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

Remembering Dad and the Sir Launch-A-Lot

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‘A boatload of memories on this longest day of the year’

I was going to write about this crazy squirrel who’s been entertaining our Amagansett guests with his determined efforts to reach our bird feeder. But then I remembered. It’s June 21 — which is not only the longest day of the year, but a sad day too. It’s the day our Dad died 13 years ago.

This guy will have to wait till next week. But he’s good at waiting

I’ve written about Dad many times, of course. About his jokes (“Kangaroo Walks into a Bar”), his napping (“Let Sleeping Dads Lie”), his obsessions (“There Go the Roses”) and even his comb-over (“Hair Hacks of the Follicly-Challenged”). Just last week I wrote about how The Dude is, in many ways, so much like him that sometimes I feel like I married my Dad (“Of Mugs and Men.”)

Dad knew his way around a kitchen, having been a short-order cook (among other things) in his college days. (See “Dad Eggs and Ham”)

Sir Launch-A-Lot — yes, that was this boat’s actual name — has made it into my stories before too, most notably in 2018’s “Yet’s Go to Ye Yake.” Sir L-A-L was a pontoon boat that Dad bought for what he called “business reasons.”

It’s kinda hard to see, but “Sir Launch-A-Lot” is there above the front window, behind my Sister, Gramma Henry and Mom

At this time in his life and career Dad was well into his “Deej” period, details of which, including photos of his famous “Poop” phone, can be found in last week’s “Of Mugs and Men.” As “Deej,” he was the partner in the Henry, Meisenheimer & Gende engineering firm tasked with growing the business. “I’ll take clients out on the boat,” said Dad (er, Deej).

Nope, those aren’t clients. That’s Dude and Youngest Younger Bro. But they are wielding HMG-branded beer holders

And so he did. He tootled around on Carlyle Lake with boatloads of clients, regaling them with cool stories as well as cold beers, steaks on the grill and clams and lobsters “baked” on sandbars. Once he mistakenly hit “reverse” when pulling into the dock after one of these outings, bonked a piling and watched as the grill flew off the deck and into the drink.

Sir Launch-A-Lot safely docked. Look closely and you can spot the grill up front on the port side

Sir Launch-A-Lot was acquired well after I’d flown the nest — the lake itself didn’t exist when I was a kid — so I missed out on many a sunbaked watery adventure. But the boat was there during my college summers for topside sunbathing and women’s-magazine-reading with my Mom. And for fireworks-watching with whatever family members were around on the 4th of July.

Dad in the “bass boat,” which was also used for water-skiing, Sir L-A-L in background. Not sure if the bass boat was acquired for “business reasons”

And, I’m glad to say that good ole Sir L-A-L was still afloat when The Child came along. I’ll have to ask her if she remembers jumping off the boat roof with her own Dad. (Uncle Scott, who took the jumping-off-the-boat photo at the end of this story, was very “into” jumping off the boat roof, but I’m pretty sure our Dad felt the same way I did about that. Which was “No thanks.”)

The Child up top the Sir Launch-A-Lot

Sir Launch-A-Lot was eventually sold (or given?) to a family friend. And my Dad (and Mom) eventually moved far away from Carlyle Lake. But when summertime rolls around I often find myself reminiscing about those long summer days on the boat with Dad.

The Dude and The Child jump off into the sunset. RIP, Sir L-A-L. And Dad

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

Of mugs and men

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‘I think I married my Dad’

“If my eyes are not deceiving me, your Dad looks like your husband?!? Hmmmm.”

This is what a friend (hi Leslie!) commented after reading my birthday tribute to Dad on Facebook. (You can read it, too, even if you hate FB: “Kissing Daddy Good-night.”)

And you know what? Leslie might be right. Dad and Dude not only look somewhat alike — right down to the blonde lock of hair over one eye — but they act alike too.

Take this Thing About Mugs. I’ve scoured the house from basement to attic and still can’t find a mug that Dude Man liked to use. I would say that it was his favorite mug, but that would be a lie. This mug actually belongs to The Child. Which makes it even worse that it is MMIA. (That’s “Mug Missing In Action.”) He’s lost a mug that isn’t even his.

Mug shot of The Child. Tho this is not the mug in question. I couldn’t take a photo of that mug — because it’s, well, missing

My Dad was famous for doing the same thing. After a visit from him and Mom, I would find mugs scattered around the house in the unlikeliest of spots. On arms of couches and chairs, of course. But also under couches and chairs, even beds. Once I found one balanced on the pipes of our furnace. Mugs would turn up outside too. On and under the outdoor furniture, natch. But also nestled in bushes and and on the tops of cars.

Dude Man liked to use The Child’s mug because it was very similar to his favorite mug.

Dude’s favorite mug. The Child’s was remarkably similar — with coyotes instead of hippos — probably because it was made by the same potter, tho purchased in Santa Fe, not Africa

The Child’s mug found its way here when Child and Beau (now SIL) took off in the Summer of ’20 on their camper-van adventure. They stored their household goods here “temporarily” while they road-trip roamed. (Note to Child: better come get your stuff before Dad gets his paws on it and it all disappears.)

Child and Then-Beau hit the road, leaving wordly goods — including now-missing mug — behind

But back to Dad and Dude.

They also have (or had, in my Dad’s case) a propensity for misplacing phones. Just last week, The Child was a witness more than once to Dude’s Thing About Phones. Almost every day he’d say, “Say, I can’t find my phone; could you call me?” — so he could listen for the ring and zero in on it.

Nine times out of ten it was in the bathroom.

Dad, too, was always misplacing phones. Once, when “portable phones” — remember those? — were all the rage, he took his outside so he wouldn’t miss an important call while working on his roses. The phone was missing for weeks before they found it in the crook of a tree.

I don’t have a photo of Dad with his portable phone — so this one will have to do

Oh, speaking of phones and bathrooms, my Favorite Sister shared a hilarious Dad story with us last Sunday on our Family Facetime. Dad went through a phase when he liked to be called “Deej.” This was a squooshing-together of his initials, D for Dale and J for Joseph. I think he liked the zingy, hip sound of it. His friends and colleagues must’ve liked it too, since they all started calling him “Deej.” Mom even used “Deej” as part of her email address. The only holdout was Regina, the (very colorful) local woman who “cleaned” our house. She called him “Henry Dale” — a reverse of his first and last names, and at a high volume at that.

Dad early in his “Deej” phase, showing off his spoon-balancing technique — a talent The Dude does not share. At least I don’t think he does

Anyway. It seems that one day Laura’s girls had some stick-on letters and suggested labeling Grampa’s phone (by then, cutting-edge as usual, he had a flip phone) with his nickname.

But when their cousin Aaron spied the phone on a table (or maybe in the bathroom or on top of a car) he asked, “Aunt Laura, why does Grampa have “poop” written on his phone?

Good question, Aaron.

Before I close, I’d just like to say that there’s one other thing my Dad and Dude Man share. Like my Dad, Dude has shown himself to be an incredible — and memorable — father.

I’m thinking it turned out pretty great that I “married my dad.” We can always get more mugs and phones.

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

Hair hacks of the follicly-challenged

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‘Male creativity reaches the top. Of their heads’

Last week I wondered about why men never ask for directions. (See “Okay. You know where the jail is, right?” for anecdotal proof.)

This week I’m wondering about the hair-raising (they wish) contortions men put themselves through when they become follicly-challenged. (Incidentally, I thought I made up this term. Nope. It’s in the Wiktionary, right here.)

As for what men cook up topside when their locks get, well, meager, I’ve got a lot of experience here. I come from a long line of follicly-challenged men. Both my Grampas, Henry and Peterson, were thin — one on top and one all over.

My thin-all-over grampa, demonstrating a hair hack — and sporting a pretty spiffy suit to go with it

And then there was my Dad.

Dad was the first man I knew with a comb-over. Both my Grampas were unabashedly baldish. Never tried to disguise it, as I recall. Perhaps they were too busy milking cows (Peterson) and making plum wine and playing poker (Henry) to care much about hair — theirs or anyone else’s.

But my Dad was a principal in an engineering firm — Henry, Meisenheimer & Gende, which exists to this very day — and he was what you might call the “rainmaker.” He travelled all over the State of Illinois securing contracts. So he dressed nattily (See “The Days of Double-Knit Dad” for deets on his sartorial splendor) and cared a lot about grooming.

My very well-groomed Dad in (probably) an HMG company portrait

Dad wore after-shave. And lots of it. If ever I get a whiff of Old Spice (which doesn’t happen very frequently these days) it takes me back like Proust’s madeleine. And he cared about his hair. When it started to thin, he carefully combed what was left across the offending bare spots and sprayed the heck out of it. (Though the stuff he used wasn’t “hair spray;” it was called “grooming spray or something equally non-girly.)

He performed this hair trick — not fooling anyone, mind you — until one day he was zipping around on the water-skiing boat on Lake Carlyle and the breeze flipped his comb-over up like the hatch on a Delorean. One of my brothers took his picture, showed him the result — and bye-bye comb-over.

Dad on the houseboat with his comb-over — and Mom. Since this was a slow-moving boat, there was no danger of his hair doing a Delorean

Delorean-like as my Dad’s comb-over was, it couldn’t compete with one grown and maintained by a former boss of mine in Kansas City, MO. This guy, Bud Bouton, had the most elaborate comb-over ever. (I’m breaking my rule here and using his name A) because it’s “Bud Bouton,” and B) because good ole Bud is surely gone from the Advertising Arena by now — and even if he’s still with us I doubt he’s doing much blog-reading.) Bud grew his hair from the nape of his neck, swooped it up and over the top of his head and arranged it so that it looked (sort of) like he had a full head of hair, part and all. It was like he was wearing a hoodie, but made of hair.

Ah. Those KC Ad Days. There was another person there named Cleota Dack (who has also no doubt gone to Ad Person Heaven by now). When I was introduced, I had never heard the name “Cleota” before, so I kept calling her “Miss Tadack,” as in “Cleo Tadack.” She didn’t become one of my Work Friends.

But back to men and hair. The Dude is also somewhat follicly-challenged, but he has never attempted a comb-over. And he’s certainly never attempted that dreaded male hair hack, the (ugh) ponytail. (I honestly don’t get the male ponytail, not on balding men anyway. Is the theory that a ponytail is so distracting that we won’t notice the baldness?) Anyway. Count me grateful that Dude Man has not attempted this.

He has, however, tried this distracting ploy: the unfortunate mustache. And he had hair at the time (!)

Maybe The Dude leaves his poor head alone because he’s not vain. (See “Clothes Don’t Make the Dude” for hilarious proof.) Or maybe it’s because he knows I like him the way he is — hair or no hair.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind if he would just go for it and shave off what vestigial hair remains. But, as one of my brothers put it the other day, “White men with shaved heads look like thumbs.”

And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Dude Man at a party — decidedly not looking like a thumb

Amagansett, New York. May 2022

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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‘I wonder what little Harry Houdini’s answer was.’

Way back when the earth’s crust was cooling and I was a youngster, there was a show on local TV called “Texas Bruce.”

The full name was “The Wranglers’ Club with Texas Bruce.” Texas Bruce showed cartoons and did silly jokes and suchlike, and had a whole peanut gallery of kids (The Wranglers) on hand. I remember that his sign-off was “Hasta la vista, mis caballeros,” a phrase whose meaning, of course, was a mystery to us Clinton County kids. We gathered it was something like “good-bye,” since Texas Bruce would be waving while he said it.

Anyway. One of his “bits” every show was to ask the boys and girls in his studio audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.

So glad Dude Man did not grow up to be a snake charmer. Tho he is a charmer

The TV station was in St. Louis, which was then — and still is — a very Catholic town. How Catholic? Well, when “Hair” played St. Louis, they had to cut the nude scene.

So. Texas Bruce would be going down the rows of Cub Scout-outfitted boys and Brownie-dressed girls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To which they’d answer, “A nun.” “A priest.” “A nun. “A priest.” “A priest.” “A nun.” Honestly, I’d say at least 70% of every audience answered “priest” or “nun.” Which led one to worry about population trends for the greater metropolitan St. Louis area.

What does this have to do with Harry Houdini? Well. I used to work on the Kimberly-Clark account at Ogilvy. In fact, I’ve written about this before in a rather amusing piece titled “Hoohah Time is Story Time.” In that story I mention, among other things, that on client trips to Appleton, Wisconsin (KC’s headquarters), we Ogilvyites would stay at the Paper Valley Hotel. (There was no valley anywhere near, but they did make paper there.)

Speaking of Kimberly-Clark, Huggies had a campaign with babies acting out future careers. Here’s The Child as a magician. Which she sort of is

The Paper Valley was one of those hotels where they put little paper tent thingies everywhere: one to tell you to reuse your towels, one with the TV channels on it, one to tell you not to smoke, and so on. (I guess, being a paper-making town, the hotel got a deal on these.) And there was one with famous Appletonians. No kidding. There are famous people from Appleton. Edna Ferber. Willem Defoe (really!). And my fave, Harry Houdini.

Houdini was such an Appletonian that he claimed to have been born in Appleton when he was really born in Hungary. Appleton Street was renamed in his honor, and there was a Houdini Historic Center I’ve been to because Ogilvy hosted one of their Christmas parties there for the Kimberly-Clark clients. (Since then they’ve changed the museum name, maybe because they’ve added some exhibits on Senator Joe McCarthy. Who was also an Appleton boy.)

God forbid you should ask little Teddy what he wanted to be when he grew up. Other than a U of Washington Husky, that is

Side note: I always wondered why we hosted the KC Christmas parties in Appleton instead of New York City. Maybe the clients didn’t like to travel? Or maybe they just didn’t like to travel to New York. I distinctly remember one rare occasion when a KC client came to New York for a meeting and asked if we could have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But back to those Paper Valley business trips. I would sometimes gaze at the Harry Houdini paper tent thingie and muse about what would happen if Texas Bruce asked little Harry, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Would he answer, “I’d like to be bound with chains and dropped to the bottom of a river”?

Grown-up Harry realizes his childhood dream

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say “a priest.” But that’s probably because his father was a rabbi.

New York City. May 2022

 

Film at eleven

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‘Preserving those memories, then and now’

Some of you may have noticed that I played blog hooky last week. That’s because Tuesday, which is the day I usually dazzle my followers with my wit, was also the day I traveled to visit my mom. The trip went very smoothly. But I am one of those people who finds the process of travel all consuming. It’s hard for me to think — much less be amusing.

On the carpet at Portland International Airport

I wish I were more like The Child, who takes travel bumps in stride. She was scheduled to join me at mom’s for the weekend, but there was a strike at the Amsterdam airport (Amsterdam being where her techie business conference was held) and it took her about 24 hours to make it back to the States and PDX. If this happened to me, I’d probably implode.

Same carpet, different feet. The Child’s very tired ones

But back to Mom’s. The visit was well worth skipping a blog post. We did all my favorite stuff: played Scrabble, drank coffee and went for walks. Oh, we also did a lot of what we call “solving the world’s problems,” sometimes switching out the coffee for wine.

Guess who got a seven-letter word right out of the gate? (And with a wet head straight out of the shower)

This trip was my latest round in what we call the Kid of the Month Club, where we four sibs who don’t live close to my mother take turns visiting her for a week each month. This gives everyone — Mom included — something to plan around and look forward to. We’ve also continued the Family FaceTime Sundays we started during the dreaded Lockdown.

Be there or be square. (Or, um, be in the square?)

We’d also like to do some sort of Recorded History Thing with Mom. She has tons of cool stories — like When Electricity Finally Came to the Farm and When Your Father Took Me to the Prom in a Milk Truck — stories that some of us kids know (See my piece “Confessions of a B-Team Mom” for how kids in the same family can have entirely different family memories) and that some don’t.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug (here seen reading the paper upside down) has completely different family memories from mine

We’d like these memories to live on and be shared — with each other, our kids and their kids.

Dude Man’s family had the same idea. I remember they gathered a bunch of home movies — mostly black and white, mostly silent — and got their Dad to narrate them. My favorite was the one where Dad-of-Dude took a toddler (not sure which one; he had six from which to choose) and tossed him (or her) into the ocean waves like a little shrieking football. (There was no sound, but you could tell there was shrieking going on by the big round “O” in the middle of the poor kid’s face.)

Now I know we Henrys had some dandy home movies too. I remember that it was a Big Production to screen these. There was a projector to thread and a big screen to put up. I distinctly recall one in which Oldest Younger Brother Scott is happily splashing in an inflatable wading pool when I appear stage left and unceremoniously dump him out onto the lawn.

Not the infamous wading pool, but pretty close. I’m not sure who that other kid is. Mom?

My Dad, who, incidentally, loved gear, (Guys love gear; see last week’s post, “Guys and their Gear”) was one of the first guys in our town to get a video camera. It was huge; you had to schlep it around on a shoulder, for heaven’s sakes. But I remember he did just that for a whole weekend once.

Dude Man demonstrating some gear: boots, shades and two ballcaps. Oh, and that’s him at the top of this post, demonstrating a Sony video camera his dad gave him. The only issue? It was from a Japanese patient — and all the controls were in Japanese

Yes, for three glorious days Dad followed everyone around, documenting everything. And I mean everything. Scott eating (“Look at that sweet corn, Alice. See what you’re missing?!”), Laura on the couch (“Say hey, Laura!” [glare]) Mom in the garden (“Get a load of those tomatoes!”). But by far the best was Mom at the sink. “There’s Myrna, doing dishes.” “Stop it, Dale.” “What?” “Stop following me around and recording everything I do.”  “I’m doing this for the kids.” “Kids Schmids. Stop. You’re driving me crazy.”) None of this was edited out.

Dad and Mom going somewhere. Dad, of course, is loaded with gear

Oh, yeah. And when he was walking around outside with that big ole camera on his shoulder he kept bonking his head on the bird feeders. So you’d hear, “Oh look! There’s Myrna dead-heading the…(bonk)…damned bird feeders!” This happened three times in the course of one video. And nope, it wasn’t edited out either.

Mom chilling — well, if you can “chill” under a blanket — at Laura’s just a couple of days ago. Where was my microphone?

I would love to record my mother narrating any of these. But, alas, somewhere along the line, these and the other films have gone AWOL. Yes, even the one where someone (Roger? Scott?) is pretending that the Sir Launch-A-Lot — which was a houseboat Dad owned; and yes, that was its real name — is in a storm by tilting the camera back and forth while someone else (Laura? Patty?) runs back and forth on the deck.

Dad tries out new technology on the deck of the Sir Launch-A-Lot: A remote camera (note “clicker thingie” in his hand)

If you, O Beloved Sibs, know where any of these films are hiding, speak up. And, next time you’re the Kid of the Month, maybe record a story or two. I promise to do my bit this summer when I’m out there for my next turn — if I don’t get too involved playing Scrabble, drinking coffee and taking walks.

New York City. April 2022

 

Doing the math

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‘When the twenty-year deck will do just fine’

A couple of months ago I celebrated a large, rather alarming birthday. (See “Skirting the Issue” for festive details.)

How large? How alarming? Well, when people assure me that I am still “middle-aged,” I say, “Middle Aged, huh? Sure. If I’m planning to live to 140.

Doing it up big on my Big Birthday. That’s The Child, who is now bigger than me. Partly because I’m shrinking

Nah. Let’s face it. I’m old. Even if I didn’t have that big number staring me in the face I’d realize it.

Because I’ve started doing the math.

Here’s what I mean. When we needed to replace our deck — it was splintering, it had holes in it, it sort of “sproinged” when you walked on it — we consulted with the Deck Builder Guy, who gave us two estimates. One was for a deck that would last thirty years; the other (cheaper) alternative would last twenty.

Dude Man and I didn’t even have to consult with each other. We both did the math, then looked at Deck Guy and said, “The twenty-year deck will do just fine.” Because, of course, by the time we’re 90, a deteriorating deck will be the least of our problems. And probably somebody else’s problem at that.

The new deck, juxtaposed with a corner of the house, which is being gnawed on by squirrels. Guess the siding’s next. *sigh*

The thing that really makes one’s head spin, math-wise, is that this is the second time we’ve replaced that deck. (Kind of makes you go into “joke mode.” You know: “How old was she? She was so old, she’d replaced her twenty-year deck twice.

The Child with her Whitmore Grampa on the Original Deck. The one before our first twenty-year deck

Another time one “does the math” is with trees. I once did a commercial for a cholesterol drug that had this older couple planting a tree. (Interesting trivia: Older Man was played by none other than Rance Howard, who was Ron Howard’s dad and who was often given cameo roles in Ron’s films. He was the guy who delivered mangoes to John Candy’s character in Splash, for instance.)

Anyway. This older couple is planting a tree that’s, oh, three or four feet high, and the voiceover is talking about how this new drug could help you control cholesterol and prevent heart disease so that, basically, you could live to see the tree all grown up nice and big.

I’m kicking myself that I tossed my reel — the one with that commercial on it. But here are some trees drawn by The Child. Which will never grow old. And always will be there

(This was, of course, implied, not explicitly stated. The copy said something like, “The fruits of your labor should be yours to enjoy, even if you have high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about new treatments available now.” The tagline was quite brilliant, if I do say so myself: “It’s your future. Be there.”)

Here in Amagansett we’re reminded of the Tree Effect daily. We have evergreen trees all over the property in various states of largeness. They are all Former Christmas Trees; some of them were originally quite tiny and fit on tabletops.

Naturally, in recent years we’ve started getting bigger ones.

But the best solution to doing the math with Christmas Trees? Doing like last year — opting out and enjoying someone else’s Christmas Tree.

Christmas in Flagstaff with The Child, her fam — and her tree

Recently The Child celebrated her (gasp) thirty-first birthday. Happy Birthday, dear Child. May you live long, enjoy many full-grown Christmas trees and replace more than two sequential decks.

Amagansett, New York. April 2022