Malcolm and the Duchess


‘What passes for Royalty on either side of The Pond’

I’m staring at my le Creuset, thinking of the Duchess of Devonshire. Wondering if I can squeeze out another batch of her boeuf bourguignon before the weather agrees that it’s Spring.

The Duchess was the last of several Mitford Sisters, two of whom were famous writers, and two of whom were famous Nazis. (One, Unity, shot herself when Hitler dumped her for Eva Braun.)

While her sisters were writing books and dabbling in fascism, Deborah was saving Chatsworth, her husband’s estate. Bless her, she was able to get people to pay good money to check out her Elvis Presley memorabilia and flocks of fine poultry.

Malcolm Forbes wasn’t a Duchess (or even a Duke), but he shared her fondness for celebrities and eggs, particularly Faberge. Malcolm was powerful, knew a lot of famous people, and had lots of houses–certainly more than Debo (as she was known to friends and fam, but not to me or Malcolm.)

Me, posing for the bus-riding paparazzi at one of Malcolm’s houses. See how I got there in a sec

Malcolm was a patient of The Dude’s Dad (who was a urologist). Very Important People (mostly Very Important Men) came to see him. Some of them (like Malcolm) became quite attached to The Dude’s Dad, who, in addition to being a great doctor, was also a very charming man.

The Dude’s Mom was charming and persuasive. When The Dude and I were planning our honeymoon, she picked up the phone: “Malcolm? Wayne and Alice are getting married. Can they stay in one of your houses?”

Fast forward to Malcolm Forbes’ castle in Morocco.

Me, holding up the dining room. Looooong table in background, with servant. The Dude and I would wave at each other from opposite ends

We were the only ones there, except for dozens of servants. We’d perch by the fountain and watch the tour buses pull in (Malcolm’s toy soldier museum was there, and it was open to the public).

It was fun watching people snap our pictures, thinking we must be Royalty.

Me, posing as Royalty at a memorable beef bourguignon-serving occasion involving a birthday. Nope, not the Duchess’s — or even Malcolm’s

New York City. March 2018

The A-Hole Car


‘Dealing with a gang of turkeys on Amtrak’

Actually, I wasn’t sure what to call that bunch of turkeys. Except not to call them for dinner (ba-da-bum). So I checked good ole Google. Turns out there are a variety of terms: ‘muster’, ‘posse’, ‘rafter’ being among them. The only one I decided against was ‘school’, since the ‘gang’ I’m going to describe seemed decidedly uneducated. At least in the mores and folkways of polite train-riding.

The story I’m going to tell happened when Dude and I were Amtraking our way home after spending a most delightful day and a half with The Child up in the Boston/Cambridge area where she lives and works.

You’ve probably heard enough already about The Child and her cool job at the amazing-and-recently-bought-by-Standard-and-Poor Kensho. Suffice it to say that The Dude and I are not only proud as punch but relieved that she won’t be couch-surfing at our place any time soon.

The Child showing us around Kensho’s new C’bridge digs. If you look closely you can see that her door has ‘Troll’ written on it (not by us)

Kensho’s new spread is one of those designed-so-the-workforce-never-wants-to-leave sorts of places. With not only two kitchens stocked with every kind of snack imaginable (even Goldfish, The Child’s personal catnip), but also a gym and a game room and (I am not making this up) a meditation room. The Child and The Dude worked up a bit of a healthy sweat at the ping-pong table, though, sadly, this went undocumented.

The Dude test-swings one of Kensho’s more, um, interesting new ‘office chairs’. (Yeah, I stole this shot from The Child’s Instagram feed; could have cropped the bottom, but wanted to keep those Dude Feet)

Anyway, we had a very pleasant time even not at the fantastic new office — an afternoon walking around Cambridge with Child and BF, capped with a nice dinner in a Millennial-friendly Williamsburg-hipster-esque spot near Inman Square.

Bumping into a few turkeys on a walk around Cambridge. Much better behaved than the turkeys we encountered on our train

Next day, for a change of pace, we went to the Isabella Gardner Museum, which is like one of my favorite haunts in New York, the Frick, in that it is a big beautiful house filled with the art and objects that the big beautiful benefactor left in it. It is my dream that, one day, The Child will be so successful that she can buy me one of these houses. Either one will be fine.

Meeting the benefactrice. Incidentally, if your name is ‘Isabella’, you get in free. We had to pay

Yes, we were allowed to take pictures inside the Gardner House. (I asked a guard, just to make sure.) Here are a few more to enjoy before I get back to the incident-on-the-train part.

This house has, among zillions of other attractions, a four-story courtyard. Sigh

Dude and Child taking in the courtyard while I measure the rooms for the movers

The Child, making like a Sargent

All right, enough with the art and the day-dreaming. Sooner than you can say “Gosh, that visit went fast!”, The Child had ushered us into an Uber, and off we went to the station, where The Dude enjoyed a fortifying Carvel cone before boarding our train back to New York.

We had suffered through a bit of a misadventure on our way up to Boston the day before. See, I can’t sit backwards without getting carsick, so we had dragged our bags through car after car of ‘backward-facing seats’ only to discover when the train started moving that the two ‘front-facing’ ones we finally found (next to the bathroom, ick) were actually backwards. We, duh, thought the train was pointed the other way.

But that was bliss compared to our ride home. Turns out a big snowstorm was predicted for Boston, so our train was crammed with not only experienced, polite train-riders, but a rather unruly mob of, I’m guessing from their (loud) cellphone conversations, o-no-our-flight-was-cancelled airplane-flyers.

You know how on the train they have this thing called the Quiet Car? We didn’t sit there, since we knew we might want to, you know, kvell a bit with each other over The Child. (Besides, the Quiet Car was, no doubt, full already with nice, quiet, and super-smart-for-choosing-it Quiet-Car-riders.)

The Dude, sitting quietly (even tho not in the Quiet Car), reading his Jack Reacher book on his phone instead of talking on it

So we sat in a ‘normal’ car. Which we quickly dubbed the A-Hole Car. (Only we didn’t call it ‘A-Hole’) This car was populated with peeps who coughed a lot, marched up and down the aisle bonking you on the head with bags and briefcases, ate smelly food, were accompanied by loud screaming children, dropped their tray tables so they made resounding bangs, slept with their feet on the adjoining seat, and watched movies without headphones.

Yup. It was just like being on a plane! But worse, since (at least for now, thank the Transportation Gods) you can’t talk on the phone on a plane. And this bunch of turkeys were indeed gabbling on the phone. Loudly, and a lot. One guy a couple of seats up, over the course of several calls, told us in booming detail all about the deal he was closing. He referred, several times, to his clients as “all pre-sliced, like bread in buns.” Once he even said he was “shaving down the buns”. I’m not sure what all that means, biz-wise, but I sure hope his deal wasn’t a secret one, because everybody in that car knew all about it by the time we pulled into Penn Station.

Oh, speaking of marching up and down the aisle, there was a woman who paused mid-march to ask what I was doing. (I was knitting some mittens.) She admired my handiwork, which was nice, but then she picked up my finished mitten and without as much as a by-your-leave or a how-de-do, she tried it on.

My mittens-in-the-making, pre-disturbance

Well. We made it home, sanity — and mittens — intact. And before the storm hit too. Thanks again, dear Child, for a wonderful visit. We hope to be back again soon. But next time we might drive.

New York City. March 2018


“What should I write on this name tag?”


‘That time I helped out at The Child’s School.’

This past weekend the Northeast got socked by a big ole Northeaster. Maybe you heard about it. Heck, maybe you were even in it. Like any sensible person, I rode it out tucked up safe and dry indoors. (Though an alarming number of people who got nailed by this storm were also indoors — they got squooshed by big ole trees falling on their houses.)

Inspecting the damage the day after the N’Easter. Yes, that cliff got majorly undermined. And no, you’re not supposed to stand that close to it

I did my best to distract myself from the swooshing of sideways rain and the rattling of windows withstanding 55 mph gusts by engaging in some serious house cleaning. And then, as a reward, I started a very good novel. (Pachinko, if you’re interested. One of the NY Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2018, and deservedly so.)

But it was hard to concentrate. Instead of losing myself in a story about Koreans in Privation in the Far East, my mind wandered to Kids in Private School on the Upper East Side. Specifically, it wandered to that time I handed out name tags. Maybe it was the pillow: Continue reading

Working for Doctor Dude


‘The job I was just not cut out to do’

I’ve worked at a lot of jobs, over a lot of years. I worked at ad agencies in New York and, before that, in the Midwest. Before that I worked at my hometown newspaper. And before that I was a babysitter. Heck, I’ve even worked as a “cleaning lady” — and not just in my own house. Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I ‘did’ my Dad’s office back when I was a kid in grade school. (I can’t remember what we got paid, if anything.)

But nothing I had worked at before in all my many years of working prepared me for serving as a receptionist in my husband-the-doctor’s office.

Yup, The Dude is a doctor. An eye doctor (an ophthalmologist), in fact. If you’re going to be a doctor, it’s a pretty good kind to be. For one thing, there are hardly any emergencies. No matter how often your mom warned you, it’s really not that often that kids poke each others’ eyes out with pointy sticks. Another thing that’s good, at least from The Wife’s perspective: no one gets naked. Nope, you’ll hardly ever hear an eye doctor say “Let’s get that top off; I need to examine your retinas.”

The Dude’s extremely adorable office mural, made for him by the extremely adorable Child

Continue reading

The friend who had a nanny for her dog


‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

Like oil and river water


‘We’re one crazy mixed-up couple’

They say that opposites attract. Well, The Dude and I have been married more years than most of you Dear Readers have been alive. Which is pretty amazing in and of itself. But it’s even more amazing given how, well, opposite the two of us are.

In fact, I’d call us bi-polar opposites, given that our differences often drive us crazy.

Okay, there’s the easy stuff. I’m coffee; he’s tea. I’m radio-on-in-the-car; he’s I-want-to-appreciate-the-silence. I like parties; he’s I’ve-worked-hard-all-day-and-want-to-crash-at-home. I like novels; he only reads non-fiction. (‘Why would I want to read something that someone made up?‘) I love art; he only likes art that looks like what it’s supposed to be and/or looks like it was very hard to do.

Pointe Hilton by Jack Mendenhall. Meets both The Dude’s criteria: looks like what it is, and indeed looks like it was very hard to do

And what is it with hot and cold? Has there ever been a married couple who agrees on the thermostat? There he is, in the dead of winter, wearing a tee-shirt and turning up the heat; I say put on a sweater — preferably one of the many I’ve knit for you. Continue reading

If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?


‘Sometimes it’s best not to follow the leader’

I have this Teddy Roosevelt fixation. Maybe it’s because my name is Alice*. (In case your history’s a bit rusty, Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a lively cigarette-smoking rebel who grew up to be a famous elderly curmudgeon. She had a needlepoint pillow that read ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’)

*Yes, ‘Lutheranliar’ is really named ‘Alice’. After my Gramma. Middle named ‘Celia’. After my other Gramma, whose actual name was Cecelia. But my mom said she shortened it so I wouldn’t spit on people. Go ahead; try it: “Alice Cecelia”. I rest my case. Or my mom does anyway.

And Teddy? Well, he did crazy things like wander off into the wilderness all alone and lead charges into battle on horseback. And he still found the time to read two books a day — even while he was busy being President.

Teddy almost died of malaria making the same (gulp) trip we did a couple of months ago. Read about his trip in ‘River of Doubt’. Read about ours in ‘Eat. Or be eaten’ or ‘The Curse of the Potoo’

One of the coolest things that Teddy did (or at least I think so) was how he evaded the pesky ole Secret Service. Since Teddy had actually become President when the guy before him, William McKinley, got shot,  there were lots of Secret Service agents following him around to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen to him, too.  Continue reading