Cuddles and Colonoscopies

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‘It’s a good thing I’m not Katie Couric’

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I almost had to live forever in Colombia because of a Covid test gone awry. (See “I Was Positive I Was Negative” for the gory details.) And then I wrote about the time I got mugged on Thanksgiving. (Check out “Your Turkey or Your Life” for some scary stuff.)

Scary: how quickly you have to switch from the turkey napkins to the reindeer ones

I guess I’m on a roll here spinning strands of woe into the gold of glee, because today I had a colonoscopy. And, trust me, the whole experience has been so all-consuming of both body and mind that I can’t think of anything else to entertain you with.

Oh yes (speaking of being on a roll), I did think about riffing on a piece I saw in The New York Times about how young girls in Korea have started wearing hair rollers in public. The piece claims that they are “saving” their best groomed selves for the people they care about. Well. I’m here to tell you that this is not the reason. At least when I was a teen, we traipsed around all day in rollers to signal that we had a date that night.

Teen me not wearing rollers (because I was at school) but I did sometimes twine my locks around a giant tin can — and even, on occasion, ironed my hair

But yesterday I had to stop eating food and start drinking disgusting slimy sludgy concoctions designed to “flush my system” and produce a “nice clean colon.” I’m here to tell you that the stopping of the eating is a piece of (ugh!) cake compared to the flushing of the system.

I am sure that you are breathing great big sighs of relief at this point that I am sharing only verbal details — and not too many of them at that. Good ole Katie Couric famously had her colonoscopy done on live TV. It was on The Today Show, and no I am not providing a link. Oh, okay. Here it is, but I am not going to watch it.

It’s been hard not to think of anything else, even hair rollers. But today I had The Actual Procedure and I’m glad to report that my colon is A-OK. Incidentally, I’ve had to go through a whole raft of Fun Medical Procedures recently because, for the past several years, I have not had a physical exam. Oh, I’ve gone to doctors for this or for that, but not for the whole shebang. Turns out you find out all kinds of lovely things you need at a physical exam — tetanus shots, shingles shots, many many shots. Oh, and in my case, that colonoscopy. Oh, joy.

How I’ve felt the last few weeks — and not because of my birthday (!)

Oh, one more thing. Today was also the anniversary of the loss of the wonderful “imaginary kitty”, Wombat. The silver lining in that cloud is that my Favorite Child gave me a picture book about her. And my Favorite Sister gave me a pillow that looks like her (and is even soft like her.) And once I got home, there they were: perfect post-colonoscopy companions to cuddle up with.

New York City. November 2021

I was positive I was negative

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‘But my Covid test said, “Not so fast.”‘

Was it the hairpin turns at 13,000 feet? The overturned tractor-trailer along the road to Buga? Or the super-sized snake being mobbed by birds?

Perhaps I should have appealed to Mary instead of taking her picture. (Note snake with an apple in its mouth at her feet not being mobbed by birds)

Nope. The scariest part of our trip to Colombia was when I got the results of my Covid test:

See, a negative Covid test is one of the many requirements to regain entry to the United States if you have been anywhere outside its borders, not just Colombia. And, yup. This triple-vaccinated person — along with two more of our group — tested positive.

No explanation for why this tree was studded with locks. Good luck for Covid testing, maybe?

(We were on the bus when this happened. Dude Man opened my testing lab email for me — my glasses were in my backpack — and there was a sickeningly long pause before he announced, “Alice is positive.” Our guide barked with laughter, thinking he was kidding.)

One of the places our bus took us was this way-high-up lodge surrounded by hummingbird feeders. We saw so many hummers — more than 30 — that we started saying “Oh. Another hummer” when looking for other birds

The Dude had warned us of this. “This test (the antigen one) has a twenty percent false positive rate,” he said while we were waiting to get our nasal passages probed.

The reservoir where we spotted a long-billed dowitcher — which is much rarer in Colombia than a positive Covid test

Turned out it was even worse. Though I was the first Bad News Recipient, three of the eight of us — which is almost forty percent — got nasty surprises in our inboxes. All of us, I must note, had been vaxed and boostered up the kazoo. And all of us spent a very rocky 18 hours until we could get tested again. To give you some idea of how stressful this was, the picture at the top of this post shows me enjoying a meal — something I absolutely could not do during this period. And forget about sleep.

Miles to go before I sleep. Good thing there were some chirpy distractions

Here I must give a grateful shoutout to Field Guides, our amazing birding company. Turns out Jesse, our guide, whom I lovingly call Hipster Birder (see “Gorilla My Dreams” and/or “Planes, Boats and Sorta-Kinda Automobiles” for previous Jesse stories) has a heart of gold and nerves of steel as well as birding blood running through his veins. He offered to stay behind if we had to stay behind.

Guide Man (sans man bun this trip) shares a birdy moment with The Dude

And our local guide, Daniel? He said that if the worst should happen and we actually had Covid, the Infected One(s) could use his company apartment in beautiful, birdy Manizales for the duration. He gave us a tour of the neighborhood on our way to our second test — which, thank the Lab Lord, turned out negative (whew!) for all three of us — pointing out grocery stores and parks for walking. Jeez. What a guy.

Our birding itinerary. Manizales was almost our new home

Well, “All’s well that ends well,” or so they say. We saw birds. Many many birds. I think 359 species. (Forgive me for not including photos of any of them. I am waiting for Dude Man to retrieve them from his camera. I am not, however, holding my breath.) Plus agouti, a red howler monkey and that aforementioned snake.

Better than the fanciest bird: a Big Fat “Negativo”

Best of all, our little band of eight contained not a single Annoying Person. I guess a Covid Test Scare makes for beautiful bonding.

Our merry band waaaaaay up in the Andes. Not a baddie in the bunch

They also say, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Forgive me if this post is less than hilarious. There just hasn’t been enough time. Instead of a laugh I’ll leave you with this peek from a peak of the Central Andes:

Amagansett, New York (whew!) November 2021

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Buga

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‘A quick birdy peep at Colombia’

No, I didn’t pack The Skirt for our trip to Colombia. In fact, I packed hardly any clothes at all. Not that I was being racy. Oh no. It’s just that the priority for the bags was gear.

Binoculars, of course. But also backpacks and daypacks and water bottles and camera bags and headlamps and bird guides and carabiners. Many many carabiners.

Birder Dude festooned with some of his gear, utilizing many many carabiners

For those of you not familiar with this amazingly versatile device, a carabiner is a thingie that pinches open and shut and can be used to hang practically anything from anywhere. We use carabiners to hang a walking stick from a pack or a flashlight from a belt or — just yesterday — a coffee cup from a pant loop. (This coffee cup happened to be red plastic and proved to be a big hit with the hummingbirds, who kept buzzing my backside thinking I was a source of tasty nectar.)

Where the heck is he? Birders patiently stalking a skulking bird. Some sort of Ant Bird, I think. I honestly can’t recall — we’ve already seen more than 200

Forgive me in advance, oh Delightful Faithful Readers, but I am now working within a very narrow window of shared WiFi service and am not be able to populate this post with my usual array of photos. Let’s see if this movie will upload. It was taken along the roadside leaving Buga for the Andean slopes. Busy road? Who cares? Birders gotta bird.

I’m working on a vacant corner of a rustic trestle table on an outdoor deck next to the hummingbird feeders, and, speaking of feeding, may need to abort this mission so that the staff — a very cool female entrepreneur and her extended family — can set up for dinner.

Anyway. We’re on the fourth day of our Colombian Adventure. The title of this piece comes from our second destination, a town called Buga, which, I was told, was founded as a religious Mecca. This made sense; the hotel we stayed for just one night on our way to the outer slope of the Western Andes felt like The Overlook meets a monastery: old and vast and stucco. The long creepy hallways made me want to peddle on a plastic Big Wheel. Needless to say, I took the stairs instead of the elevator. If the noise that night was any indication, there are plenty of religious pilgrims who enjoy discos. But, alas, no WiFi.

But this place was merely a way station on the way to the birdy — and steep — slopes of the Andes. Where we are right now. There’s no one here right now to ask how high we are, but let’s just say I’m glad that it’s dark when we hop in the 4-wheel drive vehicles for the ride up the trail each morning. The road, incidentally, was made to erect a cell tower. There are Army Guys up there who guard it. It’s so remote and the one skinny little road is so bad — the road we took, with many scary washed-out bits — that the Army Guys’ supplies are delivered by helicopter. I hope they get a large booze ration.

The hummingbirds also like our guide’s red hat. They not only buzzed him, they kept landing on his hat

We saw the Army Guys up at the top the other morning. They looked lonely. Maybe they should start wearing red hats.

Montezuma Lodge, somewhere in the Western Andes. November 2021

Skirting the issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Skirt makes a date with a gray sweater

Same Skirt, different top. Same party, different year

I bought The Skirt to wear to a ball. Yes, a real ‘ball” in an actual “ballroom.” After that, knowing that my social life was a tad short on balls, The Skirt made a starring appearance at every Tree Trim Party from 1997 on up. Till, one Christmas season when The Child was in high school, The Dude spied me donning The Skirt yet again and said, “Don’t wear that. That’s what old ladies wear.

Party like it’s 1999! The Skirt sees me into an elevator and into a new century

Horrified by being taken for an old lady, I shifted to satiny slacks (once) and then I alternated between sleek little white and red sheaths.

The Skirt, poor thing, got relegated to the back of the closet where it languished until we sold the apartment we called home for nigh on to 27 years. (That’s a lot of Tree Trims. You can read more about this former Tom Sawyerish tradition in “(N)o Tannenbaum.”)

I must admit that I almost “downsized” The Skirt straight to The Housing Works Thrift Shop. But something stayed my hand. Maybe it was all those fond memories of slipping it on, then shopping my closet to transform it. Or maybe it’s just because I associate it with drinking champagne.

Let’s just say I was glad I still had it, since, when The Child and I were discussing what to wear to mark my Seventieth, she said, “Mom! You should wear that taffeta skirt. I always loved that skirt. In fact, I want that taffeta skirt when you get tired of wearing it.”

So I dug it out and introduced it to a sparkly top. But when I pulled it on last night, I made a rather disturbing discovery. Oh, it fit all right — though it was a bit tighter around the waist than I remembered.

I’m not just getting older — I’m getting shorter

No. What happened was that either The Skirt got longer — or, what is more likely — I got shorter. I had to roll the waistband — twice — in order to keep from stepping on the hem. Which kind of took me back, since that’s what we used to do with our skirts in high school to transform them from dress-code-appropriate knee length to much-more-trendy miniskirts.

(The Child, bless her heart, is the one who kindly suggested that, instead of me having shortened, The Skirt might have lengthened. You know, from hanging all those years. One of the zillions of reasons I adore the heck out of her.)

Anyway. The Skirt was a big hit. As was the whole champagne-fueled evening.

Best of all — maybe because I’ve now aged into it? — The Dude didn’t say a word about The Skirt being “what old ladies wear.”

New York City. November 2021

 

So many doctors, so little time

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‘I’ve officially turned into an Old Person’

So I’m sitting on one of those crinkly paper thingies in an exam room when the door opens and this incredibly gorgeous woman walks in. Sort of a cross between J-Lo and Giselle Bundchen.

”I’m Doctor Exotic (not her real name)”, she says, extending her hand for a shake.

”You’re the doctor?!?” I exclaim, taking in her voluptuous figure, leopard-print leggings and long glossy locks.

”Yes, I am,” she responded with a blindingly white smile. “Who were you expecting?”

”An old white guy!” was my immediate answer.

Dr. E laughed, then proceeded to point out that more than half of all medical students these days are women. “Oh, I know,” I interjected. “My husband told me. He’s a doctor — an old white guy.”

Two Old White People out on the town — out in Amagansett. One of us is a doctor

This exchange happened during my second doctor’s visit in one day — yesterday. Too many doctor visits on a Tuesday is one of the reasons I’m late with this week’s post. I also needed an idea to write about, and — Silver Lining Time — the doctor visit gave it to me.

So back to how my life is organized around doctor visits and how that’s one of the ways I know I’m officially Old.

Younger Sister Laura and me making a Mom Sandwich. Three guesses which one of us gets mistaken for her sister

Those of you who read my posts regularly (Bless you, one and all!) know that since retirement (“retirement,” hmmm. Another Old Clue) I have essentially relocated from the City to Eastern Long Island. Amagansett, to be exact. I used to come in to the City for two or three days a week to go to classes or museums or plays. Now I still come in two or three days a week — but to go to doctors.

And I’m not the only one. I have a friend (hi, Helen!) who was recently featured in a New York Times article about downsizing. Helen mentions that she and her husband wanted to keep a small apartment in the City for “doctor visits.”

Two Young White People out in Amagansett. Back when I hardly ever hung out with doctors — except on dates

Like Helen, there’s nothing (thank the Health Gods) particularly wrong with me. But I see the dermatologist and the gynecologist and the dentist (all routine) and the endocrinologist and the physical therapist and the pain management specialist (for bone and back issues; the picture at the top of this post is me wearing a contraption prescribed by my neurologist). Oh, and let’s don’t forget the gastroenterologist (for those super-fun colonoscopies).

The only doctor I haven’t seen lately is the ophthalmologist. Mainly because he’s my husband and when I say that I’d like to make an appointment he just says, “Oh, just stop in some time.” Which, of course, never happens.

Oh, and just when you think you’ve caught up with these doctor visits, you get another one added on. It’s kind of like Wac-A-Mole. You cross off a doctor visit, and another one pops up. Yesterday at the gynecologist: “You’re due for a mammogram, I see.” “But I just had a mammogram,” I protested. “That was in January of 2020. At your age you need one every year.”

Me, not with a doctor this time. But at an age when no one ever suggested I get a mammogram. Not even braces

Which brings me (again) to the Age Thing. I am in complete shock to realize that next week I will be celebrating a birthday that is so Big and so Old that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I will have attained an age so great that there aren’t any funny birthday cards for it. No silly rhymes like “Lordy Lordy, look who’s forty.” No sayings like “Fifty is the new thirty.” Nope. It’s just an age that’s — old.

Me, helping someone else celebrate turning The New Thirty

How old? I’m so old now that waitresses mistake me for my mother’s sister. So old that I scare myself when I glimpse my reflection in a store window. So old that, when I announce my age (as I did in Dr. Exotic’s office yesterday) people don’t react at all. Why, just a couple of years ago, if I had to state my age, the response was invariably “Oh my! You certainly don’t look it!” Now? Nothing. Just stone-faced silence.

The last time I celebrated a remarkable Landmark Birthday I was in Florence. Now I’m in Disbelief

But hey. Am I upset about attaining this Great and Venerable Age? No way, Jose. When I start to count up doctor visits and feel sorry-elderly, I just remind myself of what one of The Dude’s friends says: “Every day above ground is a good day.”

Of course, he is an old white guy.

New York City. October 2021

 

 

Stage Mother for a Day

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‘The Child was a Star. Just not a Child Star.’

I must miss the Ad World. Or maybe I just like writing about it.

Just last week I wrote about how the client hated a brilliant idea for a bra commercial so much that I was yanked off the Playtex account. Which wasn’t really so disappointing — except that I was put on the Kimberly-Clark account.

Kimberly-Clark (or KC, as we called it informally, if not fondly) is a paper products company based in Neenah, Wisconsin. I’ve written about KC before, most notably in “HooHah Time is Story Time,” but, trust me, when it comes to tales from the Paper Valley, I’ve got reams and reams of them.

Over my years at Ogilvy, I worked on Hershey and the British Tourist Authority, Q-Tips and Swanson, General Foods and American Express (See “Karl Malden’s Nose”), among others. I even “helped” on Shake ‘N Bake.

I don’t have many shoot photos, but this is one of my faves. I don’t remember what the shoot was for — except that it wasn’t for KC

But no matter what else I was assigned to, I seemed always to have a KC brand in my quiver. Turns out I had an indefinable quality known around the Ogilvy Ranch as “Kim.” Which, basically, meant that the Kimberly-Clark clients liked you. Maybe it was because I was a Midwesterner. I guess the clients didn’t stop to think that I was a Midwesterner who spent a considerable part of her Midwestern residency plotting and scheming to get the heck out of there.

Safely out of the Midwest and on a shoot with the Late Great Harvey G. (Read about him in “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”)

Anyway.

This story is about the time I was working on Huggies, a KC diaper brand. For some reason which I can no longer recall — other than the fact that she was a seriously cute baby — The Child was asked (or I was asked for her) to appear in a Huggies print ad. She would be playing a magician. (This was when all the Huggies ads had babies portraying grownup occupations: artists, engineers, teachers. No advertising writers, not that I recall.)

On a Huggies TV shoot in — of all places — South Africa. Yes, there was a Baby Wrangler on set. But this wasn’t the set (!)

Before you get too impressed, the way print ads involving babies — or any ads involving babies — get done is to sort of hedge your baby bets. You have a casting call involving zillions of babies from which you choose about a dozen to photograph. With TV commercials, you pick even more.

See, actors can have Bad Days. Days when they wake up on the wrong side of bed, or eat something funny or miss their nap. And that’s the grownup actors. Babies are even more unpredictable. So, the more babies on set, the better. I’m thinking The Child was asked to the shoot as sort of a bonus bumper baby.

There’s even a job on diaper shoots called Baby Wrangler. Her job (she’s usually a “she”) is to corral all the babies, keep them calm, and — this is super important — keep them away from their mothers.

The mothers on shoots are, with rare exceptions, simply horrible. They hover and smother and boss everyone around, including their progeny. I was once at a casting call for Alpha-Bits where one poor little girl’s horrible mother wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom for fear of missing her turn on camera, and, you guessed it, she peed all over the carpet. And didn’t even get the part, poor kid.

Me, sporting a souvenir from a shoot in L.A. Maybe it was for Alpha-Bits

Well. I got a chance to experience Stage Mothering up (too) close and (way too) personal at that Huggies shoot. No one knew that I was actually an Agency Person, so the other SMs treated me as one of their own. After staking our ground by declaring how many months’ old our babies were (why is it always months, I wonder?) I was elbowed and glared at. Her Childness was even scolded for offering another toddler some of her Cheerios.

The Child, at 19 months, in her starring role as a magician

I wasn’t cut out for Stage Momhood, I guess. But it was not an experience I was destined to repeat. The Child was “shot,” all right, in costume and everything. But she was not chosen for the final ad. We did get a dollar for signing a release. And we got a swell copy of the photo. It’s the shot that appears at the top of this post — and in my kitchen — if not in a magazine.

The Child, at 362 months, in her starring role as a bride 

Amagansett, New York. October 2021

Whatever you do, don’t stare at the birthmark

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‘Our presentation to the CEO of Playtex’

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my Golden Olden Days in Advertising. But this weekend, as I was devouring the Sunday Times, I happened upon one of those paid obits that you can only see in the printed edition of the paper. (Yet another reason — besides starting fires in winter — to subscribe to an actual newspaper.)

It caught my eye — a phrase, incidentally, used waaaay too much by consumers in focus groups, as in “I don’t know if I’d buy that. Maybe if the ad caught my eye. And I don’t think this one would.” Well, this particular obit caught my eye because the deceased fellow pictured had not only a birthmark on his forehead, but a name that is quite uncommon. (Of course you know me well enough by now to know that I will not mention that name, out of respect for the dead, if not my own reputation.)

What I do these days instead of creating ads. Though I did knit quite a bit while on commercial shoots

Aha! That birthmark, plus that uncommon moniker, unleashed a whole-package-of-madeleines-worth of memories. Mainly centered around my experiences working with the late, great Mark Shap. (Mark’s name I will mention because I plan to say absolutely nothing negative about him.) Oh — a quick note here: If you think you will be offended by a story involving a person’s birthmark, please stop now and read one of my other Ad Biz Tales instead. I have a whole slew of them listed in the sidebar.

I don’t have any photos of me and Mark, so this one of Me and the Catskills will have to do

Back to Mark, who was an art director with long hair and a mustache. He was tall with a long elegant nose and rather reminded one of Big Bird on Sesame Street. That is, if Big Bird had an English accent. He was very talented and much sought-after as a creative partner. Like many creative geniuses, he could be difficult and demanding. I remember there was an editorial house that had a sign on the wall that went something like — Editing: $50 an hour. If you help: $100 an hour. If you are Mark Shap: $500 an hour.

Anyway. The story sparked by the birthmark happened when I was lucky to have been paired with Mark, but unlucky to have been assigned to the Playtex account. The Playtex clients hated Ogilvy. This was because — even though Ogilvy was then considered one of the greatest advertising agencies, if not the greatest — our clients had not chosen us.

Some biggie at Playtex played golf with some biggie at Ogilvy and the decision was made On High, without the involvement of the people who would actually be working with us. Assigning an account like this is kind of like your Dad making you go out with his best friend’s son. The son might be the most wonderful person in the world and just right for you, but the fact that your Dads cooked up the arrangement just sours the whole deal — for both of you.

Another nice Catskills shot. You know, to break up the story a bit. And no, no one set me up with this friend

Also, this Playtex assignment was for Playtex bras. Now, there’s nothing to be ashamed about working in underwear advertising. Just ask Marky Mark. But back then the networks had weird rules about bra commercials. Like, you couldn’t show a woman wearing the bra. Not over skin, anyway. You could show the bra on a woman — but only over clothes.

Now, this was challenging, to say the least. Commercials for bras showed some hapless woman dressed in, say, a sweater — with a bra strapped right over it. Like I said: weird.

And, what was worse, clients liked it that way. They didn’t want to experiment, uh uh. They wanted their creative team to show them yet another storyboard with a woman wearing a bra strapped over her sweater. Different color sweater? Sure. But that’s about as out there as you could get.

Now Mark was not the kind of art director who did things the usual way. He accepted the bra-over-clothing challenge and met it. He figured out a way to shoot the commercial using an early special-effects technique called “green screen.” The model would wear a leotard in a color that would “disappear” into the background when filmed. What you would see when the commercial was finished would be a bra moving around as if by itself — pleasantly “filled” with that part of a woman that goes under a bra — but you wouldn’t see the woman, or her leotard either, not to mention her sweater.

Too bad Roz Chast didn’t work on packaged goods advertising like I did

Well. This was a major achievement. We could hardly wait to present this idea to the client. In the car on the way to Playtex headquarters in Connecticut, we were prepped by the Suits (er, the account team.)

“Whatever you do, don’t say anything about Joe Blow’s (not his real name) birthmark.” (Like Mark and I were toddlers, and wouldn’t be able to resist laughing and pointing, I guess.) Upon hearing this advice, Mark and I did both start laughing. Rather uncontrollably. So maybe it was good they told us beforehand — so we could get that laughing out of our system.

The assistant AE was driving the car — the car was always driven by the assistant AE — but he did manage to throw in his two cents’: “Hey, it’s not funny. He’s the CEO.”

At this, Mark and I totally lost it. “Okay okay,” we snorted through tears. “We promise not to mention the birthmark. We won’t even look at the birthmark. If you like, we won’t even look at the guy.”

We go in the conference room, and there he is. And my gosh if he doesn’t have the biggest birthmark we’d ever seen. It was spread over most of his forehead and resembled the State of Montana. We quickly shook his hand — while focusing on his nose — and directed our attention to our storyboards.

We present our revolutionary idea, expecting, well maybe not cheers, but at least some level of surprised appreciation at our ingenuity. But the clients — including Joe Birthmark Blow — simply shook their heads in dismay while slowly intoning “Ogilvy…Ogilvy…Ogilvy” in a dirge-like singsong.

The CEO then clapped both hands to his head in abject despair — hiding the birthmark but not the fact that he absolutely hated the commercial.

It wasn’t the sunset of my career — but it was the end of my work on Playtex

New York, New York. October 2021

 

 

 

Earning my stripes

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‘My hot date with Yayoi Kusama’

“Wow, you sure do like stripes,” commented The Child’s Friend Alexandra, spying me in my pjs one summer morning.

Alexandra, who is now fast on track to be a neurosurgeon, was one of a gaggle of girls gracing our Amagansett Abode a few years ago during one of our sparkly celebrations of the 4th of July. (A much-missed summer tradition of ours you can read about in “Stars in Stripes” and “Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue.”)

The Child and I rocking our respective stripes on a 4th of July Weekend a few years ago

It should be noted that Alexandra, during the course of that particular weekend, had already seen me in striped tee shirts, striped tanks, and probably a striped bathing suit as well.

Three Henry Girls live it up on the beach. I’m the one in the stripes, natch

I guess I would have made a good convict. An economical one, anyway, since I could have furnished my own prison wardrobe. That is, if my place of incarceration had gone with the classic striped jumpsuit instead of the neon orange one.

Another year, another striped shirt. Fun fact: I happen to be wearing this shirt right this very minute. I’d take a selfie, but the poor shirt is in only-worn-when-no-one-else-is-here condition

But what’s all this got to do with Yayoi Kusama? In fact, you may be asking, “Who the heck is Yayoi Kusama?” Well. Kusama is a Japanese artist who does all kinds of what I call poppy-powy stuff like sculpture and painting and fashion — she even wraps trees in dotted fabric.

I didn’t get a shot of the fabric-wrapped trees, but here’s one of Friend T face to face with a sculpture in a fountain

She has a show at the Bronx Botanical Garden where her sculptures are “planted” among the flora and fauna so that you can happen serendipitously upon them. (I wrote about another show there featuring glass sculptures by Chihuly a few years ago.)

Also a few years ago, another striped-shirt appearance. This time with a rather sacrilegious french fry

I love the fact that a Kusama show is a hot ticket, especially since when you google her — or click this link — you see that she (yes, Kusama is a “she”) is the same age as my also-hot Mom. She has orange hair — Kusama, not my mom — wears happy colors and takes months to get to see. (Those last two actually are like my Mom.)

Happy Mom, sporting a Happy Print. I’ll get to see her next this December

It took Friend T hours of Covid-shot-scheduling-level computer work, but she scored us two tickets for a September Wednesday. Which turned out to be one of the hottest days ever. Hot in terms of the show, of course. But also hot in terms of the weather.

(Note how hot and sticky I look in the picture at the top of this post. I kind of wanted that Kusama octopus thing to swallow me up and put me out of my misery.)

Flash back to a nice cool stripes-wearing occasion a few years ago

It was hot. So hot that we begged a waiter — and tipped him handsomely — to grab us a couple of cold waters from a fancy reservations-only eating venue. Then, after we’d trudged down a steamy path while struggling mightily to open the fancy metal bottles — trudged back and tipped him even more handsomely to twist the tops off for us.

We took every opportunity to duck inside the (relatively cooler) indoor exhibit spaces. When we reached the conservatory, we wondered why the guards were hanging around outside. Then we stepped inside. Tropical plants were loving it. We non-hothouse flowers, not so much.

Friend T outside the steamy Conservatory a few years ago, shooting a Chihuly

But we persevered — me, upon spotting a bit of shade at the end of a looooong asphalt path: “Look! There’s a tunnel at the end of the light!” — and sighed with relief when we ended in the gift shop. Where I rewarded myself. With some stripes, naturally.

See? Stripes. Made of dots. Sock it to me, Kusama (!)

Amagansett, New York. October 2021

 

 

 

 

 

BaBaRaRaCuCuDaDa

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‘The one (and only) time I swam into an underwater cave’

I’m pretty sure I mentioned that my Bro-in-law Bill stayed with us recently. (He is mentioned — in a good way — in “The House Guest Hall of Fame.”)

It all started when Dude Man had been on the phone with said Bill and announced to me, “Bill and Carol are having work done on their condo in Sarasota and he needs a place to stay while it’s going on. I told him he could stay with us. For two weeks.”

I don’t have a ton of photos of Bill. So here’s one of his brother, The Dude. Oh, and me

Well. I’ve always liked this guy, even though we did get off to a rather rocky start. He’s, um, bossy. But then again, so am I. We had a sort of Clash of the BossyPants.

I chalk it up to us both being Eldest Children. Not only are we bossy, but it’s our way or the highway. Here’s an example. We were lunching en plein air and the wives (Carole and me) had gone on ahead to set things up. Bill sees where we’ve arranged the picnic and says, “That’s not a good spot. Over there — that’s a good spot.”

Well, we did what most people would do — ignored him, filled our plates and dug in — while Bill served himself, then went over to the “good” picnic spot and ate all by himself.

Nope. Bill isn’t in this shot either. That’s Dude Man, me, Joe (who was married to Polly) and Polly, Sis of The Dude

As the years went by we mellowed. Or, as I like to think, I learned to appreciate the Billness of Bill. As he learned to appreciate the Ways of Alice.

But there is a limit. Two weeks? My mother doesn’t even stay with me for two weeks. So I said he could have two weekends and the week in between. Well, what with him arriving on a Thursday and leaving more than a week later on a Tuesday, he effectively stayed for two weeks, bless his little heart.

My Mom, during her last long visit chez moi — which was about one week. Mom! Come back! Stay longer!

As things turned out, he was an ideal guest: Didn’t expect to be entertained, didn’t track sand everywhere (thought there were copious quantities of bread crumbs) and loved what I cooked. He was amazed when I did things like wash his clothes. (Don’t be too impressed; I was doing ours anyway.) “Even Carol (his wife, remember) doesn’t fold my clothes!” he exclaimed.

Nope. Neither of these lovely people is Bill, either. But that IS a lovely shot of the bread he would buy — each and every day. And eat it all himself. Seriously

The snarky part of me (which is a very large part, I admit) must point out that we have never stayed in their condo. When invited to Sarasota for a visit, it is assumed — nay, a requirement — that we stay elsewhere. “We’re not set up for guests,” says Carol.

Dude Man and Dude Bro, during out visit to Bill’s where we had to Stay Elsewhere. Note similar bro-wear, including socks

But who’s keeping score? Bill’s almost-two-weeks went well, and besides, there was that one time we were invited to stay on Bill’s boat. And not just stay on it — to use it. You know, sail it around — and without him there.

It was a long time ago, back when my Youngest Younger Brother Doug was a fresh (high school? college? Memory fails) graduate. As it happened, the Dude’s youngest brother was about the same age, and we thought it would be a fun graduation present to take them with us on the sailing trip on Bill’s boat, the Mariposa. (Which means, I think, “butterfly”. (Could have been worse. See this New York Times piece for a funny take on boat naming.)

On a boat, on a party. But not Bill’s boat, alas. And no, I don’t know what this boat’s name was. “Party McPartyface?”

Sadly, I have no photos of this boat — except the one at the top of this post, which shows me and Bill on the deck — but I remember this as being a pretty great trip. We sailed around the Bahamas stopping at little islands and beaches and pretty much living the life of Riley — if Riley were a sailor. Oh there were a few glitches; I recall an occasion where His Dudeness commandeered one of my knitting needles to unplug the head.

I knit everywhere in those days — on the beach, on the boat. That could indeed have been the needle that doubled as a plumbing tool

I even tried some snorkeling. Those of you you’ve followed me for a while (thank you, Sweet Things!) know that the ocean and I have a healthy respect for each other. That water? It’s someone’s home. I don’t go in their living room; and they don’t come into mine. (See “Getting Along with the Neighbors” for deets.)

The kind of water I grew up swimming in. Lakes don’t move — much — and only a few bluegill call this one home

So. We’re in the Bahamas. Near the place where they filmed the James Bond movie Thunderball — the one with the underwater cave. Dude Man and the Boys all decided it would be great fun to swim in there. Only thing: you had to swim under a ledge before you emerged in the cave.

I had prepped myself for this excursion by removing my (small in carats, but big in heart) channel-set diamond wedding band. Dude saw me do this and asked why. “Because barracuda are attracted to shiny objects,” I said. “Not something that tiny,” was his retort.

 

Youngest Younger Bro Doug well before our boat trip. Nope, those are NOT barracuda, but a local fish called “crappy” — or “crappie”

Well. We get to the Thunder Ball cave and I’m, well, not so enthusiastic. I signal that I’ll wait while the Boys swim under the ledge and into the cave. They dive down and disappear. I’m sort of swimming in place when I feel a presence. I look over each shoulder, and there are not one, but two barracuda — each at least four feet long — hanging around, checking me out.

I swam under the ledge and into the cave.

Oh, before I go. If you’re wondering about the title of this piece, congratulations. You are officially a Young Person. It’s a line from an old Plymouth Barracuda radio commercial. This guy can’t pronounce the name, so this other guy coaches him: “Okay, repeat after me: Ba (guy says “ba”) Ba (“ba”) Ra (“ra”) Ra (“ra”) Cu (“cu”) Cu (“cu”) Da (“da”) Da (“da”). Got it?

“Yes! Babararacucudada!!! (Click here to hear the commercial)

Amagansett, New York. September 2021

How could she forget about “Grampa crackers?”

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‘On little kids and how little they remember from being little.’

Some young friends of ours are going through the Nursery School Application Thing. Which, in New York, is like applying to the Ivy League, only way more stressful.

It’s felt that getting into the “right” nursery school can set your child on the road to not just academic success but life success. So the whole process is, well, somewhat fraught.

Me, not attending nursery school — enjoying the School of Hard Knocks instead

Fortunately for Dude Man and me, almost 30 years ago — when The Child was an actual child — the process wasn’t nearly so stressful, at least not for us. This was mainly because, having not grown up in New York City — and, in my case, having been unaware of even the existence of nursery school — we didn’t realize how cutthroat and competitive it all was and blithely went about things in a relaxed and matter-of-fact manner. “Hey, this school looks good — it’s close to our apartment!” was kind of how we rolled.

Our Child at her Very Good Nursery School when Aunt Eleanor was visiting

(You can read about our experience in “The Bears are Watching a Movie.”) Sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially when the ignorance involves education.

But back to our young friends. In the course of our nursery-school pep chat, the mother mentioned a cute thing that their two-year-old does: “When we come home from work he runs to get his shoes and our masks (my emphasis) so we can go outside,” she told me.

Well. This got me thinking. About a lot of things, but mainly about how little we remember from when we were little. And how you find out about stuff you did then from people telling you about it.

I certainly don’t remember this. Someone had to show me this evidence to prove that I once bathed with a cousin and an aunt — at the same time!

I once famously threw my socks and “shoes-on” out the car window (which you can read about in “The Red Shoes-on” ) and, another time, came inside after playing and informed my mother, “I wasn’t throwing rocks at the house.”

I can remember neither of these childhood episodes, which is probably just as well. I’m thinking that our young friends won’t be too upset if, in a few years, their Little Guy has no memory of wearing his mask, either. I certainly wish that could happen to me.

But what about those “Grampa Crackers” I refer to in the title of this piece?

See, The Child’s Grampa on the Dude’s side had a very close relationship with her. Quite literally. He lived in the same block as us in the City, but where we saw him most was in Amagansett. He was totally enamored of her, calling her “My Little Character,” and spending almost every waking hour in her company. They swam together, they hiked together; they picked berries and picked up snakes.

I don’t have a photo of Grampa and Child picking up snakes. More’s the pity

Grampa W’s favorite snack was Carr’s wafers. He would open a box and just, well, eat them. With no spread or topping or anything. The Child loved them too, and called them “Grampa Crackers.”

Well, thank goodness she had another perfectly-good Grampa, because this one didn’t last very long. He died when The Child was just four. In his honor, she made a mural of the ocean shore — and placed, smack dab in the middle, a Grampa Cracker. A real one, glued right on.

When I was clearing out the attic to make room for the displaced City stuff that wouldn’t fit into the Ken & Barbie House, I came across this mural. When I mentioned it to Her Grown Childness, she didn’t remember making it — and, what was worse, didn’t remember “Grampa Crackers” at all. I didn’t have the courage to ask if she remembered Grampa. Maybe some day.

Amagansett, New York. September 2021