Who are you, and what have you done with my daughter?

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‘There is a grownup hanging out in The Child’s room’

It hit me like a ton of memory sticks the other day that my daughter is the same age I was when I upped and moved to New York.

Now, at the time, you understand, I thought I was practically over the Advertising Hill and had better get the heck out of the Hinterlands before I got used to writing radio spots for chicken specials at Safeway and languished in career obscurity.

Now, of course, I realize that I was barely dry behind the ears and that writing poultry-packed radio spots wasn’t all that bad a way to make a living. After all, back then I drove a Mercedes. (A 450 SEL previously owned by an Army Guy, but still. A Mercedes.)

But if I hadn’t gotten myself to New York I wouldn’t have met The Dude and wouldn’t have had The Child and wouldn’t be writing this post. So there’s that.

She used to tell jokes about bars. (See “Kangaroo Walks into a Bar”) Now she goes to bars

Like many of you out there who also are no longer Twenty-Somethings, I am constantly amazed at the rapid passage of time. Everything goes by so darned fast. Like, summer lasts about two weeks, tops. (See “The Days are Long, But the Season is Short” for deep seasonal diving.) I swear, there are some Labor Days when I put those white bucks back in the closet without having worn them once.

But back to the Alien Who Has Somehow In Five Minutes Taken Over The Space Formerly Occupied By The Child. Not only does this person not resemble in any way shape or form the daughter that lives in my mind’s eye (for one thing, she’s a zillion feet tall and towers over me), she doesn’t act like her, either.

The Child in my head teeters around on training wheels and goes on playdates where she breaks her arm and doesn’t tell us because she’s afraid we’ll “be mad because she was running inside”. The Child in the present goes on one-hundred mile bike rides and wins wine in backgammon tournaments — wine that she is more than old enough to drink.

The Child in my head chooses a stuffed animal to take on a trip. (“Lion went last time, Mom. This time it’s Penguin’s turn.”) The Child in the present goes gallivanting around the globe.

Nyet to stuffed animals. That’s a real, grown-up Siberian Husky

Speaking of global gallivanting, The Child now not only goes on trips without us, she takes care of things while we go on trips without her. I don’t know what we would have done had she not been on the scene during our first jaunt to Africa. Not only did she have to deal with a sick cat, but our apartment building caught on fire. (See “The Agent of Destruction” for heroic details.)

The Child in my head needed care and feeding. The Child in my house takes care of the cat and deals with emergencies without batting an eye — or calling us up

Basically, she looks like a Grownup. And acts like a Grownup. And that would be because she is. A Grownup.

I could go on and on. (Like many Parents-of-One, I have an amazing number of photos of Said Child.) But I will end with one last shot — and with this question: If The Child is now a Grownup, then what does that make me?

The Child and I as we exist now only in my imagination. Hmmm. Perhaps Time actually is on our side

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

 

 

Three cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue

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‘The Child declares her Independence’

As she put it oh-so-well and oh-so-hashtageriffic on Instagram, #redwhiteandbluearetherussiancolorstoo (!) And looky here — I found this picture of the Russian flag. Which yes, does feature red, white and blue. Big stripes of red, white and blue, in fact.

Plenty of red, white and blue. But kinda boring, what with no stars and all

But nope, no stars on the Russian flag. (It used to have a star, back in the Good Old Soviet Days — but then it also had a hammer and sickle.) And no stars here in Amagansett, either. By “stars” I of course mean The Child and her friends, a group of whom have been on hand to help me celebrate America’s Birthday for several summers now. (I’ve written about their superstar visits before; check out “Stars in Stripes” for gushing details.)

Yes, that’s a Carvel Cake. It’s from last 4th, when my Stars were aligned. (And present) And no, I didn’t bother getting a Russian-flag cake this year. Tho no doubt The Dude could have polished it off, even with no Girls to help

Nope, The Child and three of her usually-here-for-the-Fourth friends absconded to Russia this year. Partly because one of the group is actually from Russia. (Her Dad, when told they were planning to visit Siberia: “Whatever for?“)

When in Siberia, one simply must stay in a yurt. Yup, a yurt

But mostly they went to Russia because they’re young and they could. (No, they didn’t plan the trip because of the World Cup. (In fact, they didn’t even realize Russia was hosting the World Cup until I showed The Child an article in the Times about this Mexican kid who was taking, like, 72-hour train rides to get to the matches and camping on Nice Russians’ couches and such. You can read it here, if you like. He wore a sombrero to meet girls.)

Of course I didn’t mind that my Gal and her Pals went to Russia. Though it did give me pause; after all, when I was her age, Russia was The Evil Empire and if you went there, like a friend of mine did, your hotel room was bugged and people would steal your blue jeans and chewing gum. (I’m thinking it’s not so easy to bug a yurt. And anybody can steal anybody’s chewing gum as much as they like, as far as I’m concerned. See “In outer space, no one can hear you scrinch”.)

It wasn’t all yurts. The Girls also hit the hot spots in Moscow and St. Pete

They had some amazing adventures, which I followed every day rather obsessively on Instagram. Those Instagram shots disappear, so I even more obsessively took screenshots of some of my faves.

So many palaces, so little time to screen-shoot them. This is one of many pilfered Instagram posts of decidedly non-yurt-like places. I’m pretty sure this was in St. Petersburg

Of course I sent a message. It said “Nope, it’s a cluck

Oh, and yes! I almost forgot — they were actually on hand in Moscow the very day when Russia won their Big World Cup Victory. They posted several movies of Crazed Ex-Soviet Soccer Fans dancing in the streets and on top of cars and so on and so forth. Which I could not “steal”. But I did get this:

Muscovites whooping it up after their World Cup Win. Shot from non-moving car by The Child or a Pal

But of course I missed those girls. The Fourth was kind of flat without them. Those of you who know me and/or read this blog (again, bless you!) know that I am rather hung up on Holiday Traditions. Not Christmas. (In fact, The Child spent last Christmas not with us and I wasn’t upset. Well, not inordinately so.) But I am very into The Fourth. And if she ever spent Thanksgiving “away”, well. I’m not sure what I would do. Dear Child, please let’s not try to find out.

So, sure, I was a tad disappointed that they weren’t around to dig into celebratory Carvel Cake and splash around in the pool and track sand into the house and eat me out of house and home. (Do you have any idea how many avocados four young women can consume in a day?!?)

But at least I didn’t have to experience the Dreaded Dropoff, after which I would head home to my lonely empty deck and a nice stiff — and very consoling — G&T.

This was the Dreaded Dropoff a couple of Fourths ago. I didn’t miss this. And I didn’t miss my G&T either

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

A match made in heaven

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‘A Road Trip and a Wedding. Who could ask for anything more?’

We’ve gotten to the point where we are no longer going to the weddings of friends; we are going to the weddings of friends’ children. Oh, I suppose it could be worse — we could be going to the weddings of friends’ grandchildren.

Say “blind date!” The Dude captures Dad and Mom of Bride, at left

We went to a particularly satisfying wedding last weekend. This one was of note not only because the Parents of the Bride are friends of ours, but because The Dude had actually introduced them to each other. Dad of Bride had been The Dude’s college roomie; Mom of Bride had been a cute hospital nurse. The Dude fixed them up on a blind date — and bingo! The rest — and two gorgeous daughters — is history. Of course we got invited to their weddings. In a way, Dude Man is responsible for their existence.

Future Mom of Bride, center, with Fixer-Upper Dude at right. Not sure who the heck the Blonde is, but I didn’t see her at this wedding. Or at least I don’t think I did

Regular readers of mine (bless you) know that not only am I inordinately fond of weddings (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for deets), but that I am an absolute sucker for a good road trip (some of which you can read about in “Drive, she said”.) Well, this event featured both. We not only got to go to one of the best parties ever (I mean, what’s not to like about a wedding?), we got to go there by car.

Well, there is one problem with a road trip — traffic. Here’s some that was at least going the other way. Sadly, this was not the case on the day we drove to the wedding

Let me point out that we live in New York City and that this wedding was in Williamsburg. (No, not Hipster Williamsburg, which is in Brooklyn. But Colonial Williamsburg, which is in Virginia.)

We could have flown, I guess. But Smartie Me did some math and figured that by the time we got to the airport and did all the Airport Nonsense, then flew to Wherever The Nearest City is, then rented a car and drove to C. W’burg, we might just as well drive. So that’s what we did. Got up at 5:30, hit the road by 6:00. Easy-peasy! I even packed us some snacks (granola bars left over from Uganda) and some turkey sandwiches (not left over from anywhere, thank goodness).

Well, we’d zipped on down to the D.C. area and were happily sipping away on some rest-area Starbucks while discussing the Fate of the Nation when, suddenly, GPS Girl goes into her Stern Mode and suggests an alternate route.

Quick GPS Girl Note: have you ever noticed that when she says “There is currently light traffic on your route” it means the opposite? That all of a sudden you are in traffic? Though my all-time favorite GPS Girl Thing is when she says “Drive to higher ground”. (She’s actually saying “highlighted route”, but even The Child once asked why she was telling us to get the hell to higher ground. Was there a tsunami?)

There was no tsunami, unless you count the waves of traffic we had encountered. Apparently I had failed to figure in the hordes of first-weekend-of-summer-after-school-is-out beach-goers who would be sharing our route. I’ll skip the sturm und drang and cut to the fact that we did make it to the wedding, though not with much more than a minute to spare. Lesson learned for the next time we have a wedding to go to in Colonial Williamsburg.

Two wedding belles. And a beau. That’s the Bride’s Dad’s Sister (she who forgot her Maid of Honor dress many weddings ago) stage left. The Lucky Guy in the middle? Her hub, I-Forget-His-Name

Speaking of weddings, The Dude was Best Man when his “fixees” got married. He famously forgot his shoes, which is one of the reasons that he has never appeared in a wedding party since. (You read that right; The Dude and I are married, but we didn’t really have a wedding. You can read about our non-event in “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.) Incidentally, there must have been something in the water around the time of The Dude’s Best-Man debut; the Maid of Honor forgot her dress.

The one time I appeared in someone else’s wedding: as a B Maid for my Favorite Sister. Note that I did not forget my dress

Anyway, we had a whale of a good time — The Dude even danced! — and were up early the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and rarin’ to hit the road. For the way back, we picked a different route, across the will-it-ever-ever-end Chesapeake Bay Bridge and on up the Delmarva Peninsula. (It’s called that because it contains bits of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — it’s that dangly bit on the map that looks kind of like an appendix.)

It was scenic and all, but our plans to “stop along the way and grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee” were thwarted by the fact that this was Sunday morning — and we were deep in the Bible Belt. I have never seen so many churches, with their parking lots packed. They were open, but all the “cute little diners” were closed up tighter than drums. We were able, finally, to stop at a Stuckey’s which had been advertised for miles with those billboards that say things like Only 6 Miles to Stuckey’s. Famous Pecan Candies! And Just 2 Miles to Stuckey’s. And Breakfast All Day! 

Boy, were we ready when we pulled up to what looked like a repurposed double-wide trailer with a Stuckey’s sign stuck on it. True, we could get pecan candies. Also fireworks and hams and “cheap cigarets”. But we settled for breakfast. A girl took our order, then gave it to the fry cook right behind her. You helped yourself to coffee (the milk was “in that little fridge right there, Hon”. Locals kept pouring in, ordering breakfast — and passing around the one bottle of hot sauce — before “fixin’ to go to church”.

Our Stuckey’s stop added at least an hour to our time, but overhearing the guy raving about the “mess o poke chops” he had “t’other evenin” was worth every added minute. We finally pulled in to Home Sweet New York City Home around 5 that evening. I did some more math and figured we’d spent as much time getting to (and coming home from) Williamsburg as we did in Williamsburg itself.

Oh well. It was some Wedding. And some Road Trip. I can hardly wait for the next one, which is in October in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I’m already mentally packing my road snacks.

I can’t end this story without showing you the Beautiful Bride. Sigh

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

Gorilla My Dreams

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‘The Silverback makes my previous Ape Alpha Male look like Chimp Change’

You may recall my relatively-recent story about that Playboy Monkey the Alpha Male Chimp. (It’s called ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’.) Mr. Alpha was one fascinating fellow; he postured, he posed, and he made satisfyingly movie-sound-track-like crazy chimp sounds as he ran around slapping tree trunks to show off his chimp cojones.

One of our merry Birding and Chimp-Tracking band made a little movie on his iPhone and was just about to play it back when the leader of our Primate Patrol cautioned him against doing so. The crazy chimp squeals on the soundtrack would cause Said Alpha to attack us. Oh.

But intimidating as he was, Mr. Head Chimp was an organ-grinder’s sidekick compared to the Silverback. Who is Head Dude of the gorillas, and well, a whole different animal. (The ‘gorilla’ featured in the picture at the top of this post is about as real as a unicorn. Though we did get to see Real Gorillas. And we were much much closer to them than we were to that silly gorilla statue.)

No, we weren’t camping. Nor were we in ‘executive budget rooms’. But we did find us some gorillas

This get-to-know gorillas experience occurred when we were in the Buhoma area of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our tour company, the inestimable Field Guides, had warned us that the Mountain Gorillas were hard to find, even though they were “habituated”. Which meant that they were (sort of) used to people. We could spend an hour with a gorilla troupe, provided we could find one, and, um, provided with suitable protection.

No, she is not a guerrilla leader — she was our gorilla leader. And yes that is a machete she’s holding

We were provided with a kick-ass leader (seen with adoring me above; I have forgotten her name, but not the fact that she was carrying ample weaponry along with her walkie-talkie) as well as porters and a couple of guys in front and back of our group carrying rifles. I like to think the rifles were only there to scare away elephants, but our Hipster Birder Leader said that, in a previous year, on a previous gorilla trek, a Silverback took umbrage at something he said or did and charged him. (He was told to stand perfectly still, a command which he obeyed, though I’m thinking he got pretty sweaty and it wasn’t just from the hike.)

Hipster Birder Leader takes a hike break after not being charged by a Silverback — not this time anyway

Yes, I said ‘hike’. As in long and steep. We hiked virtually straight up a mountain, our leader whacking away at the undergrowth with her machete to make us a trail, for three and a half hours to find the gorillas.

The Dude. On his way up, or on his way down. Can’t tell; we were equally sweaty either way

Then we got to spend an hour observing the troupe. After which, of course, we had to hike three and a half hours down. (The ‘down’ was harder; it was slippery as well as steep.)

Nope. That’s not the Silverback. That’s a momma gorilla. Yes, she was pretty darned big. And yes, we were that close

There was some drama in our troupe, though not of the charging-a-human kind, thank goodness. But drama nonetheless. It seems that, in gorilla society, females of breeding age leave their troupe and join another. Good for the blood lines, and all that. As with any immigration policy, though, problems can arise. If a female gorilla already has a baby, she cannot bring it with her to the new troupe. And they don’t just separate mom and child at the ‘border’. If she brings her baby ‘with’, the Silverback will kill it. Or her. Or both of them.

In the movie clip above, you can see Mr. Silverback charging a recently-arrived Momma and Baby. We didn’t stick around to see the ultimate end of this movie, though we were told it probably wouldn’t, alas, be a happy one.

Speaking of happy endings, I’d like to switch gears here and tell you what happened the next day, which was The Dude’s birthday. Ordinarily, Dude Man hates any kind of undue attention, especially of the Birthday Kind. In fact, he made me promise (among other things) when we got married never ever to throw him a surprise party. Well. Good thing he’s not married to Hipster Leader. Because HL did just that: staged a Birthday Surprise. But, as you can see in this clip, Birthday Dude didn’t seem to mind. Well, not much anyway.

New York City. June 2018

No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

Slip slidin’ away

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‘On — and off — the many wet roads of Uganda.’

I wish I had a nickel for every time my mother told me that I “wasn’t made of sugar, so I wouldn’t melt.” Maybe I’d have enough money by now for new rain gear.

Because ours sure got a workout on our African Adventure. In fact, we’re home now and I’m still reminded of how wet it was. My boots are gunky, my clothes are moldy-funky. My socks? Let’s not speak of my socks. You can probably smell them from wherever you are. And it wasn’t even the Rainy Season.

These boots, freshly-applied with waterproofing goop, are made for stompin’. Through mud and puddles and unspeakable gunk

But back to that “not made of sugar” deal. If that’s the case, then why did I attract so many ants? Tiny, nasty little bitey ants. The kind that swarm all over you if you’re not super-careful — and if you’re on a hiking trail where you can’t see the little buggers. (Not like in this video, where they’re on a road in plain, avoidable, sight.) Continue reading

Dude, we’re not in Kansas anymore

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’Though the sky sure as heck looks like we might be’

I thought I might have to skip a weekly blog post (quel horreur!) but it looks like I have internet here in Uganda, at least for the moment — the key words being ‘for the moment’.

So this’ll be a quickie. Mainly photos, with a witty bit of banter as filler. (Fingers crossed on the ‘witty’ as well as the internet access.)

Let’s start with that picture up top, showing an extremely scary (at least to this Former Midwesterner) sky. Some of our intrepid birding band were actually on board that little mainly-metal lightning-bait boat and insisting upon chugging upstream to clap their eyes on the Murchison Falls—no matter that the sky looked like the one that whipped Dorothy off to Oz. But cooler heads prevailed. Thank heaven for our Hipster Birder Leader, who insisted on herding us all safely to shelter, where some disgruntled mumbling ensued while we waited out the maelstrom. We (finally) did get to chug on up the Nile.

We missed the Falls, but not the boat. Thank you for not making me a Lightning Rod, dear Hipster Leader (the guy at left, not behind me. Duh)

On the Nile, we found plenty to amuse, including crocodiles and hippos. And (of course) plenty of birds, pointed out by our afore-mentioned Leader, who was himself a rare specimen—a birder sporting not only Hipster Headgear, but a beard, a ponytail, and plenty of tatts (though none of birds, I noticed.) He was also really into martial arts. Continue reading

Stalking the wild Shoebill

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‘On the hunt for a Ugandan bird as big as Idi Amin’

This morning I got locked in a bathroom. I mean seriously locked in. The kind of locked in where you beat on the door till someone hears you, but, worried that no one will, you actually consider clambering on top of the tank and climbing out the window — except the window has bars on it. Then someone finally does hear you, but that someone doesn’t speak English and it’s ages before a gang of guys comes with tools to break you out.

The bathroom in question was located on the banks of Lake Victoria, on the outskirts of Entebbe, which is in Uganda. Where Idi Amin used to be Head Dude and Dictator. Idi is long gone, but there are still plenty of ways to scare visitors. Like making a bathroom door that locks just dandy but, well, see above.

Once I emerged from said potty prison, unharmed except for a severely wounded dignity, our little Band of Birders boarded (more than a tad belatedly, due to my bathroom emergency) a local boat that was supposed to take us to a swamp so we could search for a rare bird called the Shoebill. My fellow birder/boaters had put the finishing touches on their potty jokes and had arranged ourselves on deck when a gigantic black cloud blew in and our leader, thank the Birding Gods, decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue.

While waiting patiently in an abandoned shelter for the storm to pass, our saintly leader happened to remark that in fact it was a good thing that I got locked in the bathroom — otherwise we would have already left shore — and been out on the open water when the storm hit. Which wouldn’t have been a good thing. No, not a good thing at all.

Gimme shelter. Nothing dampens The Dude’s birding ardor. Here he waits patiently for the torrent to subside. Yes, he’s laughing — probably about me getting locked in the bathroom

Anyway. I’m writing this in the Boma Guesthouse, where they do (obviously) have wifi. But it’s getting late in Birder Hours (it’s, like, 9:49!) and I have to get this done so I can schedule it to post tomorrow (yes, you can do that, unless you screw it up, which I’ve done) because tomorrow (usual Posting Tuesday) we’ll be staying in a place that (and I quote) “has seen better days”. I’m doubting it has running water, much less internet. Continue reading

A Night at the Opera

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‘Where everyone falls in love with the wrong person, and dies a horrible death in the end’

Maybe you’ve heard this joke. It’s the one about the guy who goes to the ballet and asks, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

Sorry. My dad used to tell that one, and I don’t know any opera jokes. I do remember there was an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that was a parody of Wagner, but actual opera jokes? Hmmm.

I wanted to start with a bit of levity because, most of the time, opera is sort of the opposite of humorous. But that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to like about poisonings and sword fights and firing squads? And brutal stabbings with daggers — of bad guys (take that, Scarpia!) and of one’s self (poor Butterfly). Oh, and let’s not forget the jumpings to one’s death off parapets. That’s in Tosca, my very favorite opera. 

Anna Netrebko rocks the house as Tosca. Here she is soaking up her zillionth curtain call after jumping off that parapet

Anyway. I’m not going to get into a lot of Opera Stuff. Except to say that I absolutely love it. Except for maybe exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon, opera is quite possibly the most exciting thing I do. At least with all my clothes on. Opera is even exciting before it starts. Just check out this video taken from the balcony of the Met: Continue reading

How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled. Continue reading