If the Shoebill fits, find it

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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.

So I’ll skip the parts, funny though they are, about how we got to the boat that got us to the dugout canoes that got us to the swamp. And skip right to finding the darned Shoebill.

Yes, dugout canoes were involved. You may recall that this is not my first experience with dugout canoes. This is, um, my third. Once on the Amazon, and once in Panama. In fact, I’ve now been in dugout canoes more times than I’ve been in regular, normal, non-dugout ones. As someone who has never been what you’d call comfortable around water, I’m hoping I can break this habit, and break it soon.

But, as the only way to find this elusive Shoebill was to get into dugout canoes and roam around a swamp, that’s what we did.

The view from my canoe of one of the other canoes — stuck in the reeds and such. Note that our Boat Guy is standing precariously in the front so he can search for the Shoebill

The canoes had motors, but we couldn’t use them much, because a) it was too shallow, and b) because the boats kept getting stuck in the reeds. When we got stuck (a lot) the Boat Person in the fronts of the boats (see photo for how that guy/gal perched up there, mainly so he/she could scan the horizon for that darned Shoebill) would hop out and push the boat, kind of like the way Charlie, Humphrey Bogart’s character in The African Queen, would hop out and push said African Queen. Only I don’t think our boat-pushers had to worry about leeches. Snakes, yes. Leeches, no.

I know this because our guy got out once to scout ahead, encountered a snake, and soundly beat it with a long pole he kept on hand for occasions such as this. (He also said it came in handy in case he stepped into a ‘hole’ in the swamp and sank in over his head. Which happened. Three times.)

Well. Our three boats were supposed to stick together. It would be a shame if one boat found the Shoebill, and the other boats missed it. But our boater/guides assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem. They had cellphones, you see. If one boat found the Shoebill, they would just alert the other boats. Piece of birding cake.

Let’s just say they fudged a bit. Our Boat Guy did have a cellphone, which he used. A lot. Little did we know the other boats didn’t have cellphones. So who knows who our guy was talking to. Maybe his Mom? Anyway, our boats got separated. For hours. And I know I’m prone to exaggeration, but not this time. We were seriously separated for about two hours. Two hours of sort-of paddling, sort-of pushing, sort-of motoring through a swamp.

At one point one of the guys in my boat said he had to ‘go to the bathroom’. (Me, I think I’ll never ‘go to the bathroom’ again in my life after being locked in one.) I told him to ‘go ahead; I wouldn’t look’. He didn’t take me up on my non-offer.

We, of course, didn’t know our boat wasn’t communicating with the others, and finally decided that if we couldn’t find the Shoebill, it was time to find our way out of the swamp. After about another hour, we emerged, only to see both the other boats filled with fellow birders wildly gesticulating. One was doing so because they had found the Shoebill (!) The other folks were frantically signalling — because their boat had run out of gas.

The Object of our Attention, stolen hot off The Dude’s camera: a bird as big as a Volkswagen. Hard to miss, once you’ve found it. But there’s the rub

I’m thinking that the Shoebill was pretty darned well worth the trouble. (I mean, take a look at that thing!) And I’m also thinking that those boater/guide guys and gals won’t get booked again by our Birder Company any time soon.

Near Lake Victoria, Entebbe, Uganda. May 2018

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:

Magic Fountain, Magic Flute #metopera #bestqueenofthenightever

A post shared by lutheranliar (@lutheranliar) on

And it’s exciting after it’s over, too. I know people who are content to watch those “live in HD” opera movies. And I’m happy for them. But they miss the curtain calls. Which can be crazy (and practically the Best Part). The other night after Pretty Yende (yes, that’s her name; she comes from a part of Africa where parents name their kids what they hope their kids will be — she has a brother named ‘Prosper’) sang Lucia (as in Lucia di Lammermoor), the house was fully brought down. People were not only ‘brava’-ing like mad, they were tearing up their programs and showering dear Pretty with the confetti thus made. And the screaming and shouting and stomping of feet? I bet you could hear it from wherever you were that night. You just thought it was thunder, or that volcano in Hawaii.

Dear Michael Fabiano as Lucia’s driven-mad-enough-by-love-to-stab-himself-and-still-keep-on-singing lover got a Standing O that wasn’t too shabby either. He’s a Jersey Boy who got an infamous start in the documentary ‘Audition’, which is worth watching even if you think opera is for effete snobs. Michael’s sort of a bad guy in this film; while everyone else is being nice and self-effacing, he wants to win. (And he does! So operatic.)

Outside the Met during the Ring Cycle. Four days and like 40 hours of Wagner. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Literally

It’s fun to watch that documentary. It’s kind of like ‘Spellbound’, but with singing. And the singing is all aria(s) all the time, so it’s not too intense. The Dude only likes arias; he thinks whole operas are way too long. And he’s not wrong — most are at least 3 hours, and some, like Tristan und Isolde (my other fave) clock in around 5. And don’t let’s get going on the Ring Cycle. The Ring goes on for days. I adore opera, and once was enough for me.

Me, taken midway during my Ring Stint. Yup, one result (other than a sore butt) was my official blog photo

I could go on and on about opera. But then, like one of those Soviet works like ‘The Nose’ I’d no doubt put you to sleep. (I made myself stick around for the whole Nose experience, but I hated it with a dreadful hate. Sorry, Shostakovich.)

I couldn’t start with an opera joke, but I’ll end with a funny opera story. Dark, but funny. The other night, when I was watching Pretty and Michael do their mad-scene-and-self-stabbing Thing, there was a crash in the box behind me. (I should explain that by ‘box’, I mean a side-parterre box, in my opinion the best value in the House. These are located just to the sides — hence the name — of the Grand Tier, and not only are a perfect perch for singletons like me, but just as good as the GT boxes, which cost an Absolute Fortune, and are usually populated by Famous Rich People.)

Me, ensconced in my side parterre perch. Where the view is quite wonderful, and not that crazy-pricey

Anyway, this crash came from the Expensive GT Box right next to me. Someone had fallen to the floor, upturning her chair and that of her neighbor. After the crash, there was a commotion, then three ushers entered the box with flashlights to deal with the situation. Turns out said Someone had been ‘overserved’ some overpriced champagne, probably in the Grand Tier Restaurant during intermission.

The Met during intermission. Sometimes I have champagne, but I usually indulge in calling my Mom  

During the ensuing commotion, I could hardly pay proper attention to Poor Tosca stabbing Evil Scarpia. I could hear the ushers whispering things like “Can we help you up?” and “Wouldn’t you like to get up from the floor and go lie down, um, somewhere else?” while the woman protested (loudly) “NO, I am FINE” and “I just need to STAY RIGHT HERE” and suchlike. It was a good thing it was dark; if I’d caught the eye of my fellow parterre-boxers we would have all burst into inappropriate-for-opera giggles.

Finally, happy ending in the box (Well-Heeled Woman exited stage left); satisfyingly tragic ending on the stage. Lucia goes mad, her lover gets stabbed, Pretty and Michael bring down the House, and I get myself home to (maybe) more champagne. Curtain.

Sometimes I get champagne at intermission too. And sometimes I just steal The Child’s

New York City. May 2018

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.

Two Dudes in front of an empty gazebo. Yup, I am laughing right now

Thinking gazebos are funny has just always been one of our Family Things. Partly it’s that ‘gazebo’ is such an inherently funny word. Also, they invariably look, well, silly. Kind of ornate and effete and ridiculous. It doesn’t help that they are — always — empty. Go on; try to remember the last time you saw anybody actually occupying a gazebo.

We Henrys used to try to imagine scenarios when we’d make use of a gazebo if we had one, say, in our yard in Southern Illinois. (Sit there and read a book? Nah. You’d get eaten alive by mosquitoes. But what if the gazebo had screens? Cue screams of Henry laughter.)

We thought gazebos were so silly we used to make a game of pointing out all the (empty, every single one) gazebos we could find. We’d point, then make a ‘zero’ (to indicate no one was in said gazebo). We didn’t have to say anything; we’d just ‘get it’. I once took a bike ride with my Mom and Middle Younger Brother Roger all around his lovely gazebo-dotted hometown of Geneva, Illinois. We almost fell off our Schwinns.

We Henrys are not the only ones, apparently, who find gazebos innately hilarious. Recently, John Mulaney did a Gazebo Riff during his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live. Here, I’ve cued it up for you:

Nice to know the Mulaneys were a silly family too. I can’t wait to see if he works a gall-bladder limerick into a future monologue.

Before I go, I must admit that there was one time a Henry actually used a gazebo. That I witnessed, anyway. This was a few years ago out in Petaluma, CA, where my Oldest Younger Brother Scott made an appearance at the Butter and Eggs Festival (yes, that’s a Thing) with his band, Bad Neighbor.

Bad Neighbor plays. Yes, that’s a gazebo and the band is in it. You can’t see the whole thing. But I did; I was there. But I was never in the gazebo myself

Quick note. His band got the name ‘Bad Neighbor’ because one night when they were practicing in his garage, the guy next door came over to complain about the noise and said, “You are a really bad neighbor!” To which my Bro said, “Thanks, you just named our band.” Sometimes, when just two of the four band members do a gig, they call themselves Half-Bad Neighbor.

But why play in a gazebo? Isn’t that what band shells are for?

Oh. I guess the band shell, like this one in Central Park, was otherwise occupied

New York City. May 2018

The time I lost my office and found myself on TV

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‘I make a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance in a British documentary’

Last week I attended an event called, I kid you not, The Ogilvy Ancients reunion. This was a nice luncheon held sort of in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the ad agency I worked for longest and to whom I owe my funniest ad-biz stories. (See ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’, ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’, ‘My Head Feels Funny’, or practically anything in the tab labelled Adland Lore for hilarious examples.)

I’m thinking this reunion was called ‘Ogilvy Ancients’ because the organizers believe in truth in advertising. Though none of us in the room were on hand when the late great David Ogilvy founded the place in 1948, many of us in attendance could easily identify with the characters on Mad Men. Honestly, there were four people at this shindig who started at the agency in the fifties. (No, I was not one of them. Though I do admit to being alive in the fifties.)

D. O. Himself holding forth at my very first Agency Christmas Party — which was not in the fifties. OK, ok, it was in the seventies. (Same diff, you say)

I don’t think I was the only one at this ‘do’ who had worked in all three Ogilvy New York locations, but I’m thinking there weren’t many who could make that claim. I started out (see ‘Take a Letter, Miss Henry’ for deets) at the Original Ogilvy on Madison Avenue, next door to which was the infamous watering hole Rattazzi’s, which was the model for the bar on Mad Men. Everybody used to go to this bar after work — even the married guys who commuted to Connecticut or Westchester. (Actually, they were the ones you could count on to always be there.) Little weenies were served with big drinks, and Ideas were, quite literally, thought up and scribbled down on cocktail napkins.

But I digress. This Gathering of Ancients took place in Ogilvy’s current location, which is a converted chocolate factory on the Way West Side of Midtown. There wasn’t much there before — except for car dealerships, crumbling wharfs, and other disused factories — but now it’s the kind of nabe you’d want to live in if you were, say, a hipsterish 25. It’s cool and trendy and somewhat spotty — you can still nod ‘hello’ to confused-looking halfway-house residents on your walk from the subway — kind of like non-Colonial Williamsburg (the Williamsburg that’s in Brooklyn) used to be before it got full of strollers.

But this story is about the Ogilvy In The Middle, which was, for twenty years (from 1989 to 2009, as long as its lease lasted) at a brand-new-at-the-time place called Worldwide Plaza. WWP was nowhere near Madison Avenue, nor much of anything else at the time — well, except for adult movie theaters (the Adonis was right next door) and flophouses. Seriously. One day shortly after finding my office and moving into it, I glanced out my window and there was a guy right across from me — in the buff at his window, scratching and yawning and greeting the morn. Sort of porn meets SRO.

Worldwide Plaza, once it got finished. I think it looks like a giant pencil. But then again, I am a writer

Like I mentioned, Worldwide Plaza was brand-spankin’ new in 1989. In fact, Ogilvy signed on to be its first tenant — before the place was even built. For some reason, this British filmmaker thought it would be cool to make a documentary about how projects like WWP get made. It’s called ‘Skyscraper’, and consists of four hour-long segments that originally aired on British TV (Channel Four, to be exact).

The doc covers not only the hows and whys but also the egos and politics of the whole project. It’s pretty dramatic and interesting, even if you’re not all that into buildings. The tone is a tad sarcastic — sort of look-what-those-wacky-Yanks-get-up-to-over-there. Anyway, I make an appearance midway during the last segment. My ‘part’ was supposed to be very minor, just a quick scene of me moving into my new office. But then I couldn’t find the darn thing. And the rest is history. Well, maybe not ‘history’, but about 3 1/2 minutes of TV time. Which is the equivalent of like seven spots for Country Time.

I have cleverly cued the doc up to start on Moving-In Day (and my segment). But if you happen to have a giant tub of popcorn and a ton of time, feel free to watch more. Keep on till the end, or scroll back to the front, even. That way you won’t miss hunky guys in hard hats climbing on a roof, a burst water pipe that nixed a safety inspection, and footage from the last Ogilvy Christmas Party before the move. It’s strangely compelling — and so very ‘eighties’. (Those outfits! That hair! The title typeface!)

You’ll no doubt be glad to hear that Worldwide Plaza is still going strong, though both the Adonis and Ogilvy have moved on. And yes, I still have that jacket. A few years after its film debut I wore it to The Child’s nursery-school interview (see ‘The Bears Are Watching a Movie’) and recently loaned it to the now-functioning-adult Child herself, so it’s kind of come full-circle, wardrobe-wise.

The Jacket, almost as Ancient as me, but looking none the worse for wear

And so have I. Come full-circle, that is. Back to Ogilvy last week, and to the end of this story right now. Hello to any of my fellow Ogilvy Ancients out there. We simply must get together again, if only to find a new name for ourselves.

New York City. May 2018

One from Column ‘A’

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Astoria. Free Schmeeg lesson included’

No, I didn’t climb the Column. Nor did I hike up the Head. (I have done both — the Column climbing and the Head hiking — but being deathly afraid of heights, believe me, once was enough.)

But the Peeps who tagged along on my recent Visit to Mom and Sis were more than game, so up they went, a-climbing and a-hiking. (The pic at the top of this post shows said Peeps peeping over the top of the Column. Which is in Astoria, Oregon. In case you’re craving column background, you can read all about it here. )

Me. Not climbing the Column (seen looming in background)

My Head. Next to the Tillamook One. (Which I am most def not hiking)

View from the top of Said Head. (Photo not taken by me)

Turns out that abstaining from heights can have its dangers too. I was pooped on by a seagull while not hiking the Head. I swore the darned thing laughed at me afterward but The Dude says there are no Laughing Gulls in the Northwest, so I guess it was my imagination. Though the icky white streak on my track pants was definitely real. Good thing I learned from previous Birding Adventures to always carry Kleenex in my pants pocket.

‘Hey! That’s Haystack Rock!’ And no, I have absolutely no idea what it is I am pointing at

Yup. We had loads of adventures on our Trip West, some not even involving heights (or bird poop). The Child and her BF and The Dude and I met up in Vancouver (the Washington One, not the British Columbian One), where my Beloved Younger and Only Sister lives, then scooted out to Seaside to see my Mom.

Seen on one of my morning Seaside Coffee Walks. My ‘free advice’? Don’t get a tattoo. Oh, and avoid seagulls — or at least walking under them

Incidentally, ‘cannibis’ (AKA ‘pot’), like tattooing, is legal Out West, and we also saw plenty of places to score (er, ‘buy’) weed on our trip. The biggest Pot Place in Seaside is located next to the police station. Though there is also one on Route 26 right next to the Dairy Queen, which seems even more appropriate. We noticed lots of activity at many emporiums like these on our drive to Seaside, since it happened to be 4/20,Though the kids did have to explain that all that pot-buying had absolutely nothing to do with Hitler’s birthday.

Chamber of Commerce nightmare. Seen across the street from the Best Mexican Restaurant ever. I forgot the name, but it’s in Seaside. Just, um, find this sign and go across the street

I’m a bit fuzzy and jet-lagged (and somewhat daunted by the prospect of washing loads of poop-festooned clothing), so I’m going to cheat a bit this week and offer you less text and more photos. Here’s some more fun signage, seen on our side trip to Astoria. Which, incidentally, was once its Own Country (sort of, anyway), founded by John Jacob Astor as a fur-trading post and his own personal kingdom.

Worlds of caffeinated options also abound in Astoria. You can’t walk 20 feet without passing a coffee shop. This one was in a converted garage

These days Astoria is a Kingdom of Hipsters, its streets studded with thrift shops, micro-breweries, and more coffee shops than you can shake a gluten-free pretzel stick at. But, predating hipsters by a long espresso shot is a place we affectionately call the Bong Store, where we made an obligatory visit. This is a place located right under the Scary-Ass Bridge (actually, the Astoria-Kegler Bridge) that sells cigars, porn, all kinds of jerky — and, yes, has a whole room full of bongs. (They also used to sell swords and scabbards. But when I asked about them, they said sorry, no more swords, but they did stock crossbows and dart guns. Oh.)

Before I forget. Here’s Mt. Hood — twice. Nobody in our group climbed it. But not because they didn’t want to

This post is getting looooong, and I have to get cracking on that laundry. But I did promise a Schmeeg lesson. This is a crazy game that involves hiding quarters and slapping tables. Here’s how my sister ‘splains it:

And here’s what it looks like when you play it:

As you can see, a Good Time Was Had By All. Save the quarters you get in change from that Pot Purchase, and go ahead and try out some Schmeeg. See you next week — and thanks again for your hospitality, Sister and Mom!

Our Seaside Selfie Selves say ‘so long and see you soon!’

New York City. April 2018

Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol

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‘Keeping an eye out for migrants from Mexico’

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she mentioned that she almost bought a set of camouflage sheets at her church rummage sale. She said she decided not to because she was afraid she “wouldn’t be able to find her bed.”

That’s my Mom (!) Not only did she get me laughing, she got me thinking about camouflage.

We saw a lot of camouflage when we were in Texas recently for one of our Birding Excursions. We saw camouflage-bedecked guys zooming in boats along the border waters, cruising in vehicles along the border roads, and even sipping lattes in the border Starbucks.

Border Guys in camouflage along the Rio Grande, just upriver from us Birder Guys. (Photo by Lynsey Addario for the NY Times)

Note how the Border Guys are doing exactly the same thing as Birder Guy Dude in the photo at the top of this post. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, looking for Mexican migrants. Except ours were Summer Tanagers, not “bad hombres”. Continue reading

“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”

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‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn. Continue reading

Crocodile Dumdee

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‘What you don’t know can hurt you.’

A couple of years after The Dude and I got married, we took a trip to Australia. This was a very long time ago. So long ago that when I googled ‘Crocodile Dundee’ after coming up with that groaner of a title, I found out the movie came out after we took our trip. So we weren’t familiar with lines like That’s not a knife…this is a knife’, much less with the fact that practically everything in Australia can pretty much kill you.

Speaking of my punsterific headline, let me say right off the bat that I don’t mean to pick on The Dudeman. It’s just that the photo of him in his Crocodile hat looks, well, more ‘DundeeLike’ than mine.

Me, sporting my Crocodile Dundee (er, ‘Dumdee’) hat. And not much else. I’m perched by the pool that had all the snakes in it, soon to be described in horrifyingly hissy detail

Because, let’s face it. We were both pretty dumb on this trip. Granted, this was long before TripAdvisor or (probably) even the internet itself. (Not sure; I’ll have to ask Al Gore.)

At any rate, we were young, we were naive, and we were game for pretty much anything. We were also pretty poor, but I had oodles of frequent flier miles from all my work-related plane-hopping for Ogilvy. (See ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’) So we cashed ’em in and flew Qantas to Cairns. Where, before we could even grab a rental car, we were ourselves grabbed — right there in the terminal — by a couple of guys who said “Hey, wanna go diving on the Great Barrier Reef? Come with us!” (Use your imagination for the Australian accents.)

No, we didn’t buy the Brooklyn Bridge. But yes, we did hop right on this dive boat

Nope, we were not certified divers. In fact, I had never even tried diving before. But we strapped on that gear and dove right in. There are still marks from my fingernails etched into that boat’s wooden sides. Continue reading

Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

Malcolm and the Duchess

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‘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. Continue reading