Love in the Time of Corona

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‘Stir Crazy After All These Years’

Yes, that’s a picture of Dude Man and me with underpants on our heads. It was taken during a somewhat-normal-for-Whitmores Christmas celebration way back when. I’m not sure we were even married at that point.

This one was for sure taken before we got married. Bonus points to me for going through with it in spite of that stache

Speaking of “married”, today is our wedding anniversary. Yup, 36 years ago today we said our vows in front of a grand total of four people (five if you count the Unitarian minister). Seems we were way ahead of our time, crowd-size-wise. Though we broke the social-distancing rules, big time.

Me, dewily-newily married, with half our wedding guests. Touching was okay back then — even encouraged

We may have had a teensy wedding (see my story “Winning the Dude-A-Thon” for teensy details about the Big Day), but it seemed to have “taken”, since we’re still together and still (mostly) having a grand old time.

Hanging around Malcolm’s house on our honeymoon

BTW, if you’re left craving more matrimonial material (or just plain corona-bored), check out “The Cave of Our Marriage” or “Malcolm and the Duchess”for (G-rated, I promise) honeymoon stories.

Even-steven and steady going on the Equator

So far, The Dude and I have weathered the rise and fall of careers, the birth and raising up of The Child, trips to exotic lands with even more exotic critters — like leeches. (see any of my recent posts about Borneo). But little has prepared us for Corona Life.

On top of the World — well, at least the Duomo — on the last trip we took not involving chiggers or leeches

We’ve been thrown together more than ever, what with this sheltering-in-place stuff that’s going on now. Luckily, we haven’t gone too stir-crazy. After all, The Dude has his domain (outdoors, where he is now happily cleaning the gutters), and I have mine (pretty much the whole inside of the house, with primary emphasis on the kitchen, where I’ve been Cooking for The Apocalypse for weeks now.)

Another happy Amagansett shot. No underpants this time — at least not on our heads

But things do get a little, well, tense now and then. “Are you going to watch that? Without earphones?” “What do you mean, you want to take a bath? I want to take a shower!” And my favorite: “Are you going to eat that? We just had toasted cheese sandwiches!”

After a nice dinner on the Town. Back when you could still go to a restaurant

Well. We will survive self-isolation. As long as we both continue to practice our in-home social distancing, that is.

In the meantime, I think it’s time to crack open the anniversary champagne. The Dude just sat down at the piano. Again.

Cheers! (Yes, those are champagne flutes — not glasses of Corona)

Amagansett, New York. March 2020

Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

Most of these strange fruits were pretty tasty, if weird-looking (at least to the innocent gringo eye). Like the litchi, which rather resembles a cross between a plum and a sea urchin — and tastes rather like neither.

But then Hamit moved to the rear of the vehicle and had Fruit Man open the trunk.

There’s a reason this fruit is in the trunk. And isn’t because there’s a lot of it

We should have realized there was something fishy going on with that trunk. For one thing, it smelled fishy. Well, maybe not “fishy”, exactly. More like a septic tank full of fish. Fish that had been laced liberally with garlic. And then left out in the sun for a really really long time.

“What the heck is that?” our little Birder Band collectively gasped. “It’s durian, a Malay delicacy,” Hamit smirked. “Wanna try some?”

Well, before I tell you what happened, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the durian:

Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away 

Yup. That’s about right. But, believe it or not, there were those of us — myself included — who decided to give the durian a go. “Hey, we’re over here for an adventure,” we agreed. “We may never get to Borneo — or get a chance to taste a durian — again!

One of our Band tries a taste while taking a selfie. He claimed to like it. (Note cigarette-smoking Fruit Guy. He claimed to “eat a durian every day”; he also had very few teeth)

Yes, as I mentioned, I too tried a taste. I did not document my durian sampling, since my iPhone-filming hand was busy holding my nose. Suffice it to say that I was not a fan. Even while blocking my nasal passages to avoid the smell I thought it tasted (at best) like creme brulee with a burnt garlic glaze.

Not everyone, of course, agrees. Or no one would be buying Fruit Man’s durian stash. Wikipedia also says:

The nineteenth-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described its flesh as “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”

Apparently, there are many Durian Fans in Southeast Asia who agree with Mr. Wallace. There are Durian Festivals and Durian Fairs and the fruit is used to flavor ice cream and candies and puddings — there is so much Durian Appreciation that social controls have had to be enacted:

The persistence of its odour, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia

Nope, that’s not a sign warning against durian consumption. Tho it very well could be

So. Maybe if there is a mask shortage and a dearth of Purell, we should just import a bunch of durian and have every man, woman, and school-avoiding child here in the States — particularly in crowded urban areas — crack one open. Trust me, we couldn’t get six feet apart fast enough.

Amagansett, New York. March 2020

What could possibly be worse than a rainforest full of leeches?

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‘Well, how about a cave full of bats?’

If you are the least bit squeamish, you may wish to skip this week’s much-belated post. Belated, because I’ve been bird-hunting in Borneo.

Through a glass, but not darkly, I spot my target: perhaps a hairy drongo?

Borneo boasts lots of lovely avian species, but has less than adequate WiFi. Not that I’m complaining; it’s actually refreshing to be less-than-connected, especially when the news Back Home is of political plotting and pandemic panic.

Speaking of panic, here is the interior of the plane we took from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei, where I started writing this piece

I’m in an airport lounge (thank you, AmEx) writing away while awaiting our plane to JFK — which will be 14 1/2 hours in duration, two hours less than our flight to get here.

As I mentioned, the Bornean birds are beauteous. But one must deal with — gasp — leeches. And, although we took the Proper Precautions (see my piece “Leech Sock it to Me!” for ghastly detail), the little buggers weren’t daunted. Leech socks, as I squeamishly explained, are supposed to keep leeches from inch-worming their way up your pant legs.

The Hokey-Pokey, leech-sock style

But, even though we leech-socked ourselves to the hilt, er hip, all but two of us got up close and personal with at least one leech. One of our party got three — yes, three — leech bites. It seems those enterprising leeches, attracted by our body heat — which was considerable — were leaping from the bushes and even dropping from the trees.

Me, sporting the Red Badge of Leech Courage. The critter had inched its way thru a vent in the back of my shirt, sucked its fill, then dropped off. So I didn’t even get the satisfaction of stomping it

Oh — there was a silver leech lining, so to speak. Each of us who were bitten got a certificate from Resort Management thanking us for “donating blood” to the local ecosystem. (Interesting note: Prince William and Kate spent their honeymoon at this resort. I bet Kate looked smashing in her leech socks.)

My legs were protected, but my shoulder most definitely was not, leading me to suggest an invention: the leech suit. It would resemble a hazmat suit; full coverage, with two little eyeholes for one’s binoculars. (Don’t steal this idea; I’ll sue.)

But I must say that leeches, though they do (quite literally) suck, came in second in nastiness to the bat cave.

Now, I admit that I’ve never been one for caves at any time or in any place — did you read Tom Sawyer? Does the name Injun Joe mean anything to you?

Well. On this trip we visited a cave festooned with swiftlet nests. These are the nests used in birds’-nest soup. I will spare you the gory details about the nests’ actual harvesting, except to say that sleeping inside a pitch-black cave is involved, since the very expensive nests must be guarded 24/7 against thievery. (I just checked, and you can buy a box of birds’-nests for $690.)

Birds’ nests for sale at Kota Kinabalu airport. Nope, I didn’t buy any

This cave is not only pitch-black inside, but is filled with gazillions of bats, which are constantly producing gazillions of pounds of bat guano. (Which is bats–t, you know.) Seriously, the cave floor is covered with mountains of the stuff. There is a walkway running around the sides so you don’t have to step in it, but the walkway as well as the guano is alive with crabs and cockroaches and rats and snakes. One dare not slip, since one would be required to grab said handrail. (The Wit of our group suggested making Guano Angels with our arms and legs if we were so unlucky as to fall in.)

I actually have a photo of the cockroach-covered handrail, but will not inflict it upon you — here’s a much-less-disgusting proboscis monkey instead

To top things off, one must wear a mask (to avoid inhaling bat fungus) and carry an umbrella (to avoid being drenched in bat pee). One of our group worked in a biology lab; right behind me on the walkway she quietly muttered, “This is my worst effing nightmare.” Only she didn’t say “effing.” I hear you Karen.

Yes, we actually paid good money to go inside this cave. Which must mean we’re even battier than the bats. And how was it? As I remarked upon exiting, “That was most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Kind of made me nostalgic for the leeches.

Seems like everything in Borneo is out to get you. If not leeches, then it’s Falling Fruit

Taipei, Taiwan and Amagansett, New York. March 2020

 

 

Capitalist Tulle

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‘Bad pun, but a pretty good story if you like stories about slips.’

I must have underwear on the brain. Last week I wrote about tights and how these days I have to sit down on the bed to put them on instead of balancing gracefully on one leg like a ballerina (or stork). Now, this week it’s slips. Let’s hope I get diverted from this path before next week rolls around.

I also got in trouble for posting an underwear pic. Well, here we go again. Just be grateful this is not a current shot of me in a slip

To be honest, it wasn’t that long ago that I thought “tulle” was pronounced “tull”. But then, I also once asked who the heck was this “Al Kyda” guy everybody was talking about. (See “Paging Arry O’Nassis” for embarrassing details.)

But “tulle” is “tool.” And, for you whippersnappers out there, “Capitalist Tool” is what Malcolm Forbes called his private jet. (No, I never rode on that jet, but The Dude and I did stay in one of his houses — his Palais Mendoub, in Morocco, on our honeymoon. And yes, there is a story here too: “Malcolm and the Duchess.” Enjoy!)

Honeymooning at the Palais Mendoub. Nope, that’s not The Dude back there; that’s a Morrocan minion

But back to tulle. I was talking to a good friend on the phone the other day (Hi there, T!), which is pretty amazing since I hardly ever do that — talk on the phone, that is. (When I was a kid, we only had one phone and we had to use it sparingly, since our dad got business calls on it. When I was a teen and liked talking on the phone, my mom would actually go straight to the phone when she got home from, say, Bridge Club, to see if it felt warm. If it did, she knew I’d been using it and I’d be in trouble.)

That’s me, at the age I would have been hogging the phone every chance I got. Fashion note: I made those plaid shorts

Anyway, Phone Friend T mentioned that her older sister had this amazing tulle slip (please don’t ask why or how this topic came up; I honestly don’t know) and I went, “Oh! I had one of those!”

Of course, I didn’t know from “tulle.” I called it my “stand-out slip.” My mom probably got it for me from Sears or Montgomery Ward. (Pretty much everything we wore that she didn’t make herself came from the Sears or “Monkey Ward” catalog.)

I’m sporting a tulle slip under that Easter dress. I’m sandwiched between Oldest Younger Brother Scott and Middle Younger Brother Roger, each sporting a Mom-made sport coat and shorts. That’s Sandy sporting a tulle-like tail

My stand-out slip had bells on it, so it jingled when I walked. It was horribly scratchy, but I absolutely adored it. T went on to say that her sister kept hers all stiff and standy-outy by rinsing it in sugar water. I said I couldn’t imagine my mom letting me do that even if I  knew to ask her — which I suppose is why my slip got gradually less standy-outy.

Me, with my two very favorite things: my Cat Who Never Really Had A Name — and my slightly-less standy-outy stand-out slip

As I mentioned, my Mom made almost all of my clothes. At least she did until I was a teenager. Then I did. I wasn’t half bad at it. I made bell-bottoms, I made a polka-dot prom dress, I made a crushed-velvet homecoming gown. But I hated sewing. I swore that when I grew up I wouldn’t make one stitch of clothing, and I haven’t. Though I have been known to take up a hem or two.

I made that suit. And oh how I wish I still had it! That short guy is (I think) the Lt. Governor of Illinois. We’re at the dedication of Carlyle Lake (again, I think) Oh, I wish I still had that beaded bag too

I could go on and on, but duty — and downsizing — calls. Next week I promise to come up with a story that’s not about underwear. Besides, I’ve already (ahem) covered bras: “I Seen Smallah.

Me, with Gramma and Grampa Peterson after my Lutheran-Church Confirmation. Both dress and the bra under it are from Montgomery Ward

New York City. February 2020

Queen Elizabeth and I both put our tights on one leg at a time

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‘And we both sit down on the bed first’

I’m not all that cagey about revealing my age. Though it does bug me to be asked. Usually, unless the person asking is a government official or someone hinting that I deserve the Senior Discount, I just smile and say that I’m old enough to remember when Sir Paul was a Beatle. They get the idea. And I get the discount.

Note to Young Persons in Positions Serving the Public (movie ticket sellers, museum fee gatherers and the like): if someone wants the Senior Discount, she will ask for the Senior Discount. MoMA won’t make any new Friends if you suggest that discount to someone you in your dewy-eyed wisdom deem eligible. Trust me; I know whereof I speak.

The Dude and me on a recent tights-wearing occasion. It was me wearing the tights

But back to Queen Elizabeth and me. You know that old (speaking of old) saying, don’t you? The one about The King of England and the lowliest commoner both putting their pants on one leg at a time? Well, I realized last Tuesday that I am now just like Her Highness, at least in the Getting Up There Department. Because, when I put on my tights, I sat down on the bed first.

Yes, instead of executing that gracefully nimble and easy-as-pie-without-even-thinking-about-it balance-on-one-leg-like-a-stork thing that I’ve done all my life, I thought, “Hmmm, do I really want to fall?” Even worse — “Do I really want to fall with one leg wrapped in the leg of a pair of tights?” The picture I’d present to the arriving EMTs was all too vivid.

Me, with Starter Husband, back when I had no problem at all putting on tights. But it doesn’t look like I put them on that day. Or much else under my clothes, come to think of it

Now, to be fair, for all I know the Queen of England doesn’t put on her own tights at all — maybe she has, like, a Lady of the Tights Chamber. Or something. But if she is a tights DIY’er, I’m betting she sits down first.

Sigh. It’s bad enough that I’ve started holding the handrail when I go up or down the subway stairs. Why, it feels like just last week that I carried a woman’s baby stroller down the steps for her. (Actually, it was last week; I couldn’t hold the handrail, but I was able to sort of brace myself against it with one elbow while carrying said stroller in both hands.)

It’s not that I’m weak or anything. (See stroller carry, above.) I walk for hours every single day of my Manhattan life. And carry all kinds of stuff around with me besides strollers. The Dude and I go hiking in the Amazon rainforest, for pete’s sakes. Of course, Wayne says we do this “while we still can,” which kind of puts an elderly spin on our jungle traipsing.

I’m still nimble enough to scramble out of a seaplane, thank you very much. Of course, this one’s on the tarmac, not the water. And note: I am indeed holding that hand rail

Speaking of The Dude — and falling — he most definitely was not put off by all the grab bars in the bathrooms of the Ken and Barbie House. (The guy who lived there was about as old as the Queen of England. I don’t know if he wore tights or how he put them on, but he sure did install a lot of grab bars.) Nope, Dude Man was digging the grab bars. “We can pretend they’re towel rods. Then they’re there when we need them. Aging in place, you know.” Urk.

Nice towel rods, huh? Nope. Grab bars. And lots of ’em. Four more in the tub area

I hate to admit it (especially to The Dude), but it’s not that I’m weak. It’s that I’m afraid of falling. Falling on subway steps. Falling on slippery sidewalks. (You should see me on icy days scooting along, doing that Old Lady Shuffle.) And now — falling while putting on tights.

Which makes me feel — yup — old. As old as the Queen of England. Excuse me. I’m gonna go find my crown now. It had better not be on a high shelf. ‘Cause I’m afraid of falling off my stepstool.

Me (not the Queen of England) wearing my crown the first year I got it. From my sister, on a birthday. Just don’t ask which one

New York City. February 2020

 

 

Yep, there is a place called Yap

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‘But can you find it on a map?’

Please forgive the Green Eggs and Ham cadence; I couldn’t help myself. Everyone’s been so crabby lately. We’ve got the Secretary of State yelling at NPR reporters while waving maps — “Go on, Missy! Find Ukraine! I double-dog dare ya!” (She does, then tells on him. What did he think she’d do — she’s a reporter.)

Then we’ve got Our President congratulating the Kansas City Chiefs — from the Great State of Kansas — on their Super Bowl win. This time Claire McCaskill got a little testy:

I’ll let that one slide since she was pretty hilarious, and also because she used to be a senator from, ahem, Missouri. Which is where the Chiefs are actually from. (I used to be from Missouri, too, having spent my formative post-grad new-to-advertising years there. But those are whole ‘nother stories. Which you can find under the “Adland Lore” tab in the sidebar if you are bored and it’s raining like it is here.)

Me, doing something Important as Creative Director of a fair-to-middlin’ size ad agency in Kansas City, Missouri

“But what about Yap?” you may be thinking. Is that Yap up on that map? Well, yes it am, Sam I Am. And why do we care about Yap? Well, I was chatting away on the phone with my mother and we got to talking about the Henry Family. There are waaaaay more of them (my father having been one of eight children) than we’ve got on the Peterson Side.

A mere fraction of — tho quite a few — Henry-Side-People were on hand for my afore-mentioned mother’s 90th birthday celebration last fall

Anyway. We were talking about how we get such a kick out of those Henrys but we’ve lost track of a lot of them, and not just because there are so many. They also have a tendency to move Far Away. We’ve got members of the Henry Family Tree not only in places like Detroit, we’ve got a branch in Spain and even a twig in Montenegro. (Which is next to Albania; I just looked.)

And then Mom mentioned the Cousin in Yap.

It’s a good thing I had just finished my coffee, because I would have spit some all over the rented oatmeal-colored staged-for-selling-the-apartment couch. “Yap?!? There is a place called Yap?” “Yes, there is indeed a place called Yap,” my mother assured me.

Another map. Of Yap. Note there is a town called Maap. I’m dying here

And not only is there a place called Yap, my dear mother continued, “but I’ve been there.”

“You’ve been to Yap?” I was beyond astonished. You think you know a person, right? Well, I’ve known this woman for, well, all my life and I had no idea she’d been to Yap. Will wonders never cease. Or maybe it’s “still waters run deep.” Whatever. I was gobsmacked.

A Threesome of Henrys. So glad they don’t live in (on?) Yap, since they wouldn’t have made it to the party. Or maybe they would have?

I was laughing so hard I didn’t get the details about what on earth my mother was doing on the other side of the earth in Yap, of all places. (I think it had something to do with a plane layover during their trip to Australia and New Zealand years ago.) And I most definitely did not get the full story about the Cousin Who Lives There. (I think she’s the daughter of a cousin; a first cousin once removed — removed all the way to Yap.)

I promise to ask Mom next time we’re on the phone. If I can stop laughing long enough.

New York City (definitely not Yap). February 2020

 

No, a “shower body” is not what you think it is.

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‘And, yes, it’s easier to find a unicorn than black and white tile’

I was almost a day late and a dollar short with this post. See, this little “coat-of-paint-and-new-appliances” project spiffing up the Ken and Barbie House is turning into a giant all-consuming time-sucking nightmare. Well, actually, it’s not technically a “nightmare” because I don’t sleep. If you don’t sleep, you can’t have a nightmare, now can you?

Also, I am technically a “dollar short,” actually many dollars, since everything costs more than you think it will. What do The Dude and I do when told an amazingly gobsmacking number for, say, ripping out the awful substandard ancient wood that was under the awful substandard ancient cork tiles so we can lay down a nice new floor?

An excellent example of a “cabinet” with “plumbing”. (See below.) I don’t dare ask how much it costs

We shrug and say “okay.” Our reasoning? This is our Last Apartment — at least the Last Apartment We Will Choose For Ourselves — so we might as well “do it right.” Even if we empty our bank account while doing it.

Today I woke before five thinking about how on earth to find a carpenter. I interviewed one last night who got very sniffy when I admitted that I did not have a “design” or a “plan.” He also smelled mightily of a strong men’s cologne. Deal-breaker, even if he hadn’t kept me waiting 45 minutes.

The night (er, morning) before it was this thing with the “shower bodies.” After a bout of googling, I found out more than I ever wanted to know about valves and diverters.

That’s a diverter. Or is it a valve? Whatever. It’s pricey

Last week it was The Great Black And White Tile Quest. See, once we (actually, our contractor) pried up those cork jobbies and the underlying icky wood, I decided a nice idea would be to “do” the whole apartment — that is, if a 500 sq. ft. apartment can be called “whole” anything — in black and white tiles. Very Parisian, I thought. (Versailles has black-and-white tiles.) Very Downton Abbey too. (The room where Edith does her telephoning has black-and-white tiles.)

See? Black and white tile. Not in Downton Abbey, but in Architectural Digest. Which is pretty close

Turns out that black and white tile — unless you are springing for marble black and white tile — is rare as hen’s teeth. Go ahead; I dare you. Google black and white tile and see what you come up with. Plenty of options in peel-and-stick, but in porcelain? Not so much. “It isn’t in fashion,” sneered one Showroom Showperson. (I think she must have been related to the uppity carpenter; she also wore too much cologne.)

Another gorgeous be-tiled room. Because why not?

After hours of fruitless prowling of the internet, The Dude and I decided to go on a mission. We piled in the trusty ’98 Toyota and drove to Southampton, where we hit each and every tile showroom we could find. We had vowed not to return to Amagansett tile-less, so it’s a good thing that Southampton Gallery of Tile had some in their, um, gallery.

We find some tile! We went with the “marble” version. (The ones with my foot protectively guarding them from escape)

We celebrated with a walk in the woods. Although at each and every step I was thinking about plumbing. Or cabinets. Or cabinets with plumbing. (See Adorable Vanity photo above.)

The Dude and I on a rare break from Tile-and-Valve Hunting

Next up in the Obsession Queue is The Kitchen. Though I do have a pretty good idea of what I want. Now I just have to find someone to do it. Any carpenters out there?

Black and white tile calls for a black and white kitchen. No, I don’t have any exposed brick. Not yet anyway

Now, instead of going on and on about tile and stuff, thus snaring you in my Nightmare Trap, I’m going to end with a little concert. The Child has acquired a Very Small Piano and has been sending us videos of choice performances. This one I call “The Apple Doesn’t Play Far From The Tree,” since I swear to You-Know-Who it features The Child playing Maple Leaf Rag.

You may recall from my story “Please Don’t Play It Again, Sam,” that this is a piece that The Dude likes to play. “Likes to play” as in every night of our 35-years-and-counting marriage — over and over and over again. And not only do The Child and The Dude both play Maple Leaf Rag, they both do the same Thing With Their Mouth while they’re at it.

Enjoy. And “see” you next week. If I survive the Shower Body Search, that is.

New York City. January 2020

 

 

Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

Another photo of the parakeet socks. Cause I’m sure as heck not going to show you any leeches — or leech socks, for that matter

See, my experience with leeches has never been an up-close-and-personal one. I’m more of an “I remember them from that scene in The African Queen” kind of person.

Our floating home on the Amazon, seen here with seaplane at the ready, was up quite a notch or three from The African Queen

And what I remember about leeches from that movie isn’t good. But our trusty trip materials went on to say that leeches “most commonly crawl through loosely-woven material, like socks” and that “leech socks are worn over one’s regular socks and tied at the calf or knee”, that they “keep leeches from penetrating, thus causing them to crawl up instead onto your pants, where you can see them.”

Another picture not of leeches or their socks. Here is a checkered foot instead. With a nifty checkered-floor background

Oh. Okay. Then what?

“You can usually feel them inching along; they can be rolled into a ball and flicked off before they can really attach.”

Um. May I ask who will be doing this “rolling” and “flicking” — of leeches?

Oh, wait. There is an alternative: “Touching their bodies with a bar of repellent will cause them to loosen and drop off.” (I’m so buying a “bar of repellent” — at any price.)

Let me take a small Leech Break to show you what, up until now, has been the scariest thing I’ve encountered on one of these trips. I didn’t have to roll anything “into a ball and flick it”, but I did kind of roll myself into a ball while clutching my armrests for dear life:

The Leech Section of our trip materials concluded by stating that “all in all, their repulsive reputation has been exaggerated.” (Not by me!) And by saying that “if you do get bitten, however, their anticoagulant can cause persistent bleeding. You may want to carry a styptic pencil to curtail the bleeding; a small supply of Band-Aids can protect your clothing.”

Oh. Right, I feel so much better now. I wonder if it’s too late to get back on that seaplane.

New York City. (Not Borneo. Not yet, anyway.) January 2020

 

 

 

Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

When we had trouble getting to where we wanted to go (this was at the beginning of the trip), our intrepid guide sort of whipped up a bird-bedecked alternative. This was where we got to cross the Amazon — a river that is so wide it makes the Mighty Mississippi look more like Mighty Mouse — in a boat that I wouldn’t trust to go water-skiing on good ole Carlyle Lake. (Note: there is no bridge across the Mighty Amazon; a boat is one’s only choice.)

Mighty Amazon, at the point where the “black water” meets the “white water”. And I almost meet my Maker (or so I worried)

We crossed so that we could spend a day on the Tupana River, an unscheduled stop, but well worth our while — and worth our chances of getting dumped in the Amazonian Drink.

The Yellow Circle marks our unscheduled spot: the Rio Tupana

Of course, after we had our fun we had to retrace our steps, including getting on another boat that was, in my opinion, too small for comfort. But nobody asked my opinion, so I just clung to my life jacket and thought about Other Things. Like new kitchen cabinets.

Incidentally, we got grounded another day. So what did we do? Check out the photo at the top of this post and you’ll see. Yup, birders gotta bird. Even if it’s from the roof of the airport hotel, standing on fake wicker pool chairs. (Out of view: a bunch of befuddled spandex-sporting German tourists.)

Eventually, Intrepid Guide Man gave up on Bad Local Airline and chartered us a plane so we could get to where we were supposed to go. (And see more than airport-hotel-area birds.)

We finally make it to Sao Gabriel and the Rio Negro

We hung around Sao Gabriel just one day instead of the planned three. But, secretly, I was pleased. Because instead of staying at a decidedly-local-color-infused “hotel” in the center of bustling Sao Gabriel, we got to decamp to our floating hotel, the Untamed Amazon. Which was so luxurious — and such a welcome contrast to the Hotel Deus Me Deu, bless its little heart:

Of course, not every second spent on the Rio Marie was so relaxing. There were the two days we (or at least The Dude and I) got up at 3 so we could track down the Nocturnal Whatnot. Which we did find, but could not photograph. Because it was night. Or at least 3:30 in the morning, which is the same diff. And there was the time we chopped our way upriver (or our faithful local guides did), African Queen style:

Well, it’s getting late, and I need to get back to obsessing about bath vanities. Tonight I’m hoping I’ll wake up thinking about the time we stopped smack-dab in the middle of the godawfully-wide Amazon River to take pictures of the Meeting of the Waters.

It’ll make a welcome change from grout.

New York City. January 2020

Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

But Erica got along just fine, thank you very much. In fact, she assimilated so well that she married a Dartmouth guy, one of The Dude’s fraternity brothers (Kappa Kappa Kappa), a guy named Kevin.

While The Dude had fond memories of both Erica and Kevin, I had only met them once, six or seven years ago at a fraternity reunion held in New Jersey. I honestly couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. But heck, I was sure happy to go to their party.

The Dude (at left) with frat brothers at what appears to be an “Artmouth” reunion in New Jersey. Kevin must be in there somewhere

So, on the appointed Party Day, we get all gussied up and head over to Erica and Kevin’s.

Here I am, all gussied up for a party where a guy named Teddy is a “guest”

As we enter the building lobby, I get even more excited. It’s Party Central — we see several Gorgeous People hanging up coats and heading up elevators, since there seem to be at least two or three parties being held there that night.

We’re directed to the appropriate coat rack and elevator and ride on up. The elevator opens into one of the loveliest New York apartments I’ve ever seen: beautiful paintings on the walls, beautiful people circulating in the halls. The waitpersons are even beautiful.

“Hey! I know that woman,” I think, as a vision in silver approaches, handing me a glass of wine. After we air-kiss, I exclaim, “Erica! I didn’t know you went to Dartmouth!

She gives me a puzzled look, then moves on to greet other arrivals. Meanwhile, The Dude has moved into the next room to find the host, his friend Kevin.

He comes back and whispers, “That guy in there is not Kevin. I mean, he’s Kevin, but not Kevin!

“But I know that woman. She’s Erica — of the Erica-and-Karen Erica, the ones who run that website Lustre that I write for. You know.” (By the way, do check out that website, it’s lustre.net; you’ll love it, and not just because I occasionally write stuff for it.)

Erica is somewhere in this group of Dartmouth reunion-goers (that’s me, top left). Just don’t ask me which one she is; I only met her the one time

“She must also be married to a guy named Kevin. And we’re at their Erica-and-Kevin Party instead of at our Erica-and-Kevin Party. At this point, a waiter approached with a tray of particularly tasty-looking hors d’oeuvres. “Don’t touch those!” I said, slapping The Dude’s hand away. We’re at the wrong party. We have to fess up.”

Well. All’s well that ends well, party-wise. When I told Erica that I was really really sorry and that we were at the wrong party, she said, “Oh no! You are at the right party. Kevin and I invited you. Honest! Welcome. Have some champagne!”

And so we did.

But on the way home, we just had to wonder. What are the chances of knowing not one, but two, Erica-and-Kevins?

New York City. January 2020