The time my (Austin) America let me down

Standard

‘In the middle of my twenties in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night

Oh, and if that weren’t enough “middles”, it was also in the middle of a rainstorm.

But before I start my exciting tale of alone-by-the-roadside automotive woe, let me tell you exactly what it was that sparked this sodden, scary memory.

See, The Child is in her fourth day of a three-week hike along the John Muir Trail in California. It’s 200+ miles through High Sierra wilderness — and she is doing it alone.

The Child, on top of Half Dome, at the end of her first day on the John Muir Trail. Fingers crossed that a bear did not take this photo

A view of The Child and her 47-pound pack, pre-hike

The Dude and The Child’s friends, not being mothers, are all “wow!” and “isn’t this exciting!” and “good for you!“, while I am all “but there are bears” and “must you do this alone?” Trying to reassure me, The Child said, “But I’ll be running into other people on the trail all the time“, and I said, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

The Dude and I out on a trail in the wilderness. But with other people. And rum

Like I say, I could relate to being in my twenties and taking a trip by myself. Though mine wasn’t on the John Muir Trail, but on I-70, which is the interstate highway that I would drive from Kansas City, Missouri, where I was living at the time, to Carlyle, the small town in Illinois where I grew up.

Me with my Dad at about the time of this story. We look pretty hot and sweaty, so this must have been a summer visit

I lived in Kansas City for close on to seven years, and made that drive so many times it became easy-peasy routine. Except for this one time.

On this particular trip, I was driving my Austin-America. No, no, not the Aston Martin, which is that James Bond car. And not even the Austin-Healey, which Wikipedia says Helen Mirren drives. No, the Austin-America was a British car that was supposed to be a competitor to the VW Beetle, but wasn’t nearly as sleek, as sexy, or as reliable. Tiny, boxy, and (in my case) brown, it was probably the clunkiest car ever to park in a driveway. (Ever wonder why it is that you park in a driveway, but drive on a parkway?)

How I happened to have this car is a pretty interesting story in itself. I bought it for $800 cash from a woman who was saving up so she could flee from her abusive husband. And how did I know this woman? I worked with the husband.

I showed up, as instructed, when the hub wasn’t home. She took me in the kitchen, where I handed over 800 one-hundred dollar bills. After counting them carefully, she folded those bills and hid them inside a Ritz Cracker box, which she then put back in its spot on the shelf.

You wouldn’t be lonely for long if you broke down in the middle of this highway. Though probably no one would stop to actually help you

Me, I walked out with the keys to the Austin-America. Which I drove without major incident (except this one time I’m going to tell you about) until it finally conked out a few years later. When it did, it had absolutely no trade-in value, though I briefly considered turning it into a planter or maybe a bus shelter. It did get great gas mileage — so great I probably only had to fill it once. Which was fortunate because, among other things, the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down. Which meant I had to speak to the gas station attendant through the little flip-out wing window.

Anyway. Back to the “major incident”.

I was driving back to KC after visiting my parents. I’d lingered a bit too long in Carlyle, probably enjoying another slice of my mother’s excellent banana bread, and got a late start. So late that, when it started pouring — and in the Midwest, if it starts pouring, we mean pouring; like some Rain God is emptying a giant pitcher over your car and everything around it — it was, like, three in the morning.

I’m soldiering along though, not tired one bit, squinting through the sheets of water slashing my windshield, trying to keep my spirits up by listening to Top-40 Radio KXOK, when the car starts slowing…and slowing some more. Before it can coast to a stop, I wisely steer it to the shoulder. Where I sit. What on earth is wrong? I wondered. The lights are on, the gas tank is half full.

No one has invented portable phones, much less cellphones, so there is no way to call for help. So I turn off the engine and lock the doors — and sit there.

Me, a few years and a completely different hairstyle later, still living in Kansas City, but now with a Mercedes. And yes, there’s a story there too

This being the middle of the night, there are very few cars on the road, even though it’s an interstate. Where are all those Highway Patrol Guys when you need them? But there are truckers. And, sure enough, after about half an hour a big ole rig pulls up on the shoulder just ahead of me.

I roll down the window as he approaches the car, and explain the situation. “There’s a truck stop up ahead,” he says. “I’ll give you a lift so you can get help.”

I do see a glow of mercury-vapor lights on the horizon, and he didn’t look too terrifying, besides which I didn’t relish the prospect of sitting in a wet car all night, so — bless my heart — I got out and went with him. And sure enough, as he boosted me up to the truck’s cab, he says, “You know, I’ve got a bed in back. You’re welcome to stay here if you want.”

Gulp. I can’t remember now how I managed to gracefully get out of that one, but he did indeed take me to the truck stop where a helpful mechanic listened to my story and goes, “Oh, one of them little Brit cars, eh? They’ve got their engines mounted sideways. Which means the alternator can get wet when it rains as bad as this. You just wait till it stops. It’ll dry out, and you can drive it on home.”

Which I did. And, trust me, I never drove that car in the rain again. Not even in a sprinkle.

But back to The Child. So far, she’s shown pretty good judgment, so I just have to cross my fingers and trust that she’ll be safe out there on the Trail all alone. At least I can console myself with the thought that it’s highly unlikely she’ll run into any truckers, helpful or otherwise.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

“Why do you want to know?”

Standard

‘How to deftly handle the odd impertinent query’

When I first moved to New York, there were quite a few things that took some getting used to. But the most startling thing wasn’t the garbage trucks clanking away at five AM or the fact that a “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar — or even that panhandlers sometimes panhandle with cats on their heads. (See “The Cat is The Hat” for hilarious details.)

Wombat, who looks exactly like the cat in “The Cat is The Hat”, perched not on my head

No, the most startling thing was the way New Yorkers were so preoccupied with how much things cost. “How much rent do you pay?” “What did that Jag set you back?” (not that I had a Jag, mind you). Even (gasp) “How much money do you make?” And it hasn’t stopped. Now that I’m no longer gainfully employed I get “How much do you have in your IRA?”

Me, when I was promoted to Vice President at Ogilvy and started making “none of your beeswax” per year

Why, when you compliment a friend with a “nice skirt” or a “wow, I just love your coat” she won’t go “Oh, this old thing?” or “This? I’ve had this for years” like a Midwesterner. No, she’ll tell you how much it cost — with emphasis on how little she paid for it. “This? Oh, this I got at Loehmann’s — on the sale rack. The once-yearly clearance sale rack. Also, it was Loyalist Day. Plus I used my Aunt’s employee discount. And had it sent to my Mom’s in New Jersey so I didn’t pay sales tax.”

Feel free to compliment The Child and/or her Gal Pal. They won’t tell you how much they paid for those party outfits — because they get them from Rent the Runway

By the time she gets done it sounds like the store paid her to take the darned thing. Which actually does happen in New York sometimes. But not to me. (Though I did score some pretty choice free items from advertising shoots. Like a Gucci suit that was used in a Pantene commercial. Seriously. It fit me — brag brag — so Wardrobe let me take it home.)

But I digress.

Back in the Midwest, where — and when — I was raised, it was considered incredibly crass to discuss money in what was called “polite company”. Sex and/or religion, too. Oh, and no politics either, at least not at the dinner table. And, unless you were a census taker or an employee of the DMV, you certainly didn’t ask anyone, especially a woman, her age.

My mom and I at my first wedding. At the time, I was almost exactly half her age. Which is so not the case today

The title of this piece is the reply that my wise — and polite — mother used to give when Some Person Who Didn’t Know Any Better would ask, “Myrna, how old are you?” She would smile sweetly and reply, “Why do you want to know?” Which would usually nip that line of inquiry right in the ole bud.

Now me, I’ve reached an age that nobody ever even asks me about anymore. No, well-meaning people just assume that I’m entitled to the Senior Citizen Discount. But I still have my little payback strategies. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but what the heck. Nowadays, when a Nice Young Person offers me a seat on the bus or subway, I smile sweetly, look down at my tummy, and say, “Oh! Am I showing already?”

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

 

To clean, or not to clean?

Standard

‘The best way to get ready for house guests’

I remember vividly the time I was chatting happily away on the phone with my Middle Younger Brother Roger when I caught myself and said, “Darn. I’ve gotta go. Wayne’s sister and her squeeze are coming for the weekend, and I have to clean.” At which my wise brother said, “No, no. You’ve got that backwards. You don’t clean before guests come — you clean after they go.

Major crumb-producing loaf. When The Dude’s Bro visits, we go through one of these puppies each day

Well. How smart is my Middle Younger Brother? He was absolutely right. Guests — even beloved, dear, wonderful guests — make messes. Where I am, here on gorgeous Eastern Long Island (the land some folk call “The Hamptons”), guests produce not only crumbs on the countertops and hair in the showers but also sand on the floor. (And often there is sand in those showers too.)

Whattaya gonna do? It’s a sandy place

If you clean before guests come, you’re in that awful Hostess Place where you’re following your guests around with, like, a sponge or a cloth, trying to deal with crumbs and sand and whatnot, thinking “Oooooo…I just vacuumed that floor!” instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself — and them.

Big ole messy family birthday celebration. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about crumbs

Whereas, if you clean after the guests go, you’re not only less stressed, but you’re — voila! — instantly ready for your next guests. If you’re like me, and own a house in a location that’s House Guest Bait, and actually enjoy having (most) house guests (see my piece “The House Guest Hall of Fame” for some notable exceptions) — your house won’t have time to get dirty before the next batch arrives.

Why, in a two week period in June alone, I was hostess to a bunch of bridge buddies, my chocolate-factory-owning nephew and niece and their three adorable spawn, and The Child’s gorgeous girlfriends. Whew.

Girls just wanna have bread. A new loaf is back in crumb-producing action

So. Thanks to my brother, I’ve developed this system where I clean after my guests go. And I mean immediately after they go. Sometimes the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway mingles with the sound of my vacuum cleaner, I’m so eager to get cleaning.

I’m hot to get going with the vacuum and the Soft Scrub because that way I can erase any traces of their visit. See, the older I get, the more nostalgic and sad I feel when guests leave. If I have to pass by an open guest-room door and see a rumpled bed, I catch myself getting all weepy while thinking, “She was just sleeping there a few hours ago, and now I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again. *Sniff*”

A batch of beauties (AKA house guests) after I dropped them at the jitney stop. I raced home and immediately started cleaning

Why, the last time The Child was here, I had her room all spic and span and ready for her next visit before she’d reached the LIE. Probably even before they’d passed out the granola bars and itty-bitty bottles of Evian.

So, in hostessy summery summary, if you’re expecting house guests, don’t waste time cleaning. Save your energy for what’s much much more important — grocery shopping.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen Wayne

Standard

‘The Dude by any other name would be just as sweet.’

Hmmm. Not sure if I would call The Dude “sweet”, especially after he’s come back from one of his marathon bike rides. But he is an awfully nice guy, even super-sweaty.

Good thing this isn’t Smellavision. The Dude indulges in a refreshing chunk of bread and Diet Dr. P after a zillion-mile bike ride

Now, if you’d told me when I was a mere slip of a girl that I would some day marry a guy named Wayne, I’m not sure how I would have reacted. For one thing, I didn’t know any guys named Wayne. There were certainly no Waynes who went to school with me in Carlyle, Illinois. There were plenty of Marks and Dans and Steves and Garys and even a Barry and a Stanley. But the only Wayne I’d heard of at the time was John Wayne. And he was old. Plus, Wayne was his last name. And not even his real last name. Good ole Duke was born Marion Morrison.

I have a pillow named Wayne, thanks to my Favorite Only Younger Sister. Thanks, Laura!

To be honest, I always thought Wayne was sort of a nerdy name. You know, the name of a guy whose pants are too short. Or who collects plastic dinosaurs and keeps them in his locker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Young Wayne (my Wayne), attired in appropriately-short trousers. (Also displaying seriously pilled slipper-socks — remember slipper-socks?)

Oh, and of course there are all the serial killers with Wayne as a middle name. John Wayne Gacy is perhaps the most famous.

But there are so many others that when I googled “serial killers with Wayne as a middle name”, up popped several clickable options. It appears that the Wayne-as-the-middle-name-of-a-serial-killer Thing is, well, a Thing. One was from the guy who wrote Freakonomics. He wrote a blog post called “The next time your daughter brings home a new boyfriend, be sure to ask his middle name”, which you can read here. I don’t think he’ll mind.

So whew. I’m sure glad that The Dude Man’s parents gave him Wayne as a first name. Though his family must have been somewhat conflicted about that, since he grew up with the nickname “Bone”. Which was short for “T-Bone”. His Older Brother Bill bestowed this on him because he was so skinny and, well, bony.

The Dude, looking decidedly bony, on his named-him-Wayne Dad’s lap. That’s nickname-bestowing Older Brother Bill on the right

It was his college roommate who gave Wayne the nickname “Dude”. Which was not a reference to The Dude in The Big Lebowski. (Couldn’t have been, since Dude Man was in college waaaay before that movie came out.) No, he was dubbed “Dude” because he wore a tie to the Freshman Mixer. At Dartmouth, made famous by another movie of which you may have heard — Animal House. Oh, the roommate had a nickname, too. It was “Crud”. No, I don’t know how he got this one. And I’m not sure I want to find out.

My first-and-only Wayne and I shortly after we met

Oh — before I forget — the photo at the top of this post was taken a few years ago in the Rain Room at the Museum of Modern Art. You’d wait in a long line in the heat (this was in late July/early August) and then enter this special exhibition space where it was raining everywhere except where you were walking. (There were sensors or some such.) Honestly, though, it was so hot in line that you kind of wished there would be a glitch and you’d get a little wet. The Rain Room was a cool thing to do (literally), but don’t get me started about whether this was “art”.

The Child not getting rained on in the Wayne (er, Rain) Room

Speaking of The Child. (Who also has a real name — Samantha — and no, she was not named after a character on that TV show Bewitched.) One time when she was in the midst of her Terrible Twos I happened to pass by The Child’s room where she was standing on tiptoes trying vainly to reach her stuffed Elmo who was perched just out of reach. She was screaming “Wayne…WayneWAYNE!” at the top of her lungs. She didn’t know “Wayne” was his name (that would be “Daddy”) — she just thought “Wayne!” was what you screamed when you were very very upset.

Oooops.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

A rose by any other name is, well, a rosé

Standard

‘More fun with mispronounciation’

Yes, yes. I know that it’s really “mispronunciation”. I just wanted to mess with you a little. And to see if you (like me) are operating on less than all your mental cylinders.

Red, white, and blue-sky blue. That’s me in Summer Mode

See, it’s hard to focus on stuff like a Weekly Blog when it’s as gorgeous as it is here, both weather-wise and scenery-wise. Though having one of my stories published in an actual newspaper — the kind that uses actual ink and is sold on actual newsstands and lands ker-plunk on actual doorsteps — gave me a nice boost. Here’s the story in case you are not one of the East Hampton Star’s many discerning subscribers: it’s called House Guest Hall of Fame.

One of the ways it’s NOT so gorgeous out here. Traffic like this is one of the reasons I almost never leave The Compound

Speaking of house guests, it’s also been hard to focus because I’ve had my share of them lately. And, thank the Hospitality Gods, they were all good guests. First I had my Bridge Buddy Pajama Party. (No photos exist, thank the Embarrassment Gods, since we did get up to some negroni-fueled hijinks.) Then the Chocolate-Company-Owning Nephew and Niece with the Three Adorable Daughters paid a visit.

Then, after that, I got my yearly dose of Twentysomethingness when The Child’s besties came to stay. (They are also “besties” in that they are some of the best house guests ever to dirty a beach towel.)

The Child, draped with a Bestie’s limbs, tries to decide whether to go out on the town

And if that weren’t enough, The Championships, Wimbledon started yesterday. I cannot myself wield a racquet, but am absolutely obsessed with the major tournaments, and the grassy Big W is my absolute unmissable fave. I once woke at 5 AM every morning of a Fun Family Reunion so I could get my Fed Fix.

What I was busy doing this morning at 6:00. That’s a Sloane Stephens match

Anyway. All this yammering is to explain why, instead of coming up with a rare gem of an original observation or a ripping tale of my Ad Biz Days or even a nostalgic trip down Small-Town Midcentury-Modern Memory Lane, I am going to treat you to some more mispronounced words. (These are either ones I forgot to tell you about a couple of weeks ago — or ones that some of my clever and thoughtful readers sent in via the Comments.)

No, that’s not an “EE-gret” or even an “e-GRET”. That’s the sandhill crane that’s been hanging around these parts

The piece I refer to, “Paging ‘Arry O’Nassis”, is about how people can mispronounce words if they’ve only seen them in print, and haven’t heard them said out loud. Almost everyone I know has some word they remember embarrassing themselves with, usually when called upon to read aloud in school. My mom’s was “de-pot” for “de-poh“. A Blogger Buddy (fancypaperblog) admitted mortification at getting “schooner” wrong.

Nephew Phil insuring that his Adorable Daughter does not humiliate herself with mispronunciation by reading aloud to her (and, presumably, saying the words right)

Dear Friend Ruth wrote in to say that hers was “fatty-goo” for “fatigue”. She also reminded me of the time a local radio announcer asked his listeners to look out for “one lost cha-hoo-a-hoo-a dog”. (Go ahead; say it out loud.)

Which made me remember the time a good friend told the waitress at lunch that she would like the “quish” — with the “crude-ites” to start. (She was such a good friend that not only did I not correct her, I didn’t laugh. Or not out loud anyway.)

I’m pretty sure that “crudites” are vegan. Though I’m thinking they wouldn’t make very good jerky

But the winning example is the one my Wine Guy told me when I was in his shop on the last leg of my weekly Summer Vector (dump-farmstand-postoffice-grocerystore-wineshop), which is the one time each week I get in my car because of the god-awful aforementioned traffic. I had picked out a nice case of mixed “ro-says” and was regaling him with “yar-mul-kee” and “Prowst” when he says that once, while ordering a steak, he asked for some sautéed “shit-take” mushrooms on the side.

Yum.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?

Standard

‘No, my hometown didn’t have a Costco’

When I was growing up Midcentury-Modern Style in the Midwest, my very small home town had a main street with a few stores (and several taverns) on it.

If you wanted to, say, buy a Christmas present for your mom (Evening in Paris was a popular choice), you’d take your allowance or your paper route money and go to the Dime Store. (Ours was a Ben Franklin, but we always called it the “Dime Store”.) Which was owned by a really crabby guy who totally didn’t like kids and would follow you around like you were going to shoplift. There really wasn’t any other option.

Then, sometime after I’d gone off to college, a Walmart came to town. It was out on the west end by the Dairy King (totally different from the Dairy Queen). A (gasp) Walmart.

My Personal Family. In the front yard of the house I grew up in — in my Walmart-welcoming home town

Did my town protest? Did they try to keep that Walmart out? No way. They welcomed it, big-time. I remember reading a Big Story about its Grand Opening in the local paper (which I subscribed to because I worked there during the summers.) And it was only a matter of time — and not much time, either — before everyone was shopping at this new Walmart.

They weren’t crabby at Walmart, for one thing. They had (and still do have) these Greeters, who go “Welcome to Walmart” when you come in the door, and say “Thank you for shopping, please come again” when you leave. Take that, crabby Dime Store Guy.

Why is this goldfish smiling? Maybe because you can buy him — and dozens and dozens of his friends — at Walmart

And Walmart had everything. You could buy not only giant cartons of milk and huuuuuge bags of Cheetos, you could get rose mulch and stereos and DVDs and khaki pants and baby shoes and glitter. My Nephew once bought a BB gun there. (Walmart cheerfully took it back, even though it had been fired, when he returned it for some reason I do not recall, probably involving his absent mother.)

Nephew Phil (or is that Groucho?) without his Walmart BB gun. But I bet that’s where he got that disguise

Walmart became so popular (at least in my family) that I remember coming home for some sort of school break, sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee, when Mom goes, “Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?” Turns out a “Walmart Run” was a Thing.

Yup. My Mom got her coffee at Walmart. And after consuming some, she’d go right back to Walmart

My Late Lamented Dad even called The Child “Walmart” — before and after she was born. See, while preggers with her, I was of course asked many times what names The Dude and I were considering for our imminent bundle of joy. Sometimes, if feeling feisty, I’d do a riff on the trend for non-traditional names. Which is perfectly okay by me, O You Who Have Named Your Child “Brie”. I just happen to think it amusing to name a child after a type of cheese. If “Brie” is cool, why not “Cheddar”? Or, how ’bout this one: “Time for supper, Camembert!”

My father amusing some random child whose name I can’t recall (tho I bet it wasn’t “Roquefort”) with a sparkler, no doubt purchased at Walmart

Anyway, I’d been amusing my father with this funny-name bit; had run through the Cheese Names and the State Names (If “Montana” and “Dakota” are cool, why not “Delaware”?) and even the Neighborhoods in New York City names (If “Chelsea” is hip, why not “Soho”? Or “Tribeca”?) Well, I was just getting into the Store Names (I like “Tiffany” for a girl, and I think “Duane Reade” is rather distinguished for a boy, don’t you?) — when Dad pipes up. “Walmart”! It’s a great name for a boy or a girl.

So he called her “Walmart”. For years.

Speaking of children, we recently enjoyed our annual visit from The Dude’s nephew, his amazing wife and their three-count-em-three frisky and adorable girls. The Dude and I, being grandchildless, are drawn like moths to their collective flame. But then so are The Child and her BF.

The Child and BF roughhousing (er, playing) with the Adorable Girls

This is the nephew and wife who started a chocolate company (yes, they started it!) that you may have heard of. It’s called Taza, and makes incredibly delish stone-ground chocolate. They make dozens of products (I have to hide the chocolate-covered hazelnuts from The Dude’s Brother Bill) but on this visit they were most excited by a new one they developed for Costco.

It’s called the Paleo Dark Chocolate Slab. And you can only get it at Costco

Now, you can indeed find Taza products at your friendly neighborhood Walmart. But Costco, unlike Walmart, is a membership-only buying club. And it, well, has a certain je ne sais quois. New York City Upper East-Siders who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Walmart will happily drive their Range Rovers up to Northern Manhattan (yes, I said “Manhattan”) to stock up on organic stock from free-range chickens (as well as their eggs) and almond milk (no doubt from free-range almonds) and the like.

How the Paleo display will look in a Costco. If you are lucky enough to be able to go to Costco

This new Taza product, being Paleo and all, is a perfect foodie fit for Costco-goers. (I tried some, and even though I am not a Paleo Person, it certainly hit my personal Sweet Spot.) We were pretty excited for them — and for the lucky Costco-goers who get to buy it. I’m betting it’ll be such a big hit that sometime soon I’ll be hearing my fellow Upper East-Siders saying, “Hey, who wants to go on a Costco Run?”

No need for a Costco Run here. These lucky girls have parents who own the whole darned chocolate company

New York City. June 2019

Paging ‘Arry O’Nassis

Standard

‘Never make fun of people who mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.’

My mother is “getting up there”, as they say, but she remembers like it was just yesterday being traumatized by an incident of mispronunciation that occurred when she was a mere slip of a schoolgirl.

Mom was maybe six or so, and it was her turn to stand up by her desk and read aloud from a story. She got to a line that said “the train pulled into the depot”, and pronounced it “dee-pot” (which I’m thinking any reasonable first-grader would do), and everyone started laughing at her. Bless her heart, she lived on a farm in Northern Illinois and had probably not encountered a train, much less a dee-poh.

Mom as a schoolgirl. The “incident” I describe happened when she was much younger, but this is the earliest school photo I could find. It’s also seriously cute, so I’m using it

She never forgot that incident. (She didn’t forget how to pronounce “depot” either.) Which brings me to my topic of the day, that quote (by Anonymous, who else) about not making fun of people who mispronounce words. Why, just the other day a good (and well-read) friend of mine referred to “Prowst”, and honest-to-Marcel I did not giggle — or even smirk.

I must admit to having had a hard time keeping a straight face, though, one time when The Dude’s Mom was telling me about an astronomer friend of hers. (Yes, The Dude’s Mom was into astronomy; she even built her own telescope. It’s up in the attic somewhere.) The astronomer buddy happened to be Jewish and “wore a ‘yar-mul-kee'”, reported Dude’s Mom.

The Dude’s family. It’s no wonder his Mom had trouble with “yarmulke”

As for me, I love opera, but have a heck of a time with opera names. I have no idea how to pronounce some of these. Like “Orfeo ed Euridice” (which spell-check just changed to Eurydice, but it’s on my ticket as Euridice, so there) or a real tongue-twister from last season, “Mefistofele”. It was insanely good, but I just called it “the one with the devil dancing on the table and the people in the fake-nude costumes writhing in hell”. My friends knew what I meant. And they didn’t laugh. Well, not too loud. It’s opera, after all.

Anna Netrebko (whom I usually refer to as just plain “Anna”) in “Tosca.” Which is my favorite opera, and not only because I can pronounce it

Sometimes you can get in conversational trouble not by mispronouncing, but by mishearing a word. The title of this piece comes from a story that went around years ago. Someone apparently asked what on earth Jackie Kennedy was getting herself into by marrying “that really rich Irish guy, ‘Arry O’Nassis.”

And you readers can probably think of a few among your own acquaintance who refer to one of those long low couches as a “chaise lounge”, when in fact it is a “chaise longues”, which literally means “long chair.” Which isn’t nearly as funny as hearing a certain traditional Spanish activity referred to as a “Flamingo Dance” by more than one person I know. (And no, I didn’t laugh, though I wanted to.)

Dad deck-testing a “chaise longue”. And no, that’s not a Flamingo (or a Flamenco) on his lap

But, speaking of laughing, even I had to laugh (at myself this time) when this next example of reading-a-word-but-not-knowing-how-to-pronounce-it happened. The Dude and I were at some sort of lecture not long after the awful events of September 11, 2001. The speaker was talking about the global impact of 9/11; how the whole world would be changing because of threats to our security.

Well, I was feeling properly warned and thoroughly frightened when I turned to The Dude and whispered, “Who the heck is this Al Kydah he keeps talking about?”

The Child reading. And quite possibly smirking ’cause she knows who the heck Al-Qaeda is — and how to pronounce it

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

 

 

 

 

Dad and the Magical Mystery Trolley

Standard

‘It’s been ten years since he rode off into the Sunset’

Ten years ago tomorrow (June 12, 2009, it was) my Dad was pretty darned happy. He’d made it to 80, and he was the guest of honor at a big ole party at the assisted living place.

Oldest Younger Bro Scott (and me) at Dad’s Big Birthday Party. This is, famously, the Last Photo Ever Taken By My Dad. He borrowed my camera and shot it from his wheelchair

Dad loved living there, which may seem hard to believe. But he was kind of like their Prom King; he ruled at Scrabble and Rummikub and Trivial Pursuit, but mostly he regaled his co-residents and fans with jokes and stories. He knew lots of jokes and stories.

Dad was a whiz at games. And only partly because he cheated

Yes, Dad cheated at games. He would reach into the Folger’s can where we kept the Scrabble tiles and sort of “Braille-read” the letter faces for the Zs and Qs and Js. He had a very good sense of touch. Which did not diminish with age.

Anyway. Dad was living at the assisted living place because he’d been diagnosed with dementia. It took a long time for him to be diagnosed. Those of you familiar with dementia (so sorry if you are) know that it can be notoriously difficult to pin down. One of the symptoms is a bad temper (though they call it “agitation”), and, bless his heart, my Dad had rather a short fuse his whole life. (He used to explode if somebody scraped a pan or chomped a raw carrot or served him semi-thawed-out-frozen-for-economy’s-sake-bought-in-bulk-from-the-factory-store Bunny Bread, for example. And this was when he was, like, thirty.)

Dad liked to sit around in his underwear. This was actually pretty okay. Until he switched to tighty-whities

There’s also the Sundowner Thing, which involves getting up in the night and roaming around, often in your underwear. I’m here to tell you that Dad did that for years too. (When he stayed at my house I made a point of setting the coffee machine up before I went to bed at night to minimize drawer-and-cabinet-door slamming at 3 AM. But then I’d forget about the garage door. Sigh.)

I guess it was the “lack of social control” symptom that finally clicked those dementia puzzle pieces into place. Dad started doing things like laughing loudly and inappropriately. Saying whatever was on his mind. Dad: “That lady is so fat!” Mom: “Dale! Shhhhh!” Dad: “But that lady is fat!!!” Only he didn’t say “lady”.

Dad exhibiting non-dementia-induced “lack of social control”

So off to Suzanne Elise Assisted Living Community Dad went. (I mention the name because it was a very nice place.) Like I mentioned, he participated in many activities. And he could also leave the premises pretty much whenever he wanted, like to ride his bike. Er, trike.

Once the cops stopped Dad; seemed a blue trike had been stolen. Dad wasn’t the culprit; turns out there were two blue trikes in Seaside

“Nice” though it was, my Mom did not want to live at the assisted living place with Dad. Well-Meaning Person to Mom: “Don’t you want to move in with your husband?” Mom: “Not on your life.” So we’d visit Dad at cocktail hour and the like. (Yes, they had cocktail hour. With real cocktails!) And we’d take him on outings.

The Dude took Dad “car-birding” once. (This is birding where you don’t get out of the car; Dad loved it.) And The Child once gave an impromptu piano concert for Dad and Dad’s Fellow Residents. (She didn’t have any music with her, so she found some online and printed it out; Dad loved this too.)

The Child after holding forth on the piano at Dad’s Place

On one of our outings, we drove up to Astoria, stopping for coffee at what seemed every bend in the road. (The Northwest is perfect for stop-everywhere-for-coffee types; there’s a drive-in coffee place every few feet, or so it seems.)

At one coffee place, Dad gets a wacky souvenir along with his java

We roamed around Astoria for a while, doing Astoria-like things like poking in thrift shops (Dad: “This is no fun.”) and eating Mexican food (Dad: “I’ll have another margarita, please.”) As for me, I was eager to ride the Astoria Trolley. I’d heard about this alleged trolley for years. I say “alleged” because in all the years I’d been coming for visits, I had never once clapped eyes on it, much less ridden on it.

Middle Younger Brother Roger had better luck finding the trolley. I’m assuming he also rode it

My Mom assured me that the trolley did in fact exist. “You just wave a dollar bill, and it stops for you, ” she said. So I got out a dollar bill and waved it around. “Like this?” I asked. No trolley appeared. “Gosh, if I keep doing this, people will think I’m demented!” At this, Dad chuckled to himself and we heard him mutter, “Hell, I am demented.”

I’m happy to say that dementia didn’t affect Dad’s sense of humor. I’m also happy to say that he did indeed make it to 80. But just barely. He died a little over a week later. In his sleep, in the early morning hours of Father’s Day. With a smile on his face, Ella Fitzgerald on his CD player, and a Dairy Queen Dilly Bar in the freezer of his mini-fridge.

Happy What-Would-Have-Been-90th-Birthday, Dad. I’ll keep looking for that darned trolley.

Dad, waiting for the trolley

New York City. June 2019

 

The Dude celebrates another bird-day

Standard

‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

Older Bro Bill looks on as Close Cousin Charlie and The Dude make friends with a snake. All three have birthdays within days of each other. Not sure about the snake

So, for this joint birthday bash, I grilled up some steaks, popped open some wine, and whipped out (of the freezer) a big ole Carvel Cake, the Whitmores’ celebration cake of choice. I served one of these babies for the Fourth of July, and we famously had one for our wedding cake. Trust me, Carvel Cakes do not disappoint. Incidentally, Close Cousin Charlie and his wife are both vegan, bless their hearts, so I also grilled some tofu. It’s a good thing I got a large Carvel Cake.

Best (delicious and large) birthday cake ever. We even scared up a couple of candles

In keeping with the spirit of close cousinly cooperation, there was, in addition to a joint birthday cake, a joint blowing-out-of-the birthday candles:

Oh, and what about birthday presents? you may be wondering. Well, The Dude and I have gotten to that stage of our relationship where one of us looks at the other about a week before whatever celebration is coming up (anniversary, Christmas, birthday) and go, “Hey, you know that trip to Borneo? That’ll be our anniversary present this year. OK?”

But this year I thought I’d be different and give his Dudeness an actual present: a book I’m making (courtesy Shutterfly) commemorating our first Big Crazy Birding Trip, the one to Kenya and Tanzania. Well, I didn’t get it done in time, but he doesn’t know about it (and he doesn’t read this blog) so heck. Happy Father’s Day, Dude Man!

One of the pictures that’ll be sure to make the cut in the Dude’s Birthday (er, Father’s Day) Book

Oh. Speaking of birds. The Dude did get a very special gift, and he got it on his Actual Birthday too: he saw a Very Rare Bird on a bike ride that morning. (Thus combining two passions, biking and birds.) He went back later on his other bike to take its picture. (This other bike is the Zero, which is an electric motorcycle; he calls both this and his recumbent “bikes”, thus causing much confusion around the Amagansett manse: “Want to go for a bike ride?” “You know I can’t keep up with you.” “I mean on the motorbike.” “Oh.”)

The Dude birding on his “bike”. It’s electric, thus absolutely silent. The better for sneaking up on his avian quarry

He took his Good Camera, the one that contains zillions of photos that have never been downloaded or shared anywhere, and snapped this picture:

And here it is: The Sandhill Crane. Very rare sighting. Even more rare sighting? A photo from The Dude’s camera

Happy Bird-day, Dude! Here’s wishing you — and that Sandhill Crane — many more years of nerdy, birdy adventure.

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

Nope. It’s not the sport with the pointy orange ball

Standard

‘I become a Blazers Fan. For a few days, anyway.’

There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where Woody’s character is making nervous small talk with a woman on their first date. He asks her what her favorite sport is and she says “swimming.” “Swimming?” he sputters. “Swimming? Swimming isn’t a sport. Basketball is a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks.”

My Mom, ready to swim. ‘Cause it looks like that raft’s ready to sink

Well, I was always kinda with the date on this one. I’ve never been that into team sports. Not even when I was at the University of Missouri, which was, and probably still is, a Big Football School (Mel Gray and John Matuszak ate in my cafeteria). I used to gamely sit in the bleachers with my eventually-to-be-First-Husband-the-Frat-Boy, guarding my nylons from splinters, corsage pinned to my insubstantial breast. Surreptitious sips of Mad Dog 20/20 helped. Sort of.

That was the sport with the pointy orange ball. As for basketball and its bouncy round orange ball (see an example in the photo at the top of this post, being held, pre-bounce, by The Child), I actually got off to a good start, playing H-O-R-S-E with my brothers around the hoop perched over our driveway. But then my bros got so they didn’t want to play with “girls” — or, to be fair, maybe it was me who didn’t want to play with “boys” — at any rate, around sixth grade it was no more H-O-R-S-E. And for me, no more basketball.

Me, at about the age when I thought I was too cool for H-O-R-S-E

There was plenty of basketball at my high school, but only boys played it. If you were a girl, basketball meant trying out for cheerleader. And, not only was I totally inept at the fancy footwork involved in “cheering” (have you ever tried to do a cartwheel?) but I simply wasn’t the Cheerleader Type. I mean, I was reasonably attractive and all, but cheerleaders had cute little figures and were perky and bouncy. I didn’t have a perky bouncy bone in my lanky gawky body.

But hey. I was cute enough to snag a hunky prom date. A date who was on the basketball team, I’ll have you know. (Yes, I made that dress)

So. Where was I going with this? Ah, the Blazers. Actually, they are called the Portland Trail Blazers. And, not to get all sportscaster on you, but when I was out west visiting my Mom for Mother’s Day, the Blazers just happened to be duking it out with the Denver Nuggets for some Big Championship which would mean they would then vie for the NBA title. (Whew. I feel like I’m channeling Howard Cosell.)

So, of course we watched. And I must admit it was exciting. Maybe not as exciting as swimming for your life because your boat just sank, but exciting nonetheless. There was deft ball handling, cool three-point shot-making, and even — with two brothers playing against each other (the Currys) — Family Drama. Speaking of Family Drama, my Lovely Niece Emma made a video of we three moms (me, my sister, and our mom) noisily getting our Blazers on:

I seem to have a knack for showing up for a Mom Visit when there’s some exciting Big Deal Team Sport Event going on. Like the time I innocently traveled west for my Mom’s birthday, only to find my visit coincided with the Chicago Cubs’ run-up to their history-making World Series victory.

Yup. They won. But we didn’t know this was going to happen when I was visiting. It was pretty tense around that TV

The presidential debates were also on TV — remember Trump looming over Hillary? — but no Henrys seemed to care. It was all about baseball and the Cubs. I did manage to sneak off and watch a debate on my iPad, but basically, that visit was a crash course in baseball’s finer points. (Baseball is the one with the smallish non-pointy white ball.) After watching a few of those playoff games, I was talking “double-play” and “pinch-hitter” and “closer” with the best of the Henrys. I even had a Favorite Player (Javier “Javvy” Baez).

Mom’s Birthday, the year she got gifted a Cubs World Series win

And do I have a Favorite Spectator Sport? Yes indeed. It’s the one played with the small fuzzy yellow ball. Not only are there no teams involved, in my mind there is only one player. And he’s playing right now in the French Open. So, in a weird way it’s good that the Blazers flamed out, since I wouldn’t be able to pay them any mind. Because when Roger Federer is on, everyone else takes second place.

The One and Only Fed at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. I was watching him play while on a flight out to visit — you guessed it — my Mom

Amagansett, New York. May 2019