I’m gonna miss Van. Shaun Cassidy, not so much

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‘I hadn’t thought about record albums in years; now they’re stuck in my mind like a Monkees tune’

Once, when The Child was, oh, eleven or twelve, she happened to be standing in front of the bookshelf — probably looking for the chess pieces, bless her smarty-pants heart — when she pulled out one of the large square objects pictured below and asked, “What is this?”

When I told her it was a “record album” she looked totally and completely blank. So I said, “You use them to play music. With a turntable.” Seeing her still-baffled countenance, I added, “kind of like an earlier version of a CD.” “Aaaah,” she remarked. “I get it. And look: there’s much more room for liner notes!”

I’ve had record albums on my mind lately because, as you probably know by now (and maybe are tired of hearing about), The Dude and I are in mid-life downsizing mode. Going from a respectably-sized New York apartment to, basically, a Barbie-and-Ken playhouse. We’re talking telescoping down from 1600 sq. ft. to, oh, 350. Give or take a square foot — or toe.

Barbie’s playhouse kitchen. Yup, that’s a two-burner stovetop

Well. You basically cannot squoosh twenty-six years of stuff into a space that small. So something’s gotta give. Heck, forget “something”. Let’s be honest and say “everything”. Yup, kids. Everything’s gotta go.

So last weekend The Dude and I rolled up our sleeves and started in. I made some calls and found out that a place called (here comes a plug; I love this guy!) Innersleeve Records in Amagansett would take our albums. All of our albums. And we had tons. Not only our Beatles and Monkees and Stones but The Dude’s parents’ showtunes and classicals and, yes, Shaun Cassidys.

We carted about fifteen linear feet of record albums to good ole New Best Friend Chris at Innersleeve, who not only accepted our motley donation with good grace but actually helped us carry the darned things in from the car. And, let me tell you, record albums — good liner notes and all — are heavy.

Another album gem from our ex-collection

Oh, before I forget. Somewhere in this collection is the very first record album I ever had. Someone — I think it was my Middle Younger Brother Roger — gave it to me as a gift, not realizing that I did not own a turntable upon which to play it. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I used to say to my dorm buddies, “Why don’t you come on over to my room? We can hang out and look at my record.”

Just for fun, here’s an album by The Dude’s doppelganger

Well, I’d love to hang around here at my computer, sharing more stories from my storied past, but there are family photos to be put away. (“You absolutely must put away all photos!” saith the real estate agent, sending me into shock.)

Seasonal selection of family photos, never to be displayed again. At least not in this apartment

Oh. And there are the books. Did I mention that we own a lot of books? We scratched the surface (sort of) last week, when we disposed of about 20 linear feet of art books. God bless you, East Hampton Library. I promise to go to Authors’ Night every year until you run out of authors.

Got books? These are only the art books

But here’s the thing. At least record albums are back in vogue, at least in some decidedly hipster circles. You know, as long as you call them “vinyl”. 

Which brings me to this shelf. I’ll give you my coolest Springsteen if you can help me figure out how to turn this complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica into hipster bait.

I bet they don’t even have “hipster” under “H”

New York City. October 2019

 

My Main Squeeze

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‘He’s about to get squeezed a whole lot tighter.’

When folks from my former homeland, The Great American Midwest, visit me here in New York, they are apt to be amazed by how little space we New Yorkers inhabit.

“Where is the rest of it?” questioned one dearly-beloved sister-in-law, when visiting our apartment for the first time. “This is your kitchen?” exclaimed another equally-beloved SIL. (No, I am not being ironic; I do in fact love these two sis-in-laws, in spite of the fact that their homes are vastly more vast than mine.)

The Dude and I share a meal in the dining-room-living-room-office-music-room of our first apartment

I find this interesting because, on a New Yorker scale, this apartment — where I am sitting right now at my sunlit desk cum china cabinet — is considered rather comfortably large. It’s what they call, in Real-Estate-Agent-ese, a “classic six”. That means it has six rooms: living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a “maid’s room”. Honest. These pre-war (that’s WWII, and yet another example of colorful NYC real estate lingo) apartment buildings were built when no home was complete without its maid.

That’s my desk in the background, ready for writing. That’s the table in the foreground, ready for Christmas. This is in, ahem, the big apartment we live in right now

Well, maid shmaid. What I really want to talk about today is the, well, going-backwards-ness of our personal space. As it pertains to living arrangements, that is.

The trajectory of our married living arrangements has gone from very small to medium to large and, now, with this latest pied a terre acquisition (which I first mentioned in my bake-some-brownies post, “And Then There Were None”), back to very small again. I feel rather like Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”: “I am big; it’s the movies that got small.” Only, in our case, our apartment — or at least the one we’ll move into if all goes according to plan — just got very very small.

Me, reflected in the make-the-room-look-bigger (hah!) mirrored wall of the 13×11 living room of the if-all-goes-well new apartment. No, that’s not any of our stuff, thank the Lord of Moving

Very shortly, if all goes well (tons of paperwork to deal with for the closing!) we will be moving from an approximately 1600 sq. ft. apartment to one that is around 350, give or take a precious foot. Adjusting to such a small space will not be a small adjustment. And not only because we won’t have room to swing a cat, but because we won’t have room for our stuff. Any of our stuff.

We weren’t always so stuff-stuffed. In fact, we started out rather spare, with thrift-shop finds and hand-me-downs. Wayne found his couch at a garage sale. And I didn’t even have one. So we slipcovered his, thinking one day we’d replace it with a “real” couch that we picked out from a real store. Well, that was more than 35 years ago.

The Dude’s slipcovered garage-sale couches in action. Want ’em? Child and cat not included

Quick note: When we lived in the one-big-room-with-everything-in-it place and were thinking about having a baby, I asked “but where will we put this baby?” and The Dude, quite reasonably in Dude Reasonableness, answered, “We’ll put the baby where the TV is.” Which is, ultimately, what we did.

That first apartment, Child added. Yes, her bed is located right about where the TV was. And the dining table and the desk and so on and so forth

But time moves on. And so did we. To this apartment of twenty-six years. And twenty-six years of gradual acquisition. Surfaces have been populated, couches have been pillowed, bookcases have been booked. Let’s face it, if you think Nature abhors a vacuum, you haven’t met a New York City apartment.

We have art books piled on top of pianos, which are, in turn, topped with hand-turned pottery, accented by silver whatnots, side-by-side with souvenir statues. Don’t get me started on the candles and their attendant holders. And, if you read last week’s post, “Sitting Pretty”, you are familiar with my crack-cocaine obsession with chairs.

Honestly? It’ll feel good to, shall we say, “de-acquisition” some of this. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by for a scented candle. Or five.

New York City. October 2019

 

Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

Oh. Before I forget. Those of you who expect a weekly story to be posted by me every Tuesday (bless your hearts) were no doubt wondering what the heck happened yesterday. Well. My lack-of-posting wasn’t entirely because of downsizing-related stress. (And I wasn’t even too busy making brownies to write a story. See downsizing story — and brownie recipe — here.) Nope, GoDaddy was having some WordPress-related technical difficulties. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I am glad to have Somebody Else To Blame. (Because I actually was too stressed to write coherently, much less amusingly.)

But back to this chair-chocked tale.

I use these to display my (ahem) needlepointing skills

The reason I happen to have so many chairs isn’t due to some fear-of-no-seating phobia. It’s just because, well, I really really like chairs. It seems that, there for awhile, every time I’d go to a thrift shop or an antiques fair or just about any place old chairs could be found — I’d fall for a new “find”. I say “new”, but I don’t really mean new. All my chairs — all twenty-one of them are old.

One of a set of extremely fragile Pennsylvania Dutch dining chairs. I use place cards at dinners so the few fat people I know won’t sit on these

And each and every one has a story. One I salvaged from Great-Gramma Whitmore’s barn. One is a leftover from my Starter Marriage. Another followed me all the way from Kansas City.

I toted this baby all the way from the Heartland. And then on to, hmm, three different apartments

But the chair that has the best story is the leather wing chair that came from the East Hampton Antiques Fair. See, East Hampton used to be not nearly as trendy and fancy as it is now. Why, there was a time when there wasn’t even one Ralph Lauren boutique there, much less four. (Yes, there are, in fact, four Ralph Lauren stores in EH. I kid you not. I guess Ralph wanted to make sure you could find an American-Flag sweater without panicking.)

So. This is the Time Of Which I Speak. When there was an antiques fair in East Hampton with actual beautiful antiques that Normal People could afford. (They still have these fairs, but I can’t even afford the admission, much less the antiques.)

My Very Good Friend Who Moved to New Jersey used to accompany me to these antiques fairs. We would have big fun together scoring Bakelite bangles and crocodile handbags and Fiestaware and such. And yes, for me anyway, chairs. (Green tufted leather ones for the library, blue painted stools for the kitchen, even child-sized ones to hold magazines in the bathrooms (try it!) and so on and so forth.

I found out the hard way that the red paint on this chair comes off on your butt. So I use it to hang things on

BFWMTNJ and I were strolling about — she encouraging me to buy John Boy Walton’s cowboy hat (it fit, and I did); me encouraging her to buy butterfly-wing jewelry from the 40s — when I happened upon this chair.

It was (and is) amazing. A wing chair of gently-worn (oh, okay, really worn) caramel-hued tufted leather. Very Downtown Abbey, even though Downton Abbey hadn’t been invented yet. I could picture myself curled up in it by the fire, book in one hand, wineglass in the other. I sat down. I enquired about the price. Hmmm, not bad. But I decided to abide by my “If God Wants Me To Have It, It Will Still Be Here After I Walk Once Around The Fair” Rule.

Friend and I go walkabout, only to find upon completion of our round another woman sitting in “my” chair — busily writing a check.

Well.

I chatted her up, got her name and number, and sweetly suggested that if the chair didn’t “work” in her apartment that she give me a call and I would take it off her hands for her.

A week later, sure enough. She calls. The chair indeed didn’t “work”. And it’s been mine ever since.

The lovely leather wing chair, “decorated” at a Christmas long ago by one of my favorite people

I have a sneaking suspicion that our new majorly-downsized digs (potential only! fingers crossed the deal goes through!) won’t be able to accommodate this chair — not to mention, I’m thinking, around twenty of the other twenty-one in this much larger apartment.

Maybe I should look for that woman’s card and see if she wants “her” chair back?

New York City. September 2019

 

 

And then there were none

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‘How to make the world’s best brownies, bar none.’

I’m seriously distracted today. The Wayner and I are considering “downsizing” from our Manhattan home of nigh-on twenty-five years to a place that just became available in a highly-desirable building nearby. It’s adorable, filled with light; all the clever original casement windows face a gorgeous private garden. And so on and so forth.

The issue? It’s so small (the kitchen is six feet by six; but at least it has a kitchen) that moving there would take a major attitude adjustment, not to mention a pruning of possessions so majorific it would make Marie Kondo‘s head explode.

Eeensy-weensy isn’t the half of it

So, what to do?

Let’s make a batch of brownies, by gum! Nothing is easier — or more soothing. I have a foolproof method (it’s so simple, I hesitate to call it a “recipe”) that I’ve used even longer than The Dude and I have lived in this (sniff) apartment. It’s sort of adapted from an old Maida Heatter cookbook I have lying around somewhere (and will soon be donating to some library or other).

Here’s the recipe written down for somebody-or-other. Don’t worry; I will “translate”

Oh. Before I forget. The picture at the top of this post is not of anyone making brownies. Believe it or not, no one has ever “captured” me working my brownie magic. (I guess because it all happens so fast.) No, that picture was taken in the “old” kitchen of the Amagansett house. That thing on the wall behind The Child’s head is a stereo/radio gizmo with a flip-down turntable. The veritable epitome of Seventies hi-tech! (That and the faux woodgrain cabinetry are no longer with us.)

Another shot of us crafting cookies. Because why not?

Anyway. Enough with the Habitation Talk. On to the brownies!

Now let me start by saying that if you are a fan of fat cakelike brownies, stop reading right now. Just run out and grab yourself a box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix. I’m sure it’s “perfectly good”, as my Mom would say.

But if dense, dark, and delicious is your brownie thing, you’ve come to the right blog.

Let’s jump ahead to the finished product, shall we? You will never see your brownies pictured this way — they will be gone too fast

So here’s what you do. Plop 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate into a bowl with a stick of butter. Put the bowl into a saucepan with some water in it. (The pan, not the bowl.)

Butter and chocolate happily merging in the saucepan of simmering water, eggs and vanilla at the ready

Note: 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate used to be 4 squares. Then Baker’s got all cost-cutting and decided to reconfigure the bar. So now you need to use half the bar, however many squares that is. I always forget.

Easy to remember: “Bakers” chocolate. Cause you’re “baking”, get it?

While you’re melting the chocolate/butter stuff, prepare the pan. I use a square glass one, but really any similarly-sized pan will do. Turn said pan upside down, mold a square of foil over the back, then flip the pan over and place the molded foil inside. (You do this because it’s easier to get a good foil shape that way.) Then use the wrapper from the stick of butter to butter up the inside of the pan. (You probably will need to use a bit more butter; so have two suitably-softened sticks handy.)

The prepared pan. Not pretty, but pretty darned effective at keeping those brownies from sticking. Oh, those flowers in that teensy vase are intentionally dry, okay? And hey! That vase just might fit in the new apartment!

Once your mixture is melted and you’ve stirred it so it’s smooth (yum! I’m salivating all over my laptop!) you remove it from the pan of water and add one scant cup of sugar. (The original recipe calls for a full cup, but my peeps like them better not so sweet.) After that, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla.

By now the mixture should have cooled down enough that you can beat in two eggs, one at a time. (If you add the eggs too soon, they cook. And who wants chocolate scrambled eggs?)

After that, stir in half a cup of flour. Scoop this delicious smelling concoction into your prepared pan and pop into a 325 oven. Use the middle rack. The recipe says to bake for half an hour to 35 minutes, but I start checking at 25 minutes. How do you know when they’re done? Well, when they look like this:

The brownies are done when the middle is puffed up like this. Or, if for some reason, they don’t puff, they’re done when a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean

Now, Pro Tip. Here’s the other reason you line the pan with foil. As soon as you can after removing the pan from the oven, carefully slide the brownies, foil and all, out of the pan and onto something heat-proof like a trivet. It’s not essential to do this — trust me, those brownies are going to taste great — but this does stop the brownies from continuing to “cook” from the heat retained by the pan.

When you’re ready to serve them, take a long serrated knife and cut the pan’s worth of brownies in half, then half again, till you have a bunch of squares. You might need to wiggle a knife under each one to release them, because no matter how well you pre-butter that foil, they’re so chewy-gooey they often stick.

Serve with ice cream, or not. If you have any left over (hah!) they freeze pretty darned well. I hope you have as much fun making these brownies as I have; they’re guaranteed to please.

You give the brownies; you get the gifts!

Oh — one more thing. And it’s very very important. Do not wash that bowl. There is sure to be at least one person around who will want to “clean” it for you.

The best part. Or at least The Child seems to think so

Okay. That’s all she wrote. For today, anyway. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go off somewhere and obsess about maybe-moving. Note that no offer has been made on this particular apartment — much less accepted. But the downsizing cat has been definitely let out of the worry-wart bag. Or something. Gulp!

New York City. September 2019

The Back-Up-Plan Beau

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‘I promised to marry him in 5 years — and clean forgot’

So I was swiping through the New York Times the other morning (I get the paper on my iPad while out here in Amagansett, hence the ‘swiping’) and saw a piece in the Modern Love column called “Let’s Meet Again in Five Years”.

Well. I’d barely started reading the darned thing — which is about these college sweethearts who “thought college was too soon for lifelong love, so they scheduled their next date for a little later”, like five years — when these little bells started going off in my head.

Gosh, I remembered all in a rush, there once was a guy, way back when, who made a plan like that with me. Except that it wasn’t a college sweetheart, and we didn’t schedule a date — we agreed to marry each other in five years.

It happened like this.

I was, in those days, the Head Creative Director of an advertising agency in Kansas City. Now, I don’t mention my big fancy title to impress you. After all, it was a very small agency, and in Kansas City to boot. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Kansas City, mind you. But, as far as advertising goes, let’s just say they didn’t set Mad Men on the Country Club Plaza.)

That’s me, acting all Head Creative-Directory for a company brochure

I mention my big fancy title so you’d understand why I got sent to a big fancy advertising conference in, of all boondoggley places — Aspen, Colorado. Now, for those of you who didn’t work in advertising back when advertising did things like this, a “boondoggle” is a “business trip” that is “coincidentally” held in a wonderful location. Like later, while at Ogilvy, I got sent on a multi-city tour to sample fried chicken. (I was working on the Shake ‘n Bake account at the time.)

This time I got sent to this gorgeous place — Aspen — to “confer”. I remember that the first thing I did when I got there — this was on the getting-to-know-you “Free Day” — was go on a white-water rafting trip. (We could also choose golf or tennis; this was summer, so skiing wasn’t an option.) The guide warned us that one of us was sure to get launched into the water, and, when it happened, to immediately curl up into a ball so our limbs wouldn’t snap off on the rocks. Well, guess who the lucky launchee was on that trip?

Well, after I dried off and spruced up, I launched myself into a two-day white-water whirl of talks and panel discussions and conference-related whatnot.

It was during the last event on the last day — a send-off, see-you-maybe-someday cocktail party — that I met this Incredibly Handsome Guy.

I don’t have a picture of the Incredibly Handsome Guy. So, what the heck, here’s another bosslike shot. This is me sandwiched between my bosses, the two guys who ran the agency

Where had This Guy been all conference long? He not only was “important” enough to be attending a meeting like this, but he had the most amazing Paul Newman blue eyes and black hair. (He told me later he was “Black Irish”, which, you can imagine, sounded unspeakably exotic to a Midwestern Girl like me.)

We got to talking about, of all things, running. This was back in the Seventies, you see, when running was a pretty sexy sport. Talking running talk back then was kind of like chatting about Brooklyn Boulders. Hot stuff.

We were well into a swooningly interesting conversation about marathon training techniques (I was training for my first marathon, happening that Fall in Kansas City), when it was time to part. We exchanged smoky looks and business cards and went back to our respective cities. (He lived in Santa Barbara.)

I don’t have a photo of me running in the Kansas City Marathon. But here’s me a year later, running my first New York Marathon

Speaking of running, I’ll cut to the chase. Back in Kansas City, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy. So I bought a copy of a then-popular book about great places to run in cities all over the country, paper-clipped a note inside (“Let’s get together and do a little running around”) and sent it to him. (I had his business card, remember?)

Well. The next thing I know, I’m opening an envelope from him. Inside is a plane ticket to San Francisco.

Honest. I could not, as they say, make this up.

Of course I went. We clicked like crazy, and had a wonderful time. We even did a little running. A few months later he came to visit me in New York — where I had relocated, having gotten a taste of The World Outside Kansas City on that conference. (The story of my relocation is a pretty good one, too. It’s called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.)

Now, it might seem hard to believe in this day and age, but back in those Wild and Crazy Seventies, young people like me — and the Incredibly Handsome Guy — weren’t exactly what you would call monogamous. So, while IHG and I were conducting our long-distance relationship — him coming to New York; me going to Santa Barbara — we were, of course, “seeing other people”.

So. We didn’t promise each other unfailing loyalty. But we did get along so well and liked each other so much that we made a pact that we would get married in five years.

Well, I don’t know what happened with the Incredibly Handsome Guy (bless him, I don’t even remember his name), but I kept my half of the bargain. Because, yes, I did, in fact, get married in five years. Just not to him.

And here’s the Dude who made me forget

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

“Why do you want to know?”

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‘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

 

Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?

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‘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

Harvey and the grilled half goat head

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‘A practical joke that backfired, bigtime’

The other day the Times ran a story about procrastination. About how when you put things off it’s not really about laziness — it’s about more emotional stuff, like fear of failure.

Gulp. Got me, New York Times. I started writing this blog instead of writing a book. I told myself I actually was writing the book — only story by story instead of all at once. And that when I had enough material, I’d figure out how to magically turn it into an actual book.

Speaking of “material”, I’ve got scads of stories about growing up in the Midcentury Midwest. Check out “You Make a Better Door than a Window”

Well, that was almost five years ago. And I have yet to get my turning-this-stuff-into-a-book act together. I was talking this over with The Dude on our trip up to Boston this past weekend to help The Child celebrate her birthday. Told him I was thinking of shutting down The Blog and focusing on The Book. Then he asked the key question: “Have you run out of stories, then?”

The Child and The Dude duke it out in a game of Birthday Chess

“Oh, I’ll always have stories,” I replied. Like this one. It’s about a very colorful boss I worked with years ago. His name was Harvey. Usually I disguise the names of real figures from my past. But Harvey’s essential, well, Harveyness meant he couldn’t be anything other than “Harvey”.

I don’t have a photo of Harvey, but I do have this one of a bevy of ad beauties who worked for or with him. The pic at the top of this post was taken when he got me a promotion

Harvey was a prominent art director — he and his writer partner came up with the famous “Hilltop” commercial for Coke. The one that goes “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. He was also, well, quirky. He was from the Bronx and was such a died-in-the-wool New Yorker he made Woody Allen seem like he came from Kansas.

Harvey used phrases like (for a boring TV idea): “I gotta tell ya; it lays there like a lox.” Even more boring? “It’s Wheatena. High praise would be: “You took a flower and made it a meadow.” Harvey was so New Yorky, he once got a ticket in LA for jaywalking.

Speaking of LA, this was back when working in advertising was really fun. So fun, in fact, that I have a story titled “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On”, which you can read when you’re done with this one. (Or in my book, if I ever figure out how to make it happen.)

Me, back in those Fun Days. The shirt is from a studio in LA. Yes, I am wearing it tucked into sweatpants

Yes, I have a zillion LA Ad Stories. Like “Eenie Meanie, Chili Beanie, the Spirits Are About to Speak”. Oh, and one that everyone seems to get a kick out of is a tale of Ad Revenge called Karl Malden’s Nose”.

But today’s story takes place in New York. As I mentioned, advertising was way fun way back then. It still might be, I suppose, if you enjoy open-plan offices and working all weekend on internet banner ads. But I digress.

One of the Fun Things we did was have Group Dinners. That’s when our Creative Group would eat out in some fun restaurant and our Creative Director Boss (in this case, Harvey) would pick up the tab.

Harvey was treating us to dinner somewhere in Little Italy — I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember the name of the place; Perugia maybe? — anyway, we were in this restaurant with a linoleum floor and big long communal tables and waiters who didn’t speak English.

We’re going around the table, placing our orders. There were about a dozen of us, including these two guys, Shap and Gruen, a great art director/writer team and also very funny. (Yup, those are also their real names, because why not?) Anyway, Shap and Gruen decided to play a joke on Harvey.

While everyone was talking and laughing and carrying on, Ad-Fun-Style, S and G surreptitiously ordered Harvey a grilled half goat head.

Well. We continue to talk and laugh and carry on, and pretty soon this waiter brings over an honest-to-god half goat head plopped on a big ole plate. It looks like someone sliced this poor goat’s head right down the middle and, well, grilled it — eyes, tongue, nose, the whole (well, half) darned thing. And it looked like it because that’s what somebody actually did, darn it. Grilled a half goat head.

Shap and Gruen are seated on either side of Harvey and they’re thinking this is pretty funny when Harvey goes, “Capozelle! My favorite!”

He then proceeds to eat said Capozelle, enjoying it lustily while offering choice tidbits to his neighbors Shap and Gruen. “Here, try the eye — it’s the best part!

I guess you could say that Harvey, um, got their goat.

And that maybe I should leave this one out of The Book.

New York City. March 2019

“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears. Continue reading

We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow

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‘How I narrowly escaped a life in Florida’

Last week I had a birthday. Which is all well and good, especially since I am rather fond of drinking champagne and having people sing to me. But I’ve gotten to the age where it feels like every week I’m having another darned birthday. The pages on my calendar seem to be flashing by like one of those flip books.

It doesn’t help matters that my friends are moving to Florida. They’re buying golf clubs and boats and condos with a spare room for the grandkids. Why, just last week we bridge buddies bade good-bye to one of our number who was moving to some place called Jupiter. It’s a place in Florida, not a planet. Though it might as well be, since she won’t be able to make our weekly bridge games.

Visiting friends in Florida a couple of years ago. We were there for — you guessed it — a birthday

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Florida. Well, except for the fact that there are no sidewalks, people bank their turns in their huge boatlike cars, and there are bugs big as dogs. I’m sure Florida has some fine qualities. In fact, what with all those friends fleeing southward it’s starting to look kind of good to me. Continue reading