Her Personal Truck

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‘From zero driving to truck driving in no time at all’

Back in the early 80s I dated this guy who also worked in the New York City Ad Biz — he was a producer; I was a copywriter — but he, unlike me, owned a vehicle. This was (and still is) somewhat unusual for a New Yorker.

The few New Yorkers who own cars are all out here

Anyway, this guy was really cool. Still is, I imagine. He was so cool that he not only owned a vehicle, he owned a truck. This was so unusual — and, to me, so cool — that I dubbed this vehicle — I don’t remember the make but it was white — his Personal Truck. As in, “Oh, do we get to go wash your Personal Truck?”

Yup, that’s me. During my ride-around-in-the-Personal-Truck period

I say “go wash” because Cool Guy did not keep his Personal Truck in the City. He kept it at his childhood home in New Jersey. We would hop on the train, pick it up (well, it was a pickup truck, after all), wash it (this was back when you could ride through a car wash, which I enjoyed immensely) and then he would drive it around while I made those swoopy hand-fish motions out the window and felt the wind in my hair.

Please forgive this long meander down Memory Lane. It was inspired by the fact that The Child — yes, that Child — just bought a truck. A F350 pickup, in fact. (You can admire it in the photo at the top of this post.) Which makes my Personal Child only the second New Yorker I’ve ever known to own a Personal Truck.

That’s a diploma she’s clutching, not a driver’s license

What’s truly amazing about this truck-buying is that, until recently, The Child has shown absolutely no interest in driving, much less vehicle ownership. And the fact that her very first vehicle is a truck is, well, to say that I am gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

You gotta crawl before you can walk. But I guess you don’t need to own a car before you own a truck

This truck is, apparently, such a gonzo vehicle that an excited male cousin appeared over his Dad’s shoulder during our weekly Henry Family FaceTime to pipe up with, “Hey! About that truck. We have questions!

Well, so did I, Cousin Joe. So did I.

Turns out that she, The Child, being a Worker in Tech, can perform her job-related duties from, basically, anywhere. So she and her BF (with a similar do-from-anywhere-type job) decided to give up their Boston rental and, well, take off. They’re gonna hit the road and live pretty much wherever they want. (Ideas include Montana in the summer and Arizona in the winter.)

Here they were, driving in Alaska. Well, BF was driving in Alaska

Again. I cannot stress enough how surprising this is. We are talking about a person who had to be forced to take driving lessons. She: “But I live in New York and take public transportation. I don’t need to drive.” Us: “Driving is a Life Skill. Besides, you might not always live in New York.” She: “You don’t need to drive in Boston or even San Francisco! And where else would I live?”

She jumps out of airplanes (on purpose). But does she drive?

She wins alumni awards. But does she drive?

She scuba dives — in Iceland — but does she drive?

She finally did get her driver’s license. After taking the course — and the test — twice. But I’m guessing that she’s logged (and I’m being charitable here) maybe 100 hours of driving in the ten years since she got it. Incidentally, she did drive on that trip to Iceland. But the door of the rental car blew off in a gale, which kind of put a chill on driving for a while.

I don’t know what happened. At one time, she enjoyed driving

But during the last couple of years, now that I think about it, she has indeed done a bit of driving. For one thing, she went to Hawaii by herself to attend Laird Hamilton’s fitness camp. (She must have gotten her taste for pickup trucks on that trip; she rented one which famously got a flat tire outside a fire station. The Fire Guys — of course — insisted on changing it for her.)

So now she’s the proud owner of a 2019 F350. (She saved a chunk of change getting last year’s model. Girl does her research.) We’ll get to meet this truck in a few weeks. She and the BF are driving it down to store some belongings in the attic while they pursue their itinerant lifestyle. (We just cleaned out that attic, but who can resist The Child?)

Ridding the attic of things like this: the World’s Ugliest Vase

I have to admit, now that I’ve gotten over the shock of The Child not only driving but owning a truck — and not only owning a truck but planning to basically, travel the country in it with no fixed address — well, I’m pretty darned proud.

Now let’s see if she can handle the Honda.

She can drive an F350, but can she drive our ’91 Honda (which, yes, we still have)? Three guesses. Hint: It has a stick shift

Amagansett, New York. July 2020

Apocalypse Now

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‘There is no Danger Man sign for this. Yet.’

I had a fun phone chat with Contractor Man yesterday. (That’s all he and I can do these days, work having screeched to a halt on the Ken and Barbie House weeks ago; bathrooms half-tiled, kitchen cabinets all made up with no place to go, etc., etc., etc., whine whine whine. I know; one-percent problems at their very worst. I’m done now.)

Decisions, decisions a century ago. (We went with the checkerboard, and it was actually a few weeks ago, though I’m hard-pressed to believe it today)

Anyway. It felt really good to at least talk to Contractor Man. And I think I got him to laugh when I asked him, “Remember when deciding whether to go with charcoal or black grout was keeping me up at night?” Ah, grout nightmares. Those were Innocent Times indeed.

Today, instead of choosing grout, I’m rifling through my dresser drawers for suitable social-distancing mask materials. (That’s The Child, sporting her safety solution at the top of this post.)

Maybe I could repurpose this schmatta, donned only a few weeks ago to pretend I’d climbed Mt. Kinabalu

Not that I need a mask all that much. I was telling someone just the other day that even before the Time of Corona I hardly ever went out. At least not here in Amagansett. Even in normal times I’d pretty much stick to The Compound. I’d glom all my errands together and do them once a week in what I call my “Vector” — I’d load up the Honda and drive to the dump. Then I’d drive to the post office/IGA/liquor store where I’d load up and drive home.

But I acted like that then because I’m basically a socially-averse curmudgeon. Now it’s because it’s not safe out there. As Andrew Cuomo, our governor and my New God, said just yesterday while warning New Yorkers to keep on social-distancing, “This virus doesn’t spread itself.” So, sure, I still do my Vector, but now the post-office ladies work behind sheets of plastic and I have to stand in a socially-distanced line to get into the IGA, where they limit customers to 30 at a time. Oh, and Maureen, the only clerk at the liquor store, is out sick with, yup, it.

Even my beach isn’t safe. This is Indian Wells at the end of my road. (Photo taken by my friend Durrell Godfrey whom I haven’t clapped eyes on in ages)

So, yes. I’ve been trying not to go out. Instead I stay in and read (Hilary Mantel; all the Wolf Hall books), cook (my freezer is full of soups and stews), knit (two sweaters so far, and counting). And of course I’ve been consuming many soothing beverages.

Apocalyptic chili. Vats of this are in my freezer

Apocalyptic cocktail hour. A Manhattan pairs nicely with baby-sweater-knitting

Streaming? Sort of. If what I’m watching doesn’t mess up my knitting. (Yes, I started on Tiger King. But I confess that I find Friends more addictive.) Oh! Have you seen John Krasinski’s SGN? The one with the original cast of Hamilton is wonderful. In my opinion. The Child hated it. I asked her, “You hate John Krasinski?” “No, I hate Hamilton.” “You hate Hamilton??? Now you’re going to tell me you hate kitties.

Oh. Now might be a good time to ‘splain about Danger Man. Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while (bless your faithful hearts) may recall a story about this.

“Danger Man” is that little stick figure who is always getting swept away by tornadoes or tsunamis or crushed by falling rocks or falling fridges or getting his butt licked by flames in airports. You see him on signs just about everywhere, warning you from all kinds of danger.

Why, just a few weeks ago Danger Man and his entire Danger Family was being pummeled by falling fruit

Well, I haven’t seen a Danger Man sign for coronavirus. Would it be Danger Man coughing superimposed with a big circle with a line through it?

Maybe something like this? Except it’s Danger Man and he’s coughing, not prancing around naked

Got any good Danger Man ideas? Your suggestions are most welcome. Now, mind Danger Man; grab that bandanna and those gloves and stay six feet away from each other. Better yet, stay home. If you get bored, I’ve got an archive chock-full of amusing blog posts you can explore.

Amagansett, New York. April 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

 

 

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