Tawking the Tawk

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‘”New York” as a second language’

I once worked with a fabulous art director named Jayne. (Hi, Jayne!) She was — and probably still is — not only visually talented, but verbally funny.

I forget now where she grew up, but she was living in New Jersey when we were working together and she was concerned that her daughter was picking up the accent.

“Mommy, Mommy,” the Little Cherub cried while playing on their outdoor deck. “I have a splintah!” It says something about Jayne’s devotion to good diction that she corrected her daughter’s pronunciation before extracting the “splin-ter.

My boss Harvey, the master of New Yorkese. Read about him in the ever-popular and hilarious “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”

Speaking of accents, you may have a good idea of what a New York accent sounds like even if you’ve never spent time here in the City. (Note: New Yorkers never refer to their town as the Big Apple; it is “the City.” But, yes, some do refer to it as “New Yawk.”)

Well, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t the intonation that is the “tell” that gives away a New Yorker. Nope. It’s this little construction.

To speak like an authentic died-in-the-boroughs New Yorker, all you have to do is put a “So” on the front of a sentence, and an “or what?” on the end.

Examples.

Normal person: “Are you going to park there?”

New Yorker: “So. Are you going to park there, or what?”

Normal person: “Are you going to eat that apple?”

New Yorker: “So. Are you gonna eat that apple, or what?”

Nope, not a golden delicious apple, but a prize gourd. Prize or no prize, I’m not gonna eat it

Notice how, with these two simple additions — “so” and “or what?” — you have turned an innocent question into a query that is, well, slightly intimidating. Pure “New York.”

Here are some more:

Normal person: “Do you like this dress?”

New Yorker: “So. Do you like this dress, or what?”

The Child sent me photos while she tried on wedding dresses

Normal person: “Will you marry me?”

New Yorker: “So. Will you marry me, or what?”

Hmmm. In the New Yorker case, I guess she’d better.

And so she did: pick that dress and get married in it. Twice. Get the deets on both weddings in “Runaway Bride” and “Two Weddings are Better than One”

Now I could go on, but I bet you’d like to try some of your own. Oh okay. I can’t help myself. Here’s one more:

Normal person: “Is that your mother?”

New Yorker: “So. Is that your mother, or what?”

No “or what?” about it. That’s my mother all right

New York City. October 2022

 

 

“Okay. You know where the jail is, right?”

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‘Lost in America’

What is it with men and asking for directions?

Dude Man and I can be circling the same golf course for the third time, listening to GPS Girl intone “recalculating” over and over — but will he stop, roll down the window and ask that nice gas station guy how to get to 98th Avenue?

If you are a woman and know any men, I bet you can answer that question.

Me, looking surprised at something on a Cape May trip. Maybe a man just asked for directions

The above incident actually happened when we were driving our rental from PDX to my Favorite Sister’s house in Vancouver WA. Apparently, that golf course obliterated a former road that had been programmed into the GPS, and GPS Girl had us driving in circles trying to find it. Oh, and what is it with GPS Girl’s voice? (We were once in the car with The Child, who asked, “Why is she telling you to ‘drive to higher ground?'” GPS Girl was actually saying “drive to highlighted route.”)

Anyway. I thought of GPS Girl and the golf course just the other day when we were on our way to Cape May for our annual birding excursion. This is when we team up with a bunch of friends to trail around the woods and fields to catch the annual spring migration — of both birds and birders.

Doing a little car birding on the way to Cape May

This trip we scored many sightings, including indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, bald eagles and a batch of Belgians who attached themselves to us for a while, delighting us with their excitement over even our la-di-dah birds. “Oh! Eeet eez a cardinal, n’est-ce-pas? Oooo-la-la!!!” said the Tall Belgian. “That eez a lifer for me!”

Our group is advanced upon by a gaggle of Cape May birders

But before we could find the birds and the Belgians, we first had to make it out of the City. Which is surprisingly hard to do, even at 5:30 in the morning. Part of why it is hard is because Dude Man insists on competing with GPS Girl. She will suggest a route, and he will say something like, “She wants us to go crosstown. I think it’ll be faster taking the Drive.” (The Drive is actually the FDR Drive, a road that loops all around the tip of lower Manhattan.) It is much longer to go via the Drive, but “there won’t be any lights.” Oh. Okay. Whatever. You’re driving, not me.

The blue dot is where we live. We were on our way to the Holland Tunnel, which is where that ’78’ is. Would you loop around the tip of Manhattan? Or drive crosstown then down? Hmmm

So we drive east to ultimately go west, zooming down the Drive. Which was actually very beautiful and movie-set-like, what with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and all. But somehow, instead of the Holland Tunnel, we ended up entering the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. (Naughty, naughty, GPS Girl.) Which not only goes to Brooklyn, but is really really long. There was a moment when Dude Man seriously considered pulling a U-ie. But I pointed out that not only were there were giant trucks whizzing by between us and the return route but a rather high concrete barrier.

So we drove through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which, at 9,117 feet, is the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America. Dude Man’s ears were spouting steam. Then, when we emerged, we had no idea how to find the entrance to the Manhattan-bound side. I saw a police car and insisted we stop and ask for directions. This time he did not argue. The nice policewoman told us to turn left at the next two stop signs, then take the ramp. But did Dude Man do this? Of course not. He drove to the next stop light instead, before finally giving in and following the route she suggested.

Being a woman, I have absolutely no problem asking for directions. (My mother, pictured at the top of the post piloting my Dad’s green truck, doesn’t either.) Once — and this was waaay before GPS Girl or any type of navigational tool except maps — I was driving a gaggle of girlfriends out to Amagansett for the weekend. We were having a high old time in the car catching up and telling stories, and I missed the Manorville exit. I figured no problem, I’d just go to the end of the LIE and drive from Riverhead. Easy-peasy.

If I saw this woman on the road, I’d ask her for directions

Except that Riverhead has this roundabout where the LIE ends, and I took the wrong “spoke,” as it were. I ended up in a rather sketchy neighborhood, and it was getting dark to boot. I really wanted out of there. So I pulled up to a woman who looked somewhat the worse for wear — but not too scary — rolled down my window and asked, “How do I get to Route 27?”

Then she starts her directions by saying, “Okay. You know where the jail is, right?”

New York City. May 2022

It’s been an Apocalypto kind of day

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‘On watching movies more than once’

I know I know. I’m not the only person who watches the same movie more than once. For instance, many people have special Christmas movies. “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Love Actually.” “A Christmas Carol” in one of its many variations. (I like the Muppet One best. Those rat muppets in the hula skirts singing “We’re Havin’ A Heat Wave” after Michael Caine’s Scrooge threatens to fire them for asking for more coal are eminently re-watchable.)

When we were at The Child’s for the holidays, she insisted on watching “White Christmas.” She even sang along to “Snow.” Which warmed the cockles of my tradition-loving motherly heart– see “Taking Motherhood to a Whole New Level” for non-movie-watching activities involving scary heights–since we used to watch this every Christmas when she was an Actual Child. She sang along to “Snow” then, too.

She also insisted that the new James Bond film was a Christmas movie. And who am I to argue? I think Die Hard is a Christmas movie

And I know a lot of people–besides myself, I mean–who have watched really good, really classic movies more than one time. I’m talking “The Godfather” here, folks. Which, in my humble opinion–plus a lot of other not-so-humble people’s–is The Best Movie Ever Made. Seriously. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this stupid blog post and load ‘er up. There’s a restored 50th anniversary version (gasp! fifty years!) but any ole version will do. I just watched it again for the umpteenth time on my iPad because I couldn’t figure out how to use the “universal control” on the Big New TV that basically ate the den in Amagansett. Sigh.

Anyway. Back to movies. In this really good, really classic category I also include “All About Eve” and “Fargo.” And hey, “Jaws.” Seriously. Just because “Jaws” has sharks and such doesn’t mean it isn’t a classic. I just wish Spielberg had dispensed already with the mechanical shark. It was silly and he didn’t need it. Boys with their toys. (Another big sigh goes here.)

Marge “SunofaGunderson” in “Fargo.” Hey. It’s a beautiful day. And is that your buddy there? In the chipper?

I love these movies so much I could “do” them for you. By which I mean I could quote huge chunks of dialog while mimicking the actions too. All it takes is a cocktail. One cocktail.

No, what I am talking about in the title of this piece is the kind of movie that really doesn’t have any rhyme nor reason to be repeatable. Like, it isn’t a “classic,” in the sense of having film-school classes organized around it. (See anything Orson Welles.) And it isn’t inextricably linked to a Major Holiday. (See “Bad Santa.” Or not.)

No. This kind of movie is the antidote to a mood. Like, today I had one of those kinds of days where little irksome things kept happening. Blinky warning lights on devices. Pieces published on websites with question marks in odd places. Not being able to locate a record locator. That kind of stuff.

So. I had an irresistible urge to watch “Apocalypto.” Now, this is a movie I had never heard of until I happened to be visiting Second Oldest Younger Brother Roger one time and he happened to have it on hand. “Want to watch Apocalypto?” he asked. “Not my kind of movie,” I replied.

The DVD case for Apocalypto doesn’t exactly make a case for watching it

“Not your kind of movie, eh? We’ll just see about that,” Middle Younger Bro wisely said, slipping the DVD into the little slidey thingie.

Of course he was right. From the opening scene where a huge boar gets trapped and gobbled up raw by extremely attractive scantily-clad men (Jaguar Paw is, well, grrrr!) to the wild treks through the jungle and the Mayan rip-their-hearts-out (literally) sacrifice scene to the really ironic ending, it’s a keeper. And, oddly enough, an antidote to whatever nonsense is happening in your life. It puts being on interminable hold in proper perspective for sure. (See “A Life on Hold.” Or not. Maybe just watch “Apocalypto.”)

My fairly routine need for an “Apocalypto Fix” has even entered the Henry Family Lexicon. When we are on our Sunday Night Family FaceTime calls, if I happen to look a little downcast, one of my bros will say something like, “Looks like you could use a little Apocalypto.”

The weekly gathering of the Henry Clan. “Apocalypto” may be mentioned

Incidentally, The Dude claims not to understand how I can want to watch a movie more than once. He says you don’t need to because “you already know what happens.” But then, this is the same guy who once watched “Four Weddings and a Funeral” twice–in one session. (He was having a particularly bad day.)

But did I watch “Apocalypto” last night? Nope. I went to the opera to see Rodelinda. Which is a rarely performed Handel opera. With two count-’em-two countertenors. I hadn’t seen it when I took the rather grim selfie at the top of this post. And now? Those Handel-y rhythms soothed this savage breast so well that it pushed “Apocalypto” right out of my head.

Well, until tonight anyway.

New York City. March 2022

Let there be light

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‘Just make sure there are dimmers’

I’ve written before about how people who like to keep stuff are invariably married to people who like to purge. Well, same deal with light.

Those who prefer a soft and lovely ambient glow are sure to be paired with those who insist on lights so glaringly, wincingly bright you could perform cataract surgery at the dinner table.

Dude Man’s favorite kind of lighting: ceiling cans, only turned up to eleven

Maybe it’s because he actually was a cataract surgeon that Dr. Dude likes his lighting so, well, megawatt. But I bet there are plenty of you out there who are married to doctors, lawyers or even Indian chiefs with similar taste in luminosity.

It’s just one of many funny things about marriage. And another reason I am so gol-darned happy here in the Ken & Barbie House. Just as I am grateful for the pocket doors sealing off its teensy-but-separate bedrooms (See “Why Dude Man’s Not Dead”), I am happy about my ability to dim as low as I want to go.

I can also have a bathroom light that looks like a giant diamond. Not to mention a framed lipstick-print watercolor. And (in the photo at the top of this post) a disco-ball ceiling light

Speaking of lighting, remember that character on Seinfeld called the Soup Nazi? He was the really crabby food-cart vendor who, if you didn’t place your order just right, wouldn’t give you your soup. (Oh, and speaking of Seinfeld, I saw Larry David on my walk this morning. I almost stopped to ask him what the heck he was doing on the East Side.)

Another thing I saw on my walk this morning. And no, I don’t want a dimmer on that forsythia

Well, there’s another New York Institution that was featured in a Seinfeld episode. It’s called Just Bulbs. (Forgive me for not finding that episode for you. I’m already a day late with this story and time’s a wastin’.)

Anyway. Just Bulbs is to lightbulbs as the late lamented Gracious Home was to basically everything. Gracious Home had bedding, they had pots and pans, they had candles and paint and placemats and gadgets galore. In fact, when she was little, The Child and I played a game called “Stump Gracious Home.” We’d go in and ask for, say, a sink strainer. And the Gracious Home Greeter would lead you to a whole wall display of them.

Well, Just Bulbs is like that, only with bulbs. They have every single kind of bulb you can possibly imagine, even the teensy ones that go inside your car’s glove compartment. (Does anyone really keep gloves in there?)

I don’t know what happens in the Just Bulbs Seinfeld episode, but I can tell you about an actual episode I witnessed there not long ago.

One of my adorable glam-girly lamps needed a new bulb. (The crystal one with the beaded shade.) So I marched on over to Just Bulbs. There was one other customer ahead of me, who was clutching a big ole ginger-jar lamp.

“Do you have any lamp harps?” she asked.

In reply, and with an expression befitting the Soup Nazi, Mr. Manager pointed at the illuminated sign over his head. Which read, of course, “Just Bulbs.”

“Do you get that a lot?” I asked when it was my turn. He responded with a world-weary Larry David-esque sigh. Then went to get me my bulb.

After which I went home, screwed it into my pretty little lamp — then promptly dimmed it.

Me. Happy as a female clam with my Glam Girl lighting. Dimmed, of course

New York City. March 2022

 

Lean on me

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‘Another Dog Day Afternoon. Er, Morning’

One of the nice things about the Ken & Barbie House, teensy though it may be, is its proximity to Central Park. Every morning I’m here, I roll out of my itty-bitty bed, tie on my sneakers and go for a walk.

That’s when I like the Park best — in the mornings when pretty much the only people there are the ones walking their dogs. Oh, there are the crazy runners and bikers, but they’re on the road. On the paths, it’s the dogs who rule.

The doggie brigade leaving my building this morning

They run around tossing balls to their masters, doing high jumps over the fences, terrorizing the squirrels (who just laugh at them), and gleefully sniffing each others’ butts. Continue reading

Remembering Betty White

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‘She was a real softie in a couple of Q-Tips commercials’

Okay. So maybe her work as Sue Ann or Rose is more memorable, but I will always treasure the experience of working with Betty White.

Q-Tips — along with Shake ‘n Bake, another brand blast from the past — was one of my first writerly assignments when I came to Ogilvy in 1979. (Read all about how I got there in “Take A Letter, Miss Henry.”)

70s KC Me, dreaming of a job in the New York Ad Biz

In those days (and probably now, too) you couldn’t write a commercial for Q-Tips that mentioned cleaning your ears — even though that’s what most people did with Q-Tips — without including a rather harshly-worded warning:

An actual Q-Tips Box with the actual warning. Only it’s too small to read, so I’m putting it here, too:

So we did these rather namby-pamby spots with mothers and babies that talked vaguely about “softness” and included cloying scenes of an adoring mother tapping the Q-Tip on, say, a little girl’s nose. I was responsible for at least one of these, called “Still My Baby.” Forgive me; here it is:

Well. After my co-workers and I got through cracking ourselves up with parodies like “Not My Baby,” “No More Baby” and the lovely “It’s Not Really A Baby,” my partner and I decided to break out of the Baby Box and try something new. Continue reading

Why Dude Man’s not dead

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‘The crucial importance of a room of one’s own’

What with fun City events like birthday parties and opera performances and colonoscopies, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Ken & Barbie House. I was there digging its leafy wallpaper and garden views all last week, in fact.

Me, snuggling into a birthday gift amidst the leafy wallpaper

It’s less than 500 scare feet, but this clever little hideaway has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. When I get a chance to show it off, like the other day when I ran into Barbara and Danielle and Ann (hi neighbors!) in the lobby, I often point out that I am awfully glad the place, though small, is not a studio.

K & B floor plan. We still have each and every one of those precious walls

“Here’s my husband’s room,” I say, “and here’s mine.” Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), if my guest is a woman — a woman who has been married for at least ten years or so — she never suggests “knocking down that wall to join the bedrooms.” Oh no. She just smiles and nods. Maybe looks a tad wistful.

“If The Dude and I had to live in a one-room studio, he’d be dead and I’d be in jail.” is my comment while sliding open the pocket door leading to my private little lair.

Added perk of a room of your own: any light fixture your little heart desires

Oh, it’s not that I don’t absolutely adore Dude Man. I do, I really do. And he is, actually, quite easy to get along with. For a man.

Look! He’s even pals with TR. (Note companionable man-spreading)

But there’s something about a man — a man “around the house,” as they say — that is just not, well, peaceful. Continue reading

“Your turkey or your life!”

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‘The time I was mugged on my way to Thanksgiving dinner’

I did a little calculating this week and realized that this will be the 25th time I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner out here in Amagansett.

Flippin’ the Bird at one of those 25 Flippin’ Feasts

Yup. My first turkey and fixins’ for a crowd was in 1995 — when the “crowd” was my Mom and my Dad and The Dude — and The Child when she was an actual child. There may have been Others here as well. If so, it would have been our Same-Age-Best-Friends, J and P. I’ll have to ask them. They (of course) will be here this year.

An even-earlier Amagansett T’giving, when The Child was so small that we tied her to a kitchen stool with a bathrobe sash, having no high chair out here at the time

If you’re good at math, you’ve no doubt found a discrepancy in mine. “But every Thanksgiving since ’95 makes 26 times, not 25,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. One year (2009) I was persuaded to skip the Amagansett Thanksgiving because The Child, who was a college freshman at the time, wanted to have Thanksgiving in the City so she could see her friends.

Speaking of “seeing friends,” here’s a batch from a few Turkey Days ago

Well. That year we enjoyed a perfectly-nice (but rather sedate) feast at Wayne’s Club. But The Child was fruitless in her attempts to connect — turns out all her friends were celebrating in away-from-the-City family hoedowns of their own. Continue reading

So many doctors, so little time

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‘I’ve officially turned into an Old Person’

So I’m sitting on one of those crinkly paper thingies in an exam room when the door opens and this incredibly gorgeous woman walks in. Sort of a cross between J-Lo and Giselle Bundchen.

”I’m Doctor Exotic (not her real name)”, she says, extending her hand for a shake.

”You’re the doctor?!?” I exclaim, taking in her voluptuous figure, leopard-print leggings and long glossy locks.

”Yes, I am,” she responded with a blindingly white smile. “Who were you expecting?”

”An old white guy!” was my immediate answer.

Dr. E laughed, then proceeded to point out that more than half of all medical students these days are women. “Oh, I know,” I interjected. “My husband told me. He’s a doctor — an old white guy.”

Two Old White People out on the town — out in Amagansett. One of us is a doctor

This exchange happened during my second doctor’s visit in one day — yesterday. Too many doctor visits on a Tuesday is one of the reasons I’m late with this week’s post. I also needed an idea to write about, and — Silver Lining Time — the doctor visit gave it to me.

So back to how my life is organized around doctor visits and how that’s one of the ways I know I’m officially Old. Continue reading

Stage Mother for a Day

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‘The Child was a Star. Just not a Child Star.’

I must miss the Ad World. Or maybe I just like writing about it.

Just last week I wrote about how the client hated a brilliant idea for a bra commercial so much that I was yanked off the Playtex account. Which wasn’t really so disappointing — except that I was put on the Kimberly-Clark account.

Kimberly-Clark (or KC, as we called it informally, if not fondly) is a paper products company based in Neenah, Wisconsin. I’ve written about KC before, most notably in “HooHah Time is Story Time,” but, trust me, when it comes to tales from the Paper Valley, I’ve got reams and reams of them.

Over my years at Ogilvy, I worked on Hershey and the British Tourist Authority, Q-Tips and Swanson, General Foods and American Express (See “Karl Malden’s Nose”), among others. I even “helped” on Shake ‘N Bake.

I don’t have many shoot photos, but this is one of my faves. I don’t remember what the shoot was for — except that it wasn’t for KC

Continue reading