“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.

Back when Tentlike Tops meant One Thing, and One Thing only. Mom and Me, with future Oldest Younger Brother Scott in there somewhere

Well. After what felt like the longest elevator ride in history, we finally reached my floor. The doors open, she steps out ahead of me — and proceeds to walk down the hall to the very room where I’m headed. Yes, you guessed it. She was also an Advertising Judge. And, as the panel consisted of only five of us, it turned out to be three very long days of judging.

I had broken one of my mother’s cardinal rules. Which is don’t assume anything. Do not ask Certain Questions unless you are absolutely sure of the answer. Unless that be-tented woman is lying on that elevator floor timing her contractions and panting it is best not to ask “When is your baby due?” And maybe not even then.

Which of these women is preggers? You can guess, but never ever assume

Another example, speaking of babies, is if you see one accompanied by a Woman Of A Certain Age. Do not assume said baby is her grandchild. Do not make well-meaning remarks about the pleasure of grandkids and how you can play with them and just hand them back when they poop. If you do, even if that Woman looks older than dirt, it could very well turn out that she’s the mother — and she won’t be pleased. (This happens a lot in New York, where Older Mothers, of which I am one, abound.) If you absolutely must say something, ask “What’s your baby’s name?” If it’s the mom, you’re fine. If it’s the grandmother, you’ve made a friend for life.

Grandma? Or Mom? Trust me, in New York City you wouldn’t want to guess

I have firsthand experience of how an Open Mouth can get stuffed. Once I took the about-seven-year-old Child to a podiatrist for some reason I can’t recall. What I do recall is the look on The Child’s face when she was asked while being escorted to the exam room, “Do you want your Gramma to come in with you?”

Is that a Gramma? In the good old days, it was easier to tell. But you still wouldn’t want to guess wrong, now would you?

I don’t think I have to tell you not to ask people’s ages. (I certainly hope not, anyway.) One time, when I was on (a very long) line at the Brazilian embassy to get a visa, an official-looking gentleman approached and asked, “How old are you, Ma’am?” When I recovered and coughed up the number, he told me that my answer got me punted to the front of the line. But, unless you work for the Brazilian embassy, I’m telling you: don’t go there.

What I look like when someone asks me how old I am

And while I’m on this topic, don’t — repeat don’t — ask anyone if they “want the Senior Discount”. Trust me. If someone wants the Senior Discount, he or she will ask for the Senior Discount. Are you listening, Movie Ticket Seller Girl?

Before I wrap this up, let me tell you about another foot-in-mouth pitfall that looms now that I’m in the age group that gets asked about the Senior Discount. Say you run into the female half of a couple you’ve seen off and on socially over the years. Don’t — just don’t — ask “How is your husband?” Because, more likely than not, she’ll answer, “He died.”

And remember, when in doubt, just repeat to yourself the immortal words of my marvelous mom, “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”

My Mom, who is wise beyond her years. Don’t ask — she’ll jolly well tell you if she wants the Senior Discount. Or the cat

New York City. November 2018

 

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.

Even I might enjoy Florida if I could live in the Ringling Mansion, toured on a recent visit. Nah, it smelled like mildew

But back when I was barely out of my twenties, it was certainly not the place I wanted to be. Especially since I fell in love with New York City the very second I arrived from the Midwest all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, freshly scrubbed and eager to please.

I lived in a terrific New York apartment. (Read about how I found it in “Horowitz plays the bedroom.”) I worked in a terrific New York ad agency. (Read about how I got there in “Take a letter, Miss Henry.”)

The Dude and I, shortly after we met. But before I got him to shave off that mustache

I met a terrific New York Dude. (See “The Jerk and The Dude.“) Heck, we even had a terrific-if-quirky New York wedding. (See “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.)

A couple of years later after the mustache. And after our terrific New York wedding

Why, The Dude was even born in New York. (Which a whole lot of New Yorkers aren’t, believe you me.) He’d tell cute stories about playing near the grounds of Gracie Mansion as a tot, and about how he rode the New York City bus to Grace Church School way downtown all by himself when he was only six.

The Dude with his sibs in their New York apartment. (That’s Brother Bill adjusting his head) I don’t think he was taking the bus by himself just yet

Well. The ink was barely dry on our New York City-issued marriage license when, one night over dinner in our New York City apartment, The Dude announced that he thought it would be a good idea to move to Florida.

The Dude and I in our New York City apartment, ready to do some New York City Thing. (I still have that dress)

Florida?!? Yes, Florida. The Dude’s Older Brother Bill, like The Dude, was a doctor. A doctor who was doing very well, thank you very much, treating patients in Sarasota, Florida. He had a lot of influence on The Dude, having been around much more during Dude Man’s childhood than Dude’s Actual Father. (A story for another time. Or not. Probably not.)

Whitmore Males in the 80s on a beach not in Florida. Left to right: Dude, Younger Bro Carl, Older Bro (and Surrogate Dad) Bill, Actual Dad

Now, when I met The Dude he was already a doctor. So I was spared the Putting-The-Hub-Through-Med-School Thing. But he was a struggling Freshly-Minted Doctor working three jobs while his practice was revving up. (Which it — whew — eventually did.) So it was pretty tempting to hear about Older Bro’s lush Floridian Life. He had a car. He had a boat. He had a house on a canal with a dock to park said boat.

Older Bro Bill and Me. On said boat

“Dude,” I said. “I spent my whole life getting to New York. I sure as heck am not ready to leave here now. Besides, Florida is full of Old People. Who would we be friends with?”

“Hey, Pie.” (He sometimes calls me “Pie”; usually when he wants to get his way.) “We’ll do so well in Florida that we’ll be able to afford to leave anytime we want,” was his response.

“Who wants to live someplace where all you can think about is when you can leave?” I replied.

Well. To keep the peace, I agreed to go down to Older Bro’s place to “check it out” and “see what I thought”.

Things did not start off well when we met Older Bro’s friends for dinner. The “friends” were about a zillion years old (around my age right now, come to think of it). We met (at 4:30) at their favorite restaurant (a cafeteria) where one could not even get wine (which would have helped matters considerably) but where one could get “a very nice mac and cheese”.

After we bussed our trays we repaired to Poppy and Phil’s bungalow. (Their real names, but they’re probably dead by now so it’s okay.) It was, of course, still light out, so we moseyed out to the back yard.

The Dude reached up and plucked an orange. “Hey Pie! If we lived here we could drink fresh juice from our very own tree!

“Hey Dude”, I replied. “We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow.

We did not move to Florida.

Older Bro Bill and The Dude on a recent visit. Sarasota is starting to look a lot better these days. Tho the socks-with-sandals and/or shorts thing might be a deal-breaker

New York City. November 2018

My Night at The Museum with Jeff Goldblum

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‘I almost forgot my mantra’

The other day I was messing around on Facebook and saw that some genius has invented Jeff Goldblum jigsaw puzzles. Yes, now you can spread Jurassic Jeff all over your coffee table and have hours of Fandom Fun. “Look! I found the piece with his glasses! See? There’s the reflection of the dinosaurs in the lens!”

No, not Jurassic Jeff of the Jigsaws. This is, instead, one of the few royalty-free photos of Jeff I could find. Though, since he is Screen Royalty (at least to me) I still might get sued

This photo definitely does not give Jeff justice. Though it does have a certain, well, twinkle. As does Jeff in the flesh. See, I had a close encounter years ago with His Jeffness. And yes, I’m going to tell you about it.

First, though, a bit on Jeff.

In case you’re one of the few not already Jeff-enraptured, Mr. Goldblum was (and still is, at least for me) the Original Intellectual Hunk. He has a huge fan base; just check out this guy’s Pinterest page (!) The first time I remember seeing Jeff — and being immediately smitten — was in Annie Hall, where he had a most memorable spoken line. (Hint: it’s the line I stole for the subtitle of this piece. I promise to end with the scene itself. Kind of a Jeff Fan Reader Reward.)

Speaking of words, though, Jeff doesn’t even need them to make an impression. Check him out in Nashville as ‘Motorcycle Man’. He doesn’t say a darned thing. And who cares? (He was also very cool in The Big Chill, but I simply must stay on Jurassic Point here.)

Jeff, looking intellectual with the Big Chill Gang. Happy to see he got Third Billing — and some lines

I’m thinking Jeff might be having a bit of a renaissance — and inspiring jigsaw puzzle designers — because this year marks the 25th anniversary of the movie Jurassic Park. (Last year was the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which is a far better movie, except for the fact that it doesn’t have Jeff Goldblum in it. It doesn’t even have Jeff Bridges in it. I guess I have a ‘thing’ for Jeffs.)

Anyway, Jurassic Park holds up pretty well. I watched it again just the other night. The dinosaurs are still pretty scary (unlike the animatronic shark in Jaws, which, in my opinion, Speilberg should have scrapped), and there are some nifty scenes with them stomping around and chomping on bad guys. One especially nice touch is when the really big dino bites right through an outhouse where the Cowardly Guy Who Abandoned the Kids is hiding. I really don’t like whiney kids in movies, and these two are pretty whiney. (Even whiney kids don’t get chomped in Spielberg films, more’s the pity.) But Guys Who Abandon Them certainly do.

My kid, The Child, at about the age when this story takes place. She was (mostly) not whiney

Side note about those kids. One of them, Joseph Mazzello, was cast in an Alpha-Bits commercial I did way back in my Ad Days. This was before Joe-as-child achieved lasting fame as dinosaur bait. (Check out the almost-fatal hide-and-seek scene in the kitchen! It’s fabulous!)

Me, far right, at about the age I was making Alpha-Bits commercials

So. Jurassic Park was a huge hit. Even though Laura Dern’s character does not have the good sense to fall for Jeff’s Ian Malcolm. Who, in my humble opinion, is far more interesting/sexy/appealing than watery old Sam Neill.

JP was such a huge hit that fans begged for a sequel. Or maybe it was the studio who was doing the begging. Whatever, a sequel was made, and Jeff was in it. It was called The Lost World: Jurassic Park. (It too was successful, so much so that the studio went on to make many more JPs. Though Jeff lost interest and moved on. As did I.)

But I was interested enough back in 1997 to go to a members’ only evening that was held at the Museum of Natural History. This was an event for families, where kids could check out dinosaurs (natch), but also dabble in some science. I was like, “oh that sounds sort of interesting” until I noticed Jeff Goldblum’s name on the invitation.

See, the Museum quite smartly deduced that a co-promotion with Whatever Studio Brought Out Jurassic Park was a “great fit”. It also did wonders for their attendance figures, as I recall.

But for us (well, me anyway) the Draw was Jeff. The Dude and I grabbed our invitation, grabbed The Child, and off we went.

Me, at a Museum of Natural History party. But, alas, not with Jeff. That’s another Hunky Guy named Teddy

I don’t, alas, have photographic evidence of this event. But I am happy to report that Jeff was, if anything, even hunkier in Real Life. (Many movie stars are surprisingly small when encountered in Real World; see my story “The Jerk and The Dude” for proof.)

Another photo of The Child at about Museum Party Age. Because why not? Oh, that’s not a dinosaur she’s playing with

Jeff was tall, he was buff, he had lots of (real) hair and wonderfully white teeth. (He smiled a lot, so you could catch them gleaming.) He was also super nice. He even helped the kids — including mine — make those volcanoes where “smoke” comes out when you combine baking soda and vinegar.

Aaaah, science. So sexy.

Well, that does it for my Jeff Encounter. OK, maybe it wasn’t of The Third Kind. And maybe it wasn’t as star-studded as my Steve Martin Experience. But it did make a greater impression on me than my Vladimir Horowitz Thing. And it was definitely a more positive memory than my #metoo moment with James Toback.

Here, as promised, is that Annie Hall Jeff Clip. (Watch it and drool.) See you next week — maybe at the movies, if not at the Museum of Natural History.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

A Night at the Opera

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‘Where everyone falls in love with the wrong person, and dies a horrible death in the end’

Maybe you’ve heard this joke. It’s the one about the guy who goes to the ballet and asks, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

Sorry. My dad used to tell that one, and I don’t know any opera jokes. I do remember there was an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that was a parody of Wagner, but actual opera jokes? Hmmm.

I wanted to start with a bit of levity because, most of the time, opera is sort of the opposite of humorous. But that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to like about poisonings and sword fights and firing squads? And brutal stabbings with daggers — of bad guys (take that, Scarpia!) and of one’s self (poor Butterfly). Oh, and let’s not forget the jumpings to one’s death off parapets. That’s in Tosca, my very favorite opera. 

Anna Netrebko rocks the house as Tosca. Here she is soaking up her zillionth curtain call after jumping off that parapet

Anyway. I’m not going to get into a lot of Opera Stuff. Except to say that I absolutely love it. Except for maybe exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon, opera is quite possibly the most exciting thing I do. At least with all my clothes on. Opera is even exciting before it starts. Just check out this video taken from the balcony of the Met: Continue reading

The time I lost my office and found myself on TV

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‘I make a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance in a British documentary’

Last week I attended an event called, I kid you not, The Ogilvy Ancients reunion. This was a nice luncheon held sort of in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the ad agency I worked for longest and to whom I owe my funniest ad-biz stories. (See ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’, ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’, ‘My Head Feels Funny’, or practically anything in the tab labelled Adland Lore for hilarious examples.)

I’m thinking this reunion was called ‘Ogilvy Ancients’ because the organizers believe in truth in advertising. Though none of us in the room were on hand when the late great David Ogilvy founded the place in 1948, many of us in attendance could easily identify with the characters on Mad Men. Honestly, there were four people at this shindig who started at the agency in the fifties. (No, I was not one of them. Though I do admit to being alive in the fifties.)

D. O. Himself holding forth at my very first Agency Christmas Party — which was not in the fifties. OK, ok, it was in the seventies. (Same diff, you say)

I don’t think I was the only one at this ‘do’ who had worked in all three Ogilvy New York locations, but I’m thinking there weren’t many who could make that claim. I started out (see ‘Take a Letter, Miss Henry’ for deets) at the Original Ogilvy on Madison Avenue, next door to which was the infamous watering hole Rattazzi’s, which was the model for the bar on Mad Men. Everybody used to go to this bar after work — even the married guys who commuted to Connecticut or Westchester. (Actually, they were the ones you could count on to always be there.) Little weenies were served with big drinks, and Ideas were, quite literally, thought up and scribbled down on cocktail napkins.

But I digress. This Gathering of Ancients took place in Ogilvy’s current location, which is a converted chocolate factory on the Way West Side of Midtown. There wasn’t much there before — except for car dealerships, crumbling wharfs, and other disused factories — but now it’s the kind of nabe you’d want to live in if you were, say, a hipsterish 25. It’s cool and trendy and somewhat spotty — you can still nod ‘hello’ to confused-looking halfway-house residents on your walk from the subway — kind of like non-Colonial Williamsburg (the Williamsburg that’s in Brooklyn) used to be before it got full of strollers. Continue reading

“What should I write on this name tag?”

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‘That time I helped out at The Child’s School.’

This past weekend the Northeast got socked by a big ole Northeaster. Maybe you heard about it. Heck, maybe you were even in it. Like any sensible person, I rode it out tucked up safe and dry indoors. (Though an alarming number of people who got nailed by this storm were also indoors — they got squooshed by big ole trees falling on their houses.)

Inspecting the damage the day after the N’Easter. Yes, that cliff got majorly undermined. And no, you’re not supposed to stand that close to it

I did my best to distract myself from the swooshing of sideways rain and the rattling of windows withstanding 55 mph gusts by engaging in some serious house cleaning. And then, as a reward, I started a very good novel. (Pachinko, if you’re interested. One of the NY Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2018, and deservedly so.)

But it was hard to concentrate. Instead of losing myself in a story about Koreans in Privation in the Far East, my mind wandered to Kids in Private School on the Upper East Side. Specifically, it wandered to that time I handed out name tags. Maybe it was the pillow: Continue reading

Working for Doctor Dude

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‘The job I was just not cut out to do’

I’ve worked at a lot of jobs, over a lot of years. I worked at ad agencies in New York and, before that, in the Midwest. Before that I worked at my hometown newspaper. And before that I was a babysitter. Heck, I’ve even worked as a “cleaning lady” — and not just in my own house. Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I ‘did’ my Dad’s office back when I was a kid in grade school. (I can’t remember what we got paid, if anything.)

But nothing I had worked at before in all my many years of working prepared me for serving as a receptionist in my husband-the-doctor’s office.

Yup, The Dude is a doctor. An eye doctor (an ophthalmologist), in fact. If you’re going to be a doctor, it’s a pretty good kind to be. For one thing, there are hardly any emergencies. No matter how often your mom warned you, it’s really not that often that kids poke each others’ eyes out with pointy sticks. Another thing that’s good, at least from The Wife’s perspective: no one gets naked. Nope, you’ll hardly ever hear an eye doctor say “Let’s get that top off; I need to examine your retinas.”

The Dude’s extremely adorable office mural, made for him by the extremely adorable Child

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The friend who had a nanny for her dog

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‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?

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‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

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It’s a small world, after all

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‘It took me nearly as long to get to Roosevelt Island as it did to get to the Amazon River’

I didn’t get his name, but I’m betting it was ‘Tony’. He was the guy manning the gate that lets you into the waiting area to ride the tram back from Roosevelt Island.

One of my besties (hi, Laurie!) and I had spent a most marvelous time strolling around the Island, checking out the new monument to Mr. Roosevelt, the old Smallpox Hospital (where they used to quarantine the poor sufferers, bless their hearts), and even the new Cornell Labs (where they let us in, but only so far in; they have very nice light fixtures in their cafeteria).

Monument to Mr. R. One of my other bestie’s sons really really wants to skateboard here

You can’t go in because it is ‘unstable’ (not that I’d want to), but here is the Smallpox Hospital in all its tumbledown glory

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