I have never bought a couch

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‘Does this mean that I am no longer The Grownup?’

It’s bad enough when your Child ends up being six inches taller than you. (Stern maternal finger-wagging somehow loses its force when directed upward.) But then said Child ends up making way more money than you. (Granted, I am no longer employed. So there’s that.) And ends up collecting way more stamps in her passport. (The kid has been to Mongolia, for pete’s sakes.) 

But no matter. That tall, employed, well-traveled woman is a person whose nose (not to mention other body parts) I have wiped. I could be in the same room with her and still look myself in the eye and say “Hey, I’m the Grownup.”

But then she bought a couch.

And it’s not just a couch. It’s a sleeper sofa, for heaven’s sakes

And I, a much older person — and her mother — have never bought a couch. 

[Quick note here. Last night I read the beginning of this piece to The Dude, and he totally doesn’t get my point. Maybe you don’t either. Which means you can stop reading if you want. (But then you’d miss some cool couch pictures.) But I had always heard that the true mark of GrownupHood was to buy a couch. And, no, I’m not the only person who thinks so.]

True, she didn’t buy this couch all by herself. She and her BF bought it together. To go in their new apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston. But let’s get back to couches before I make myself weep.

While The Dude and I haven’t bought any new ones, we have owned two couches. There’s the one that was in Mr. Man’s living room when I met him. Which, actually, isn’t just a couch. It’s one of those sectional sets that was popular during the 70s — you know, low to the ground; with separate pieces you can move around to make a “conversation pit”.

If you can take your eyes off the cute kid for a sec, you’ll see a couple of pieces of the gray sectional in our old living room

The Dude likes to brag that he scored all nine pieces of this sectional (which, when I met him he had pushed up against all four walls so his living room resembled an airport lounge) at a garage sale for less than 200 bucks. We had so many pieces of couch that we divvied them up — we put several in our living room, and had plenty left over for the Little House. (A 450-square-foot retreat you can read about in “Hamptons (Un)Real Estate”).

The Dude and The Child having a “conversation” in the sectional “pit” during a hot game of Go Fish at the Little House

Even now, years — and a whole different apartment — later, we have this same couch. Though we raised the pieces off the floor with wood blocks (to be less “pit-like”) and gussied them up with slipcovers, they’re still the same couch. (We did lose a few “sections” to mold when The Little House got flooded. See “The Little House Meets the Perfect Storm(s)” for soggy details.)

Yup. Those are the same sectional pieces. Gussied up, just like us

And though we had to abandon ship, as it were, Little-House-wise, we didn’t buy a new couch when we took over The Dude’s parents’ much higher and dryer Amagansett place. We just used the perfectly-good old couch that was already there. (Actually, my well-meaning-but-somewhat-interfering Sister-in-Law suggested at one point that “We” buy a new couch, but I just ignored her. Like I do pretty much all the time.)

That’s the couch. Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly, since it’s also from the 70s) this is also a “sectional” — seen here doing duty as a game table as well as seating

No, this couch wasn’t the one pictured at the top of this post sort of camouflaging the Very Young Dude perched upon it. Though gosh I wish it had been (!)

Anyway. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably never buy a new couch. Which means, I guess, that The Child gets to be The GrownUp.

Wombat and The Child (er, The GrownUp) demonstrating the versatility of the not-new repurposed gray sectional

But hold on a sec; I just thought of something. So she bought a new couch. She still can’t drive.

New York City. September 2018

The Coat of Many Stories

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‘Ratty and faded, but I just can’t bear to part with it’

I can understand why some people might be into the so-called “life-changing magic of tidying up”. But I’m no Marie Kondo. Not when it comes to discarding certain tattered treasures in my closet, at any rate.

Take this coat. Please. I bought it at the Gap, along with a teensy matching version, way back when The Child was actually a child. As you can see, we had a kind of Mother/Daughter Thing going on.

Two peas in their pods. Er, bright, shiny, new, and very red coats

Well, time went by and The Child grew out of hers. I’m sure we “handed it on” to some even-smaller child somewhere. So we never got a chance to see it get faded and tattered. But mine?

The Child, still childlike here, has outgrown and passed on her coat. Not me. Not sure if Middle Younger Brother Roger and gorgeous Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jen still sport those snappy jackets

Why do I stubbornly hang on to this coat? Is it because it’s…red? I ask this because I have another article of clothing I can’t bear to part with which happens to share the same hue — as well as some of the same history.

Or is it because the coat, like the sweatshirt, has seen itself worn to bits on only the happiest of occasions? Like strolling on the beach with Rog and Jen at Favorite Younger Sister Laura’s.  And walking on the (gulp) railroad tracks with The Dude.

The Dude and I waiting for the train. (And hoping the engineer will notice all that red)

Or hiking in the Walking Dunes. Which is where that picture at the top of this piece was taken, probably on a Thanksgiving. Which, as you Faithful Readers know by now, is absolutely The Best Holiday Ever (See “Turkey Shoot”) and my Favorite Family Time by Far (See “Flipping the Bird”). (Well, except maybe for weddings. Hard to beat a good wedding. Even if most of the time no turkey or pumpkin pie is on the menu.)

A look back — and down — on a hike with The Coat

So, this memory-infused article of outerwear has gotten outerworn until it’s worn plumb out. It got so shredded (and so ventilated) that I finally did buy a replacement last year. But have I thrown the old one out? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Me, still in my coat, next to The Child, who probably wouldn’t fit into it even if I did deign to give it to her

I thought of all this yesterday because I happened to be happily sporting my favorite flip flops (never ever call them “thongs”, saith The Child) when they self-destructed.

I blew out my flip flop. But did not, fortunately, step on a pop top

Sadly, a flip that’s flopped is no good to anyone. So on to Flipflop Margaritaville they went. But I was sorry to see them go. These two have been everywhere. There’s a Panamanian thorn embedded in one that I could never remove; every once in a while, if I stepped Just So, I’d feel it and think of the bull goring I witnessed that day. I was able to dig up a little Panamanian film clip where the flip flops — but sadly, neither bulls nor goring — make a cameo appearance. Water shenanigans are involved:

Well, I guess that’s about it for this week. And for that red coat. I’ve decided: now that I’ve paid it this blogging tribute, I can finally toss it out. (Marie will be pleased, as will The Child, who is a Kondo Fan.) But first I have to get busy turning another pair of old jeans into cutoffs.

These jeans are probably older than you

New York City. September 2018

“He’s breathing my air”

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‘An ode to siblings and their rivalry’

When I was a kid there was this show on TV called ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’. It was a pretty groundbreaking show at the time. But not so groundbreaking that my parents didn’t absolutely adore it. Their favorite part was when Tommy would say to his brother Dick “Mom always loved you best.”

I’m thinking they dug this because they both had plenty of siblings, and thus could relate. Of course, having plenty of siblings was the rule rather than the exception in those days. At least where my family was from, parents needed lots of little ones to help out on the farm with chores. And (gasp) there was always the risk that some of them wouldn’t (ahem) “make it”. So you had to have a few “spares”. You know, “just in case”. I can remember my Gramma P talking about her little un-siblings Pearl and Edward. Bless ’em, they “failed to thrive”.

Gramma (right) with one of her two sisters, Aunt Net. She also had a brother, Uncle Warren, who “made it”. Well, except for the arm he lost in a farming accident

So. Anyway. Irk. Enough of that. Dad was the fourth of eight. And Mom was the second of five. And these were not even considered exceptionally large broods.

My Mom, top right, captured not fighting with her bros and sis

And in my generation, I honestly can’t remember any families that didn’t have at least two kids, mostly more. I’m not sure whether that was just the way things were back then, family-wise, or if there were other forces at work. (My father’s side of the family and practically my whole hometown was, um, Catholic. So there was that.)

Regardless of the reason(s), we all had brothers and sisters, which meant we all shared some common experiences — experiences that Only Children might miss out on.

Most of these shared experiences involved actual sharing. We kids shared almost everything. Big things, like bedrooms. I like to say that it was only when I got divorced when I finally got my own room. (I was — gasp –married, though briefly, Before The Dude, which you can read about in ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage’, if you’re interested.) When I was little, I shared with my brother Scott. (I stretched a string down the middle of the room to mark “my” side.) Then it was my Only Sister Laura. In college, of course, I had a roommate. And after that, I got married.

Sharing a soak with Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy-with-all-the-toys, who was the only Only Child I knew for many years

We shared smaller things too. Like toys (except for my Cousin Jimmy, who was an only child and an object of toy envy for me and my sibs), and books, even baths. And food. Meat came mostly in “family packs” of eight. Which meant that there was one extra pork chop when our family of seven sat down to dinner. We’d speed-eat our chops (you couldn’t take “seconds” till you were through with your “firsts”), only to have my Dad pull rank and fork the last one onto his plate. And when my mom made a pie, she had to practically use calipers to make sure our pieces were “even”.

A subset of sharing was “taking turns”. We took turns being swung on the swing, being pulled (or pulling) the wagon. Sitting on Mom’s lap. Sitting next to Aunt Marilyn at Christmas.

One of the most coveted “taking turns” experiences was Sitting in The Front Seat of The Car. See, in those days before not only car seats, but seat belts, parents would sort of cram their kids in the car every which way. In our case, with five kids, that meant four in the back, and one very lucky sibling in the front seat between Mom and Dad.

“Get in the back seat if you want to wiggle your behind”. At Gramma’s house, arrayed around the Ford. I must have been in the car, sulking

It was really sweaty and sticky and icky being one of the four in the back. (No AC in cars then, either.) We would stake out and jealously guard our little sections of bench-seat territory. I pity my poor parents, having to listen to “His leg is touching my leg” and “He’s looking out my window” and (my favorite and the title of this piece) “He’s breathing my air!” And to think that every single one of our family vacations was taken by car. It’s a wonder that they didn’t just leave us all by the side of the road. (Which The Dude and I actually did with The Child once. A story I have yet to write.)

Only Sister Laura and I sharing a bench (actually, I think it’s a cooler) on a family vaca involving not only a car, but a Nimrod camper towed behind it

Another subset of sharing was “hand-me-downs”. This was when you inherited an article of clothing from an older, larger, sibling who had “grown out of” it. My brothers once famously owned muscle shirts which stick in my memory not only because of their unique style (striped as well as sleeveless and “muscle-y”) but because they wore them at the same time. Yes, someone gave them each a muscle shirt instead of gifting just one that then would get handed down. (Yes, I do have a story about these; called “Howie and the Muscle Shirt”. Check it out.)

Even though I was the oldest, I still didn’t escape hand-me-downs. Some were from older cousins. This gown, oddly enough, was handed down by a friend of my mom who had a rather glam daughter

At the time we would whine and complain about all this turn-taking and handing down, but I honestly think we learned a lot about getting along — and had a pretty good time while we were at it.

These days, even as a Grownup Responsible for her own Child (who is, like most of her peers, an Only, bless her), I’m still sharing with my siblings. Only now, instead of sweaty sticky car seats, it’s memories.

Amagansett, New York. August 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

Who are you, and what have you done with my daughter?

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‘There is a grownup hanging out in The Child’s room’

It hit me like a ton of memory sticks the other day that my daughter is the same age I was when I upped and moved to New York.

Now, at the time, you understand, I thought I was practically over the Advertising Hill and had better get the heck out of the Hinterlands before I got used to writing radio spots for chicken specials at Safeway and languished in career obscurity.

Now, of course, I realize that I was barely dry behind the ears and that writing poultry-packed radio spots wasn’t all that bad a way to make a living. After all, back then I drove a Mercedes. (A 450 SEL previously owned by an Army Guy, but still. A Mercedes.)

But if I hadn’t gotten myself to New York I wouldn’t have met The Dude and wouldn’t have had The Child and wouldn’t be writing this post. So there’s that.

She used to tell jokes about bars. (See “Kangaroo Walks into a Bar”) Now she goes to bars

Like many of you out there who also are no longer Twenty-Somethings, I am constantly amazed at the rapid passage of time. Everything goes by so darned fast. Like, summer lasts about two weeks, tops. (See “The Days are Long, But the Season is Short” for deep seasonal diving.) I swear, there are some Labor Days when I put those white bucks back in the closet without having worn them once.

But back to the Alien Who Has Somehow In Five Minutes Taken Over The Space Formerly Occupied By The Child. Not only does this person not resemble in any way shape or form the daughter that lives in my mind’s eye (for one thing, she’s a zillion feet tall and towers over me), she doesn’t act like her, either.

The Child in my head teeters around on training wheels and goes on playdates where she breaks her arm and doesn’t tell us because she’s afraid we’ll “be mad because she was running inside”. The Child in the present goes on one-hundred mile bike rides and wins wine in backgammon tournaments — wine that she is more than old enough to drink.

The Child in my head chooses a stuffed animal to take on a trip. (“Lion went last time, Mom. This time it’s Penguin’s turn.”) The Child in the present goes gallivanting around the globe.

Nyet to stuffed animals. That’s a real, grown-up Siberian Husky

Speaking of global gallivanting, The Child now not only goes on trips without us, she takes care of things while we go on trips without her. I don’t know what we would have done had she not been on the scene during our first jaunt to Africa. Not only did she have to deal with a sick cat, but our apartment building caught on fire. (See “The Agent of Destruction” for heroic details.)

The Child in my head needed care and feeding. The Child in my house takes care of the cat and deals with emergencies without batting an eye — or calling us up

Basically, she looks like a Grownup. And acts like a Grownup. And that would be because she is. A Grownup.

I could go on and on. (Like many Parents-of-One, I have an amazing number of photos of Said Child.) But I will end with one last shot — and with this question: If The Child is now a Grownup, then what does that make me?

The Child and I as we exist now only in my imagination. Hmmm. Perhaps Time actually is on our side

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

 

 

“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

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

Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

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Touch ‘M’ for ‘Murder’

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‘The time I out-teched my Techie daughter’

Boy, are my arms tired. I just flew back from the Coast; the Oregon Coast, that is, where I spent a most marvelous three days with two of the coolest women on the Planet, my Mom and my Favorite Sister Laura. (I’ve told her many times that she would be my Favorite Sister even if I had more than one sister, which I swear is the truth even though I can’t exactly test my theory.)

Favorite Sister, pictured at left in tiny hat. Mom, on right. All on the Oregon Coast, just 3 days ago (sigh)

The reason she’s my fave — today’s reason anyway — is that she gave me the idea for this post. Which is about the time I out-teched the most tech-savvy person I know, a person in her mid-twenties who holds a seriously important job at a company so techalicious that I have absolutely no idea what it is they do. It is called Kensho, and you can, if so inclined, read about it here. My brain, as well as my arms, is way too tired to try to ‘splain it to you.

The Person in Question is, of course, The Child.

The Child gets introduced to Technology at an early age

Continue reading

Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

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‘I know because I had my share of stinkers.’

I don’t want to embarrass The Child. Well, not any more than I have to. But I must say that she has excellent taste in boyfriends. So far, fingers-and-all-toes fervently crossed, she has managed to choose ‘dates’ who have not inspired The Dude or me to put on that Fake Nice-to-Meet-You Face. Or not very often, anyway.

(I put ‘dates’ in quotes because I don’t think that’s what Young People call ‘guys you go out with’. But, for my purposes today, it’ll have to do.)

Now, before I dig myself in deep here, let me say that this is not going to be a story about The Child and her ‘dates’. (I can hear her ‘whew’ all the way from Cambridge.) Nope. It’s going to be about me and mine. Continue reading