The first time The Child rode the subway

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‘Featuring a darned good “Lutheran Lie”, if I do say so myself’

First thing Monday morning I took part in a nature walk in Central Park. Our little group was listening, rapt, to our leader, an architectural historian no less, when a rat the size of a healthy young chihuahua weaved its way between our collective feet and disappeared under an ornamental shrub.

Me, the morning after my Close Encounter of the Rattus Kind. (Those are actual dogs frolicking in the background)

No one flinched. Though our leader, after a beat, did say, “They’re okay off-leash until 9:00.”

This whole blasé-about-rats thing got me thinking about New Yorkers and how we get used to just about anything. And how sometimes it takes some fresh eyes to, well, see things “fresh”.

Like the time The Child was introduced to the subway.

The Child, subway-ready, tatts and all

She was about three or maybe four years old at the time. Now, I realize that for some of you fellow New Yorkers out there who read my stories (bless you a thousand times), “three or maybe four” may sound rather long in the tooth for a first-time subway rider. After all, I see babes in arms — and in carriers and strollers — all the time “down there”.

But our little family had the advantage of living fairly close to all the stuff The Child needed to get to, like classes (“science” at the 92nd Street Y!) the Central Park Zoo (ahem, “Wildlife Conservation Society”) — even her assorted “playdates” (don’t get me started, but please see my piece “I’m watchin’ him!” for my views on this aspect of Modern-day Child-raising.)

And for the stuff she needed to get to that was too far to walk to, she and I — or she and The Dude, or even she and Our Caregiver — would take the bus. (Little kids love the bus. One can be driven quite mad in Manhattan, at least mid-day when I’m riding, by the chorus of little voices squeaking “The wheels on the bus go round and round” over and over and over.)

No, I don’t have a photo of The Child on a bus. But I do have this one (and the one at the top of this post) — of her on a cable car. Which is perhaps even more fun, depending on whether you’re the Child or the Parent

Also, little kids can look out the windows on the bus. “Look, Honey. There’s a policeman on a horse.” “Look, Sweetie. There’s a lady with a snake around her neck.” “Look, Doll. (Or maybe not.) There’s a man running up Second Avenue wearing only fishnet hose and sneakers.” All actual bus-window sightings, I might add.

Oh, sure. The subway does have windows, but there’s not much to look at except other subways whooshing by. Which actually is pretty cool, come to think of it.

But I digress. Back to The Child and her first subway ride.

I was working in advertising, literally on Madison Avenue, since that’s where DDB/Needham was at the time, when I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. A party where children were invited. (Trust me, this hardly ever happens in the world of advertising. Or at least not back in the crazy booze-and-controlled-substance-fueled days when I was in it. So how could I refuse?)

This party was to take place down in SoHo. And the best way to get to SoHo from Madison Avenue, or just about anywhere in New York City, actually, unless you happen to be in SoHo already, is by subway.

How New Yorkers get around — to The Village, in this case. Which is equally as subway-a-rific as SoHo to this Upper East Sider

So I get Our Caregiver to bring The Little Cherub (AKA The Child) to my office, where I tell her we’re headed to the subway.

“What’s the subway?” she asked. (Seriously; I guess all her Little Friends walked and bussed everywhere too.) “It’s a train that runs under the ground” I answered. “Under the ground? Doesn’t dirt get in it?” “Well, um, yes. Actually, it does.”

We get to the subway entrance and descend. It really is a “hole in the ground”, as the song “New York New York” would have it. The Child is fascinated — staring with wide little child eyes at everything: the buskers, the panhandlers, the hapless crowds of exhausted commuters. She’s thrilled when I let her put the token in the slot in the turnstile, since this was well before MetroCards. (Gosh, Child, you’ve reached the age when you can do that “way back when I was a kid” thing!)

The Child, “way back when”, on a slide. No, it’s not a slide that goes into “a hole in the ground”, thank goodness

Did I mention that it was Rush Hour? Now Rush Hour in Manhattan is not nearly as bad as those pictures you’ve seen of Rush Hour in Tokyo, where guys in uniforms push people onto the crammed cars with white-gloved hands. But it’s pretty close.

And, speaking of close, that’s how we’re “arranged” on this subway car — once The Child and I squeezed our way onto one, that is. We’re so tightly packed together that you didn’t really need to hang on to a strap (they had those then, too). The mere proximity of your neighbor kept you upright.

But, even though this subway car was packed tighter than Vienna sausages in a can, it was quiet as quiet could be — everyone was in his or her little New York After-Work Bubble, just hanging in there till they could get home already.

Except for this one little baby-duck-like voice that kept piping up. Yup, it was The Child. And she had a lot of questions. “Why isn’t anybody smiling?” “They’re busy thinking, Sweetie.” “Why does it smell so bad?” “Because you can’t open the windows, Bunny.”

And the Best Question of All, asked when she spotted a noisily-snoring man zonked out, covered with newspapers, and occupying four subway seats while everyone gave him as wide a berth as possible — “Why is that man sleeping?

Well. Here’s where that Lutheran Lie comes in. All faces expectantly turned to me as I explained, in best Mommy Fashion, “Well, Sweetheart. It’s been a long day. And people are very tired from working.

No one flinched. But I did get some pretty good smirks.

Is this the face of a Child ready for a lesson on The Homeless? Well, pardon me, but I didn’t think so. Lutheran Lie to the rescue. (If you’d like an explanation, check out “Lutheranliar explained”)

New York City. October 2018

 

“Eenie Meanie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak”

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‘The time Rocky starred in a Hershey commercial’

I was all set to write about the origins of the Henry HooHah when, oh no, I saw in the Times that June Foray had died.

I’ll be back. Tune in next week for the origins of the HooHah

Now the name “June Foray”, no doubt, does not ring a bell. But for those of you, like me, who grew up watching the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’, you’ll know her as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, AKA ‘Rocky’. (Yup, Rocky was a girl.)

Now, it may be hard for those of you who did not grow up watching this show to understand not only how hilarious it was, but also how, um, culturally pervasive. Well, at least at my house. We kids would torture each other — and our parents — by endlessly repeating the show’s catch phrases, “Eenie meanie chili beanie” being just one example. And the puns? Ouch. Here’s the Times, from that juicy June obit:  Continue reading

The boss who got banished to Belgium

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‘Dealing with ‘sexual harassers’ back in The Day’

Okay. A couple of weeks ago I told a story about politics. And last week I wrote about religion. So I guess this week I have to (gulp) live up to my promise and deliver that tale about sex.

Sometimes a waffle is just a waffle. Unless it’s Belgian, perhaps

It’s pretty timely, since the news has been chock-full of stories about a Certain Candidate for President Who Shall Remain Nameless and his predilection for pouncing on people in the workplace (actually, make that pouncing on people practically any place: on planes, at pageants, on back lots pre tv guest spots). [Note: I am so not going to provide links here, since you know perfectly well where to find stories about this guy.]

Oh, to be perfectly clear, it’s female people he pounces on. But not just any female people. These are females who rate, oh, at least a 7 or an 8, if not an all-out 10, in his personal scale of pounce-worthiness.

Dah dum. Dah dum. Dadum Dadum Dadum Dadum. Dah...dum.

Dah dum. Dah dum. Dadum Dadum Dadum Dadum. Dah…dum. Nope, he doesn’t think she’s a ’10’. But he’s stalking her anyway

Oops. There are exceptions, of course. See above photo.

But no no no. There are no politics in LutheranLiarLand(!) Let’s get back to my story. Continue reading

Gimme a kiss. I’m goin’ to work(!)

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‘Embracing Working Momhood without (too much) guilt’

It’s been ages since I felt guilty about working. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to feel guilty about not working. You know, whiling away my afternoons on a chaise longue (which Google, for some reason wants to correct to chaise ‘lounge’) in a filmy peignoir, flipping through trashy magazines while nibbling on chocolates bought with The Dude’s hard-earned money. (Actually, my non-working afternoons are more likely to be spent in the company of SoftScrub.)

But, back when The Child was an actual child, I used to feel guilty about working. My guilty feelings weren’t so much about leaving her adorable self in the care of others (though she was pretty darned adorable, as you can see):

Super-adorable Baby Child, about to be left by Heartless Selfish Mother (Me)

Super-adorable Baby Child, about to be left in the care of Another Person, not her Heartless Selfish Mother (Me)

Nope. My guilty feelings arose because I, um, actually preferred going to an actual workplace and interacting with other adults to hanging around all day with a pre-verbal non-ambulatory person, adorable though she might be. As you may already know from reading some of my other stories, like ‘Gone Baby Gone’, I used to say ‘Hey, if didn’t enjoy getting down on the floor to scribble with crayons before I had a child, what makes anyone think I’d enjoy it now?’ Continue reading

Radio Days

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‘Did I just hear somebody say “sushi”?’

The Dude and I grabbed some sushi last night. (Why is it that one ‘grabs’ sushi, I wonder?) And, as I deftly dipped a chunk of inside-out California Roll into a little dish of sodium-reduced soy sauce, I was transported back, in a rather Proustian tasting-the-madeleine-like way, to one of the very first times I ever had sushi.

It was in Chicago, back in those golden years of traveling around the country on somebody else’s dime. I was working in advertising, natch. On this radio project that involved interviewing people who had lost their money because they were silly enough to be carrying actual money instead of American Express Travelers’ Cheques.

We were using this interviewer named Alan Kalter (he got to be pretty famous as an announcer on Letterman, but, trust me, this was way before that). Anyway, Alan was in a glass-fronted room talking to a group of losers (er, people who’d lost their money) while the producer and I watched and listened and prompted him (via a tiny wireless earpiece mic) to ask certain questions, or to get the interviewee to repeat a phrase more clearly or loudly.

See, we were recording the interviews so we could piece together some ‘it-could-happen-to-you’ radio commercials. So we needed certain phrases, like ‘I lost my money’, ‘My vacation was ruined’, and, of course, ‘I wish I’d been carrying American Express Travelers’ Cheques’ to come out nice and crisp and clear. Continue reading

‘Here’s your trouble’

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‘My upside-down Kit Kat Birthday’

It’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t age, we just shrivel and sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky. But we do have birthdays, whether we like it or not.

By this point in my birthday-blessed life, I’ve had all kinds: dressed-up and dressed-down birthdays in restaurants (one was at our favorite Japanese place where the waiter, dressed in a bunny costume, presents you with some fruit with a candle stuck in it) and extremely-dressed-down birthdays in jammies.

I’ve celebrated birthdays at work, on vacation, at my Mom’s. I even spent part of one natal day waiting in line at Immigration. (Taciturn customs agent checking my passport: ‘Why, happy birthday, Alice Henry Whitmore.’)

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

Sunday’s was a drinking-champagne-in-sweatpants-while-watching-the-Mets-lose-the-World-Series kind of birthday. (Sorry Mets. Maybe you should have sent me a card.) Continue reading

(im)Perfect Pitch

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‘The Hemlock Room, the round brown hotel, and the cookies in the crinkly wrappers’

It all started when this Big Client had a New Product all shined up and ready to go. The Agency Bosses got wind of it, and got really excited. We wanted that account. We were gonna pitch it.

I guess I should explain. You ‘pitch’ a client when you want their account. Maybe it’s up for grabs, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s your agency’s account already, and you have to pitch it to keep it. Which is sort of like trying to convince your husband to stay if he’s already ‘looking around’. Even if you do manage to convince him (or the wayward account) to stay, you worry all the time they’re going to leave anyway. Which, most of the time, they do.

Anyway. This was a Biggie. We were gonna pitch the heck out of this one. Wow them, in fact. A Pitch Team was duly formed, and guess who was put in charge. Silly me, I was actually flattered and thrilled by this. Continue reading

General Foods, we salute you

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‘Drinking the Kool-Aid (and Country Time) in the 80s’

Those of us who worked on the General Foods account at Ogilvy used to kid around a lot (big surprise; see ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’ for evidence). We used to say that nothing General Foods made was really a ‘food’. You know, something that could actually sustain life. If you were stranded on a desert island with only GF products to eat, you would, basically, starve.

That’s because everything made by General Foods (or GF as it was fondly known around the shop) was actually a powder. A powder that you stirred into water (Kool-Aid, Tang, Country Time Lemonade-Flavor Drink Mix), brewed with water (Maxwell House Coffee), shook up with meat (Shake ‘n Bake), or mixed with other assorted stuff (Good Seasons Salad Dressing Mix). I don’t mention Jello here, even though it was in fact made by GF, because it (and Bill Cosby) were Y&R’s problem, er product.

My first Ogilvy commercial was one for Shake ‘n Bake. This was in the early 80s, so it actually did not use the famous ‘and I helped’ line. Nope, I got to do commercials with this spokesperson called Pete the Butcher. The 80s were replete with spokespersons: Cora (Margaret Hamilton, who was the Bad Witch in the Wizard of Oz) for Maxwell House, Grandpa for Country Time. And those were just some of the Ogilvy GF spokespeople. (Don’t forget Bill Cosby for Jello; as if you could.)

Here’s a typical example of a Shake ‘n Bake Pete the Butcher spot that I found. I’m not sure if I did this one or not. That tells you something right there, I’m afraid. Continue reading

‘My head feels funny’

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‘The Suit with the Tyrolean hat’

So. Does anybody else out there get the Sunday-Night Blues? Well, I certainly do. Guess it’s a holdover from those Omigosh-I-Haven’t-Done-My-Homework-Yet Days. This particular Sunday it means my Weekly Post is staring me in the face. But I did think of a good story, just now. Whew.

It’s one from my Golden Olden Days of Advertising. And it’s about an Account Guy and his hat.

See, back then there were (basically) two kinds of people: the Creative People, who were the writers and art directors (and producers and music people and many talented others, but for the purposes of this story I am limiting this to writers and art directors), and the Account Guys, who were the men and women (though usually men) who worked with the clients in mysterious ways that involved Business.

You could tell the Creative People and the Account Guys apart easily enough. The Account Guys usually looked really serious, and wore suits. So we called them, affectionately enough, the Suits. The Creative People, both male and female varieties, wore jeans and leather and tee-shirts and much longer hair. And, (if you were female and a Creative) sometimes very short skirts with tights.

I take it back. Creatives sometimes wore suits. I once wore a Chanel Suit (thrift shop, but still) with Converse sneakers to a Big Job Interview. (I didn’t have time to change into the heels I’d stowed in my bag; I got the job. Maybe the low-tops clinched the deal.) But most of the time, if you were wearing a suit, you were the one carrying the bags and driving the car to the client meeting. (Er, conducting Important Business with the Client).

Well, back to the hat. Continue reading

Take a letter, Miss Henry

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‘How a rubber chicken got me to New York’

Today is a big day here in Lutheranliar Land. Not only does The Child start her new job as a software engineer at this cool company in Boston called Kensho. (She told me it was okay to tell you, so read more about it here). But it was also on a Monday in October — the 22nd of October in a year long ago — that Yours Truly started a new job in a new city. As a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in New York.

I’ll leave it to The Child to tell you of her path to Software Success. Since this is my blog, I get to tell you my story. I will spare you the stuff about how I got interested in advertising in the first place. (Though I may eventually run short of blog material and decide to mine that vein.)

So let’s fast-forward to Kansas City, Missouri. Where I am doing pretty nicely, thank you very much, as a copywriter at a fair-to-middling agency writing ads for Safeway, Phillips Petroleum, and Fleishmann’s Yeast. Heady times. I had gotten to that stage, career-wise, where Continue reading