A look back: The Guy before The Dude

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‘My short first marriage, in short. Sort of.’

I’ve written about my first marriage before. Specifically, about how I (finally) revealed to The Child the fact that I’d had a Husband Before Daddy. It’s a pretty funny story. Now. Though it was pretty traumatic for the poor Child at the time.

It’s weird to think that your mom had a life before you existed–that she locked her brother in the pantry and tricked her father into letting her go to the drive-in and smoked in the car (just one time, but still) to provoke her mother–much less that she was actually legally wed to Another Person Not Your Parent.

Me, after having been wed to a Person Other Than The Child’s Parent. In my extremely hot, extremely (in retrospect) inappropriate-for-August-in-Southern-Illinois gown

And even though my first marriage lasted only a very short time–I’ve had cars longer than I had that husband–it was still a Real Marriage. There was a Real Wedding, complete with rehearsal (see the top of this post for a photo of us practicing our vows with Pastor Kahre), in my hometown church. With six friends and relations as bridesmaids in homemade-but-pretty dresses, and a reception with a tiered cake and boozeless-but-punchy punch. So I think this marriage deserves, at the very least, its own blog piece.

Me, as a Real Bride. Gulping that punch (it was HOT). Don’t think I had even a bite of that cake, though

First, a bit about The Guy. I did tell you, in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”, that he was a fraternity guy (as opposed to my Other Serious College BF, who was a tie-dyed in the wool hippie). His was the frat (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) whose members had a penchant for dressing in Confederate Uniforms on occasion–occasions more formal than those requiring nylons and wrist corsages, which were football games.

I met The Guy when I was on a blind date (yes, blind dates “work”; in fact, that’s how I met The Dude)–but the blind date in question was with a totally different person whom I left in the lurch when I spotted The Guy across a room crowded with Boone’s-Farm-swilling collegiates.

The Guy caught my attention with his good looks and charm, but he also had a great story. He came from a town even smaller than mine deep in the Missouri Ozarks. His Dad, whom I never met, was a long-haul trucker who ran off with a truckstop waitress. His Stepdad (I never met him, either) was a merchant seaman based out of Galveston. His Mom wore muumuus and those fold-up slippers with jewels on them and ran a beauty parlor out of the back bedroom in their house, which stood on cement blocks and had a couch on the porch.

(I have a vivid recollection from our first Thanksgiving: eating turkey dinner off TV trays while watching Dolly Parton on the Porter Wagoner Show in his Mom’s living room, where his Gramma was ensconced on a cot. None of this fazed me, except for the fact that they put cornbread in their stuffing.)

We even had real cans tied to the back of our getaway Vega

Not only did The Guy’s life sound like a country western song, he could actually sing country western songs. He played the guitar and had a really nice voice. We would sing “Me and Bobby McGee” and Linda Ronstadt songs together (my voice is simply awful; he must have loved me) as well as such gems as “Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone” and “Hello Country Bumpkin, fresh as frost out on the pumpkin.” Which is, scout’s honor, a real song.

The Guy and Me, blissfully wed. Yes, those were the days of more facial hair and fewer foundation garments

This was a guy who not only made it to college — the first in his family to do so — but was the president of his fraternity and, when I met him, wrapping up his last year of law school. He was also great with kids. (He took my little sister and even littler brother on boat rides.) And nice to animals. (We took in a particularly problematic treated-the-shag-carpet-like-a-litter-box stray cat in our first year of wedlock.) And did I mention he had a great sense of humor? (The Guy is my source for gems like “He was so dumb, his brain rattles around in his head like a bee bee in a boxcar”) He could even cook. He made a mean chicken casserole with canned mushroom soup.

Great story. Great guy. So what happened? Trust me, this is the very question my parents asked when I called them to deliver the news that we were breaking up. (Mine was the first divorce on either side of my family. This was devastating news.)

To this day, I don’t have a real answer. I don’t think it helped matters that the ink wasn’t even dry on our marriage license when The Guy had to report for military duty in Indianapolis. (He went to college on an ROTC scholarship, so he “owed” the Army.)

The Guy and I, about six months’ married, attending somebody else’s wedding — my Aunt Marilyn’s, in fact. (Domestic skills note: I made that dress)

So for months, I was a married college senior, living in a dorm. (“Heck, we’d paid for that dorm contract!” my parents and The Guy agreed.) So that was weird. And then, when The Guy came back, we had completely different schedules and hardly saw one another. I was up late–and out, at the library–studying, while he was up early to go to work. And even though our apartment was rather Barefoot-in-the-Park adorable, the Murphy bed completely blocked the door, making it impossible to go our separate ways without waking–and annoying–each other.

So. Anyway. Speaking of going our separate ways, that’s ultimately what we did, even though I can’t really explain why. I honestly have no idea what path The Guy took (we had no kids, and no real reason to stay in touch, so we didn’t). But, as you know, I ended up moving to New York and meeting The Dude and having The Child. Who knows where I’d be if I’d stayed married that first time? I could go on and on about Fate, and about Paths Not Taken. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll show you this picture taken in my going-away dress. And then I’ll go away. Until next week, that is.

Me, with my Mom, Grampa Henry, and Uncle Mark, looking impossibly young and hopeful, getting ready to ride off into the sunset in that Vega

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

Don’t call me “Madam”.

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“I much prefer “Miss”. Or even “Hey You”.’

I was going to write a post about weddings. About how they’re the Best Parties On The Planet. About how, in my opinion, even George Plimpton’s last Hamptons Bastille Day bash couldn’t hold a Roman Candle to a wedding. After all, weddings are where you get to dress up and dance and drink to ecstatic excess. And all for the price of a toaster. Or, these days, if The Dude and I are invited to a nuptial shindig, a round brass Tiffany clock.

Two wedding belles and a beau. Me with two New Best Friends at a wedding in June. (No, I have no idea who they are, and it was only a month ago. Great wedding)

Then I realized I already wrote that wedding/party piece. (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for senior-moment proof.) Repeating my stories means it’s either time to wrap up writing this blog or for everyone to start calling me “Madam”. Or possibly “Ma’am” if we’re buddies as well as (old) friends.

I use the word “old” intentionally here because I’m not, shall we say, a Spring Chicken any more. (More of an Autumnal Hen, I suppose, if we want to stick with the poultry analogies.) But even though I can remember all too well when Sir Paul was a Beatle, I tend to bristle when addressed as “Ma’am”.

Incidentally, I have a friend who hates being called “Mrs. Smith” (not her real name, of course.) “My mother-in-law is named ‘Mrs. Smith'”, she correctly, if somewhat peevishly, explains. So I don’t think flinching at “Ma-am” is all that prickly.

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive about the Ma’am Thing because I had The Child so late. The year I turned 40 I was having a baby; the year my mom turned 40 I was heading to college. So I’m what you would call an Older Mother. Which is actually not all that rare in New York City. But you still get the Odd Old Mom Moment.

Like one time I took The Child to a podiatrist for reasons that I cannot recall today. What I do remember is that the doctor’s assistant, before ushering The Child into the exam room, asked her “Do you want your gramma to come in with you?”

That’s The Child at about the age of the Podiatrist Incident. (That’s her Real Gramma with her) And (gasp) I just realized I’m the same age now that my Mom was when this was taken

Quick Etiquette Note: If you see a woman — any woman, even one pushing a walker and drooling — if you see a woman with a small child, always assume she is the mother. Trust me. If you say something like “What is your baby’s name?” and she’s not the mother, she won’t mind one bit. She’ll blush and smile and admit grandmotherhood. Probably treat you to a coffee too.

But oh well. There are some perks associated with being a “Ma’am”. Like when I was applying for our visas for that trip to the Amazon last fall. (See “Eat. Or be eaten.” or “The Curse of the Potoo” for hair-raising and colorful travel tales.)

I had just cleared the metal detector and was eyeing the DMV-worthy line of hopeful Brazilian visa-getters snaking its way around this cavernous holding pen of a room in the consulate when a security guard asked me sweetly “How old are you, Ma’am?”

I was somewhat taken aback, but when I told him my age he took me by the arm and led me right up to the front of the line. Apparently, in Brazil (and the consulate “counts” as Brazilian soil) anyone who is either pregnant or of advanced age goes directly to the front of any line. Whether it’s in the supermarket or at the movies or in the ding-dang consulate. So there.

I had a feeling I was going to like Brazil. The security guy even had the good grace to laugh when, after he explained the front-of-the-line policy, I remarked “Oh! I didn’t realize I was showing already!”

Does this shadow make me look preggers? At least it doesn’t show my age

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

 

 

Three cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue

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‘The Child declares her Independence’

As she put it oh-so-well and oh-so-hashtageriffic on Instagram, #redwhiteandbluearetherussiancolorstoo (!) And looky here — I found this picture of the Russian flag. Which yes, does feature red, white and blue. Big stripes of red, white and blue, in fact.

Plenty of red, white and blue. But kinda boring, what with no stars and all

But nope, no stars on the Russian flag. (It used to have a star, back in the Good Old Soviet Days — but then it also had a hammer and sickle.) And no stars here in Amagansett, either. By “stars” I of course mean The Child and her friends, a group of whom have been on hand to help me celebrate America’s Birthday for several summers now. (I’ve written about their superstar visits before; check out “Stars in Stripes” for gushing details.)

Yes, that’s a Carvel Cake. It’s from last 4th, when my Stars were aligned. (And present) And no, I didn’t bother getting a Russian-flag cake this year. Tho no doubt The Dude could have polished it off, even with no Girls to help

Nope, The Child and three of her usually-here-for-the-Fourth friends absconded to Russia this year. Partly because one of the group is actually from Russia. (Her Dad, when told they were planning to visit Siberia: “Whatever for?“)

When in Siberia, one simply must stay in a yurt. Yup, a yurt

But mostly they went to Russia because they’re young and they could. (No, they didn’t plan the trip because of the World Cup. (In fact, they didn’t even realize Russia was hosting the World Cup until I showed The Child an article in the Times about this Mexican kid who was taking, like, 72-hour train rides to get to the matches and camping on Nice Russians’ couches and such. You can read it here, if you like. He wore a sombrero to meet girls.)

Of course I didn’t mind that my Gal and her Pals went to Russia. Though it did give me pause; after all, when I was her age, Russia was The Evil Empire and if you went there, like a friend of mine did, your hotel room was bugged and people would steal your blue jeans and chewing gum. (I’m thinking it’s not so easy to bug a yurt. And anybody can steal anybody’s chewing gum as much as they like, as far as I’m concerned. See “In outer space, no one can hear you scrinch”.)

It wasn’t all yurts. The Girls also hit the hot spots in Moscow and St. Pete

They had some amazing adventures, which I followed every day rather obsessively on Instagram. Those Instagram shots disappear, so I even more obsessively took screenshots of some of my faves.

So many palaces, so little time to screen-shoot them. This is one of many pilfered Instagram posts of decidedly non-yurt-like places. I’m pretty sure this was in St. Petersburg

Of course I sent a message. It said “Nope, it’s a cluck

Oh, and yes! I almost forgot — they were actually on hand in Moscow the very day when Russia won their Big World Cup Victory. They posted several movies of Crazed Ex-Soviet Soccer Fans dancing in the streets and on top of cars and so on and so forth. Which I could not “steal”. But I did get this:

Muscovites whooping it up after their World Cup Win. Shot from non-moving car by The Child or a Pal

But of course I missed those girls. The Fourth was kind of flat without them. Those of you who know me and/or read this blog (again, bless you!) know that I am rather hung up on Holiday Traditions. Not Christmas. (In fact, The Child spent last Christmas not with us and I wasn’t upset. Well, not inordinately so.) But I am very into The Fourth. And if she ever spent Thanksgiving “away”, well. I’m not sure what I would do. Dear Child, please let’s not try to find out.

So, sure, I was a tad disappointed that they weren’t around to dig into celebratory Carvel Cake and splash around in the pool and track sand into the house and eat me out of house and home. (Do you have any idea how many avocados four young women can consume in a day?!?)

But at least I didn’t have to experience the Dreaded Dropoff, after which I would head home to my lonely empty deck and a nice stiff — and very consoling — G&T.

This was the Dreaded Dropoff a couple of Fourths ago. I didn’t miss this. And I didn’t miss my G&T either

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

A match made in heaven

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‘A Road Trip and a Wedding. Who could ask for anything more?’

We’ve gotten to the point where we are no longer going to the weddings of friends; we are going to the weddings of friends’ children. Oh, I suppose it could be worse — we could be going to the weddings of friends’ grandchildren.

Say “blind date!” The Dude captures Dad and Mom of Bride, at left

We went to a particularly satisfying wedding last weekend. This one was of note not only because the Parents of the Bride are friends of ours, but because The Dude had actually introduced them to each other. Dad of Bride had been The Dude’s college roomie; Mom of Bride had been a cute hospital nurse. The Dude fixed them up on a blind date — and bingo! The rest — and two gorgeous daughters — is history. Of course we got invited to their weddings. In a way, Dude Man is responsible for their existence.

Future Mom of Bride, center, with Fixer-Upper Dude at right. Not sure who the heck the Blonde is, but I didn’t see her at this wedding. Or at least I don’t think I did

Regular readers of mine (bless you) know that not only am I inordinately fond of weddings (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for deets), but that I am an absolute sucker for a good road trip (some of which you can read about in “Drive, she said”.) Well, this event featured both. We not only got to go to one of the best parties ever (I mean, what’s not to like about a wedding?), we got to go there by car.

Well, there is one problem with a road trip — traffic. Here’s some that was at least going the other way. Sadly, this was not the case on the day we drove to the wedding

Let me point out that we live in New York City and that this wedding was in Williamsburg. (No, not Hipster Williamsburg, which is in Brooklyn. But Colonial Williamsburg, which is in Virginia.)

We could have flown, I guess. But Smartie Me did some math and figured that by the time we got to the airport and did all the Airport Nonsense, then flew to Wherever The Nearest City is, then rented a car and drove to C. W’burg, we might just as well drive. So that’s what we did. Got up at 5:30, hit the road by 6:00. Easy-peasy! I even packed us some snacks (granola bars left over from Uganda) and some turkey sandwiches (not left over from anywhere, thank goodness).

Well, we’d zipped on down to the D.C. area and were happily sipping away on some rest-area Starbucks while discussing the Fate of the Nation when, suddenly, GPS Girl goes into her Stern Mode and suggests an alternate route.

Quick GPS Girl Note: have you ever noticed that when she says “There is currently light traffic on your route” it means the opposite? That all of a sudden you are in traffic? Though my all-time favorite GPS Girl Thing is when she says “Drive to higher ground”. (She’s actually saying “highlighted route”, but even The Child once asked why she was telling us to get the hell to higher ground. Was there a tsunami?)

There was no tsunami, unless you count the waves of traffic we had encountered. Apparently I had failed to figure in the hordes of first-weekend-of-summer-after-school-is-out beach-goers who would be sharing our route. I’ll skip the sturm und drang and cut to the fact that we did make it to the wedding, though not with much more than a minute to spare. Lesson learned for the next time we have a wedding to go to in Colonial Williamsburg.

Two wedding belles. And a beau. That’s the Bride’s Dad’s Sister (she who forgot her Maid of Honor dress many weddings ago) stage left. The Lucky Guy in the middle? Her hub, I-Forget-His-Name

Speaking of weddings, The Dude was Best Man when his “fixees” got married. He famously forgot his shoes, which is one of the reasons that he has never appeared in a wedding party since. (You read that right; The Dude and I are married, but we didn’t really have a wedding. You can read about our non-event in “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.) Incidentally, there must have been something in the water around the time of The Dude’s Best-Man debut; the Maid of Honor forgot her dress.

The one time I appeared in someone else’s wedding: as a B Maid for my Favorite Sister. Note that I did not forget my dress

Anyway, we had a whale of a good time — The Dude even danced! — and were up early the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and rarin’ to hit the road. For the way back, we picked a different route, across the will-it-ever-ever-end Chesapeake Bay Bridge and on up the Delmarva Peninsula. (It’s called that because it contains bits of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — it’s that dangly bit on the map that looks kind of like an appendix.)

It was scenic and all, but our plans to “stop along the way and grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee” were thwarted by the fact that this was Sunday morning — and we were deep in the Bible Belt. I have never seen so many churches, with their parking lots packed. They were open, but all the “cute little diners” were closed up tighter than drums. We were able, finally, to stop at a Stuckey’s which had been advertised for miles with those billboards that say things like Only 6 Miles to Stuckey’s. Famous Pecan Candies! And Just 2 Miles to Stuckey’s. And Breakfast All Day! 

Boy, were we ready when we pulled up to what looked like a repurposed double-wide trailer with a Stuckey’s sign stuck on it. True, we could get pecan candies. Also fireworks and hams and “cheap cigarets”. But we settled for breakfast. A girl took our order, then gave it to the fry cook right behind her. You helped yourself to coffee (the milk was “in that little fridge right there, Hon”. Locals kept pouring in, ordering breakfast — and passing around the one bottle of hot sauce — before “fixin’ to go to church”.

Our Stuckey’s stop added at least an hour to our time, but overhearing the guy raving about the “mess o poke chops” he had “t’other evenin” was worth every added minute. We finally pulled in to Home Sweet New York City Home around 5 that evening. I did some more math and figured we’d spent as much time getting to (and coming home from) Williamsburg as we did in Williamsburg itself.

Oh well. It was some Wedding. And some Road Trip. I can hardly wait for the next one, which is in October in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I’m already mentally packing my road snacks.

I can’t end this story without showing you the Beautiful Bride. Sigh

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

Gorilla My Dreams

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‘The Silverback makes my previous Ape Alpha Male look like Chimp Change’

You may recall my relatively-recent story about that Playboy Monkey the Alpha Male Chimp. (It’s called ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’.) Mr. Alpha was one fascinating fellow; he postured, he posed, and he made satisfyingly movie-sound-track-like crazy chimp sounds as he ran around slapping tree trunks to show off his chimp cojones.

One of our merry Birding and Chimp-Tracking band made a little movie on his iPhone and was just about to play it back when the leader of our Primate Patrol cautioned him against doing so. The crazy chimp squeals on the soundtrack would cause Said Alpha to attack us. Oh.

But intimidating as he was, Mr. Head Chimp was an organ-grinder’s sidekick compared to the Silverback. Who is Head Dude of the gorillas, and well, a whole different animal. (The ‘gorilla’ featured in the picture at the top of this post is about as real as a unicorn. Though we did get to see Real Gorillas. And we were much much closer to them than we were to that silly gorilla statue.)

No, we weren’t camping. Nor were we in ‘executive budget rooms’. But we did find us some gorillas

This get-to-know gorillas experience occurred when we were in the Buhoma area of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our tour company, the inestimable Field Guides, had warned us that the Mountain Gorillas were hard to find, even though they were “habituated”. Which meant that they were (sort of) used to people. We could spend an hour with a gorilla troupe, provided we could find one, and, um, provided with suitable protection.

No, she is not a guerrilla leader — she was our gorilla leader. And yes that is a machete she’s holding

We were provided with a kick-ass leader (seen with adoring me above; I have forgotten her name, but not the fact that she was carrying ample weaponry along with her walkie-talkie) as well as porters and a couple of guys in front and back of our group carrying rifles. I like to think the rifles were only there to scare away elephants, but our Hipster Birder Leader said that, in a previous year, on a previous gorilla trek, a Silverback took umbrage at something he said or did and charged him. (He was told to stand perfectly still, a command which he obeyed, though I’m thinking he got pretty sweaty and it wasn’t just from the hike.)

Hipster Birder Leader takes a hike break after not being charged by a Silverback — not this time anyway

Yes, I said ‘hike’. As in long and steep. We hiked virtually straight up a mountain, our leader whacking away at the undergrowth with her machete to make us a trail, for three and a half hours to find the gorillas.

The Dude. On his way up, or on his way down. Can’t tell; we were equally sweaty either way

Then we got to spend an hour observing the troupe. After which, of course, we had to hike three and a half hours down. (The ‘down’ was harder; it was slippery as well as steep.)

Nope. That’s not the Silverback. That’s a momma gorilla. Yes, she was pretty darned big. And yes, we were that close

There was some drama in our troupe, though not of the charging-a-human kind, thank goodness. But drama nonetheless. It seems that, in gorilla society, females of breeding age leave their troupe and join another. Good for the blood lines, and all that. As with any immigration policy, though, problems can arise. If a female gorilla already has a baby, she cannot bring it with her to the new troupe. And they don’t just separate mom and child at the ‘border’. If she brings her baby ‘with’, the Silverback will kill it. Or her. Or both of them.

In the movie clip above, you can see Mr. Silverback charging a recently-arrived Momma and Baby. We didn’t stick around to see the ultimate end of this movie, though we were told it probably wouldn’t, alas, be a happy one.

Speaking of happy endings, I’d like to switch gears here and tell you what happened the next day, which was The Dude’s birthday. Ordinarily, Dude Man hates any kind of undue attention, especially of the Birthday Kind. In fact, he made me promise (among other things) when we got married never ever to throw him a surprise party. Well. Good thing he’s not married to Hipster Leader. Because HL did just that: staged a Birthday Surprise. But, as you can see in this clip, Birthday Dude didn’t seem to mind. Well, not much anyway.

New York City. June 2018

No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

Monkey see, monkey do

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‘Up close and personal with the Burt Reynolds of chimps’

Okay. I realize only too well that there are some of you out there who may not ‘get’ the reference in the subtitle of this piece. Well, Once upon a time, there was an actor named Burt Reynolds. He was considered quite hunky at the time. So hunky, in fact, that he agreed to pose nude (yes, nude!) for a women’s magazine centerfold. (Equal Rights, you know.)

Anyway. This piece is not about feminism; it’s a piece about chimps. Check out this link, and see if you don’t think there isn’t a rather strong, um, family resemblance between Burt and the cheesecake cousin I’ve pictured up there at the top of this story. And no, I don’t mean that as an insult. We are all primates, after all. Even Donald Trump.

Some folks thought there was a resemblance between Burt and my Starter Husband. This was, at the time, considered quite flattering. But, being sort of a naughty person, when Mr. Starter would bring up this supposed resemblance on social occasions I used to say that, yes, he did look just like Burt — from the feet down. Check out ‘My Polio Shot Marriage’ if you’d like to make up your own mind. Continue reading

Dude, we’re not in Kansas anymore

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’Though the sky sure as heck looks like we might be’

I thought I might have to skip a weekly blog post (quel horreur!) but it looks like I have internet here in Uganda, at least for the moment — the key words being ‘for the moment’.

So this’ll be a quickie. Mainly photos, with a witty bit of banter as filler. (Fingers crossed on the ‘witty’ as well as the internet access.)

Let’s start with that picture up top, showing an extremely scary (at least to this Former Midwesterner) sky. Some of our intrepid birding band were actually on board that little mainly-metal lightning-bait boat and insisting upon chugging upstream to clap their eyes on the Murchison Falls—no matter that the sky looked like the one that whipped Dorothy off to Oz. But cooler heads prevailed. Thank heaven for our Hipster Birder Leader, who insisted on herding us all safely to shelter, where some disgruntled mumbling ensued while we waited out the maelstrom. We (finally) did get to chug on up the Nile.

We missed the Falls, but not the boat. Thank you for not making me a Lightning Rod, dear Hipster Leader (the guy at left, not behind me. Duh)

On the Nile, we found plenty to amuse, including crocodiles and hippos. And (of course) plenty of birds, pointed out by our afore-mentioned Leader, who was himself a rare specimen—a birder sporting not only Hipster Headgear, but a beard, a ponytail, and plenty of tatts (though none of birds, I noticed.) He was also really into martial arts. Continue reading

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