Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

Most of these strange fruits were pretty tasty, if weird-looking (at least to the innocent gringo eye). Like the litchi, which rather resembles a cross between a plum and a sea urchin — and tastes rather like neither.

But then Hamit moved to the rear of the vehicle and had Fruit Man open the trunk.

There’s a reason this fruit is in the trunk. And isn’t because there’s a lot of it

We should have realized there was something fishy going on with that trunk. For one thing, it smelled fishy. Well, maybe not “fishy”, exactly. More like a septic tank full of fish. Fish that had been laced liberally with garlic. And then left out in the sun for a really really long time.

“What the heck is that?” our little Birder Band collectively gasped. “It’s durian, a Malay delicacy,” Hamit smirked. “Wanna try some?”

Well, before I tell you what happened, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the durian:

Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away 

Yup. That’s about right. But, believe it or not, there were those of us — myself included — who decided to give the durian a go. “Hey, we’re over here for an adventure,” we agreed. “We may never get to Borneo — or get a chance to taste a durian — again!

One of our Band tries a taste while taking a selfie. He claimed to like it. (Note cigarette-smoking Fruit Guy. He claimed to “eat a durian every day”; he also had very few teeth)

Yes, as I mentioned, I too tried a taste. I did not document my durian sampling, since my iPhone-filming hand was busy holding my nose. Suffice it to say that I was not a fan. Even while blocking my nasal passages to avoid the smell I thought it tasted (at best) like creme brulee with a burnt garlic glaze.

Not everyone, of course, agrees. Or no one would be buying Fruit Man’s durian stash. Wikipedia also says:

The nineteenth-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described its flesh as “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”

Apparently, there are many Durian Fans in Southeast Asia who agree with Mr. Wallace. There are Durian Festivals and Durian Fairs and the fruit is used to flavor ice cream and candies and puddings — there is so much Durian Appreciation that social controls have had to be enacted:

The persistence of its odour, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia

Nope, that’s not a sign warning against durian consumption. Tho it very well could be

So. Maybe if there is a mask shortage and a dearth of Purell, we should just import a bunch of durian and have every man, woman, and school-avoiding child here in the States — particularly in crowded urban areas — crack one open. Trust me, we couldn’t get six feet apart fast enough.

Amagansett, New York. March 2020

Capitalist Tulle

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‘Bad pun, but a pretty good story if you like stories about slips.’

I must have underwear on the brain. Last week I wrote about tights and how these days I have to sit down on the bed to put them on instead of balancing gracefully on one leg like a ballerina (or stork). Now, this week it’s slips. Let’s hope I get diverted from this path before next week rolls around.

I also got in trouble for posting an underwear pic. Well, here we go again. Just be grateful this is not a current shot of me in a slip

To be honest, it wasn’t that long ago that I thought “tulle” was pronounced “tull”. But then, I also once asked who the heck was this “Al Kyda” guy everybody was talking about. (See “Paging Arry O’Nassis” for embarrassing details.)

But “tulle” is “tool.” And, for you whippersnappers out there, “Capitalist Tool” is what Malcolm Forbes called his private jet. (No, I never rode on that jet, but The Dude and I did stay in one of his houses — his Palais Mendoub, in Morocco, on our honeymoon. And yes, there is a story here too: “Malcolm and the Duchess.” Enjoy!)

Honeymooning at the Palais Mendoub. Nope, that’s not The Dude back there; that’s a Morrocan minion

But back to tulle. I was talking to a good friend on the phone the other day (Hi there, T!), which is pretty amazing since I hardly ever do that — talk on the phone, that is. (When I was a kid, we only had one phone and we had to use it sparingly, since our dad got business calls on it. When I was a teen and liked talking on the phone, my mom would actually go straight to the phone when she got home from, say, Bridge Club, to see if it felt warm. If it did, she knew I’d been using it and I’d be in trouble.)

That’s me, at the age I would have been hogging the phone every chance I got. Fashion note: I made those plaid shorts

Anyway, Phone Friend T mentioned that her older sister had this amazing tulle slip (please don’t ask why or how this topic came up; I honestly don’t know) and I went, “Oh! I had one of those!”

Of course, I didn’t know from “tulle.” I called it my “stand-out slip.” My mom probably got it for me from Sears or Montgomery Ward. (Pretty much everything we wore that she didn’t make herself came from the Sears or “Monkey Ward” catalog.)

I’m sporting a tulle slip under that Easter dress. I’m sandwiched between Oldest Younger Brother Scott and Middle Younger Brother Roger, each sporting a Mom-made sport coat and shorts. That’s Sandy sporting a tulle-like tail

My stand-out slip had bells on it, so it jingled when I walked. It was horribly scratchy, but I absolutely adored it. T went on to say that her sister kept hers all stiff and standy-outy by rinsing it in sugar water. I said I couldn’t imagine my mom letting me do that even if I  knew to ask her — which I suppose is why my slip got gradually less standy-outy.

Me, with my two very favorite things: my Cat Who Never Really Had A Name — and my slightly-less standy-outy stand-out slip

As I mentioned, my Mom made almost all of my clothes. At least she did until I was a teenager. Then I did. I wasn’t half bad at it. I made bell-bottoms, I made a polka-dot prom dress, I made a crushed-velvet homecoming gown. But I hated sewing. I swore that when I grew up I wouldn’t make one stitch of clothing, and I haven’t. Though I have been known to take up a hem or two.

I made that suit. And oh how I wish I still had it! That short guy is (I think) the Lt. Governor of Illinois. We’re at the dedication of Carlyle Lake (again, I think) Oh, I wish I still had that beaded bag too

I could go on and on, but duty — and downsizing — calls. Next week I promise to come up with a story that’s not about underwear. Besides, I’ve already (ahem) covered bras: “I Seen Smallah.

Me, with Gramma and Grampa Peterson after my Lutheran-Church Confirmation. Both dress and the bra under it are from Montgomery Ward

New York City. February 2020

Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

Another photo of the parakeet socks. Cause I’m sure as heck not going to show you any leeches — or leech socks, for that matter

See, my experience with leeches has never been an up-close-and-personal one. I’m more of an “I remember them from that scene in The African Queen” kind of person.

Our floating home on the Amazon, seen here with seaplane at the ready, was up quite a notch or three from The African Queen

And what I remember about leeches from that movie isn’t good. But our trusty trip materials went on to say that leeches “most commonly crawl through loosely-woven material, like socks” and that “leech socks are worn over one’s regular socks and tied at the calf or knee”, that they “keep leeches from penetrating, thus causing them to crawl up instead onto your pants, where you can see them.”

Another picture not of leeches or their socks. Here is a checkered foot instead. With a nifty checkered-floor background

Oh. Okay. Then what?

“You can usually feel them inching along; they can be rolled into a ball and flicked off before they can really attach.”

Um. May I ask who will be doing this “rolling” and “flicking” — of leeches?

Oh, wait. There is an alternative: “Touching their bodies with a bar of repellent will cause them to loosen and drop off.” (I’m so buying a “bar of repellent” — at any price.)

Let me take a small Leech Break to show you what, up until now, has been the scariest thing I’ve encountered on one of these trips. I didn’t have to roll anything “into a ball and flick it”, but I did kind of roll myself into a ball while clutching my armrests for dear life:

The Leech Section of our trip materials concluded by stating that “all in all, their repulsive reputation has been exaggerated.” (Not by me!) And by saying that “if you do get bitten, however, their anticoagulant can cause persistent bleeding. You may want to carry a styptic pencil to curtail the bleeding; a small supply of Band-Aids can protect your clothing.”

Oh. Right, I feel so much better now. I wonder if it’s too late to get back on that seaplane.

New York City. (Not Borneo. Not yet, anyway.) January 2020

 

 

 

Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

But Erica got along just fine, thank you very much. In fact, she assimilated so well that she married a Dartmouth guy, one of The Dude’s fraternity brothers (Kappa Kappa Kappa), a guy named Kevin.

While The Dude had fond memories of both Erica and Kevin, I had only met them once, six or seven years ago at a fraternity reunion held in New Jersey. I honestly couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. But heck, I was sure happy to go to their party.

The Dude (at left) with frat brothers at what appears to be an “Artmouth” reunion in New Jersey. Kevin must be in there somewhere

So, on the appointed Party Day, we get all gussied up and head over to Erica and Kevin’s.

Here I am, all gussied up for a party where a guy named Teddy is a “guest”

As we enter the building lobby, I get even more excited. It’s Party Central — we see several Gorgeous People hanging up coats and heading up elevators, since there seem to be at least two or three parties being held there that night.

We’re directed to the appropriate coat rack and elevator and ride on up. The elevator opens into one of the loveliest New York apartments I’ve ever seen: beautiful paintings on the walls, beautiful people circulating in the halls. The waitpersons are even beautiful.

“Hey! I know that woman,” I think, as a vision in silver approaches, handing me a glass of wine. After we air-kiss, I exclaim, “Erica! I didn’t know you went to Dartmouth!

She gives me a puzzled look, then moves on to greet other arrivals. Meanwhile, The Dude has moved into the next room to find the host, his friend Kevin.

He comes back and whispers, “That guy in there is not Kevin. I mean, he’s Kevin, but not Kevin!

“But I know that woman. She’s Erica — of the Erica-and-Karen Erica, the ones who run that website Lustre that I write for. You know.” (By the way, do check out that website, it’s lustre.net; you’ll love it, and not just because I occasionally write stuff for it.)

Erica is somewhere in this group of Dartmouth reunion-goers (that’s me, top left). Just don’t ask me which one she is; I only met her the one time

“She must also be married to a guy named Kevin. And we’re at their Erica-and-Kevin Party instead of at our Erica-and-Kevin Party. At this point, a waiter approached with a tray of particularly tasty-looking hors d’oeuvres. “Don’t touch those!” I said, slapping The Dude’s hand away. We’re at the wrong party. We have to fess up.”

Well. All’s well that ends well, party-wise. When I told Erica that I was really really sorry and that we were at the wrong party, she said, “Oh no! You are at the right party. Kevin and I invited you. Honest! Welcome. Have some champagne!”

And so we did.

But on the way home, we just had to wonder. What are the chances of knowing not one, but two, Erica-and-Kevins?

New York City. January 2020

 

 

Thanksgiving Turkeys

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‘The worst Thanksgivings are still pretty darned great’

Those of you who follow along with me each week already realize — no doubt because I’ve told you way too many times — that Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. (Speaking of giving thanks — thank you for reading, Favorite People.) See “Turkey Shoot”, “In the Kitchen with Dad (and the Coal Miner’s Daughter)”, “Flipping the Bird”, and “My Breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much” for pieces stuffed with reasons why.

Is that a banana, or am I just glad to see it’s almost Thanksgiving?

And it’s not just me. I grew up with a whole passel of Thanksgiving Lovers. Why, one year we invented a holiday called “Veteransgiving” just so we could get together, calendar be darned. (I bet we’re one of the few families who’s celebrated Veterans Day Weekend with turkey and pie.) It was held at my Favorite Sister Laura’s, and it was One Fun Time.

I don’t have a photo, alas, of Veteransgiving. But here’s one from a Christmas during that same era, also chez Laura

Although Veteransgiving was a little unusual, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “turkey”. No, the Thanksgiving “turkeys” of my memory were these (in no particular order):

The Thanksgiving with the Sad Little Game Hens. Dude Man and I were freshly hitched and, for some reason which I cannot recall, did not decamp to a Family Unit for the holiday. (Maybe we didn’t get enough time off? Maybe we couldn’t decide which family to invade? I honestly can’t remember.)

What I do remember is that, instead of turkey — even a small turkey — I thought it would be a smart idea to roast two game hens. Seeing them on the platter with (of course) no stuffing and no gravy made me burst into tears. Trust me, a Thanksgiving spent sobbing into small poultry is no fun. The photo at the top of this story shows me smiling bravely through some such celebration-for-two. Though not the holiday I described. Too heartbroken for photos.

Me, trying to distract The Dude from the fact that we are having teensy game hens for T’giving dinner. Or maybe this is just another random photo I have from that apartment

The Thanksgiving eaten off TV trays in front of Dolly Parton. This was a holiday spent at the home of my Starter Hub. Yes, I was married before. Very briefly, but long enough to spend Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law Opal in the Ozarks. More shocking to me than the TV on all the time (after all, I grew up in a TV-loving household) was the fact that there was cornbread in the stuffing. (If you’re interested, and who wouldn’t be, you can read about This Guy in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”.)

No, I don’t have photographic evidence of the Dolly Parton Dinner. But I do have this evidence of 70s underwear-aversion

The Thanksgiving The Child wanted to spend in the City so she could see her friends. This was The Child’s first year away at college. She convinced me to spend my Very Favorite Holiday going through a buffet line at The Dude’s fancy-but-still-not-anything-like-home Club. Even worse than having to dress up was the fact that there were no leftovers. She never asked to do this again. See, she didn’t get to see her City friends — they were all away with their families somewhere else having a nice Thanksgiving, thank you very much.

The Child smartened up and started inviting friends too far away to go home to come to our Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving we had hamburgers and cranberry sauce. This was back when The Dude’s Dad was still with us. He was actually a pretty good cook — his popovers and baked beans were legendary — so we Whitmores were pretty excited to gather in Amagansett for the feast. He took a lot of care with the preparations, even asking World’s Best Cook Ever Aunt Eleanor (his sister-in-law) for advice on getting the turkey. She told him to get a fresh one, even where to get it.

One of the few photos I have of the Dude’s Pater. This is a nice one of him with The Child. No turkey, fresh or frozen, on the horizon here

So, Thanksgiving morning, we daughters and daughters-in-law are helping out, and someone says, while opening the fridge, “We ought to be thinking about getting that turkey in the oven, Dad. Where is it?” Well, he’d put that bird in the freezer. We rushed to the IGA, which, amazingly, was open on T. Day, but, not amazingly, had no more turkeys left. We had hamburgers and cranberry sauce. Which actually tasted pretty good, though New Family Tradition it did not become.

Now this is a New Family Tradition that stuck: cranberry-apple pie. Try it; you’ll like it

Well, I think it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve got the Big Beef in the oven, but have yet to make the piecrust. (Yes, I make my own crust. Only once a year, though.)

Time to freshen my Manhattan and have at it.

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful, warm Thanksgiving. See you next week when everyone but me will be thinking about Christmas.

May your turkeys be wonderful and not “turkeys” at all

Amagansett, New York. November 2019

 

I never did find that darned bedpan

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‘More Memories of my dear funny Aunt Marilyn’

I’ve been feeling a tad emptied out these last few weeks. And not only because our home is, bit by bit, quite literally being emptied of virtually all our favorite possessions. (The Gods of Staging decree it thus.)

Living room with piano and cat bed, on its way to being “staged” for sale

No, I’m feeling empty because my life is being emptied, bit by bit (or soul by soul), of many of my favorite people. (In this case, it’s the Guy — or Gal — Upstairs who decrees it.) A few weeks ago, it was my Mom’s sister, my dear funny idiosyncratic Aunt Marilyn.

Aunt Marilyn in a rare formal portrait. I used to stare at this photo (framed, on a shelf in my Gramma’s house), wishing I owned that fabulous fur neck thing

True, I already wrote a piece about Marilyn. A couple of pieces, in fact. (See “Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”  and “A Very Marilyn Christmas” for some nice reminiscences.) But, trust me, she was such fun and so, well, unique in her enthusiasms, that she deserves another few words.

I already mentioned that, when I was very small, my Dad went off to serve in Korea and Mom and I went back to her parents’ farm to live for the duration. (See “Kissing Daddy Good-night” for poignant details.) Marilyn was a teenager at the time, so she, of course, was in residence.

That’s Teen Aunt Marilyn next to the woman with me on her lap (my Mom). That’s Gramma P in back

Aunt M had a cat at the time named Herkimer. (Aunt M was one of the all-time great Namers.) Later on, she had a cat named Dino whose back feet my Grampa P would tickle, making them both (Dino and Marilyn) howl in protest. (Her naming extended to me, whom she dubbed “Lishkabib”, which was a distortion of “Ish Kabibble”, some obscure cornet-playing comedian.)

But back to cats. According to Marilyn, I used to “thread” (her word) poor Herkimer through the slats of my little wicker rocker. After that, the poor cat would climb the curtains in the living room to get out of my way.

That’s me with Herkimer. I’m thinking this was before the Threading Incident

Some of her naming talents must have rubbed off on me, because I famously had a doll (probably the one I’m holding in the photo at the top of this post) named Mrs. Parasott. No one could figure out the whys and wherefors of this name. Not until many years later at my Gramma’s funeral. I was in the receiving line accepting condolences, when a woman introduced herself as my Gramma’s ex-neighbor — Mrs. Parasott.

Anyway. A few more choice bits before I get to the Bedpan Story of the title.

Thats Aunt Marilyn, in front of my Mom, with the rest of the Peterson Kids

Cool stuff, in no particular order: Aunt Marilyn drove a ’65 Mustang and later a car she called the “Al Camino”, kept a stuffed Fighting Illini Rooster on her bed and a framed photo of Dwight Eisenhower on her wall, and greeted every one of her adoring nieces and nephews with an enormous hug she called the “Squeeze”.

Aunt Marilyn the only time she was ever to the far left: in this photo with her many adoring nieces and nephews

She was also an excellent kidder. Marilyn, like my Mom, was a nurse. She worked at the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Illinois; the same plant where she met her husband Arlyn. He worked there too, custom-mixing paint for, like, the pink cars Mary Kay ladies drove around in. (If you think that’s odd, my Mom once worked as a prison nurse. But that’s a story for another time.)

Once when Marilyn was drawing blood from this big Chrysler-plant guy, she started singing, apropos of nothing, “Blood on the saddle, blood on the ground, there ain’t nothin’ but blood all around…” The guy fainted.

That’s me (with Oldest Younger Brother Scott) at about Find the Bedpan Age

So okay, I could go on and on. But here’s the Bedpan Story. I was sevenish and sharing a bed with the unmarried-because-she-hadn’t-met-Arlyn-yet Marilyn. One morning she woke up, stretched, and said, “Oh my. I really have to go to the bathroom,” (she would never ever say “pee”) but I’m too lazy to get up. Could you please get me the bedpan?”

Eager to be of help, I asked my Favorite Aunt what was a “bedpan” and where could I find it? Well. I looked and looked for that thing. Aunt Marilyn told me later that she laughed so hard she actually needed that bedpan.

New York City. November 2019

 

Yes, some people can live by bread alone

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‘That craving for carbs simply must be genetic’

Some years ago, The Child (who was an actual child at the time), started fussing peckishly in her highchair while I was on the phone with my mother. “Hold your horses, Honey,” I said. Mommy’s getting you your bread and water.”

The Child, getting close to the age when she would demand bread and water

“Bread and water!” my mom exclaimed, spluttering with over-the-phone laughter. “Are you punishing that child?” She was astonished when I explained that B&W was The Child’s snack of choice.

Not much has changed since she was in a highchair. Snackwise, anyway

You see, everyone who shares The Dude’s genetic material — every one I’ve met, anyway — has this very same breadlike compunction. Wayne’s Older Bro Bill has the most extreme case I’ve seen. When he sails up here from Florida, the first thing he does when we loan him our ’91 Honda wagon is tool on over to Citarella and buy a whole loaf of their sourdough peasant bread. They only offer one uncut loaf per day (because normal people only buy a quarter — or at most a half) so Bill makes sure he’s at the door first thing in the morning when they open so he can grab it.

Yup. It is indeed a big ole loaf. And I can’t believe he eats the whole thing

Then the very next day he’s there, lurking around at opening time, again. That’s because he — with some help from The Dude and The Child — manages to wolf down that whole loaf in just one day.

Check out the photo at the top of this post, and you can admire The Dude’s wolfing method — chomping a chunk au naturel, while marching around the house. His Bro Bill, on the other hand, likes to carve off a slab (with the world’s longest bread knife, bought special for me one Christmas by Dude Man), cram it in the toaster, slather it with butter — and then march around. I sometimes hand him a plate. But then he leaves the plate somewhere outside, like on a lawn chair or a stair step, or perched on a surfboard. So mostly I skip it, since I’d rather find some crumbs than lose a plate.

Bro Bill, who remains one of my Favorite People, even festooned with bread crumbs

Needless to say, my method of cleaning after house guests leave rather than before they arrive, which you can learn about in “To Clean or not to Clean?,” was invented just for these occasions.

The Child loves bread so much that sometimes she orders a side of bread to go with her…bread

The Child, as eluded to before, has inherited this Bread Fixation. And she has passed it along to not only her BF but her Gal Pals. When they visit, which is not nearly enough, they head out first thing to score a Citarella loaf of their own. I swear to god I have never known such a contingent of bread-friendly skinny people.

I must say, aside from the crumbs crunching underfoot, it does my heart good seeing people enjoy a foodstuff so much. And at least, unlike my brownies (which you can find the recipe for right here), the crumbs are beige, and kind of blend in with the floor tiles. Except for the crunching underfoot, you wouldn’t know they were there.

No, this is not Citarella. Just the normal IGA bread aisle after 4th of July weekend — or after a Dude Relation Visit

Speaking of Breadlike Objects (the actual name The Dude and I gave to baked goods back in our early courting days), we have had a long history with same. To this day I go into a Proustian reverie when I bite into a cinnamon-raisin bagel, which was our car snack on the way to the Hamptons in our courting days.

Back in our dating days, skinny enough for many stops for bagels and coffee

We would stop at this place on 2nd Avenue right by the entrance to the Upper Roadway of the (then) Queensborough Bridge for fresh hot bagels and sort-of-okay pre-Starbucks coffee. This was such a long time ago that The Dude and I would fashion a “sippy lid” out of a plain old takeout coffee lid by tearing a wedge-like opening in it. (Where are our royalties? It was completely our invention!)

I still like to chomp into a cinnamon-raisin bagel now and then — the chewier the better — but I must admit that I enjoy watching The Dude and his fellow Bread Lovers chomp on their bread more than I enjoy eating it myself. They tend to go into a sort of food-induced trance: their eyes glaze over, and if it’s Bro Bill who’s indulging, make little murmurs of bliss.

But there is a treat that even Breadaholic Bill enjoys more than sourdough. A treat that makes him do a little happy dance while standing at the kitchen counter, spoon in hand. Specifically, it’s a treat that starts with “Haagen” and ends with “Dazs”.

The Child’s BF, enjoying what might possibly be the only rival to bread in The Dude Food Universe

New York City. November 2019

 

The Dude thought “Leave it to Beaver” was a porn movie

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‘What happens if you grow up with no television’

Well, I suppose “no” television is somewhat of an exaggeration. I believe The Dude and his sibs (he is the fourth out of six) were allowed a soupcon of TV. Like, if there was some educational show on about, say, snakes. (Yes, that family had a reptilian bent. Read about it if you dare, in “The Year of the Snake.”)

The Dude (back left) and the rest of his clan in their living room. No TV, but they did have that De Kooning there behind Bill’s head

We Henrys considered Sea Hunt or The Wonderful World of Disney educational shows. After all, you got some geography, right? And then there was The Three Stooges. Highly educational. Curly, Moe and Larry taught my brothers all kinds of fun tricks. Nyuck nyuck nyuck. Interesting that The Dude’s parents thought TV was harmful, but thought nothing of throwing their multiple children into a car without seat belts. Ooops. That’s not fair; my parents did that too.

Me (and my Mom) in the Henry living room. Our TV (uncharacteristically dark) serves as a festive backdrop for a flurry of Christmas-gift unwrapping

We spent many a happy hour stretched out on the carpet in front of a room-dominating television set, bowls of ice cream balanced on our tummies or a washtub of Younger-Brother-Doug-popped corn placed strategically so all hands could reach it. Along with the corn and the ‘scream, we lapped up Bonanza and Hullaballoo and Batman. I Spy and Mission Impossible. Get Smart was a fave, with jokes that often zoomed right over our heads. (See: “Agent 86”)

And I remember Mom and Dad joining us for the sophisticated cartoon fare in Rocky and Bullwinkle. (A rare mineral called “Upsidasium”, an island called No Bikini Atoll. And the wonderful, pre-Spy Magazine Short-Fingered-Vulgarian-like zing of the Kirward Derby.) You can read more about Rocky and his Friends in “Eeny Meanie Chili Beanie, the Spirits are about to Speak.”

Budding TV Aficiandos

Which brings me to the title of this story. A few years ago I was waxing nostalgic about the Cleaver Family with one of my brothers, wondering whatever happened to Wally and the Beave and the marvelously smarmy Eddie Haskell. (“You are looking particularly lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver.”)

Anyway, true story: The Dude heard me talking about “Leave it to Beaver” and, shocked, exclaimed, “Your parents let you guys watch a porn movie?!?

Oh no. His parents wouldn’t let him watch porn. But they did pose him outdoors for all the world to see in this getup

As years passed, and TVs got cheaper, we had them all over the house. There was the Big TV in the living room, but also a TV in the kitchen, one on a timer in my parents’ bedroom, even one on the porch. And all these TVs were always turned on. I was a “grownup” by then, who lived elsewhere and had somewhat of a bossy-pants personality, so I would go from room to room turning them off — only to have my Dad follow me around turning them back on. Even if he fell asleep on the couch with the TV tuned to golf, if you turned said TV off, he would jolt awake with, “Hey! I was watching that!”

This is The Child phoning home from my parents’ porch. Yes, that’s a TV turned on in the background

I guess going around turning off all those TVs affected me in a funny way because, as a grownup in my own place, I didn’t own even one. I remember going over to a friend’s at the crack of dawn to watch the Royal Wedding in 1981. Even after Dude Man and I got one for a wedding present we didn’t watch TV much. The Dude’s disdain was such that he famously replied, “Where the TV is” when I asked where on earth we would fit a baby in our not-very-large marital home.

The Child and I pose next to her bed. Which is where a TV would normally be

And then, even when we got a bigger apartment and a newer, bigger TV to go with it, I didn’t know how to make it “go”. My baseball-loving Mom was in residence once while The Dude and I were away for some medical meeting, and she asked The Child (who was, oh, ten or so at the time) how to turn on the TV so she could watch the World Series. She didn’t know. And neither did I, when Mom called me to find out.

All this TV aversion is probably a good thing, since His Dudeness and I will soon be downsizing into an apartment so small I call it The Ken and Barbie House.

A TV (of sorts) graces a tiny niche in a tiny room of the Ken and Barbie House

All I can say is thank goodness for streaming.

New York City. November 2019

“Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”

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‘Missing the Most Marvelous Aunt the World Has Ever Known’

The quote serving as title of this story came from the wee toddler lips of my Oldest Younger Brother Scott. When he was very small he would march into our Aunt Marilyn’s room very early in the morning and announce that “everybody” was up — “everybody” meaning him.

That’s my Aunt Marilyn standing in front of my Mom. She wasn’t much more than a toddler herself in this photo. But I bet she was a lot of fun, even then

See, when Aunt Marilyn was in the house you wanted her up and around and with you at all times. She was that much fun. So much fun to be around that we kids would actually fight over who got to sit next to her at family dinners. (I only realized years later that we were unintentionally hurting our other perfectly-good aunts’ feelings — not to mention our very fun mother’s — by doing this.)

Two sisters and their mom, my Gramma P

But kids are kids — and naturally unfiltered — so fight over Aunt Marilyn we did. We adored Aunt Marilyn. Maybe because she was rather like a kid herself. For one thing, she was our mother’s younger sister by almost ten years. She was a high school kid when I was born. For another, she remained single — living in her parents’ (our grandparents’) house — for most of our childhood, so she was always there — and eager for fun — when we visited.

That’s All-American Teen Aunt Marilyn, complete with saddle shoes and bobby socks, between Perfectly-Fine Aunt Shirley and my Gramma P. My Mom is holding “Everybody’s Up!” Scott while I glower through the car window

Even after she found the Amazing Arlyn and got married, she didn’t “settle down”. She continued to play croquet and badminton (See “Howie and the Muscle Shirt” for a funny badminton story) with youthful gusto and was apt to say things like, “Who wants to go out in the snow with the rodel?” when it was, like, a zillion degrees below zero. (I just googled “rodel”, which is a kind of sled, and found one that looks just like Aunt Marilyn’s for sale for $1,175.)

That’s Marilyn, in bridal gown, natch, greeting well-wishers in the background. That’s my Starter Hub and me front and center

Aunt Marilyn hated the hot summer and absolutely adored winter. And not just for the skating and skiing and rodeling. She was a Major Fan of Christmas. I can remember like it was yesterday going to our Gramma P’s for Christmas. Marilyn was always in charge of the fun, both before and after she and Arlyn got hitched. (Arlyn, bless his little Dutch heart, really got into the swing of those Swedish Christmases. Though I bet he didn’t really have much choice.)

A scene from a Marilyn Christmas. That’s my Mom whispering her wish to a plastic-bag-bearded Santa

Since we were Swedes, the festivities were always on Christmas Eve. You can read all about these special festivities and even watch a video of the Very Last One in “A very Marilyn Christmas”. If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear Nat King Cole on the stereo.

Aunt Marilyn in the kitchen stirring up some fun. I’m thinking this wasn’t Christmas, since the cooking is happening on top of the stove

Ironically, it was during her favorite season, while she was skiing with my mom out in Colorado (pronounced by Marilyn as “color” with “adoh” on the end) when she first felt the manifestations of the Parkinson’s Disease that would torment her for decades and ultimately take her life just last Saturday.

Winter won’t be winter without you, dear Aunt Marilyn. And as for Christmas? I feel like just skipping it this year. But that wouldn’t be at all what you would want. So I’ll break out the gumdrop tree and the teensy cordial glasses in your honor. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the homemade brown paper “oven bag” to roast my turkey. I’ll no doubt burst into tears, but I’d rather my turkey not burst into flames.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt Marilyn. Christmas — even with teensy toasts and gumdrop trees — won’t be the same without you

New York City. October 2019

 

A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

A batch of Henrys bids good-bye to the Phil branch that had to snap off early

For more about what happened at the party before it (*sniff*) came to its cake-crumbs-on-the-floor and wine-dreggs-in-the-glassware end, check out last week’s story, “So far, so good”.

And as for the end itself? My branch of the Henry Family Tree, all three twigs of it, was one of the first to leave on Sunday morning. Very early Sunday morning. Too early, in fact. Which should come to no surprise to those who know me. I’m one of those get-to-the-airport-early people. Once I allowed four hours to get to JFK for a 10AM flight to Bonaire. When we got to our gate at 7, I thought my family was going to suffocate me with a plastic bag.

The driveway that led to the road that led to the highway that led to O’Hare

Well, this trip I was worried about returning the rental car and about catching the shuttle to get to our respective terminals. (I’d been told to allow two hours for this.) Well, turns out the only two hours involved here was the two hours too early that we got there.

But hey. I promised a Ray of Sunshine, did I not? When we scampered to the Place Where You Catch the Shuttles, there was a shuttle, ready and waiting. But it served Terminal 1, where the Kids were going, and not Terminal 3, where I was headed. The Child and her BF and I were engaged in a heartfelt goodbye hug on the sidewalk when we hear a booming voice over the shuttle loudspeaker:

“This shuttle goes to Terminal 1…and to wherever it is that Mom is going!”

The driver, bless his Mom-loving heart, did indeed take all the now-very-smiley passengers to Terminal 1, where they all nodded and wished me well as they disembarked with their wheelies and whatnots. Then Sterling — for that was his name — took me, all by my lonesome, off to Terminal 3.

“Here you go, Mom,” he said, “Have a nice flight!”

And so I did.

Lake Michigan, looking just about as sparkly as Sterling’s soul

New York City. October 2019