How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled.

Two Dudes in front of an empty gazebo. Yup, I am laughing right now

Thinking gazebos are funny has just always been one of our Family Things. Partly it’s that ‘gazebo’ is such an inherently funny word. Also, they invariably look, well, silly. Kind of ornate and effete and ridiculous. It doesn’t help that they are — always — empty. Go on; try to remember the last time you saw anybody actually occupying a gazebo.

We Henrys used to try to imagine scenarios when we’d make use of a gazebo if we had one, say, in our yard in Southern Illinois. (Sit there and read a book? Nah. You’d get eaten alive by mosquitoes. But what if the gazebo had screens? Cue screams of Henry laughter.)

We thought gazebos were so silly we used to make a game of pointing out all the (empty, every single one) gazebos we could find. We’d point, then make a ‘zero’ (to indicate no one was in said gazebo). We didn’t have to say anything; we’d just ‘get it’. I once took a bike ride with my Mom and Middle Younger Brother Roger all around his lovely gazebo-dotted hometown of Geneva, Illinois. We almost fell off our Schwinns.

We Henrys are not the only ones, apparently, who find gazebos innately hilarious. Recently, John Mulaney did a Gazebo Riff during his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live. Here, I’ve cued it up for you:

Nice to know the Mulaneys were a silly family too. I can’t wait to see if he works a gall-bladder limerick into a future monologue.

Before I go, I must admit that there was one time a Henry actually used a gazebo. That I witnessed, anyway. This was a few years ago out in Petaluma, CA, where my Oldest Younger Brother Scott made an appearance at the Butter and Eggs Festival (yes, that’s a Thing) with his band, Bad Neighbor.

Bad Neighbor plays. Yes, that’s a gazebo and the band is in it. You can’t see the whole thing. But I did; I was there. But I was never in the gazebo myself

Quick note. His band got the name ‘Bad Neighbor’ because one night when they were practicing in his garage, the guy next door came over to complain about the noise and said, “You are a really bad neighbor!” To which my Bro said, “Thanks, you just named our band.” Sometimes, when just two of the four band members do a gig, they call themselves Half-Bad Neighbor.

But why play in a gazebo? Isn’t that what band shells are for?

Oh. I guess the band shell, like this one in Central Park, was otherwise occupied

New York City. May 2018

The Movie Disease

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‘More and more beautiful as you reach The End’

Some people say Fall is here when you spy your first red leaf. I say it’s when I need to whip out the grill light to cook my dinner. The Best Sister on The Planet gave me this gizmo a couple of years ago, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it as summer winds down.

My handy dandy grill light. I can’t show it to you on my actual grill, since Hurricane Irma or Jose or Maria or Whomever is out there whipping up a wet mess

A couple of nights ago, as I was out there sizzling up a weenie or two and engaging in a bit of grill-light-assisted reverie, I got to thinking yet again about Summer Turning Into Fall. Which I know I’ve written about more than once, but, darn it, I do find the topic fascinating. Bittersweet and sometimes even outright sad, but fascinating all the same.

Oh. Here’s that Sign O Fall of which I spoke. Thanks MJS!

I’ve compared the shortness of summer to the fleetingness of childhood. I’ve likened August to Sunday night, and September to Monday morning. And now I’m going to tell you how Fall is like the Movie Disease. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to my Selfie

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‘Reflections on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.’

Honest Injun. I was going to write a piece about iPhones and ringtones anyway. But as I was reading the Times (er, procrastinating) with my zillionth cup of coffee, I happened upon the news that the iPhone came out ten years ago today.

My my my. It seems like just yesterday that I was sharing a (very tiny, so it’s a good thing we got along) freelance office with an art director I dubbed Svenska Boy, who was the very first person of my acquaintance who had an iPhone. He waited hours in line outside the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan to get it. Sigh. Technological memories are so bittersweet.

Take that early selfie at the top of this post. Please (!) It’s not only fuzzy, it’s taken in a mirror. Because the phones back then didn’t have that reverse camera. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it was there. Oh well.

Selfies before iPhones. I take a picture of my reflection with a thing called a camera. Actually it was a Flip Video Camera. Remember those?

But back to the reason I was going to write about phones in the first place. It has to do with sounds. I was at the Amagansett IGA a few days ago, stocking up for my umpteenth wave of weekend house guests, when I spied a woman who used to date one of The Dude’s cousins. (Hey, I’m alone all week. When I run into someone I know, even vaguely, they simply must be prepared for a bit of social interaction.) Continue reading

Crime ‘n Stuff

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‘Waves of summer mayhem out East Hampton Way’

Well. No turkeys-storming-the-birdfeeder excuses today. I’m late because Labor Day Weekend brought me a full complement of competent Twenty-Somethings to liven things up here around The Compound. And after they left I had to immediately erase all traces of their occupancy (change the sheets; wash the towels; wipe up the avocado-toast crumbs) — or feel super sad.

These turkeys are welcome at my ‘feeder’ any ole time. I miss ’em already

So now that I can walk around the house without feeling assaulted by reminders of a rollicking good weekend (oops, somebody left her wineglass out by the pool; er, that would be me), let me get down to the actual topic of the piece. Which is crime.

Now this is a crime: floaterless pool floats

Yes, crime. Out here on the Eastern End of Long Island, otherwise known as The Hamptons, we do have our share of crime. In the summertime much of it has to do with road rage, which is understandable when you consider that the local population explodes from around 20,000 to upwards of 60,000. Some sources say 100,000, even. All I know is that they all have cars and that all summer long it’s impossible to leave my driveway without doing that queen-wave-with-a-smile gesture that means “You’d better let me out now, if you know what’s good for you and that shiny finish on your passenger door!”

Why, just the other day I watched in wonder as a Range-Rover-wielding Botox Fan backed out of Brent’s Deli (home of the Best Fried Chicken on the Planet) right into a hapless Camry waiting at the red light. I hope she at least bought him a bucket. With sides. Continue reading

“I’ll take a hot foot sandwich, please.”

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‘It’s August. Grab those beachy memories while you can.’

Somebody wise once said that August is like the Sunday of Summer. (I think it was me, actually, but it’s the kind of thing that more than one wise person certainly could have come up with.)

Now I’ve written about this bittersweet end-of-summer stuff before, in ‘Yup. Even Slackers Get the Labor Day Blues’ and ‘The Days Are Long, But the Season is Short’. But, hey, it’s my blog and I’m feeling, well, a tad ‘Augusty’.

How many times did I get out the boogie boards this summer? Do you have to ask?

I’m pretty sure you know what I mean. It’s like you’ve just dusted off your white bucks on Memorial Day and then you realize Labor Day is coming up and you’ll just have to put them away again without having worn them even once. Or like you told yourself you’d have plenty of time to go through all the photos from that birding trip to Africa and make a book out of them already. And, speaking of books, please don’t get me started on yes, this summer I’ll get my act together and find an agent and/or a publisher to turn my stories into a real pages-and-ink book.

Stories? You bet I have stories. Some didn’t have such a happy ending. Just ask that Belgian guy in the back

But enough whining. Speaking of summers and beaches, here’s a joke that’s a favorite of my mom’s. She tells it best, but I’ll give it a shot. Continue reading

“I wouldn’t say no to a piece of pie”

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‘What to do when you’re stuck in traffic’

So The Dude and I driving back to The City last night, and of course there is horrible traffic, it being the height of summer and all. The Dude is working Google Earth to discover a back road to the Back Roads, which these days are as clogged as the Montauk Highway since Jerry Della Femina’s daughter saw fit to publish a back-roads map a couple of years ago, earning her the wrath of every Local from Southhampton to Montauk. Oh well. One Percent Problem, I know.

The scenery in the Hamptons is gorgeous. That is, if you’re into gazing at the backs of cars

But the one promising lead — a teensy dirt road invisible on Apple Maps — turns out to dead-end at a golf course. In our quest, we happened to pass over and under the railroad tracks several times, which got The Dude to thinking about how he really really needs more railroad ties for our driveway. (Someone, ages ago, probably The Dude’s Dad, lined our driveway with railroad ties. But they’re really old, and crumbling, and they never did go all the way down the drive anyway. Somebody got a hernia putting them there, no doubt.) Continue reading

Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens. Continue reading

Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

I just flew in from The Coast

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‘And boy, are my arms tired. (Old joke, couldn’t resist.)’

Ah, the miracles of modern travel. Sunday I was within wave-crashing distance to the Atlantic. And Monday I was smack-dab next to the Pacific. Funny, we say things like “It’s SUCH a long flight from New York to Portland — six whole hours!” Which seems like a long time till you consider that it once took months to get there in those wagon trains. Day after endless day heading due west. And those poor pioneers didn’t even have sunglasses.

I have to keep reminding myself that air travel is a wonderful miracle because I am such a nervous wreck when it comes to flying. Those of you who are my Facebook Friends already know this, and responded with great kindness (and many funny comments) when I posted this the other day:

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Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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