We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow

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‘How I narrowly escaped a life in Florida’

Last week I had a birthday. Which is all well and good, especially since I am rather fond of drinking champagne and having people sing to me. But I’ve gotten to the age where it feels like every week I’m having another darned birthday. The pages on my calendar seem to be flashing by like one of those flip books.

It doesn’t help matters that my friends are moving to Florida. They’re buying golf clubs and boats and condos with a spare room for the grandkids. Why, just last week we bridge buddies bade good-bye to one of our number who was moving to some place called Jupiter. It’s a place in Florida, not a planet. Though it might as well be, since she won’t be able to make our weekly bridge games.

Visiting friends in Florida a couple of years ago. We were there for — you guessed it — a birthday

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Florida. Well, except for the fact that there are no sidewalks, people bank their turns in their huge boatlike cars, and there are bugs big as dogs. I’m sure Florida has some fine qualities. In fact, what with all those friends fleeing southward it’s starting to look kind of good to me.

Even I might enjoy Florida if I could live in the Ringling Mansion, toured on a recent visit. Nah, it smelled like mildew

But back when I was barely out of my twenties, it was certainly not the place I wanted to be. Especially since I fell in love with New York City the very second I arrived from the Midwest all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, freshly scrubbed and eager to please.

I lived in a terrific New York apartment. (Read about how I found it in “Horowitz plays the bedroom.”) I worked in a terrific New York ad agency. (Read about how I got there in “Take a letter, Miss Henry.”)

The Dude and I, shortly after we met. But before I got him to shave off that mustache

I met a terrific New York Dude. (See “The Jerk and The Dude.“) Heck, we even had a terrific-if-quirky New York wedding. (See “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.)

A couple of years later after the mustache. And after our terrific New York wedding

Why, The Dude was even born in New York. (Which a whole lot of New Yorkers aren’t, believe you me.) He’d tell cute stories about playing near the grounds of Gracie Mansion as a tot, and about how he rode the New York City bus to Grace Church School way downtown all by himself when he was only six.

The Dude with his sibs in their New York apartment. (That’s Brother Bill adjusting his head) I don’t think he was taking the bus by himself just yet

Well. The ink was barely dry on our New York City-issued marriage license when, one night over dinner in our New York City apartment, The Dude announced that he thought it would be a good idea to move to Florida.

The Dude and I in our New York City apartment, ready to do some New York City Thing. (I still have that dress)

Florida?!? Yes, Florida. The Dude’s Older Brother Bill, like The Dude, was a doctor. A doctor who was doing very well, thank you very much, treating patients in Sarasota, Florida. He had a lot of influence on The Dude, having been around much more during Dude Man’s childhood than Dude’s Actual Father. (A story for another time. Or not. Probably not.)

Whitmore Males in the 80s on a beach not in Florida. Left to right: Dude, Younger Bro Carl, Older Bro (and Surrogate Dad) Bill, Actual Dad

Now, when I met The Dude he was already a doctor. So I was spared the Putting-The-Hub-Through-Med-School Thing. But he was a struggling Freshly-Minted Doctor working three jobs while his practice was revving up. (Which it — whew — eventually did.) So it was pretty tempting to hear about Older Bro’s lush Floridian Life. He had a car. He had a boat. He had a house on a canal with a dock to park said boat.

Older Bro Bill and Me. On said boat

“Dude,” I said. “I spent my whole life getting to New York. I sure as heck am not ready to leave here now. Besides, Florida is full of Old People. Who would we be friends with?”

“Hey, Pie.” (He sometimes calls me “Pie”; usually when he wants to get his way.) “We’ll do so well in Florida that we’ll be able to afford to leave anytime we want,” was his response.

“Who wants to live someplace where all you can think about is when you can leave?” I replied.

Well. To keep the peace, I agreed to go down to Older Bro’s place to “check it out” and “see what I thought”.

Things did not start off well when we met Older Bro’s friends for dinner. The “friends” were about a zillion years old (around my age right now, come to think of it). We met (at 4:30) at their favorite restaurant (a cafeteria) where one could not even get wine (which would have helped matters considerably) but where one could get “a very nice mac and cheese”.

After we bussed our trays we repaired to Poppy and Phil’s bungalow. (Their real names, but they’re probably dead by now so it’s okay.) It was, of course, still light out, so we moseyed out to the back yard.

The Dude reached up and plucked an orange. “Hey Pie! If we lived here we could drink fresh juice from our very own tree!

“Hey Dude”, I replied. “We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow.

We did not move to Florida.

Older Bro Bill and The Dude on a recent visit. Sarasota is starting to look a lot better these days. Tho the socks-with-sandals and/or shorts thing might be a deal-breaker

New York City. November 2018

“Let me go! I want my Mommy!”

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‘The time The Dude (almost) got arrested for Childnapping’

I once took a crack at a funny story about dentistry. (You can chuckle at the result — or not — by clicking on “Is it safe?”) So I thought a humorous take on kidnapping might be worth a shot.

See, you wouldn’t know it from the idyllic father-daughter-on-the-beach photo at the top of this story, but one time The Child was screaming at the top of her lungs (in public!) for The Dude to unhand her.

Scream her lungs out? This little Sweetheart?

We were on a trip at the time, to one of The Dude’s ophthalmology meetings. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, to be specific. This outfit holds these in a different city every year. Nowadays The Dude and I make it a point to go to the “good” cities (Yay, New Orleans and Las Vegas!) and avoid the “bad” ones (Sorry, all-paved-over Atlanta and Disney-fied Orlando). That year the meeting was in San Francisco, and it was the first time we’d go as a family. (And the last, it turned out.)

For some crazy reason we thought it would be a great idea to take the three-year-old Child along on this trip. Well, to be perfectly honest, we took The Child along on every trip to every place we went — until she was six. 

Child (with her traveling companion, Moo-Cow) and Same-Age Cousin Aaron, all behaving beautifully

Also, we thought it would be cool to get together with my Oldest Younger Brother Scott and his NoCal Fam (complete with same-age Cousin Aaron) while we were in his neck of the woods. And the parts of the trip we spent together were, in fact, pretty darned cool. We went to a Japanese tea garden and to Ghirardelli Square and on a cablecar ride. But that was later.

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully (and not screaming to be unhanded) on a cablecar ride

The Incident Of Which I Write happened on the very first day we were there. The Child and I had been over to the meeting venue itself and walked around a bit, checking out the exhibits on macular degeneration and suchlike, she toting Moo-Cow, her Animal of Choice (being a very fair-minded child, she picked a different one for each trip). And, well, so far so good. We were, in fact, smugly congratulating ourselves on well things were going, Child-wise.  

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully at the Academy Meeting. And yes, I did knit that sweater

So I guess we got sort of, well, complacent. That night we were supposed to go to a Meeting-Related Dinner in North Beach, and instead of doing the sensible thing and hiring a babysitter for the evening, we took The Child along. To be fair, the restaurant was a casual family-style Italian place (I checked to be sure), but still. She was three, for pete’s sakes.

What we should have given her instead of taking her to the restaurant: a breadlike object of any kind

Not only was she just three, she was also a notoriously picky eater. Her favorite foods were bread (or anything breadlike) — and water. I guess we were banking on the fact that an Italian Place would have plenty of both.

What we weren’t banking on was jet lag.

The Dude and I were tucking into large platters of pasta and suchlike, and The Child was chomping away on a chunk of bread when all of a sudden she…just…snapped.

It was like a demon possessed her. She did that turn-herself-into-a-board Stiffness Thing, then threw herself onto the floor, where she commenced shrieking and drumming her heels.

Well. The Dude had finished his dinner (and most of mine), so he graciously offered to let me stay behind while he removed The Child from the scene — that being the only really effective way to deal with a tantrum so ear-piercingly severe.

The Child, demonstrating the Stiff Baby Thing during a much-earlier practice tantrum. (I don’t have a photo of the Tantrum Of Which I Write)

So The Dude scoops up the totally-stiff incredibly-screaming Child, puts her under his arm and totes her out of the restaurant — kind of like he’s carrying a hysterical briefcase.

And there he is, walking the streets of North Beach, desperately trying to flag a cab (this was, of course, waaaaay before Uber) while The Child is screaming “Put me down!” and “Let me go!” and “I want my Mommy!”

Well. You can just imagine the looks he got. It still amazes me that a police car didn’t stop instead of a cab with a nice driver who also tried to mollify The Child, to no avail. (Driver: “I have grandchildren, let me try” Child: “Even louder shrieking”) Of course, the second The Dude got her into the hotel room, The Child was out like a light — and was perfectly fine the next day.

Which happened to be Halloween.

Here she is in the costume I concocted for her out of a kleenex and a crown. Heck, I may have been a terrible Mom who took her kid to completely inappropriate places where she had tantrums — but you can’t say I wasn’t creative.

The Child, all smiles on Halloween. This was her costume. Somewhat makeshift, but she and Moo-Cow didn’t seem to mind

New York City. October 2018

The first time The Child rode the subway

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

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

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

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

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

Like the time The Child was introduced to the subway.

The Child, subway-ready, tatts and all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City. October 2018

 

“There go the roses”

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‘Life as a series of passionate obsessions’

The Dude and I went out on a “bike ride” yesterday — me on my Vespa, he on his electric motorcycle, which is called a Zero. (He purchased it on a hilarious expedition to the wilds of Williamsburg — the hipster Williamsburg, not the colonial one.) He wanted this Zero because it is virtually silent, as in “Zero noise”, and therefore ideal for Biker Birdwatching.)

Dude, in background, stealthily examining some ruddy turnstones he was able to sneak up on — upon his super-silent Zero

Anyway, as we were dusting off our bikes for this jaunt, I couldn’t help but notice various relics of The Dude’s former obsessions: the ping-pong table, the archery target, and the windsurfing gear — all looking rather sad and neglected in the dim recesses of the basement. 

There was a time when ping-pong (excuse me, “table tennis”) was a passion of The Dude’s. He played all the time; he even had (and still has) this “ball-spitter” gadget that fires balls at you so you can, er, play with yourself. And when he wasn’t g-nipping and g-nopping (what we Henrys called “ping-pong” because that’s what the ball sounds like when you play), he was watching DVDs of competitions, which were usually between the Chinese and the Swedes. (The commentary was sometimes in Swedish, but the scoreboards were always in Chinese. So basically, your viewing enjoyment came from watching gleeful or dejected players scream incomprehensibly and fall to the ground, which they did with alarming frequency.)

I don’t have a photo of Dude Man doing his Archery Thing. But, trust me, there for a while it was tricky venturing outdoors. He would yell “Clear!” at the top of his lungs, and an arrow would zip by to plant itself into this big ole target he’d “backdropped” with an old oriental rug of his mother’s to catch the (somewhat pricey) arrows when they went astray.

I do, on the other hand, have plenty of photos of us windsurfing. Because, yes, I shared this particular obsession

Well. Enough of The Dude and his obsessions. But some people say you marry a man who is like your father, and I guess I did. Because, when it came to obsessions, no one could beat my Dad.

Alas, I don’t have photographic evidence of most of these. But I remember when he was passionate about fly fishing. He tied his own flies, which were very pretty indeed. He even started a sort of “business” where he would make them for other people. (He had some cool business cards made up.)

And there was his Thing with the houseboat. This one went on for years. I can’t recall where he got this boat — which he named the Sir Launch-A-Lot (honest, he had a nameplate made) — but he claimed it as a business expense. (He used it to entertain clients of the still-going-strong HMG engineering firm he founded with a couple of buddies back in the mid-sixties.) But mostly, he just liked to tool around on Lake Carlyle on it.

That’s my Favorite Sister Laura with my Henry Gramma and Mom on the Sir Launch-A-Lot (if you look carefully, you can see the nameplate)

The Sir L-A-L was the scene of many adventures — including The Time Doug Ran Into the Sliding Glass Door, The Time Someone Stepped Into The Sheet Cake, and (my fave) The Time Dad Bonked the Dock and The Grill Fell Overboard.

But the Obsession to Beat All Obsessions was The Roses. Somewhere along the line, after painting with acrylics (pretty awful, but he enjoyed it), and for some reason that escapes me now, Dad became interested in growing roses. And not just any ole roses — championship, rare, roses. He researched roses and got cuttings of roses and planted bushes of roses and entered contests of roses. Our whole yard, which was not small, was filled with specimen rose bushes. He was so obsessed that his license plate — for years — was ROSENUT.

Dad getting ready for one of many Rose Shows

The garage was full of vases, and the house was full of trophies (more vases, plus plaques and trays galore). I remember that my Mom even had a brooch that was actually a teensy little vase that held, you guessed it, actual water and an actual rose or two.

That’s my Favorite Sister-in-Law, Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, sporting her own vase brooch, containing, no doubt, some of Dad’s roses

He even gave rose bushes as gifts. I still have a few blooms from our one surviving bush. (Roses don’t seem to do so well in Amagansett, which is the only place where we have some dirt in which to grow them.)

A rose grows in Amagansett, sort of. Well enough to get one or two roses each year, anyway

Well, rose-growing proceeded apace. And then my Dad retired from HMG. Because he was one of the founders, the company threw him a big party. All of us Henry Kids showed up for this event, which was pretty fancy, being held at the Country Club and all. There was food, there were drinks, there was karaoke. (Which we Henrys hogged all night when we weren’t dancing.)

Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I in a rare moment of not hogging the karaoke machine at Dad’s retirement party

There were speeches, there were stories, there were laughs. And, at the end of the evening, there was a presentation. His soon-to-be-former colleagues and associates got my Dad up in front of the crowd where a big ole box was waiting. Inside the box was a very nice gift — Dad’s very own personal computer.

Well. When my Dad unwrapped that computer — it was a Gateway, the kind that came in those cow-print boxes — well, Dad’s whole face lit up with glee. At which point my brother Scott famously remarked “There go the roses!”

Dad, several years later, not out working in his rose beds

New York City. October 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

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

Stalking the wild Shoebill

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‘On the hunt for a Ugandan bird as big as Idi Amin’

This morning I got locked in a bathroom. I mean seriously locked in. The kind of locked in where you beat on the door till someone hears you, but, worried that no one will, you actually consider clambering on top of the tank and climbing out the window — except the window has bars on it. Then someone finally does hear you, but that someone doesn’t speak English and it’s ages before a gang of guys comes with tools to break you out.

The bathroom in question was located on the banks of Lake Victoria, on the outskirts of Entebbe, which is in Uganda. Where Idi Amin used to be Head Dude and Dictator. Idi is long gone, but there are still plenty of ways to scare visitors. Like making a bathroom door that locks just dandy but, well, see above.

Once I emerged from said potty prison, unharmed except for a severely wounded dignity, our little Band of Birders boarded (more than a tad belatedly, due to my bathroom emergency) a local boat that was supposed to take us to a swamp so we could search for a rare bird called the Shoebill. My fellow birder/boaters had put the finishing touches on their potty jokes and had arranged ourselves on deck when a gigantic black cloud blew in and our leader, thank the Birding Gods, decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue.

While waiting patiently in an abandoned shelter for the storm to pass, our saintly leader happened to remark that in fact it was a good thing that I got locked in the bathroom — otherwise we would have already left shore — and been out on the open water when the storm hit. Which wouldn’t have been a good thing. No, not a good thing at all.

Gimme shelter. Nothing dampens The Dude’s birding ardor. Here he waits patiently for the torrent to subside. Yes, he’s laughing — probably about me getting locked in the bathroom

Anyway. I’m writing this in the Boma Guesthouse, where they do (obviously) have wifi. But it’s getting late in Birder Hours (it’s, like, 9:49!) and I have to get this done so I can schedule it to post tomorrow (yes, you can do that, unless you screw it up, which I’ve done) because tomorrow (usual Posting Tuesday) we’ll be staying in a place that (and I quote) “has seen better days”. I’m doubting it has running water, much less internet. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Crocodile Dumdee

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‘What you don’t know can hurt you.’

A couple of years after The Dude and I got married, we took a trip to Australia. This was a very long time ago. So long ago that when I googled ‘Crocodile Dundee’ after coming up with that groaner of a title, I found out the movie came out after we took our trip. So we weren’t familiar with lines like That’s not a knife…this is a knife’, much less with the fact that practically everything in Australia can pretty much kill you.

Speaking of my punsterific headline, let me say right off the bat that I don’t mean to pick on The Dudeman. It’s just that the photo of him in his Crocodile hat looks, well, more ‘DundeeLike’ than mine.

Me, sporting my Crocodile Dundee (er, ‘Dumdee’) hat. And not much else. I’m perched by the pool that had all the snakes in it, soon to be described in horrifyingly hissy detail

Because, let’s face it. We were both pretty dumb on this trip. Granted, this was long before TripAdvisor or (probably) even the internet itself. (Not sure; I’ll have to ask Al Gore.)

At any rate, we were young, we were naive, and we were game for pretty much anything. We were also pretty poor, but I had oodles of frequent flier miles from all my work-related plane-hopping for Ogilvy. (See ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’) So we cashed ’em in and flew Qantas to Cairns. Where, before we could even grab a rental car, we were ourselves grabbed — right there in the terminal — by a couple of guys who said “Hey, wanna go diving on the Great Barrier Reef? Come with us!” (Use your imagination for the Australian accents.)

No, we didn’t buy the Brooklyn Bridge. But yes, we did hop right on this dive boat

Nope, we were not certified divers. In fact, I had never even tried diving before. But we strapped on that gear and dove right in. There are still marks from my fingernails etched into that boat’s wooden sides. Continue reading