Splendor in the Grass

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‘When family photos were snapped “en plein air”‘

Part of the pleasurable pain of downsizing is sorting through zillions, even gazillions, of family photos. Deciding which to keep, which to “gift”, which to strip from their soon-to-be-donated frames and consigned to the manilla envelopes and file folders of history.

One of the things I’ve noticed while sifting is a years-ago trend to pose hapless members of one’s family (mostly helpless babies) smack-dab in the middle of a patch of grass. I’m not sure exactly why this isn’t done so much anymore, though I’m betting that chiggers and deer ticks might have something to do with it.

Me, smack-dab in the middle of a patch of grass. Before the invention of ticks and chiggers, I’m hoping

Another photo fashion I’ve encountered repeatedly while scanning and sipping a big ole cocktail (scanning being rendered much less tedious when accompanied by bourbon) is a propensity to pose subjects with cars in the background. (Even that last photo had a car in the background, albeit a toy one.)

Look at me. In the grass: check. Car in background: double-check

Here are some more for your viewing pleasure:

Yup, grass. Yup, car

Well. I am in the grass in this one. But that’s a cat, not a car

Here’s one with the requisite car(s), but with a stylistic variation: baby in gravel, not grass

The photographer’s shadow in that last one is a nice touch, n’est-ce pas? Speaking of French, that phrase found in the subhead, “en plein air”, means, in case you don’t know already, “out in the air” or just plain “outside”. Kind of like “al fresco”, only not Italian.

Sometimes a whole extended family was lined up in front of a car

My forbears were more Swedish than French and not Italian at all, but they sure did like to put us kids outside and snap away. Maybe the light was just better?

Hmmm. Nice shot, cute kids, but that flash glare is a tad distracting

Speaking of flash, indoor photography in those days required flashbulbs, which were actual bulbs that went off with a loud pop and a blue glare so bright it left an afterimage on your retina, prompting Infant Me to try to grab it while shouting “moon moon!”

Let’s go back outside. Here’s a dandy with not only cars–but a motorcycle. And a great-aunt for good measure

Anyway. I could go on and on. But I have more sorting to do, and it’s not of fun photographs. Hint: drawers full of receipts are involved — and it’s too early for bourbon. But before I go, I did happen to find a quasi-contemporary photo of cute kids on grass:

The Child and her Cousin, plopped 50s-style in the grass. Cute enough to compensate for the lack of a car — or even a cat

Oh, and I found at least one example featuring yet another years-ago photography trend:

Kids posed in a tub. Definitely no risk of ticks or chiggers. But blackmail entirely possible

New York City. December 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

 

To clean, or not to clean?

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‘The best way to get ready for house guests’

I remember vividly the time I was chatting happily away on the phone with my Middle Younger Brother Roger when I caught myself and said, “Darn. I’ve gotta go. Wayne’s sister and her squeeze are coming for the weekend, and I have to clean.” At which my wise brother said, “No, no. You’ve got that backwards. You don’t clean before guests come — you clean after they go.

Major crumb-producing loaf. When The Dude’s Bro visits, we go through one of these puppies each day

Well. How smart is my Middle Younger Brother? He was absolutely right. Guests — even beloved, dear, wonderful guests — make messes. Where I am, here on gorgeous Eastern Long Island (the land some folk call “The Hamptons”), guests produce not only crumbs on the countertops and hair in the showers but also sand on the floor. (And often there is sand in those showers too.)

Whattaya gonna do? It’s a sandy place

If you clean before guests come, you’re in that awful Hostess Place where you’re following your guests around with, like, a sponge or a cloth, trying to deal with crumbs and sand and whatnot, thinking “Oooooo…I just vacuumed that floor!” instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself — and them.

Big ole messy family birthday celebration. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about crumbs

Whereas, if you clean after the guests go, you’re not only less stressed, but you’re — voila! — instantly ready for your next guests. If you’re like me, and own a house in a location that’s House Guest Bait, and actually enjoy having (most) house guests (see my piece “The House Guest Hall of Fame” for some notable exceptions) — your house won’t have time to get dirty before the next batch arrives.

Why, in a two week period in June alone, I was hostess to a bunch of bridge buddies, my chocolate-factory-owning nephew and niece and their three adorable spawn, and The Child’s gorgeous girlfriends. Whew.

Girls just wanna have bread. A new loaf is back in crumb-producing action

So. Thanks to my brother, I’ve developed this system where I clean after my guests go. And I mean immediately after they go. Sometimes the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway mingles with the sound of my vacuum cleaner, I’m so eager to get cleaning.

I’m hot to get going with the vacuum and the Soft Scrub because that way I can erase any traces of their visit. See, the older I get, the more nostalgic and sad I feel when guests leave. If I have to pass by an open guest-room door and see a rumpled bed, I catch myself getting all weepy while thinking, “She was just sleeping there a few hours ago, and now I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again. *Sniff*”

A batch of beauties (AKA house guests) after I dropped them at the jitney stop. I raced home and immediately started cleaning

Why, the last time The Child was here, I had her room all spic and span and ready for her next visit before she’d reached the LIE. Probably even before they’d passed out the granola bars and itty-bitty bottles of Evian.

So, in hostessy summery summary, if you’re expecting house guests, don’t waste time cleaning. Save your energy for what’s much much more important — grocery shopping.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

Paging ‘Arry O’Nassis

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‘Never make fun of people who mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.’

My mother is “getting up there”, as they say, but she remembers like it was just yesterday being traumatized by an incident of mispronunciation that occurred when she was a mere slip of a schoolgirl.

Mom was maybe six or so, and it was her turn to stand up by her desk and read aloud from a story. She got to a line that said “the train pulled into the depot”, and pronounced it “dee-pot” (which I’m thinking any reasonable first-grader would do), and everyone started laughing at her. Bless her heart, she lived on a farm in Northern Illinois and had probably not encountered a train, much less a dee-poh.

Mom as a schoolgirl. The “incident” I describe happened when she was much younger, but this is the earliest school photo I could find. It’s also seriously cute, so I’m using it

She never forgot that incident. (She didn’t forget how to pronounce “depot” either.) Which brings me to my topic of the day, that quote (by Anonymous, who else) about not making fun of people who mispronounce words. Why, just the other day a good (and well-read) friend of mine referred to “Prowst”, and honest-to-Marcel I did not giggle — or even smirk.

I must admit to having had a hard time keeping a straight face, though, one time when The Dude’s Mom was telling me about an astronomer friend of hers. (Yes, The Dude’s Mom was into astronomy; she even built her own telescope. It’s up in the attic somewhere.) The astronomer buddy happened to be Jewish and “wore a ‘yar-mul-kee'”, reported Dude’s Mom.

The Dude’s family. It’s no wonder his Mom had trouble with “yarmulke”

As for me, I love opera, but have a heck of a time with opera names. I have no idea how to pronounce some of these. Like “Orfeo ed Euridice” (which spell-check just changed to Eurydice, but it’s on my ticket as Euridice, so there) or a real tongue-twister from last season, “Mefistofele”. It was insanely good, but I just called it “the one with the devil dancing on the table and the people in the fake-nude costumes writhing in hell”. My friends knew what I meant. And they didn’t laugh. Well, not too loud. It’s opera, after all.

Anna Netrebko (whom I usually refer to as just plain “Anna”) in “Tosca.” Which is my favorite opera, and not only because I can pronounce it

Sometimes you can get in conversational trouble not by mispronouncing, but by mishearing a word. The title of this piece comes from a story that went around years ago. Someone apparently asked what on earth Jackie Kennedy was getting herself into by marrying “that really rich Irish guy, ‘Arry O’Nassis.”

And you readers can probably think of a few among your own acquaintance who refer to one of those long low couches as a “chaise lounge”, when in fact it is a “chaise longues”, which literally means “long chair.” Which isn’t nearly as funny as hearing a certain traditional Spanish activity referred to as a “Flamingo Dance” by more than one person I know. (And no, I didn’t laugh, though I wanted to.)

Dad deck-testing a “chaise longue”. And no, that’s not a Flamingo (or a Flamenco) on his lap

But, speaking of laughing, even I had to laugh (at myself this time) when this next example of reading-a-word-but-not-knowing-how-to-pronounce-it happened. The Dude and I were at some sort of lecture not long after the awful events of September 11, 2001. The speaker was talking about the global impact of 9/11; how the whole world would be changing because of threats to our security.

Well, I was feeling properly warned and thoroughly frightened when I turned to The Dude and whispered, “Who the heck is this Al Kydah he keeps talking about?”

The Child reading. And quite possibly smirking ’cause she knows who the heck Al-Qaeda is — and how to pronounce it

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

 

 

 

 

Random Acts of Kidness

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‘Making your bed might actually be overrated’

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who simply has to make her bed every morning. I make my bed if I’m running late for bridge class or if I’m leaving to catch a plane. (Of course, I’m never late catching a plane; I’m also one of those people who leaves for the airport hours before her flight is due to take off.)

If I don’t make my bed I feel itchy and uncomfortable all day, kind of like I forgot to brush my teeth. Even when I was single, and nobody else was going to see my bed (hahaha), I couldn’t leave home without making sure it was all neat and tidy. Yes, I’m one of those people who has been known to make the bed in my hotel room.

I’m not alone in my bed-making mania. Some ex-Navy Seal even wrote an inspirational book called, I kid you not, Make Your Bed.

Funny story. When The Dude and I started sharing a household and its chores, we decided that whoever got up last would be in charge of making the bed. (Come to think about it, it would be sort of hard to do it the other way around.)

It’s kind of hard to make the bed if you’re the first one up

Whenever the task fell to Mr. Dude, I would marvel that a person who was so neat and tidy in so many ways — and a doctor, at that — would make such a lumpy bumpy mess of making the bed. Continue reading

“What are you saving it for, the Maypole Dance?”

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‘If you’re not going to lose it, then go ahead and use it’

I remember one time back when I was young and single here in New York City. I was just sitting down to dinner, blissfully alone in my apartment up on 93rd Street. (There’s a great story about how I got this apartment, called “Horowitz Plays the Bedroom”, that you might want to read, but not just yet.)

Anyway. My buzzer rang, and, since I had no doorman, I stuck my head out the window to check out who was down there. Seeing that it was a friend, I put my key in a sock and threw it out the window so he could let himself in and come on up. He comes in and I offer him a glass of wine. Whereupon he looks at my table, where there is a placemat, cloth napkin, pretty plate, nice wineglass, the whole nine yards — and asks (panting; it was five steep flights up), “Oh. Sorry. Are you expecting company?”

A table loaded with joy-producing items, including Child and Friend. I make use of all of these, and not just on special occasions

When I explained that, no, dinner was just me, and yes, I did in fact do this sort of thing every night — every night I wasn’t out, that is — he looked baffled. “All this — just for you?!?” Continue reading

“While we’re still young”

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‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.  Continue reading

Song of My Selfie

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‘A Whitman’s Sampler’

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” So sayeth the Internet, no doubt referring to those self-portraits otherwise known as “selfies”. Now I should point out, before I get too carried away with my mangling of Leaves of Grass, that the portrait at the top of this post is not actually a selfie. It may be difficult to imagine in this age of the ubiquitous hand-held device, but there were no cellphones in Seventeenth Century Holland. Though it sure looks as though those burghers are hamming it up for Instagram, doesn’t it?

Twenty-First Century Burgher Selfie. As you can see, I am not immune to the lure of the self-portrait. Even when being run down by a bike messenger

Speaking of hamming it up, I’ve been known to indulge in the odd selfie. In fact, I’ll be peppering this post with a few of my favorites — because why not? Continue reading

Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading

Driving the Unicorn

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‘I’ve never bought a car. Not a new one, anyway.’

A couple of weeks ago I revealed to all and sundry that I have never, in all my grownup life, bought a couch. (See the aptly-named “I have never bought a couch” for deets.) Not buying a couch, I mused, meant that I’m probably not really a grownup.

Well, today I’m going to admit that I have never bought a car, either. Well, I have bought a car — an old Austin America, which I’ll tell you about in a sec — but I’ve never bought a new car. Where you go in a showroom and talk to a car dealer. You know, like that guy Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo”.

I remember going to the showroom with my whole family to buy this Ford station wagon. It was brown and cream and smelled amazing

I got to thinking about this whole new-car thing because we just got back from our annual Best-Friends-in-the-Catskills Visit. (See “Take me home, Country Road” for a nice tale about them.) Said Best Friends always have a new car — they lease a brand-new Mercedes every year. (Something to do with business or some such.) Continue reading